Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Pretty Things and Mike Sanchez - Edinburgh Blues'N'Rock Festival, 29 July 2017

It’s well into the evening at the Corn Exchange, and after a belter of a set from the Stevie Nimmo Trio it’s time for those Sixties veterans The Pretty Things.
They get the ball rolling with a bundle of R’n’B, including their own short and sweet ‘Honey I Need’, and ‘Mama Keep Your Big Shout’ which features rippling guitar from original member Dick Taylor and a great bass riff from George Woosey.  They also turn out an idiosyncratic take on ‘Big Boss Man’, with a harp solo from second guitarist Frank Holland and some nifty guitar work from Taylor, who cuts a stooped figure but has evidently got the spirit.
Dick Taylor and Phil May - pretty young things
But while the Pretty Things had their roots in the R’n’B scene of the early Sixties, they also delved into more experimental fare as the decade wore on.  Consequently they progress to songs like ‘Same Sun’, which provides an echo of the earlier set by Miracle Glass Company, followed by something heavier, wilder and more psychedelic that I suspect was ‘We’ll Play House’.  It’s good, but also points towards a particularly English style of whimsical psychedelia that just isn’t my cup of Joe.  So ‘She’s Next Door’ benefits from some chiming guitar lines and a pleasantly wonky Strat solo from Frank Holland, but the title track from their cult classic album S.F. Sorrow really doesn’t do it for me, while to my ears ‘I See You’ is just yawnsome.
Things buck though when they get back on the authentic R’n’B beat with ‘Can’t Be Satisfied’, propelled by a stomping bass drum from Jack Greenwood.  Taylor adds acoustic slide to that, and does an even tastier job with it on Robert Johnson’s ‘Come In To My Kitchen’, a song that always repays sensitive handling.
Phil May then announces that it’s time for them to get into Bo Diddley mode, and things duly get more electric on ‘Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover’.  ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ shows off the originality of Diddley’s material, with the band’s young dudes Woosey and Greenwood hunkering down and delivering bucket loads of energy, while Phil May lets loose with the trademark vocal squawk that can be heard on many a PT recording.
‘Ramona’ is based on the typical Bo Diddley beat, and could just as easily be ‘Not Fade Away’ or ‘Bo Diddley’ itself, but is set apart here by some call and response guitar and bass between Taylor and Woosey, and a powerhouse drum solo from Greenwood.  Which just leaves time for them to bow out with ‘Big City’, with its rousing chorus and an explosive finish.
I must confess that Mike Sanchez has passed me by before now, despite the fact that the piano man has been a long time associate of the likes of Mick Fleetwood, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, and a member of Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings.  I imagine their interest is due to his authentic feel for old-fashioned rock’n’roll, judging by his performance here.
If he eases in with the boogie woogie of ‘Back To The Highway’, he’s soon cranking it up.  ‘Red Hot Mama’ is driving rock’n’roll, while on ‘I Get So Hungry’ he and his band pick up the
Mike Sanchez does some ivory tinkling
swing baton from Deke McGee, with some corny lyrics worthy of Louis Jordan.  ‘I’m Ready’ has more of a Fats Domino feel than the wildness of Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis, and Sanchez demonstrates that he has a good voice for it.   Contrastingly, there’s a New Orleans vibe to ‘Rock Rock Rock’, with a great tenor sax solo from Martin Winning just one illustration of what a crack band Sanchez has.
Coming down the stretch it’s just a catalogue of hits from all quarters, kicking off with an unusual take on John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boom Boom Boom’ that suddenly switches into ‘Shake Your Hips’, which is where Black Cat Bone started the day nine hours earlier.  Sanchez then embarks on a rollicking medley of Bo Diddley songs interspersed with god knows what else, including the likes of ‘Tequila’, ‘Oh Well’ and ‘Black Betty’.
By now it’s getting late, and a fatigued crowd is starting to thin out, but Sanchez keeps pounding it out for a while longer, concluding with a finale that includes ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ and ‘Wild One’.  It’s a good rockin’ end to the night, but as with Deke McGee it feels rather lost in a big room like the Corn Exchange.  If I ever see Mike Sanchez again, I want it to be some place where the walls are sweating and the audience has a heaving dance floor shaking.  That’s where this stuff would get really red hot, mama.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Afternoon Session - Edinburgh Blues'N'Rock Festival, 29 July 2017

Two o’clock, tick tock.  It’s curtain up for the second edition Edinburgh Blues’N’Rock Festival, and this time around it’s local boys Black Cat Bone doing the opening act honours, with their distinctive brand of “alt blues rock’n’roll”.
And what that means right now is that their take on the much-covered Slim Harpo choon ‘Shake Your Hips’ (aka ‘Hip Shake Baby’), is a chugging, head-on collision between the
Black Cat Bone - not what you'd call pretty in pink
grungy hard rock and old fashioned R’n’B, overlaid with the growling vocals and howling harp of front man Ross Craig.
Their mix of new songs and tracks taken from their 2015 album Growl exploits a deliciously big, greasy, dirty groove laid down by the two guitars of Luis Del Castillo and Charlie Wild, and the bass and drums of Jonny Voodoo and Kai Wallace.  They need to take care though that the groove doesn’t turn into a rut in which everything sounds the same.
Highlights include ‘Remiss’, on which a bluesy slow guitar intro gives way to a stomp’n’grind that begins to suggest the Doors inhabiting a very dark place.  ‘Punks Not Pushers’ manages to roll to a different rhythm as well.
They get brisker in places, but ‘Lost’ reinforces the impression of Jim Morrison piloting an especially doomy version of ‘Roadhouse Blues’, and they conjure up a big finish on ‘Love My Baby’.  Good on ‘em.
Glasgow’s Deke McGee Band are in a rather more traditional vein.  With McGee’s sax to the fore, they’re a throwback to the “small big bands” of the late 40s and early 50s, devoted to the jump blues and rockabilly that were key ingredients in the recipe for rock’n’roll.
A veteran of work with many a big name from the blues and beyond, McGee assuredly knows what he’s about, and they duly set about putting the boogie in the woogie.  Naturally they can lay back and swing as well though, with McGee demonstrating the liquid he can bring to his vocals on ‘Here Comes Trouble’, which encourages a couple of very talented swing dancers onto the floor to strut their stuff.
Deke McGee - good rockin' at three in the afternoon
They could possibly do with a fuller sound for venue the size of the Corn Exchange – there’s a sense that this stuff would really come alive in some cramped, sweaty joint where the dance floor is irresistible.  But no matter, new song ‘House Rent Party’ rocks away nicely, while Floyd Dixon’s ‘Hey Bartender’ is given an outing with plenty of pizzazz but lacking the kind of raucous backing vox that could make it really take off.
Connor Smith carries off some sparkly, jazzy rockabilly guitar on ‘Blind Blind Blind’, followed by a stand-up bass solo from Simon Gray as a prelude to a neat sax and guitar duet passage.  They finish up by giving it some welly on Big Joe Turner’s ‘Hide And Seek’, featuring a hammering slab of piano work from Tim Brough.  The frequent return visits of those dancers, and some others, is testament to the fact that Deke and co know have got the requisite swing.
Emmy-nominated American duo Mirror Speaks The Truth describe their music as ‘Gothicana Soul’, but in truth it doesn’t seem to me to be much that’s Gothic about it, Southern or otherwise.  Comprising singer Glenda Benevides and guitarist/vocalist Gene Williams, they’re certainly confident performers, delivering a blend of soul that’s underpinned by Williams’ acoustic guitar and layers of electronic beats, backing vocals and other instruments.  The sound is then garnished with lyrics that have a decidedly American pop-psychology turn that doesn’t really convince.
Benevides is a strong vocalist, and on the likes of ‘Hold On’ they deploy some modern rhythms, but the longer they go on the clearer it becomes that they’re not setting the heather on fire.  In the end it’s a relief that they restrict themselves to just a thirty minute set.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Evening Session - Edinburgh Blues'N'Rock Festival, 29 July 2017

It’s 5pm at the Corn Exchange, and the Edinburgh Blues’N’Rock Festival gets down to serious business, as Gerry Jablonski And The Electric Band take the stage.
This, I have to say, turns out to be the most enjoyable set I’ve seen to date from GJ and co, despite – or maybe because of – the fact that it only runs to 50 minutes or so. Leaning heavily on material from Trouble With The Blues and a forthcoming EP, it maintains the balance throughout between Jablonski’s guitar and Pieter Narojczyk’s harp that is their trademark, without lapsing into spells of AOR as they're sometimes prone to do.
Jablonski and Narojczyk - slaves to the rhythm
They’ve always been capable of turning out strong material, and that’s certainly evident tonight, from the opening new song ‘Heavy Water’ to the closing favourite of ‘Slave To The Rhythm’.  Jablonski himself is on fine guitar soloing form too, cranking out a couple of scorchers on ‘Two Time Lover’ and ‘Soul Sister’, and contributing an intro to ‘Dancing With The Angel Of Love’ that draws on ‘Nessum Dorma’ in a style redolent of Gary Moore.
As usual, Narojczyk is a force of nature.  Prowling the stage with an in-yer-face intensity isn’t enough for him on ‘Hard To Make A Living’, and as Lewis Fraser drives it forward with rampaging, booming drums he leaps off the stage to get closer to the audience.  On ‘Two Time Lover’ he repeats the trick, before climbing on a table in the midst of a group to deliver his solo.  It’s typical of the bristling energy he brings to the show from start to finish.
As a counterpoint Jablonski has a tendency to indulge in a bit too much goofing around, hopping about during solos in a manner that doesn’t quite fit with the weapons-grade harp-blowing of his partner.  But he does bring a strong vocal to the party, and is capable of ripping into a muscular riff on the likes of ‘Fork Fed Dog’, while Grigor Leslie also delivers a squelchy, funky bass showcase on ‘Trouble With The Blues’.  So it’s a big thumbs up to the whole crew for this outing, and I look forward to hearing that new EP.
Next up, Miracle Glass Company turn out to be the surprise package of the day.  Coming on to a squall of feedback, the Edinburgh trio turn in a thumpingly impressive performance running through songs from their 2016 debut album MGC1.  Mining a psychedelic seam,
Miracle Glass Company go all cycle-dealer
their material is shot through with echoes of everyone from CS&N to late period Beatles to the Eagles to the Byrds – hell, I’ve even got notes about the Monkees and the Stone Roses.
A constant throughout all of this is the quality of their vocals.  Each of them – William Douglas on bass, Austen George on guitar and Andy Duncan on drums – contributes lead vocals at some point.  But collectively they also grab the ear with a succession of classy three-part harmonies.
The material and the playing have a similar impact, and variety with it.  So ‘T.R.O.U.B.L.E’ delivers a Beatle-ish melody garnished with rumbling drums, prickly guitar followed by a hazy solo, and manages to sound both forceful and imaginative.  Douglas contributes both heavy bass and a Macca-like vocal turn on the sunlit Sixties style pop of ‘Big Beat’.  ‘Miss Rain’ has a spacy, Hendrix-ike intro before turning into mellower Byrds territory, with a great middle eight feature more of those marvellous harmonies, followed by a suitably country-style guitar solo from George.  ‘Little Country Thing’ is neatly structured, with a tripping beat and lovely little guitar fills.
The closing ‘Turnaround’ takes it all to the max, with a thudding beat and quirky passages leading up to a wig-out mid-section where they dip their toes into jam band waters amid a storm of drums and guitar.  This was my first encounter with Miracle Glass Company, but it sure won’t be the last.
If Miracle Glass Company don’t have a whole lot to say for themselves in the course of their set, when the Stevie Nimmo Trio come on stage the main man immediately begins to engage with the audience, enquiring if any of them are going to get their arses out of their seats without him badgering them.  And as the riff of ‘Roll The Dice’ ring out, people do start to filter onto the dance floor, in time to witness Nimmo crank a fierce guitar solo.
Stevie Nimmo - out of the black and into the blues
If the audience eases into proceedings in response to Nimmo’s banter, it’s evident that the band are also in relaxed form and enjoying themselves.  Nimmo in particular seems to be in the zone, unfurling a gut-wrenching solo on the gritty ‘Still Hungry’, and then yet another belter on the hypnotic ‘Running Back To You’, where propelled by Craig Bacon’s drums they whip up a storm of a crescendo.
‘Change’ cools things off and lets everyone take a breath before they interrupt the stream of songs from Sky Won’t Fall with the semi-countrified cover of Storyville’s ‘Good Day For The Blues’, from Stevie’s earlier semi-acoustic album The Wynds Of Life.
‘Chains Of Hope’ dirties things up again over bubbling bass from Mat Beable, before the good time tour de force that is ‘Lovin’ Might Do Us Good’.  Starting off in a light funk mode, it morphs into a cavorting Southern rock jam that has smiles on the faces of the band as well as the audience, even before the now traditional injection of a snippet of the Allmans’ ‘Jessica’.
Just to put the tin lid on it, they wheel out ‘Going Down’, with what seems like an extra funked up intro.  Nimmo does justice to the weight of the riff, and gets the crowd on board for a chorus or two before they put the pedal to the metal at the end, the three of them leaning their collective big feet on the gas.
A few couples even attempt to swing dance to the muscular likes of ‘Still Hungry’ and ‘Chains Of Hope’.  That, I imagine, isn’t something they’ve seen much before.  But it’s testament to the finesse of Nimmo and his boys, delivering loud blues rock with a light touch, and once again producing a good day for the blues.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Blues Afternoon - Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, 22 July 2017

Welcome to Scotland in July.  Here in Edinburgh we’ve got a Saturday afternoon monsoon going down – but the rain is nice and warm.  As the saying goes though, it never rains in the pub, and not in the George Square Spiegelent either.
Main Street Blues do a good job of heating everyone up in any case. They’re not what you’d call an in-yer-face bunch, but in their unassuming way this is a band whose various elements dovetail neatly throughout their selection of originals and covers.
Derek Smith gets tasteful
The opener of Coco Montoya’s ‘Last Dirty Deal’ is a good illustration of their poise, showing off well-balanced sound, Derek Smith’s warm and mellow vocals, and added colour from the keyboards of Iain Hanna.  Meanwhile the rhythm section of David Boyle, depping on drums, and John Hay on 5 string bass, provide plenty of bottom.  A cover of the smoky Bob Geddins slowie ‘Tin Pan Alley’ underlines those qualities.  Featuring a rousing organ solo that suggests Hanna has listened to Jon Lord once or twice, it also suits Smith’s voice and his tasteful lead guitar work with its absence of overplaying.  Alvin Lee’s intense ‘The Bluest Blues’ grows in intensity, with the guitar and keys perfectly balanced, and some particularly attractive piano glissandos from Hanna.
They’re also well capable on the writing front, as evidenced firstly by ‘Write If You Find Love’, and later by the shuffle of ‘Lost Without You’, which features piano from Hanna and nice dynamics, and also the gutsy riff and surges of organ on ‘Cold Cold Bed’.  It’s an impressive 45 minute set, and I look forward to nabbing a copy of their next album.
Jed Potts goes wang dang doodle
Jed Potts and the Hillman Hunters are up next – and just how many appearances has the Potts fella made in the course of this Festival?  It looks like he’s still enjoying himself at any rate, as he and his trio crack open ‘Days Of Old’, aka ‘Gonna Ball Tonight’.
After a Freddie King instrumental he’s joined for the rest of his set by Memphis harp honcho Brandon Santini, kicking off with ‘Don’t Tell Me’, a slowie on which Santini brews up a forceful harp solo, matched by a note-bending workout from Potts.  Santini takes over on vocals for his own ‘Evil Woman’, pitching in with a booming voice and an easygoing storytelling style to go with some jittery, high pitched harp.
Brandon Santini leans in
They romp through ‘Catfish Blues’ and Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Nine Below Zero’, with Potts and Santini bouncing off each other to great effect.  Along the way, Potts’ inventiveness as a guitarist is frequently evident, firing in licks from unusual angles and coaxing different sounds out of his Telecaster.
Potts introduces ‘Juicy Fruit’ as “a bum wiggler”, and with some justification as it proceeds on its merry, Chuck Berry kinda way.  They close with another take on Freddie King, this time ‘C.C. Baby’, a swinging affair driven along by Charlie Wild’s walking bass, that has all concerned wishing there was time for one or two more.
What’s not to like about Gráinne Duffy?  Quite apart from her Irish charm, she has a voice right out of the top drawer, forms a mean guitar pairing with husband Paul Sherry, and writes some damn fine songs.  All of which assets were in evidence during this set.
Both ‘Each And Every Time’ and ‘Drivin’ Me Crazy’ draw inevitable vocal comparisons with Bonnie Raitt, the former with nice interlinking of guitar parts and a lazy Southern sound, the latter in a similar rocked up country mode to Shania Twain.  Then Sherry contributes sweet, laid back slide to ‘I Don’t Know Why’, into which they also manage to work a reggae break.
Paul Sherry and Gráinne Duffy - a mean guitar pairing
Duffy observes that ‘Good Love Had To Die’ was inspired by Peter Green, and her guitar work certainly nods strongly towards Green’s guitar tone, while Sherry also adds a nice solo.  In a different vein, the funky groove of ‘Voodoo Woman’ heralds bass and drums showcases from Paul McCain and Darren Beckett respectively.
New song ‘Blame It On You’ ushers in a corking vocal performance, but that’s just a warm up for Duffy’s reading of ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’.  If you’re going to tackle the Etta James classic then you’d better do it justice, and Duffy assuredly does that.  Like Dani Wilde, she has an impressive repertoire of vocal tricks at her disposal, but uses them sparingly, peaking with a gravity-defying long note that draws an involuntary sigh of approval from the audience.
Having knocked everyone sideways with that, Duffy and co bring things to a rocking close with ‘Test Of Time’, the title track from her second album.  It’s a suitably upbeat ending to a great afternoon – three bands coming at the blues from different angles, putting a smile on everyone’s face.  Even if the rain had got worse in the meantime.