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 ‘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.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

This Was B'N'T - Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, 21 July 2017

Tim Elliott officially called time on the Edinburgh R’n’B institution that was Blues’N’Trouble back in May this year, after several decades of rockin’ the joint.  So ‘This Was B’N’T’ is by way of a coda, if you like, a testimonial to those years of happy rocking, featuring Elliott along with guitarists from different eras of the band, John Bruce (or Jivin’ Johnny, as Elliott is wont to call him) and Sandy Tweeddale.
Tim Elliott huffs and puffs and blows the house down
In the circumstances, due respect should really be paid by arriving on time, but for one reason and another they’re almost three songs in by the time I get there.  No matter, from the minute I dash into the Spiegeltent it’s apparent that they’re on the kind of form to make sure everyone has a good time, with the excellent ‘Watermelon Minnie’ featuring jittery guitar lines over a Bo Diddley-ish beat.
They get right into the groove with the slower ‘B’n’T Blues’, on which Elliott shows that he still has a great blues voice and phrasing.  Tweeddale contributes a biting solo, complemented by beautifully subtle bass from Chris Agnew, before Bruce gets wild and wailing on his Strat, with some nice accents thrown into the mix by drummer Will Molleson.
They follow that up with the barnstorming riff of ‘What’s The Matter’ - a chunk of heads down, no nonsense boogie if ever there was one - and then for good measure the excellent jump blues of ‘Downtown Saturday Night’, with Molleson swinging like he’s Charlie Watts.
Throughout all this Elliott is in great form, declaring that this or that riffs were nicked, and, baggy suit and all, indulging in the most amiable dad dancing you’re ever likely to see, unable to resist a rock’n’roll rhythms or the roller coaster of a guitar solo.  But he also shows his mettle when the road rhythm of ‘Travellin’ Light’, with its cutting slide solo from John Bruce, melts into ‘Honeypot’ – as ever, a delicious huffing and puffing harp showcase.  It’s

such a simple affair of harp, voice and minimal drums, and they crown it with a false ending before the band kick in again to close the first set.
Bruce, Elliott and Tweeddale - Let's Rock!
After that the second set is simply party time, right from the opening ‘Red Hot’, about which Elliott recounts the story of the late Stones sideman Ian Stewart recording with them, and being unable to keep up on piano, so that they had to slow the tape down for him to play along. ‘Rocking With You Jimmy’ is a solid boogie, and a good warm up for the old war horse that is Sam The Sham & The Prophets’ ‘Wooly Bully’.
Other highlights include the witty ‘Try Anything Twice’, written with Tweeddale who contributes a spiky guitar riff, and the soulful ‘Wake Up Mama’, a slowie in Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland mode, with some sparring guitaring from Bruce and Tweeddale, while they also do rock’n’rolling justice to the sibling of ‘Johnny B. Goode’ that is ‘Let It Rock’.
There are still more sparky guitar licks to be heard on the closing ‘Long Gone Man’, and then standing ovations before and after the encore of ‘Why Why Why’, deservedly recognising a dynamite performance, not just from Elliott and the two guitar players, but also from the rhythm section of Agnew and Molleson.

And that was B’N’T, that was - a treasure trove of R’n’B, delivered with love and affection.  They don’t make many of ‘em like that any more.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Swampfog Play The Meters - Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, 18 July 2017

A flurry of horns and then we’re straight into a chunky groove from the Swampfog rhythm section, with Jed Potts on guitar, kicking off a medley of early Meters material.  One of an interlinked ensemble of Edinburgh bands serving up a variety of R’n’B based recipes, Swampfog are well equipped to deliver a menu of The Meters’ N’Awlins funk – and tonight they’ve recruited some guests to add some extra heat to the jambalaya.
As the opening medley progresses, with jazzy horn arrangements from sax man Tom
Potts and Pickles serve up a tasty gumbo
Pickles and great syncopation from Jamie Graham on drums and Craig McFadyen on bass, it’s clear that tonight all concerned are in for a treat.  There’s nice interplay all round, plus some very NOLA chant-along passages, and a tasty trumpet solo from Charles Dearness.  By the time they get to the shuffling ‘Cabbage Alley’, with a trombone solo from Paddy Darley, there’s some wee fella dancing away on his own in the corner – but he certainly won’t be dancing alone all night.
An imaginative clapalong directed by Potts, and a trombone solo from Ross Lothian preface ‘Chicken Strut’, on which Potts conjures up a horn-like guitar tone for a juicy solo. Pickles’ sax solo could do with a touch more volume – but the horn riff is terrific.  On ‘Ease Back’ they – well, ease back.  It’s a mellow slow one, with more spot-on syncopation, and another grabber of a trumpet solo before it dwindles down to nothing.  Then BAM – they explode into ‘Ride Your Pony’, the groove embellished with a smattering of witty little musical asides.
The first of a series of guests appear in the form of New Orleans’ trumpet player Kevin Louis and local singer Nicole Smits, doing a slinky trio reading of ‘I’m Gone’ with Potts.  Smits sticks around for ‘Liar’ when the band returns, with Potts showing off some funky riffing.  It’s a prelude to some serious guitar wrangling to close their first set, on the jagged ‘Just Kissed My Baby’ – a wonderfully HUH invoking funkerama – and then on Dr John’s ‘Quitters Don’t Win’.
After the break Potts and the rhythm section set off on the laid back shuffle of ‘Here Comes
Steve Glenn doesn't play a tuba
The Meter Man’ until the horns re-enter, heralding a groovy sax solo from Potts, and then it’s time for another guest.  Local boy Angus Munro appears to sing on the excellent ‘Talkin’ ‘Bout New Orleans’, and along with a soul-freakish voice he has a grinning, energetic style that immediately triggers an outbreak of audience dancing.
With the temperature raised, N’Awlins players James Martin on sax and Danny Abel on guitar join the fray for ‘It Ain’t No Use’, Martin also contributing the vocal.  Abel shows off a biting tone, and a fluid, soulful style, while Martin contributes a wailing solo that resolves into a lovely riff from the horn section.
The stage begins to fill up as Kevin Louis returns, accompanied by Aron Lambert who delivers some all action drumming while Potts and Abel get into some quick-fire guitar duelling on the well danceable ‘Stretch Your Rubber Band’.  And then it’s time for the entry of . . . Steve ‘Tuba Steve’ Glenn on – no, not tuba, but sousaphone of all things.  Ever seen a drum and sousaphone showcase?  Well Glenn and Lambert give it a cracking go on the stonking ‘Fire On The Bayou’.
Angus Munro returns for the finale of ‘People Say’, and though it may be a slice of social commentary tonight it’s quite simply party time, as Munro leads the dancing in front of the band.  Eventually they bring down the curtain and depart the stage, and for a minute it seems that calls for an encore are going to be frustrated – until they catch us on the hop with the horns re-entering from the back of the Piccolo Spiegeltent.

It’s the cue for a joyous cacophony, a riot of a conclusion in which all concerned show their chops as they manage to hold it together while chucking the rules out the window.  Tonight was billed as Swampfog Play The Meters, but high fives all round for a night of funk, fun and frolics, as the Big Easy came to Auld Reekie.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Songhoy Blues - Somerset House, London, 16 July 2017

Malian desert blues honchos Songhoy Blues made quite an impression a couple of years back when they first ventured to Europe.  Their impact was such that they were even invited to contribute a cover of ‘Kashmir’ for a magazine’s CD tribute to Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti.
The courtyard of Somerset House seems like an incongruous setting for a band born out of the sub-Sahara and oppression.  But on a warm summer’s night it suits the vibrancy of Songhoy Blues’ performance just dandy.  They come onstage accompanied by The Clash’s ‘Should I Stay Or Should I Go’, summing up their dilemma as guys who love their home but had to flee northern Mali for the capital Bamako, and they immediately begin to set the place alight with their energy.
Songhoy Blues - May the force go with them
Right from the off they seem to offer a variety of influences and none. An early rolling groove with hints of drone sounds is a reminder that there are artists out there aiming to forge an Afro-Celtic sound.  Garba Touré’s lead guitar work is by turns brittle and jazzy, spiky and twirling, until he launches into a thoroughly guitar-heroic, wildly fuzzy solo.  Meanwhile Nathaniel Dembelé on drums and Oumar Touré on bass (yup, it’s a veritable tower of Tourés) lay down a shuffling rhythm.  Dembelé’s drumming may seem thoroughly Western in style, but the overall effect is subtly different, creating a singular sound.
Frontman Aliou Touré sings with conviction in both his own lingo and English, incorporating frequent call and response chants with his bandmates, while cavorting energetically about the stage.  Now and then he also straps on a guitar to thicken the sound, as on their theme song ‘Songhoy’ itself, with its chunky riff.
Garba Touré reaches for an acoustic guitar for ‘Hometown’, which shows off their range with an almost hill country bluesy riff while conjuring unexpected chords and directions.  In the next breath ‘Bamako’ is irresistibly funky, supplemented by trumpet and sax and featuring another sizzling guitar solo.  ‘Sahara’, on which Iggy Pop of all people guested on their latest album Résistance, takes a blues meets punk line, with GT’s guitar alternately pinging and then gritty.
But it’s probably ‘Ai Tchere Bele’, from their first album Music In Exile, that really underlines their range.  It’s a wacko collision of styles that recalls the wildness of early White Denim, with Aliou Touré’s dancing apparently infected by the spirit of Sam and Dave.

They close the night with an encore of ‘Voter’, from the new album, finishing the audience off with its pummelling riff.  For a band which grew out of the hardest of times, escaping sharia law, Songhoy Blues have a life-affirming energy about them.  “Music is the universal language” is a typical piece of between songs chat from Aliou Touré.  On this evidence, he knows whereof he speaks.