Tag Archives: blues

Blues/rock/soul: album review – Rainbreakers ‘Face To Face’

At the start of the year, towards the end of a long day of drinking and music at Skegness’s Rock and Blues festival, I was about to call it a day and give the last band on the late-night stage a miss when we were suddenly confronted by Rainbreakers. Soulful, bluesy, emotive and powerful, I was immediately captivated. All thoughts of an early(ish) night were rapidly abandoned and Rainbreakers turned out to be one of my favourite acts of the entire festival.

Fast forward a few months and Rainbreakers’ debut album Face To Face is equally captivating. Ten tracks of soulful, classy blues rock it captures the spirit of an earlier classic era while at the same time being fresh, contemporary-sounding and full of energy. Big riffs, deliciously bluesy licks, great melodies and vocals dripping with emotion and soul this a fantastic debut album. Lyrically, the band tackle some powerful themes, too. The opening track Heavy Soul is no trite cock rock number but rather tells the story of vocalist Ben Edwards’ personal battles with his mental health. On tracks like Lost With You, the band amply demonstrate they can handle the slower material with elegance and sensitivity.

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Rainbreakers are Ben Edwards (vocals, guitar), Charlie Richards (lead guitar), Pete Adam (bass), Sam Edwards (drums). Already making a significant impact on the live scene and the festival circuit (and I can personally vouch for that!) both the writing and the musicianship on this album deserves to make Rainbreakers a much bigger name in the UK music scene. A stunningly good debut.

Released: 31 August 2018

http://www.therainbreakers.com/

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Live review: The Blues Band at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 16/6/18

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

Vocalist and harmonica player, Paul Jones, departed pop/r&b group Manfred Mann for a solo career in the mid 1960s but in the event said career ended up being more about acting than about singing. However, in 1979 he and some friends got together The Blues Band and, almost forty years later, they are still gigging and recording.

The first half of their set at St Mary In The Castle tonight is heavily dominated by songs from the brand new album which the band are completely shameless in endlessly plugging tonight, so much so that it becomes something of a running joke between each song. (For this most civilised bunch of blues hellraisers there is also a plug for the band’s roadie’s art exhibition which comes to Hastings this summer, too.) The relentless plugging seems to have done the trick, however, and there is a very healthy queue to buy the album and get it signed by the five band members during the interval. Indeed, with the quality of songs on offer tonight it is easy to see why the band are understandably very proud of the album. Comprising nine original tracks and three arrangements of old traditional songs ‘The Rooster Crowed’ is released this month.

When we think of the blues musicians we tend to think of the guitar first and foremost, and there is some excellent blues guitar tonight, but the harmonica is as much a signature sound of traditional blues as the guitar and I was struck by how central Jones’ harmonica-playing is to the performance tonight and, moreover, what a brilliantly emotive player he is.

The second half sees the band delve back into some earlier material. However, unlike Jones’ other outfit, The Manfreds (who guitarist, Tom McGuinness, and drummer, Rob Townsend, also tour with) it’s less about rattling through a back catalogue of top ten hits and more about celebrating the history of the blues over many, many decades. Accordingly, band material is interspersed with renowned classics like Fats Domino’s ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’ and Big Joe Turner’s ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’.

Seeing the Blues Band live was a first for me, although I do remember my dad buying their debut album not longer after it came out. However, it is clear the band are able to deliver seemingly effortless musicianship without ever losing that all-important ability to really connect with an audience on an emotional level. A highly enjoyable gig.

http://www.thebluesband.net/

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Live review: King King at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 3/5/18

This review was originally published by The Stinger here 

Four-piece King King have been building quite a formidable reputation since forming a decade ago. ‘The best blues rock band in the world’ no less, according to Blues Rock Review.

It’s a big sound and a very classy sound that fills the cavernous St Mary In The Castle tonight, and one that just oozes the confident charm and riff-laden swagger from classic rock’s heyday when band’s like Bad Company dominated the album charts and filled the stadiums. Integral to the whole sound, and one of the things that really makes the gig special for me, is the interplay between guitarist Alan Nimmo and keyboard player Jonny Dyke. Dyke, the new boy in the band who replaced departing keyboard player Bob Fridzema last year, delivers deliciously soulful Hammond that perfectly compliments Nimmo’s guitar wizardry and bluesy vocals.

At the heart of all great blues rock, however, are great songs and King King certainly don’t disappoint in that department either. Songs like ‘You Stopped The Rain’ and ‘Rush Hour’ show some quality song-writing. And lyrically it’s not just standard stadium blues rock fare of feeling alright or looking for love. Material from the new album ‘Exile & Grace’, in particular, concentrates on some altogether more profound subject matter. “There’s an underlying theme on this latest album,” explained Nimmo, when launching the album late last year. “Some of the main songs are about the state of the world, y’know, this beautiful blue planet that’s turning into a battlefield.” ‘Broken’ one of the songs tonight from the new album is very much on that theme of a troubled world. In spite of the uncompromising lyrics though it’s delivered with the same class and seemingly effortless appeal that defines all the great songs of this genre.

While Nimmo has had issues with his voice in recent years and had to undergo treatment on his vocal chords, there’s no sign of that hampering the performance tonight and the whole band give an absolute master-class in classic blues rock.

Setlist:

She Don’t Gimme No Lovin’
Waking Up
You Stopped The Rain
Broken
Long History
Lose Control
Rush Hour
Long Time Running
All Your Life
Stranger To Love
Let Love In

https://www.kingking.co.uk/

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Blues rock: single review – Big River ‘Blues Blood Baby’

Ahead of an album release this summer, Big River unveil a second single. Meaty rhythm, soulful vocals, catchy hooks and big fat guitar ‘Blues Blood Baby’ is another slice of swampy, bluesy, classic rock boogie from the Kent-based band.

The brainchild of guitarist and session man, Damo Fawsett (who was previously part of another Kent-based hard rock band, Slam Cartel) Big River have been making their mark on the live music scene for a couple of years now. With a vision to celebrate the blues, they bring those classic blues rock sounds of past decades to new and original material and demonstrate some deft song-writing abilities in the process.

The track was recorded on analogue equipment at Ranscombe Studios in Kent, giving it that raw and vintage vibe reminiscent of great albums of the era. I’m looking forward to Big River’s debut album coming out but, for now, ‘Blues Blood Baby’ is a nice taste of what’s in store.

Big River are: Adam Bartholomew (vocals), Damo Fawsett (guitar), Ant Wellman (bass), Joe Martin (drums) Paul Martin (rhythm guitar).

Released: 2nd March 2018

https://www.facebook.com/bigriverblues/

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Related Reviews
Big River – Hometown Hustler
Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell at Leo’s Red Lion 2016
Slam Cartel at New Cross Inn 2015

Blues: album review – King Size Slim ‘Live At The Palace’

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

Proof, if it were needed, of what a dynamic live venue the newly-refurbished Palace in Hastings is turning out to be comes in the form of this new CD from King Size Slim.

Toby Barelli, no stranger to the Hastings live scene, has been gigging for ten years now in his King Size Slim persona. His brand of raw, heartfelt, acoustic blues has picked up many fans along the way.

After spending a couple of years as part of pioneering 2-Tone ska heroes, The Selector, Barelli switched to a rootsy, ballsy, acoustic blues boogie sound. King Size Slim was born.

Spanning ten self-composed tracks ‘Live At The Palace’ captures Toby Barelli on fire with the Hastings crowd earlier this year. A talented guitarist and a naturally charismatic performer this CD positively drips with atmosphere and groove. Playing his trademark battered Tricone Resonator guitar, for this gig he’s also joined by a full band of Rufus Stone on upright bass, and James Gulliver and George Macdonald on percussion.

Songs like ‘Dark Soul’ and ‘Monkey, Where Are You?’ are given a real added potency with the funky bass and infectious percussion. The gig, and the album, ends with a rousing, singalong, rendition of Barelli’s ‘May We Find’ – surely an anthem for these troubled times?

A brand new studio album is promised for 2018 but, in the meantime, this live CD captures the excitement and energy of a King Size Slim gig. Anyone familiar with Toby Barelli’s work will surely want to buy this – particularly if you were at The Palace on that magical night.

http://www.kingsizeslim.com/

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Gráinne Duffy at Nell’s Jazz & Blues, London 19/10/17

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Irish singer-songwriter and guitarist, Gráinne Duffy, has been receiving plenty of plaudits since her debut album Out Of The Dark was released back in 2007. She has tended to be labelled a blues artist and, not having seen her before that is pretty much what I was expecting and looking forward to at this gig at Nell’s Jazz & Blues venue in west London.

On taking the stage, however, it soon becomes obvious that while Duffy and her band are incredible blues performers, that label really only describes a part what they deliver. From exquisite blues solos, to polished Eagles-ish country rock, to Stonesy rock workouts, to emotive singer songwriter acoustic renditions, to big fat Bad Company-esque stadium blues rock, to heartfelt soul and even funk, there’s an incredible versatility to Gráinne Duffy’s performance and repertoire.

Whether it’s her own material or her interpretations of some classic standards, Duffy has a soulful expressive voice that makes the songs her own, not to mention some captivating guitar skills and a fine band of supporting musicians. It’s little wonder she’s been wowing audiences from Glastonbury to numerous blues festivals, and although the place was not packed tonight there are enough of us there to give her a rousing reception and an enthusiastic demand for an encore.

Duffy has currently has a single out ‘Where I Belong’ and a new album is due shortly. A talented musician, singer and songwriter, Gráinne Duffy is well worth looking out for if you have not caught up with her already.

http://www.grainneduffy.com/

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Blues rock: single review – Big River ‘Hometown Hustler’

A big, fat, bluesy southern-rock sound, Big River know how to pull off an authentic classic rock vibe. Hometown Hustler is the band’s single release ahead of their forthcoming debut album. A meaty riff, gritty vocals, catchy chorus and delicious harmonica, Hometown Hustler also showcases some fine songwriting abilities as well as, hopefully, providing a real taste of what the album has in store when it’s released later this year. The band maintain Hometown Hustler has already become a firm live favourite after being introduced into the set earlier this year and I can see why.

Having enjoyed the Gravesend-based band last year when they shared a bill with ex-Bad Company guitarist, Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell, it was clear then that they drew on some impeccable musical influences and could turn out some classic-sounding guitar-based blues rock. This new release has cemented their reputation in my mind. A band well worth checking out.

Big River are Adam Bartholomew (vocals), Damo Fawsett (guitar), Ant Wellman (bass), and Luke Calvert (drums).

Released: August 2017

https://www.facebook.com/bigriverblues/

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The Sweet versus Bowie: the riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences

In January 1973 at the height of the glam rock craze, two singles with instantly memorable but remarkably similar riffs were both enjoying chart success: The Sweet’s ‘Blockbuster!’ and David Bowie’s ‘The  Jean Genie’, each released by RCA records. Which came first? Were they both dreamt up independently? Did one copy off the other? Or did they both draw on influences from somewhere else?

In the folk world songs have always been adapted, evolved and passed on. In the rock world that sort of behaviour is more likely to get you involved in lengthy court cases and costly lawsuits. But in folk there has been over a century of legitimate and rigorous study looking into the often murky origins of traditional songs and tunes. A simple question therefore is: can the principles of studying folk in determining song origins also be applied to glam rock?

We start with the song ‘Blockbuster!’ written by The Sweet’s then songwriting team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, recorded on 1st November 1972 in London and released in January 1973. In Dave Thompson’s Sweet biography ‘Block Buster’, The Sweet’s Steve Priest recalls Chapman playing his idea for a new song on an acoustic guitar while they were backstage at the BBC waiting to go on Top Of The Pops to perform ‘Wig Wam Bam’ (most likely their appearance on 14th September 1972).

The riff was remarkably similar to David Bowie’s ‘The Jean Genie’ recorded on 6th October 1972, released in November 1972 and in the charts at the same time. “While en route to Tennessee, ‘The Jean Genie’ was developed from an impromptu tour bus jam,” in September 1972 recounts the Mick Ronson biography, ‘The Spider With The Platinum Hair’ by Weird & Gilly. This would have been just prior to the band’s gig in Memphis which is recorded as taking place on 24th September 1972, several days after Mike Chapman strummed the riff for Blockbuster to Steve Priest on the other side of the Atlantic.

Both sides have always denied copying one another and given both ‘Blockbuster’ and ‘The Jean Genie’ were recorded and released around the same time it seems unlikely that either would have had time to secretly copy the other, then get it recorded and released, all within the confines of the same record company, RCA.

What is far more likely is that they were both influenced by the Yardbirds’ 1965 hit ‘I’m a Man’.

Alwyn Turner’s website Glitter Suits & Platform Boots quotes The Sweet’s Andy Scott as follows: “And then, you wouldn’t believe this, before our release we were in the office of the guy who was our contact at RCA and he played us the new David Bowie record, he played us ‘Jean Genie’. And I went, ‘That’s the same guitar riff,’ and he went, ‘Is it?’ This is a record company guy and I’m saying, ‘Haven’t you noticed?’ And he went, ‘No.’ I was horrified, I was thinking: that’s coming out first, and we’re coming out a week behind it, on the same label, it’s got the same guitar riff. I said: well, we don’t stand a chance of being #1. That was my thought. And within three weeks we were #1 and he was #2. I’ve since spoken to Trevor Bolder, the bass-player, and he said, ‘Remember “I’m A Man”?”

Here is that Yardbirds’ version of ‘I’m A Man’.

Interestingly, Iggy Pop and The Stooges also recorded a version of ‘I’m A Man’ during the sessions for the Raw Power album in early 1972. Bowie was involved in remixing this album and although ‘I’m A Man’ doesn’t appear on the album, he would certainly have been familiar with the Stooges cover version. Could this have had an influence on Bowie’s ‘The Jean Genie’ later that year?

We can hear Iggy & The Stooges version of ‘I’m A Man’ here.

Both recordings are, of course, cover versions of a 1955 original version of ‘I’m A Man’ by Bo Didley.

Bo Didley’s song is itself influenced by a song Willie Dixon wrote for Muddy Waters ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ recorded in 1954

The blues of Bo Didley, Muddy Waters et al can be traced back through the early electric blues of the 1940s to the acoustic blues of the 1920s, through the slave trade, plantations and back to African origins, where a number of the elements that would come to define key features of the blues could be traced back to.

But it’s worth specifically going back to that Bo Didley tune. The riff in ‘I’m a Man’ is significantly changed from that played by Muddy Waters in Dixon’s ‘I’m A Man’. Didley has adapted the tune as a simple repetitive four note riff repeated throughout the entire song, making it notably different.

So although it was influenced by an earlier blues song I think we can safely say that the riff that appears in ‘Blockbuster!’ and ‘Jean Genie’ first emerged in a Bo Didley song in 1955.

Postscript:
Another fascinating release from the 60s that could have played an influential role in the later 70s glam releases was Mickie Most’s 1964 version of ‘Money Honey’.

Unlike earlier versions of Money Honey by Elvis and previously The Drifters, the Mickie Most version utilises that same Bo Didley riff. Most would go on to be a towering figure in glam rock as mentor and producer for Suzi Quatro and as RAK Records boss, home to the likes of Quatro and Mud. He knew Mike Chapman very well and could have helped plant some of the creative seeds for that Blockbuster riff, further strengthening those glam rock links back to blues history.

Links and thanks:
Some great background info and quotes here, http://www.alwynwturner.com/glitter/sweet.html

Thanks also to Michael Duthie for pointing me towards the fascinating Mickie Most video and to Josh Beeson for pointing me to the Iggy & The Stooges version of ‘I’m A Man’.

Dom Pipkin at Kino-Teatre, St Leonards 8/7/16

My review originally appeared in the Hastings Independent 22/7/16

With its shopfront facade and trendy gallery-cum-foyer you could be forgiven for thinking there’s something nice but not particularly unique about St Leonards Kino Teatre; but step inside the main auditorium and you are immediately transported into a beautiful dome-ceilinged 1913 cinema that’s been given a pleasing shabby-chic makeover. Just for tonight, however, it’s transformed into a legendary New Orleans piano bar with Dom Pipkin (“piano from London, soul from New Orleans” as his website has it) giving a captivating solo performance of high-octane rhythm and blues piano.

After support from Chasing Shadows, a vocal-guitar duo with an engaging acoustic set of Americana-tinged covers and originals, Pipkin takes the stage and begins a whirlwind tour of New Orleans classics; name-checking the likes of Professor Longhair, Jellyroll Morton, Fats Domino and Dr John.

Playing blues and jazz from the age of 12 Dom Pipkin has now established himself as one of Europe’s top interpreters of New Orleans piano and has built up an impressive musical CV. Past collaborations include projects with Ray Davies, Palamo Faith and Talking Heads’ David Byrne. As well as solo shows, he also performs regularly with his own band Dom and the Ikos, but tonight it’s just Dom and his piano. He combines powerfully dexterous piano playing with a nicely empathetic vocal delivery that suits a range of styles and assists in making the songs his own, whether it’s pounding rhythm and blues, elaborate jazz or soulful gospel.

On top of the obvious well-known classics like Blueberry Hill, Ain’t That A Shame and Iko Iko together with some less well-known historical gems from the New Orleans jazz and blues scene, we also get some real surprises, too. Chas and Dave’s Ain’t No Pleasing You is transported from the east-end boozers and re-imagined as a stomping New Orleans boogie woogie. Cottonfields, which let’s be honest most of us only know via the Beach Boys, is taken right back to its glorious Lead Belly blues heritage. Pipkin is also happy to share his knowledge of the songs and their origins and I certainly came out knowing a lot more about the history of the New Orleans scene and its colourful characters than when I went in.

A talented, energetic performer with an obvious deep love of his subject matter and respect for its history, Dom Pipkin and his piano make for a hugely entertaining evening.

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Mick Bolton and Simon Shaw at Gecko, St. Leonards 10/4/16

One of the absolute joys about life in Hastings and St Leonard’s, and a key motivation for relocating here in the first place, is the proliferation of live music venues. There’s an extremely satisfying number of good-sized venues, like The White Rock Theatre, St Mary In The Castle, The Stables Theatre, The Kino Teatre and the nearby Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion. But it’s not just the larger theatre-style venues, live music in pubs and bars throughout the town appears to be as much part of pub life as pints of lager and bags of crisps. So my first actual gig as a bona fide, council-tax paying Hastings resident, as opposed to visiting music tourist, is to see Mick Bolton and Simon Shaw play an early Sunday evening set in the Gecko cafe bar around the corner from me on St Leonard’s seafront.

I’d seen keyboard player, Mick Bolton, who toured as part of Mott The Hoople in the early 70s, at a handful of Mott The Hoople-related events over the years but until tonight I’d never actually seen him perform live. He’s joined by Simon Shaw and Bolton’s pounding honky tonk style-piano and Shaw’s acoustic blues/Americana guitar make for a really nice combination. They give their own treatment to a number of well-known covers, including songs by Georgie Fame, The Beatles, The Band, Thunderclap Newman, Eric Clapton and Chuck Berry. A good few of Bolton’s self-penned originals are thrown in, too, performed in a similar style (mainly) with a couple of slower numbers thrown in towards the end.

So for a couple of hours around thirty-odd of us are entertained for free in this pleasant little seafront cafe bar by two talented musicians who are clearly enjoying playing for us. My first gig as a Hastings local, but certainly not my last, and several more are lined up already.

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