Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Future Juke preview - A Festival of 21st Century Blues

There’s this Future Juke Festival coming up at a handful of venues in London in the next week, in case you hadn’t noticed.  So I thought I’d pitch in with some thoughts on a few of the acts I’ve tripped over previously.  Well why not?

Eli “Paperboy” Reed could well be one of the highlights of the week at the 100 Club on 4 June, judging by the urgent, sometimes gospel-inflected, Sixties-style soul of his 2016 album My Way Home.  If Samantha Fish took Detroit R’n’B mini-epics of love and rejection, and re-tooled them for the 21st century on her album Chills & Fever, Reed’s style is a throwback to the old days, with
Eli "Paperboy" Reed up close and personal
a reverb-drenched production where you can practically hear scratches on 45rpm vinyl.
The energy levels are intense on the likes of ‘Cut Ya Down’, but he also pulls off sweetly Sam Cooke-ish soul on both ‘Tomorrow’s Not Promised’ and the title track, with its gospel choir like backing vocals.  It’s worth bearing in mind that in addition to spending a year or so imbibing the blues in Clarksdale, Bostonian Reed played organ and piano in a Chicago church alongside noted soul singer Mitty Collier, so he knows his onions, and it’s apparent here.
‘The Strangest Thing’ is rock’n’rollin’ testification, while ‘A Few More Days’ has a dash of funk with its cocky guitar riffing.  And throughout it all Reed delivers vocals that are raw and convincing, with controlled melisma – and it’s not all boy/girl, moon/June soul subject matter by the way.
There are people who rave about the soul of our own James Hunter Six, but frankly they’re smooth operaters compared to Reed’s fervent reawakening of the Sixties.

One of the other main events is the outing at Dingwall’s on 1 June by Californian Grammy Award winner Fantastic Negrito, and you can find a review of his upcoming third record Please Don’t Be Dead here – with links to coverage of his two previous efforts.  But he’s also supported by British trio Miraculous Mule, so what are they all about?
Well, I’m not yet acquainted with their latest album Two Tonne Testimony.  But back in 2015 I came across their back-to-basics reading of ‘In My Time Of Dying’ on a covermount tribute CD to Physical Graffiti produced by Mojo magazine. On the strength of that I got hold of a couple of their albums, Blues Uzi and Deep Fried, which showed them offering a few different modes of
Miraculous Mule get spiritual
First and foremost perhaps, they have a penchant for traditional spirituals and folk songs of the kind you might expect from Blind Boys Of Alabama, but often with a British sensibility that’s sometimes modern and edgy, sometimes dead straight. So they do a delightful version of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ that sounds like it’s straight out of the British Blues Boom by someone like The Animals.
Or there’s their minimalist take on the 19th century hymn ‘I Know I’ve Been Changed’ – also recorded by Aaron Neville – where the lead vocal is backed by little more than low key guitar and choral backing voices, with sporadic handclaps – a template they exploit more than a little.  But they might also produce something like ‘Satisfied’, with its guitar buzzing like a jarful of wasps behind the favoured device of a hypnotically repetitive, work song-like vocal refrain.
Then again, stuff like ‘Highway Song’ offers a blissed-out wah-wah trip that’s all Swinging Sixties London, whether in the hands of envelope-pushing Brits or Hendrix, who’s also echoed in the ‘Crosstown Traffic’ style riffing they bring to the gospel of ‘I’m A Soldier’ (aka 'Soldier For Jesus', a song often played to great effect by electric blues icon Joe Louis Walker). Or in another vein altogether you might get some country blues with clanking percussion a la Lincoln Durham, as on ‘Blues Uzi’.

On 31 May Brighton’s Mudlow are part of a three-part bill at The Islington. Their retrospective collection Waiting For The Tide To Rise opens with the well gutsy ‘Down In The Snow’, which features a guttural, ‘Peter Gunn’ style riff accompanied by swelling horns, gruff barked vocals and a down-in-the-dirt guitar solo from Tobias Tester, plus a tasteful trumpet break,  But for the
most part it's a three-piece affair, with a few interjections of harp and horns.
Sometimes this means down to earth grunginess on the likes of ‘Drunken Turkey’, with the howling vocals sounding like a herniated Screaming Jay Hawkins, or a North Mississippi vibe on ‘So Long Lee’ with its rolling guitar line.  Often it's dark, contemplative Americana, maybe haunting as on ‘The Jester’ with its twanging, spaced out guitar notes and tickled piano. Some of this, to be honest, can start to seem a bit earnest and sombre, though Tester does turn his hand to a good Tom Waits-like vocal along the way.
Personally I like them best on the likes of ‘Stubb’s Yard’, which has a jaunty Delta simplicity to it that’s redolent of Frank Frost and Sam Carr.  Or on ‘Codename: Toad’, which has an air of Feelgood but more primitive – although they take their foot off the pedal a bit, rather than ramming it home in the way Wilko, Lee and co would have done.  Hopefully they’ll give stuff like this a bit more welly live.

But what do I know? There are other acts out there during Future Juke, billed as a Festival of 21st Century blues.  Go see, go hear!

Monday, May 28, 2018

Rev. Sekou featuring Luther and Cody Dickinson - In Times Like These

The cover of In Times Like These, by Rev. Sekou, tells you a lot. A sharp dressed black dude wearing a three-piece whistle and a trilby with the brim pulled down over his eyes is walking along between two railway tracks, an acoustic guitar grasped in his mitt by the neck.  That’ll be the Reverend, I’m thinking.  And underneath the title it says ‘Feat. Luther And Cody Dickinson’.  Now, contributions by the North Mississippi Allstar brothers may not be a guarantee of quality, but they’re a pretty good recommendation.
And when it gets going with opening track ‘Resist’, it sounds like they’re onto a good one.  A
Like I said, whipping up a storm live.
civil rights sermon-style call to arms gives way to a hot-gospelling slice of soul, with organ, piano and horns, underpins an anthemic chorus of ‘We want freedom and we want it now’, with Luther Dickinson adding a few fills along the way.  You get the picture?
The way the title track barrels along is a reminder that Ray Charles built his soul sound on church music, with the Rev hollering away in fine fashion about the need for a miracle, but reflecting that ‘Ain’t nobody gonna save us, we’re the ones we’re waiting for’.
I imagine that the Reverend Osaguefo Uhuru Sekou can whip up quite a storm performing this stuff live, and there’s plenty of passion on display as the album progresses.  But he’s articulate with it too, with his liner notes about ‘The Task of the Artist in the Time of Monsters’ underlining the urgency of the lyrics.
The playing is top quality too, as you might expect with the Dickinsons on board.  I might have suggested that Luther Dickinson was doing sterling work on slide, but evidently he has some serious competition here from lap steel whizz AJ Ghent.  In any event there’s sublime playing decorating the likes of ‘Muddy And Rough’ and the jazzed-up gospel evident in the second half of ‘The Devil Finds Work’, with more rousing horns and Hammond B3 from former Al Green sideman Rev. Charles Hodges.
Things flag a little towards the end, with a couple of songs like the ‘Problems’ that melodically are more R Kelly than Ray Charles, but that’s enlivened by the rootsy playing, and in particular by some zinging guitar which I suspect is Dickinson’s handiwork.
Rev. Sekou is a guy with blues in his veins, but more than that he has a message, and boy does he want to get it across.

Rev. Sekou plays at the Black Deer Festival in Sussex on 23 June.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Here Comes The Sun - Blues Enthused meets Austin Gold

It's not so much an interview as a conversational concoction, really.   Austin Gold are a band who've been getting some attention in the 'New Wave of Classic Rock' space that's opening up, since the release of their debut album Before Dark Clouds last year. It’s the morning after the night before, when they delivered a set supporting King King at the Whitley Bay Playhouse that drew a roar of approval from a full house, and now the band members gradually assemble for a chat after scoffing their fry-up breakfasts in the Beefeater on the seafront.
Rhythm guitarist Jack Cable is first to turn up and park himself across the table, and gets the ball rolling by explaining how the band originated in two separate outfits back in 2014, playing at a blues night in the North Street Bar in their hometown of Peterborough.
Austin Gold - no getting away from Dave Smith's Beatles influences
“Dave put together a band,” he says, referring to lead guitarist and singer Dave Smith, “and another friend of ours Dan Collins put together a band.  Chris Ogden, our drummer, and myself were in Dan Collins’ band – I was playing bass, and Dan Collins was on guitar.  And in Dave’s band there was Dave and our keyboard player Russ Hill, along with another couple of musicians, and they were called Red Wine Blues. Dave decided that he was really enjoying it, but he wanted an extra guitar – so he asked me.  So I was in both bands, playing bass in one and guitar in the other. Then Dan decided he didn’t want to do it any more, but Dave was really getting into it.  He said, ‘I think I could write some tunes for this, I think it could really work.’  Then our drummer left, and the obvious choice was Chris.  Eventually our bass player left as well, and we knew of Lee Churchill from things he’d done before with groups of friends.  And then we’ve just kind of gone on from there, with Dave writing some songs and us doing more and more of our own stuff."
Are you following all these musical chairs?
 “It’s kind of the natural progression that everyone goes through,” Cable says of their development, “where you start feathering in the odd original, around blues covers.  And then the blues covers seem to fade away a little bit, and the covers become a little more choice.  So some of our favourite things to play now are Wings, like ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’, and we do Python Lee Jackson’s ‘In A Broken Dream’ – that, I think, is my favourite cover to do.”
Along the way, he adds, their current monicker came into being.
“The name came about because we felt we had out grown our original name which was Red Wine Blues. Obviously we aren't really doing blues covers anymore. Dave has an old Rocktron guitar pedal called Austin Gold and we thought the name suited us quite well so we went with it.”

Now the interesting thing for me is that this evolution away from blues covers has resulted in a distinctive, more melodic sound.  So where has that come from, I wonder.
“Well, Dave’s the songwriter,” Cable says. “Dave will come in with what we call the nucleus of a song, so anything to do with lyrics or melody lines is all Dave.  That’s him all day long.  So he’ll bring a song to the band, and we’ll play through it, and within a couple of hours we’ll have all written our own parts around what Dave’s doing.
Austin Gold go for a monochrome look
“But the influences are stretched quite far and wide,” he goes on, “because every member of the band has a different musical background.  In age there’s quite a broad spectrum there as well.  Our drummer Chris is 25, and our keyboard player Russ is 50.  Just 50,” he emphasises.  “So there’s quite a gap. Russ is a huge Marillion fan, and Deep Purple and things like that.  And Dave was born in the 70s, and his dad really pushed him down the Beatles, Eagles, David Bowie road, that kind of stuff.  Lee, our bass player, is much more hard rock based.  The previous band he was in was called The More I See, which was heavier – the original guitarist was in The Prodigy, so you can imagine it was quite heavy stuff.  And then I actually come from a producer’s background so I’m listening more for interesting sounds than I am for killer guitar licks.  Which is maybe why mine and Dave’s guitar playing works so well together.”
It’s a point well made, I think, by a couple of trilling guitar lines Cable delivers on ‘Roadside’ and ‘See The Light’ that counterpoint the main riff.  Before seeing them live I’d been convinced I was hearing a synthesizer, but it turns out to be the way Cable conjures an unusual tone with the aid of a fuzz box.  But sometimes a key contribution is not to play something, it seems. 
“Part of the ethos of the band has always been space, give each other space.  Because there’s five of us, it’s hard to all be heard unless you give each other space.  So that’s the kind of players we all want to be, is humble in our approach.  So if Dave’s playing something that’s full on, and got lots of movement, lots of playing, then I don’t need to.  There are even big parts in songs that we have where I’m not playing at all!  Do I care? No, why would I?  It’s serving the song.  It’s a bit of a clichéd thing to say, but it’s true.”
Serving the song is a sentiment that’s music to my ears, as it were.  I wish that more people did it.  Cable reckons in their case it’s a function of Dave Smith’s writing style.
“I think because of the way Dave writes melody lines, not just vocally but also for solos, he’s sort of putting himself in a situation where he has to play the solo pretty much how it is on the record, because the guitar solos are almost as memorable as the chorus lines.  And Dave loves a big hook, and that’s what it’s all about. He likes a big chorus.”
The end result is a sound that doesn’t make for simple comparisons.  Listening to their album Before Dark Clouds I’ve often asked myself who they remind me of, and not found easy answers. Luke Morley of Thunder’s ‘other band’ The Union sometimes springs to mind, and going backaways even the likes of UFO.  But the band that Austin Gold sound most like is – well, Austin Gold. And they don’t fit the typical blues rock template.
“No,” Cable agrees. “It’s hard to put a label on what we actually are!
“Melodic hard rock?” I suggest.
“There you go – I like that.”

As the rest of the band roll in and join us, the conversation turns to the previous night, and the surprise they got coming onstage to be greeted by a full house, when they were expecting to find about 50 people in their seats.
“Well when I’ve been to gigs it’s been like that,” says Dave Smith.  “Everyone stays in the
Dave Smith - Seventies rock revivalist
bar, and then when the main act come on they come in.”
“I came out to check about 15 minutes before we went on,” says drummer Chris Ogden, “and it was deadly silent in there.  But yeah it was great, really good.”
So was supporting King King a learning experience?
“I think we’ve learnt loads just in the last day alone,” says Ogden.  “They’re much further on than we are, and seeing how they work, how their show works, is great.”
“One interesting thing,” says Cable, “is that we do gigs down in London, where you have no idea who else is on the bill, and a lot of the time who’s on the bill has nothing to do with what you’re playing, so there’s no inspiration from them. Whereas when you get to do a show with a band like King King, it inspires you to bring your A-game a bit more. I personally thought last night we were on our game, and that was mostly because we felt inspired to go out and do the best we could.”
“And there’s the style of music,” Dave Smith adds.  “We knew we were playing to a type of audience where - we’re not dissimilar to what they do – kind of under the umbrella genre of blues rock, but we knew they’d be at least receptive.”
Cable laughs.
“Except we’re not blues rock any more – we’re melodic hard rock!”
“We’ll have that!” Smith nods.
“That’s what I said,” says Cable.
“But I thought it really worked last night,” says Smith, “and afterwards the boys were really supportive.”
“Yeah they’re great guys,” agrees bassist Lee Churchill.  “They said they really appreciated the show, and were just very normal, down to earth, friendly guys.”
“They were really happy to chat,” adds Ogden, “and take any questions we had.”
“There was a lovely moment when we were all standing at the side of the stage watching their show,” recalls Smith, “and me and Lee were standing there and at some point Alan Nimmo came over to get a drink, and he shook our hands and said ‘Great show lads’” – said with a Nimmo-esque thumbs up and wink – “in the middle of them playing. He’s like ‘Everything alright?’”
“It was funny when we were unloading the van,” says Russ Hill.  “There’s like a big ramp you have to get up.  And Alan obviously looked at me and thought, ‘He’ll need a hand.’  So he pulled me up, like woof – he’s a dead strong fella!”
“He’d obviously seen your advanced age,” says Cable, chancing his arm
“Yeah that’s what I thought,” Hill laughs.  “He thought ‘Here’s the old boy.’”

Since Dave Smith is now in the company, it seems like time to get his take on the band’s sound, given that he’s the main writer.  So what’s inspired him?
“Well, how long have we got?”
“Not long – you’ve got another gig to get to.”
“Okay, to summarise – massive Beatles nut from a kid, ELO, Bowie, Gerry Rafferty – so although we’re more guitar-based, it’s the chord structures I love in that stuff.  We’re really into Bonamassa – we like heavy stuff like the Foos, Audioslave and that.  So it’s a mixture.  We’re getting a tag at the moment of 70s rock revival-ish, and that’s cool – Bad Company, massive Pink Floyd fans as well, and there are some moments where what we do comes over a bit Floyd.  And then we like Tom Petty as well.”
“Cheers!” says Cable, presumably the leading Tom Petty fan in the band.
“Thank you,” nods Smith in acknowledgement.  “So a mixture really, and in terms of the writing it tends to be the music first – sit down with the guitar.  And then that dictates where the lyrics go.
Cable and Smith - almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Skynyrd
It’s an open-ended question really, I could go on and on!”
“I think one of the best things,” says Ogden, “is we’ve never sat down and had a chat about what genre we want to do.  We just write the song and it goes where it goes.  And then since the album came out we’ve been put in so many different genres.”
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword that,” Smith suggests.  “Because sometimes it’s like ‘Well what are you?’  People are ambivalent about not knowing the genre. But then, that’s not how we work. There’s a track ‘Home Ain’t Home’, where it’s quite dark, and a Beatles workout, or we do something straight like ‘See The Light’, which is just a straightforward four to the floor – “
“- Americana,” says Cable.
Eh?  Now, of all the styles I might ascribe to Austin Gold, Americana is not one of them.  It turns out what they mean is a hint of Southern rock, suggested by the impressively intertwined guitar face-off Cable and Smith go for on set closer ‘See The Light’.
“Yeah, which isn’t on the album,” says Cable.  “It’s something that at one show in particular I thought – that would be a perfect moment for a little Skynyrd-type guitar thing.  So we talked about it at one rehearsal, and then it’s been in ever since.”
The comparison still tickles me though, because as Skynyrd impersonators I reckon they’d make a very good Wishbone Ash.  Austin Gold are a band whose sound seems to me as British as the North Sea backdrop to the photographs we do before parting company.  In a good way, I should stress.
We finish up with some chat about them recording a new album later in the year, for release in 2019, and forthcoming gigs and festival appearances they have scheduled.  But as Cable says, their immediate future is to get some more support slots like this one with King King, to build their audience on the strength of the current album.  Here’s hoping they get them – they’re a band that deserve to be heard.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Black Cat Bone - Get Your Kicks Sessions EP

With a bottom end that rumbles like thunder coming over the hills, Black Cat Bone certainly make their presence felt on this 5-track EP.  Squalling guitar from Luis Del Castillo, and wailing harp from Ross Craig have to compete to make their presence felt over Kai Wallace’s insistent, nagging drum rhythms and the dirty, fuzzed up bass of Jonny Linstead (now succeeded by Ewan Mckenna after Linstead left for pastures new).  With Craig adding deep, edgy vocals, it can be a compelling brew.
Ross Craig and Luis Del Castillo get their wail on
‘Morning Light’ sets the tone with a booming, hypnotic drum pattern in the foreground, and ringing guitar in the distance, while high harmonies on the “How-how-howlin’” chorus provide contrast.  The titular ‘Get Your Kicks’ eases off the starting grid with a slow opening verse over spare guitar before the big artillery kicks in to support a rolling, double-tracked riff with an attractive climbing segment, leading up to a final, uptempo assault that features scrabbling guitar from Del Castillo balanced by a harp solo from Craig.
‘Bullet’ combines a driving riff and stuttering rhythm with Craig’s croaking vocal to come across like 'Teenage Kicks' colliding with Motorhead.  After a low-key opening ‘Love My Baby’ echoes ‘Roadhouse Blues’ to the extent that you’ll want to call out ‘Let it roll, let it roll’ over the buzzing rhythm section, while Del Castillo’s scratchy guitar tries to break in through a window to join the action – and now and then succeeds.
Closing track ‘Hip Shake’ takes Slim Harpo’s much covered blues classic and drags it through a proverbial hedge backwards, with fuzzy bass and buzzsaw guitar piling in over a relentless, stomping rhythm worthy of the Glitter Band.  With another chanted chorus, you can almost feel the sweat of a mosh pit as they bring it to an urgent conclusion full of prickly guitar injections and bursts of harp.
Black Cat Bone have a distinctive sound that’s likely to appeal to a younger, more grunge-ready audience.  The challenge for them will be to make sure their deep groove doesn’t become a rut as they go forward.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Fantastic Negrito - Please Don't Be Dead

Calling Fantastic Negrito genre-busting may be a bit of an exaggeration, but like Gary Clark Jr and Rag’n’Bone Man he’s one of those artists who’s doing something new by melding elements of old-fashioned blues to beats and rap stylings.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say, bearing in mind his overt interest in politics and social commentary, that he’s following in the tradition of Gil Scott-Heron, who described himself as a “scientist who is concerned with the origin of the blues”. Either way, it’s got Negrito some attention, garnering a Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammy for his 2016 album Last Days Of Oakland.
On new album Please Don’t Be Dead he sets out his stall with ‘Bad Guy Necessity’, utilising
Fantastic Negrito - don't need this fascist groove thang
familiar ingredients to both Oakland and his earlier Fantastic Negrito Deluxe EP.  He growls out a verse with its melodic roots in the cotton fields over a metronomic beat and throbbing bass, until it collides with a modern-day soul chorus and sprinklings of Prince-like falsetto, and restrained guitar work.
‘A Cold November Street’ and ‘The Suit That Won’t Come Off’ have even more rootsy foundations.  With understated organ accompaniment, the former develops a steady, ominous vibe from a low, work song foundation, with hints of the spooky old folk song ‘In The Pines’, which Negrito has covered previously, and adds a brief eruption of drums and guitar. The latter builds on a halting beat and a background field moan, and Negrito adds a pinging guitar break to its meditations on skin colour resulting in “standing on the outside”.
Negrito takes a resilient, hopeful stance though, as on ‘A Letter To Fear’, where a slow, nagging groove underpins the sweetly sung declaration that “Whatever you do to me, I will carry on” in response to imagery of mass shootings at the hands of semi-automatic weapons.
Negrito mixes things up with some other vibes too.  ‘Bullshit Anthem’ dials up the funk enough to make like James Brown, as accompaniment for a simple mantra of “Take that bullshit, turn it into good shit – yeah!”  Both ‘A Boy Named Andrew’ and ‘The Duffler’ exploit anthemic chants that sound more Native than African American, the latter especially punchy as a precursor to more soulful falsetto and wonky organ sounds, ahead of a piercing, all-too-brief guitar solo and a bridge that funks hard.  And current single ‘Plastic Hamburgers’ rocks out with a strutting guitar riff and moments of Zep-like slitheriness as he demands we “break outta these chains that’s pullin’ us down.”
He can do dreamy too, as on the low key ‘Dark Windows’ with its almost Beatle-ish melody, flickers of cello, and restrained guitar fills. ‘Never Give Up’ is simpler still, a one minute interlude on which smooth harmonies celebrate “Walking in sunshine, walking through the city” over the rapped-out title.
Fantastic Negrito – aka Xavier Dphrepaulezz – has come a long way from the hospital bed cover photograph of Please Don’t Be Dead, picturing him after the car crash in 2000 that nearly killed him.  My guess is that, with his Don King-like electro-shock hair and strident social commentary, he can shake this stuff up and deliver on stage too.  But you don’t have to rely on my guesswork – he has a handful of British dates coming up.  Check him out if you can.

Please Don’t Be Dead is released by Cooking Vinyl on 15 June.

Fantastic Negrito’s UK dates are:
24 May -  Night & Day Café, Manchester
30 May – King Tut’s, Glasgow
1 June –  Dingwalls, London (Future Juke Festival)
2 June –  Thekla, Bristol

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Simon McBride Trio - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 17 May 2018

So here’s a question. You can go see Joe Bonamassa in some arena for a hundred quid, or you can go see Northern Irishman Simon McBride and his trio play about twenty feet from you in a club for a fifth of the price – maybe less.  What do you do?
To my mind it’s a no-brainer.  McBride is a sizzling guitarist and a good singer, has a decent bank of material, and he and his band are brain-crushingly tight.  More than that, they’re engaging in a way that recognises live performance is about more than just rolling out the tunes.
Simon McBride - feeling as well as fret-frying
They get off to a strong start with new song 'Don't Dare', and you get a clear sense of McBride’s oeuvre from their rock solid, driving rendition of Free’s ‘The Stealer’, followed by ‘Heartbreaker’, a rifftastic original in a heavy Bad Company vein.  But ‘You Got A Problem’ underlines the breadth of McBride’s approach, starting off swingingly bluesy but veering into some Billy Whizz guitar work that’s also clever with it.
McBride explains that ‘Go Down Gamblin’’, from his Crossing The Line album, is in fact a Blood Sweat and Tears cover, for which he decided not to go with the original’s tuba solo.  A good call, I think, but it’s a strong song and he makes it his own with some slithering guitar and use of harmonics at the end.
Throughout all of this McBride’s control of his sound is impeccable, and in fact their sound as a whole is big but pristine, as is evident on the slow-starting epic ‘Down To The Wire’, where they make good use of dynamics.  But by the time they get to ‘Down To The River’ it’s not just about McBride producing a stunningly spooky, echo-imbued solo, as it’s prefaced by some banter with bassist and fellow Northern Irishman Dave Marks, who proves to be adept at taking the mick out of his boss for the rest of the night.
Marks isn’t just there as a comic turn though, as ‘Change’ demonstrates.  He adds some slap bass to funky riffing from McBride, before embarking on a bass solo – which, remarkably, is good enough and witty enough to not send me running straight to the bar.  Not to be left out, McBride gets into some funky interplay with him before going all jazzy ahead of an entertaining ‘cutting heads’ episode with Marks that’s wrapped up by McBride digging out the riff to 'Smoke
McBride and Marks - rocktastic ribaldry
On The Water’.
Drummer Marty McCluskey (from guess where?) also gets a showcase, on ‘Fat Pockets’, which is  similarly well handled – not overlong, and punctuated by brief injections from McBride and Marks.
A new song, ‘Show Me How To Love’, from a new album scheduled for next year, features a staccato verse and a chiming chorus, before they bring the curtain down with the bouncing, shuffling ‘Don’t Be A Fool’, which lends itself naturally to a singalong and sees McBride getting jazzy again before they hit the Stop button.
The encore is heralded by the grinding out of the riff to ‘Iron Man’ as a preamble to them rocking out on ‘Power Of Soul’.  And believe me, when this lot get going they are serious contenders in the Aural Artillery Stakes.
McBride himself says that he’s more of a rock player than a bluesman, but there’s plenty of feeling as well as fleet-fingered fretwork in this show – and there’s a bucketload of fun from the comic double act of McBride and Marks into the bargain.  I'd seen them before, but this was a night when the Simon McBride Trio made plenty of friends, and next time they’re around I’ll be seeing them again – it’ll take a really big name to stop me.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

King King, Austin Gold - Playhouse, Whitley Bay, 11 May 2018

On it.  On it, on it, on it.  King King were totally on the money tonight.
Maybe Alan Nimmo had a premonition.  Coming onstage he looks out at the seated audience before a note has been played and says with a grin, “I hope you lot are gonnae get on your feet tonight.” And like a flash they are, even before he can add, “I cannae be doing with this sitting down shit.”
Next thing they’re off and running with an air-punching rendition of ‘(She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’’, and anyone sitting down after that would surely have been a masochist.
Alan Nimmo, having an okay night by the look of it.
This was a performance that underlined two things about King King.  One is that they have special gift, one not all bands have, of creating a truly communal experience with their audience.  It’s apparent from that opening, and from the immediate response to Nimmo’s quick instruction for them to get their hands clapping on the following ‘Waking Up’, and all the way through to the joyous, celebratory singalong on the encore of ‘Let Love In’.
The second thing is that they’re not standing still, trotting out the same set month after month. Tonight’s show features a new, quiet intro to ‘You Stopped The Rain’ as a precursor to a bit of audience input, though the best bit is the wowser of a solo Nimmo cranks out at the end of the song. Similarly Jonny Dyke produces a delicate new piano intro on ‘Rush Hour’ that fits the song beautifully, and Nimmo prefaces ‘Long Time Running’ with a teasing bit of guitar riffery.
More to the point though, the way all the gears click into place tonight it seems like the false starts, personnel change and anxieties of the last couple of years have now been put to bed.  New material like ‘Broken’ is now fully bedded into the set.  Meanwhile Jonny Dyke on
Just in case you'd forgotten who the lot with the guy in the kilt are.
keys, who according to Nimmo describes himself as “the most irritatingly positive member of the band”, seems entirely at home.  His solo on ‘Long History Of Love’  hits the mark now – for all I know he’s playing exactly the same notes as the last time I heard it in Edinburgh, but tonight it feels like he’s tapping into the emotional core of the song, while Nimmo’s closing solo is as ever doubled in intensity by the interaction with Wayne Proctor’s drumming.  And speaking of Proctor, he powers a bone-crunchingly tight version of ‘Lose Control’.
If Alan Nimmo still has any concerns about the state of his voice then they’re not apparent, as he applies himself to every song with gusto and an often beaming fizzog.  Dyke’s backing vocals with Proctor now sound more grooved in too, and together with Nimmo the two of them deliver the necessary punch to the chorus of ‘Long Time Running’.
The closing pillars of the set hit the bullseye too.  Lindsay Coulson brings the requisite bottom end to the funk party of ‘All My Life’, and the audience do their bit by keeping impressively schtum during Nimmo’s sotto voce solo on ‘Stranger To Love’.
Some reviewers and fans will have you believe that bands routinely deliver triumphantly perfect performances, but the reality is rather different.  Tonight though, the roar of approval that King King got at the end of ‘Let Love In’ told the story.  Whitley Bay was one of those nights.
Support act Austin Gold had done a fine job of warming up the crowd for them mind you,
Dave Smith gets all heartfelt.
whipping things up nicely right from their gutsy opener ‘Roadside’, on which the trilling motif I had assumed from the album to be a synth line turns out to come from guitarist Jack Cable.  They have a good line in ballads, even if now and then, as on ‘Wishing It Away’, it feels like they could learn from King King how to really build intensity.  But they do find another gear on ‘Before Dark Clouds’, the title track of their debut album, and without singer and lead guitarist Dave Smith having to resort to a solo of the blitzkrieg variety either.
They deliver some stuttering funk on ‘Another Kinda Bad’, and if ‘Home Ain’t Home’ shows that they’re not frightened of exercising some restraint, pace-wise, they still crown it with a damn good crescendo.
‘All The Way Down’ is another quality ballad with a heartfelt vocal from Smith, and with good guitar harmonies mingled with Russell Hill’s keys to boot.  They close by segueing into the relaxed, rollicking, ‘See The Light’, which with its guitar face-off between Smith and Cable could develop into a real powerhouse of a closer.  The Whitley Bay crowd lapped it up.
Austin Gold have a melodic rock sound that’s very much their own.  Oh, you might detect a smidgen of this here, and a smidgen of that there, some old influences, some new.  But ultimately they’ve developed a coherent sound that goes beyond easy comparisons. If you haven’t heard them yet you should get Before Dark Clouds right away, and put that right.

Read the exclusive interview with Austin Gold here.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Andrew Robert Eustace - Stories

Andrew Robert Eustace ain’t exactly your archetypal blues moniker, is it?  Doesn’t really have the same ring as Blind Arkansas Joe, say.  Never mind, that hasn’t stopped Glasgow-based Eustace from producing an album of original songs that wanders down the Delta and up into the North Mississippi hill country with some conviction.
‘Can’t Wait For To See That’ makes for a positive start, with a gritty, swaying guitar motif over a thudding, metronomic kick drum, and periodic injections of more distorted guitar,
Andrew Robert Eustace racks his brain for that chord shape 
while Eustace’s croaking, growling vocal increasingly brings to mind Cedric Burnside.  The following ‘Broken Down And Beat’ adds a hint of shuffle to the stomp, and if the repetitive, hypnotic riff doesn’t quite capture the North Mississippi sound it’s not far enough.  The ker-chunking drive of ‘The Man’ has an air of one-man blues machine Steve Hill about it, in addition to the aforementioned Burnside, and catches the ear with another swinging, steely guitar solo.
At the other end of the spectrum Eustace conjures up a couple of acoustic outings to be proud of. The unaccompanied ‘Down In This Valley’ is melancholy and impressively spare, and with its convincing, aching vocal it’s the real deal.  Similarly the closing ‘Every Single Day’ drifts along nicely from its languid acoustic intro.  With Eustace’s low, reflective singing it evokes the image of a lone musician in an undecorated, dimly lit room, empty except for maybe an old fan stirring the air in the corner.
Stories has its limitations, to be sure.  That kick drum stomp features too often for my liking.  It works to good effect on the slow groove of ‘Bad Weather Blues’, which displays a good sense of dynamics and a neat layering of guitar lines as it works up to a satisfyingly chunky ending.  It also fits the bill on ‘Free Man’, where it’s the only accompaniment to some vocal lines, interspersed with an appealingly zippy riff, but its use in the middle eight is overdoing it.  And the tasteful Celtic leanings of the harmonised guitar lines on ‘Crooked Old Dog’ deserve something more imaginative to underpin the verse.
The haunting ‘Running Man’ is okay, but doesn’t reach the level of the standout acoustic offerings, and its lyric about having “killed a man and I don’t know how” is at risk of sounding inauthentic.  But hey, Johnny Cash knew squat about shooting a man just to watch him die, so let’s not get too precious.
There’s good musicianship at work here, and some quality songwriting, and if Eustace were to let drummer Michael McGee off the leash a bit it might have even more snap, crackle and pop.  As it is, backed up by McGee, and by Gordon Irvine on rhythm guitar and Craig Davies on bass, Andrew Robert Eustace has done himself justice with Stories. If you like your blues rootsy then have a mosey down the Mississipi – well, the Clyde – and give it a listen.