Friday, February 24, 2017

Sean Webster Band - Leave Your Heart At The Door

It’s reassuring to find that Sean Webster dedicates Leave Your Heart At The Door, because otherwise – boy, you’d think the guy had an unhappy love life.  Or to put it rather differently, Webster specialises in dramatic monologues about heartache.  Deceit, despondency, defeat – these themes are his stock in trade, lyrically.
But if that sounds a bit miserable, it should be said that Webster and his pals carry it all off marvellously.  He has the happy knack of his setting these tales to melodies so natural that they sound like someone must surely have written them before.
The eleven tracks here come divided almost equally between soulful slowies and funkier, more upbeat tunes – for all that the words may sound pretty bleak across the piece.
Sean Webster - sure got the blues
So on the one hand we get a plaintive ballad like ‘Wait Another Day’, with its gentle arrangement and a soulful delivery.  On the other there’s the melodic opener ‘Give Me The Truth’, with its “woah-oh-oh” vocal theme, a great blend of guitar and keys, and a tasteful guitar solo from Webster resolving neatly back into the melody.  And there’s ‘You Got To Know’, with its rolling groove and surges of organ from guest keyboard player Bob Fridzema, who adds a few trills adornment for good measure over the pushy drum rhythm from Joel Purkess.  For once here the lyric is a determined rather than desperate, the protagonist insisting on getting the girl to whom the song is addressed.  Either way, Webster’s vocals sell the story in the rasping, emotional manner of Joe Cocker.
A couple of the more downbeat outings may not really hit the mark, but down the stretch the album really hits top gear.  The brisk friends-and-lovers narrative of ‘You Can Say’ is reminiscent of Texas on a good day – although Webster sure is different from Sharleen Spiteri – and builds up to a repeated refrain before fading out.
The title track ‘Leave Your Heart At The Door’ ups the ante in the manner of a top drawer Deacon Blue ballad.  It’s a cautionary tale about the emotional upheavals that await in adulthood, fatalistic about life’s ups and downs – mostly downs – with some nice chiming guitar lines.
Which just leaves the closing double whammy of ‘I Don’t Wanna Talk About It’ and ‘Til’ The Summer Comes Around’.  The former has an insistent groove and great melody, especially on the chorus, and musically could easily be taken for a steamy booty call song.  Lyrically though, this duet with PennyLeen Krebbers has the air of a bedtime conversation in the dark between a couple where the girl has just confessed she’s met someone else.  Dark stuff it’s true, but it doesn’t half develop some rousing momentum.  Album closer ‘Til’ The Summer Comes Around’ meanwhile, is an exquisite reading of Keith Urban’s narrative of young love and estrangement, wistful in the manner of Springsteen’s ‘Sandy’, and with an excellent guitar solo to boot.  Suffice to say it became a favourite of my other half when we caught the Sean Webster Band supporting King King on their recent Netherlands tour.
If you like a bit of bluesy soulfulness, delivered with conviction and great musicianship, Leave Your Heart At Door will surely fit the bill.  Just keep the Kleenex handy.

Leave Your Heart At The Door was released on 24 February 2017.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Taking the Low Road - King King in the Netherlands, Part 3

Dateline: 12 February 2017   Venue: Luxor Live, Arnhem

To be honest, I don’t know what visitors might find interesting about Amersfoort, other than that it’s the birthplace of the modern artist Piet Mondrian, and so home to the Mondriaanhuis museum.  But for whatever reason the sizeable dining room of this business-type hotel on the outskirts of town is heaving for Sunday breakfast.
Suitably fed and watered, it’s off to Arnhem for Sunday’s gig, which involved a replacement bus service part of the way because of engineering works.  It’s all very efficiently done
Let's hope that t-shirt was washed from the night before!
though, and we get dropped off at Arnhem railway station, just across the road from our hotel, the Best Western Haarhuis.  It’s pretty basic, but on the upside it’s handily placed for the town centre, and barely a hundred metres from tonight’s venue.
The snow has stopped, but it’s still brass monkey weather as we set off for a wander round the town centre, and in particular Airborne Plein, the small pedestrian space close to the John Frost Bridge which commemorates the Battle of Arnhem during the Second World War.  If you’ve ever seen the movie A Bridge Too Far, this is the bridge of the title.  Sadly the Airborne Museum is outside town – perhaps another time.
After catching the France v Scotland rugby in an Irish pub – Scotland lost, unfortunately, but the Chouffe beer compensated – there’s just time for a cracking steak in Vlees & Co before heading along the road for the gig.
The show is in the smaller of the two rooms in Luxor Live, a compact ballroom with high ceilings and a good stage, and even though it’s sold out the sight lines are excellent.  Sean

Gonna get funky!
Webster and pals open the bill with another impressive set, getting under way with ‘Give Me The Truth’, featuring a strong solo from Webster, and as on previous nights including a convincing reading of ‘Thrill Is Gone’.  ‘Give Me Time’ is well constructed and soulful, and they close with a slinky take on ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’, with guest PennyLeen Krebbers duetting with Webster as she does on the forthcoming album version, helping to turn it into a steamy torch song.  Look out for a review of the album Leave Your Heart At The Door very shortly.
King King come onstage, and there’s an immediate reaction to ‘Lose Control’, signaling that once again this is no casual audience – they’re ready to rumble.  The band are on it from start to finish tonight, but ‘Rush Hour’ in particular catches the ear, right from it’s delicate guitar intro, and as it rolls forward Wayne Proctor and Lindsay Coulson dig out incredibly deep foundations.
By now it just needs the intro to ‘Long History Of Love’ to kill me, and remarkably Alan Nimmo manages to back it up with an even more incendiary guitar solo than the previous night.  It’s the same with ‘You Stopped The Rain’, which provokes dancing, singing, and
Sean Webster and PennyLeen Krebbers get slinky
immersion in its emotion – and again Nimmo nails the last of these with his guitar solo.
As a matter of personal preference I might replace ‘Take A Look’ with ‘What Am I Supposed To Do’ or ‘Taken What's Mine' but apparently it’s Mick the merchandise man’s favourite, and it has to be said that the rising scales at the end are gripping.
Are tonight’s crowd the best behaved ever during the quiet passage in ‘Stranger To Love’?  They must be contenders.  But by now it’s the way Alan Nimmo and Bob Fridzema climb back out of that segment that grabs me, as a preface to the storming solo that brings the song to a close.

It’s the end of the road in the Netherlands for both us and King King.  If the weather was cold the hospitality was warm, and the shows were a blast.  Now, new album coming soon is there?

You can find Part 1 of Taking the Low Road here.
And you can find Part 2 here!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Taking the Low Road - King King in the Netherlands, Part 2

Dateline: 11 February 2017   Venue: Cafe De Noot, Hoogland

Up in the morning for a wander round Breda’s town centre, taking in the wide space, cafes and restaurants of the Grote Markt and also the Grote Kirke, a light and airy cathedral that also lays out the history of the Nassau family and the Princes of Orange.
Then it’s time to hit the road – or to be more accurate the railway – and head for Amersfoort, where King King are playing on the Saturday night.  The Dutch rail service NS is the
Let there be rock!
business, with reasonably priced fares and frequent connections across an extensive network.  So despite a bit of confusion when we get off a stop too early for our connection in Rotterdam, we get to Amersfoort in good time.  The Van Der Valk Hotel A1 is evidently so-named because it’s located on the A1 ring road.  It’s a modern, glossy place, but our motives for being here are reflected in a photo of Mick’n’Keef on the bedroom wall.
The gig is in the next door suburb of Hoogland, and as the snow closes in again we get a taxi to the local eatery De Faam, where I get to sample Wildstoofpot, a tasty casserole of venison, rabbit and (I’m guessing) wild boar, before we make tracks the hundred metres or so to Café de Noot, as the snow gets heavier still.
Café de Noot is a real old-fashioned rock venue, a low-ceilinged, L-shaped room with a cramped, foot-high stage, decorated with musical instruments and posters celebrating everyone from Zeppelin to Buddy Guy, Rory Gallagher and Joe Bonamassa.  It’s also a sell-out tonight, and the two bars are doing a roaring trade.  A De Konincke beer?  I don’t mind if I do!
When Sean Webster and pals get going, Cafe de Noot shows off another asset.  If the sound balance in Breda was spot on, it was also a bit clean.  Here though, it has more oomph, generating the right kind of grit for a blues-rock gig.
Webster and co manage to squeeze out a bit more time tonight, and they impress again
with the sensitive narrative quality of Keith Urban's ‘Til' The Summer Comes Around’ and the bump’n’grind of ‘I Don’t Wanna Talk About It’, on which Webster’s vocals assume an eye-popping intensity.

Then King King are onstage and plugging in, as usual to the strains of ‘Alright Now’, and it says something about this crowd that they need no second invitation from Alan Nimmo to join in with the Free classic.  These punters are here to have a good time.
Lindsey Coulson gets in the groove
They’re damned tall punters too, some of them, and though I’m barely 2 metres from the stage there’s a good deal of head-tilting required to keep Nimmo in view.  But it really doesn’t matter, because by the time they get through a floor-shaking ‘Lose Control’ and into ‘Wait On Time’, it’s clear that tonight King King are cooking on gas.  Notes?  Feck taking notes!
There’s more urgency apparent tonight as they get to grips with ‘Waking Up’, with Nimmo getting his monitor level fixed with a nod and a wink to the sound desk without breaking stride.  His solo on ‘Long History Of Love’ is electrifying, even if some of the audience are a bit too vocal during the quiet section, leading him to suggest in his polite Glasgow manner that if they want to talk all night they can go outside and do it in the snow.
The room is rocking again for ‘More Than I Can Take, the place getting sweaty by now, and on ‘You Stopped The Rain’ Wayne Proctor’s drums seem to be driving Alan Nimmo to even greater heights on his closing solo.
In fact tonight I get more of an opportunity to pay attention to Proctor’s drumming, not least on ‘Take A Look’.  In some ways he’s an unobtrusive sort, not one for crashing around an array of cymbals – he only has two, for a start.  There are drummers I’ve seen who pay close attention to their guitarist, following their moves and underlining solos with little stings and flourishes, and they can be great at it.  Proctor doesn’t do that.  He doesn’t watch Alan Nimmo – in fact half the time his eyes are half-closed, as if he’s feeling the core of the song and bringing his drumming from somewhere deep down underneath to push it exactly where it needs to go.  Alan Nimmo may lead King King from the front, but Wayne Proctor is one hell of a back seat driver.
Alan Nimmo just about to lose control
On ‘All Your Life’ Nimmo gets into finger-snapping jazz-band leader mode as urges Bob Fridzema to “Go Bobby”, while Proctor amuses Lindsay Coulson with own more pithy encouragements to Bob.
Proctor’s drumming in the middle of ‘Stranger To Love’ is immense, and the crowd are on their best behaviour during Nimmo’s sotto voce guitar solo, with no further threats of expulsion required.
There’s no messing about tonight with lengthy exits before an encore – God alone knows where the dressing room is, but it may require a trip outside.  So they only take the briefest of breathers before bringing the night to a close with ‘Let Love In’, to which the crowd add lusty vocal assistance.  Then it’s time for another drink – yep, a De Konincke will do nicely, thanks – before heading out into the snow.
King King should really be playing in bigger places than Café de Noot, as they are nowadays back in Britain.  But for now it’s great to catch them up close and personal, rocking a genuine rock’n’roll joint.

Next stop – Arnhem!

You can find Part 1 of Taking the Low Road here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Taking the Low Road - King King on tour in the Netherlands, Part 1

Dateline: 10 February 2017     Venue: MEZZ, Breda

It’s tea time in Breda, in the Southern Netherlands, and big snowflakes are falling gently amid the quaint architecture of the town centre.  You might call it damned cold, but it’s a bit of a winter wonderland.  What better way to start a weekend following King King on a spin round Holland?
There are a number of things to love about visiting the Netherlands.  For one thing, the local generally speak excellent English, which is just as well, because while I’ll have a stab at French and Italian, even basic Dutch is way beyond my ken.  What’s more, they’re so
Alan Nimmo gets the blues
friendly and helpful.  As we sit in the warmth of the Le Petit pub, with a Hergot Jan beer for company, the owner happily points out that the venue for tonight’s gig, is just across the road.  It’s the same when we grab a pre-show burger over the street at VanCoot 13 – the waitress translates the menu, the burgers are excellent, and everything is done with a smile.
It’s all a satisfying precursor to the show in the sleek and modern brown cocoon that is MEZZ.  When support act the Sean Webster Band kick off proceedings, it’s apparent that the place has an impressive lighting rig, and the sound balance from the PA is crystal clear.
Webster and his four-piece band deliver a warm and soulful half-hour set, featuring plenty of his imminent new album Leave Your Heart At The Door.  Webster’s Joe Cocker-ish voice is well-suited to his line in plaintive blues rock, selling the lyrics with conviction, and he adds some tasty guitar to the likes of the strutting ‘You Got To Know’, while the rest of the band swing nicely behind him.
Suitably warmed up, the crowd are ready to let go from the moment Alan Nimmo crunches into his usual couple of guitar chords to trigger ‘Lose Control’, and King King are off and running.
The set largely follows King King Live, minus ‘Jealousy’ and ‘Crazy’, but with the moody ‘Take A Look’ added mid-set.  So we get three episodes of kilt-swinging funk in the course of night, starting with the ‘Wait On Time’, on which Bob Fridzema limbers up his digits with a
Sean Webster and gang pretend to be King King
surging solo.  Turns out that’s just a dry run for episode 2 though, because he delivers an absolute ripsnorter on ‘All Your Life’, which also features an ‘incredible shrinking duet’ on organ and guitar from Fridzema and Nimmo.  Episode 3, needless to say, is the good-time encore of ‘Let Love In’.
Along the way, key highlights come in the form of ‘Long History Of Love’ and ‘You Stopped The Rain’.  The former opens with a simple emotional quality, before Alan Nimmo’s guitar solo and Wayne Proctor’s drums work in synch to build a feverish intensity.  On ‘You Stopped The Rain’, meanwhile, Nimmo’s climactic second solo heads off into the stratosphere.
Set closer ‘Stranger To Love’ is a final peak, by turns shimmering and body-punch gutsy.  A few poor souls evidently haven’t got the memo about staying quiet during Nimmo’s ‘hear a pin drop’ guitar showcase, but thanks to some subtle hand signals from him, and some not so subtle signals from those in the know, they get the message.
After a final vocal workout for all concerned on ‘Let Love In’ it’s time to head back to our top notch digs at the nearby Hotel Nassau, a stylish re-modelling of some historic buildings in which the Order of Franciscan Sisters ran an orphanage until the Nineties.  Dunno what the Sisters would have made of some of the sinful artwork, mind you!

Next stop – Amersfoort!