Tag Archives: essex blues scene

159. SAIICHI SUGIYAMA BAND (+ support JOE ANDERTON BAND) at The NCBC, Essex. Friday, 24th March 2017; including an interview with Saiichi.

Saiichi Sugiyama (Photo: Karen Rockingham)

The Saiichi Sugiyama Interview: Well I must admit my son James and I went along to the NCBC knowing next to nothing about Saiichi Sugiyama, but intending to see his set, having heard good reviews. Then Karen at the club suggested an impromptu interview with the man, which she kindly and quickly arranged for us. No matter that we hadn’t done any research, because after being introduced to him, he told us that he talked too much; so with a minimum of questions from ourselves, he proceeded to tell us all that we needed to know about himself and his music – and fascinating it was too..

PTMQ: We started by asking Saiichi about his work with Andy Fraser shortly before he passed away…

SS: ‘I met a chap who was the UK PR for Andy Fraser, and he was interested in managing me, so we worked together for a while, and Andy got to hear my music. My manager asked him: “Would you be interested in playing bass for Saiichi?”

I had this song called ‘Melting Away’ that I wrote some years ago. Free was very much formative Blues-Rock, and Paul Kossoff was somebody that I listened to a lot when I was young, but I had to stop listening because I didn’t want to be influenced too much. I was on holiday in Japan and I had this strange dream that Kossoff was in an afterlife in a beautiful place, and I came up with this song called ‘Melting Away’. I played it at a blues festival once, but then I thought “This is too close to Free!”, so I set it aside, until I met Andy.

(Image: Saiichi Sugiyama website)

He’d been working all these years to get away from Blues-Rock. So I said “I have a song that I’d love you to play… but I bet you will not want to play it because it’s so much like your old band!” Anyway, he had a listen for the six minutes, and at the end of it he said “Yeah, I’ll do it, sure”. Then I was even more greedy and said “Did you notice there is a section for a bass solo towards the end?” and he said “Yeah I noticed that… that’ll be a challenge!” So he took the song away to California, and a couple of weeks later I got this thing through. He actually worked on the bass, and added things to it. He added some voice operated synthesizer sounds on it. He chopped a few things and arranged stuff; and put reverb on it. His bass playing was very unique.

Somehow I suddenly had this idea of putting a string quartet on it. I loved the way that Motown orchestrated, so I ended up getting in touch with John Shipley, the Musical Director for Jack Ashford’s Funk Brothers. I said “This is not Motown, but can you write a string section for it?” What he sent me was not quite what I had in mind. So I went out and bought a keyboard and my ProTools had some samples, and that became the quartet part. I wanted Andy to hear that but then he went. So that was that’.

PTMQ: Saiichi then told us about his association with Pete Brown – poet and lyricist for Cream among others…

SS:  ‘I met him in early 2000 and he started off playing in my band, because he sings and plays percussion. He said we should record an album, so i said ‘OK if I’m going to record, will you write with me?’ He said OK, so I was quite thrilled to see my songs with Pete on them. I was brought up in Tokyo in the 1960s and I would buy LPs with Japanese liner notes, and they’d talk about Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton… and poet Pete Brown. So the name was very familiar to me’.

Saiichi with The Quill and James, son of The Quill (Photo: Karen Rockingham)

PTMQ: So how did you get into in Western music?

SS: ‘Initially I was very taken with American music. I started off with Crosby, Stills and Nash; and Neil Young; and that got me into playing acoustic guitar. Its acoustic but its not Folk, its Rock. I was really fascinated by the way they played guitar, and then Steven Stills had an album out with a couple of very Bluesy tracks. And it just spoke to me; it was interesting – something different. I wrote a song when I was about ten, and it was a 12-bar Blues number. But I didn’t know it was Blues! Then I got into Clapton – Derek And The Dominoes. Then I dug deeper, into Cream, which I loved more; then The Bluesbreakers’ Beano album.

That’s how I got into the whole thing; because we were going through a period in Japan when people were looking very outward to the West; now they’re very inward looking. Now the Japanese have developed their own style of Rock which is quite Punkish. It doesn’t wash with me. They like their stuff and they really dig into it. But they don’t like somebody like me coming over from England – “He’s Japanese, he can’t be any good!” [He laughs].

Then I had a renaissance with The Beatles when I was about 18, and I really wanted to come here because this is where it was happening. I wanted to see Paul McCartney when he came to Japan in 1980 to play the Budokan. I slept on the street to buy the tickets, but he was arrested for marijuana possession and spent time in jail! So I had to come to England to see him.

But before then I had my eyes set on California because my love was Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. So I went to America for a couple of summers and I loved it. Then I was encouraged by a friend of mine who said “You’ve got to come to England”. So I did and found it more to my liking. I came for three months, which became three years, and now thirty odd years!

I first came over here in 1980 as a musician. I went through a period when I was absorbing everything. In 1989 I met Mike Casswell, Clem Clemson and Zoot Money, and my first album came out in 1994′.

PTMQ: Saiichi also talked about his son Mune Sugiyama, drummer and musical director of the band…

SS: ‘My son was unfortunately brought up, poor thing, listening to all my music! He says: “You really spoilt my childhood playing all these old peoples songs!” But it turned out that he’s actually a good drummer. He had a school band but someone dropped out, so I played in his band which was like a kind of prog/psychedelic jazz type of thing. So we got to know each other musically. Then when I needed a drummer he would come in as a dep. He knows all the songs that I wrote but didn’t do anything about, and he said “look, you’ve got to record these”; and he ended up becoming my producer and musical director of the band. He is my partner in that sense. He tells us what to do. He’s a perfectionist. He’s very bossy!’ [He laughs].

PTMQ: Saiichi is a very friendly, forthcoming and informative man to talk to – and yes, he does like to talk a lot; but that’s a good thing because he told us just what we wanted to hear. So thanks for the interview Saiichi. All that remained was for us to see his live set…

Joe Anderton Band (Photo: Chris Richardson)

But first The Joe Anderton Band set:  Whilst chatting to Saiichi in the Green Room, we heard the support band begin their set; and although I wasn’t able to give them my full attention, they certainly sounded good in the background. When we got back to our seats in the auditorium, Joe and the boys were in full swing with a great Stones cover – ‘Dead Flowers’. They finished with ‘Down By The River’ which I liked very much. What I heard of their set was very good. A band to look out for, I think.

They consist of the excellent young guitarist himself Joe Anderton (guitar and vocals); Andy Hayes (guitar); Joe Fowkes (drums); and none other than Trev Turley (on bass) – a well respected bassist who has of course been mentioned on my site a few times before, not least of all when he played a great gig at the NCBC last year with some good friends (see my review #121; & review #126).

The Saiichi Sugiyama Band set: The headliners were soon on stage. They consisted of Saiichi himself, of course (guitar/ vocals); his son Mune Sugiyama (drums/Musical Director); his long term bassist Ben Reed; Sam Grimley on keys; dep rhythm guitarist Mark Wright; and the remarkable Monica George on lead vocals.

Saiichi Sugiyama Band (Photo: Chris Richardson)

We were soon listening to the opening number ‘Never Turn Back’, off the debut album. This was segued into ‘I Never Turn’ (the newer, up tempo version) on which we first heard Monica’s fine vocal. It was a good start; and immediately followed by the only cover of the night ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’, with a great solo.

Saiichi said that he liked to mix up the eclectic influences of his youth back in the 70s, which explained the next song ‘Just One More Time’, which is quite a fusion of styles. Next he introduced another from the debut: ‘What’s Going On?’, explaining that he was never fully happy with his singing on the original. So this has now been reworked for female lead vocal; and I must say that Monica shone on it. There was some intense solo work from Saiichi on his Les Paul too.

Continuing with the eclectic menu, the band then played a Folk-Rock number called ‘Bitter Ground’ – surprising, and surprisingly good. It was a la Wishbone Ash Argus in its vibe – and therefore, I liked it a lot! The Funky ‘Into Your Arms’ followed, and couldn’t be more different, being described as ‘a dancy number’. Then the Funk continued with a song from The Smokehouse Sessions co-written with Pete Brown: ‘Is That You Baby?’

‘Magic Wand’ – another reworked number from his eponymous album of ’94 – changed the vibe yet again; and ‘China Doll’, from the same collection followed, with its haunting introductory arpeggio, although quite significantly reworked from the original. Rather Santana-esque in its lengthy solo, this one. A newer song ‘Night Indigo’ followed – a moody number with another good solo.  Great drumming from Mune on this one too. More upbeat was the radio friendly ‘Its Up To You’ with its 60s Motown vibe which suited Monica’s vocal style perfectly.

Next the song that I had been particularly waiting for: the Andy Fraser collaborated ‘Melting Away’. Starting with a haunting arpeggio and pensive vocal from Monica, it soon erupts into an unashamedly Free-inspired extravaganza – slow, heavy rhythm riffs interspersed with the gentler arpeggio sections, then giving ground to a Kossoff-esque lead guitar part; a fitting tribute to one of Saiichi’s main influences and a fine memorial to both Kossoff and Fraser. Excellent!

Next up was ‘I Got News’, a song with an interesting lyric and a nice guitar part. The latest single ‘Somewhere Down The Road’ followed. This is of course the reworked version of the opening track from the debut album. The original was very good, but this make-over is excellent; with female vocal and a far more dynamic guitar part. Without a breather, the great rocker ‘A Cellar full Of Noise’ (also co-penned with Pete Brown) ended the the show to great applause. It is a shame that the show overran because I know that the encore (if played) would have included an acoustic version of ‘Crossroads’ which I would have liked to hear. But both James and I enjoyed the gig very much.

The sheer variety contained within Saiichi’s set appealed to me greatly. Little of it could be described as pure Blues of course, but most of it had an undeniable Blues base. Inevitably, Saiichi shone on lead guitar; and Monica was at all times impressive as vocalist. The rhythm section of the band were all tight and reliable throughout.

Farewells: We had another little chat with Saiichi at the Merch desk, and he generously gave me two of his albums – his excellent eponymous debut from 1994 on CD; and his acclaimed Smokehouse Sessions on vinyl; plus his two latest excellent CD singles: ‘Melting Away’ which we’d just heard all about; and the remixed version of ‘Somewhere Down The Road’, which we’d also just enjoyed live.

As we left the venue, we congratulated guv’nor Paul Dean on another great New Crawdaddy gig; and had a few words with Joe Anderton and Trev Turley too. On the way out we bumped into Rock aficionado Stuart Walsh and his lady friend, who were very pleased with Saiichi’s set. And thus ended another good night at the NCBC. Thanks to all performers; the club volunteers; Karen for arranging things and photos; Chris for photos; bar staff; and everyone who was there. PTMQ

Saiichi Sugiyama website

Joe Anderton Band website

New Crawdaddy website

143. LAURENCE JONES BAND (+THE HEATERS) at THE NEW CRAWDADDY BLUES CLUB, Billericay, Essex. Friday, 20th January, 2017.

LJ at the NCBC (Photo: Karen R)

LJ at the NCBC (Photo: Karen R)

My first visit to the New Crawdaddy Blues Club of 2017 was a good one to be sure: it was the superb Laurence Jones Band, with support from house band, The Heaters. I’ve seen LJ a few times before – as an impressive 21 year-old jamming with his mentor Walter Trout (May 2013. Just before I started my website); then supporting Coco Montoya (May 2014. See my review #14); and supporting – and jamming with – Otis Grand (November 2014. See my review #30), He had noticeably improved in ability and confidence each time. So having not seen him for over two years, my son James and I were wondering if we’d notice any changes this time. We were to see….

But first on stage was the club’s house band, The Heaters. I’ve seen them many times before, but they never fail to impress with songs from their vast repertoire of covers – some of which I hadn’t heard them play before. On this occasion they played such favourites as ‘Hideaway’; ‘I’m Tore Down’; ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘All Your Love’. But the highlight of their set was a fine rendition of Greeny’s ‘Fool No More’ featuring lead guitarist Chris Campbell. Excellent.

And so to the headline act. As the LJB climbed on stage, the first noticeable change was that band were completely different yet again. They now consist of Laurence himself of course on guitar and vocals; Phil Wilson on drums; and making his first appearance with the band, bassist Greg Smith. The LJB also now have a keyboard player in the shape of Bennett Holland. No longer being a three-piece opens up a lot more scope musically. This was the band’s first gig of 2017; and it was certainly a good start to the year.

(Photo: Karen R)

(Photo: Karen R)

The band immediately launched into the title track of the new album Take Me High. It was clear from the off that this new line-up were tight and confident together. A variety of Blues/Blues-based numbers followed, all on the Rock edge of the Blues spectrum, and all in LJ’s inimitable style. These were mainly songs from the last two albums, plus a couple from Temptation including ‘Soul Swamp River’; and a fine electric cover of the old Lead Belly tune ‘Good Morning Blues’ – nice use of wah-wah on this one. A good cover of ‘Cocaine’ was played too, with of course plenty of audience participation.

Highlights of the show for me were: the radio friendly single from the new album, ‘I Will’ (which I thought had a bit of a ‘Watchtower’ vibe about it). Also the Rock’n’Roller ‘Stop Moving The House’; and the obligatory slow number ‘Thunder In The Sky’ (apparently the first song that LJ ever wrote) – to which a couple of lovely ladies in black performed a cheeky dance – and why not? (I should have filmed it!) There was also a tasty bit of duelling between LJ and keys man Bennett on ‘You Wind Me Up’ too. Encore was demanded and delivered in the form of ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’ and ‘My Eyes Get In Me Trouble’.

(Photo: Karen R)

(Photo: Karen R)

Laurence and the boys are a fine young band, and I think they have a great deal more to offer over the coming years. The Blues genre needs young bands like this; and I noticed there were some younger people in the audience too – that can only be a good thing. If you like guitar-based Blues on the Rock edge, then you’ll enjoy their live performance if you haven’t seen them already.

Thanks to impresario Paul Dean and all the hard working volunteers at the NCBC who week in, week out, make this regular Friday night Blues club something special. Big thanks to Karen for the great photos too. PTMQ

 Laurence Jones’ website

New Crawdaddy’s website

126. TREV TURLEY AND FRIENDS @ NCBC. ‘Emotion & No Commotion: Live 12th August 2016.

trev-turley-cdThose Blues fans among my readers will no doubt remember my review of the excellent ‘one-off’ gig by bassist Trev Turley and Friends at The New Crawdaddy Blues Club, Billericay Essex, recently (See my review #121). Those who were present at the gig may already know that the show was recorded and is now available on CD (No doubt some have already obtained a copy).

There are eleven tracks on the album, which I think covers all the songs played on the night. The recording has come out far better than I thought it would – actually superb! Its always good to relive a gig that that you actually attended (at one of my favourite venues too), so I was very pleased all round with this CD. Sound quality and mixing are very good indeed. Yve’s vocals and all instruments are very clear; and if you needed a demonstration of the quality, tightness and professionalism of this fine group of musicians, then it is here.

The disc comes in a simple card sleeve with all the relevant info printed on it. It is a limited edition of 100 copies (mine is #56). There are apparently a few left, and these will be available from the second ‘one-off’ gig (if that makes sense!) which is booked for The Murderers in Norwich on 15th December. I probably won’t be there, but I can recommend it highly. PTMQ

102. MONDAY BLUES AT PEGGY SUE’S 2nd May 2016. Host: MARTIN McNEILL; special guests: TIM HUSKISSON and PAUL WOODLEY

Tim and Martin (Photo: Karen R)

Tim and Martin (Photo: Karen R)

Another Monday trip to Peggy Sue’s Music Bar in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex, was rewarded once again by a display of some fine musicianship. Martin McNeill – the stalwart host of these regular Bluesy evenings – needs little introduction from me as my regular readers will already be aware of his dedication to the genre, and his skillful bottleneck slide-work. And likewise, this wonderful little venue itself needs no further description from myself. (There is a list of some of my earlier articles about Peggy Sue’s for further information, below).

At first there weren’t a great many people present (maybe because it was a Bank Holiday Monday); but there were a few friends in; including Karen of The New Crawdaddy Club who kindly took some photos for me. Quite a few more people turned up as the evening progressed however; including Mitch ‘Harp Hog’ Greaves of the Blues Spiders. (Sadly, although armed with his case of Harps, we never got to hear him play!)

Paul Woodley: Thames / Mississippi Delta Bluesman! (Photo: Karen R)

Paul Woodley: Thames / Mississippi Delta Bluesman! (Photo: Karen R)

Proceedings began with Martin and Tim’s first of two sets; during which they impressed us with some good old Blues / Bluesy songs including Big Joe Turner’s ‘Honey Hush (You Talk Too Much)’; Ray Charles’ laid-back ‘Drown In My Own Tears’; Dave Van Ronk’s ‘Tell Old Bill’; and due to Tim’s presence as a guest, Duke Robillard’s instrumental ‘Cookin’ – during which Karen remarked that its ‘nice to see Martin out of his comfort zone!’ Martin was as usual, adept with his bottleneck and on-form with his (what I refer to as) unique ‘English Blues’ style of vocals. Tim showed himself to be keyboard maestro, of course. I don’t know much about tickling the ivories myself, but its great to see and hear someone like Tim who certainly knows his way around the keys. He was superb.

To be honest, I didn’t know Paul Woodley was going to be at Peggy Sue’s on this evening until someone in the know told me on the way there! But I’m very glad I was there to see him. When Martin and Tim had finished their first set, Paul was introduced. Picking up his beautiful National acoustic (tuned to Open-G), it was immediately clear that he’d been doing his homework on some authentic Delta Blues! He launched into a few numbers that were very impressive indeed – close your eyes and you could almost be there! He talks with a typical Thames Estuary accent, but sings like a genuine Mississippi Bluesman. His slide-work was remarkable. He covered several classics including RL Burnside’s ‘When My First Wife Left Me’; and Hambone Willie Newbern’s oft-covered staple ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’. I think everyone present was very impressed indeed.

Tim Huskisson: Keyboard maestro! (Phot: Karen R)

Tim Huskisson: Keyboard maestro! (Photo: Karen R)

Martin and Tim returned for a second set which was equally as good as the first. It included ‘Too Hot To Handle’; ‘My Next Ex-Wife’; ‘Take my word For It Baby’; and Tampa Red’s ‘You Can’t Get That Stuff No More’. And one which I particularly liked, which Martin described as ‘One of those pretty Blues numbers’: Taj Mahal’s ‘John, Ain’t It Hard’. And so ended another great evening at Peggy Sue’s. I love to get down there on a Monday night, but sadly my visits are few and far between due to one reason or another; but I’m hoping to be back there again soon.  PTMQ

Here is a link to Martins website for future gigs at Peggy Sue’s; and Martin’s other gigs

Here are some other of my articles about Monday Blues At Peggy Sue’s….

#87. 25th January 2016: Martin McNeill with guests Katie Bradley and Chris Corcoran

#63. 3rd August 2015: With Richie Milton and Bill Farrow

#47. 20th April 2015: Martin McNeill with guest: Roy Mette

#38.2nd March 2015: Martin McNeill with guests Steve West Weston and Rob Glazebrook

Here is a review of Martin McNeill’s album Lately I’ve Let Things Slide (#53)

100. THE CADILLAC KINGS at THE NEW CRAWDADDY BLUES CLUB, Billericay, Essex. Friday, 22nd April, 2016. A review by guest writers Karen and Del of the club.

When I went to the excellent Malaya Blue album launch gig at The New Crawdaddy Blues Club, Essex, a few weeks ago (see my review #96), I spoke to Karen Rockingham who works there. She is a big fan of the local band The Cadillac Kings who were booked to play at the club soon after, and asked if I was coming along. Unfortunately I was unable to get there for one reason or another, so I suggested that as she is a big fan of the band, that she should write a review, and I’d put it on my site. She agreed to do this in collaboration with Del Stoton – the vocalist of the club’s house band, The Heaters. 

I had been thinking of doing something a bit different for my 100th article on this site, but couldn’t really come up with anything in time, so what better idea than to introduce my readers to the excellent work of my very special guests, Karen and Del, and their review of this great band….

The Cadillac Kings (Photo by Karen R)

The Cadillac Kings at The NCBC (Photo by Karen R)

There was a certain je ne sais quoi, a sense of underlying excitement in the New Crawdaddy on Friday. You just knew that it was going to be a special night….well it was the Cadillac Kings…a band of enormous aplomb and experience, who have never failed to deliver exquisite, nerve tingling blues…with a divine tinge of gentle rock, tex-mex, Cajun, jump-jive and even an occasional  Appalachian feel.

The atmosphere bubbled and the anticipation was palpable as the lights dimmed and the boys took to the stage. The band ambled on with an air of mystical authority…local drumming legend Roy Webber; the fabulous Malcolm Barclay on guitar; mouth watering keyboard and accordion player, Tim Penn; and we must not forget the Cadillac Kings’ equivalent of John Entwhistle (The Who) on double bass, quiet enigmatic Paul Cuff…but then on saunters the maestro…40 years of smooth, charismatic, professionalism in the form of Mike Thomas, the epitome of cool (what a voice!).

We were treated to 90 minutes of fantastic, mostly original material, played by seasoned, sparkling musicians. All 5 sing and harmonise. Mike’s lyrics are cutting edge, painfully observational yet humorous. Mike plays excellent harp and enhances the percussion of the band.

The set flowed smoothly from track to track, embracing many genre’s and tempo’s, and the whole gamut of emotions…(mostly joy). Lots of dancing from the ecstatic crowd, together with enthusiastic applause, and a thunderous ovation at the end. In an evening of continuous highlights, we particularly appreciated Malcolm Barclay’s instrumental tribute to Lonnie Mack’s “Wham”. Do yourself an inordinate favour and get along to see these boys soonest!

Karen and Del… The Quells (nearest to The Quill). (Ha Ha! PTMQ)

Mike Thomas has very kindly provided us with a potted history of the band:-

“Back in 1998 I met harmonica player Gary Potts and was invited to join his Essex based blues-band ‘Third Degree’. After a couple of years and lots of gigs around the country, we decided to concentrate on a west coast swing-style of blues that appealed to the dance crowd on the retro scene. Another early decision was to try and play as much original material as possible. The next step was to change the rather downbeat name of the band to reflect our style and, since Gary was a huge American car fan, the name ‘Cadillac Kings’ was chosen. We recorded our first cd at drummer Ray Marquis’ studios in Upminster with Paul Morgan on guitar, Bernie Brewster on bass, and Gary Howard on keys. From the day of its release offers of work came in from across the UK and Scandinavia. This was always going to prove difficult for some members of the band to commit to, so in 2001, in addition to Gary and myself, Roy Webber took over on drums, Orlando Shearer came in on double-bass and Mike Adcock on piano & accordion. That line-up stayed together until 2004 when Oliver Darling took over on guitar and we recorded our second cd ‘Highway 17’. To our astonishment in December 2004 the Times chose it as their blues record of the year, and one of the top 24 releases of the year (alongside Morrissey, Brian Wilson, The Scissor Sisters etc etc!). By the time we recorded our third album ‘Trouble in Store’ in 2009 we had recruited Mal Barclay on guitar, whose terrific playing really energized the band. Canada’s main blues magazine ‘Real Blues’ rated it as the best ‘non American’ release of the year, and it stayed on the US Cashbox charts for many weeks. Around that time we made countless trips to Scandinavia, and Norway in particular, and appeared at festivals and clubs with amazing acts like the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Rod Piazza, John Mayall, Little Feat, Delbert McLinton, Magic Slim, Lazy Lester (and loads more!) The Norwegian connection resulted in a request for our fourth cd ‘Gonna Tell Your Momma’ to be recorded 100% live at Hamar in Norway, in front of 500 blues & swing fans. This was engineered on a fabulous mobile studio by Rune Nordal, engineer & producer to the band AHA. As many reviews have pointed out – it sounds about as close as you can get to being there. Not long after the album came out in 2012, CKs’ co-founder Gary Potts decided to retire from the music scene entirely and devote his time to his other passion – restoring vintage American cars and hotrods. Rather than try and fill the shoes of a fantastic harp player this seemed an opportunity to tailor the sound of the band to a more ‘Rhythm & Blues’ & ‘Roots music’ outfit. With Tim Penn on piano & accordion, Paul Cuff on double bass, Roy Webber on drums & Mal Barclay on guitar, we are now able to throw in a wide range of styles into the mix, from west coast swing to New Orleans R&B, from Chicago shuffles to Louisiana zydeco & swamp pop. This line-up has just completed the CKs’ fifth album ‘The Secret of My Success’, which is due for release in early June 2016.”

Here is a link to The New Crawdaddy’s website

Here is a link to The Cadillac Kings’ website

 

88. THE BLUES SPIDERS’ new album “Two” (2016)

(Pic: The Blues Spiders)

(Pic: The Blues Spiders)

At a Red Butler gig at the New Crawdaddy Club, Essex, recently (see my review #66), I ran into Russ Cottee of The Blues Spiders. He told me that the band would soon be recording their second album, and would I be interested in reviewing it when ready? Oh yes! So recently he sent me a pre-release download of the album; and the other day at Peggy Sue’s Music Bar (see my previous article #87), he gave me the CD version too. So here is my review…

The Essex-based Blues Spiders consist of Russ Cottee himself on guitar; Mitch ‘Harp Hog’ Greaves (Harp/Vocals); Paul Henshaw (Bass); and Bob Clouter (Drums). They describe themselves as a “Thames Delta Blues / R’n’B band (Real R’n’B, not the American plastic version)”. I think that’s fair comment! They are one of several good R’n’B bands currently making a name for themselves around the Home Counties. Influenced as you’d expect by local heroes like the Feelgoods / Wilko; and by classic Blues names such as Little Walter; Howlin’ Wolf; Chuck Berry “…and all the usual suspects”! My guess is that you’ve already decided if you’re going to like them or not! I certainly like ’em!

Two is a very good album. It never ceases to amaze me that there are still bands coming up with fresh ideas within the Blues / R’n’B genre. The Blues Spiders have achieved a good blend of the traditional with the innovative in this collection – and thus keeping the Blues alive and well. On the one hand its pretty much tried and tested stuff (and that’s not a criticism!); yet on the other hand, it has a few surprises up its sleeve.

There are eleven tracks on the album – mostly penned by Mr.Cottee; and some by Mr.Greaves. There is one cover (Elmore’s bottle-neck classic, ‘Shake Your Moneymaker’). Six are studio recordings; and five were recorded live at The Boom Boom Club, Surrey last August; and these give a good idea of the quality of the band’s on-stage performance.  They’re all good lively numbers anyway.

The musicianship is good too. There is some fine guitar from Cottee – including some tasty slide-work on ‘Devil In A Bottle’ which reminded me a bit of Johnny Winter, and a little of Micky Moody; and some great BB King-esque lead guitar on ‘You Don’t Get The Blues’.  Greaves’ vocals are very good, and well-suited to the style of the music; and his harp-work is excellent – especially on ‘Party Girl’; and ‘Great Expectations’ where he works well with Cottee’s guitar (which is also really good on this one). At all times the rhythm section of Henshaw and Clouter is tight, steady and reliable; driving the songs on both in the studio and the live recordings.

Another thing I like about this collection is the lyrics, which are more interesting than in yer average Blues song – particularly on ‘European Blues’ and ‘Me And Jimmy Reed’. The live section (tracks 7 – 11) truly captures the band’s ability to perform at gigs. I’ve said before that Blues is a form of music best heard and seen live. Capturing a good on-stage performance is not always easy, but The Blues Spiders have created a fine show-case for their live act with this album.

The CD version comes in a simple slip-case with a good basic logo design, and quite a lot of useful info on the back. No room for printed lyrics unfortunately, which is a shame because, as I said, these are good. Its available on iTunes now; or on CD at gigs for only a fiver. Its a recommendation from me if you like (as the band say) “real” R’n’B!  PTMQ.

For The Blues Spiders Face Book page (click here)

66. RED BUTLER at the NEW CRAWDADDY BLUES CLUB, Billericay, Essex. Friday, 21st August, 2015. + An interview with the band; and a few words about the club and the venue.

(Photo: PTMQ)

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

Preamble  Not surprisingly there has been a lot of lively blah blah about the British Blues Awards (BBA) lately. In some categories I made up my mind very quickly; but in others its been a lot harder to decide. So at the time of writing I still haven’t voted. (31st August 2015 is the deadline BTW). Recently I interviewed Malaya Blue and Dudley Ross at a gig (see entry #64), but I thought that a little more BBA research wouldn’t hurt at all!

I was pleased, then, to find that another band nominated for two awards (Young Artist; and Emerging Artist), was to play near me at The New Crawdaddy Blues Club in Billericay, Essex. This was of course, the young Sussex-based Blues-Rock outfit Red Butler. I’d heard a lot about this band from friends and acquaintances over the last 18 months or so, but I’d never seen them live. I’d heard the impressive debut EP and their excellent album Freedom Bound; and I’d seen the vids; but it was high time I decided for myself. So after a couple of messages between yours truly and the band’s founder member Alex Butler; and a phone call to Paul Dean of the club, an interview with the band was soon arranged.

Come on Yer Blues! (Photo: PTMQ)

Come on Yer Blues! (Photo: PTMQ)

The New Crawdaddy Blues Club  is in Blunts Wall Road, Billericay; and uses the Function Room of ‘New Lodge’, Billericay Town FC’s ground. (A team appropriately nick-named ‘The Blues’). The New Crawdaddy has had a couple of previous homes in Essex over the last 15 years or so, but has been at this venue for 18 months or more, and seems settled there. Its a good sized Function Room, with a capacity of 200-odd, and is nicely done up. The large brick pillar to the left of the stage obscures the view a little if you are over that side; but its holding up the roof so we shouldn’t complain!

The club is run on a non-profit making basis by guv’nor Paul Dean; ably assisted by a crew of volunteers: Chris the Soundman; Chris the Stage Manager; Graham the Lights; Mike the DJ; and the two lovely ladies on the merch desk: Lesley and Karen. They were all very friendly and welcoming. In fact, the club has a motto that sums up their ethos: ‘Customer and band-friendly’ – and there is no doubting that!

Who put that pillar in the way? (Photo: PTMQ)

Who put that pillar in the way? (Photo: PTMQ)

Almost every Friday night you’ll find a well known Blues band headlining at the club. The original intention was to promote local bands; but the club soon attracted international names who made a point of including the club in their UK tour. In the past they’ve hosted the mighty Buddy Whittington Band; and Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack among many others. And recently, the four times BBA nominated Malaya Blue performed there. There is also normally a House Band, The Heaters, acting as a support; but this particular week they weren’t due to play, so the headliner would do a two-part set in stead. In fact Paul Dean (who plays keys in the Heaters), was off playing a gig in Kent as part of a duet – The M25s – with guitarist Jeff Chapman, so he wasn’t there this particular evening anyway.

The Red Butler Interview:  Although Paul had said we would be welcome at the club at anytime during the afternoon, my son James and I couldn’t get there till 7pm; just as the sound check was being completed. We had a chat with the Crawdaddy staff; and met some of the band individually at the bar. They went off for a bite to eat, leaving James and I to admire Alex’s axe-rack; and read the set list conveniently left on the stage.  When they were ready, Alex came and found us and led us outside to where the band were having a pre-show chill-out, sitting on the terraces of ‘The Blues’ East Stand; overlooking the football pitch in the Essex sunset!

Alex's guitars for the evening (Photo: PTMQ)

Alex’s guitars for the evening (Photo: PTMQ)

Red Butler currently consist of founder member Alex Butler (Guitars); Jane Pearce (Vocals); Charlie Simpson (Drums); and Mikey Topp (Bass). This line-up has been together now for a 18 months or so. I began by congratulating them on their BBA nominations: the whole band for ‘Emerging Artist’; and Alex himself for ‘Young Artist’. It is of course a great achievement just to be nominated, but the band are well aware that they’re up against some of the biggest names on the British Blues scene.

James asked ‘How did you first start the band?’

Alex: ‘I met this guy a long time ago called Will Johns. He basically said to me “You should start a band”. Me and Charlie played in bands since we were about eleven, but we decided we wanted to take it more seriously and have a bit more of a career out of it. So we started this [Red Butler] about three years ago’.

So how did Jane get involved with the boys, I wondered?

Jane: ‘I’m not the original singer. I saw an advert in the music press. I remember having a really Hellish journey to Eastbourne for the audition. There was something wrong with the trains and I almost didn’t get there’. ‘Did the lads give you a hard time?’ I asked.  ‘They probably did – nothing’s changed!’ she laughed.

Alex with Les Paul (Photo: PTMQ)

Alex ‘Moving On’ with his Les Paul (Photo: PTMQ)

Only Alex is an original member. Charlie: ‘It was only going about two months before Jane came in, and then I came in about a week after that’. Mikey isn’t the original bassist, and not on any of the band’s recordings as yet. Alex: ‘We have yet to unleash his full potential!’ ‘Mike came along when all the hard work had been done!’ added Jane laughing. But he is often mistaken for the band’s original Bassist because he joined just as the album was released.

James and I had noticed the great variety of Bluesy styles within the first album; so wondered in what direction they’d take their second? Were they in fact working on it currently?

Alex: ‘Oh yes. Its very much a similar kind of thing that we’ve done. Its going to be trying to stay within the fan-base that we have at the moment, but then trying to bring in young people as well; because if no one does that, in ten or fifteen years time there isn’t going to be a Blues scene!  Its quite a difficult one because one of the things we really want to do is get young people involved, because at gigs there aren’t ever any there. That’s a big problem. We’re trying to find a way of enhancing our sound; because all of our friends like our music, but its the brand “Blues” that kills it for them’.

Charlie: ‘If you were a young person and you didn’t know beforehand that we were classed as a Blues band, and you came along and saw us; there are a few numbers that you could say were definitely Blues, but a lot of it is quite a grey area’.

(Photo: PTMQ)

Jane belting out some Blues! (Photo: PTMQ)

This is a problem that I’m well aware of. James and I had a similar conversation with Virgil And The Accelerators when we interviewed them last year (see entry #26). And I think Laurence Jones and Oli Brown are experiencing the same thing too. As James pointed out ‘There are a lot of young Blues artists out there’. So the next obvious question was: how did this young band get into Blues in the first place then?

Jane: ‘Just being brought up with it, I suppose: Ten Years After and Free. The music that you grew up listening to and love; and you have a passion for; you want to carry on the legacy of it. And its a goal of yours to not let it die and keep it going’.

Alex: ‘The Blues has become such a big thing again now. And its a funny thing because Charlie’s cousin is in a band, and they are at a fairly similar level to us….’  Charlie: ‘Yeah. They’re a kind of Indi-Rock band called Black Honey and they’re rising up at the moment. In terms of the work they’ve put in, and how long they’ve been going, and social [media] stuff; they’re pretty much level. But they’ll play to huge audiences. When we do a Blues festival, it’ll pull in a good few hundred people, but their equivalent is that they’ll play a small stage at Reading to 5,000 people. Its just a different scene’.

(Photo: PTMQ)

Fine reliable drumming from Charlie (Photo: PTMQ)

All this is very disappointing for the band. They want to play Blues, but its so frustrating for them (and all Blues fans) that they don’t get the more widespread recognition that they deserve. Yet they all obviously love the genre and are determined to stick to their guns, and continue playing their music. Hopefully if they win an award or two at the BBA this year, they’ll get a lot more attention. But even Blues Awards are not that high profile, unfortunately…

Alex: ‘Its funny how you get the Country Awards, that are massive. Its a big deal – almost like a red carpet do. Everyone knows who is nominated. Its funny because [Blues] is a niche market in the name, but style-wise its not at all! You can go and watch one guy with an acoustic; or you can be on tour with a six-piece band with a brass section like Billy Walton’.

Charlie: ‘Its very closed in to the circuit. Everyone on the circuit knows everyone. So you get the big artists in UK Blues – everyone knows them. But then if you took the biggest artist on the UK Blues scene and took that to a household, and said “Do you know this person?”; nine times out of ten they won’t’.

This is true enough. Recently I interviewed Larry Miller (see entry #61), a phenomenal guitarist with nine albums to his name; but is virtually unheard of outside the UK Blues scene. Mikey: ‘Well, when we played with Larry a few months ago in Durham; the crowd loved him. He’s got a big audience, but its very niche. It was a really good show and the crowd were loving it’. [Incidentally, whilst writing this article, I heard that Larry had just suffered a stroke. I’m sure all music fans would join me in hoping that it is not too severe; and wish him well].

(Photo: PTMQ)

Master of the Fender Jazz Bass, Mikey (Photo: PTMQ)

Speaking personally, I’m really glad to see these young Blues / Blues-Rock bands emerging again. And I too wish they’d get the kudos that they deserve. The popularity of Blues comes and goes of course, but at the moment its resurging again, I’m glad to say. Alex: Well here’s a question for you – What’s it like seeing it come back?’

PTMQ: ‘Brilliant! I’ve seen it come and go a few times. But its been around since before I can remember. Hendrix died when I was ten; and Cream split when I was eight – and it wasn’t new then! No doubt there’ll be blokes here tonight who can remember its first appearance over here in the early ’60s. I remember a great resurgence about 1990 with Gary Moore famously going back to the Blues; Walter Trout came over for the first time; and Jeff Healey emerged due to the film Roadhouse‘. It died down a bit, but now its getting popular again; and its great to see all these young bands’.

Alex: ‘I think people are getting into live music again, too. I heard on the radio that there was a poll done on why people are travelling around the country this summer. And quite a high percentage was to go to a festival. Whether its Glastonbury, Reading, or a little Blues festival, its the same thing – people going out to see music’.

A good point was brought up by Jane: ‘I think a lot of it is also due to really good marketing’… Alex: ‘Yeah. We have other people we work with who help us with tours and booking; and we’re trying to get better at social media. Jane does a lot of it. I think maybe the next thing we’ll look at is doing a social marketing course to gain an insight into how it all works. Especially if we want young people involved, because they don’t read flyers – they’re always on the phone.’

One of the things that I noticed about this band is that they are really committed to gaining success, and are full of ideas about how to achieve it. Apart from being very talented musically, they are really on the ball in terms of promoting themselves. Its great to see.

(Photo: PTMQ

(Photo: PTMQ

Axe Chat:  Earlier I’d noticed that Alex had three geetars in the rack: a Gibson Les Paul; a Hofner semi-acoustic; and one unknown to me. Alex: ‘Its a called a Feline. A custom thing made in East Croydon. They’re great guitars. I had that made when I had an inheritance from a member of my family that passed away; so I thought I’d rather spend it on something that’s going to last. Its a beautiful guitar – one of those guitars that’s almost too nice! I get it out, and I think “Oh, I don’t want to chip it or anything!” I’m lucky to have a choice of guitars. I used to play a Strat a lot but the Hofner’s taken over. The Hofner cost me £300 – new they’re only about £450. Not that expensive! Its by far the nicest guitar for me – one of the best that I’ve ever played. When you consider that the guitar I had made for me cost well into four figures; but I far prefer the Hofner’. Jane joked: ‘You’d better get a refund – and buy loads of Hofners!’ Alex: ‘I love that red guitar [the Feline], but I find the Hofner ideal for the particular thing that we’re doing – suits it down to a tee. Whereas if I was in a heavier Rock band, I’d use the Feline all the time’.

(Photo: PTMQ)

(Photo: PTMQ)

Amp Talk:  Alex: I’ve actually got an endorsement with a company called Jack The Hat Amps; custom made in Alderney in the Channel Islands. Its made out of an old Marshall with 60s parts in it. I used to use Black Star. The thing that threw people for a long time was the head that I played with didn’t have a cab; so I was playing an unmarked head through a Black Star cab’.

Bass Blah Blah:  Mikey uses a Fender Jazz Bass. Mikey:  ‘I went to buy a Fender Precision because I was convinced I wanted it. I picked the one I wanted and was playing it in the shop, and I was just not feeling it. So my friend who was with me at the time said “Why don’t you try the Jazz?”  I said “I don’t want a Jazz, I want a Precision!” and he said “Well just try it!” Then I had like an epiphany! I think the main thing was the neck – a bit slimmer. I was moving about more comfortably. Its reliable; comfortable; not too heavy’.

We had a few more questions for the band; but at this point they were called in to go and get changed; so we had to terminate the interview. We did have time for a few photos though. James and I enjoyed talking to Red Butler. Like most musos they were friendly and keen to chat about their music etc. I found them all to be determined, knowledgeable, and optimistic. With young bands like these, the future of Blues is in safe hands indeed – as long as they can start pulling in a younger audience. All that was necessary then, was for us to see them in action – and we didn’t have to wait long…

(Photo: PTMQ)

(Photo: PTMQ)

The Red Butler Set (First Half): At about 8.45, Chris the Stage Manager announced the band. It was their eagerly awaited debut at this club (in fact they’ve rarely played Essex so far), and they climbed on stage to great applause. Alex armed himself with his Les Paul, and the band opened with Gary Moore’s ‘Movin’ On’. Immediately they impressed – nice slide work from Alex; and the whole band musically tight. Very animated they were too; entertaining to see. Pausing only while Alex changed to the Hofner, they then gave us ‘On The Road’. I thought Jane’s vocals particularly impressed on this number.

From their album, they then gave us the rockin’ Blues of ‘Young And Free’; with Jane demanding audience participation! A great solo from Alex too. This went down very well indeed. Also from the album they played their unique take on the classic ‘Shakin’ All Over’; with everyone singing along. The lively vibe continued with ‘The Blues Is My Business’ – and the Red Butler business was certainly sounding and looking good! Again Jane included the punters in the song.

(Photo: PTMQ)

(Photo: PTMQ)

The pace was slowed then for ‘Last Page Of The Blues’. ‘This song is very special to us’ explained Jane. Its a moody number that’s a great vehicle for Alex’s axemanship, with the Feline. Its also a good demonstration of Charlie’s drumming and Mikey’s bass working smoothly together as a rhythm unit. ‘Have we got any Gary Moore fans in here?’ asked Alex. After affirmative shouts from the crowd he added ‘…that makes me nervous!’ Then the band launched into a cover of ‘Oh Pretty Woman’. This cover obviously owed more to GM’s famous version rather than the Albert King original; but it was a fine and interesting take on the old classic; and there was no need to worry Alex! ‘We’re gonna do what we call a “Scottish Blues” now’ said Alex ‘… that means a Sandi Thom song – let’s do “The Belly Of The Blues”. Again, an interesting cover. Its a brooding song in which Jane squeezed out every drop of emotion; and Alex played from the heart.

Next came the old Percy Mayfield song ‘Hit The Road Jack’, made famous by Ray Charles. It was another song that demanded audience participation; and went down well. Alex and Jane did a little guitar / scat-vocal duelling during this one. Then to finish the first half, they played the Eric Clapton / Robert Cray song ‘Old Love’. Again this was a chance for the whole band to shine: beautifully subtle chops from Alex; intensely emotional vocals from Jane; and very fine and reliable bass and drums from Mikey and Charlie. It was a good twelve minutes long; slowly but inexorably moving to its climactic end.

Half Time:  As soon as the first half was over, Alex came over to us and asked what we thought of it so far. I was of course very impressed and told him so; particularly congratulating him on his performance of ‘Belly Of The Blues’ and ‘Old Love’. Guitarist Russ Cottee of The Blues Spiders also introduced himself during half time, and we had a brief chat. I also spoke to Harp player Nick Garner of The Roots Collective who was knocking about too. (More on Nick in a minute).

(Photo: PTMQ)

Alex comes down into the auditorium during the final number of the 2nd set.  (Photo: PTMQ)

The Red Butler Set (Second Half):  This began with a cover of Nina Simone’s classic ‘Feeling Good’ – Red Butler style!  It was an inventive cover of a old staple. They gave us the opener from their album ‘Jaywalker’ next. Its got a bit of an SRV vibe to it. I like it a lot; and it was played well. The funky groove of ‘Give Me My Blues’ rang out next. Alex got a great sound from his Feline on the solo for this one. ‘Pension Blues’ off the album, followed. Its a great Blues song with stomping vibe and an amusing lyric. Great slide again from Alex on his Les Paul. Again from their album, they played ‘River Of Smoke’  – another good slow one, where Alex displayed his subtlety of style once again, that rendered his solo delicate; almost inaudible at times, but always tasteful.

Tempo was upped then, for ‘Bringing Out The Devil’ from their debut EP. This was the first song they ever wrote together. Its a lively rocker – full of raw energy. Next the band performed a medley of classic Blues-Rock served in a musical sandwich which consisted of a good helping of ‘Purple Haze’; and ‘Cocaine’ between two slices of ‘Goin’ Down’ – very palatable, I must say! ‘Danger Zone’ quickly followed. Its another good rocker from the album; and demonstrated once more, the song-writing skills of this great young band. The last offering in this second half was ‘Show Me The Money’; which was a good lively number to finish on; and during which Alex and Jane got down off the stage and danced around the auditorium.

Extra Time:   Chris returned to the mic to raise some more applause for an encore. The band returned to stage then, for one more number; and this time they were joined by the renown Essex Blues-Harp player, Nick Garner. The song chosen to finish with was the SRV classic ‘Pride And Joy’. And a rousing cover it was too. I don’t think I’ve heard it sung with a female vocal before; and Jane did a fantastic job with it, changing the lyric as necessary.

Nick Garner joins the band for encore! (Photo: PTMQ)

Nick Garner joins the band for encore! (Photo: PTMQ)

Show over, it was time to have a quick chat with a few people and congratulate the band on their performance and say our goodbyes. It had been a great gig and I’d gathered a lot of info for this article. Red Butler showed themselves to be a great live act; perfectly capable of handling several of the sub-genres of Blues / Blues-Rock with ease; and very satisfying to see and hear. I’m guessing that they’ll start to play more of their own material and drop some of the covers as time goes by. Finally, I’d just like to wish them the best of luck for the BBA.  PTMQ.

Links

Red Butlers website… http://www.redbutlermusic.co.uk/

British Blues Awards website… http://www.britishbluesawards.com/home/4581355856

New Crawdaddy Blues Club… http://www.heaters.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/default.htm