Keeping the blues alive

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Dave Kelly solo @ the Hawth 28/6/17 Blues in Britain August 2017 Issue 188

The evening started with film of innumerable ‘Legends of Country Blues’ featuring Son House, Broonzy, Rev Gary Davis, Mississppi John Hurt and many more. It set the scene by capturing the solo performer and his craft to engage and draw an audience into the whole performance.

Dave Kelly is no stranger to the Hawth having played the theatre many time with the Blues Band and earlier in the year appearing with Paul Jones. However, it is a rare treat to have Dave perform solo, enabling the listener to appreciate his consummate slide playing and heartfelt, blues drenched vocals. There was also the opportunity to enjoy him as a student of the blues and raconteur with stories that immediately had both empathy & rapport the audience into a gig that could have been performed in your own front room.

The show started with a Robert Johnson cover and it was clear from the off that we were going to be treated to a cornucopia of blues across a myriad of styles. His playing on McTell’s classic ‘Statesboro blues’ concluded with a standing ovation such was the intricacy and dynamics of guitar and vocals. It is testimony to this fine performer that such a standard can garner the reaction it got from a knowledgeable audience. Most of us would associate ‘Hard time killing floor’ with Skip James, however Dave in conversation with ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards was informed that this was not the case at a festival they attended in Canada. Honeyboy attributed it to a local musician who never recorded. Dave’s rendition of the number was awesome and laced with superb slide playing, wringing every emotion out of the song. Showing his versatility Dave went into the Nancy Griffith number ‘Two more bottles of wine’ which he had also covered with Maggie Bell. On introducing the number, he mentioned that the promoter of a festival, again in Canada, had booked him to play the blues but did not realise he could also play country. The enticement was to play alongside James Burton & Albert Lee, which he duly accepted. It is a rousing number that rolls along and we could share the experience and clearly the audience were enjoying every minute of the performance. It takes a great deal of courage and panache to play a contemporary standard and change the melody to make it your own. This was achieved with great aplomb on ‘Dock of the bay’, from which Dave entitled an album from the lyric, “Resting my bones”.

Dave’s versatility was truly on show at the gig, which is why I would encourage everyone to seek out a solo performance. There are constraints within a band and to a lesser extent with a duo, which do not exist in a solo event. Someone with the repertoire that he has needs to be appreciated with the full breadth and depth of his musical knowledge.

The sell penned ‘Mr Estes said’ was a biographical reference to Sleepy John, who Dave played with. The lyrics and the true meaning that we should all look at our lives and realise it’s not a rehearsal, both relevant and poignant. Dave played a wonderful instrumental entitled ‘Slide guitar rag’ was taken from the album “Family and Friends”, another delve back into the archives. Initially on the album the friend in question was Bill Boazman aka Sonny Black, a truly stunning guitarist. Dave also played this at the Hawth for the Blues Festival in ’09 with Mike Dowling. However, on this occasion it was Dave on his own with a deft & intricate instrumental. Another number form the Robert Johnson cannon ‘Come on in my kitchen’, which many among us have heard on innumerable occasions, therefore it takes a great deal of insight to make it your own, whilst at the same time showing deference to the original.

Dave closed the show off with ‘San Francisco Bay blues’, a number that he often starts a performance with. It was a fitting end to the evening, which was over altogether too soon. The audience rose to their feet again in support knowing they had witnessed something special. If live music is to continue then we are all responsible in passing the message on that there is no substitute to this type of experience, which is getting rarer to find.

Wheelman, Hawth.co.uk

Image Brian O’Connor, Images of Jazz

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The Elevatos @ the Hawth 8/12/17 forwarded to BiB December 2017

This is a gig that needs to be contextualised in that it was a landmark show being the final one for the band in period that spanned over three decades. The club will be celebrating their 20th anniversary in January ’18 and the music has been overlapped and intertwined over that period, in fact you could argue that the Elevators are/were synonymous with Crawley Blues club. The line-up retained the same rhythm section with Mick Hill on drums, Martin Robinson on bass and Phil Greaves on rhythm guitar (a gross understatement, more like joint lead). The two relative newcomers were the superlative Paul Rawson on lead and Fran Galpin on vocals. If that were not enough the band were augmented by a frequent guest Richard ‘Wandering Wilf’ Taylor on harp & vocals.

The air of expectation and emotion was palpable in the packed audience, many of whom were regular attendees knowing this was going to be a nigh to remember. The gig was to be recorded for posterity, however the only blip was that only the second set was captured. In the context of the track I am currently listening to ‘Oh well’…….. sums it up exactly.

The evening kicked off in high tempo with ‘Further on up the road’, which showcased the many talents of the group and encapsulated what I had heard in the lengthy soundcheck. The bands repertoire is extensive, very much in the Chicago blues tradition featuring tracks from early Mayall (Bluesbreakers, Hard Road & Crusade albums), early Fleetwood Mac (“Dog and the dustbin & Mr Wonderful), the Kings BB & Freddie and many more too numerous to mention. Picking out some highlights their version of the Bertha ‘Chippie’ Hill classic ‘Trouble in mind’ was very much their own with wonderful, slow guitar passages exchanging the lead between Rawson & Greaves superbly interspersed with Taylor’s wailing harp. It is difficult review such an event without it becoming a set list, but the playing of standards, high standards in the form of ‘Bright lights big city’ & ‘Reconsider baby’ hopefully help to give those who were not present a feel for the evening. I choose these numbers as they are known to many of us, however the true skill is the interpretation, which was masterful. Here was a band at the top of their game, enjoying every moment as much as the audience who played their part to the full, with enthusiastic support plus several standing ovations.

Talking to many of the audience in the interval the consensus was that the evening to date had surpassed their expectations. The band returned as a four piece and went into what is one of the most iconic instrumentals ‘The Stumble’ written by King & Thompson and appeared on “Hard Road” featuring Peter Green. The band were tight, and the soloing of Greaves on his Gibson 335 and Rawson transported us all back to the sixties. ‘All your loving’ from the “Beano” album, written by Otis Rush, which featured Clapton on lead was next up and has phrasing that you are listening for, it was spot on. The title track ‘Hard road’ followed, which is a blues classic with Galpin’s soaring vocals and sympathetic guitar passages, very much the bands own interpretation. Certain riffs evoke memories of where you were at certain times in your life and have the ability of transporting you back in time. One such riff is the opening bars of ‘Oh well’ which also has certain drum patterns, another classic, but the real surprise was the segue into Willie Dixon’s ‘Spoonful’ and the haunting harp solos, which ebbed & flowed. At times such as these you realise how much the blues has to offer and when friends & colleagues dismiss the blues as being sombre or even downright depressing you wish they could experience music such as this which lifts the soul. At one moment I heard sounds from a gig many years ago, the one and only time I saw the original Canned Heat band, praise indeed. The mood changed again with the Moon Mullican number ‘7 nights to rock’, which has a jump jive vibe and featured vocal duets and harp harmonisation plus skatting. ‘It’s automatic, not sure of the author was said by Fran to be harmonica led and on its conclusion extolled the virtues of Wilf on harp replied modestly “Just having fun folks, that’s what it is all about. Try as I may I could not put it more eloquently, leave it to the musicians. ‘Key to the highway’ was co-written by Broonzey and is a case of a song being embellished over a period of time and a staple of Clapton’s songbook, which allowed the band to showcase their individual talents once more, but sadly we knew the gig was coming to the end. The penultimate track was Freddie King’s ‘Tore down’, which allowed us to soak up more of Paul Rawson’s guitar virtuosity. As an aside to the final number Wilf, who by profession works for a well know airline associated with Gatwick, he was asked by a Scandinavian passenger if he had wifi (pronounced literally rather that our wyfi!) to which he replied “no”, whereupon the passenger said that another British Airline had it, looking bemused he said, “it’s probably the drains?” at which point the man sat down dejectedly. Wilf returned to his seat and mentioned this conversation to a colleague and said the that man wanted WiFi….. You needed to have been there. Introduced as ‘One way out’ the feeling was that of West Coast blues and the lyrics like ‘There’s a man down there’, definite strains of Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield. The audience were on their feet applauding and shouting for more as the band took a bow and exited stage right.

As the clamour for an encore reverberated around the studio I allowed myself some brief period to reflect upon our association with the band, who often played for us in various venues during the December period. With a tinge of sadness, I recalled the former leader of the band John Whippy, who died over ten years ago, a wonderful, kindred spirit with a penchant for guitars and sound equipment. On some occasions they enlisted the help of a four-piece brass, who sight read the material from music stands initially, but in latter states they jammed with the band. One such night at the Railway club John turned up with a car full of sound equipment, which he dutifully set up on a dodgy ring main with flaky circuit breakers. During the first number, probably ‘Hideaway’ they blew the fuses, descending the venue into complete darkness. After a period of a few seconds the brass kicked in acoustically to save the start of the session, after which we manned the circuit breakers through the gig. What fond memories!

My recollections were stopped abruptly by the band returning for encore medley starting with ‘Sweet home Chicago. Not the usual rendition as Paul was playing electric slide to the gravelly vocals of Wilf, sounding like the Wolf himself. There were strains of ‘Dust my blues’ in the mix segueing into ‘Dr Brown’. The overall feel was of musicians and audience alike who did not want the evening to end. During the Dr Brown section while Fran was singing Wilf was using the mic like an intercom to stunning effect, calling to the doctor in question. All too soon it was over, however the band clearly wanted to play again saying that if there were venues with good PA’s and appreciative audiences they would not rule out the odd gig. The reply from everyone in the venue was rousingly in the affirmative. What a night, glad that some of it was captured on record.

As a coda to the night itself and the influences mentioned in the article of Mayall & Mac, we had in the space of six weeks Mike Vernon & the Mighty Combo perform then John Mayall supported by Buddy Whittington. I used the opportunity to dust off some old vinyl which were signed by the artist and the producer respectively. I was able to give one of the albums to Martin as an early festive present. Many times, have I been asked about why I promote the music, it’s for evening such as these. ‘Just having fun folks’.

Wheelman, Hawth.co.uk

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Mike Vernon & the Mighty Combo, 31/10/17 at the Hawth , BiB December 2017 issue 192, by Graham Hutton

Crawley Blues Club have a great reputation for getting some of the best in the business to perform for them and tonight was certainly no exception although it was touch and go as to whether this band would get there after performing in Svalbard then getting stuck in the snow, missing their flight from Oslo and having to catch the first flight of the day into the UK. Like the true professionals they are, they went straight from the airport to the venue rather than try to go home to their families.

Mike Vernon is a renowned record producer who, in his many years in the business, has produced some of the very biggest names including John Mayall, David Bowie, Savoy Brown and Freddie King. He has also produced albums for some up and coming artists from Laurence Jones to Sari Shorr.

Mike has always liked to sing and a few years ago he formed the Mighty Combo and took to the road. They have had a variety of highly talented musicians in the band, but have settled on a 5 piece with Kid Carlos on guitar, Paul Tasker - sax, Matt Little - keys, the one and only Ian Jennings on stand up bass and Mike Hellier on drums.

The Combo opened with ‘Okie Dokie Stomp’, an instrumental by Gatemouth Brown before flowing straight into ‘Kansas City’ with Mike now on the stage on vocals and double Kazoo.

Listening to Mike in-between numbers is like a history lesson in R&B, which, for me, adds to the performance.

I don’t know where Mike gets his energy from, especially after such a journey, but during the very upbeat ‘All By Myself’ he was dancing around the stage, like a much younger man.

As a tribute to Fats Domino they slowed the pace down with ‘Going Home Tomorrow’, a suitable dedication to the recent passing of a legend.

Next up was an original ‘Heart And Soul’, a New Orleans style groove with some unusual and effective guitar phrasing from Kid Carlos who plays with, from what I could see, no effects pedals at all making for a very clean sound. His fingers move up the frets like a runaway spider, with every note crisp and clear.

During the upbeat second set, they played us some very new numbers. ‘Be On That Train’ and ‘I Can Fix It’ which allowed keys, sax and guitar to show off their talents.

All the band members love what they do and that showed very clearly in their playing. Smiles on faces whether they were playing solo’s or just backing up the others.

The audience are more used to very traditional roots blues, something Crawley Blues Club are good at providing, but this didn’t stop them having a great time listening to some excellently played R&B and making the evening a huge success.

The last song ‘Hate To Leave (Hate To Say Goodbye)’, is, I think, an original and the perfect song to end a wonderful evening on a high note.

Next year is Crawley Blues Clubs 20th anniversary and long may it continue to bring us great music.

Graham Hutton 

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