Chantel McGregor @ The Artrix 17th May
Pocket rock dynamo, Chantel, returned to the Artrix with her band to play before a strong audience of young and, perhaps, more aged ‘head bangers’, and rock guitar lovers. It was loud, guitar gluttony, Chantel’s Bradford tones, sometimes a little indistinct from my position, as ‘Caught Out’, exploded from the stage. Having said that, there was an awful lot of head nodding and foot tapping going on, so its probably down to my old ears. Accompanying her on stage were her band of fellow ‘Northeners’, bassist Richard Richie, and new father, drummer, Keith McParthling, I hope he’s much more gentle on the new born than the skins of his drums. Chantel uses pick & mix from her album ‘Like No Other’, and a confection of blues classics. Hendrix had to stand aside for ‘Screams Everlasting’, a beautiful song that demonstrated Chantel’s vocal qualities. A voice easily overlooked as she is lined up for the numerous guitar awards that will, no doubt, be bestowed on her slight shoulders. That Ernie Ball Guitar was put to the test for the out and out rock blasting ‘Disco Lover Suicide’, as the thunderous bass of Rich joined Keith’s crashing drums, powered through, I need ear plugs! A lovely version of Sonny Boy Williamson’s classic ‘Help Me’ cried out, deftly played, as she kicked her heels aside, to feel the stage at her feet, the audience were already there, Chantel could do no wrong.
A short break, she is out in the foyer, chatting and signing, comfortable with her fans, before returning to stage for an unmissable, short acoustic set. I was looking forward to this, to listen and reflect on this talented young artist, stripped from the power play and band. ‘Rhiannon’, is served as aperitif, a taste of Hendrix, ‘All Along The Watch Tower’, and the delicious dessert of Bruno Mars ‘Grenade’. Superlative, I could watch a whole set of Chantel McGregor playing acoustic, she is exceptionally good, and deserved winner of the British Blues Vocalist Award last year. The boys return to stage, ‘Daydream’, the slow burning Robin Trower classic, is played to perfection. ‘Fabulous’, is soon following, and is an apt a description of this show as you could find, Chantel is as fabulous as ever, an easy rapport with her audience, plenty of humour and completely at home on this stage. A brief moment of hesitation as the encore is demanded, no point in stepping back too far from the microphone. It came in the form of the excellent ‘Freefalling’. If Your a guitar rock lover, and have not seen Chantel, then make the effort, failing that find her album, she is ‘Like No Other’. Thank you Artrix.
Words and photos Graham Munn
The Roving Crows, building nests at The Artrix, Bromsgrove 25/04
A first migration for the Roving Crows to Artrix Theatre, the floor was partly set for the more active fledglings, with seating aplenty for the roosters. There was a good gathering of fans along with plenty of first time participants as Paul set the ball rolling with ‘Nancy Valentine’, the pace moderated over the next few songs leading to the beautiful, soft, ‘One Day’, withthe all the band adding to the vocals for this lament. It did not stay soft for long as the band accelerated towards the fabulous ‘White Petticoat’, I’m sure a riot would break out if this was omitted. No worries, Caitlin fiddled the band in to full power. The band were smouldering as they plucked out songs from Bacchanalia, and the later DeliberateDistractions, albums, a new as yet unrecorded ‘On The Road’ was slipped in along with a cheekily named ‘Spicey Wedge’, decidedly a bit hotter, this one. The distant rumble, heralded the opening up of the thunderous ‘Guns’, fired up with the pyrotechnics of drummer Tim Tolhurst aided and abetted by Loz Shaw on bass.
The band , never known to stand still for too long, made use of the spacious Artrix stage, ‘God On Demand’ called out, as Loz prowled over to Greg tinkering with his trumpet, Caitlin hopped and skipped about, Loz coming back for a ‘stand off’ with Paul. ‘Days In The Sun’ upped thepace again, as the set sadly moved ever closer to a finale. ‘President Garfield’ was aired, the audience demanded more, ‘Long Time Dead’, was called for, live for the day, The Roving Crows responded, the entertainment continued. Nobody wanted to rush home, but there are always restraints, the Artrix waited, it could not close for the night until Caitlin had fiddled away the ‘Devil’, for a glorious, rapturous finish.
A brilliant show, as all have come to expect from the band, they will return, and there was still some floor space to fill, so plenty of opportunity for fans to bring along some friends and fill out the Artrix to the limits.
Words And Photos Graham Munn
Lisbee Stainton playing ‘Word Games’@ The Artix
First a brief review of the new Lisbee album, Word Games. Before we proceed, I will admit to being very selective in my musical tastes, they would not normally cover Lisbee’s style of ‘acoustic pop’, though I sometimes surprise myself with what these old ears are switching on to!
The opening track is ‘Red Dog Running’, which is well written and could slip into the charts quite nicely, and is far better than much that masquerades as music playing on pop radio stations. Following on is for me another of the stand out tracks on the album, ‘Navigating’, which has underlying military drum rolls and a good solid bass. ‘Make Me Stay’, is jointly written with Eleanor McEvoy. This song about seduction opens nicely with plucked notes evoking the sound of rain drops in a puddle, before breaking in to a more pop like sound. ‘Madron’s Well’, is a lovely song co-written with Seth Lakeman, it tells of a Cornish wishing well, with mystical healing powers, where ‘clouties’ are left to rot as health returns.
‘Word Games’ closes the album, inspired by a supporting gig with Judy Collins at Worcester Cathedral, its a beautiful haunting ballad of the travelling whispers within the high walls, in contrast to the inaudible storm blowing outside; peace and solitude found a mad world. A very nice song worthy of anyone’s music collection.
Overall though not my choice of music, the album does grow as you listen, it very well produced, by Mikko Gordon. The songs listed from the album, were my selection of choice, I am sure many will find take more from Word Games, it is a finely written and crafted set of songs that will stand out in its genre.
Supporting Lisbee on her tour is Eleanor McEvoy, from Dublin, an extremely talented singer songwriter, with an impressive catalogue of songs, and albums. Eleanor’s lyrics tell fascinating stories of everyday life, she delivers them with a distinctive Irish brogue and a comfortable, humorous, rapport with the audience. Some of her songs remind me of Suzanne Vega. ‘You’ll Here Better Songs Than This’, begs the question, would you? And ‘For The Avoidance Of Any Doubt’, no probably not!
I enjoyed her set, her vision of life, and stories of past times, a quality artist, who seems more comfortable as a support, rather than taking the spotlight, shame. I think she would be in her element, sat in the corner of some cosy intimate bar, retelling her tales, accompanied by her guitar. She finished on a bit of blues ‘The Way You Wear Your Troubles’, bliss!
Lisbee Stainton is on tour with a full band, Simon Johnson, guitar, mandolin and uke, Pete Randall, double bass and guitar,Andy Chapman, in the shadows, on drums, plus a return to stage for Eleanor with violin.
Lisbee of course carries her trade mark 8 string acoustic.
She opened with ‘Wrench’ from her previous Go album and ‘Girl On An Unmade Bed’, from the album of that name, alluding to life as a student.
Also off that album, is the excellent ‘Red’, that Lisbee played a little later.
‘Eloise’, she reprises ‘Navigating’ and ‘Red Dog Running’, both, for me, highlights of the album.
Eleanor is back on stage to accompany Lisbee for ‘Make Me Stay’, plucking those violin strings for the opening bars, before bringing bow to play. This was all delivered beautifully by Lisbee, live on stage, indeed the stage performance, brings the album to life for me.
With songs taken form past albums, like Go, Girl On An Unmade Bed and now Word Games, Lisbee has a depth of original and distinctive music to select from fro her tour. All seem to benefit from her live performance. Returning to Word Games as the set nears it end, the haunting title track, memorable, just close your eyes and imagine the magnificent isolation of Worcester cathedral, away from the bustle outside.
The closing song draws from Go, ‘Find Me Here’, seems very appropriate, at the start of the tour. An excellent start at an equally excellent venue, for Lisbee Stainton.
Words & Photos Graham Munn
Artrix May 8th
The Blues Band:
Here once more at the Artrix, who are hosting what has become a regular visit from The Blues Band. What I might ask, can I add to the well documented biography of this mature and skilled gang of Blues practitioners.
Paul Jones, he of the Monday night Radio 2 slot, a near encyclopaedic knowledge of the Blues world. Who’s playing where, and who’s no longer playing at all. All this, and he still finds time to tour, either with this band or parts thereof, a fine harmonica player, singing and playing since the early 60’s. (that means he is actually older than me)
Dave Kelly, one of the finest exponents of the Blues guitar complete with slide. Another man who can dig down to the roots of blues, he has played with the greats, Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and John Lee Hooker. The man’s got provenance!
Tom McGuinness, he’s played with Clapton in Eric’s early years, Manfred Mann (as did Paul of course) McGuinness Flint, and later joined Paul to form this band.
Rob Townsend, another man rooted in the 60’s, drummed with Roger Chapman’s ‘Family’, Medicine Head, and has toured with Duane Eddy.
Gary Fletcher, the apparent ‘baby’ of the band, he has been a workman bassist over many years, had played alongside Dave in bands, and was asked along to join The Blues Band.
None of the above need an introduction, they have been around a long time, and not surprisingly, the audience, a sell out, also tend to be of a certain age. They know what to expect, are prepared to pay for it, and they know they will go home with a satisfied grin…………and maybe a few CD’s. They will also be back next time, many grew up through the late 50’s, early 60’s, listening to those same Blues legends as this stalwart band.
Having said all that, I confess to doing much the same (not 50’s). We are all here because these guys can still do the business, well trodden blues songs, some roots, some self penned, all played with enthusiasm and finely honed artistry. Paul, Dave and Tom tell their tales of paths crossed, stages played and the availability of their numerous CD’s, as individuals, or variously formed bands, outside, for sale, in the foyer.
This is a recurring theme between songs, thankfully done with a large dose of banter and humour. Unlike many musicians of their stature, they also are in the foyer, yes to sell, always to sign, and find a bit more time to share a joke and a bit of chat. The queue was long, sales no doubt as good as ever, and a lot of happy people. They were here to see and listen to one of the UK’s most popular Blues bands, maybe to take back a few souvenirs.
A small diversion from the play list as the second set opens, Its a request from a member of the audience. Enter Paul Jones, no accompaniment, he sings ‘Miss Otis Regrets’, the packed auditorium didn’t, regret that is, and he show moved on, all take a turn on vocal leads, with the exception of drummer, Rob.
Plenty of Blues, a bit of gospel, a bit of Rock & Roll in ‘Shake rattle and Roll’, and one I particularly enjoyed, apparently from their ‘Cross Borders’ DVD, ‘Lets Talk It Over. The Blues Band, no doubt will be back, this audience will be back, and so will I.
The Artrix as ever, attract fine bands, who know they will play to full houses, its arguably the outstanding theatre venue in our area, meeting the demand for top performances whatever the show.
Words and Photos By Graham Munn
Stomp & Holler Live @ The Artrix; Bromsgrove
Last year at Worcester Beer Festival, I saw and listened to Stomp & Holler’s first ‘outing’. Oliver and Abby had evolved from the Blues Tribe, were playing alongside Chris in ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ and had gathered a drummer, Martin, guitarist, Lee, and saxophonist, John. It had been a good evening, though possibly not fully appreciated by the ale enthusiasts glued to the muddy fields of last ‘summer’.
Enjoyable as the evening was, I felt Martin, the drummer, was not fully relaxed into his role. I saw a more complete and accomplished show at Ledbury theatre a few months later, and now here I was at the Artrix to see the band again, I knew Martin was a drummer of repute, and am pleased to say he has, in my humble opinion, grown roots in the band.
John I had seen before when guesting with the old Blues Tribe, and can really appreciate his breathing life into an array of sax’s, as well as some very nice touches on the flute.
Lee is a talented guitarist who has a distinctive influence on the overall sound of this Orleans style band.
The ‘Mumbo Jumbo’ element, Abby, Chris, and Oliver, fit well together as you would expect, but the style and direction is much livelier, with a mix of Blues, Jazz and Swing.
They open at full bore with signature piece ‘Crazy Up In Here’, with strong vocals from Abby and Oliver. Abby takes lead vocals, and she has a fine voice, in ‘Start It Up’, with Lee stepping forward for a spot in ‘Lucky Man’.
This is the aperitif for one of my particular favourites, sung with some real Cocker mouth grit (that’s Joe, not the little place in Cumbria), ‘St. James Infirmary Blues’. This is played at a funereal pace, suitable perhaps for the opening dirge at a New Orleans procession; it fits Oliver’s gritty vocals as if tailor made.
The first set ends with a strong driving blues of ‘Webstop Checker’, with leads coming from Lee, supported with Oliver’s trumpet and John’s sax, Martin firing up the furnace with Chris shovelling in the coal!
Second set kicks off with a heartfelt ‘Lonesome town’, with Oliver’s unique vocal qualities coming to the fore.
‘Whys It Always Me’, is a more cockney lad style, with Chris taking the vocals, feeding in back to Oliver for a gravel laden ‘Hadn’t Been For Love’, back in blues mode.
The evening seems to rush through, as is always the case when enjoying good music, Abby taking lead again with ‘Tell it Like It Is'; a chorus of ‘happy birthday’, were there really that many birthday’s in the Artrix that evening? A crowd pleasing ‘Evangeline’, running through to a reprise of ‘Crazy Up In Here'; which is where we came in. The difference here is the interwoven, layered vocals from Abby, Oliver, Lee, and Chris.
Overall a good night’s entertainment from 6 very accomplished musicians that have gelled well together since inception.
The music is eminently suitable for getting up and dancing, which I suspect many on the night would have liked to do, I believe the original plan was for the Artix to leave a floor are and partial seating. For whatever reason, it was fully seated, which meant much ‘squirming’ in seats, the standing ovation was inevitable, lets have more!
Words And Photos By Graham Munn
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