Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Geoff Achison - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 18 March 2018

Australian guitarist and vocalist Geoff Achison brings some much needed warmth to a chilly Sunday night in Edinburgh, and it’s not just a transfusion of Aussie sunshine.
Achison and the UK version of his Souldiggers are purveyors of a singular brand of laid back, soulful funk.  Stylistically and vocally the richness of Chris Rea springs to mind, and Dire Straits on some levels, and – er, Steely Dan?  Okay, well, we’ll get to that.
 Opening up with ‘Crazy Horse’, what’s immediately apparent is Achison’s inventiveness as
Geoff Achison - "Yay, tell it man!"
a guitarist.
  Fresh and unusual tones are coaxed and teased from his six-string as a matter of course, with the strings picked from all angles to add different accents.  It’s a theme that continues throughout the evening.  He’s ably abetted by the Souldiggers too, with drummer Sam Kelly in particular bringing da swing to proceedings – along with vocal exhortations to his main man of “Yay, tell it man!”
Paul Jobson on keys is an effervescent presence too, but in a different vein offers some nicely liquid piano accompaniment to the mellow ‘My Work Is Done’ (I think), before Achison cranks it up, who then adds some suitably wiry slide to the loose funk of ‘High Wire’ before his band take five as he straps on an acoustic.
On ‘Stoned Again’, by his Dutch-Australian mentor Dutch Tilders, Achison delivers a nifty bit of picking on his solo – and there’s another Knopfler echo.  ‘Delta Dave’ meanwhile, from his latest album Another Mile, Another Minute, ripples and weaves with ease as it pays a tasteful tribute to a famous Melbourne blues busker.
With the band back on stage they get into Muddy Waters’ ‘Sugar Sweet’, turning it into a funky jam.  It’s blues man, but not, I’ll warrant, as Muddy knew it.  And hey, Kelly, bass man Andy Hodges and Jobson on keys cook it up pretty damn good.
They close with ‘Working My Way Back Home’, also from the latest album, which exemplifies Achison’s classy songwriting – oh yeah, and his knack for some Steely Dan jazzy chordings.  Told you I'd get there.
The shuffling ‘Summer Time’ is a good time encore, and what better title to sum up the warm and mellow tones of Geoff Achison and the UK Souldiggers?  Get out and see them, and bask in the rays.

Look up details of Geoff Achison's UK tour dates till mid-April here.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Dan Patlansky - The Cluny, Newcastle, 16 March 2018

Supposedly The Cluny isn’t sold out for this visit by Dan Patlansky.  You could have fooled me.  Arriving a bit later than intended, I find myself perching on a step at the back of the room to get a decent view.  Evidently Dan Patlansky is creating some expectations, and tonight he does an impressive job of meeting those expectations.
Dapper in a double-breasted waistcoat and white shirt, he gets out of the starting blocks with the punchy and rhythmic ‘Johnny’, followed up by ‘Never Long Enough’, both from new album Perfection Kills.  It’s testament to his live performance, and the tightness of the band he’s recruited in Hamburg for this tour, that the latter packs a good deal more oomph than on the album.  Keyboard player Tom Gatza then underlines his contribution with sparkling piano and organ solos on ‘Heartbeat’, from 2016’s Introvertigo album.
"Here we go again!" says Dan Patlansky's Strat
Patlansky underlines his blues roots with a driving version of BB King’s ‘You Upset Me Baby’.  His own approach is decidedly different from the ‘single note’ playing style of BB however.  When he lays back, as on ‘Mayday’, with its gentle, considered guitar work, he can become almost hypnotically fluid in a manner that reminds me of Hendrix in ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ mode.  Later, on ‘Still Wanna Be Your Man’, he comes up with a lovely intro that suggests David Gilmour – another avowed influence – and his subsequent solo, delicately shimmering, is a piece of pin drop precision.  And then when they plunge into ‘Bite Back’, with its tumbling riff, he conjures up echoes of Jimi’s playfulness.
There’s plenty of all action stuff going on around this too, with the funky ‘Stop The Messing’ featuring clavinet from Gatza and a heavy groove from Jonathan Murphy on bass and Felix Dehmel on drums, before they expertly take it down in synch to a cooler segment.  They execute some subtle key changes on the jagged ‘Dog Days’ too, while Patlansky’s solo does a great job of serving the song – not a principle guitar honchos always respect.  Cranking out a Led-heavy riff on ‘Bring The World To Its Knees’ they make the song live up to its title, and Patlansky doubles down by getting well and truly tore in on his solo.
‘My Chana’ is becoming a celebrated set closer, and it’s not for the showcasing of the band on a tricksy funk workout, nor for the jazzy scales he throws into the mix.  This is the moment for Patlansky’s personal brand of guitar hocus pocus, standing his beat up old Strat on end and wrenching sounds of it in weird and wonderful ways, even tinkering with its innards via the back of the body.  It’s the sort of thing that can descend into noodling and noise in the wrong hands, but manages it with control as well as flair, and maintains the focus right to the end.

The whole set, in fact, is a well-designed rollercoaster, with plenty of twists and turns and changes of pace.  And Patlansky, not naturally the most extrovert of characters, engages energetically between songs too.  I might have liked to hear more from his excellent 2014 album Dear Silence Thieves, but I had a damn good night regardless, thank you very much.  Dan Patlansky didn’t just meet my expectations with this show, he exceeded them.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Sari Schorr - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 9 March 2018

She’s an old pro is Sari Schorr.  In the nicest possible way, of course.
It’s the first time I’ve seen her live, and first impressions are exactly as I expected - an old-fashioned rock chick of the classiest kind. Coming on like a throwback to the early Seventies, she’s got presence, a Cheshire Cat grin, and a Masters degree in Hair Tossing.  Okay, some of her chat is cheesy enough to be grilled on toast, but I’ll forgive her that in the context of a crackling performance like this.
Sari Schorr gets all dramatic
It helps when you’ve got a Premier League band behind you, of course.  I’ve not come across drummer Roy Martin before, but he slots in well alongside guitarist Ash Wilson, Mat Beable on bass, and Bob Fridzema on keys, and collectively they cook up a deliciously chunky sound on opener ‘Revolution’, and follow it up with a rolling groove on ‘Damn The Reason’, a strong song with impressive dynamics and a subtle keyboard undertow from Fridzema, before getting funky on ‘Cat And Mouse’.  They may have been newly put together this year, but these guys are locked in from the start.
Schorr’s default vocal style is strident blues rocking, with buckets of controlled power.  But she can get breathy and slinky too, most notably on ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’ and ‘Kiss Me’ – the former delivered in a style redolent of an Ike and Tina bump’n’grind.  She can certainly sell a song, most dramatically on her ferocious, ink-dark take on ‘Black Betty’.  She may talk up her dread of what the song demands, but the performance has a ton more weight than on album, and gets to the suffering that Lead Belly and his predecessors conveyed with the song.
In a different vein, she displays vulnerability on her Bette Midler-esque ballad ‘Ordinary Life’, with nicely halting piano from Fridzema.  After which, with no ceremony whatsoever, a familiar rat-a-tink-tink intro from drummer Roy Martin sends them plunging into a clatteringly good take on Zep’s ‘Rock and Roll’ that has the Edinburgh Blues Club patrons bouncing – while Schorr nails the vocal so well that she defies any invidious comparisons with Percy Plant.
If Ike and Tina Turner came from Skegness and Brooklyn . . .
Other highlights include ‘Demolition Man’, one of my favourites from A Force Of Nature, on which Bob Fridzema yanks out a gut busting Hammond solo, bracketed by two blistering spots from Ash Wilson.  Wilson may be the gurning-est guitarist you’re likely to see this side of Robin Trower, but he is also very, very good – and Schorr vacates the stage to let him sing ‘Peace And Love’, from his own album Broken Machine, just to prove the point.  With its hints of Queen Of The Stone Age it adds another twist to a varied but coherent set.
Two other songs trail the new album due in September.  Bad Company’s ‘Ready For Love’ is a good choice of cover, a neat fit for their style but not something bleedin’ obvious.  But new original ‘Maybe I’m Fooling’ also resonates with the audience right away, a reminder that Schorr isn’t just a top drawer singer, she comes up with consistently good material too.
They encore with the powerful ‘Aunt Hazel’, capping off an evening that fairly sprints by.  Time flies when you’re having fun, and it’s noticeable that Schorr and her buddies enjoy themselves along with the audience.  As they should, when they’re delivering a performance as relaxed but turn-on-a-dime tight as this.  They’re going to be on the road plenty this year – catch ‘em when you can.

Sari Schorr is touring France, Germany and Britain till May.  Details here

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Temperance Movement - Barrowlands, Glasgow, 3 March 2018

And lo, the joint jumped.
The snow may have been receding by last Saturday night when The Temperance Movement hit Glasgow, but transport was still a bit iffy, and it was still bloody parky to be going out for the night. None of that was stopping a healthy crowd from piling into the Barrowlands though, and proceeding to go nuts. There are a few reasons for that reception, I reckon.
First up, there are the songs. This set feels like it should have the strapline “And the hits just keep on coming”. Even the numerous selections from A Deeper Cut, which has only been out for a couple of weeks, are instantly greeted like old friends, right from the moment the entry tape of ‘The Stripper’ gives way to them blasting through ‘Caught In The Middle’.
Phil Campbell - A singularly Artful Dodger
Songs like ‘Right On Time’ and ‘Ain’t No Tellling’ combine big hooks with even bigger riffs, the latter boogie-ing along in Faces-like fashion, and they’re particularly adept at embroidering a rhythm guitar riff with a lead guitar lick. And when they take it down with the haunting opening of ‘Another Spiral’ they still find their way to a sizzling guitar solo and booming finish on drums that gel like the moving pieces in a kaleidoscope falling into a coherent image. They also chuck idiosyncratic lyrics into the mix which give the material a distinct personality - it may not be the same as the beat aesthetic evident in Mike Scott’s wordsmithery, but there’s still a poetic sensibility at work, making use of unusual images, alliteration, internal rhymes, and occasional phrases repeated sometimes just for the rhythm.

Second, they sure can rock a bit, not least when they brew up a storm on ‘Battle Lines’. Meanwhile Paul Sayer contributes telling slide guitar , to complement solos from Matt White and himself that range from spiky to wailing.
And then there’s Phil Campbell, a front man who is a true one-off. He’s only a little guy, dwarfed by Matt White to his right, but he’s got one hell of a big voice - and also a sensitive one when required, as on the come-down set closer of ‘A Deeper Cut’ itself.  Often he also makes singular use of rat-a-tat-tat phrasing and snap, crackle and pop consonants that go hand in hand with the lyrics – and make for admirable diction to boot.
Those qualities alone would be enough to make him stand out.  But Campbell is also a magnetic visual focus.  Capering about unselfconsciously, he dances in Mick Jagger-meets-Madchester mode, wigs out with tambourine on ‘Ain’t No Telling’, star jumps through the
Paul Sayers - silhouette slide guitar
segue into the showstopper that is ‘Built-In Forgetter’, and has ants in his pants while sitting to play rock’n'roll piano on the encore of ‘Backwater Zoo’.  You get the picture?

This was a great show – even if it confirms my view that TTM have a penchant for ‘wrong’ song titles.  Why ‘Built-In Forgetter’ rather than ‘Sister Mercy’, to quote just one example?  I doubt that will cost them though.  All those bloke-ish indie rock bands like Kasabian who do the rounds at the big festivals had better look over their shoulders.  Given half a chance The Temperance Movement will wipe the floor with them.
All the way from America, support band Thomas Wynn & The Believers complement the headliners nicely.  If Drive-By Truckers often encapsulate a drawling collision between rock and country music (as opposed to playing country rock), then the Believers sometimes conjure up a collision between indie rock and the kind of keening folk-Americana represented by Fleet Foxes.  Originals like ‘I Don’t Regret’ and the subdued ‘Wade Waist Deep’ make a positive impression, and one testifying stomp has echoes of ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’, while a cover of ‘Atlantic City’ starts cool and ends up towering.  Sadly the harp of Chris Antemesaris is inaudible for half the set, but towards the end it sounds like he’s doing something interesting things with effects, while Colin Fej adds subtle colour on keys.  But Thomas Wynn on guitar and his sister Olivia double up on vocals to really good effect.  Worth catching.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Scandinavian Night - Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado live and in conversation, 23 February 2018

Copenhagen may be wonderful wonderful, as the song puts it, but in February it’s cold, damned cold, even coming from Scotland.  Bugger that though, we’re on a mission to see European Blues Award winners Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado on their home turf.
The first challenge though, is finding the gig.  You see, we thought Taastrup was the name of the venue, like Barrowlands or Empire.  But after consulting with the ever helpful front desk in the Bertrams Guldsmoden Hotel, we discover that Taastrup is actually the location of the Teater and Musikhus – and it’s about ten miles from the city centre.  So armed with directions we head off into the Baltic temperatures for some early grub, and then on to catch an S-Tog train to the ‘burbs.
Thorbjorn Risager - cool on a bar stool
Out in the sticks, we find we’re not the only ones making a special excursion.  There are Danes too who are visiting Taastrup for the first time, so we tag along as one of them navigates with the aid of Google Maps, crossing a bridge over an icy lake to the Musikhus.  It’s a modern venue, seated and raked, which could be a bit sterile.  It is, however, full.
Thorbjorn Risager and pals stroll onstage promptly at 8pm, the man himself perching his lanky frame against a bar stool, and they immediately launch into the kind of rousing R’n'B that’s their stock in trade.  And there’s plenty of it to come on belters like ‘Maybe It’s Alright’, the chugging ‘If You Wanna Leave’, and ‘All I Want’.  With two guitars in the hands of Risager and Peter Skjerning, plus horns and keyboards, when The Black Tornado dig in, the sound they produce is heavyweight and gutsy, like a locomotive irresistibly powering you along.  It’s an interesting experience attending a gig where you don’t understand a word of the between songs chat – Danish not being one of my languages, you’ll be shocked to hear – but the groove of this band is a universal lingo.
This isn’t heads down, no nonsense, mindless boogie though.  And however polished the band may be as a whole, however strong Risager’s songs, a fair amount of credit has to go to drummer Martin Seidelin.  Sporting a red bowler hat that could come from a clown troupe, Seidelin effortlessly varies the rhythms underpinning the songs, and comes up with percussive twists that give them additional character, even if it’s something as simple as a fresh ways of conveying the clacking on the rails of ‘Train’.
And there’s variety in more ways than one.  If the funk of ‘Change My Game’ is just a hop and a skip away from the blues – raising whoops of delight and dancing from one well-oiled lady at the front - Risager is also happy to explore different horizons.  The sparse and mournful ‘China Gate’ is taken from a 1957 film set in French Indo-China, directed by B-Movie great Sam Fuller.  Which isn’t, you know, your typical ‘My baby done left me’ territory.  It’s indicative of the literacy, both musical and verbal, that Risager and co bring to songs like
Taastrup - venue for a tasty show
 'Long Forgotten Track' with its dreamy 'Riders In The Sky' mood, and ‘Drowning’, which sounds as if it originated in a Parisian jazz cellar rather than New Orleans.  And there’s their neat reworking of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ too, close enough to be familiar, different enough to be – well, different.

Risager hops up from his stool now and then to groove along to a sax solo from Hans Nybo or some bar-room piano from Emil Baalsgard, but also to contribute the occasional solo himself.  Which leads to one of the highlights of an all round excellent show in the form of ‘All My Love’, on which he conjures up the spirit of BB King beautifully on guitar, while the band similarly nail the kind of big sound that BB brought to the blues.
They close out with ‘Let The Good Times Roll’, and an audience that clapped, swayed and sang enthusiastically in their seats is evidence that they did just that.
Afterwards I was able to catch up with Thorbjorn Risager, and ask him the obligatory question about how he’d been drawn to the blues.
“It was through my neighbours,” he says.  “Not so much my parents because they were into classical music.  But I’d go over to my neighbours’ house, and they’d be playing Muddy Waters, Fats Domino, and rock’n’roll.  I was about 10 years old, and I’d take my little tape recorder over there and record their music.  Of course I didn’t know it was blues – it was just music I liked.  And then a few years later I started going to a music school, and somebody played me Stevie Ray Vaughan, and then I began to understand that this was blues music.”
It’s interesting that Stevie Ray Vaughan played a key role, I suggest, because he’s a classic example of the strain in blues music that’s heavily inclined towards big guitar solos – which isn’t really Risager’s approach at all.  He nods.
“I tend to think of myself as a singer rather than a guitarist.  One of my favourite artists is Ray Charles, which isn’t about the guitar.  So I started off singing, and then after a while I thought it would be good to play along with the guitar, which I started to play when I was about twelve.”
Martin Seidelin hits his rhythm sticks as Hans Nybo blows that horn
I mention that I’d intended to ask him what had encouraged him to form a big band with horns, but that hearing them play the BB King inspired ‘All I Want’ again tonight seemed to provide an answer to that question.  Risager agrees right away.
“BB King was the inspiration for this band,” he says.  “It was when I heard one of his albums, the Kent Singles collection, that I thought ‘This is what the blues should sound like’.  So I wanted to try that.”
En route to another question, I mention in passing that the Black Tornado’s sound often conjures up a Stones-like muscular R’n’B sound, and it’s evidently an observation he’s heard before, but one that doesn’t resonate with him.
“People talk about the Stones, but I don’t really hear it.  For me ZZ Top were an inspiration, more of a soul-blues-rock thing than 12 bars.  Billy Gibbons is a great guitar player of course, but I liked the way he tried to make his guitar sing.”  Which is an amusing musical loop, I reckon – a three-piece being an influence on the sound of a seven-strong band.  Although listening to the vocal whoops and very Keef-like ringing guitar on the likes of Gibbons and co’s ‘Francene’, you could say that the Stones influence goes around to come around.
There’s also a distinctly European side to Thorbjorn’s writing though, I venture.  ‘Drowning’ may be swinging jazz, but it has a European flavour to it, while the likes of ‘I Used To Love You’ and ‘Lay My Burden Down’ could be drawing on traditions like chanson and lieder.
“Well ‘Drowning’ is actually influenced by East European gypsy folk music,” says Risager, acknowledging the breadth of influences.  “I love that kind of stuff – if I wasn’t playing the blues that’s what I’d want to do, be a clarinet player in an East European gypsy folk group,” he laughs.
“It always been important to have variety,” he goes on, “although it’s not always on purpose.”  As Martin Seidelin wanders past we touch on how drummers like him, who bring flexibility to the party, increase the range of options available.
“Yes,” says Risager, “Sometimes I’ll work out the beginnings of a song myself, with my guitar, and then I bring it to the band at rehearsals, and different things happen with it.  But I tend not to write many 12 bar blues songs anyway.  It’s not easy to write a 12 bar blues – it’s harder to write within that simple formula.  Much of it is just three chords, and if you use more chords it’s easier.”
As a final topic for discussion, there’s Risager’s voice, which is a gravelly phenomenon. Are there other singers he’s listened to in order to work out how to get the best out of it, I wonder?
“Well, most blues singers are tenors,” he says, “and I’m a bass.  So sometimes I have to take advantage of that, and make use of it.  I’d say the big influences on my singing are really Ray Charles and BB King, that soulful kind of voice.”
Talking to Thorbjorn Risager, it’s easy to discern a real musical intelligence at work behind the Black Tornado.  This is a guy who knows his onions, as they probably never say in Denmark, and he’s put together a band and a repertoire that bring something distinctive to the European blues scene.  Go get their latest album Change My Game, or their live album Songs From The Road, and find out for yourself.