Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Elles Bailey/Climax Blues Band - 100 Club, London, 17 January 2018

Elles Bailey may be in the support slot for this London Blues Week gig, but she represents the blues future, in contrast to headliners the Climax Blues Band, who are a respectful nod to Blues past. This 45 minute set may not have been a show stopper, but it confirmed her huge potential.
The balance of the set felt a little off on this occasion, with something of a slow to mid-tempo lull before the excellent ‘Shackles Of Love’ kicked the audience’s collective arse. It was good to hear a couple of impressive new songs, but felt like they still needed a bit more development.  None of this detracted much from a highly enjoyable set however. The title track of her album Wildfire got things under steam with a well-muscled rhythm sound, Wilkins hunched over his Fender Jaguar as he got stuck in, and ‘Same Flame’ consolidated the strong first impression.
The first of the new songs, ‘Weary Bones’ lamented the loss of a friend to cancer,
Elles Bailey and Joe Wilkins cook up some wildfire
commencing a solo piano intro and vocals, supplemented by little more than some additional keys though it did feel like it needed a big bridge to add contrast. But the timbre of Bailey’s vocals were excellent from the get-go, calling to mind Elkie Brooks in her heyday. ‘What’s The Matter’ also felt like a work in progress, perhaps in need of a coda, but nevertheless was a tasteful smoky blues á la Nina Simone.

‘Perfect Storm’, her tribute to Muscle Shoals, didn’t quite light the fuse, but ‘Shackles Of Love’ certainly did. It’s the kind of song that Bonnie Raitt might well choose to deploy as an album opener, in the vein of ‘Unintended Consequence Of Love’, and it’s so spot on that it only seems natural for Bailey to laugh with pleasure In response to the organ solo.
‘Let Me Hear You Scream’ keeps up the momentum, with some tasty, pinging slide from Wilkins, and ‘Girl Who Owned The Blues’ has the requisite drama to provide a fitting close.
One last thing - her band could do with being smartened up a bit. I imagine the low key sidemen in black look is deliberate, but if she really means business they should dress to impress a bit more. Not that this will have bothered the long line of punters who gathered at the merch stall to chat with Bailey and buy her wares. That accentuates the positives from her set.
Graham Dee gets smoky
The Climax Blues Band have been going 50 years this year - continuously. Though of course with no original members they, like the current Dr Feelgood, are a case of “This is my father’s axe. It’s had two new handles and three new blades.”
But still and all, it’s some going keeping the show on the road all that time, and their soul-funk sound is as well-honed as you’d expect. And if they’ve recruited some younger legs, as it were, in the form of guitarist Lester Hunt, the older lags still deliver.  Long standing keys man George Glover still looks the part of a rocker in his baggy t-shirt and shades as he gets wired into his organ, and Chris ‘BB’ Aldridge adds quality sax to bring to mind the image of founding member Colin Cooper toting his horn on TOTP way back when.
Material like ‘Chasing Change’ and ‘Fool For The Bright Lights’ is sound. Fair play to them too for recording a new album, Hand Of Time, from which ‘17th Street Canal’ conveys an intriguing underworld mood.
They come up with an unusual upbeat arrangement of ‘Spoonful’, but of course it’s their one big hit - and it was really big back in 1976 - ‘Couldn’t Get It Right’ that everyone’s waiting for.  And after a teasing slow burn intro they do it justice, with singer Graham Dee emulating the distinctively smoky quality of Colin Cooper’s original vocal.  Happy anniversary chaps.

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