THE TOY HEARTS + Vera Van Heeringen - J’Hot Club @ The Live Theatre 05/05/13
Crammed in the upstairs of Live Theatre, The Studio venue was a sell-out & the audience all keyed up and ready to savour the bluegrass and western swing music of The Toy Hearts. Made up of Hannah, Sophie and Stewart Johnson plus, Spike Barker on upright bass, a ton of energy was soon released. Pulling from the band’s most recent record “Whiskey” and tracks from their three previous albums the band where all ready, willing & able.
Opening the evening Dutch guitar player, singer-songwriter Vera Van Heeringen did herself proud indeed. Her smart picking, choice covers and own material made a great impression, winning over the audience with the likes of ‘Old Man’, and a real snappy piece ’Pass Me The Whiskey’. Of the covers, her version of Gillian Welch’s ‘Annabelle’ was arguably the pick, with her guitar playing in particular, possessing a lift, which only real players obtain.
Birmingham-raised act, The Toy Hearts are relocating to Texas in two weeks for 6 months or more, so this was a perfect time to catch them. They were so full of enthusiasm for their up-and-coming adventure’s, the songs came thick and almost too fast.
Awash with great talent all-round, Hannah’s lead vocals and mandolin playing enjoyed the panache of dad’s banjo, Dobro and steel guitar plus elder sister, Sophia’s exquisite guitar playing that was primed to deliver. And boy, didn’t they just.
So good was it with Sophia’s infectious smile on playing the exciting parts, I was unable to take my eyes off her fingers. Her harmony vocals like the tight playing of Barker, anchored the unit, as we were whisked through material ranging from Hank Thompson, Marty Robbins to Kate MacKenzie and Bob Wills right alongside their own self penned authentic songs.
Tunes like Tequila and High Heels’ —which sounded like it had come from the songbook of the Hot Club Of Cowtown (so impressive) and the classy ‘Stutter Blues’ and Sophia’s fabulous version of the instrumental ‘Beaumont Rag’ were evening highlights There was many more too, like their impressive version of Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock’s ‘Thunderstorms And Neon Signs’ that made this reviewer wonder if Hancock could ever make it over here himself one day ( we’ve tried enough times .Ed) . What a truly great send off this show was though.
I hope they don’t forget to come back home, as many performances like tonight’s then Texas will to adopt them like long lost cousins. Lock, stock and barrel!
CAHALEN MORRISON & ELI WEST + Kilcawley Family – J’Hot Club @ The Cluny2 Ncle -21/04/13
Tonight was one for old-time acoustic music followers as Seattle-based act Cahalen Morrison and Eli West ran through a bunch of songs from their two albums. Their new one Our Lady Of The Tall Trees is not only a continuance of their first recording, The Holy Coming Of The Storm but better!
They may only be only two voices and players; as they performed on banjo, mandolin (the two Morrison led with), bouzouki and guitar (West’s main instrument) but such is their ability and complete togetherness that came from the stage it was a full sound. Morrison’s tireless ability to both write and lead the duo, although West as the evening progressed he took charge on a number of the vocal pieces, his dropping into the groove on the western themed numbers was uncanny.
Unlike some aspiring traditional acts they not only revisit the mould but take the music a good few additional miles down the road without the fear of it losing it’s rustic charm or disturbing the foundations.
Quality burst at the seams throughout, as they got their heads down and played the socks off their tunes. So great was music I was unable to separate which was best, the playing, the lead or harmony vocals.
West’s lead on Townes Van Zandt’s “Loretta”, Norman Blake’s “Church Street Blues” alongside as already noted above a couple western songs earned the prize for me. If a man of the night were to be awarded, even on taking account the colossal efforts of Morrison it would be him. Much as I enjoyed his great banjo work.
Morrison’s old time and sea shanties likewise were the business. They also struck out with two or three sets of instrumentals and so good were they I mused had we witnessed tomorrow’s heroes in the making? As an encore they dipped into the songbook of Alice Gerrard; of Hazel & Alice fame, a lonesome tune, it suited the boys sibling like vocal harmonies as good as anything they did.
By close of play the audience weren’t so much taken by their music but whisked away and now adrift on the ocean as they soaked up the wondrous sound of the boys’ song ‘My Lover, Adorned’; with Cahalen’s banjo, Eli’s guitar and the latter’s impeccable lead vocals it doesn’t come much better than this. Sheer master class!
The Kilcawley Family (Damon and Louiza Kilcawley) were the support, and as on previous performances the youngsters impressed with their playing of acoustic guitar, harmonica and Autoharp. As they fused folk and old time country music. Their new song “Hand To Mouth” being every bit, if not better than anything they performed.
An Evening With KINKY FRIEDMAN – J’Hot Club @ THE CAEDMON HALL GATESHEAD 20/04/13
There are few larger than life characters who call Texas their home than singer-songwriter, novelist, storyteller political dabbling genius eccentric Jewboy Kinky Friedman. He even has for sale, his own brand of cigars and Tequila. I wonder if he knows about Newcastle Broon (Kinky’s version could be the next big thing!). I already know he is well familiar with Guinness!
Such is Friedman’s wit and storytelling, and command of both the irreverent and serious he only needed to share an observation or two and the evening was not only up and running but on well-greased wheels. There was a special aura about the ‘all in black’ dressed Friedman as on stepped on stage, on what he termed as his Bipolar Tour.
Admittedly, his voice is showing signs of wear, and some of the jokes had been heard before. But the audience weren’t bothered one iota as they lapped up his songs (a good few male humour based) and anecdotes as good as most people’s songwriting spilled from the stage.
To go with old favourites of ‘Sold American’, ‘Get Your Biscuits In The Oven And Your Buns in The Bed’ (which gained him the National Organization of Women’s Chauvinist Pig Of The Year Award in 1974) there is also a wedge of books to help earn the Kinkster a legion of followers from all walks of life.
Jokes and humour filled the hall amidst more serious moments like when he covered work from others. Peter Lafarge’s moving piece ‘Ballad Of Ira Hayes ’that speaks of Native Americans and Woody Guthrie ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’ (a Robin Hood like figure who took from the rich and gave to the poor) deservedly earned top billing.
Kinky is something of a walking contradiction, with the ability to take a situation and either applaud it or take it apart. And come up with an alternative solution. Best passage of play was arguably; him (cigar in one hand, book the other) read a captivating chapter from his latest novel Heroes Of A Texas Childhood. And the one he chose was The Navigator; a one about his father couldn’t have been more fitting or better delivered. By the way, the book is made up of twenty-three of his childhood heroes.
Let’s hope the next time he steps on stage he has he friend, Little Jewford accompany him, because there were occasions when he missed him! Like on raucous songs ‘Homo Erectus’ and ‘Ol’ Ben Lucus’, however he needed no help whatsoever when it came to him delivering ‘Asshole From El Paso’. By which time many of the audience were about to keel over with laughter at the jokes and smart lyrics. An incredible writer who has in the likes of ‘Nashville Casualty And Life’ and ‘They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore’ and the above written some great songs and there were others too, and he did most all of them on the night. Also, like with the above covers he isn’t afraid to step out the box and borrow one. As was the case on recalling Paul Robeson’s version on Irish ballad ‘Kevin Barry’ which he performed, and though best heard via an Irish vocalist his wasn’t a bad one.
As for the real highlight, I must go back to his wonderful reading of a chapter from his book he should have left some for Graham to sell at the club. For we all need to sample his work; one page from Kinky is worth a book by most others!
Birds of Chicago + Peter Mulvey - J Hot Club @ The Cluny II 4th April 2013
I love music of many persuasions and especially enjoy live concerts, probably because of the propensity for things to go wrong, but also because when musicians perform to the best of their ability combined with sound and atmosphere these nights can be pretty special indeed; and that’s what just we encountered tonight.
I hadn’t seen opening act Peter Mulvey for a few years and his deep baritone voice and matching guitar style were just as good as I’d remembered. Even though his songs were all knew to me and; presumably most of the audience, they all felt like I’d known them all of my life.
His stories that introduced his songs were all short, sharp and usually funny particularly when he told us about opening for a young girl one night in Indiana who launched herself at him after his set because he was the ‘Shirt Guy’. It took him a couple of minutes to decipher that his song Shirt was her favourite song since she’d bought it years earlier on a sampler CD from Benetton. As he said; “you have to do some weird things to get your music heard.”
The other stand out was an instrumental tune called Black Rabbit that he wrote when living in Ireland and it can only be described as Celtic-Flamenco.
After a short break Mulvey reappeared as the rhythm guitarist in the Birds of Chicago alongside Allison Russell from Po’ Girl, JT Lindsey from JT & The Clouds and Wilf ,a drummer from somewhere in the South of England.
Opening their set with an incredibly raw version of the Clouds Nobody Wants to be Alone that took everyone by surprise, the Birds of Chicago followed it with the first of their new songs; Flying Dreams with JT on vocals and Allison on lead ukulele which set the mood for a charmingly friendly concert.
The audience in the smaller of the two Cluny rooms was a lot fuller than I’d expected; as there were four other concerts taking place around the city and our football team; Newcastle United were playing a Europa League Quarter Final match that was being broadcast on TV.
It’s difficult to explain why the Birds of Chicago ‘work’ as JT and Alli have such differing voices but work it does; and in quite a spectacularly understated way. Allison took lead on most songs with JT supplying harmonies that most singers can only dream of.
Although their debut album had only been released the day previously and judging by the queue at the Merch table very few already owned it; the reaction to the new songs was amazing; and the beautiful Before She Goes, which features Alli whistling (in tune) nearly received a standing ovation (six people did stand; but the others were more restrained).
Although there were only four musicians using acoustic instruments, on the small stage the sound that they created during Sugar Dumplin’ would have made Phil Spector proud.
Two JT and the Clouds songs were squeezed in with JT making Grey Ghost sound eerier than on the original album and later, ‘Till it’s Gone which is a staple of Po’ Girl concerts received a huge roar of approval at the end.
As the concert drew to a close they even slid in a new song called Kindersville (Child’s Game) that was being ‘road tested’ and sounded deeper and more introspective than what had gone previously; but you do have to have light and shade in your life.
As JT Nero introduced Trampoline he had to admonish Alli for being ‘too frivolous’ which was stopping them being a real Roots band. This set me thinking; too many bands I see playing this same style of music are guilty of taking themselves too seriously (as are many Roots fans) so to see Allison Russell skipping about the stage with a constant smile on her face was like a breath of fresh air.
With barely time to cast a shadow in the changing room the band returned for the obligatory encores and Fever Dream, which I loved on the album actually sparkled tonight and brought a wonderful evening to a climatic ending.
I can’t recommend their album highly enough, but if you get the opportunity to see Birds of Chicago play live; make the effort to see them. You won’t regret it.
RITA HOSKING Duo + Archie Brown & The Young Bucks - J'Hot Club @ THE STUDIO /LIVE THEATRE 10/03/13
It was a welcome return to the area for North California singer-songwriter Rita Hosking and her husband, Dobro and banjo playing harmony vocalist Sean Feder. He was a great instrumental support and able harmony vocalist. They followed in the footsteps of Archie Brown And The Young Bucks as they made themselves feel at home in the Live Theatre’s Studio venue.
Showing a relaxed stage presence Hosking is a fine craftsperson when it comes to songwriting and sharing her experiences/observations of life both on stage, and on record.
A folk balladeer of much merit Hosking wove countless engaging vignettes with her storytelling, and excelled in her performance. Although the same passion or fluid feel wasn’t as strong on the rare occasions she went outside her own body of work for a song. As in her cover of sombre tale ‘Dream Of A Miner’s Child’.
Rita’s influences include the likes of the late Kate Wolf (also from California) and Gillian Welch plus she was quick to recognise the music of Hazel Dickens. As she used part of her song ‘Pretty Bird’ (learnt from its writer, the late Dickens) to open one of her own that spoke of her wanting to write a pretty love song. Possessing more edge it was a wonderful piece. Likewise, could be said of big favourite with her fans, ‘Come Sunrise’. The attentive audience hanging onto every word and note played (plus her entertaining anecdotes) weren’t slow to show their appreciation. My bet is Hosking will before too long have her peers stood in line wanting to cover her work; not least being her song ‘Five Star Location’ (omitted from her set) which appears on her new album Little Boat.
Of her older material ‘Little Joe’ which spoke of a cowboy, who was really a girl from Buffalo, New York and one covering her love of quarter horses and when she was younger, and partook in barrel racing stood out well. As her love of the great outdoors was once again underlined, because not she not only sings about the stuff but lives and breathes it!
Pulled from her hot off the press, Little Boat album the duo gave us humorous ode ‘Clean’, ‘Parting Glass’ (her own song and not the Irish folk ballad) and ‘Sierra Bound’. To go with the intriguing ‘Little Joe’ and one plucked from the history of the American Civil War. To go with ones about forest fires, demolition derbies, cold North West winds and dirty dishes even her shrewd observations of everyday life. Which helped greatly in her quest to make the venue feel like it was an extension to her living room. This attribute is arguably the greatest attraction (and there are a few) of the Live Studio.
Supporting Hosking you had a critically acclaimed performance by Archie Brown (and the Young Bucks). The boys turned back the years to plough through a set of work with something there for everyone! Brown’s love of the venue’s warmth did much to both lift his performance and generate a two-way energy ambiance. Among those most memorable you had ‘The Cat’ which spoke of a London cat burglar and a one-eyed lookout guy. A hugely entertaining piece as were most all Archie and the boy’s songs. Set to join his repertoire of live performances is ‘Last Train To Toledo’ which (as ever) benefitted from upright bass and Pat Rafferty’s swirling accordion to aid Brown’s clever hooks.
SXSW 13 - Austin Texas by El'Sid
( Third review - other two on features page)
This was my second SXSW Fest in Austin, Texas & my third visit to the live music capital of USA. In my case it was known as NOT the SXSW, as to get into a the show’s you needed a badge that cost $750 (£500) or a wrist band that cost $150 (£100), but as every bar it seemed, wanted to get you in, you could see hundreds of bands for nothing. So I went mostly to non- SXSW events & indeed nearly saw 100 acts…… So for five days from Wednesday to Sunday, you could hear every form of every kind of music. In my case, thankfully, it was mostly country music. Having been to Nashville before, I found the week in Austin far outweighed the cost for the band’s you got to see! There were six hours difference between England and Austin, so we got there a day before it all started & on Tuesday at midday, I went to have a look way downtown. I got my picture with Willie Nelson (unfortunately it was only a statue of him) & it wasn’t very long before we heard some live music. In the famous Threadgills, a country show was happening with a band called The Dirty River boys (four young guys) & they sounded very good. Based in El Paso they play a rocky bluegrass, & I got their two CD’s at only $5 each called ‘Train Station’ and ‘Long Cold Fall’. Next to follow them was one of Graham’s favourite bands (first time that I have seen them) Shinyribs, & like the Dirty River boys, they are four fella's, locally based in Austin. Their lead singer Kevin Russell has a grand roots voice, & is also lead singer with The Gourds. I enjoyed their song ‘East Texas Rust’, and they now have another fan; hope to see them in the UK sometime. The last band at this outdoor venue was Uncle Lucius, a six piece who again, are also based in Austin. They had a great country-rock & blues vibe & have just released an excellent single called ‘Keep The Wolves Away, it had been a great start to my trip. In the evening I went with another friend who had flown out with us, Mick, to The Blackhearts. This was an official SXSW showcase, but I got in for $10 (£7), I had just missed Hurray For The Riff Raff (@The Cluny2 - 16th May ), but saw the second act Hound- Mouth. Based in Southern Indiana, they are three lads and Katie, who had a wonderful country voice, especially on the song ‘Houston Train’. They got their name when they were recording & when they played back the tracks, next door’s dog was barking in the background. The lead singer Shane said there was too much hound mouth in the mix, and thought it, a good name to use. Their first album is out in June. The next band up was Lone Bellow, originally two gentlemen and a lady who are based in Brooklyn, but the band expands when on tour. This night there was another two on upright bass and drums. They are originally from the Southern States & with a country/rock/americana sound, they are very good. They too have just released their first album. Next to follow was Jason Isbell with his all new wife of only a few weeks, Amanda Shires (married in February). She was born in Lubbock, Texas, and grew up with country music, at one time even playing fiddle in the Texas Playboys, Bob Wills great old backing band. Jason was born in Greenhill, Alabama, and was once guitarist in Drive-by Truckers. They play self penned Country soul and Alt/Country rock tunes, and went down a storm, to this crowded outdoor show. Spirit Family Reunion followed, again a very good blue grassy band based in New York City. Comprising of five fella’s & one filey on banjo, they did old timey gospel & new bluegrass. I especially enjoyed the song ‘Keep Your Troubles At The Gate’, and bought their latest CD ‘No Separation’. Just off tour with Hurray For The Riff Raff, they invited Alynda & chum on stage for an awesome encore with them; The last band this night was The Last Bison, but they were too folksy boring for me & Mick, so we called it a night & walked back. It was a good start to the first day, when I wasn’t expecting that much at all!.
Wednesday early morning I went with Graham downtown, to see his friend, James Hunter 6 play at 10am.The Four Seasons Hotel is the most expensive Hotel in Austin, and at £740 a night ( cor blimey - that’s the cheapest room). They had live bands on from 7am, and entrance was only $10 ( all the money was going to charity) but not only did you get the bands, but you got a free breakfast Taco (filled with scrambled egg/bacon) and as much coffee as you wanted. Graham got to meet James & chat afterwards (he‘s an R & B singer from Colchester) then we went back to our Motel, & next door was South by San Jo's, an outside stage with plenty of top acts on. Starting off free live music for the whole week at midday was Mother Falcon, a very large Austin based classical band. They were more roots and pop music, so a first beer was requested, up the road , & then getting back in time for Jenny O. I’d saw her last year at the Sage, & didn’t think much of her voice then and nothings changed. So I went back over the road to the Continental Club to see the Austin locals Jitterbug Vipers who are a Jazz Swing Band, comprising of three dimes and an old viper called Slim (well he had the long white beard). I found them very interesting indeed. It was back over the road to the SXSJ again to see Wild Child, with two girls and four boys; they were a folk/pop band but sounded pretty ok. After Wild Child the music happily was back to Country, we had Jessie Colter ( the late Waylon Jennings wife) come on stage to announce that all money from today’s show will be going to her late husband Waylon Jennings Diabetes Research Charity. It was just a pity she did not do any songs herself, but luckily their son Shooter Jennings came on stage to play. With a good voice (seen him a few years ago at the Cluny) he’s keeping up with the family tradition. Shooter then introduced from Alabama, Jamey Johnson on stage, he is a big country singer himself having a few tip top country hits. I would like to see the two of them in the UK. After a quick chat with Jimmie Dale Gilmore I was running (it was a very busy road) back over the road to the Continental Club to hear a few songs by one of my favourite Western Swing bands Hot Club Of Cowtown. They may come from all over the States, but they have been based in Austin for years. The Continental club is an inside venue, and from there back door, we could see Jimmie Dale Gilmore with his band on stage at the SXSJ , so it was another quick dash back again to SXSJ, (last time I had seen Jimmie was at the Sage with the Flatlanders) They were followed by another tip top Austin band, Asleep at the Wheel. These just have got to be the best Texas Swing band around, and are another band that has settled in Austin from all over the States. They were formed in 1970, and still have the same lead singer in Ray Benson who still has a great bloomy voice. The last band on was local legend Rocky Erickson, a rock singer, I heard a few average songs from him then went back to the Continental Club for the rest of the night. First up on a Bloodshot showcase evening was Luke Winslow–King with his trio. Born in Michigan, now living in New Orleans were he lapped up the music, as well as blues, country and pop/rock, I found his music good and bought his CD ‘Old/New Baby’. The next band was Murder By Death, they are a rock band from Indiana, with four blokes and a blokette, and I found them, quite awful . They were followed by The Deadstring Brothers; I thought they were excellent, an Alt. Country/Rock n Roll band born in Detroit, Michigan in 2001, but they now reside in Nashville. They have had many changes in the line up over the years, but still sound like exile on main street, & I bought there most recent cd ‘Sao Paulo’. The last band I got to see was Lydia Loveless who I had got to see at the Cluny 2 in November with her husband Ben Lamb on upright bass, plus two other lads on drums and guitar, sometimes her father plays drums, but not here, BTW her real name is Lydia Ankrom.She does a good range of Alt country & classic country, but after her show I found I was nearly falling asleep, so decided to retire. I could not imagine anybody ever seeing bands from 7am to 2am every day. Thursday I got up to another bright sunny day, & still have not seen a cloud in the sky since I had arrived, I did not fancy any of the bands on at the Four Seasons Hotel, so I went down to town to visit the State Capital Building, (well worth the visit ) By midday, I thought it was about time to see some bands again,. The best line up was at The Broken Spoke, and I was lucky enough to get a cab (Taxi’s are very hard to get this week). For this venue there was no charge, and they had bands on in the lobby and on the main stage, each half hour apart, so you could get to see some of all the acts,. The first was in the lobby with Pretty Little Empire, from St Louis, Missouri, they do a little country. Then it was into the main stage room for The Lone Bellow, & good to see them again. Back to the lobby for Austin’s The Carper Family, I had heard of these three dolls before, their harmonies are wonderful, what country music should really be about , with some old country, swing, bluegrass, and their own original songs, I hope they come to the UK. I got there latest CD ‘Come See Yer Ol’Daddy’ it’s terrific. Back to the main stage for Kelly Hogan and her band, with two chaps and another lass, she is from Atlanta, Georgia, a very good voice, & she is basically soul country, and has appeared with many top country artist. Back to the lobby for Hamilton, Ontario, Canada’s White Horse, They are husband and wife, (married in 2006) with Luke Doucet from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, and Melissa McClelland from Chicago, Illinois, they are very good on the vocals, having seen them last May at Cluny 2, I also like their alt-country songs. Then another rush back to the stage room for Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis, they are based in Austin now, Bruce was born in Texas, Kelly in Oklahoma, they are also a couple, having got married in 1996, and they are true country singers, Bruce is also a very good song writer, a lot of country singers have recorded his songs. Bruce is also very tall, and he had to bend his head on this stage, he said. I would not like to be Ray Benson from Asleep At The Wheel, I’m sure this stage was built to fit Little Jimmy Dickens (he is 4ft 11in tall), he could be right. Now another rush to the lobby to see Ron Sexsmith, it seemed funny seeing him playing in a lobby with people coming in and out of the door. He will fill the Sage in hall 1 in a month’s time, and it is £25 to see him, and I stood in front of him to take a photo, like in another world.. He is a Canadian singer from Ontario, & sings mostly pop/folk, but sounded very good. It was then back to the main stage yet again, for the headline act Dale Watson with his band. I had only seen him about six weeks before at the Cluny, just before he started his show, the owner of the Broken Spoke came on to do a song with Dale. James White, somebody else rolled a wheel out to the front of the stage with a broken spoke on it….. James has been running the Broken Spoke since 1964, & it is now the oldest surviving honky tonk in Austin. He has had Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and many other top country stars regularly play there. The first big name was none other than Bob Wills and in modern times George Strait played here every week for years until he made it big. Its a must go, for all country fans. Of cause Dale gave another excellent show & he gets people laughing all the way when he does his ditty to advertise Lone Star beer. I was off walking down into town, when I heard live music coming from Theadgills, I tried to get in, but was told it was a SXSW private party, and not even wrist bands were any good, I went round to the back to hear them, when I spotted two friends of mine in the Audience, Keith and Linda, Keith. Luckily they saw me too, & came round the back and gave me a pass to get in. The first band I had seen was Max Gomez, Trio from Taos, New Mexico, with a very good voice doing country/blues. They were followed by the Devil Makes Three from Santa Cruz, California, a lad on lead vocals playing guitar, singing acoustic blues/bluegrass with a girl on upright bass and a lad on accordion, the party came with free food and drink, sadly I missed out on that too. We then went to The Grand Ole Austin, Maria’s Taco Express, & I got to see Mike and the Moonpies. You can’t get more country than these Stetson hatter fellas, playing Red Dirt Country music. The lead singer Mike Harmeier has a natural country voice, I enjoyed their song ‘Darlin’ You’re Crazy’, maybe some think they are too country in the times we are in. They were followed by another excellent country band the John Evans Band, (they are also from Austin) He is also a good song writer, having a few hits co-written with Hayes Carll We were off once more to the Opa, just in time to see Gurf Morlix come on the stage, he also has made Austin his home since 1991, originally coming from Buffalo, New York. He has been to Newcastle a few times, & not only as he got his own unique voice, but can play most instruments, (and has his own recording studio, where he produces a lot of big artists.).Once more he dedicated some of his show to his old friend Blaze Foley who was killed in 1978. I finished the night at the G & S Lounge, (don’t know what it stands for).The first band coming from Houston was Beth Lee & the Breakups, I wasn’t too impressed. The last one I got to see before heading back to my bed was Mitch Webb & the Swindles, they are based in San Antonio, and sounded Country/rock garage rock, I enjoyed the title track of their new CD ‘Lonely Kind’ Friday was one mother....... of a day I was looking forward too, & the free show at the Waterloo Record store car park, but first I made my way early to the Four Seasons Hotel. As before, this show starts at 7am with four bands every hour, I got there with Graham at 9am, just in time to see Josh Ritter from Moscow, Idaho. He got his break in Ireland & Friday he had his friend Zack Hickman on guitar too., I very much enjoyed him, a name I will be looking out for, I thought his song ‘Joy To You Baby’ was excellent. He introduced Frightened Rabbit, who was Scott Hutchison from Scotland on the stage, to do one song, ‘Stories We Could Tell’,:Scott uses the same name weather he s on his own or with his band. The next act was The Relatives, a gospel, R & B band from Dallas, having formed in 1971, with five black dudes who do a great job on soulful harmonies together, ( with their four piece backing band ) I enjoyed what they did, & some of the time they were very funny, getting the audience joining in swaying side to side, and moving up and down. Then I headed off on a half hour walk down town to the Waterloo record shop car park, for a free afternoon of live music. It was fenced in for fire regulations ( which usually go by the wayside). I got there about 11.15, as it started at noon, I started half way in, and by 11.45 they had to stop any more coming in as it was full. Some of my friends got there mid afternoon and did not make it in. The first act on was Frightened Rabbit, this time Scott was with his full band . Following them was Alt. J, another Alt Rock band, this time from England, who have been doing very well since last year having won the British Mercury Prize. They went down especially well with the youngsters. When Alt. J had finished, a lot of the youngsters left, so I was able to move a lot nearer to the stage. The next act to follow was folk superstar Richard Thompson. The first time I had seen him, & I was very surprised by his country/folksy songs, & he had plenty of fans in the audience (I had seen his son Teddy at the Transatlantic Sessions a few times). It seemed like it was going to be Glastonbury show, next, as it was Billy Bragg from Essex, I didn’t find him to be a very good singer, and I am not much into protest songs, which was what he mostly did, also promoting his new CD ‘Tooth & Nail’ which I doubt is any good. I then got to see The Relatives again (by this time I had got right down to the front, & I could not get any closer. By now I had been standing for five hours , and the temperature got to 87 degrees (at least I then had the barrier to lean on). The Relatives gave another high-quality show, similar to before. At long last it was the turn of one of the two artists Id came for The Mavericks, Raul Malo was still in fine voice with a full 8 piece band,. Raul was now sporting a full beard instead of his usual goatee, making him look like Demis Roussos. They cherry picked though all their classics, ‘Back In Your Arms Again’, ‘Shake, rattle & Roll’ Dance The Night Away etc & it was well worth the long wait. I could have got their new CD signed by the band at the end of their show, but I was not going to leave my place & post. The last act at 6pm was the country legends Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell. I had seen them both on their own, a few times, but this was the first time seeing them together. Both played guitar and with only a steel player, they were promoting their first CD together since Rodney was in her band. The CD is called ‘Old Yellow Moon’‘ & they played it alongside Invitation To The Blue’, ‘Chase The Feeling’, and one not on there ‘Till I Gain Control Again’. After that show I’m really looking forward to them at the Sage (and The Mavericks @ Summertyne ). I went into the Waterloo shop and got my CD signed by them both. By now after a full eight hours standing, & not going to the loo or having a drink, in the hot sun, I went to the first bar I walked past, Opal Devine, & got myself a pint of Guinness, & downed it in one…..and went to the bathroom !. Then I watched Claudine Meinhardt trio, from San Antonio, She did some country, finishing with a Johnny Cash song. Just for me! Back next door to our Motel, at the South by San Jo's, I caught Alejandro Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys, an excellent singer/songwriter who I’ve seen many times in the UK. It was then back over the road again for the rest of the evening. at the best place in town…The Continental Club,. I saw Jason Dee Williams, & he was like another Jerry Lee Lewis, good on the keys & with his band, doing old style rock ‘n’ roll, and country blues, and of course, he comes from Memphis Tennessee. Then on came Jon Dee Graham, a magician on the guitar, in his own town is Austin, and they have rewarded him, by being inducted him, three times into the Austin Music Hall Of Fame, He was heaven to watch with his own band. It was a hard act to follow, but Houston born Carolyn Wonderland did a pretty good job. With her full blues band she rocked the joint. She has her apt name Wonderland, but her real name is Bradford. The last band I got to see was the Rev. Peyton And The Big Damn Band, from Brown City, Indiana. They have been to Newcastle a couple of times, and are back at the Cluny again on the 8th May. They are well worth seeing with their funny style of Mississippi Delta Blues.
Saturday morning there was a little bit of cloud in the sky, but it was soon burnt off with the very hot sun, getting to 90 degrees. I was off down in the town once more to the Four Seasons Hotel, just in time to see My Jerusalem come on the stage, They are a indie rock band from Austin, & I was not impressed .The next act did not make it, Unfortunately they got Billy Bragg instead. He was followed by The True Believers, who are a old locally acclaimed rock band brought back together for SXSW13 with Alejandro Escovedo and his brother Javier, along with Jon Dee Graham & two others, doing what was originally known as new- wave rock. It was not bad, but I do prefer Alejandro with his own band. It was then back to my Motel after that and next door at South By San Jo's was Luella And The Sun, & I was again, not impressed. Enough said, I went for a drink up the road, & came back to see Shakey Graves. He was a one man band playing alt country blues, and like his white Stetson hat, was born in Austin. I then went up the road to the Yard Dog all dayer. The best thing about this venue, was that they were promoting a beer called Lagunitas, & it was $3 for your first pint, then every time you took your plastic glass back, it was only $1 a pint (70 pence English) so I stayed all day !!! The first act was Ian McLagan And The Bump Band, I had seen him not long ago in Newcastle, but of course he lives in Austin (It seems everybody wants to live in Austin.). As the day showed, he was a very good singer in his own right, and is an institution here with his own band. Next on was Ian Moore and the Lossy Coils, I thought Ian has a wonderful voice, another Austin singer/song writer, with a fine blend of country/rock. It seems he can put his voice to anything, naturally. I purchased his new CD ‘El Sonido Nuevo’. Alt. Rock singer Ken Stringfellow followed. Born in Hollywood, California, he has been with a quite a few big name bands, R.E.M & Minus 5 to name just two,. He got Minus 5’s Scott Lewis McCaughey up with him on a couple of songs & also got Lisa Leblanc from Canada up for a song; She has a very good voice, after it was back to beautiful country music again. Talking of country, Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison were the next act up. They put on another excellent show with plenty of room for Bruce (more than at Broken Spoke) & he did not have to duck his head this time. The afternoon heat was hitting 90 degrees so I went for another pint and two local lads were singing outside. They called themselves Wasted Hearts( Eric Hartsfield and Chris Baldridge) & with their exquisite harmonies they sounded very good. I got back just in time to see Laura Cantrell coming on the stage, She has a beautiful voice, and it was pleasure on my ears, She had Mark Spencer with her, who I had seen with her last time on steel, and Fats Kaplin on fiddle, plus a couple of other cats in the band. Following on was Jon Langford and Skull Orchard, the name of his band is the title of his first solo CD, He plays a mix of country, alt. country, rock and roll, and has been on many top country singers albums. He is also leader of the Waco Brothers; His art work’s pretty damn good as well. Randy Franklin also played with Jon, he owns the Yard Dog. Next was Driven’ N’ Cryin’, the lead singer is Kevin Kinney, they are a Southern rock band based in Atlanta, Georgia, & they got their name from one of Keviin’s songs, I enjoyed them a lot. Id had about six pints by this time & was a happy chap. Walking back around the front of the Yard Dog, I saw two girls singing, Gladys & Maybelle,, their harmonies were beautiful, and they looked gorgeous ( was it the pints- ed ), Their real names are Julia Rose and Deb Crawford, who are sisters and they are from Dallas-Fort Worth. Maybe they could make it big, they seem to have it all going for them …I also got their CD.
Walking back down the road, I could hear music coming from another bar -Vinneys, with an outside stage, and the band was Mike & The Moonpies who I’d already seen, so I stayed to they had finished. I then went back to South By San Jo's to catch the last act on there, Dawes, a rock band from Los Angeles, California. The lead singer is Taylor Goldsmith who plays guitar, his brother Griffin plays drums. I wasn’t that impressed. so I went back over the road to finish the night at the Continental Club. The first band was Split Squad & The Minus 5, they were the band that I missed at Yard Dog. I didn’t find them too bad, but a bit rocky. Next up was Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants, he was one time with the Foo Fighters, but he seems to have changed with his new band to a better Alt. Country Band,. He got the name of the band from the title his own first album. I then got to see Ian Moore & The Lossy Coils again, The last band I got to see was Bobby Bare Jnr. Bobby has a good voice himself, but sounding nothing like his father, but most sons don’t. I did find that his songs sounded a bit too weird, and leaned much more to rock.
Sunday was one of the best you’d get musically,as I was heading with Graham to the Austin Rodeo & live music event,, but first we went for a late breakfast, or early dinner at Lucy’s Fried Chicken. They even had a small stage with live bands all day Sunday. We got to see Austin Family Jewels, a bluegrass,apalachian band, based around Austin, but they are not a family !. At one time they were the backing band for Jimmie Dale Gilmore as he said ‘You play the kind of music I like, and that’s so hard to find’. Next was Brandy Zdan, who also sang with The Trishas. She has a striking voice, & invited Dustin Welch up to sing with her.,.. they have already recorded together before, & had an excellent sound. Also having a meal at the time was Otis Gibbs (he was on after Dustin) and Ray Wylie Hubbard, not very often do you have a couple of other country stars having a meal right next to you. After a quick chat with Otis & Ray, it was time to get the taxi to the Rodeo at the Travis County Expo Center; it is a very large place with a large fair on the outside. We got there just in time for the start, it was the biggest Rodeo I had seen, lasting two hours with every event you could think of, then it was time to bring the revolving stage into the centre. The main reason I got the tickets back in England came on, one of the all time greats of country, Merle Haggard. He is 76 on the 6th April. He was on for about ¾ hour, & it seemed to go far to quickly, singing most of his greatest hits, and finishing with ‘Okie From Muskogee’. As soon as I heard that song, I knew that it was all over. He still sounded as great as in his hay day, still with that golden voice,. As a finale he steadily came back down from the stage where a ram pickup was waiting, then he did a lap of honour around the arena with Stetson’s flying everywhere ! Getting back to Austin was another matter; we just couldn’t get a taxi back to town for love nor money, but we met two red necks (their words) who were kind enough to take us all the way back in there battered car; The Rodeo is about ten miles outside Austin. They got me back just in time to see Bobby Bare Snr at the Continental Club,. The last time I had seen him was way back at the City Hall in Newcastle 1986 with Billie Jo Spears, Bobby will be 78 on the 7th April, the next day after Merle Haggard’s. Bobby still also has a wonderful voice too and doing country songs, he had his own band, & had his son Bobby Jnr on BV’s. I got to have a short chat with him after the show, a very nice man, and got my picture with him and Willie Nile (Willie is on the Cluny 27th April). Bobby was followed by Pong, which is the name of the rock band from Austin, I was not very impressed , Barfield was the next to follow. Mike Barfield goes under the name Barfield the Tyrant of Texas Funk, & is a bit different in sound, with southern soul & R&B to country music, then know as funky music, & they didn’t sound too bad. Big Sugar was the next band & I was not impressed. Peter Buck followed. Born in California, he is a singer/guitarist , and a co. founder of the popular band R.E.M, also a bit to do with Minus 5, I did enjoy his form of rock. It was then another good showing from Drivin’ N Cryin’ who I had seen earlier. The night finished with Alejandro Escovedo with his old band True Believers who I had seen at the Four Seasons, giving another good show.
SXSW Fest was now over, with most people gone home , but we had the extra Monday to avoid the long queues at the airport. I met up with my friend’s midday for a drink at the Opal Divine on 6th street & we got into the margarita’s. In the evening we went for an ordinary night at the Continental Club, just in time for the later show with Dale Watson and his Lone Stars, He must be sponsored by Lone Star Beer, as he is always plugging the woeful beer. Dale was on for three & a half hours, & the only break he had was when he got a few guest up. First was Brennen Leigh with her wonderful country voice, then Raul Malo, lead singer with the Mavericks, then Alan Haynes showing how he can do blues on any guitar by borrowing Dale’s, Even the girl working behind the bar Stephanie Marler, who had a very fine & fiery voice, sang a duet with Mr Lone star… & it was a fitting way to finish our Austin music experience Tuesday we were on our way back home to the snow. That’s it then .
El Sid- review & all pics
Jumpin' Hot Club
all pics - CJ Holley unless stated
Mark Eitzel & Band + Mush ( Jumpin Hot Club) @ TheCluny2 Newcastle
February 28th 2013
As there was still a long queue to get into Cluny2 I could only hear the first song by local Folk trio; Mush when the door opened, so the first song I managed to hear in all its glory was a surprising adaptation of local chanteuse Gem Andrews’ Ladybird which had Nicky Rushton’s crystal clear voice very nearly bettering the original.
It was an absolute pleasure to see musicians actually enjoying being on stage and the banter that introduced a Murder Ballad called Love had me desperate to actually hear the song; and the wait was worth it as the song itself was tremendous.
My favourite song; and the one that had me obtaining their album at the end of the show was Mother Dear; and not just because Gem Andrews joined them on stage (much to my amazement, she’d been sitting next to me!) but the melody was very clever, yet still accessible and the story within the song would have brought tears to a glass eye.
This was Folk Music Jim; but not as we know it! The songs were all ‘quirky’ but in a good way and all three women are exceptional musicians with Penny Callow’s cello adding depth to what could easily have become a lighthearted review. If you can have Dinner-Jazz I think I saw the first wave of Dinner-folk tonight.
By the time Shipcote introduced Mark Eitzel and his band, there wasn’t an empty square foot of space in the whole club with devotees even packing the tiny balcony like sardines.
I have to admit Mark Eitzel and his previous employers, the American Music Club have passed my by; but I was attending on the recommendation of three friends; who’s judgment I trust impeccably.
As the singer walked on stage; the acolytes looked on in awe; while the rest of us stifled sniggers as Eitzel, sporting a flat cap and well worn velvet jacket, resembled Joe Cocker’s unkempt younger brother. Oddly enough Cocker sprang to mind later as the singer appeared to go into spasms as he tried to force some words out, in just the way Sheffield’s finest does. The resemblance ended when Mark Eitzel sang. His voice was simply beautiful. A bit rough around the edges; but beautiful none the less, much in the same way Chet Baker sounded in later life.
The singer started to introduce himself and suddenly became all bashful; so he just opened the set with a staggering song called What Holds The World Together; and I was won over.
This song was followed by Mission Rock Resort which was written about and for some friends of his, and may or may not be about heroin addiction; to say I was impressed would be a huge understatement.
Already, I couldn’t take my eyes off the charismatic singer as he considered every word that he voiced and it was obvious that he fervently believed in everything he sang about and wanted the audience to believe too.
The band were playing without a setlist and the songs apparently came from all corners of his career; past and present and the band never faltered once; even the drummer who was playing with one arm in a sling following an accident the previous week; never missed a beat.
As the evening flew by I scribbled down notes like a war correspondent but when Eitzel really gets into a song you can’t always make out the lyrics as his voice becomes an instrument in its right and; I guess that is part of his charm.
The longer the concert went on the more Eitzel relaxed and the more he relaxed the longer and more surreal his song introductions became; but the crowd hung on his every word.
Oh Mercy from his latest album DON’T BE A STRANGER bordered on being brilliant, as the arrangements sounded ever so simple but were actually incredibly intricate and complimented Eitzel’s vulnerable and intense delivery just perfectly.
The set ended with the beautiful From Now On; during which you could have heard a pin drop as the minimal guitar, shimmering cymbals, gentle piano and bowed double-bass combined to shadow the singer on his piece de resistance and the roar of approval at the end was well merited.
The band merely hopped off stage before jumping back on for another two songs that ended with Western Sky which very nearly had a couple of people in tears.
Even now I’m still staggered at Mark Eitzel’s performance tonight; and that’s as good a word as any to describe it. The concert wasn’t always easy on the senses but will probably be in my Top 10 gigs of 2013 come December. Alan Harrison
DALE WATSON & HIS LONE STAR BAND + Sour Mash Trio – J’Hot Club @ THE CLUNY Newcastle 06/02 /13
It has been a while, too long since charismatic, Austin-based honky tonk act Dale Watson and his Lone Star Band (Don Pawlak, pedal steel guitar; Chris Crepps, upright bass; and Mike Bernal on drums) have been up this way, and he was keen to make up for lost time. For when it comes to packing a performance to bursting point —Watson takes some beating.
Shooting from the hip, Dale was quick into his stride. His famed whisky and tequila based drinking songs stood up for country music of old, and you could add old-fashioned family values too as he gave a nod or two to country music greats, Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash.
As old and new favourites ‘Johnny At The Door’, ‘My Baby Makes Me Gravy’ and on taking a sideswipe at Blake Shelton who derided traditional country music fans with the humour enriched, sawdust floor country gem ‘Old Farts’ echoed round the Cluny. A venue Watson feels very much at home playing. Going back to his new composition which he recorded a couple of days ago while in London came about after fellow act, Shelton called fans of the music ‘jack asses and old farts’. I guess Dale’s heroes Cash and Haggard will both sleep better at night (albeit the former now resides up in hillbilly heaven) knowing there are still people like him sticking up for the music and its fans!
Heaped in pedal steel, upright bass and his own twangy country guitar plus fine bass Watson to he delight of the audience not only ran through material but was from the off, open to requests. Which were fired rapidly at him, like snowballs in the schoolyard.
Watson’s fun loving approach and rapport with the audience couldn’t have been better, if his popularity were to be measured by the number of drinks handed to him and the band on stage he was near off the scale. As for recent fare ‘Daughters Wedding Song’, ‘I Lie When I Drink’ (and drink a lot!) and ‘Thanks To Tequila’ look set to become live standards for years to come and possibly picked up by others too.
Among the many gems you had the joyous and proud allegiance to old country music ‘Nashville Rash’. ‘A Couple Of Beers Ago’ and of course ‘Whiskey Or God’ were also big ones (and requested) coupled with ‘Sweet Jessie Brown. While on paying respect to ol’ Merle he wedged in ‘What Have You Got Planned Diana? at the close. Though not one of his best covers of the great man’s music the Cluny faithful gave it the thumbs up. Shame he wasn’t allowed to sing into the wee small hours, and give us a heap more music but there is always next time.
If freedom were ever to be given to the Byker Delta then Dale Watson would be one of the first. So loved is he for his performing of honky tonk country music. Prior to Watson, local band The Sour Mash Trio worked up a storm and showed them selves, as always to be an act worthy of praise and likely to grow in stature.
I particularly enjoy the way they are able to capture music akin to the Sun Sound. Without it sounding contrived, but be as much part of them as lyrics they write. Of which ‘Someday I’m Gonna Leave This Town’ and ‘Drinkin’ And Carrying On’ suited both the venue and evening perfectly. Nice one, boys!
JOHN MURRY & BAND – JHot Club @ Cluny2 Newcastle
When it comes to people with a somewhat dark, mystical past and troubled spirit Mississippi-born singer-songwriter John Murry fits the bill tenfold. Aided by his three-piece band, the blunt messages of his songs were fired home with a moody, tempered edge. That never became too fuzzy or too layered in guitar to blunt the edge of his cutting lyrics.
I had best say it now, and not hold back to later but this was a live show and a half. It will be up among my gigs of the year no matter what blows my way the next ten or so months, and I anticipate there will be a bunch of great gigs ahead.
The last time I saw John was about five years ago, when Bob Frank and himself played the Morden Tower and I have been eager to hear him once more ever since. With his debut solo album, Graceless Age not long out Murry is back, and sounds great. Some people even had it as their Record Of The Year and I am not about to argue.
Murry’s battle with addiction has been a hard one, and not always gone in the right direction. But from the way his band and him acquitted themselves on stage tonight he is on the right track. For this was a gig I will remember, fondly.
The first words uttered out of his mouth was, three members were ‘sick’ and the other had been. But from the way he performed his songs you wouldn’t think it. For between fumbling for his guitar as he figured out the right one to use his soul bearing vocals and darkly sketched songs were performed in compelling fashion.
From the moment Murry stepped on stage calmness descended as the audience became focused, solely on the seated singer-songwriter to watch every move he made. Listen intently, to both his songs and how he was pleased this was the last gig and would be somewhere warmer. Of him not feeling too grand and of how the songs came about. The fact some of his sentences were clipped and voice muffled as he spoke into the floor as he gathered his guitar and own self before the next song just added to the mystique and intrigue that surrounds him
Murder ballad “Boss Weatherford” that he recorded with Frank came from an aunt while “Things We Lost In The Fire” spoke of the soul destroying experience of how his house was recently burnt down, and it didn’t stop there! For the country raised Murry hit pay dirt (again) via “California” as the song focussed on old beat-up cars etc. Plus you had “Maria Little Elbows” that honed in on loneliness and lost souls. More melodic was “The Ballad Of The Pyjama Kid”; he spoke of how when recording the album that took four years he would be sat there in his PJs hence the nickname he was given (and the birth of the song).
Musical experiences like this don’t come every day. His real life brush with death due to a heroin overdose was described in detail on “Little Coloured Balloons”, and with him sat cradling his guitar throughout as he sang it was a performance not to be missed. So poignant and moving, time stood still and in many ways the encore that followed was inappropriate for here wasn’t only a fantastic heartfelt song to end a show, but Murry’s performance was such you couldn’t expect him give so much of himself every night!
With everyone (Sean, Will and Michael) playing his part the work of this flawed and likeable genius’ music could not have been better served (and boy, oh boy wasn’t it appreciated).
JD MCPHERSON & BAND @ The Caedmon Hall, Gateshead.
Saturday - 26th January 13
The Jumping Hot Club has done it again; not only have they unearthed an amazing young Rock and Roller called JD McPherson; but The Caedmon Hall in Gateshead is an outstanding venue with absolutely wonderful acoustics.
McPherson’s usual three piece band; were augmented by keyboards and saxophone tonight; and boy did they kick up a Rock and Roll storm.
If this concert had taken place 40 years previously, the who’s-who of the NE Roots Rock scene would have ripped up their seats with excitement; but as they were all of mature years gussied up and in some cases had their teenage kids in tow; it was left to a couple of dozen ladies to show everyone what this music is for – dancing, and dance they did all night.
With only one album to his name JD made the most of what he had and songs like Firebug took on a whole new exciting life as the band oozed self-confidence that belied their young ages.
It’s too easy for lazy writers to label this type of Rock and Roll as Retro; but the way bands like this perform it, it is anything but old-fashioned as this is a lifestyle choice; not a passing whim.
Okay; they are paying homage to music that their Grandparents danced to but when you first hear songs like Dimes For Nickels or the ode to Bo Diddley; Signs & Signifiers, then see McPherson and his band perform them you know they are actually bang up to date and the arrangements are as authentic as the quiff that legendary Chicago bassist, Jimmy Sutton sports.
The slow burner of an introduction to Country Boy had echoes of Sun era Elvis, but as soon as JD’s guitar really kicked in. the song became his very own and was an extraordinary highlight of the evening.
The baby faced singer is a pretty mean guitar player in his own right, but sounded uncannily like Bo Diddley at times and, it has to be said; his interplay with the saxophonist and Sutton has more than a hint of early Springsteen; but that’s hardly a criticism, is it?
My only complaint is becoming a bit of a regular in my reviews; while the audience had all bought their tickets well in advance and their were tales of people paying up to £50 from internet websites; why did they have to talk over the quieter songs to such a level that I could hear two different conversations about ‘how great the band were!’ What’s that about? Shut up you fools!
The first hour flew by in an instant and just when you thought that there were no more stops to be pulled out, Northside Gal sizzled with a sexual intensity as the dancers surrounded the stage and regaled us with a variety of perfectly choreographed steps.
I was thrilled to hear a few new songs, with Abigail’s Blues and Farmer John boding well for the future and one called Roll Down the Line which just might be the finest Rock song I’ve heard this year. Much to most people’s surprise, JD even slid in a new but old-school Ska tune; A Little More Oil in My Lamp which puzzled a few people, but I loved it.
The set finished with a fast and furious Wolf Teeth, but the band were soon called back for a well deserved 4 song encore that included a smoking version of Scratching Circles (on the old dancefloor) and ended with the band’s signature tune, Scandalous, which finally had the whole hall dancing like 1950’s teenagers.Happy Days, indeed!
Petunia and the Vipers
+ Honeybop Trio @ The Cluny 2 - 24th January 2013
This is the third time I’ve seen the Honey Bop Trio and you’d never know that this is just a fun sideline for the three musicians who are all much in demand in recording studios across the Region.
As a man of a certain age it would be too easy to concentrate on the fabulous singer, guitarist and fiddle player Miss Hannah Rickard; who is stunningly pretty and has a voice that brings Patsy Cline to mind; but with John Cav' anner strumming his Double bass like a harp and guitar slinger Davy Patton giving a new definition to the word Twang – a music fan can easily have his head turned.
As I say, the quality of each member’s playing is extraordinary but their choice of songs is exceptional, with a couple of Rock and Roll standards interspersed with their own songs and a long forgotten ‘Female Elvis’, Janice Martin slipped in for good measure.
It was actually two of their own songs that were the highlights of their wonderful set – She’s My Ex and Held Me To Ransom (which could and should be a huge hit if ever released).
That performance set the scene for Petunia and the Vipers; who had drawn a much larger than anticipated audience to the cramped and cold basement venue and by their third song all thoughts of the low temperature had long gone as the crowd tapped their toes and exchanged knowing glances as the band thrilled and impressed in equal measures
It’s always a pleasure to watch a band actually enjoying themselves on stage and when that’s coupled with quality musicianship it can become an evening that stays in the memory for a lifetime; and that’s what we had here.It’s no surprise that everything revolves around the charismatic singer, Petunia, but the other four Vipers are all excellent players too; and all get their moment in the spotlight, especially Marc L’Esperance who provided the template for all other Alt-Country and Rockabilly drummers with his restrained use of brushes and soft-sticks and trickery on the cymbals.
I think just about every song on the band’s self-titled debut platter got an airing and I was really surprised to hear the yodeling Cricket so early in the set as, it’s probably their best known song but was a pleasure to hear and won over any new fans in a heartbeat.
Yes Baby Yes had more than a few seat-dancing and was the first tune that veteran lap steel player Jimmy Roy got to shine; and shine he did and carried on stealing the show for the rest of the evening, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end with every magic sweep along the strings. The guy makes playing look so easy when it’s patently not; and his inclusion in the Vipers probably goes a long way to creating their definitive sound.
The band’s rock is obviously Stand-up bass player Patrick Metzger who hardly moved a muscle all night but provided the beat for the band to bounce off.
During the introduction to Jitterbug Petunia expressed his surprise that no one was actually up dancing, and he assured us that no one would get thrown out if they did; but for his information the audience was 90% male and 70% over 50 which isn’t conducive to fast dancing.
As the night sailed by legendary guitarist Stephen Nikleva alternated between a blood red semi-acoustic and something that looked like it was out of a space comic, but turned out to be a 1960’s Japanese guitar called a Teisco that he found in a thrift store in South Oregon and; boy, what a sound he got out of it.
For the uninitiated Petunia and the Vipers glide effortlessly between every Country niche with the greatest of ease, leaving you unable to see the joins; one minute they are playing 4/4 time; and then following it with a pared down version of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust, without missing a beat.
The surprise of the evening was the inclusion of Marty Robbins’ Big Iron which went down a treat with the traditionalists in the hall.
What a night! If it hadn’t been freezing inside and outside the Cluny in downtown Newcastle; you would have sworn that you’d stumbled into a time-warp Saloon somewhere between Austin and Bakersfield and witnessing two brilliant bands that had been beamed down from a parallel universe that is 40 years behind our own.