Keeping the blues alive

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 Written by Craig Chaligne 11 October, 2018

Brook Williams

The Hawth – Crawley

7th October 2018

Later published BiB Dec '18

Always on tour, always playing, Brooks Williams made his (almost) annual stop at the Crawley Blues Club and for the first time at the venue he was in solo mode. Based on the survey on who had already seen Brooks live (conducted by promoter Tony Molloy before the start of the performance) Brooks would be preaching the converted that evening. Armed with a trio of guitars, his warm manner and great voice (and guitar playing) were the basis of a fantastic night of music. Thirty years of touring and twenty-eight albums can’t be condensed in a two-hour performance but the show certainly proved that our host was the master of many musical styles.

Starting with “Trouble in Mind” (covered by many including Nina Simone who had a hit with the song in 1961), he then moved into a more soulful territory with “Whatever It Takes” (a song that Dan Penn wouldn’t have mind written). Such is the quality of Brooks’ original material that if it wasn’t for his introductions, you’d have been hard pressed guessing what was a cover and what had been written by him. Jumping with ease from a Bessie Smith number (“After You’ve Gone”) to a Delmore Brothers’ track (“Deep River Blues”), our host also took the time to recall how we met one of his musical heroes, Wizz Jones on first trip to the UK as a professional musician before playing “Weeping Willow Blues”. An insight on his song writing process before “Gambling Man” proved very interesting as he explained that the song was written in response to another one (a source of inspiration he has used many time apparently). The simply titled “Georgia” about Brooks’ home state was penned in the standard style that his mum enjoyed while the energetic “Jump That Train” (from his latest LP “Lucky Star”0 proved to be one of the catchiest songs of the evening.

The second set started with the classic “Statesboro Blues”, a song that Brooks can really make his own as contrary to most people who covered it, he’s actually lived in the town !!! Another tune inspired by one of the many places he lived was the groovy “Mama’s Song”, inspired by the community feeling that reigned in Mobile, Alabama during Brooks’ teenage years. Brooks, ever critical, said his shows had sometimes been described as too slick when in fact the impression he gives is one of effortlessness, jumping from Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Rock Me” to the delightfully sarcastic “Save The Bones”. The excellent “Bright Side of the Blues” was followed by what remains one of Brooks’ best tracks, the biographical “Frank Delandry”, which relates the disappearance of a guitar player.

Dave Kelly & Maggie Bell 23rd October       

Hawth Crawley

Bib Dec '18

The show started with ‘Bring it home to me’, which clearly showed their complimentary styles, with Maggie’s superb vocals and Dave’s wonderful touch on guitar. Maggie went into ‘Down in the hole’ from the TV show The Wire, which was played every episode by a different performer, with her preference for the Blind Boys of Alabama’s version. Dave’s first vocal was written by Doc Pomus for Ray Charles at Atlantic Records on ‘Lonely avenue’, which gave us our first opportunity to hear the beautiful harmonies that two such strong voices can evoke. Maggie’s cover of the Etta James hit ‘I just want to make love to you’ was a standard for many bands in the 60’s with Maggie transporting us back in time with a vocal that was made for her. The first set closed out their version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ with a change of emphasis, singing it from a woman’s perspective. Dave reminisced about hearing it on a compilation album by a lady singer, which got him talking about his sister Jo Anne and how they would visit the Star jazz club on a Friday night, however the beer was bad, therefore they would slip next door in the interval to the Rising Sun pub. One time at the Star Jo Anne was on her own and she ran into Muddy Waters & Sonny Boy who offered her two backstage passes to the ’63 folk Blues show at the Fairfield hall, which was the same show that the audience were watching at the start of the gig. Dave was able to give an insight to possibly what was the halcyon period of blues music in this country. The audience were enthralled and anticipating the second set.

Dave started the second set with a solo number and spoke about playing on a live album with Son House and appeared on the record as Delta Dave as he was signed to another label. His version of ‘Death Letter blues’ once more highlighted not only his singing and playing but also his interpretation taken first hand from the artist. Maggie re-joined Dave to sing ‘Danger zone’ a beautiful slow blues after regaling us with stories of growing up in Glasgow and playing in Hamburg in her teens. A medley of songs from the days of the Flamingo club followed, bringing back memories of R&B hits such as ‘High heel sneakers’. Dave reprised ‘Dock of the bay’ from his album “Resting my bones” with soaring vocals, intricate guitar work and soulful harmonies, however the highlight for me was Maggie whistling a tuneful coda which garnered an ovation from the audience. If there is such a thing as blues royalty of blues national treasures, then these two should be the inaugural members. The cover of Jimmy Reed’s ‘Let it roll’ allowed us to enjoy their interpretation of a classic that segued into ‘Bright lights, big city’. Dave announced that they were to close with ‘Respect yourself’ the Staple singers, fabulous rendition which brought the house down. Fortunately, they stayed for an encore singing ‘Take me to the river’ which oozed soulful blues. There is a sporting metaphor that form is temporary, and class is permanent, these two have the latter in abundance. An evening that will live long in the memory, awesome!