I was surprised and flattered when the singer RUBY TIGER contacted me out of the blue (or should that be ‘out of the blues?’) after having read my blog; to invite me to write a review of her debut EP launch gig at the CHICHESTER INN, West Sussex. I’d heard her name crop up from time to time, but I’d never met her before, nor heard her sing; so I immediately got onto YouTube for some research. What I saw and heard was impressive enough for me to book a motel room near the venue, pronto!
I made the 100-mile drive to Chichester from my base in Essex in two hours. I arrived early enough to sit in on a little of the sound-check; which enabled me to meet the band, and their friends and associates. Ruby (aka Olivia Stevens) is an instantly likable lady; chirpy and fun; confident; full of life; and full of character – just the kind of personality you need to cut-it as a successful singer. She apparently took her stage-name from the beautiful Ruby Tiger moth; and it seems to suit her. She cut her teeth as a singer in a funk band called FUNKY JUNCTION in which she did well; but she became drawn to the blues, and now she seems so comfortable in this genre, that you’d swear she’d spent her entire life on stage belting out blues classics!
Ruby’s excellent band, THE REVELATORS, consist of: KING ROLLO on guitar and occasional bass (another name that I’ve been hearing for a while, but again, never seen); LOUISE MAGGS on bass and occasional guitar (an experienced jazz guitarist and guitar tutor); and the highly capable PAUL WRIGHT on drums. These superb musicians were supplemented by blues-harp player DARREN WALLER (of CLAPTON WALLER RECORDS who had recorded the EP). The appearance of a sax player had also been planned for one song, but he was unfortunately ill. Undaunted, Ruby confidently decided that she’d sing scat over the missing sax solo.
Sound-check completed, Ruby announced that we should all temporarily decamp to the curry house next door for an Indian meal – a ‘Ruby Murray’ with Ruby Tiger! By the time we arrived back at the Chichester Inn, the music room was filling up nicely. Many of the audience seemed to be friends of Ruby and the band, which made for a very warm and friendly atmosphere. Many copies of the EP ‘VISTAS’ had already been sold, and Ruby got to work signing them. Before long it was time for the show to begin.
First up was the support act PACE COOPER. This is a local boy-girl duo, step-siblings CLOE BARRETT (vocals) and TOM LAWSON-BAKER (acoustic guitar) who played a few fine contemporary covers, beginning with Corinne Bailey Rae’s ‘Put Your Records On’. Now I feel I should apologise to Cloe and Tom for not giving their set my full attention as I am afraid I was at the back of the pub chatting away with the Revelators and their friends, but what I heard was very good – especially their version of the old blues classic ‘Cry Me A River’, which was soulfully sung by Cloe with competent guitar and harmonies from Tom. (I managed to see and hear all of that number!) Anyway, they were warmly received by the audience, and thoroughly deserved the applause. Good luck to them both.
After a short break it was the moment we had all been waiting for. Ruby and the band took to the stage to great applause before they’d even played a note. She announced that it would be a two-part set with a short interval. And that they’d start proceedings with the Esther Phillips classic, ‘Aged And Mellow’. I’d heard an earlier Ruby / Rollo duet version of this number, which was excellent, but with the full band it was exceptional; and a great opener. ‘You Gotta Move’ followed with Rollo impressing with his Elmore James-style bottleneck slide technique. Bluesy classics both old and new followed: ‘Lingers’; ‘You Know I’m No Good’; Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready’; and Etta James’ ‘Damn Your Eyes’ (which is on the EP).
Next up was one of Ruby’s own songs (again from the EP): ‘Me And My Tears’. For this jazz number, bassist Louise played guitar; and Rollo, bass. It is a well penned, interesting piece with changing time signatures. Ruby sang beautifully, and Louise’s superb jazz chops were well demonstrated. Rollo did a fine job on bass too. The sax player’s solo was barely missed with Ruby’s improvised scat singing, which proved her versatility on vocals. I spoke to Lou and Rollo at the interval about their role reversal. Lou explained a bit about the chords (but jazz guitar is something of a dark art to me!); and Rollo quipped that as a bluesman ‘if its got more than three chords I want payin’ extra!’
Peter Green’s iconic, laid-back ‘Need Your Love So Bad’ followed. This is often covered of course, but although still an unmistakable Greeny tribute, it was no slavish copy – Ruby and Rollo making it as much theirs as his. Bonnie Raitt’s ‘Love Me Like A Man’ livened the place up again; before they ended Part One on a high, with the fun Sugar Pie De Santo number: ‘Soulful Dress’.
Part Two began with just Ruby and Rollo (as a duet as they had played together many times). So the first few songs of this second part were like a charming cameo – a gig within a gig. Although Darren joined them on harmonica, the musical on-stage chemistry between Ruby and Rollo is obvious – genuine and deep. They began with another Elmore James song: ‘It Hurts Me Too’ with Rollo playing blinding slide again. ‘Georgia On My Mind’ followed before Lou returned to play another good original piece: ‘Payin My Dues’; and the classic ‘St.Louis Blues’. Then it was time for another of Ruby’s own songs from the EP: ‘Best Friend’. Its about her friendship with Rollo and is full of heart and soul. Great applause ensued.
The cameo completed, the full band let rip with the old 1928 Ma Rainey song ‘Big Feeling Blues’ (from the EP). Rollo shared vocals on this too, and played a great solo. Bobby Blue Bland’s ‘Ain’t No Love (In The Heart Of The City)’ followed. I haven’t heard a cover of this for ages – great song, good choice! Next it was time for another Etta James classic: ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’. This show-cased Ruby’s vocals, and whilst some may say that it wasn’t the Beth Hart / Joe Bonamassa version, I can honestly say that it was a close second!
Things were heating up in the audience now. ‘Real Man’ got lots of people up dancing. It was barely ended before the band finished with the lively ‘Shattered Not Broken’. This is the third of Ruby’s own excellent songs to feature on the EP. It went down a storm, and an encore was demanded! Perhaps another iconic song would do the trick? Jimmy Reid’s ‘Baby What You Want Me To Do?’ hit us like a sledgehammer! To paraphrase the song, Ruby had us doin’ what she wanted us to do! The finale was a fun medley that saw a standing ovation from an appreciative audience.
Ruby and her band’s repertoire consists of a good selection of carefully chosen bluesy styles – from the jazzy, through the R’n’B, to the rock ends of the blues spectrum, both old and new – reflecting both the depth of the blues genre; and her ability to sing anything within it. At times her voice was mellow; sometimes gutsy; or sweet and soulful as needs be; but at all times palatable; beautiful; controlled; and above all, classy! Another thing I liked was that Ruby has a lovely speaking voice, and has a great rapport with the audience. She speaks to the crowd between songs, explaining them where necessary, and telling anecdotes. So what do I hear when I listen to Ruby? I hear Etta James; a little Janis Joplin; maybe Dinah Washington? But most of what I hear is Ruby’s own unique voice and style – she is creating her own niche as a singer. She has also proved that she can write good original material too. She’s quite a lady!
Now I wonder what the future holds for this blues diva? With performances like this; the excellent debut EP ‘Vistas’; and exposure to a wider audience courtesy of a great article by IAN McHUGH in BLUES IN BRITAIN magazine; the stars are indeed looking very auspicious for Ruby and the Revelators. Hopefully she will get some larger venues to play; and further afield too (having only been as far as High Wycombe); and I’d like to see her as a support act for more big names like the veteran GENO WASHINGTON who she supported recently. Personally, I think she’d go down a storm supporting JOOLS HOLLAND (Hootenanny, next year perhaps?)
Anyway, I think the lady has reached a genuine ‘take-off point’ – this is where an artist ticks over doing OK for X-amount of time and then something triggers a significant boost to their career. Now I don’t know how high this particular Ruby Tiger will fly, but I do know that the cocoon phase is over – the time has come for this beautiful blues butterfly to spread her wings and soar! Someone at the gig asked me if it had been worth driving the 100 miles to see Ruby and co; I quipped that I’d have driven thousand!
If you fancy seeing Ruby And The Revelators live, (and I highly recommend it) they’ll be playing at the Uckfield Blues Festival on Sunday 4th August at 6pm. Link below….
If you’d like to buy a copy of Ruby’s 5-track EP, here is a link….
Here is a video of Ruby And The Revelators playing her own jazz composition ‘Me And My Tears’ at the gig….
Phil The Music Quill.