Sunday, June 7, 2015

Marcus Malone, Kaz Hawkins - Ardrossan Music Experience, 5 June 2015

Ardrossan may not be the rock’n’roll capital of the world, but full marks to the organisers of the Ardrossan Music Experience, who go the whole hog to create a summer highlight for the town.  The town's Civic Centre is a bright and spacious venue, with a neat stage, and they take the trouble to invest in a professional sound and lighting system for a couple of nights.  And as a visitor from further afield, all and sundry give you a warm welcome.
The friendly atmosphere is epitomised by opening act Sonny Daze and the Restless Knights, a local band who knock out a breezy set of covers and originals. The five-piece are amiably fronted by Gordon McNeil with his confident vocals, while his partner in crime Willie Harvey serves up some pretty damn good guitar.  Drummer Ash McNeil only took to the skins last year when the band were let down by another drummer, and she accidentally and literally became the “first lady [performer] of the Experience” in the process – pretty much summing up the adventure the event offers locally.
The one drawback of a spacious venue like this, set up cabaret style, is that it can reduce the intimacy between the band and the audience, who can get all too comfortable in their seats.  But Marcus Malone aren’t to be denied in the course of their hour-long set, and end up rocking the house.
The set tonight is a mixture of old, new and nothing borrowed, that lives up to the title of their rocking set opener ‘Living The Blues’, from most recent album Stand Or Fall.  Next up is newie ‘House Of Blues’, which keeps up the momentum with a guitar riff redolent of ‘Green Onions’.  Another new song, ‘Feeling Bad Blues’, gets a run out a little while later, again boding well for the next studio album.
Marcus Malone gets down and gets with it, with Sean Nolan (left) and Yo Yo Buys (right)
Marcus dips into his back catalogue, going all the way back to 1999 and One More Time for the gutsy, hard-riffing ‘This Heart’s For Rent’ and the swinging boogie of ‘Tell Me Why’.  By the time they get into ‘Slow Down’, people are well and truly in the groove, responding as the rhythm section of Yo-Yo Buys on bass, and especially Chris Nugent on drums, push the tempo along.  ‘One More Time’ itself, meanwhile, is a soulful showstopper, with a barnstorming, stinging guitar solo from Sean Nolan and bravura vocals from Marcus, both of them teasing the audience with spells of tension before letting go.
‘Detroit City Blues’, Malone’s testimonial to his long-suffering home town, drives home the rocking vibe, and it’s no wonder that the traditional set closer ‘Christine’, with its crunching riff, sees folk up and dancing, and singing along as instructed.  There are deserved solos too for Nugent and Buys.
To this observer, Grammy-nominated country singer Kim Richey is on a hiding to nothing after that, but clearly she has a loyal local fan base, who get right into her set.  She certainly has a great voice, and some good songs too, in particular 'Just My Luck' – apparently several have featured in the TV series Nashville.  She also gets some subtle colouring from her lead guitarist, but her own acoustic playing is sometimes a little humdrum, and with a four piece set up involving bass and keys but no drums things feel a little flat at times.
Flat is not a viable proposition with Kaz Hawkins on stage, as she and her Band O’Men set about things in style, Kaz resplendent in 50s vintage dress and her sidekicks in mix and match hats and bow ties.  She lives up to the hype about her forceful presence, leading from the front with her extraordinary voice – not just because of its power, or her occasional incredible falsetto, but more importantly because of its soulfulness.  She also straps on an acoustic guitar periodically to add some additional welly, and has the occasional whack on her own personal drum for good measure.
The thing is, Kaz Hawkins, is far, far more than just a rock’n’roll shouter.  As her first EP Better Days demonstrated, she’s a thoughtful and varied songwriter.  So the original material in her set shifts effortlessly from the dramatic ballad ‘I Saw A Man’, underpinned by subtle drum rhythms, to the disco-fied ‘Coz You’ and the offbeat ‘Drink With The Devil’.
If she protests that she loves Etta James but can’t tackle her ballads because they make her cry, she’s damn right to say that she can have some fun with ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ (though truth to tell, her own ‘Born To Be Lovers’ is also scorchingly sassy), and she goes on to have just as much with Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’. Never mind the rockabilly stage persona or the comic book cover of her debut album Get Ready, there’s a whole lot more to come from Kaz Hawkins, as a writer, a singer and a performer.

Coming soon - The Holy Ghosts at Ardrossan, Crow Black Chicken's new live album, and Hamilton Loomis live in Edinburgh.

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