Saturday, October 20, 2018

Listened to Lately - albums by Tomislav Goluban featuring Toni Staresinic; and Crudelia

Some strange shit comes your way in this line, I can tell you.  Not necessarily bad shit, I should stress.  Shit, like beauty, is very much in the eye of the beholder.  What's he on about now, you ask?  Well let's find out, with a couple of albums from the leftest of left fields.

The relationship between Velvet Space Love and the blues is, shall we say, rather tangential.  On this collection of 12 instrumentals from the hands of Tomislav Goluban featuring Toni Staresinic – eight originals, plus remixes of three of them, and a cover of an Ennio Morricone piece - the blues element is represented primarily by the harp playing of Croatian Tomislav Goluban.  Meanwhile his countryman Toni Staresinic adds layers of ambient music on piano, synthesizer and other keyboards, and an assortment of guest performers add analogue instrumentation to the mix.
Tomislav and Toni - Sonny and Cher they're not
And if none of that sounds very much like the blues, it has to be said that here and there it still works quite well in its own terms, corny titles and all.  ‘Zero Gravity’ kicks things off in suitably weightless fashion, with Goluban’s mournful harmonica played out over slow pulses of rhythm and washes of synth, while ‘Space Drive’ is more upbeat, with minimalist harp interjections over Motorik tick-tock-bleeping.
Among the highlights though, are ‘My Jupiter Mistress’ and ‘Hypersleep Dream’.  The former lays down a clanking rhythm foundation over which Staresinic plays a lovely piano motif that shifts and drifts delicately.  The latter is even better, Goluban’s elegiac harp refrain conjuring up a soundtrack from a John Wayne western as the sun sets over the prairie, enhanced by angelic backing “vocalization” from soprano Josipa Loncar.
‘Till The End Of Space And Time’ dials up the Kraftwerkian electronic rhythms again, this time underpinning some jauntier Zydeco-style harp from Goluban.  Two of the three remixes are tedious fare, overlong and over-reliant on repetitive drum programming, but ‘TSMK Remix’ gives the rather thin original a lift with the aid of dub beats and more focus on the mouth iron.  The Morricone tribute ‘Man With A Harmonica’ is a suitably atmospheric closer though, Goluban’s plangent harp suggesting nothing so much as the theme from The Singing Detective, mashed up with sweeps and bleeps of synth that could come from Twin Peaks.
It ain’t rock’n’roll, not by a long chalk, but if you have a secret fondness for Vangelis then knock yourself out.

And so to Threshold Volume 2, the debut album – and don’t ask me about Volume 1- from Italian-based Crudelia.  Brace yourselves people, because about thirty seconds in you’re going to encounter the singular vocals of Smokin’ Tiglio.  Sounding like a cross between a croaking Leonard Cohen and an escapee from a Mittel-European death metal band, it will inevitably get your attention.  I dunno what he’s going on about across most of this album, and since by all accounts he doesn’t speak English he probably doesn’t either - but he delivers it authoritatively.
Tiglio’s voice isn’t the be all and end all of this multi-national outfit though, and while they may style themselves as “funk-punk-blues” they tend to alternate in-your-face energy with more reflective material – Exhibit A being opening track ‘Sin Of Innocence’, which is a largely subdued affair, featuring both shimmering guitar strumming and vocal harmonies
Crudelia - yer average laid back experimental weirdos
from Eugenio Suvarov to counterpoint Tiglio’s groaning, all played out over a sparse rhythm section.
It’s a subtle recipe they explore further with the likes of ‘Downtown Mumbai’ and ‘I Pay For It’.  The former is downbeat, but this time in loping fashion, with sweet guitar work from Suvarov, making use of some jangling chords, while the latter is all mellow bluesiness, with measured bass and drums from Vincent Modenesi and Frank Funk ahead of a spiky Suvarov solo.
They do rev it up on other tracks though, like the energetic ‘The Blues’, with its scrabbly guitar over pounding drums, while ‘Gold Tonight’ is pretty much straight-ahead punk, with some quirky “a-ha-ha-ing” vocals thrown into the sort-of-chorus.  The title track has a driving riff over a full-on rhythm section, and some twiddly guitar fills as a prelude to a brief, scratchy solo, and ‘Muddy Waters’ is a jagged slice of twitching funkiness – and a bit repetitive until its stuttering outro.  But the closing track ‘Miriam’ epitomises their low-key side, with a spartan opening that leans heavily on flickering guitar notes and Tiglio’s voice, underpinned by some warped synth sounds courtesy of Modenesi, building towards a discordant, measured guitar solo.
I’ve heard worse albums than Threshold.  I’ve also heard stuff that has more musicality – but is far less interesting. At least Crudelia’s sound has personality.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Jawbone - Jawbone

Good tunes, good tunes. Good words too, for that matter.
If you’re thinking that Jawbone sounds like the monicker of some thrash metal band, you can dispense with that notion pronto.  This four-piece featuring Paddy Milner on keys and vocals, Marcus Bonfanti on guitar and vocals, and Rex Horan and Evan Jenkins on bass and drums respectively, is actually named after a song on the eponymous 1969 album by The Band.  Which makes absolute sense when you listen to the stew of rootsy, bluesy, Sixties rock they’ve cooked up on this debut album.
But there’s a very British sensibility at work here too, so that whatever their influences their sound evokes the likes of Van the Man without the spiritual intensity, Gerry Rafferty without the dense production, and Jackie Leven without the eccentricity.
Jawbone get down and get with it, sitting round the table
Pic by Rob Blackham
And in fact the peak point of the album lies in two songs just after halfway, in ‘Rolling On The Underground’ and ‘Big Old Smoke’, each of which in its own way is a paean to the foursome’s home base of London.  The first has a Kinks-meets-Beatles feel, with stabbing guitar chords over rattling drums on the intro, Milner and Bonfanti sharing the vocals, and the kind of catchy melody that you’ll soon realise is a trademark, especially with it’s descending “Down, down, down, down” chorus.  The second is a rousing, brisk affair, on which Bonfanti does the singing in a typically gruff fashion.  The most booty-shaking grabber on the record, with a slide guitar riff, honky tonk piano and stinging Bonfanti solo, it’s simple but classic rock’n’roll.
Not that these are isolated winners, because there’s plenty of quality and enjoyment to be found either side of them. With Bonfanti and Milner sharing the lead vocal duties, sometimes duetting, and with Horan weighing in on occasional three-part harmonies, there’s variety to the delivery of the melodies, Milner’s sweeter voice contrasting with Bonfanti’s semi-hoarse rasp. They alternate on the opening ‘Leave No Traces’, a piano-led, swinging and spacious arrangement that’s typical of the feel they bring to the material.  There’s a great hook wrapped around the chorus, with the lines “Heaven doesn’t want me, And the Devil doesn’t know who I am” encapsulating lyrical theme.  With a relaxed guitar solo and a clever, round-like vocal bridge – hands up who remembers “rounds” from music in school? – over shuffling drums fromJenkins, it epitomises their ability in constructing a song.
At the other end of the album, ‘The Years Used To Mean So Much’ is probably the most Band-like tune on the album.  With halting piano, sweeps of organ, and the beautiful harmonies on the chorus, it’s a song of nostalgic reflection bathed in a warm glow.  Similar musical and emotional qualities echo through the earlier ‘Sit Round The Table’.
Clever lyrics abound, whether in the sharpness of the gleefully bitter ‘Get What You Deserve’, or the reflective but hopeful ‘Two Billion Heartbeats’, with its notion that each of us arrives with a quota of heartbeats to use wisely, and “Two hundred have gone just singing this song”, to which they add a tasteful piano line, novel percussion twists, and some sparkling guitar on the outro.
I could go on, but I’ll let you discover the delights of the rest of this album yourself.  Ten tracks, forty-five minutes – this is the way records used to be, and it’s an elegant sufficiency.  If what you’re after is a load of crash-bang-wallop – “shoddy rock music”, as Ian Siegal called it during a gig this year – then this isn’t for you.  But if you're the kind of listener for whom it’s all about the songs, then Jawbone is just the job.

Jawbone is released on 9 November.
Jawbone are touring the Czech Republic and Spain during October and November.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Jupiter Blues - The Jupiter Blues EP

Around and around and around we go, as Chuck Berry said and numerous others repeated.  It’s a line that comes to mind listening this debut EP by The Jupiter Blues, a neat and energetic four song outing that’s pretty straightforward in its own terms.  But it still prompts me to reflect a bit on how twists on the blues can overlap, loop around and intermingle.  But we’ll get to that later.
Opening track ‘Stinging’ kicks off with a very Keef-like choppy riff.  Augmented by some bar room piano, and twangy licks from guitarist Chris Mitchell, while singer Dale Orenda weighs in with a decent melody, it conjures up some good ol’ boy Southern rock’n’roll.  Well, a bit, given that this four-piece hail from the North-West of England.  In any event it makes for an enjoyable enough first acquaintance, with an appealing coda that mixes in some vocal
The Jupiter Blues take "Get down!" literally
harmonies and muted handclaps.
They enter the fray from a slightly different angle on ‘Six Foot Bulldog’, with a twiddly, Celtic-sounding riff that brings to mind Rory Gallagher.  Ross Brown’s drum sound could be stronger, but he still makes a busy contribution to an interesting arrangement, while his rhythm section partner Rick Davies (also responsible for the keys) comes to the fore with a gripping set of bass line variations.  Mitchell adds a fiery solo that fits the mood, while Orenda’s vocals take on a raw and rocking tone.  All in all, the bulldog has a big bark.
The pick of this four track bunch though, is ‘While The Sun’.  Opening with another Rory-esque urgent riff anchored by another bout of excellent bass from Davies, it mixes up slow and fast sections to good effect, dropping into a dreamy chorus and a bridge with acoustic strumming rounding out the sound.  I could swear I hear a bow being drawn over a fiddle here and there as well, but as there’s nothing of the kind credited I guess it’s a clever use of either keys or guitar.  With Orenda hollering away to good effect, a rippling, Southern-style solo, and multiple layers of sound beefing up the outro, it’s a well-structured effort that lives up to its ambition.  A bit ragged around the edges maybe, but still impressive.
Closing track ‘Little Moon’ is a bit of acoustic Stonesiness that comes as something of a calm after the storm.  Orenda doesn’t try to ham it up with Jagger’s affected country twang, but he doesn’t quite find his own voice either for this slight but sensitive song.  It still works, but there’s room for improvement.
So what was all that about the twists and turns of blues evolution?  Well, there’s a Black Crowes-ish Southern rock slant to The Jupiter Blues, and it seems to me that Southern rock evolved not just out of Delta blues and R’n’B, but out of the country sounds of the South.  Country music, in turn, originated in large measure from Scotland and Ireland – and bizarrely, melded it with a black instrument, the banjo.  And while for all I know The Jupiter Blues have no interest in Rory Gallagher, Rory inserted Celtic sounds into blues rock – from the source, not second or third hand. And if Southern rock bands copped an earful of the rocked up version of R’n’B created by the Stones, as time went by the Stones also twanged their way into country territory.
And so on, and so on, around and around.  The blues, in its pure form, may be a fairly constrained form.  But it evolves, it mutates, it survives.  None of which, I imagine, occurred to The Jupiter Blues when they recorded this EP.  But they’ve still captured the spirit pretty well.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saturday Night at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival, 29 September 2018

Saturday night at the Crown & Mitre Hotel, and it’s time for action again at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival.
John Bowie and Phil Saunders return to get the ball rolling with a more electrified set than in the afternoon, with a half-hour segue-way of rolling, pulsing blues including ‘Just In Time’ and ‘Roadhouse Blues’.  Bowie is on electric guitar this time, serving up some delicious warm tones, while Saunders lays down a percussive groove, weaves in more guitar, and injects occasional harp to boot.  Then they pick up the pace towards the end, revving
Northsyde - plenty to smile about
everyone up for the rest of the evening.
Northsyde follow, fronted by husband and wife duo Jules and Lorna Fothergill on guitar and vocals and respectively.  It’s the first time I’ve come across them, and the immediate impression generated by Lorna Fothergill’s singing is, basically, holy cow!  The woman has a resonant, rhythmic voice with buckets of oomph to spare.  “Tina Turner”, it says in my notes – which is bizarre, given that we’re talking about a woman whose look is tall, blonde, sinuous and slinky.  Whatever, she puts it out there with style and conviction, while the rest of the band cook up a funky groove, and husband Jules weighs in with a spot-on solo.
They follow that up with ‘Who’s Been Talking?’, on which Fothergill’s vocal gets fathoms-deep – though it soon becomes clear that she can go both low and high with equal facility. The arc of their reading goes from a quiet opening, through some jazzy and smoky moments, towards a well honed dying ending.
They get funky again on ‘Cherry Picking’, lock tight, punctuating the arrangement stylishly, and playing with smiles on their faces – Lorna, is visibly intoit, while Jules watches her moves with a grin on his face and a glint in his eye.  ‘Tuesday’s Flowers’ is a new song with a deeply Stevie Wonder-like bass line, and a solo from Jules that recalls Steely Dan.
Lorna Fothergill - yoga, d'you reckon?
Apparently Northsyde have a penchant for bending and twisting covers, and tonight’s selection is ‘In The Air Tonight’ – yep, the Phil Collins song.  They take it a bit more uptempo, with a ton of reverb on the vocal.  It’s less tense/intense than the original, but still cleverly done, and La Fothergill carries it off in the mode of an old-fashioned rock chick in a smart black dress.  This is nothing though, compared to the following ‘Travelling Shoes’, which starts with a spartan beat over which Fothergill delivers a bravura, gospel-style vocal – growling, soaring, with skilful melisma, the woman is stupendous. Not to be outdone, Jules produces a great solo, buzzing, halting, diving and dashing, as a prelude to another beautifully controlled quiet ending.  
That’s the highlight of a set that then shifts through a version of ‘Today I Sing The Blues’ that could be a bit more down to earth, with a less jazzy guitar solo, to the Allman Brothers’ ‘Whipping Post’ on which they deliver an all out instrumental section, and finally a mash-up of ‘Smokestack Lightning’ and ‘Spoonful’ on which they give it large.  Northsyde may not quite have a stand-out, signature sound of their own, but they’re not run of the mill either, and in Lorna Fothergill they sure have a knock-your-socks-off singer.
Thorbjørn Risager - suited and bunneted
Having seen Mike Vernon and the Mighty Combo at the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival, we decide to retire to the bar for a while, because in my book they ain’t really that mighty.  Which gives us the chance to regroup in readiness for the night’s headliners, Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado.
And their headline status is justified, because Denmark's finest are a very good band. I mean, really good.  From the first bars of ‘If You Wanna Leave’, with its crunking, Quo-like, two-guitar riff, the space between the stage and the front row of seats is immediately filled with dancing punters, and by the time Hans Nybo rips out a wild sax solo the blue touch paper is well and truly lit.  They follow that up with the stomping, Stonesy groove of ‘Maybe It’s Alright’, with its big soulful melody, swirling keys, and sizzling solo from Peter Skjerning.
You know what?  A few years ago I was in a pub when a covers band started knocking out hits by the Stones, the Who, Bad Company et al, and the clientele, of a similar vintage to me, couldn’t help but get up and dance.  Thorbjørn and chums have exactly that effect – and with fresh, original material that absolutely stands comparison with those classics.
As they go on to prove by knocking out the funkier ‘Paradise’, before cooling things off with ‘I Used To Love You’, a beautifully constructed song that’s restrained but has all the right parts in place, and features a lovely solo from Risager as the icing on the cake. And these songs slot into their
Maybe It's Alright?  Hell yeah.
set alongside cyclonic (geddit?) reworkings of blues standards like ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ and ‘Let The Good Times Roll’.
An injection of piano boogie from Emil Balsgaard gradually leads into the rock’n’roll of ‘The Straight And Narrow Line’, with more honking sax from Nybo, before they find room for a new song in the form of ‘Over The Hill’, which does absolutely nothing to diminish the appetite for dancing down the front, and has room for a singalong that succeeds at the first time of hearing.
They slow things down again with the cinematic ‘China Gate’ – well, it does come from an old film, after all – which again underlines their ability to deliver something different.  But from there on its pretty much party time, with the likes of the aforesaid covers, ‘Train’ with its imaginative percussion from Martin Seidelin, the growling ‘All I Want’ with Risager’s gravelly voice to the fore and its teasing false ending, and the suitably titled ‘Rock’n’Roll Ride’.
You think I was taking copious notes amidst all these fun and games?  To hell with that.  I was up dancing with my other half, having a ball like the rest of the Carlisle audience.  Which sums up the irresistible charms of Thorbjørn Risager & The Black Tornado.  When this lot are onstage the good times do indeed roll.

You can find a review of the Friday night session here.
The Saturday afternoon session is reviewed here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Saturday Afternoon at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival, 29 September 2018

It’s the afternoon after the morning after the night before.  Saturday afternoon that is, around about lunchtime, and the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival is getting under way again.  It’s a gentle warm-up in the semi-acoustic hands of John Bowie and Phil Saunders, with the former delivering some hypnotic acoustic picking, and slide on a resonator, while Saunders plays an assortment of oddball guitars, a box with a foot pedal, and harp on a rack.  Their relaxed set includes Dylan’s ‘Crash On The Levee’, the rhythmic, pulsing ‘Stranger Blues’, and a highly effective folky reworking of ‘Johnny B. Goode’, featuring fluid interweaving of picked guitars to conjure up an elegiac mood.
Deke McGee gets aboard the Gravy Train
Then we get a sideways step from folk blues to post-war jump blues’n’jive in the hands of the Deke McGee Band, led by the sharp-suited cool dude Mr McGee on sax and vocals.  Right from the off, with the honking ‘Gravy Train’, it’s toe-tapping, hand-jiving stuff.  There’s a slower groove to Eddie Vincent’s ‘Kidney Stew’, with jazzy, brittle-toned guitar from Conor Smith, who later produces a great solo on the uptempo dance number ‘Jumpin’ Jesus Holy Cow’, from Deke’s 2016 album All Night Long.  Along the way Tim Brough garnishes ‘Mr Cornbread’ with excellent honky tonk piano to go with David Stone’s bouncing drums, and also adds the woogie to ‘Swanee River Boogie’.  Hank Williams’ ‘Jambalaya’ is a delightfully swinging affair, with great stand-up bass from guest Al Gare.  It’s all a bit incongruous at half one in the afternoon, but with McGee’s sax playing at its core it’s a quality display of what “small big band” vintage R’n’B is all about.
A bit of time travel is needed after that to get in synch with the sound of Rainbreakers.  On opener ‘Need Your Love’ the Shrewsbury four-piece meld funky, driven riffing with soulful but gutsy vocals from rhythm guitarist Ben Edwards and a balls-out solo from lead guitarist Charlie Richards.  It’s the start of an impressive set drawing heavily on their debut album Face To Face.  ‘Got Me Where She Wants’, with its stop-start riff, features some very Hendrixy guitar and a big bass motif from Peter Adams, but they’re also capable of more laid-back sounding funk on ‘Set Yourself Free’, and blissed-out soul-blues on ‘Lost With You’ - introduced as “totally a love song” and displaying good variation as well as some novel guitar-vocal harmonising that could have been extended.
Rainbreakers - blissed out soulful funky Hendrix-esque blues rock
The slow and suspenseful ‘On My Knees’ is just one example of their strong songwriting, with a quavering vocal from Edwards and a tough bridge.  And there’s more variety in the form of ‘Waiting On You/Moving On’, with its shimmering wah-wah and cymbal intro, and delicate strumming a la ‘Rain Song’, and an impressively soulful vocal at its heart.  It’s different, and also bravely sparse, whereas the following ‘I’ll Be Ready Now’ explodes into life with a big riff and crashing drums. Mid-tempo but weighty, it showcases a howling solo from Richards ahead of a powerful finish, and garners a big round of applause from the crowd.
Edwards makes a frank admission of his connection to the issues of mental health that inspired set closer ‘Heavy Soul’, and the honesty is done justice with effective use of distorted chords over a heavy drum beat, a rattling riff courtesy of both guitars, and some audience participation over wailing guitar notes.  Job done, Rainbreakers appeared to be shifting a bundle of CDs to new fans at their merch stall, and justifiably so.  They’re a sophisticated band, worthy of continuing attention.
Closing the afternoon session, The Stumble are everything I hoped they would be on my first encounter with them live.  They let loose with three salvos from their rollicking 2016 album The Other Side, with opener ‘Just Stop’ inspiring an immediate outbreak of dancing in the corner of the room.
From the git go, singer Paul Melville simply owns the room, blending powerful vocals with
The Stumble - Lancashire's answer to ZZ Top?
teeth-clenching passion and wry schtick as they crank out hugely entertaining songs from the pen of drummer Boyd Tonner.  They’ve been at it a long time these guys, and know exactly what they’re about.  Tonner, along with bassist Cameron Sweetnam and guitarist Ant Scapens, dig out deep foundations over which Melville leads from the front, ably supported by sax man Simon Anthony Dixon and lead guitarist Colin Black, who rocks a Billy Gibbons look resplendent in long coat, long beard, and big hat, and delivers a great slide solo on ‘New Orleans’.
Frankly I’m having too much fun for systematic notes, but ‘My Life’ is a ballad with heartfelt vocals from Melville and a defiant uptempo coda, ‘C’mon Pretty Baby’ is rock’n’rollin’ R’n’B that brings to mind Bob Seger, and ‘Bus Stop’ (I think) is Stax-like soul featuring squealing sax from Dixon.
A new song called ‘Walk In The Park’ (maybe) has a restrained verse and tough, staccato chorus, building to a wild guitar/sax collision and a ballistic finish, before a big bluesy ballad dedicated to BB King.  But these are details.  The Stumble are a band built to entertain, and they do it with a bluesy rock’n’roll brew that’s all their own.  Catch ‘em if you can.

You can find a review of the Friday night session here.
And the Saturday night session is reviewed here.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Proven Ones - Wild Again

That’s Proven Ones in the sense of a proven track record – drummer Jimi Bott and guitarist Kid Ramos are both former Fabulous Thunderbirds, and other band members have a host of awards and other credits to their name. And on this 10-track outing, half and half originals and covers, they live up to their credentials big time.
A surge of B3 from Anthony Geraci heralds the opening R’n’B blast of ‘Cheap Thrills’, augmented by crunching guitar chords from Ramos, and a rock solid bottom end from Bott and bassist Willie J. Campbell, while Brian Templeton weighs in with gutsy vocals.  And that’s just the start.
The cream of the crop is the penultimate track, a cover of Fenton Robinson’s 1967 slow
The Proven Ones - they're a blues band, okay?
blues ‘Loan Me A Dime’.  I’m not one for tracks that outstay their welcome, but here, over the course of 11 minutes of stunning intensity, washes of sombre organ underpin guitar from Ramos that shifts from fluidity to attack, while Templeton adds to the dynamics with emotional, soulful vocals.
Along the way they funk it up on ‘City Dump’, featuring a wailing sax solo from Renato Coranto, before Templeton brings some James Brown-style pleading to an amped-up version of Fats Domino’s ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ on which Ramos’s guitar practically talks.  Fleetwood Mac’s ‘If You Be My Baby’ features reverb-heavy, pinging guitar over woozy barrelhouse piano, while both Geraci’s ‘Why Baby Why’ and the Kim Wilson co-write ‘Right Track Now’ venture into Southern soul meets R’n’B territory, with horns adding to the big sound.
‘Road Of Love’ starts haltingly, builds with a rolling riff and tough horns and organ, and allows Ramos to show off his slide chops, before Templeton’s muscular vocal, reminiscent of our own Stevie Nimmo, competes with fuzzed-up guitar on the mid-paced title track.  The curtain falls with a bright but dreamy reading of the Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ - with tripping drums from Bott, it gets increasingly blissed out as Ramos layers sparkling guitar fills on top of each other.
The whole shebang benefits from top-notch recording and mixing courtesy of Bott, not least in the form of a whopping drum sound.  Wild Again is the real deal – proof positive.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Friday Session - Carlisle Blues Rock Festival, 28 September 2018

It’s Friday, it’s 5 to 7, and it’s standing room only in the ballroom of the Crown & Mitre Hotel as we arrive for our first visit to the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival.  But it turns out to be well worth standing for the duration to see the four acts on offer.
First up are local favourites Redfish, and they turn in a much stronger performance than when I last saw them, in a support slot in Edinburgh. They deliver a solid set of old school R’n’B, with warm vocals and relaxed patter from bunnet-wearing front man Stumblin’ Harris.
Redfish - Bunnets Are Us
There are funky undercurrents on the likes of Bill Withers’ ‘Use Me Up’, with nimble bass from Rod Mackay and some neat drumming diversions as a bonus.
Their own material fits in well alongside a punchy version of ‘Messin’ With The Kid’ and Magic Sam’s ‘Every Night And Every Day’, with measured solos from guitarist Martin McDonald and boogieing piano from all action keys man Fraser Clark.  It all adds up to an entertaining set that has me acquiring their new EP at the interval.
The Chris Bevington Organisation have produced one of the albums of the year so far with Cut And Run, so I was looking forward to seeing them live, and they didn’t disappoint. With a nine-piece line-up it’s no wonder that other commitments mean there are stand-ins depping for two of three of the usual band, and sadly this includes guitarist and core contributor Jim Kirkpatrick.  I suspect the loss of his interaction with co-conspirator and vocalist/guitarist Scott Ralph dilutes the dynamic of this ensemble affair a bit, but Jordan
The Chris Bevington Organisation get cookin'
Swann does a good job of filling in.  He contributes a sizzling lead guitar intro on ‘Coming Down With The Blues’, eloquent playing on ‘Tin Pan Alley’, and a squealing solo on the excellent ‘Got To Know’. The last of these also features pumping bass from Chris Bevington, gutsy rhythm playing from Ralph, and strong punctuation all round.
‘Better Start Cookin’’ features a trumpet solo and call and response organ and guitar, underlining the variety they can bring to bear.  Ralph fronts operations with brio, and by the time they get to ‘Ain’t Got Nobody To Love’ his Cheshire Cat grin sums up the enjoyment both on and off the stage. They close their 50 minute set with the totally danceable ‘Rollin’’, closing a live show that emulates the vibrancy of their latest album.
Elles Bailey unshackled 
Elles Bailey is a more soulful proposition, but gets the ball rolling with a couple of familiar barn-burners in the form of ‘Let Me Hear You Scream’ and ‘Same Flame’ from her album Wildfire, before offering us something new in the form of the soulful ‘What’s The Matter’.  A cover of Levon Helm’s ‘When I Go Away’ suits her nicely, with some very Stax-like keys from stand-in ivory tinkler James Graham, and some good vocal interplay to boot. Depping drummer Craig Connett also shows up well, with good cymbal work to rev up the intensity on the Muscle Shoals tribute ‘Perfect Storm’, with its strong melody, while another newie in the form of ‘Medicine Man’ is offbeat, driving and dynamic, with appealing slide from Joe Wilkins.  
‘Shackles Of Love’ continues to be my favourite among her material though – a song with a great hook that wouldn’t be out of place on a Bonnie Raitt album.
She tells us that another new song, the thumping, train-like ‘The Road I Call Home’ will be the title track to her new album in the spring, before returning to familiar territory with the emotive ‘Girl Who Owned The Blues’, with its stomping conclusion, and ‘Wildfire’ with its moody slide solo from Wilkins.
Elles Bailey’s amiably daft and self-deprecating chat always makes for an engaging performance.  But more to the point she has a great voice, strong original material, and bags of potential still to be explored.
Guitar totin' Siegal and Cigaar
Topping the bill for the night is Ian Siegal, who has gone way past the point of being described in terms of potential.  Still, I do believe that he’s found another gear this year with the release of his latest album All The Rage.  Coming on wearing a headband, with his festival lanyard flapping around his knees, he eases in with the characteristic, immediately sing-able melody of ‘Shotgun Rider’.  He and the band raise the temperature with the clacking favourite ‘I Am The Train’, with inimitable guitarist Dusty Cigaar being – well, inimitably Dusty.  But they really hit the bullseye with ‘The Shit Hit’, on which a wild slide solo from Siegal is a prelude to a bout of finger wagging, electrifying truth telling.  On an entirely different note, the classic blues of ‘John The Revelator’ interpolates ‘Back Door Man’ in rowdy fashion, and leads to an outbreak of dancing from some of the ladies.  Then it’s back to Siegal at his most withering with ‘Eagle-Vulture’, its spiky guitar line embellished by wafting notes from Cigaar.
A different kind of highlight comes with the North Mississippi Hill Country blues of CeDell Davies’s ‘She’s Got The Devil In Her’.  It’s followed by ‘Gallo Del Cielo’, which apparently a patron begged for tonight, and on which the poor damn chicken inevitably meets a sticky end once again, before Siegal closes out the night with the lovely ‘Sweet Souvenir’.
The clock strikes twelve and it’s time to head for bed.  Will twelve hours be enough to let us rest up for the next day’s fun and games?

You can find a review of the Saturday afternoon session at Carlisle here.
And the Saturday night session is reviewed here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The Evening Session - Edinburgh Blues'N'Rock Festival

Due to other commitments, I was only able to get along to the latter half of this year’s Edinburgh Blues’N’Rock Festival, promoted by the Edinburgh Blues Club.  But it has to be said that the sets delivered by The Rising Souls, Dana Fuchs and Ten Years After were still worth the price of the ticket, and then some.
Walking onstage as her band crank out a big fat soul groove, Dana Fuchs is revealed to be a tall woman – like, seriously tall.  And when she gets going with opening track ‘Ready To Rise’, all flailing ringlets of hair, the American singer quickly becomes a compelling
Dana Fuchs and band - a Stax load of soul
presence.  Rousing the audience after a lengthy interval, she and her 6-piece band soon garner a bigger crowd at the front of the stage.
Her sometimes lengthy song introductions about “all being in the boat of life” may seem corny to a British audience of a more laconic disposition, but as she peppers these monologues with interjections of “Fuck that”, I still find her down to earth and not a diva.  And there is a point to her chat, because the experience of pain and loss she describes, and her attitude to it, are what make her tick as an artist, and bring meaning to her material.
Drawing heavily on her most recent album Love Lives On, recorded in Memphis, it’s clear that Fuchs has the southern soul sound down pat, epitomised by her cover of Otis Redding’s distinctly blues-rooted ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’.  This turns into a genuine soul-funkathon, on which Fuchs ends up laying back on the monitors in acclamation of Aaron Liddard’s sax solo, while Walter Latupierissa shows off his grooving credentials.  She
A little bit country
naturally taps into this kind of vibe on her own ‘Sittin’ On’, which features a great chorus and hook, and turns into an extended workout with a great trumpet showcase from Simon Finch.  Meanwhile pork pie-hatted guitarist and co-writer Jon Diamond shines on the following ‘Sad Solution’, complementing its rousing, anthemic chorus with great funk guitar and a biting solo, while drummer Piero Perreli gets deep in the pocket.
It’s not just undiluted soul music that they have to offer though.  Both ‘Callin’ Angels’ and ‘Long Long Gone’ show that Fuchs have a handy way with injecting some countrification into the Stax vibe, the latter in particular being a “whiskey song” on which Diamond delivers seriously twangy, jangling guitar, and Latupierissa spanks the hell out of his bass.  And just to underline the point, Fuchs straps on an acoustic herself for the set closer of ‘Ring Of Fire’ – though I’m sure it really lends itself to the singalong she leads.
Generally though, Fuchs is the real deal as both a front woman and a vocalist, whether on the convincing slowie ‘Faithful Sinner’, inspired by her father’s troubles, the hazy, woozy ‘Sedative’, which she delivers crouched at the stage apron, or the upbeat songs she delivers with wit and energy throughout the bulk of her set. It all adds up to an irresistibly entertaining, booty-shaking performance.
Now I’ll be honest, and say that Ten Years After aren’t a band I’ve ever followed closely, having missed their late Sixties/early Seventies heyday.  A passing familiarity with the “best of” is the best I can claim. And I’m always a bit nervous about bands that are soldiering on without a late lamented main man – and strange to say, but I’ve never encountered Marcus Bonfanti live either.  But fair play to ‘em, TYA closed the festival with a set that blew away any doubts.
Right from the off Bonfanti weighs in with a good mid-range rocking vocal, with plenty of attack, and on something that may or may not have been called ‘Down The Road’ he also
Marcus Bonfanti - post-Woodstock, ever so slightly
shows up as a really kinetic guitar play, in addition to getting down to some lock-tight interplay with veteran bass man Colin Hodgkinson.  And by the time they get to the mid-tempo blues groove of ‘Hear Me Calling’ their fierce approach is stimulating some wig-out dancing among some of the audience.
Hodgkinson increasingly becomes a star of the show, underpinning some blues rock riffery with bass playing that’s powerful rather than overpowering.  Then he tops that with a solo bass and vocals rendition of Robert Johnson’s ’32-20 Blues’ that is simply extraordinary, playing both rhythm and lead guitar on bass, and bringing new meaning to the lyric “Gonna shoot my pistol, gonna shoot my Gatling gun”.
They deliver a likeable unplugged segment, comprising ‘Don’t Want You Woman’, ‘Portable People’ and ‘Losing The Dogs’.  The first of these is a delightful, swinging affair, while ‘Losing The Dogs’, with its bright, spangly guitar, bobbing bass and pattering snare drum is eminently danceable.
‘Say Yeah’ offers a jagged, tasty riff, and nice piano runs from Chick Churchill, but I could do without the drum solo centred ‘The Hobbit’. Ric Lee’s blistering drumming on the following ‘Love Like A Man’ more than makes up for it though, as a patient opening gives way to a memorable riff of ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ proportions, and more guitar and bass interplay.  Indeed Bonfanti and Hodgkinson prove to be quite a pairing, contributing a guitar/bass duet/duel on a stonkingly heavy version of ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ that’s another highlight of their set.
A rip-roaring rendition of ‘I’m Going Home’ incorporates bursts of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘Hound Dog’, as well as incendiary guitar from Bonfanti in a display of rock’n’roll fireworks. They encore with the good-time rockin’ boogie of ‘Choo Choo Mama’, bringing the curtain down on a job well and truly done. Ten Years After are no museum piece – with Bonfanti and Hodgkinson out front they’re still a powerful blues proposition.
Earlier, Edinburgh locals The Rising Souls made their second EBRF appearance with a set of 21stcentury blues-inflected rock.  They’ve come a long way from the stripped back semi-acoustic trio I first encountered a few years ago, and now ally Dave Archibald’s soul-inflected vocals with Led-heavy backing on songs for which their toughened up cover of The Black Keys’ ‘Next Girl’ is a good fit.
They lay down a marker early doors with, er, ‘Lay Me Down’, which partners a bone-crunching riff with big, ker-chunking drums from Reece Braid, who adds a rocketing drum break for good measure.  The short and to the point ‘Set Me Free’ stirs dynamic shifts of
The Rising Souls - get the Led out
volume into the mix, along with an undulating riff and a strong, soulful melody.
This is just an appetiser for ‘Walk On’ though, a song that really suggests what they’re capable of as they crank out a huge, very Zeppelin-like swooping riff as a platform for Archibald in full-on Paul Rodgers mode.  They hold the pressure down in the verse before crashing into the chorus like a juggernaut.  A mid-section of scat duelling between Archibald and the guitar provides a breather, before Braid’s drums accelerate to kick start a brief, breakneck guitar solo. If I have a complaint, it’s that here and elsewhere they need to extend passages like this to round songs out to their full potential.  
They do change things up a bit though.  On ‘I’m Coming’ a bright, Hendrixy riff a la ‘Crosstown Traffic’ stops and starts around Archibald’s rasping vocal, and they break things down into a convincing subdued segment.  More downbeat still is the moody ‘Escape’, for which Archibald dons an acoustic guitar as they essay a modern day Bad Company sound, with Roy ‘Kelso’ Laing’s bass harmonising impressively with shimmering lines from their own, shades-sporting Jimmy on guitar.
What The Rising Souls need to do now, having broken onto the hard rock festival circuit this year, is stop faffing around with EPs and singles, and cut an album that will hammer a stake into the ground.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Sari Schorr - Never Say Never

Sari Schorr’s theme song should really be something like ‘Gypsy Roadhog’, because the woman seems to be in perpetual motion. Even the making of this second album seemed to take in a few locations before settling into The Grange Studios in Norfolk.  But there are no signs of fatigue on Never Say Never.  Far from it.  This is an adrenaline-fuelled set, full of ideas both musical and lyrical.  So strap yourself in for the ride.
The intro to opener ‘King Of Rock’N’Roll’ is deceptive, a Dire Straits-ish bit of mood music that blends brooding guitar and tinkling piano until all concerned shake themselves into action, and Schorr weighs in with a husky vocal.  It climbs into a rousing chorus, and Ash Wilson gives it plenty with a scorching guitar solo and more fills besides.
Ash Wilson and Sari Schorr - fireworks abound
Pic by Rob Blackham
And right there you have the twin engines that will power this album into your consciousness, in Schorr’s powerful, versatile vocals and Wilson’s fizzing guitar work.  Oh, there’s plenty more besides, in the form of quality songwriting, the tight but flexible rhythm section of Mat Beable’s bass and Roy Martin’s drums, and the colour added from Bob Fridzema’s keyboard palette.  But there’s no getting away from the Schorr/Wilson axis – and believe me, you won’t want to.
‘Thank You’ features a squelching wah wah intro, and supercharged guitar chords and organ on its pre-chorus, with Schorr delivering catchy ascending vocals in the chorus itself. It makes good use of dynamics, and Wilson gets mightily stuck in again with a solo.  Then they cool things off with a reading of Bad Company’s ‘Ready For Love’ that respects the original but adds its own seasoning.  It’s a perfect fit for Schorr’s blues rock tendencies, and her ability to be sensitive as well as towering.  There’s a nice interweaving of guitar and keys to deliver the signature theme, and Fridzema delivers a delicate, halting piano solo ahead of an elegant, dying fall to close.
‘Valentina’ and ‘The New Revolution’ display different faces of Schorr’s wordsmithing skills.  The former features a narrative about a lonely woman “living in a trailer by the sea”, and is a no-nonsense, straight-up rocker with a gritty riff, another impressive solo from Wilson, and full-on vocals from Schorr.  The latter convincingly expresses Schorr’s political
Sari Schorr unleashes a vocal tsunami
consciousness with a Townshend-esque lyric, set to a curious amalgam of a taut, Stonesy riff, like a slowed down ‘Jack Flash’, and a melody on the verse that brings to mind Robbie Williams’ ‘Let Me Entertain You’ of all things. Whatever, it works.  And later, penultimate track ‘Freedom’ plays a similar lyrical card, with a literate rant laden with irony about the agenda of “bible and gun” as it whips up a righteous storm.
At the mid-point of the album, ‘Beautiful’ ushers a shift towards Diane Warren-ish AOR territory on some of the remaining songs, on which Schorr’s resonant voice takes on a remarkably Cher-like complexion at times.  ‘Beautiful’ itself is a ballad with a low key opening, and piercing guitar from Wilson as he adds another couple of well-pitched, emotive solos to the mix. ‘Turn The Radio On’ is musically in a more upbeat vein, although a tale of relationship pain and envy, with Schorr unleashing her voice on the chorus, while ‘Back To LA’ has a sunny feel, and a strong hook, over a snapping snare drum from Roy Martin.  Meanwhile Schorr’s vocal reaches tidal wave proportions at times, to the point where you could imagine ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ being next on the track list. 
In and around these big, glossy affairs, ‘Maybe I’m Fooling’ seems a bit slight, though it’s still appealing enough with its bumping rhythm and catchy chorus.  But the aforementioned ‘Freedom’ raises the roof again, with both Fridzema and Wilson letting rip, before Ian McLagan’s titular ‘Never Say Never’ rounds things out in restrained and soulful fashion – maybe a more downbeat conclusion than ideal for me, but still a strong song, with imagery that’s a good fit for Schorr’s style.
Never Say Never is an album that will grab you by the scruff of the neck and not let you go. I may prefer the blues’n’raunch side of it to the slicker, more constructed later songs, and I’d have liked a pinch more of the funkiness evident on A Force Of Nature to be added to the recipe somewhere.  But it is, quite simply, a bang-up job.  Schorr’s commitment to her material is absolute, the guitar fireworks from Ash Wilson are often stunning, and the musicianship from all concerned is top drawer.  And guess what, the album’s not even out yet and the gypsy queen is back out on the road. Go see her and enjoy this stuff live.

You can find Sari Schorr's tour dates here.
Never Say Never is released by Manhaton Records on 5 October.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Bad Touch - Shake A Leg

So here’s the thing, people. There are some reviewers out there who are going to tell you that Shake A Leg is a barnstorming album. These reviewers, I have to tell you, are wrong.
It’s all a matter of opinion of course.  But here’s my opinion.  Shake A Leg is a decidedly mixed affair – just like its predecessor, Truth Be Told.
Let me put this into perspective.  Bad Touch are not a bad band.  I’ve seen them live playing support slots, and they’re an entertaining bunch of rock’n’rollers who get it on with cheerful, head banging abandon.  In drummer George Drewry and bassist Michael Bailey they have a rock solid, driving rhythm section.  Guitarists Daniel Seekings and Rob Glendinning are capable of punching out powerful riffs, and the latter can produce some sparky lead work. 
Front man Stevie Westwood has plenty of vocal poke under the bonnet to match the rest of them, and a few other tools at his disposal to boot.
Unfortunately though, no one seems to have a firm enough hand on the tiller when it comes to songwriting or quality control.  And as a result, the whole is often less than the sum of its parts.
Bad Touch - Hat's Alright Mama
Pic by Rob Blackham
Opener ‘Lift Your Head Up’ shows some promise, with cannon-like drums driving things along under a decent hook and a simple, catchy riff.  But while the following ‘Hammer Falls’ initially piques the interest with a winding figure on lone guitar that recalls Rush’s ‘Secret Touch’, melodically it offers an anthemic chorus and not much else.
This sets the pattern for several of the songs that follow.  There’s a crashing riff, a bit of dynamics and a chant-along chorus – not the last - over persuasive bass and drums on ‘Too Many Times’, but the lyrics are clichéd.  And so it goes on.  Westwood’s vocals seem stuck in the same gear, in spite of his handy way with a machine-gun delivery, though in fairness the sound is always strong and bright, and Glendinning adds some colour with the odd quickfire solo.

So it’s a relief when track 6 comes around, because ‘I Belong’ finally demonstrates some sense of feeling and identity as Westwood contemplates his home town, augmented by some attractive slide guitar and an air of southern rock, and some shifts in volume for further variety.  But then three more tracks muddle by, with only ‘Tussle’ doing much to grab the attention thanks to the buzzing guitar and stuttering drums of its opening, more rat-a-tat diction from Westwood, and a decent solo from Glendinning.
And then, lo and behold, the clouds begin to part.  ‘Believe In Me’ begins in more reflective fashion, and has a better melody. Showing a touch more restraint, it demonstrates that less can be more – it’s just a stronger song on several levels, structured better and with a guitar solo that sounds as if it has something to say.  The following ‘Movin’ On Up’ may not be a classic, but at least it maintains the momentum - chugging along merrily with all the dots joined up properly, it allies a not bad riff and an okay hook with another decent little solo from Glendinning.
They take their time over ‘Slow Tempest’, with acoustic strumming and an appealing melody, another neat solo, and some appealing harmonies into the bargain.  Then the closing ‘Bury Me (When I’m Gone)’ finds them in what strikes me as their natural, Black Crowes-ish territory.  It opens with subtle guitar and vocals, and Westwood shows off his vocal chops to good effect throughout.
If Shake A Leg had a beginning and middle to match the closing tracks, it would have been a markedly better album.  Still not a great album, but perhaps at least a good one.  Bad Touch have some talent, but if they really want to make it, I suggest they find a producer who will kick their collective ass for a month of Sundays until they deliver material of more consistent quality.

Shake A Leg is released on 5 October on Marshall Records.
Bad Touch tour the UK from 17 October.  Tour dates available here.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Joe Bonamassa - Redemption

Bonamassa is back. Like he ever went away, right? And what he’s offering this time, after numerous other forms of “product”, is Redemption, his first studio album of all new material since 2016’s Blues Of Desperation.
Now, JB has his acolytes, who apparently regard him as the non-pareil of blues rock guitar.  And he has his knockers, who seem to regard him as a soul-less fake.  Me?  I think he’s released some pretty damn enjoyable solo albums.  Some have resonated with me less than others – Driving Towards The Daylight, for example - but maybe that’s because I didn’t give them sufficient attention at the time.  I reckoned Blues Of Desperation was a pretty handy outing though, so how does Redemption shape up as its successor?
Joe Bonamassa gets all sensitive and reflective
Pic by Marty Moffatt
Well, I’m not sure it has quite the freshness and depth of its predecessor, but it’s still a solidly entertaining affair.  Joe and chums certainly demonstrate a sense of humour as the album opens with Anton Fig crashing through an inconic Led Zep drum intro before plunging into a grungy chord as a springboard for the jabbing riff of ‘Evil Mama’.  Cheeky sod.  In turn that riff is subjected to call and response with horns, bass and whatever, before heading off into funky, horn-laden territory over rumbling bass from Michael Rhodes, and pounding drums.  I like it.
The fun stuff continues with the revved up, buzzing boogie of ‘King Bee Shakedown’.  With horns a-parpin’ again, a touch of rockabilly in the middle eight, and a Thorogoodly slide solo – if you get my drift – it’s a track that could easily inspire some hectic swing dancing.
‘Molly O’’ is the sort of song that Bonamassa has made a specialty over the years, with an epic aesthetic, a sweeping melody and an Arabesque riff, decorated by some slide guitar in the background.  Featuring a lyric based on a Titanic-style story, it’s a big and coherent moment in the album. To my mind it’s also better than the title track, another dynamic affair on which the various components may be interesting, but don’t seem to create an organic whole.  An acoustic opening is embellished by subtle keys from Reese Wynans, before shifting into a jagged, twisting riff.  It builds to a peak in a squall of guitar, which finds some direction just in time, leading to a downbeat, reflective segment.  The chorus also features swelling backing vocals, a common feature in JB’s recent recordings, but I question the value of them here.
And on a similar note, could a more stripped-down approach have been taken to the preceding ‘Just ‘Cos You Can Don’t Mean You Should’, without the use of horns?  It features a tough beat and strong guitar fills, plus an organ solo from Wynans, but feels overlong, with an overdone shredding segment. A tip should have been taken from the title, to my mind.
‘Deep In The Blues Again’ and the closing ‘Love Is A Gamble’ are mainstream stuff, the former with a prickly guitar motif akin to what Alex Lifeson delivered on Rush’s ‘The Weapon’, a stomping backbeat and a spiky solo, the latter straight up blues with fiery guitar licks, a wailing solo and woozy horns.
There’s more interesting fare elsewhere though.  ‘The Ghost Of Macon Jones’ is a country-
"Hell's bells - this guitar weighs a ton!"
Pic by Rick Gould
tinged duet with Nashville’s Jamey Johnson, with a hint of the Celtic over a skipping rhythm, and another interesting lyric with a Johnny Cash-like narrative.  More direclty enjoyable is ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, with its boozy, N’Awlins vibe.  Essentially it’s ersatz Tom Waits, with amusing, down-at-heel lyrics, spot on honky tonk piano and moaning sax.  ‘I’ve Got Some Mind Over What Matters’ is a lurching chunk of R&B fun, which when you get down to it is a second cousin twice removed to Ian Hunter’s ‘All-American Alien Boy’.  A witty catalogue of moral failure and domestic disharmony, it draws on barroom piano, discordant guitar chords, and some spectacular splashes of delayed reaction cymbal from Fig.
More solemnly ambitious perhaps is ‘Self-Inflicted Wounds’.  Slow and spacious, its solo closes with neat use of guitar harmonies, and there are more licks to embellish the closing chorus.  That though, is nothing compared to the daring displayed on the penultimate track, ‘Stronger Now In Broken Places’.  Startlingly subdued, with little more to the arrangement than gentle, sparse picking from Bonamassa and expertly sensitive keys, it mingles melancholy and resilience in dramatic, triumphant fashion.
As so often with Bonamassa, less would be more.  With twelve songs stretching to five minutes over the hour, Redemption would be a leaner, stronger album if a couple of the lesser tracks had been jettisoned.  All the same, it gets a resounding thumbs up for several slices of imaginative, entertaining quality.  Now go take a six month vacation will ya Joe, and give us all a breather?

Redemption is released by Provogue in Europe and J&R Adventures in North America on 21 September.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Man At The Back, Part 2 - Blues Enthused chats with King King drummer Wayne Proctor

In addition to being the 'Man At The Back’ with King King, Wayne Proctor is, of course, a highly regarded backroom boy, as a producer under his House Of Tone banner. His latest output on that front is Ben Poole’s forthcoming album Anytime You Need Me, which I reckon represents a big step forward for Poole in several respects – and features a great drum sound from Proctor into the bargain.  So how did he and Poole set about bringing the new album into being?
“Well, for his last album Time Has Come, Alan Robinson, King King and Ben’s manager, kind of picked the songs. I think he felt at the time that Ben - as much as he had a couple of
"You lookin' at me?"
Pic by Rob Blackham
real corkers of songs, like ‘The Time Might Never Come’, which is a stunning tune, and he had a couple of other little ideas - wasn’t yet in the place to write a whole record, with the kind of lyrical and melodic content needed to make a great record.”
As Proctor points out, this is hardly unheard of. Whether they’re newcomers or big stars, artists have long taken advantage of outside help to line up suitable material. Labels like Motown and Stax relied heavily on writing teams, Aerosmith made a mint out of stuff provided by Diane Warren when their own well was drying up, and Bonnie Raitt continues to pepper her albums with covers in addition to originals. So for Time Has Come, Proctor recalls, they selected material from a ‘long list’ of about 25 songs.
“And most of it was a singer-songwriter style in a bluesy manner,” he says. “So it ended up being quite light. Vocally Ben didn’t really have the grit then. But he was also singing other people’s songs, so him singing them a bit softer was kind of intentional to make it more emotional, in a kind of John Mayer way. So after that record, Ben and I chatted, and when Alan Nimmo had the little mishap with his voice last year I said to Ben, ‘Look, do you fancy us writing an album together? Writing a heavier album, writing songs that are written to your strengths, picking keys that suit you, writing with attitude, and trying to put something together that is more for you, that sounds like you on 100%?’  And Ben was absolutely up for it.
“So then Steve Wright [Proctor’s House Of Tone production compadre], Ben and I wrote ‘Take It No More’ and ‘Further On Down The Line’.  We did it over three days – we wrote the lyrics, melodies and arrangements. We had no idea what the chemistry would be.  We just knew we all got on.  But we came up with these two songs, and we were like, ‘These are really good – in fact they’re great.’  They were just demos – the drums were done out in Steve’s house, and it was all done quite quickly, but it had a vibe, it definitely had a vibe, and we were excited about them.  So we just carried on going.”
Between them they sifted whatever ideas were kicking around for things that caught the ear.
“And then we’d just work and work and work – a load of gestating the idea, and developing it, and ‘Let’s try it with this kind of feel, or this tempo, or this key’.  And then lyrically we all just sat down and said, what atmosphere did we think this song was about?  So something like ‘Take It No More’ had a lot of attitude in it, and we wanted it to be like where you’re pointing your finger at someone, having a go.  And ‘Anytime You Need Me’ should have this positive thing about it - I was going through something at the time, so I was like, ‘Can we do a song about this?  About always being there for someone, and not abandoning them.’”
As Ben Poole himself has observed, they spent six months writing and demoing material, off and on.
“And eventually we had a whole record,” says Proctor. “We did it without telling anybody we were doing it.  I literally just handed the album into Alan Robinson and said ‘Look, here you go. If you want to put it out on Manhaton Records, great, If not, I’ll shop it to somebody else.’  It was like, this is our album, we’ve done it on our terms. We’ve done it without any interference getting in the way of the creativity, without being told you’ve got to mix it this way, or you’ve got to use these musicians, or you can’t play the drums on it. I didn’t want to hear any of that. I just wanted to make the artist I was working with sound the best I could make him sound.  And if that meant us writing some songs together because we had a good chemistry, then perfect! Ben was more than happy to do that. At times the three of us were just sitting there with blank expressions on our faces, not knowing where to go, and then all of a sudden one of us would shout, ‘That’s it, I’ve got it. I’ve got the lyric, I’ve got the key to the gateway that lets us into the next line.’  And slowly but surely the song would present itself.”
Earlier in our conversation, Proctor had referred to King King’s albums emerging organically, as if from a lump of clay.  I recall the sculptor’s line about the big block of marble, that the statue is in there somewhere, it’s just a question of finding it.
“Exactly. You’ve just got to chip away at it and be really honest with yourself. Is it as good as you can make it?  Anyone I ever produce, I say to them, please just be honest with yourselves. If this is the best you can do, then fair enough. But I’m sure when you ask yourself, this is you on a six out of ten.  And pretty much everyone I’ve worked with then says, ‘Yeah, I can do better.’  ‘Well, why have you played this to me then?
“Although I don’t think I’ve ever actually said that, to be honest,” he laughs.  “You’re trying to light a fire up their ass, so that they go, ‘Yeah, yeah. I can do better.’  And nine times out of ten it works – and Ben absolutely rose to the challenge in every way shape and form for me on Anytime You Need Me.  I love it – I’m so proud of him and the album we’ve made.”
Part of the challenge is also about positioning things correctly though, I suggest.  Poole’s Live At The Royal Albert Hall album showed that he has a good voice – not especially bluesy, but soulful in his own way, with musicality.  But as Proctor noted, this didn’t really come over on Time Has Come.  It seems to me though, that some of the newer songs are in lower keys that enable him to come across more strongly.  Or is that just my imagination?
“No, that’s exactly right,” says Proctor. “All the songs were written with his voice in mind, in
Non-Diet Ben Poole gets potent
terms of where does it sound good?  Where do you sound the most meaningful?  Where can you get the grit into your voice?  But I know, even at the recording stage, we still dropped the keys of ‘Take It No More’, ‘Further On Down The Line’, and ‘Dirty Laundry’, because Ben couldn’t get to the high notes in a manner that we felt was ballsy and convincing.  And one thing that’s become apparent is that with ‘Dirty Laundry' in particular he just owned it, he just sang it great. I remember when he did those first few verses, he literally did two or three takes of each verse, and it was like, ‘Dude – do you wanna come and listen to how good your voice your sounds here?’
One aspect of Poole’s singing that I like, and which ‘Dirty Laundry’ shows off, is his diction, his ability to really pop consonants out very clearly, as in the line about the ‘bubble-headed bleach blonde’.
“Well, there are two elements to this thing with the diction. If you go back to the Albert Hall live CD, there’s a studio song on there called ‘Starting All Over Again’ that we worked on together. And one of the things that Alan Robinson had said to me was that we’ve got to work on his diction, ‘cause I can’t work out what he’s saying.  So it’s always been something that we’ve been very conscious of.  But also, writing melodies and picking lyrics that have a lot of syllables and a lot of percussive sounds in them. I remember Rob Temperton when he was writing for Michael Jackson, saying that he purposely wrote melodies, and words, that had a lot of percussive sounds, to allow Michael Jackson to really spit it out, and so it had a lot of rhythm to it, and a lot of attack.  So one of the things we did with the lyric writing on this album was to really try and find things that complemented Ben’s natural ability to spit a lyric out. So there are all those elements in there that are percussive and strong, and it not only makes his voice sound stronger, but it makes the lyrics sound clearer, and puts the lyric on the top of the music a lot easier.”
The difference is marked, in my book. Proctor may have produced Time Has Come, but I tell him that by the time I got to the end of the end of that album I was desperate for Poole to man up a bit, vocally.
“Well, on Time Has Come these were songs that weren’t written for him,” he repeats, “and they had a particular atmosphere, and they didn’t sound right being sung aggressively.  We did try it, but it just sounded weird, it didn’t sound like there was context.”
So defaulting to a style that fitted the songs didn’t really bring the best out of him.
“Exactly,” Proctor agrees. “So this time around I said, ‘Well man, we’re writing the songs ourselves, so let’s make every song work for you.’  And luckily it worked out great, and we had a load of fun doing it, and it was at the right time for me to be doing that as well. Me and Steve were already starting to write together, and I think we just knew what he wanted, we just knew that Ben needed to sound more convincing, to sound more aggressive. And I love the results. Honestly, I couldn’t say enough good things about the album, and the experience of making it. 
A blur of motion at the back with King King
“King King is Alan’s baby,” he goes on, “and I love and adore being in that band. But it’s Alan’s baby, and I don’t want to offer lyrics to him, I don’t want to offer chord structures to him and potentially water down our process. It’s not what he wants, he wants us to support him and facilitate the sound of the songs in his head - Alan always has a very strong vision for King King, which is great and definitely works. So, when this opportunity came up to co-write the lyrics, melodies and generally chord structures rather than just arrangements, I said ‘Great, let’s do it!’  It was just another asset to the House Of Tone arsenal of tools, another string to the bow and a lot of fun to do! Ben and I had a conversation the other day about the next album, and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we know exactly where we want to go next time around!’
I make the observation that Don Henley’s recording of ‘Dirty Laundry’ featured Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro from Toto, so it gave Proctor the chance to emulate one of his inspirations, as he acknowledges. For me, it’s also symptomatic of Anytime You Need Me being something of a crossover album into AOR territory, in a good way, though tracks like ‘Don’t Cry For Me’ and ‘Found Out The Hard Way’ still give Poole room to breathe musically, and be expansive. Was that something Proctor had in mind?
“I just think that’s who he is, in all honesty,” he says. “He wants to be able to play the guitar, he wants to play cool, get-behind-it kind of riffs, so he can really make them mean something, and obviously he wants to solo as well. But it’s not about ironing all that stuff out, it’s about giving him a vehicle where he can be meaningful with what he’s playing, and one that you can transfer to a live setting.  And Ben likes mainstream music, you know?  That’s it, full stop.  So why shouldn’t that be incorporated into his style?  But he wants to do it in a non-emaciated way. You don’t want it to feel like it’s Diet Ben, because it’s a bit poppy, or it’s a bit mainstream in any way, it still needs to feel like it’s potent, and it’s got some attitude and meaning to it.”
At which point the self-confessed ‘studio rat’ has to get back to work knob-twiddling at Steve Wright’s Y Dream Studios on another project, this time for a forthcoming album tribute album to Willie Dixon by Ian Parker.
Drummers have a bit of a reputation – Moon the Loon, John Bonham the wild man, Phil Rudd and his recent, er, misadventures.  Hell, Howlin’ Wolf’s drummer Sam Lay even managed to shoot one of his knackers off due to carrying a loaded gun in his trouser pocket while playing. Wayne Proctor doesn’t fit the stereotype. Instead he’s a guy who’s passionate about the creative process, and evidently a detail freak with very high quality standards. But hey, he got through our discussion of the production process without sharing his extensive knowledge of microphones, for which I’m truly grateful!

You can find Part 1 of the Wayne Proctor interview here.
Ben Poole's new album Anytime You Need Me is released by Manhaton Records on 14 September.
Ben Poole's European and UK tour dates can be found here.