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124. THE DEBORAH BONHAM BAND (+THE JO BURT EXPERIENCE) at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, Hockley, Essex. An interview and gig review. Friday, 19th August, 2016

The stage awaits (Photo: PTMQ)

The stage awaits (Photo: PTMQ)

Preamble: This is a gig that had unfortunately been cancelled twice over the last 18 months or so, due the star of the show, the wonderful Deborah Bonham, having a couple of problems….but as Debs herself would say ‘Shit Happens’! This evening was worth waiting for though, because the lady was seriously in form!

Third time lucky then… but even this show was not without its problems! I’d arranged with Debs and Dave Kitteridge of Touchline Live Music, to get to the venue at 6pm for an interview; but on the way I got a text from Debs’ husband and guitarist Peter Bullick, telling me that the band were seriously late and struggling through horrendous traffic; having been on the road for over five hours (they’d been expecting a two hour trip!) So the band turned up five minutes after myself; stressed from a nightmare of a journey, and in need of food, drink and a sound check! Debs charmingly also brings her two dogs, Fred and Kip, with her to gigs, and they needed a walk; so off she went with the pooches for a quick relaxing stroll.

Debs was soon back. My good friend Rambo turned up around that time, and we sat and watched the sound-check. The band went back-stage after that for some dinner. When she was ready, Debs came and invited us back to the Green Room for a chat…

Debs' dogs Fred and Kip (Photo: PTMQ; taken by Rambo)

Debs’ dogs Fred and Kip (Photo: PTMQ; taken by Rambo)

The Interview:  We began talking about Deborah’s dogs Fred and Kip – there they were snuggled up together on their bed in the Green Room!

PTMQ: Do they go everywhere with you?

DB: Pretty much… in the UK certainly. I haven’t taken them to France yet.

[This reference to France anticipated my next question].

PTMQ: I was going to ask about the French connection, because you sing in French and I know you have a fan base there, so I was wondering how that came about?

DB: I have no idea! I’m not bi-lingual but I do speak French. I was trying to get into France (and Europe) for quite a long time. We did a support tour with Foreigner about ten years ago… went down a storm in Paris… and Holland. Then we went back. We ended up playing some gig that somebody got us. Not well paid, but there was an agent there (who’s been our agent now for four years) – Laurent Milliet of 106 db (they even have my initials DB!) And he’s been brilliant; a great agent. He believes in us. He saw the band. Loves the songs – even has one on his ring-tone! He really pushed; and that has worked. So we play big shows there.

Debs with The Quill (Photo: PTMQ; taken by Rambo)

Debs with The Quill (Photo: PTMQ; taken by Rambo)

PTMQ: So the songs sung in French on your album Spirit were in tribute to your French fans?

DB: Pretty much, yeah. I did them as a thank you, really. Its a funny thing… Laurent doesn’t want me to get too good at French, because he likes the fact that I’m always trying. The audience love that. He said “Non, non, non! I don’t want you to do all ze songs in French.. zey like the English… but one in French!” And he loves the fact that sometimes I get my words wrong and say the most ridiculous things on stage, and the audience laugh!

Rambo: Are the songs written with singing in French in mind, or did you change the words?

DB: No; I didn’t do it! Laurent’s sister-in-law Natalie did it for me, because if you translate literally, its not very poetic. I gave her free rein to make it poetic and put it into beautiful French. She sent it to me and I said “Oh Goodness!” – [laughing] I’d love to take the credit for that!

Rambo and Debs (Photo: PTMQ)

Rambo and Debs (Photo: PTMQ)

Funny enough, ‘Take Me Down’ [or ‘Guide Moi‘] I originally wrote for a Fleetwood Mac film. I was asked if I’d write two songs by Phil Carson at the film company in LA. He’d worked at Atlantic Records for years when Zeppelin were there. He said “Darling, I need some Fleetwood Mac-esque songs, and you’re just the person to do it for me!” So I originally wrote it for that – and then the film didn’t happen! So when I was looking at doing the album [Spirit], I thought “I love that song”, so I resurrected it… had to change the lyric a bit though, because it was specific to Fleetwood Mac.

PTMQ:  Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the Spirit album?

DB: A couple of months before she died I took my Mum to see Robert Plant at Symphony Hall, Birmingham. We had a fantastic night. Then I got an email from Robert’s drummer Marco Giovino (from Band Of Joy), who said “To whom it may concern… I’m a big fan. Do you think Deborah would come and meet me after the show?” I laughed my head off at “To whom it may concern”! So I replied in a completely bogus name and said “I’ll be speaking to Miss. Bonham in a short while, and I’ll pass it on. I can’t guarantee… it depends what mood she’s in! She can be a bit temperamental!” So when I met him I said “What? Do you think I’ve got a lot of staff? My God! I’m playing clubs – not Madison Square Gardens!”

Sound check (Ptoto: PTMQ)

Sound check (Ptoto: PTMQ)

Anyway, he said he had the Duchess album and he was a big fan. I was really chuffed that someone other than my mum had the album! [Just for the record The Quill has the album too… its brilliant!]. So I booked Marco. He lives in Nashville; so I got him a flight over [to record the album]. But then my Mum suddenly passed away. He was due over two days after Mum’s funeral and I said “I’m not going to be able to do this!” So at the funeral Robert Plant said “Marco’s a great guy. Your mum wouldn’t want you to not do it. You’ve got to really dig deep and bring everything out in that record. So that’s why it became Spirit, because it took an awful lot of spirit to get through it. I think in my whole life I only had one year away from my Mum… she was my best friend. It was really, really hard.

PTMQ: Reading the lyrics of the album, its very personal… it does seem that she’s with you as you write.

(Photo: PTMQ)

Barefoot lady sings the Blues! (Photo: PTMQ)

DB: Yeah, its the same with John, Michael and my Dad… they’ve all gone. She was the final one in the family. It took a lot for me to deal with being left on my own… and those four being together, as I see it. So its the spirit of all of them too.

PTMQ: You mentioned Robert. You had him as a guest on the album playing harmonica; but do you regret not asking him to sing?

DB: No. I think he would have said if he’d wanted to. We’ll just hang around for the next record! Of course I want to sing with him! I got to sing with him about a month ago. I’d sung with him before, but he came to one of our shows and he got up with the lads and did ‘When The Levee Breaks’; and then we did Johnny Kidd And The Pirates‘ ‘Shakin’ All Over’. But I got my ‘knee bone’ and my ‘thigh bone’ all muddled up! But it was brilliant. We just clicked – no rehearsal. So I’d love to… Gosh, he’s one of my heroes!

I’ve done a duet with Paul Rodgers too – several actually – one on a record and some at shows. That was a ‘pinch me’ moment, to be able to sing with Paul. I’ve sung with a lot of great people – like Dan McCafferty, when we opened for Nazareth once. He’s never done a duet with anyone before, but he walked on during our set and did ‘Stay With Me Baby’.

Jo Burt... a good experience! (Photo: PTMQ)

Jo Burt… a good experience! (Photo: PTMQ)

PTMQ: Do you have any collaborations planned?

DB: No, nothing planned. But we’re going to see Bad Company up in Glasgow in October.

PTMQ: So will you be back stage? Are you going to be invited on?

DB: I don’t know yet… could be! [She said coyly!] I usually get up and do a number [Take note if you have tickets for Bad Co’s Glasgow gig!], which has been great fun… but it always makes me “Aargh!” shake!

PTMQ: You still get nervous… even tonight?

DB: Yes! Before I go on I’m always really, really nervous. Once I go on I’m fine. But we do what we do… we have a Hell of a laugh. The lads are a great family really. I guess you can get that vibe from the dogs coming? Pete’s sister is here doing the merch too. We try to have a laugh because its a weird life… sometimes its hysterical.

Peter Bullick (Photo: PTMQ)

Peter Bullick (Photo: PTMQ)

PTMQ: So you had a five and a half hour journey and you’re all still laughing!

DB: Oh that journey was horrible tonight! That’s one thing that’s starting to take its toll on me. I really hate being in the tour bus on the motorways. I’ve seen people drive into the back of others. It really makes me nervous all the time.

PTMQ: How about the future? Are you planning another album?

DB: Yeah, next year; I’m writing at the moment… but you know, its a long process for me, because I just write and write and write; and then think “Oh that’s crap!” I do have a built-in ‘crap-ometer’! I only really want to put the songs on that I personally love. I listen and then I think “Yeah, that one passes… that one doesn’t”. I sort of know within about an hour of working on something with the band; and say “Are you getting this? I’m not!” Luckily not a lot of that happens but it does take me a lot of time to make the record.

It’ll be out around next Autumn. We’ve got a studio at home, and Rich [Rich Newman, Debs’ drummer – who had been chilling out on the couch in the Green Room throughout the chat], is going to set it up for us; and hopefully he’s going to do the recording.

Gerard 'G'Louis (PTMQ)

Gerard ‘G’ Louis (PTMQ)

PTMQ: So will it be more of the Rock / Blues / Soul vibe? Or are you feeling like you want to branch out a bit?

DB: Yeah, I think so. We’ve got a bit of a Funk thing going on at the moment… digging a bit of a Funk vibe which I rather like. We’ll still always have a bit of Mandolin and Acoustic… Rock ‘n’ Blues… there’ll definitely be some Blues in there because that’s in the heart of me. Rich is going to lay down some drum loops… just some grooves really; because once you’ve got some drum grooves going, its a lot easier to come up with ideas.

I’ve been asked to do all manner of albums. Years ago I was asked to do a Blues album by Sony Records. I think they wanted to call it something like ‘Lady Sings The Blues’. They’d just done a blues record with Paul Rodgers – Muddy Water Blues … Grammy nominated and all that. [Just for the record, The Quill owns this album too… its also brilliant!]. They heard me sing; came all the way across America; saw us selling out shows; audiences going crazy; and then had a big meeting in their office, and they said “Right, what we want you to do is this…”. And I thought “Hold on, I’ve just done all my stuff…I want to do mine!” “No, no, no… we want you to sing like Billie Holiday!” And I thought “Hang on, I’m a middle-class white girl… I can’t compare my life to what Billie went through! So I thought “Nah!” So didn’t do it; didn’t get the Grammy… and still haven’t! But I don’t regret it for one minute! [she said, laughing].

Rich Newman is in there somewhere! (PTMQ)

Rich Newman… is in there somewhere! (PTMQ)

Rambo: What sort of things inspire you to write your songs?

DB: Life! Most of it is autobiography – things that have happened to me or how things have affected me. But sometimes it just gets a bit too heavy… you’ve got to find something to lighten it up a bit. Then I dig a bit deeper and see what other people are going through.

PTMQ: Finally, do you have any snippets of interesting info for my readers?

DB: Oh, I’m a patron of a charity in Scotland. Its for animals and vulnerable kids. Really worthwhile. Its an animal sanctuary and assisted animal therapy. [Link to Willows Animal Sanctuary].

At this point Debs had to get ready for the show, so after some quick photos we exchanged thanks . ‘Let’s hope you enjoy the show’ she said. We went back out to the auditorium. By then it was full; so we got ourselves a beer and took our seats at the front (kindly reserved for us by Trudie), and waited for the show to begin.

Rambo and I enjoyed chatting with Deborah Bonham. We found her to be welcoming and friendly; informative and open.  And throughout the interview she was laughing and optimistic – in spite of some sadness in her life. It is obvious that her music pulls her through the hard times, and it enhances the good ones too. A really nice person to talk to – down to Earth, fun and interesting… and with a profound spiritual side to her too.

Jo Burt (PTMQ)

Jo Burt on bass (PTMQ)

The Jo Burt Experience’s Set: It wasn’t long before Master of Ceremonies Brian Sangwin was on stage introducing the support: The Jo Burt Experience. This was a solo set from Jo, who of course is also the bassist in Debs’ band, so he had a lot on his plate this evening. He launched into a very good set beginning with ‘Angel Hurricane’ – ‘based on the idea of the Quarter-Back and the Cheer-leader’ he said.

Jo was once a member of (as he described them) ‘the most famous Heavy Metal band in the world’, Black Sabbath; so next he played his ‘Psycho-Country’ version of The Sabs’ ‘Paranoid’ off his solo album. I’ve heard this song covered a million times… but never like this! I liked it though. His song ‘The Night-time’ was played next. He described it as his ‘escape plan’; written some years ago, and based on the Cold War. It was very good. The ‘antidote to that tune’ was ‘Enough Love In The World’; and this was followed by his final number ‘I Wanna Be Free’. All told, a fine set.

The Deborah Bonham Band’s Set: Barefoot Debs and her boys climbed on stage to great applause. The band consist of Peter Bullick (Debs’ other half – on guitar and mando);  Jo Burt (bass and mando); Rich Newman (drums); and Gerard ‘G’ Louis (keys). Debs of course, is lead vocalist and also plays guitar a bit too. These are all well-seasoned musos.

(PTMQ)

(PTMQ)

MoC Brian Sangwin introduced the band and they immediately launched into ‘Shit Happens’. Debs is right… it does! But with an opening number like that you can forget your probs for a while! This was followed by ‘What We’ve Got’ off The Old Hyde album; and ‘I Need Love’ off Spirit. Both of these show-cased Debs’ remarkable Joplin-esque style vocal; with great solos from Pete on these two. It was obvious by then that the band are tight as a unit; with Joe, Rich and ‘G’ impressive and reliable.

Several other songs off the Spirit album were played: ‘Feel So Alive’ with Pete on Mando; ‘Pain Birds’ dedicated to Pete’s sister Belinda on the Merch desk; and ‘Guide Moi‘ (‘Take Me Down’) which Deborah sang in French just for me! That’s only the second time I’ve had a song dedicated to myself by a band in all these years! Je vous remercie, Debs, Je suis Honoré!

'Guide Moi'... merci madame! (PTMQ)

‘Guide Moi’… merci madame! (PTMQ)

It was also very apparent around this time that Debs has a relaxed and fun repartee with the audience and rest of the band – giving as good as she got in cheeky comments from both.  Her performance as a singer is as much visual as vocal – and in both she is exceptional.  She is animated and passionate, and feels every song – they are her songs after all; they are about her.

And the show went on with more from Spirit: the wonderful ‘Fly’ with Jo on mando; and ‘What It Feels’ with great keys from ‘G’. Three songs from Duchess followed: the great rocker ‘Grace’; then her homage to a certain spirit from Tennessee, ‘Jack Past 8’; and ‘Pretty Thing’ with tasty licks from Pete which reminded me a little of Kossoff. Next was a rarity: ‘Heaven’ – an ’80s song that has only recently been resurrected on the Looking Back At The Moon album. Its a Rock ballad, perhaps a little Heart-like in style, but that’s not a criticism! A powerful song that got great applause.

The Old Hyde was mined again for more gold towards the end of the show. She gave us ‘No Angel’, and sung it so well, along with an exceptional visual performance that seemed to come from her very soul. Pete also made himself very useful on this one too, with some beautiful Blues chops. Then it was one of my particular favourites, the rock’n’Roller ‘Devil’s In New Orleans’. Excellent!

(PTMQ)

‘No Angel’ (PTMQ)

Finally ‘The Old Hyde’ itself was introduced, which she preceded with a heart-felt speech that moved many in the audience. It is a song about hope, love and optimism; dedicated to those loved ones sadly gone. She thanked everyone for coming and began the song. She sang it with a genuine emotion, but was impressively controlled throughout the performance, in spite of being obviously moved by it herself. Marvelous. A standing ovation ensued.

Encore! What can you follow a show like that with? Only a rocker from the Led Zep back-catalogue would do. What else but the classic ‘Rock’n’Roll’? It was delivered as near to the original as you are likely to get here in Essex, and I loved it!

Fin: We had a quick few words with Deborah at the end and congratulated her on a magnificent performance. There were several people I knew in the audience. All agreed that it had been a fantastic gig. So big thanks to everyone concerned – especially Debs – plus Dave, Trudie, Brian and Steve of The Touchline for once again hosting a fabulous show. (Dave even made us a welcoming cup o’ tea – a rare pleasure! Cheers Dave!) Lights; sound; organisation and hospitality were second to none as usual – that’s what you expect from the Touchline… and that’s what you get! Au revoire! PTMQ.

[Deborah Bonham website]

[Touchline Live Music website]

Thank you Touchline and good night! (PTMQ)

Thank you Touchline and good night! (PTMQ)

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83. VIRGIL AND THE ACCELERATORS at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, Hockley, Essex. Friday 13th November, 2015; + and a pre-gig interview with the new look band!

VATA Sound check (Photo: PTMQ)

VATA: Sound check (Photo: PTMQ)

Preamble:  My readers may remember that just over a year ago, my son James and I interviewed the highly talented young Rock band Virgil And The Accelerators at Touchline Live Music’s old venue in Hullbridge, Essex. (See entry #26). That interview preceded a most excellent performance from the band – in fact, one of the best Rock gigs that I had the pleasure of attending during 2014. So when Dave Kitteridge of the Touchline informed me that he’d booked VATA again (this time at the new venue), we were of course, keen to come along to the gig and catch up on what the boys have been doing lately. But a year is a long time in the world of Rock’n’Roll, and a lot can change…

Arriving early at the Touchline’s fine new venue in Hockley; we found that the band were still doing their sound-check. This was apparently due to having spent the best part of five hours stuck on the motorways between their base in Brum, and the venue here in Essex! We got ourselves a pint each and entered the Music Room; and were greeted by Dave, Brian and Trudie of the club – and by Virgil McMahon himself, who recognised us at once, and called out to us from the stage.

Back stage with VATA (Photo: PTMQ)

VATA: Back stage  (Photo: PTMQ)

The VATA interview:  The first of the changes was apparent in Virgil’s new look; with slicked back hair. He invited us back-stage where we reacquainted ourselves with his brother – and VATA’s drummer – Gabriel McMahon; and we were then introduced to the band’s new bassist Joel Wildgoose – another change; on which more anon. But I began by asking the band if they had any new material in the pipeline (ie, a new album planned); and whether we’d be hearing any new stuff that night?

Virgil: ‘We are going to be writing next month. We’ve got one in the set that we’ve been trying out on our Spanish tour, but its still in draft mode, called ‘The Lost”.

PTMQ: ‘Are you continuing more with the Rock, rather than Blues feel?’

(Photo: PTMQ)

VATA: Army Of Three! (Photo: PTMQ)

Virgil: ‘Yeah, for sure. Army Of Three was a bit more Classic Rock-esque; but this time I think, something a lot more modern – something that sounds a bit younger’.

This need to attract a younger fan-base is becoming a common theme when James and I interview young Blues / Rock bands…

James:  ‘We interviewed Red Butler recently. (Read the interview #66). They are struggling to get a younger audience too. So have you noticed any trends in that respect in the last year? Is your fan-base getting any younger?’

Virgil:  ‘Yeah. Its a question of finding something that appeals to music lovers. To be honest with you, playing in Spain and continental Europe, you see a younger audience – far younger…’

Gabriel:  ‘Yeah, 85-90% of the audience are much younger – late teens to 30’s’.

(Photo: PTMQ)

The new look Virgil with his Les Paul known as ‘The Preacher’ (Photo: PTMQ)

Virgil: ‘…whereas the audiences here are in their 50’s. There’s no problem with that, but at the same time you do want to appeal to a wider scope of people. We want to appeal to people who are ‘music fans’ rather than specifically ‘Rock fans’ or ‘Blues fans’.

It will be interesting then, to see in what direction the brothers – and new boy Joel – take VATA’s music for the third album. So moving on, I then asked about why the previous bassist Jack Alexander Timmis had left the band. This was a difficult subject for Virgil and Gabe to talk about; and I am not qualified (or authorized) to divulge what James and I were told in any detail. Suffice to say that there were issues within the band concerning management; and so another major change within VATA is that their manager is also no longer in the band’s employ. I must stress though, that the brothers told us sincerely, that there had been absolutely no issues between Jack and themselves – nor was the split due to ‘musical differences’ – and that they are still great friends; and he still turns up at gigs. Jack has now gone back to his career as a music tutor; and they are wishing him well in this role. But in spite of all the shenanigans that have been going on; and with a new bass player now on board; VATA now look settled again – and optimistic for the future. So I asked Joel how long he’d been with the band now?

Joel: ‘About two and a half months. First gig was in Spain – Barakaldo’.

New bassist Joel (Photo: PTMQ)

New bassist Joel (Photo: PTMQ)

Virgil:  ‘The cool thing was that we knew Joel from two or three years ago. He’s got his own band called River Chickens – front man and guitar player. We did a couple of gigs with them and we were really blown away by them’.

Gabriel:  ‘Jack told us he was leaving at the start of the year’

Virgil:  ‘So just off the cuff I phoned Joel and said “Look do want to play Bass for us?”, and he did. And he’s done a sterling job’.

Surprisingly, Joel doesn’t consider himself to be a Bassist!  ‘I’m not a proper Bass player!’ he said modestly. ‘I don’t know anything about the Bass… I’m shit!’. Well, thus far we’d only witnessed a little of the sound-check, but he certainly didn’t look shit! He also has a lot of respect for Jack: ‘Big boots to fill, they were!’

James:  ‘What sort of capacity places  were you playing in Spain?’

Virgil:  Music clubs. A couple of them were like little bars – Rock bars’

Gabriel demonstrates his new Natal kit! (Photo: PTMQ)

Gabriel demonstrates his new Natal kit! (Photo: PTMQ)

Gabe:  ‘The smallest ones were like 150 – 250 people, weren’t they?’

Virgil:  ‘Yeah, but the biggest was in Pamplona; a good few hundred in there’.

The lads had enjoyed their time in Spain; and found the locals to be very appreciative of their music – and not afraid to say what they thought either!  They had a lot of fun too. One day after Virgil had given a guitar master class, and before a scheduled jam night with local guitarists, Gabe and Joel went out busking on the streets for a laugh and ‘a few pennies!’

Guitars:  Virgil had brought three geetars with him: His vintage Gibson Les Paul Black Beauty known as ‘The Preacher’ (his main stage axe); his Les Paul Gold Top (Joe Bonamassa signature edition) known as ‘Goldie’; and his battered Fender Strat known as ‘Alice’. The pale blue Gibson Firebird that he’d used at the last Touchline gig, was not in attendance on this occasion.

(Photo: PTMQ)

VATA: Under the lights at the Touchline (Photo: PTMQ)

Drums:  Gabriel, I noticed, had set up on the stage, a brand new signature drum kit; courtesy of Natal Drums. ‘Its a UK company owned by Marshall Amplification’ Gabe explained.  Its a very smart looking acrylic kit with the band’s Army Of Three logo emblazoned on the bass drum. It sounded great during the sound-check, and I was looking forward to hearing it in action.

Bass:   Joel, not being ‘a proper bass player’, didn’t even own a bass guitar when he was recruited to the band!

Gabe: ‘When Joel came on board, Virgil phoned me and said “He doesn’t have a bass!” Well, I’ve got an old Fender Precision Bass, so I said “let Joel play this”. But Virgil said “No, no, no! It has to be a 5-string!”

Joel:  ‘I didn’t have any choice really – the boys said “5-string!” so I thought, “alright, I’ll go and buy one”. That was the only one they had. So it’ll do! Its an Ibanez SDGR.’

(Photo: PTMQ)

Gabe is there somewhere, while Virgil plays a G-shaped A# chord! (Photo: PTMQ)

Another big change for the band is that their live set is now to be very different to the two-hour / nine-song extravaganza that they’d performed at the Touchline a year ago. Due to the advice of a Spanish promoter, the band have decided to shorten their set, but include more songs. Sadly this means less extended solos from Virgil. Personally I don’t mind lengthy numbers with improvised solos; but its true that if the boys want to appeal to a wider audience, then the set has to be tailored to that end. After thanking the band and a few photos, James and I returned to the auditorium which had by then filled up with (mostly) 50-something music fans (like me!) We looked forward to a great show. We were not to be disappointed!

The VATA Set:  Master of Ceremonies for the Touchline, Brian Sangwin, introduced the band, and they climbed on stage unpretentiously. Virgil took up ‘The Preacher’ and thanked the Touchline for having them back once more, before opening the set with a fine rendition of ‘Take Me Higher’ from Army Of Three. But there was precious little time to applaud, as ‘Blow To The Head’ followed – and did exactly that, with its Halen-esque ‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’

(Photo: PTMQ)

Virgil with his battered Strat known as ‘Alice’ (Photo: PTMQ)

The boys looked more animated than I remembered from last time, and I guess this is due to the lively on-stage presence of Joel. He threw himself about with great enthusiasm whilst delivering great bass-work. And the rockin’ good show continued with ‘All Night Long’; and this was followed by another from the second album, the remarkable ‘Give It Up’. The moody ’88’; and ‘The Storm’ from the The Radium were performed next. At all times we witnessed superb axemanship from Virgil; and tight reliable drumming and bass from Gabe and Joel respectively. Gabe’s new kit was certainly impressive.

With Virgil changing to his Strat ‘Alice’; the band’s performance of ‘Working Man’ was the nearest we got to the extended solo.  ‘Backstabber’ – my favourite from the first album – followed; with Virgil changing back to ‘The Preacher’. It had evolved slightly from the original recorded version, but was no less enjoyable. The afore-mentioned new one that the boys had tried out on their Spanish fans was up next.  ‘The Lost’ is a slow, heavy number with a menacing vibe to it; a bit Sabbath-like, I thought; and with an unexpected ending. It was the only taste of what we are to expect from the boys in the future. The main set finished with the wonderful ‘Free’. I very much like this song with its melodic chorus and its ‘Southern-Rock’ inspired solo. With that, the lads left the stage to great applause.

(Photo: PTMQ)

Joel takes lead vocal for ‘Rock’n’Roll’ (Photo: PTMQ)

Encore!  But they soon returned for a two-song encore, beginning with a fantastic rendition of their beautiful instrumental ‘Silver Giver’, off the debut album. It was pains-takingly delivered. I was disappointed to find that it had been temporarily dropped from the set when I saw the band last year, but I’m glad to report. that it is now fully reinstated. It too has evolved since it was recorded but was still superb!

Only a good old rocker could end the show; and the boys had decided to play their only cover of the night – a rousing version of Led Zep’s classic ‘Rock’n’Roll’. Joel took lead vocals for this, and did a fine job with it.

It had certainly been a shorter set – 13 songs in less than two hours rather than the previous nine songs in a full two hours. But it was no less of a high octane performance from a very tight and impressive band indeed. Gone were the lengthy abstract improvised solos; but there was still no doubt as to Virgil’s fine fretboard abilities. And Gabe and Joel impressed us very much too.

(Photo: PTMQ)

The stage at the Touchline (Photo: PTMQ)

Farewells:  We had a few words with the band after the show; and Virgil gave us a copy of their Set List printed on the back of some scribbled notes from his recent ‘Guitar master Class’. With our ears ringing, we said our goodbyes and left the club satisfied with another VATA performance – albeit quite different to last time.

VATA are now embarked on a short nine-date UK tour which includes two of my other favourite venues – The Boom Boom Club in Sutton; and The Beaverwood Club in Chiselhurst. So I’m hoping to get along to see the band in action again during this tour.  ‘All we care about is putting on a good show for people. Next year’s going to be good’ predicted Virgil. James and I are wishing the lads the best of luck anyway. Finally, thanks to Dave, Brian, Trudie and Steve the sound man at the Touchline for hosting yet another memorable gig. PTMQ

For info on gigs etc; here is a link to VATA’s website…

http://www.vataband.com/

Here is a link to the Touchlines website…

http://touchlinelivemusic.co.uk/

61. LARRY MILLER BAND at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, Hockley, Essex. Friday, 17th July, 2015. + a pre-gig interview with Larry; and a few words about the club’s new venue.

When I bumped into Dave and Brian of Touchline Live Music, in Peggy Sue’s Music Bar back in April (see my Blog entry #47), they told me that they had Larry Miller booked for July, and would I be interested in coming along? I was of course keen to do so, as I knew I should be available that night; and there  was the chance of an interview with the renown Blues-Rocker in the offing too. Also, I was keen to see the Touchline’s new home at Hockley Community Centre – or ‘The Commy’ as its known locally.

Sound-check completed, the stage awaits (Photo: PTMQ)

Sound-check completed, the Touchline stage awaits…(Photo: PTMQ)

The shennanigans that went on over the loss of the club’s last venue in Hullbridge, I’m not qualified to speculate on. The important thing is that the club has had a new home in Hockley, Essex, for the last six months. I have been unable to visit ‘The Commy’ since the Touchline moved in there, so I was keen to see what Dave, Brian and co  had achieved so far. My first impression was good – the car park alone is a vast improvement on the old place! And as I walked in, I was continually impressed by everything that I saw. The whole place is very smart; and the function room is excellent. (The stage is at one end, and was looking good – set up with Marshall and Warwick amps and speakers). To be honest, I liked the other place  – it was fine; but this venue is definitely superior.

I arrived early, and after being greeted by Trudie, Dave and Brian (and also having got myself a beer), I was introduced to the club’s guest star for the night, Larry Miller; who had kindly agreed to an interview with the Quill! I’d never met him before, but he is an instantly likable bloke with a genuinely warm handshake; and turned out to be quite a character – off-stage as well as on. Trudie suggested that we should chat outside on the patio; so that’s where we went.

We began by talking about Larry’s last opus: the excellent Soldier Of The Line, released late last year. Apart from the fact that this is arguably his best work so far, I was particularly interested in the story of Larry’s Grandad, a violin player who served in the Great War, which inspired the title track. This is because my Grandad also served in that hideous conflict, and played violin too. (I won’t go into that now, but there is more to say about it, so it may be the subject of a future Blog entry). At this point, my mate Rambo turned up and after introductions, joined us.

(Photo: Rambo)

Mr.Miller and myself engaged in a pre-gig conflab! (Photo: taken by Rambo)

I asked Larry if the superb title track (which I describe as a kind of Progressive-Folk lament), was to be part of a new direction for him: ie, experimenting with genres outside the Blues-Rock field of which he is a recognised master – bearing in mind that there is also an interesting and unexpected brassy, Jazzy ending to the opening track on the album, ‘One Fine Day’. Our man pointed out that we are all influenced by multiple genres – even those who claim to be purists in a particular field: ‘People always think that if you play one type of music, that’s what you’ve been listening to all your life….we all listened to the same things if you grew up in this country – The Beatles; The Stones; Abba; Mud; Sweet – what was playing in the charts. I can write most forms of music really’ he said ‘…but if you’re making a living (from music), you’ve got a fan-base; and you know what your fan-base want to hear. Some of them go to that (pointing to his new album that I’d put on the table) and think “Oh this isn’t Larry!” One bloke said he threw it away! Then he went back to one of my old records and thought “Oh I’ll give it another go”; and then of course he hasn’t stopped playing it since! Its a fine balancing act: you’ve got to move forward, but at the same time keep the guys who pay your bills happy!’ (Surely no one is unhappy with Larry’s last album, are they?)

‘Unless of course you are like Richie Blackmore’ I digressed, ‘…who never gave a toss about his fans anyway, and totally gave up Rock for Folk music without batting an eyelid – much to the chagrin of his fans!’ (Just for the record, I like some of RB’s Folky stuff). We then laughed about Blackmore’s infamous tantrums with Purple and Rainbow (I witnessed one of these for myself at Wembley back in ’79, – but that’s for another blog). Larry quipped that he was ‘…probably suffering from pre-minstrel tension!’

Back to the subject in hand, Rambo observed that: ‘Surely you’ve got to go where your heart takes you?’  Larry agreed: ‘Yeah, if you’ve got an ounce of creativity about you – you are an artist. I never did music so that I’d become rich – it would be nice though! Its like any artist, like Picasso. He never painted pictures to make a lot of money – that would be soulless’ . Its quite clear then that Larry wouldn’t do anything he didn’t want to do. And quite right too.

Larry with '57 Gold Top (Photo: PTMQ)

Larry with his main guitar: a Gibson Les Paul ’57 Gold Top Reissue (Photo: PTMQ)

So I asked what Larry had in the pipeline? ‘I’m working on a double album right now’ he replied, ‘…The Sinner And The Saint. I’ve got about sixteen tracks on it. I consider it my best ever.’ ‘So when is this Magnum Opus due out?’ I asked. Larry couldn’t say yet. Nor would he be drawn too much on it other than saying ‘Its got my normal Blues-Rock content’, and that there’s ‘a mandolin track’ on it. Then he told us ‘I’m a Christian; so its going to be a spiritual one as well’. Larry had anticipated my next question here, as I’d planned to ask about the religious subjects / references that I’d noticed in some of his earlier songs – ‘Bathsheba’ for example. ‘American bands sing quite happily about these subjects but English bands don’t’ he said. That’s probably true enough; apart from The Strawbs, I can’t think, off-hand, of a British band that have handled religion (not including Occult obsessed HM bands!) ‘Everything I write comes from within’ he explained. Anyway, that’s an album I personally can’t wait to hear!

The subject of the young Blues-Rock guitarists came up then – again Larry anticipated the question, as I was going to ask what he thought about young guns like Virgil McMahon; Laurence Jones; and Oli Brown. ‘I know ’em – all nice guys’ he said. ‘Its great that they’re playing it, but I wish their mates would get into it. Its weird … they’re playing to all these old guys!’ I agreed. There aren’t a lot of young Blues fans; and this came up when I interviewed Virgil last October (see my Blog #26). Funny enough, I’m glad to report that my son James and a couple of his mates do love Blues-Rock, and he would  have been there with me that night if he hadn’t been lured away to a cricket match in Chelmsford!

I asked Larry about his forthcoming gig at the Forum in London, supporting Walter Trout for his I’m Back Tour. He is very much looking forward to it as you would expect. Larry didn’t know if Walter had specifically head-hunted him for the gig, but apparently someone close to Walter did say that Larry reminds Walter of himself as a young player – not that Larry is that young of course! But its quite a complement coming from an international giant of the genre like WT.

Mad Dogs! The Larry Miller Band at the Touchline (Photo: PTMQ)

Mad Dogs! The Larry Miller Band at the Touchline (Photo: PTMQ)

Next I asked about his guitars. ‘Ahh!’ he exclaimed seeming to relish the chance of some axe-chat! ‘I take it you’ll be playing a Les Paul tonight?’ I enquired.   ‘Yeah. Well, I’d always been a Strat man’ he said. ‘Because of Gallagher?’ I asked (Larry being a well known fan). ‘I guess so …but they just looked so awesome! I’ve had loads of Strats, but you see lots of Strat players with a slightly thin toppy, grainy sound. I liked Stevie Ray Vaughan’s sound, but …then I saw Bon Jovi at Wembley Stadium. He had all these guitars; and this one guitar sounded really lovely, and it was a Gibson Les Paul ’59 – it was obviously the best sounding guitar there. So I bought a Les Paul in 2002, but I could play a Strat faster, so it took me a while (to get used to it). Then people started to say “Oh you’ve got a great guitar tone”; well they never say that if you’re playing a Strat. But with the Les Paul its a brilliant thick, creamy sound. And if you back off the volume, then it cleans up like a Strat anyway. So now I’m a bona fide Les Paul Player!’ Larry now has three Les Pauls – one of which, a Gold Top ’57 Reissue is his main gigging axe. ‘Its absolutely wonderful’ he enthused.

What about acoustics? He said he used a 1931 National for slide work on the forthcoming album; and he’d be playing ‘just a crummy old thing’ later that night for ‘Soldier Of The Line’ (it actually turned out to be a good-looking, and great sounding Yamaha acoustic tuned to DADGAD). I said I’d be watching closely so that I could try to learn the song. ‘Its bloomin’ hard!’ he warned; then added laughing ‘…well I think so!’ Well if he finds it hard, and its his song, I don’t know what chance I’ve got at playing it!

Finally I asked Larry to sign my CD copy of Soldier Of The Line. He stared at the cover for a while deep in thought; then smiled and wrote ‘To Phil The Music Quill, from Larry The Music Mill’! As well as everything else, Larry has a great sense of humour! He went back stage then and Rambo and I took our seats, reserved for us by Trudie, on Table 1 – right in front of Larry’s monitors. And there we waited….

Soldier of the line - Larry Miler (Photo: PTMQ)

Soldier of the line – Larry Miller with his Yamaha acoustic  (Photo: PTMQ)

At about 9pm Master Of Ceremonies Brian Sangwin climbed on stage  and introduced the band. Larry casually strapped on his Gold Top and plugged in, and after a little banter with the audience launched into the rabid rhythm riffs of ‘Mad Dog’. Like a Rottweiler suddenly released from a cage, he hit us with a full-on display of axemanship and growling vocals! It was a howling success; and that set the pace and tone for the entire gig really.

From the very beginning, you can’t take your eyes off Larry – he is like a presence on stage. Not just because of his consummate fret-board dexterity, which left me open-mouthed at times; or for his powerful vocal style; but also for his on-stage antics: throwing himself about like a man half his age – even running around in the audience at one point! And he kept it up throughout the whole show too! He still has the enthusiasm he had as a fifteen year old – and its infectious! We, the audience, were lapping up everything he did. Clearly he is a man who loves what he does. Quite how he keeps it up night after night, I don’t know.

‘Our Time Is Coming’ was up next – again a power-packed rendition with breath-taking solos – and to paraphrase the lyric, ‘there was nothing we could do about it’! Great applause ensued, and Larry said ‘Really cookin’ isn’t it?’ Then the intro of ‘The Power You Have’ had us clapping along, before the distinctive rhythm riff burst full scale upon us. Another winner.

At this point, Larry introduced the rest of the band. The other members tend to be somewhat overlooked in comparison to the presence and antics of the main man. But they were there alright – and a superb performance they both gave too. On Bass was Derek White; Larry’s long-term gigging bassist. And on Drums, Graham Walker; ex-Gary Moore Band. These two proved themselves to be more than capable as a rhythm section; tight and reliable, and always there to provide the back-bone to the songs, and enable Larry to venture into lengthy abstract solos at will.

(Photo: PTMQ)

(Photo: PTMQ)

Things slowed down a bit then for the beautifully arpeggiated intro to ‘Calling All The Angels’. The angst-ridden lyric he sang with genuine passion; and the lead solo came from deep down in his soul. It was dripping with emotion!  After some more banter he said he’d do his ‘Rory tune’ – a Gallagher-esque Blues-Rocker that would have had his late, great Irish hero nodding with approval.  And thus ended the first set. Only five songs long; but as he explained ‘I can’t help doing solos that are 400 hours long!’ Time for a beer methinks!

The second half began as promised with ‘Soldier Of The Line’. Larry donned his Yamaha acoustic (the ‘crummy old thing’ mentioned earlier), tuned to DADGAD, and after doodling a little, began the very distinctive and beautiful intro to the song. And I must say, it did look difficult to play! But what a faultless performance it was; musically perfect, and sung with genuine emotion.

With his beloved Gold Top back in hand, ‘One Fine Day’ followed. This is the opener from the Soldier…  album; and one of the tracks that make that collection his best yet in my opinion. This live version did not disappoint either. No brass was possible for the outro, of course, so Larry just improvised a nice lead to finish. Only another good rocker from the same album could follow this. ‘Mississippi Mama’ hit us like a hurricane running amok through the Bible Belt! It went down a storm.

He gave us the pure Blues of ‘Missy Mango’ next. Its a simple but effective number that is a perfect vehicle for Larry to improvise over. Another excellent Blues tune followed this; and again Larry showed off his remarkable skills. ‘I Fight Myself’ ended the second half to rapturous applause and a standing ovation. It was well deserved.

During this part of the show, he had been quite brutal with his Les Paul. Volume and tone pots were roughly handled; the pick-up switch was singled out for a fair amount of abuse; but the low-E string was particularly brutalised when he used it to hold the unfortunate guitar aloft and shake it roughly! This all produced the most amazing sounds, and he was remarkably adept at it! In fact, given Larry’s normal string-bending technique – that often rendered at least two semi-tones – he had to frequently retune the thing throughout the gig.

The whole place was on its feet. Encore! was demanded – and duly delivered. Returning to the stage, the boys delivered more of what we desired, in the form of the SRV-esque ‘Rebekah’. Finally, the unmistakable opening riff to ‘Parisienne Walkways’ sounded out from Larry’s Marshall speakers. Teasing us with that searing sustained note made famous by another of his heroes, Gary Moore, Larry gave us a final flourish of his sublime axemanship. Phew!

Thanks to Larry and the lads for a superb demonstration of Blues-Rock at its highest level. I think this is definitely a contender for my Best Blues-Rock gig of 2015. Its difficult to guess who could possibly top it!  Finally, a great big thank you to Dave Kitteridge for arranging the interview; plus Trudie; Brian, and Steve the sound man; and all at the club and the venue for helping to make it a very memorable night indeed.  PTMQ.

Here is a link to Larry’s website… http://www.larrymiller.co.uk/index.htm

Here is a link to Touchline Live Music’s page… http://touchlinelivemusic.co.uk/

47. MONDAY BLUES AT PEGGY SUE’S. 20th April, 2015. Host: MARTIN McNEILL; special guest: ROY METTE.

(Photo: PTMQ)

Mette and McNeill (Photo: PTMQ)

When the Essex Bluesman Martin McNeill first invited me to Monday Blues At Peggy Sue’s, back in January, he pointed out that every session is very different, depending on the special guest invited for each particular week. So my first visit in March  (See my blog entry #38), although excellent, may not have been typical. I can’t get there every Monday, but on this occasion I was not only available, but keen to see this week’s special guest, the inimitable guitarist, Roy Mette.

Now, I’ve been aware of Roy for some time, but occasionally I astound myself with just how ignorant I am! It was only when I looked at Roy’s website recently, that I realised that he’d once been a member of the NWOBHM band Warrior, who I’m sure I  saw at least a couple of times at the Ruskin Arms, East Ham; c.1979. So Roy’s been plying his trade for more than three and a half decades (I’m sure he won’t mind me pointing that out!) These days of course, he is both a Blues-Rock man and a bit of a Folkie too; and these styles influence his playing of the Blues. Normally he’s accompanied by his own band, but he’s equally at home playing acoustic – with or without an accomplice. And that is the guise in which we found him on this occasion – as special guest of Martin McNeill at Peggy Sue’s Music Bar, Leigh-On-Sea, Essex. (For a description of the venue, see my blog #38).

I arrived at the venue early enough, and Martin introduced me to Roy – who was tuning-up a fine-looking Gibson electro-acoustic. I’d never met him before. Like most musicians, he’s an approachable and friendly bloke; and seemed to be looking forward to the gig. Present in the audience were Dave and Brian of Touchline Live Music along with their better halves; and Kathy P with her husband, hoping to shoot some footage of the set. The bar was more full up than on my previous visit; and maybe that was a reflection of Roy’s presence at the venue; as he is well known locally. And so, we were ready to begin….

(Photo: PTMQ)

Roy Mette: Acoustic Blues Warrior! (Photo: PTMQ)

Martin warmed us up with three songs – including ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind’ – demonstrating his mastery of the bottleneck slide technique, for which he is renown. Without his Blues Harp sidekick West Weston present, Martin also showed that he is more than a fair harmonica player too.  It was a short warm-up, and Roy was soon up for his solo set.

Gibson in hand, he began with the Jazzy ‘Lady Sings The Blues’. And followed it with a variety of Bluesy / Blues-based numbers; showing a very good understanding of the genre in many of its forms. Among others, this solo set included a fantastic cover of ‘All Along The Watchtower’; the down-home style ‘Black Mountain’; a heart-felt version of ‘I Still Miss You So’; the laid-back ’12 Bars And The Blues’; a wonderful rendition of the classic ‘Wayfaring Stranger’; and finishing with ‘Train Train’.  At all times, Roy’s guitar playing was impressive; and complimented by his superb vocals. All in all, I couldn’t fault it – a bloody good set!

After a short break, both Roy and Martin returned for a duet.  With two guitars of course, there is far more scope for solos; and neither of our Bluesmen failed to impress. Taking it in turns to sing, they began with ‘Long Tall Shorty’; and then proceeded to play many a classic number; including a unique version of ‘All Shook Up’; a fine laid-back cover of the staple ‘Crossroads’; the coal-mining song ‘Sixteen Tons’ (I hadn’t heard this for yonks!); the ubiquitous classic ‘As The Years Go Passing By’; and finishing with a hybrid of ‘Little Red Rooster’ and ‘Red House’, in which Martin’s slide-work excelled; and Roy’s vocals at times could have passed for  Chester Burnett!  It was another damn fine set. Both host and guest in fine form, and working nicely together. There was also some amusing banter between the performers and the audience – something you can only get in a small intimate place like this.

Once again a great night at Peggy Sue’s; and I’d recommend a visit if you love acoustic Blues. Many thanks to Martin, Dave, Lorraine, Johnny, and all present at the music bar for another Bluesy start to the week! PTMQ

Here is a link to Roy’s website…. http://roymette.co.uk/index.asp?mid=64

Here is a link to Martin’s website….. http://www.martinmcneill.co.uk/

Here is a link to Peggy Sue’s Facebook page… https://www.facebook.com/peggysueslivemusic