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Jo Harman @ The Artrix 06/02

Support Tom Gee

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Jo Harman has been on my ‘must see’ list for a while, voted Best Female Vocalist and runner up for the song writing award in the 2014 British Blues Awards, she is definitely a star in the ascendancy.

But first a few words about her support, Tom Gee, who was in acoustic mode, leaving behind the 7 musicians, that make up the Tom Gee Band. His only accompaniment was his 6 string, and a dry Yorkshire wit, the rapport with the audience, was measurable, and the response warm. ‘Dead In The Morning’, is more about clearing the fog of sleep than a TV vampire diary. Well written and well performed, it features on the full bands album Swapping Stories, a bit of soul with a splash of funk. A bit more banter and a song pointing to past girlfriends, ‘Listen To Yourself’, the genre of the full band is funked up Northern Soul meets contemporary blues, without the brass and percussion, the songs become much more personal. Tom has serious writing credibility, the band perform in festivals across the country, Cheltenham Jazz to Hebden Bridge Blues. Closing the set, again from the album, ‘Thinking About You’, needs no explanation, suffice to say, from interval chatter, Tom’s set was well liked, one commented to say if this had been a stand alone gig, it would have been well worth the ticket purchase.

Now Jo has been ‘claimed’ by the Blues fraternity, and can be found appearing in Blues sessions and festivals everywhere, but, she really sits in that orbiting moon that broke away and produced the great divas of Soul. We are talking from the Jazz and Blues roots of the likes of Billy Holliday through to Nina Simone, along with all the wonderful female singers that emerged throughout the 50’s and early 60’s. Fundamentally Jo has a stunning voice, rich and dark like a Yucatan honey that’s been lightly ‘smoked’, and as if that is not enough, she has also been recognised for her writing talents. Jo opened with a gospel laden soul classic ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’, people have been recording this from way back in Charley Patton’s day, changed to ‘we’ for the civil rights movement, Jo presented it superbly. The tempo was switched up for ‘Heartstring’, sharp edged percussion, gives way to some funky, jazz orientated keys from Steve Watts. Those keys keep Jo solo company for a gentle soulful ‘This Is My Amnesty’, then on to an exceptional ‘Aint No Love In The Heart Of The City, simply memorable.

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A full on hard rock edged, ‘Through The Night’, driven along by the drums of Martin ‘Magic’ Johnson, Jo’s hair fanned over her head as she lost herself to the rhythm. Another of Jo’s songs followed closely behind, ‘Cold Heart’, borrows some lyrics from bygone classics, but the whole is distinctly Jo’s work, slow and heartfelt, lovely. A complete change of direction as the massively popular Pharrell Williams, ‘Happy’, lifted the auditorium, though we were all happy where Jo had taken us, it was a bit of fun and the band obviously enjoyed themselves. Its time for the guitars to be put to work, Dave Ital has his moment to demonstrate his skills, ably supported by some solid funky bass from stand in Yolanda Charles (she has played alongside the likes of Adele, Jagger and Weller, quite an accolade) for ‘Underneath The River’. This is rock blues, a song from Jo’s pen, that allows her to give full range to her voice, and that range is indeed wide, the keyboard kicks in then the guitars take full control. Brilliant.

We are not quite finished yet,

A truly beautiful ‘prayer’ is about to be heard, Jo wrote this in memory of her father, she sings it with all her heart and soul, it would not feel out of place in any house of God.

How do you follow such a song, the show has to close, Jo dips into the classic soul bag, and pulls out, ‘I can’t Stand The Rain’, I can honestly say, I have never heard better, performed live, an absolutely fabulous close to an evening in the company of an exceptional artist.

 

Words & Photos Graham Munn

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Rating: 5.5/10 (2 votes cast)

King Pleasure & The Biscuit Boys, at The Artrix 03/01/15

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For many of you out there, there is no need for me to introduce this remarkable band. They have been delivering their signature swing to audiences all over the UK, and Europe for nearly 30 years. They are, dare I suggest, ‘an institution’, forged in and around Birmingham, when ‘Made In Birmingham’ still meant something. King Pleasure himself, along with ‘Big John’, are the powerhouse horn blowers of the outfit, John Battrum, the uncrowned king, on his sax. KP adds to the ‘hot’ air, but his ‘lounge lizard’ crooning, energy, and enthusiasm are the driving forces behind their unique style. Add to that, Bullmoose ‘K’ Shirley on his lovely country style Gibson, Matt Foundling on the ivories, Gary Barber, tucked behind, on ‘skins’, and the unmissable clown prince of Bass, Shark Van Schtoop, producing swing with touches of jazz, some blues and rock & roll, for good measure. So, ‘This Is It’, all adding up to abandoned seats, there is the undeniable urge to get up and move, we just ‘Can’t Get Enough Of Your Stuff’. The Artrix has the ability to ‘flatten’ half the floor, for times like this. ‘Shake Rattle & Roll, KP is down in the audience, weaving through the movers and groovers, the band ‘jams’ on, Matt strikes up some serious boogie woogie on the keys. The King is back up, ‘I Got A Gal That Lives Upon The Hill’, he reverts quickly to an old favourite ‘Barracuda’, vocalised in his own lounge style. Jackie Wilson is shaken out, a bit more rock & roll. ‘I Ain’t Mad At You, Don’t You Be Mad At Me’, because its blues time with BB Kings, ‘You Upsets Me baby’. Slip in a bit of Ray Charles, why not? before getting back to full on swing.

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The Shark is hiding behind his double bass, fingers still bending those heavy strings, deep in the shadows, Gary may not be seen too well, but he is certainly heard, the two push along that rhythm, ‘Well Alright, OK You Win’, what can I do? another boogie solo off Matt, keeps the momentum going. KP has disappeared for a breather, as the band play an extended ‘Tequila’, all take a turn to lead, the audience is provoked into responding to the calls, its Tequila all round, doubles probably, with ice, as the King returns to close it off.

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‘Bona Serra’, gives hint to nearing the close, a relaxed swing, the pendulum easing down, but the fans are having none of that, and demand more.

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A short breath, Dean Martin would be hard pressed to ‘Sway’, better than this, ‘Party Time’ is over, but not before a boastful ‘I’m the King Of The Swingers’, and who are we to argue. King Pleasure And The Biscuit Boys have royally entertained us, at what is becoming an annual date at The Artrix, roll on next year.

Wods & Photos Graham Munn

 

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

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If anyone was to ask me what kind of music I like, my simple answer would be music that moves me, despite genre and classification, if the music has emotion, style doesn’t come into the equation. So with that in an invitation to see classical music/vocal harmonies three-piece, Blake intrigued, could a band known for performances on the likes of This Morning and Loose Women (and the royal wedding between William and Kate!!!) speak to me, a hardened music critic?

The group are currently on tour in support of the soon to be released new album, In Harmony (Nov 3rd) performing at numerous intimate theaters across the UK, enabling their fans to catch their heroes up close and personal. The Artrix is a perfect venue for such a performance, the sound is always crystal clear, the seating intimate but more than comfortable and the staff are second to none.

As you can imagine the Blake and  took to the stage to a full auditorium and instantly seduced the audience with a stunning rendition of Bridge Over Troubled Water, setting the mood for an evening of soaring vocals, gorgeous harmonies and classic songs lifted from the world’s of pop, classical, opera and beyond. Having taken my seat in trepidation (always cynical about a band that could be described as housewives choice), I have to say that opening number blew me away, I knew the trio could sing but the blended voices of Stephan, Humphrey and Ollie sounded sensational ringing around the venue.

From such beginnings the close knit group delivered a tender version of To Love Somebody (lifted from the new album) before really letting those operatic voices of the leash with a breathtaking take on the Morricone themed Nella Fantasia, with each of their voices reaching a beautiful crescendo, almost lifting the roof from the Artrix.

Showcasing the diversity of influences Blake then offered up a very impressive and inventive, reconstructed version of Chasing Cars that perhaps manage to up the emotional ante of even the original and certainly rained on all the sub-standard x-factor versions we’ve had to endure in recent years. Fellow opera singer Camilla Kerslake then took over the stage for a couple of numbers as well assisting a version of surprisingly stirring, You Raise Me Up (that also featured the Beat Breast Cancer Choir via video back-up), before the boys took over for a mesmeric acapella version of Cohen’s Hallelujah and the evergreen opera classic Nessum Dorma, closing the first set on an incredible high.

During the interval the band and Camilla, took to the bar area to sign anything that was thrust upon them, a welcoming sigh, showing their appreciation to their fans.

The second set began much as the first with the boys delivering beautiful vocal takes on the likes of, Love Lifts You Up Where You Belong, Love Me Tender (featuring a ukulele no less) and a wonderful touching take, on the Les Miserables classic Bring Him Home. In fact the only song I can really pick fault with was a less than satisfying With Or Without You (U2), which perhaps lacked the necessary punch, musically, to really do the song justice.

Camilla returned to the stage for a few numbers before joining in for a rousing and standing finale of Time To Say Goodbye and (Songs of Praise favourite) Jerusalem, leaving the gathered baying for more and this reviewer as something of a covert to their cause.

Like I alluded to at the opening of this review I want music to emotionally pull the listener in and I have to say Blake do just that, whether you like the classical/opera/pop crossover that the group do is neither here nor there, the trio’s vocals yank at the strings and at times leave your hairs standing to attention.

Rhythm & Booze Rating 8

www.blakeofficial.com

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Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

Blues band At The Artrix, Bromsgrove 20/09

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The Artrix theatre was a sell out for the return of The Blues Band, Paul Jones addressed the fans with an introduction to an old video from 1980, Live At Rockfest,from the bands fledgling days, apparently distributed widely throughout Europe, only Scotland missing out!!!! ‘Come Into My Kitchen’ was an invite to Dave Kelly taking lead and some lovely slide with ‘Talk To My baby’. Son House’s, ‘Death Letter’ follows, as with all Blues Band gigs, the baton is passed around, Paul, Dave, Tom McGuinness, with an occasional song from Gary Fletcher, the bassist. That’s not to overlook the significance of Rob Townsend on drums, silent vocally, but very much heard. Each ‘sample’ their own albums from past and present, its the hard sell; with tongue placed firmly in cheek, a problem for harmonica players perhaps? You also get a potted history of the blues from both Paul and Dave. A very nice ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’, in EC style, then Tom was ‘Heading For A Breakdown’ before a superb ‘Dust My Broom’, from Dave, sighting the time he paid 12’6p to see Howling Wolf and Elmore James on the same bill! Gary Fletcher drops in his one and only, to date, album and growls through ‘I Am The Doctor’, but at last, a Blues Band joint effort, takes us to the break with, ‘Suddenly I Like It’.

Now, what I do appreciate is the band comes straight into the foyer, and yes, they flog their individual CD’s, (whilst their ‘agent’ takes care of the Band recordings); BUT, they also mix and chat to their admiring fans. It does not matter whether you are buying or not, they give you a little time, sadly not all bands remain so grounded, after all, its the fans that create the stage for any performer.

Back to the stage, the band are on full flow, a bit of fun from Mr Kelly, ‘I Can’t Get My Ass In Gear, Too Much Wine And Too Much Beer’, sounds OK to me. BB King’s ‘Stepping Out’, and straight into ‘These Shoes’ with some excellent harp from Paul. A quick step ‘Outside My Head’, from Gary with mandolin, and Paul moves to demonstrate why he rightly has his place in the ‘Hall Of Fame’, launching into ‘Flat Foot Sam’ and a stretched out, superlative solo. Tom has his Fender behind his head, for a bit of shake rattle and roll, as we head toward the end, but not quite yet. The Blues Band gave us ‘Aint Gonna Work On Maggie s Farm No More’, their one and only chart success. It had been an entertaining evening, plenty of chorusing and lively banter, its The Blues Band, you would expect nothing less.

 

Words and photo Graham Munn

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Chantel McGregor @ The Artrix 17th May

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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.

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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

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Rating: 8.5/10 (2 votes cast)

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