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
Blues band At The Artrix, Bromsgrove 20/09
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
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
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