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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

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64. THE MALAYA BLUE BAND (+ SNAKEOIL) at the Grand Opening of DAVE SPARK’S ROCKIN’ BLUES NIGHT, at THE ANCHOR INN, Benfleet, Essex. Friday, 7th August, 2015. + Interviews with MALAYA BLUE and DUDLEY ROSS; and a few words about the club, the venue, and the BBA.

**

(Pic: Dave Spark)

Preamble: I was pleasantly surprised when I heard that Dave Spark was to start a monthly Blues club at The Anchor Inn in Benfleet, Essex. To add to that, he had managed to secure the appearance of one of the best of the many up and coming Blues artists in England at the moment, the remarkably talented singer Malaya Blue and her band, for the Grand Opening Night. And for me it got a whole lot better, as he kindly put me on the Guest List. The opportunity then presented itself for an interview with the lady herself.  So after a couple of messages between Malaya and myself; and her manager Steve Yourglivch, it was soon set up.

I arrived early enough, and as I parked up, I bumped into guitarist Dudley Ross in the car park, who was unloading his guitars and kit from his car. So I gave him a hand lugging it in. Once inside the Function Room, I met Malaya and manager Steve. Soon she was ready for the interview, so we stepped outside onto the patio where her husband Graham joined us. But we’ll leave them sitting out there just for a minute…

Sound-check (Photo: PTMQ)

Sound-check – sounding good. (Photo: PTMQ)

The Essex Blues Scene  I’m glad to say, is in fine fettle these days. We have several very good venues that either cater exclusively for Blues acts; and some that book a Blues band occasionally; plus numerous pubs that have a Blues or Blues-Rock band on at weekends; or a mid-week Jam Night. Yet such is the popularity of the genre in our neck of the woods, that there is still room for more!

Dave Spark’s Rockin’ Blues Night:  Dave is a local man (from Canvey Island). He is a long-term Bluesman and has played in local bands, so he knows a lot of musos, and more than a thing or two about music. He’s run Blues Nights before (on Canvey), but has now reinstated the project over the Causeway in Benfleet, at The Anchor Inn. Having made a lot of contacts in the business over the years, Dave had managed to secure a class act for the Grand Opening Night. With her name on everyone’s lips at the moment Malaya Blue was great choice as headliner – and with an entrance fee of only a fiver too!

Lady sings the Blues! (Photo: PTMQ)

Lady sings the Blues! (Photo: PTMQ)

The Venue itself is the charming and historic, 600 year old Anchor Inn on Essex Way, Benfleet. Dave had booked the Function Room at the back of the pub, seperated from the original old buiding by the lovely patio area. The Function Room itself is a bit on the small side, but as it turned out, not a vast amount of people turned up, so it didn’t get overcrowded.  But I think once these Blues Nights get established, it may be a bit squashed in there! Among those who were present however, were a good number of local musos who’d turned out to support both Dave and Malaya (More on them later). There’s no stage in the venue as such, just a performance area at one end; and a bar the other. It served its purpose anyway.

Last Minute Personnel Changes: Due to some clerical error, some of Malaya’s band (guitarist, saxophonist and drummer) were unable to attend the gig. So manager Steve had to call upon the services of some last minute replacements. Such are his connections though, that he manged to secure the services of some very fine musicians indeed, at short notice. None other than guitarist, Dudley Ross (currently nominated for two awards at the BBA); well-respected drummer Geoff Cooper; and the veteran saxophonist, composer, and arranger John Altman. (who, of course, has worked with innumerable high profile musicians over many years). The other two members of the band remained unchanged: Trev Turley on bass; and Andy Cooper on keys.

Lady talks the Blues! (Photo taken by GP)

Lady talks the Blues – with The Quill! (Photo taken by GP)

The Malaya Blue interview: Malaya is an affable lady; well-spoken, and easy to chat to. I began by congratulating her on her (unprecedented, I think) four nominations at the British Blues Awards (BBA).  ‘Yes, What happened?’ she replied, laughing with a genuine modesty. ‘I guess you’ll win at least a couple’ I observed.

‘Well I don’t know’ she said, ‘its a bit of a double-edged sword really because its great to be nominated so early on, but of course the flip side of that is that I haven’t been around for a very long time, and I’m still heavily into building the profile and the numbers’.

‘Assuming you do win a couple or more awards; your career is going to sky-rocket’. I observed. ‘That means you’ll be gigging much further afield; so how does that fit with your family life?’

‘It fits’ she replied. ‘It was one of the things that we had to consider before we even started this, to be honest. I spoke to the kids and to Graham. And Steve (Youglivch) said “This is what I think you need to be doing”. And we thought “will it logistically work with the family and everything?”. Everyone’s 100% behind it though.  The kids think “Mum’s cool!” But I do need their support. When Graham and I wrote ‘Hope’ (the new single) together, my son loved it. He plays the piano as well, and learnt it; and kept asking: “Mum, can you sing it?” That’s brilliant. There’s not much more of an acolade you can get. A lot of my children’s friends are big fans too.

(Photo: PTMQ)

Malaya: ‘…smoulders with a voice of pure gold!’ (Photo: PTMQ)

Malaya mentioning ‘Hope’ had anticipated my next question. I’d noticed that the single and ‘Let’s Reinvent Love’ (its B-side – to use the old vinyl terminology!), are both very Soul influenced; and I wondered if this was the direction that Malaya intended to take her Blues – bearing in mind that the Bourbon Street album has quite a wide range of Bluesy styles within it – ie, in which direction will she take the second album?

‘Yes it is intended. I think because I really came from a Soul background, and then I moved into the Blues – which is great. I don’t want to move too far away, for sure. Before I wrote ‘Hope’ and ‘Lets Reinvent Love’, I had various meetings with different producers with very different ideas; and somebody said to me (and this was only one person’s opinion, but it was quite poignant, I thought); he said “Boubon Street is a lovely album, but its quite safe, and I think you need to move outside of your comfort zone a little bit”. And I really internalised that and thought “What does that mean?” So with ‘Hope’ and ‘Let’s Reinvent Love’, I just wanted to do something a bit bolder. There’s a little bit of me that’s anxious about the second album. Its always difficult.  Do you do the first album again? Or do you move into something new? What happens then to your fan base? So the double-single was really a bit of a test-bed. We wanted to stretch ourselves musically. Wanted to record something with the band (who were not on Bourbon Street). Wanted to go into a recording studio and record the whole band in one go; which was all very new to me. So it seemed safe to have a couple of new songs to give the fan base something new to listen to. I just want to be a little more experimental, but there is the danger of people buying the second album, and the first thing they do is compare it to the first. But I have the oportunity to be better, bolder, brighter – bring something slightly unexpected.’

(Photo: PTMQ)

‘Sights and those sounds you just won’t find anywhere!’ (Photo: PTMQ)

Malaya is apparently half way through writing the second album. She has all the song titles but not the name of the album yet, and it should be ready for March/April next year. ‘We were in rehearsals last Sunday and we tried out three of the new songs; with the boys putting their own ideas in. But we’re not doing anything off the new album tonight. We are still peddling Bourbon Street !’ It looks as though the double-single will appear on the new album, but she hasn’t made a final decision on that yet.

Given that she came from a ‘Soul background’ then, how did she get into Blues?

‘I was introduced to the Blues by my lecturer when I was doing my music degree. We all had to do a module on an aspect of music that we hadn’t really discovered or had much to do with – because I’d had a long Soul background. So I got into Ma Rainey. I looked into it. It was old; Rootsy; Bluesy. I thought “This is great!” It was really earthy.’

Next I asked Malaya about her name – which of course is a stage-name. Her real one is kept largely under wraps! ‘Where’s the divaship and the mystique if I told you?’ she laughed. ‘I like having a stage-name!’ So how did she come by such an exotic name?

‘Several years ago I was sat at my desk searching for words. I found a word: Malaya, which meant moth. Because I always song-write in the early hours, I thought it would be a good stage name for me. Alas. I can no longer find the reference and sometimes wonder if I actually have my facts right! But that’s it as I remember it! A lot of fine wine has been consumed in the interim! We added Blue because Malaya pulls up Malaysia in a Google search, and so Malaya Blue arrived!’

(Photo: PTMQ)

‘There’s a sense of adventure, watch it come alive!…’ (Photo: PTMQ)

I’d heard that Malaya is a workoholic…

‘I do try! I take everything I do very seriously; and I know that the bit that everybody sees is 10% of the effort and 10% of the work that’s involved. Steve works incredibly hard; and I do. Its something that we learnt about each other very early on; and I think that’s why, so far, things are working out; and we’re making good healthy progress; because we are at it 24 hours. There are very few hours that go by when we are not working towards what we need to be focused on.’

Malaya and the band have been gigging ever further afield from their Norwich home-base lately: up to Brum and down to Southampton. If she wins any of the awards at the BBA of course, she’ll be much more in demand; and Europe will beckon…

‘Yes, Steve is very heavily connected; he knows a lot of people who are very current at the festivals etc… he is already talking to some people out in Europe; so hopefully we’ll get to go out there at some point. I hear a lot of people drawing very strong comparisons between the UK Blues circuit and the European Blues circuit. I think if we could do a mutual swap (where you go out with another band’s promoter, and they send their band over here to your manager), that’s something Steve and I are hoping to do’

Her career really got off the ground when she was doing session vocals for producer Andy Littlewood

‘He came to me and asked me to do a song for somebody else’s album: the track ‘Lady Sings The Blues’; and I recorded it. Then it went crazy! Everyone was saying “Who is this girl? We love her voice!” So Andy said “Let’s write an album in a similar Jazz-Blues genre.” So we did; and Bourbon Street was the end result. The collaboration was over 9 -10 months. So he certainly started this pathway.’

Interview concluded, I thanked Malaya; and she and Graham went off for the sound-check, leaving me to scribble down a few notes. She had been very forth-coming, but careful not to give away anything that was still under wraps – and fair enough too! I enjoyed meeting and talking to her. She is friendly, modest, and chatty; yet very focused, and determined to take her career as high as it will fly. I think she’s on the cusp of a major breakthrough; and good luck to her.

Dudley Ross playing the note that told a thousand tales! (Photo: PTMQ)

Dudley with his Vigier Expert Texas Special (Photo: PTMQ)

The Dudley Ross interview: I hadn’t planned to interview Dudley; purely because I didn’t know he’d  be at the gig until a couple of days before – and I don’t think he knew either! But once the sound-check was completed, I saw the opportunity; and asked if we could have a chat. He was only to pleased to oblige. Like Malaya, and most musicians, he is an amiable person who is keen to talk about his work; or just chat about music in general.

I asked about his current project: an EP in collaboration with Noel McCalla. He is very enthusiastic about it. Its a five track opus and is nearing completion. It should be ready by the final night of Dudley’s forthcoming tour with Kirk Fletcher at The Borderline in London at the end of September.

Would Dudley be Kirk’s duelling partner on the tour, I wondered? ‘Well, I don’t know about that!’ he laughed; adding modestly ‘I’ll be his bag boy basically! (Now that is modesty coming from a man who has deservedly been nominated for ‘Best Guitarist’ at this year’s BBA!). ‘I learnt a lot from Kirk last year. It was great fun last time; and its going to be better this time, because we had the first year to get used to each other, so the bar’s going to be raised’.

(Photo: PTMQ)

Dudley playing the note that told a thousand tales! (Photo: PTMQ)

But there was a problem with the Kirk Fletcher tour last year – money. ‘If they (the promoters) don’t know you, they won’t pay the money. This is what we had with Kirk last year.  He’s amazing; phenomenal; but I lost about £3,500 because no one knew him. It was a three year plan. I had to do the first one and be prepared to take a knock. But this year we’ve been approached by venues, and they’ve said they’ll pay X-amount as a fee; so the risk has been taken out. But I’m still paying off the debt from last year!’

I asked about his work with Katie Bradley too. (With whom he is joint-nominated as ‘Best Songwriter’ at the BBA).

‘I’ve had a good year with Katie. We had the Anchor Baby Sessions album out which did quite well. Me and Katie are good mates, and we’re doing a new album in the new year. She’s in France at the moment. We’re meeting in Germany on Thursday. The European scene is where its at, at the moment; it really is. We’ve only got two or three gigs over there, but its a good start. Once you’ve got your foot in the door, more will come of it becase they love the Blues out there.’

Dudley talked about his love of song-writing, and thought it would be more satisfying to win that award than the ‘Best Guitarist’.  ‘Me and Katie got the runner-up award two years ago for I Hear The River, So its nice to be recognised as a song-writer, because that’s what I love.’

And we talked about Dudley’s previous albums…

‘I’ve done loads of stuff for people, but I’ve only released one in my own name; that’s the only one that I sell. I’ve done another one but I withdrew it because I was unhappy with it. It was an instrumental album – Progressive Rock. I never really felt it was good enough. But it is online, so you can listen to it. Its called Even Rock Stars Have To Wash Up. Its got some great musicians on it; but it was mainly the production – I thought it was rushed.

I thanked Dudley for his time; and he kindly gave me a copy of his album The Note That Told A Thousand Tales.

John Altman (Photo: PTMQ)

John Altman: Sax maestro (Photo: PTMQ)

Blues Blah Blah!:  The patio at The Anchor was full of Essex Blues people! I had a good long chat with Nick Garner; harp player and generally considered as something of a Blues guru. Nick knows a lot of things and a lot of people from many years back, so he’s a very interesting bloke to talk  to. I enjoyed speaking to guitarist Jamie Williams of The Roots Collective, too. Photographer Steve Dulieu was there – resplendent in a Hawaiian shirt as usual, and there to do a little video work. Tanya Piche (‘The Female Howlin’ Wolf’) was there too, but I didn’t get a chance to chat, unfortunately.

But most interesting for me was when I got a chance to speak to the renown saxophonist and composer John Altman. This is the man who has played with everyone who is anyone since the 60s; from Hendrix to Winehouse, and is very well respected in the music business. Probably the biggest name present. He told me he was in the middle of writing a score for a recently renovated silent film, Shooting Stars, from the 1920s. Apparently he doesn’t use any instrument to compose; he just writes straight from his mind onto the stave. Among other things, we got round to talking about one of my heroes, who John knew personally – Peter Green. We talked about his genius and his decline. He dispelled or confirmed some of the  stories and rumours that I’d heard surrounding Greeny. Fascinating stuff, but unfortunately outside the scope of this piece.

Snakeoil (Photo: PTMQ)

Support band, Snakeoil (Photo: PTMQ)

The Snakeoil Set:  Snakeoil (confusingly one of many bands with the same or similar names) are a Southend based five-piece band (two guitars; bass; drums; and harp), who ‘…play an eclectic mix of Country, Punk-Skiffle, Rock’n’Roll, and a bit of Jump-Jive’. They played a lively set of what I describe as good ol’ British R’n’B. I didn’t see all of their set because I was too busy chatting outside (My apologies to the band), but I saw their last few songs, and I liked them. They looked a bit squashed in the limited space of the performance area with The MBB’s gear taking up most of the space, of course, but they got on with it nonetheless. I heard a few good tunes, including: ‘Big 10-inch’; ‘I Don’t Mind’; ‘Catfish Blues’; and a good cover of Dr. Feelgood’s ‘Down At The Doctors’. Plenty of harp and some bottleneck. A good set, but I didn’t get a chance to chat unfortunately.

The Malaya Blue Band Set: Malaya looked stunningly immaculate in her LBD as she took up the mic for the opening number: ‘Guilty’. Singers are always the focal point in a band; but female vocalists even more so. The visual impact is important, and the lady does not disappoint. But she immediately demonstrated that she was there to sing, and we were in no doubt about that right from the off. A great opening number it was too.

The Malaya Blue Band in action (Photo: PTMQ)

The Malaya Blue Band in action (Photo: PTMQ)

A lovely little flurry from Dudley on his Vigier, heralded the start of the album’s title track ‘Bourbon Street’. Its interesting how this band’s interpretation differs from the recorded version, but it was at least equal, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Malaya’s vocals were superb; and there was some tasty sax from Mr. Altman too.

The laid back ‘Forgiveness’ was sung especially well. And if you were not already aware of the tightness of the band, this track would have certainly demonstrated it for you. Lovely keys indeed from Andy; sax was sublime again; and Dudley was remarkable too. We could have been in Downtown Chicago! I love this song on the album, and I loved this live version too. (But wait! No cheeky whispered ending, Malaya?)

Another favourite of mine from the album, the Soulful ‘Cold Light Of Day’, followed. I like this song because of its unusual vocal melody – it didn’t go where I thought it would when I first heard it, which left me pleasantly surprised. This live version was good too. Again, a great solo from Dudley. ‘Promised Land’ was up next, and also did not disappoint. And nor did the rockin’ Blues of ‘Bluesville UK’, with more fine solos, courtesy of Messrs Cooper, Ross, and Altman; and its classic Blues-song finale!

(Photo: PTMQ)

Andy Cooper: Keyboard maestro. (Photo: PTMQ)

At this point Malaya introduced the band; and each received a well deserved round of applause. Manager Steve appeared at my side then, and asked ‘Enjoying it?’ ‘Brilliant…’ I replied ‘…absolutely brilliant!’

Next was the song that started it all off for Malaya; and one of my personal favourites from the album: ‘Lady Sings The Blues’. This was indeed ‘…a beautiful rendition of the sweetest melody’. Sleepy and mellow, It was ‘…amazing when the lady sang the Blues’.

We were then treated to a cover of the Etta James classic ‘At Last’. Now, everyone who knows me, knows that I like a good cover – as long as its not a meaningless carbon-copy of the original. I was very happy with this version, and found myself nodding along to it. Malaya made it her own to some extent. JA played a blinding sax solo too. The song fitted the MBB set very nicely I must say.

‘This is a song about you naughty boys that break our hearts, and treat us girls badly!’ said Malaya as she introduced the song that had been nominated as ‘Best Song’ at the BBA – ‘Bitter Moon’. (No Malaya! Its you girls that break our hearts – as countless Bluesmen would testify!) It certainly is a great song; and one of my five favourites from the album. To be honest, any of those five could have been nominated as far as I’m concerned. It was well sung; with nice lead guitar from DR.

Trev Turley: Bass Ace! (Photo: PTMQ)

Trev Turley: Bass Ace! (Photo: PTMQ)

The lively vibe of ‘Cold-Hearted Man’ with its fine Hammond intro came next. Dudley’s Vigier produced a fine sounding solo; but John and Andy not to be out-done played their part well too. The Ska groove of ‘Lost Girl’ followed smartly; with its muted staccato guitar rhythm; swirling Hammond; and tasty sax.

It was time to air one of the new songs: ‘Let’s Reinvent Love’. It was sung with a Soulful passion; and only marred by certain people in the audience chattering throughout. (A pet hate of mine). Malaya and her boys were professional enough not to be fazed by it though. The other newly penned song from the double-single followed: ‘Hope’. Again a passionate rendition; and with a lovely guitar solo.

The main set finished with ‘How Did You Do This?’ Its another winner and used as a vehicle for a drum solo from Geoff. All night he and Trev on bass had been tight and consistently reliable as a rhythm section, and shouldn’t be overlooked. ‘Do we want some more?’ asked Dave Spark. Of course we did…

The final offering was ‘Dawn’ – a kind of Jazz-Blues ballad; and perhaps an unusual choice as a finishing number. But it was sung with an anguished, Bassey-esque intensity that was very impressive indeed; and left us with no doubt that we’d just witnessed a magnificent show, by a wonderful performer; backed by an excellent band playing a fine set of songs.

Drummer Geoff Cooper (Photo: PTMQ)

Drummer Geoff Cooper (Photo: PTMQ)

It was congratulations all round as soon as the show finished; and well deserved too. It was a classy act that any reasonable person would find impossible to criticise. Quite possibly the best Blues gig I’ve attended so far this year; for a number of reasons. I managed to have a little chat with Malaya, Steve and John (and Dudley about his Vigier guitar) before congratulating them all and saying my goodbyes.

In conclusion, I think that the whole Malaya Blue Band package (The lady herself for her vocals, song-writing, and stage presence; the band for their talent and professionalism; and the guidance of manager Steve), is currently poised for a  take-off to the stars.  All it needs now is for some one to light the touch-paper and the whole show is going cosmic! The countdown has begun! Very impressive indeed.

The British Blues Awards: If any of the punters present had any doubt about who to vote for in the BBA, their doubts would surely have been allayed after watching Malaya’s performance at this gig. Personally I think she’ll walk away with three  – maybe all four – of her nominations. She’s up for ‘Best Album’; ‘Best Song’; ‘Female Vocal’ and ‘Emerging Artist’. Its a tough choice, but if you haven’t voted yet, you may want to consider this exceptional artiste.

Likewise, if anyone had been unsure of Dudley’s prowess as a guitarist, they would surely be in no doubt as to his abilities after witnessing his performance at this gig. His skill as a song-writer (nominated for his collaborations with Katie Bradley), was not on display tonight of course, but its well-known anyway. Its quite possible that he’ll win both of his nominations too.

Several people have been asking me who I’m going to vote for in this category or that. I don’t mind them asking; but I’m not saying – I prefer to stay neutral (officially), and there are a few nominations in which I genuinely haven’t made up my mind yet, to be honest. We still have until the end of August anyway. All I’ll say is, that there were two artists at this gig who have six nominations between them; and I’m writing this piece all about them!

(Photo by kind permission of Tanya)

Dave Spark, Tanya Piche, and Malaya Blue. (Photo by kind permission of Tanya)

Future Gigs  The next Rockin’ Blues Night at The Anchor is on 4th September 2015; and features The Tanya Piche Blues Band supported by Bif Bam Pow! Unfortunately I probably won’t be there as I’ve just realised I will be at another gig that night.  (Why do good gigs always pop up on the same night!!) But if you’re from Essex and love the Blues, then it’ll be worth getting down there for the next night. I’m interested to see who Dave will book for future Rockin’ Blues Nights – there are a couple of names that I’ve put his way that I think would go down well; but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Stop Press! Just before putting this article on line, I received an email from Tanya Piche with the exciting news that she will be now be joined by none other than the remarkable Katie Bradley for her gig at this venue next month. Katie is her ‘Blues-Sister’; and a lady also nominated for two awards at the BBA. I may be writing a piece on Tanya soon.

Thanks to all involved: performers; club and pub staff; Kelly on the door; and especially Dave Spark for putting on a wonderful evening. PTMQ

Links:

Malaya’s website…   http://malayablue.com/

Dave Spark’s Facebook page…

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dave-Sparks-Rockin-Blues-Club/1420281558265293?fref=ts

The Anchor’s website…  https://sites.google.com/site/anchorbenfleet/home

British Blues Awards site. (You’ve got till the end of August!)

http://www.britishbluesawards.com/home/4581355856

55. ROMEO CROW “They Come And Go Like Rain” EP (2013)

Well, I never cease to be amazed by the amount of musical talent that exists in this wonderful World. And I’m always pleased to find out about someone doing something new. For me, Londoner Romeo Crow fits that criterion. Please excuse my ignorance (once again), but I’d never heard of him till I found him following me on Twitter recently. Looking into it, I realised that he had an EP out, called They Come And Go Like Rain. Keen to hear it, I downloaded it, and liked it immediately. They say that the first track on an album (or EP) should be one that grabs your attention at once; and quite honestly, the words that went through my mind when I heard the opening riff, was: ‘Wo! This sounds good!’; and I was still thinking that when the final track finished!

'They Come And Go Like Rain' (Image: Romeo Crow)

‘They Come And Go Like Rain’ (Image: Romeo Crow)

Mr.Crow is a multi-instrumentalist based in Battersea, SW London. (He is also a writer and film-maker). He has recorded other stuff too, but what concerns us here is this excellent EP. It is a six-track opus of Blues-Rock compositions; written and recorded by the man himself in his own studio. And a fine job he has made of it too.

He kicks off with the attention-grabbing ‘Storm In The City’ and follows with ‘Get Like This’. On both tracks he pretty much nails all the accepted rules of a good rock number, but there is a large measure of noticeable individuality within them too – memorable rhythm riffs, and tasty solos. Vocals too are again, a balance of the tried and tested; and the unique. And those things can be said of the whole EP really.

The third track ‘Sharing Time’ is a more thoughtful song; reminiscent of a moody Free or Bad Co number – a bit Beatles-esque too.  Vocals on this one remind me of an angst-ridden Paul Rodgers – but that’s not a bad thing! ‘Still Loving You’ is next, with its nicely worked synchronised / harmonised vocals and guitar.

‘Fat Freddy’ is next on the agenda. After the first four tracks, this surprised me with its central section of spiel, in London inner-city street-youth accent – but why not? Its probably the most unusual / individual number in the collection. The finishing track is ‘Would You Hold It Against Me’: an excellent, moody, Bluesy, slow-tempo Zeppelin-esque number. Vocals on this are a little Robert Plant-like too. Again, not  a bad thing. There’s a great rattling bass on this one too.

Now, I don’t know Romeo personally, and I don’t know what music he’s been listening to; but when I played this EP, I heard sublte textures and nuances of sound in the axemanship that reminded me of such luminaries as HendrixPage; Kravitz; Marino; Kossoff; and Johnny Winter, (among others that I can’t place). Influence or coincidence? I don’t know, but either way, Romeo has developed his own guitar style nontheless; and its that individuality that makes this sample of his work a bit different. Vocally, as I’ve said, he reminds me a lot of the greatest of all rock frontmen, Paul Rodgers (+others); but again, there’s no denying that he is unique too. Musically the songs are very good; with quite strong lyrics too.

I don’t know what else Romeo has up his sleeve – or what he’s capable of – but it will be interesting to hear how he develops musically in the future. My guess is that he’ll be exploring and experimenting with a smorgasbord of genres. We’ll see. I really enjoyed listening to this EP; and I can recommend it. If you you’re into any of the artists I’ve mentioned above – and you like to hear something new as well – then you’ll love it too. PTMQ

Here is a link to Romeo Crow’s website….

http://blog.romeocrow.com/lyric-video-for-living-like-you-do-sketch/

26. VIRGIL AND THE ACCELERATORS at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, Hullbridge, Essex. Friday, 24th October, 2014; plus chatting with the band pre-show.

Virgil talks about his favourite Stat (Photo: PTMQ)

Virgil talks about his favourite Stat  (Photo: PTMQ)

I’ve been aware of VIRGIL AND THE ACCELERATORS (VATA) for a couple of years or more now; but never seen them live before. Their album The Radium is a brilliant debut; and their second, Army Of Three which has recently been released, (to paraphrase one of their songs) ‘takes them higher’.  I’ve been listening to both albums a lot lately; and enjoying them. So I was honoured when VATA’s guitarist VIRGIL McMAHON said he’d put me on the Guest List for their gig at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, in Hullbridge, Essex.

My sports journalist son, James and I, turned up at the venue nice and early; and were warmly welcomed by club proprietor DAVE KITTRIDGE and his wife Trudy. Virgil himself soon appeared and invited us back to the Green Room to meet the other two members of the band – younger brother and drummer, GABRIEL McMAHON; and bassist JACK ALEXANDER TIMMIS. And three more welcoming, friendly and articulate young musicians you couldn’t imagine. (They are 22; 21; and 25 years old, respectively). An immediate comparison of Virgil and Gabriel with the guitarist and drummer Eddie and Alex  VAN HALEN is obvious. (And even the band’s ‘VA’ logo is reminiscent of Van Halen’s famous ‘VH’ symbol, I noticed).

As the brothers originally hailed from South Africa (although living for some years now, in Wales, and more lately, Birmingham), we started the interview by asking Virgil about the music scene in their homeland. Apart from traditional tribal; or Afrikaans Boeremusiek, there is apparently little in the way of a home-grown blues or rock scene – guitarist DAN PATLANSKY  being a rare exception.

James with VATA (Photo by PTMQ)

James with VATA (Photo by PTMQ)

What then, you may ask, are their influences? No doubt their first was their father HENDRY McMAHON, who introduced the brothers to blues-orientated rock music from a very early age; encouraging them to learn to play instruments, and sit in on his gigs. Consequently the boys have a fantastic knowledge of rock music that was old, long before they were born. And listening to their conversation – and of course, their two excellent albums – this becomes very clear. And for an old rocker like me, its nice to see! For example, when Virgil saw my Twitter moniker (Phil The Music Quill@ptmq2112) on my calling card, he immediately recognised the 2112 as a RUSH album title from ’76 – not many people get that these days! Away from the band, each member listens to a wide variety of sounds too – not just Rock or Blues. Personally, when I listen to the band, I hear bits that remind me of all sorts of other artists; and James hears other things too. This may be coincidence of direct influence; but at all times, VATA’s music has its own style and vibe to it.

An observation I made to them, having listened to their work, is their (sometimes) similarity to the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) which emerged from late ’78 onwards. For those not familiar with it; this was the inevitable back-lash against the Punk/New Wave aberration of the mid-70s; where young rock bands influenced by late-60s / early-70s rock bands, suddenly took off – led by such luminaries as my old mates IRON MAIDEN; and SAXON. With VATA being influenced by some of that same earlier music, I’m hearing a similar fresh and exciting interpretation of the old vibe, with an energy, enthusiasm, and sound, reminiscent of the NWOBHM. VATA also have the added advantage of  35 extra years of Rock since the NWOBHM to draw upon now too.

VATA looking unimpressed by my playing of  Virgil's Black Beauty! (Photo by JPC)

VATA looking unimpressed by my playing of Virgil’s Black Beauty! (Photo by JPC)

Like those earlier bands, their music has a Blues base, of course, but VATA are feeling more comfortable as an out and out Rock unit. James asked if they thought their style was changing. They confirmed this. The second album has certainly moved away from Blues to a large extent. This is something they think has evolved rather than been designed: ‘It wasn’t intentional – its just how it came out…’ Virgil explained, ‘…we always liked the heavier side of Blues anyway’. They feel that Rock gives them more scope to experiment  – as Jack pointed out ‘I think all three of us want to get away from the Blues world….. there’s only so much you can do with a 12-Bar Blues’. Saying that though, they all have a great deal of respect for the Blues genre. And they are not too concerned with what other young Blues-Rock bands are up to – as Virgil said ‘All we’re focused on is The Accelerators’.

Virgil and Gabe’s Dad Hendry in fact, was the founder of the Accelerators; and brought his sons into the band one at a time; before departing himself, and leaving the group in their precocious, and highly capable hands. So from 2006 the group was called Virgil And The Accelerators. Brummie bassist Jack joined later to complete the band in its current form. At first they were, of course, just playing pubs on Friday and Saturday nights ‘for a couple of quid, and a bit of fun’. But once they met manager MARTIN LEWIS (at the ROBIN 2 in Brum), things started to take off.  Since then, they haven’t looked back; and have supported veteran bands like URIAH HEEP and CHICKEN SHACK among others. In fact, they are at pains to point out how much they owe to Martin and his wife Kate; believing that they’d be nowhere without their guidance – ‘Guardian Angels’ is how Gabe describes them. These days the brothers even lodge with the couple at their house  in Brum; which is in a good central position in the UK for gigging.

New material is usually written by the group collectively from jams in their converted garage at home, where they can play in as near concert conditions as possible; bouncing ideas off each other.  This arrangement is not only conducive to the development of new material, but also facilitates the revision of their earlier stuff too: ‘We try not to carry on playing the older songs the same way for any extended period of time’ says Virgil. Therefore their songs are constantly evolving. They are a kind of tri-partite democracy that refer to themselves, as  ‘VATA Band’ Gabe explains. Its a great dynamic that works very well indeed.

Virgil's geetars: 2 Stats; 2 Les Pauls; and a Firebird. (Photo by  PTMQ)

Virgil’s geetars: 2 Stats; 2 Les Pauls; and a Firebird. (Photo by PTMQ)

Inevitably, with both James and myself being guitarists (although not in Virgil’s league, of course!), we asked about the small collection of geetars that he’d brought with him to the gig. It soon became clear that he has a comprehensive knowledge of the instrument in general; and specifically of his own.  He brought with him: a GIBSON FIREBIRD 7 (limited edition);  two GIBSON LES PAULS (a JOE BONAMASSA signature edition Gold Top with ‘relicked’ finish;  and a Black Beauty known as ‘The Preacher’. Two distressed FENDER STRATOCASTERS  were also present: one a ’62 Custom-Shop model,  signed by PHILIP SAYCE and known as ‘Alice’.

I asked the band if there was anything they’d like me to say (or not say) when I wrote up the interview. They merely wished me to thank all those who have come to their gigs and bought their albums. Interview completed, it was time for the lads to get ready for their performance; so James and I decamped back to the auditorium in anticipation of a great show. In fact, my friend and fellow music-writer NIGEL FOSTER had seen the band the week before at the BOOM BOOM CLUB, Sutton; and described how they’d ‘blown the bleedin’ roof off!’  So we were expecting something good. Most of the audience were twice the age of the band – rock fans who’d have loved VATA at any time in the last 30 or 40 years; and still appreciative of good music.

Before long, Virgil And The Accelerators climbed on-stage to great applause – Virgil armed with the Gold Top –  and immediately launched into the opening number from the new Army Of Three album, ‘Take Me Higher’, with its  reverb’ed arpeggiated intro. It was a great start, and a mere taste of what was to come. The aptly named ‘Blow To The Head’ followed, hitting hard as the name suggests!  Its also from the new album, and is a great head-banger (reminiscent of Maiden) with fine solos and  good use of the wah-wah pedal.  Changing to his Firebird, Virgil continued to lead the assault with my favourite track from the first album: ‘Backstabber’. An excellent rendition it was too. A guitar change was again required (this time to his Black Beauty, aka ‘The Preacher’ with capo on the 3rd fret) for ‘Give It Up’ – again from the latest collection.

Virgil with Gold Top (Photo by JPC)

Virgil with Gold Top (Photo by JPC)

‘Racing With Life’ from The Radium was next up. With ‘The Preacher’ still in hand, Virgil used this song as a show-case for his astounding axemanship. A lengthy solo section has been added to this piece to facilitate this. With a jazzy bass-line from Jack; and tight drumming from Gabe; Virgil launched into a lead solo that was at times Bluesy; at times almost psychedelic; but at all times sublime, with a beautiful tone; and executed with consummate ease. Now there are some who call this type of thing self-indulgence, but personally I love to see it;  and so did everyone else as far as I could see – that’s why we were there!

The scope of VATA’s song-writing was evident in the next track: the thoughtful ‘Through The Night’. After the first five rockers, it was a fine contrast. It is a melodic rock song that has had an interesting reverb’ed intro added to the original. Unfortunately the FX pedal died soon into the tune, forcing the band to start again – but that’s Rock’n’Roll for you! Problem solved, the piece continued. I particularly enjoyed the quiet Bluesy solo section.

From the first album, they then played ’88’ which included an interesting Stones motif; and ‘Low Down And Dirty’ which always puts me in mind of BLACK SABBATH, and which also included a nod to ERIC CLAPTON  in the form of a few bars of the classic ‘Layla’ riff, during another very lengthy – but excellent – solo section. Good volume-swell technique on this one too. What struck me on this song too, was how tight the band are as a unit – completely in unison at all times during some complex rhythm changes.

Virgil then asked the audience to show their appreciation of Gabriel and Jack’s work. Surprisingly, neither did a solo themselves. Changing axe once again back to the Firebird, Virgil and the boys gave us a final song in the main set: ‘Free’ – another new one. To me this has something of the ambience of a Southern-Rock song; reminding me of MOLLY HATCHETT; and a little of some of JEFF HEALEY’s work too.  It included an ALLMAN BROS ‘Jessica’ motif nicely worked in to it too.  Its another melodic rocker, and went down a storm. The band left the stage to rapturous applause.

Virgil with Firebird 7 (Photo by JPC)

Virgil with Firebird 7 (Photo by JPC)

The only question now was: Would encore be required? Well, what do you think? The lads returned to the stage (Virgil armed with one of his Strats) for a final offering: an excellent cover of the classic  JIMI HENDRIX song ‘Are You Experienced?’ Phew! Only eight songs in over two hours unbroken; shows not only the length of some of the songs, but the remarkable energy of these fine young musicians. I was knackered just watching! I glanced at the roof – it was still there but  was showing serious signs of distress!

Virgil himself is a consummate axe-master. Not since I saw a young EDDIE VAN HALEN at the old RAINBOW THEATRE in London back in ’78, have I personally witnessed such a gob-smackingly remarkable string-smith at close-range.  It is clear that when Virgil plays solo, the  fret-board becomes an extension of his mind. Eyes closed, he is in another world – and as the audience witnessing his performance, we are privileged to see, and be privy to part of that world!  And he’s still only 22!

Skin-beater Gabriel was barely visible behind his kit, which was half surrounded by Perspex. This is to protect the ears – ‘My big Ride Cymbal is a real beast…’ he explained. The Perspex is  ‘… just there to improve sound on and off stage, and to offer a little protection to people’s ears’. Well, we may not have been able to see Gabe at work; but we sure as Hell knew he was there! He’s a powerhouse of precision percussion – reliable and unwavering in intensity for over two hours!

In my previous blog entry (#25), I said of Martin Turner, that ‘a busier bassist you’ll not see outside the Jazz world’. Well I take that back! Jack Alexander Timmis was exceptionally busy on his LAKLAND 5-string bass. I always admire bassists in 3-piece bands – the poor sods have to work really hard; especially when the guitarist switches from rhythm to lead. But JAT showed us that he was far more than equal to the task; performing his bass chops with confidence and precision; always there as a reliable back-bone for Virgil’s inventive, lengthy solos to refer back to.

As we’ve seen, each of the band members is highly proficient in their own chosen instrument; yet together they are more than the sum of their parts. On stage they are musically so tight that they become as one – highly practiced, and seemingly telepathic in anticipation of each-other’s next move.  They are not so much three musicians in the same group; rather, they are more like three facets of the same being: that entity is ‘VATA Band’ – an ‘Army Of Three’ about to conquer the Rock World!

My only disappointment was that they didn’t play ‘Silver-giver’; but that is an, oh so minor complaint! As James and I left the venue, we saw the band having a smoke outside the stage door. We offered our congratulations and after another brief chat, said our farewells. I understand that roof repairs are currently being carried out at Touchline Live Music, Hullbridge; and at the Boom Boom Club, Sutton. And that roof reinforcement works are taking place at every venue where VATA are due to play next! Go and see this band if you get a chance – if you love guitar-based rock, you’ll love it!  Once again, thanks to Dave K and his Mrs; and all the staff at the Touchline who made this evening possible. PTMQ

15. THE MOVE (+ THE GABRIELLA JONES BAND) at THE BOOM BOOM CLUB, Sutton, Surrey. Friday, 30th May 2014.

THE GABRILLA JONES BAND. Another great young band from Brum (Photo by PTMQ)

THE GABRILLA JONES BAND. Another good young band from Brum (Photo by PTMQ)

This was one of the best gigs I’ve been to in recent years – one of the best I’ve seen at the Boom Boom Club too. Having arrived at the club, cousin Charlie and myself were greeted at the door by none other than promoter PETE FEENSTRA himself for a genuinely warm welcome. Thanks Pete! It was obviously going to be a popular show as the place was filling up quite early – with middle-aged music punters (like Charlie and myself!)

First up was the support act THE GABRIELLA JONES BAND. Now, I was interested to see what they were all about as I didn’t have a clue, and hadn’t had time to research them. Perhaps I was expecting something like a 60s covers band; I didn’t know. I was pleasantly surprised to find however, that they were a young original band; and like THE MOVE (and many other great bands; too numerous to mention), hailed from the Birmingham area. Gabriella (armed with a Gibson Les Paul) + her boys, took to the stage and steamed into their opening number ‘Take It Literally’ – we did; and we enjoyed it! It was a good start. After a couple of numbers, she strapped on an acoustic and did her self-penned ‘Blue Hills And Purple Butterflies’ (Its on You tube). It was a pretty song and she played and sung it beautifully as a solo spot. She followed this with her own acoustic arrangement of the METALLICA hit, ‘Nothing Else Matters’. I was expecting the rest of the band to blast in for the finale of this classic (as in the original), but she did it totally alone; which was unexpected – and very good.

With reliable drumming from Tom Lewis; good steady bass playing from Reece Dillon; and competant guitar from Jon Moore (with what looked like an old Gretsch – I think); Gabriella performed a very good set of both original work, and covers. She has quite a presence on stage; and shows a confidence beyond what you’d expect for such a young artist (she told me afterwards that she was only recently 20). She fronts the band with a unique and feminine style; her delicate hands barely seemed to touch the guitar strings, yet she grasped barre chords with accuracy, and with no discernable mistakes – during both the quieter and the rockier songs. Her voice too is able to belt out the raunchy stuff as well as the sensitive – either way with a passion. For ‘Hold On’ she even sang without guitar at all; concentrating on the vocals. All in all, a fine performance from a young band with a potential to go far. Well done to them, and good luck for the future. Go and see them if you get a chance.

THE MOVE - California Men!  (Photo by PTMQ)

THE MOVE – A trip down Memory Lane and back up Blackberry Way! (Photo by PTMQ)

And now for the main course – one of the big, big names of the 60s music scene: THE MOVE. Now as a kid, just as I was begining to become aware of good music, I remember listening to the groups of the time on Radio 1; not realising at that tender age, that I was listening to some very ground-breaking sounds in the history of pop. All I knew was that I liked it. In particular the British bands of that memorable era (again, too numerous to name). But among them of course, was THE MOVE. Some of their songs have remained favourites of mine all these years: ‘Flowers In The Rain’; Fire Brigade’ and especially the iconic hit ‘Blackberry Way’. I’d never seen the band live before, so when I heard that they’d embarked upon their last ever tour, and were due to play THE BOOM BOOM CLUB, Sutton; I jumped at the chance (having missed them recently at THE TOUCHLINE CLUB in Essex).

Nowadays they consist of two original members: TREVOR BURTON on guitar; and BEV BEVAN on drums; and supplemented these days by PHIL TREE, bass; TONY KELSEY, guitar; and ABBY BRANT on keyboards (dubbed the ‘Movette’ by Burton!). Now there are those Move purists who would say that without the remarkable character and founder member ROY WOOD, (and perhaps other early members) they are not the same band and won’t be worth watching – but they would be very wrong; because this turned out to be a fantasticly enjoyable gig.

BEV BEVAN - anecdotes, quips and superb drumming! (Photo bt PTMQ)

BEV BEVAN – anecdotes, quips and superb drumming! (Photo bt PTMQ)

The lads climbed on stage to great applause from the audience, and immediately kicked off their set with their 1967 psychedelically inspired hit single ‘I Can Hear The Grass Grow’. This was a far rockier version than the original that I remembered, but it was excellent, and set the tone for the night. The cheers had barely died down when they gave us another old classic: ‘Fire Brigade’. Then Burton spoke briefly about their early residency at THE MARQUEE CLUB before they played a song reminiscent of that era: the R’n’R classic ‘Something Else’.

‘Flowers In The Rain’ was next. And Burton reminded us that it had the dubious honour of being the first record ever played on Radio 1 back in ’67! The band’s first ever single, ‘Night Of Fear’ (1966) soon followed. (To be honest I only remembered it when I heard it!) Keyboard player Abby Brant then sung the old ERMA FRANKLIN hit ‘Piece Of My Heart’ which the band apparently covered in the old days. She done it really well too. I didn’t realise (in my ignorance) that Roy Wood had penned the AMEN CORNER hit ‘Hello Suzie’; but he certainly did; and it was played next in The Move’s inimitable rock style.

The oft-covered Carole King song ‘Goin’ Back’ was up next; followed by ‘Wild Tiger Woman’; and ‘Brontosaurus’ (with a great slide guitar solo from Kelsey on his white Telecaster). Next was a great blues song which I didn’t know, called ‘Mercury Blues’; which (me being a big fan of the genre) I really enjoyed! Big hit ‘Do Ya’, was followed by a song which was never done by The Move, but by Burton’s own band: ‘Wild Young Thing’. Like everything they played, it went down really well.

Back in the late ’60s, The Move had an association with the legendary JIMI HENDRIX. So as a tribute to his genius, the band played a blinding version of ‘Hey Joe’; with superb lead guitar from Burton. Now lots of people do Hendrix covers, but you need to be good to do it well – Burton passed with flying colours – well done sir!

Well the show was nearly over, and they’d kept us waiting long enough for the two big ones! They stormed into their Rock’n’Roll classic ‘California Man’; and it hit us like a sledgehammer! But the highlight was the iconic ‘Blackberry Way’ – arguably their greatest hit (their only Number 1); and surely one of the most memorable songs of the late ’60s? An encore was demanded at this point; so without leaving the stage, they announced that they would play a song by another great Brummie musician and a great friend of theirs, STEVIE WINWOOD’s ‘Gimme Some Lovin’.

Apart from the music, and their brilliant performance of it; another thing I really liked about this gig was the fact that there was plenty of pre-amble between songs, where Burton and Bevan gave us anecdotes and quips about their adventures on the road and about people and places they’d been. It was a comedy show at times! Both Burton and Bevan have a great rapport with their fans, and it is appreciated. The band had as good a time as the audience. All in all a brilliant concert. There are a few dates left on this, The Move’s final tour (including The Isle Of Wight Festival); so if you get a chance, I’d recommend going to see them – you won’t be disappointed! To be honest though, I can’t see them wanting to give this up, even though they are getting on a bit. My guess is that it won’t be the last we’ll see of the group – let’s hope I’m right!

14. COCO MONTOYA (+ LAURENCE JONES) at THE BOOM BOOM CLUB, Sutton, Surrey. Friday, 23rd May 2014

'LAURENCE JONES - The future of British blues-rock' (Photo by PTMQ)

‘The future of British blues-rock’ Laurence Jones (Photo by PTMQ)

I hadn’t been to The Boom Boom Club for a few months. Although I like it there, I don’t live that close, so it has to be an exceptional artist that brings me along! So when I heard that promoter PETE FEENSTRA had booked the great bluesman COCO MONTOYA (who I’d never seen live before), I had no hesitation in getting a place booked (via cousin Charlie who lives nearby). To add icing to the cake LAURENCE JONES was to be the support act – had to be a winner of a gig!

Charlie and I arrived early and found ourselves a place at the front of the stage; eagerly awaiting the show. Support act Laurence Jones was soon climbing unpretentiously on stage, and launched into ‘Can’t Keep Living Like This’ from his new album “Temptation”. It was a whirlwind start to a breath-taking set of exceptionally good music from a young guitarist, who music writer NIGEL FOSTER describes as ‘the future of British blues-rock’, and I think that’s a fair comment. Its quite a compliment considering he’s up against the likes of: DAVY KNOWLES; OLI BROWN; and VIRGIL McMAHON.

Now I last saw Jones at this same venue almost exactly a year ago, supporting the veteran bluesman WALTER TROUT (who as I write is unfortunately seriously ill back in the USA – and no doubt all blues fans are praying for him). I remember being impressed at the time by this young lad; but what a difference that year has made! He is noticeably far more confident than he was last May; and his chops are greatly improved – his Strat’s fret-board was his, to be used as gently or as roughly as he saw fit – with equal precision. It was a nice touch when he dedicated the title track ‘Temptation’ to Trout, his hero, who guests on the new album; and I must say, he did the old master proud. Another highlight for me was his version of Hendrix’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’. This is often covered, of course, but Jones didn’t slavishly stick to the Hendrix format; rather making it his own, with a lengthy but interesting solo that show-cased his considerable skills. And a bloody good job he made of it too! I also liked ‘Fall From The Sky’ a lot; and ‘Soul Swamp River’ which he sang (partly) without a mic at the front of the stage.

Mention must be made of Jones’ excellent band too. I think these are a different bassist and drummer to those I remember from a year ago. Finnish drummer MIRI MIETTINEN was a reliable powerhouse at the back of the stage; and ROGER INNISS was exceptional with his monstrous 6-string bass, the size of a scaffold-board! But, Christ, could he play it!

I spoke briefly to LJ after the show, and found him to be a very nice bloke – modest and affable. Now that the tour with Montoya is finished, he tells me he’s off to the RORY GALLAGHER FESTIVAL in Ballyshannon, Ireland; along with another old veteran favourite of mine, BERNIE MARSDEN. With the company he keeps this boy is going far! I notice he’s back for a gig at THE NEW CRAWDADDY CLUB here in Essex in June – that’s one for the diary. (Just realised, its only a couple of weeks away!) Anyway, good luck to you, LJ!

Half-time was unusual: normally the intervals at gigs are filled with beer and music blah blah (and fair enough too!); but after Pete Feenstra had finished plugging the next two gigs over this Bank Holiday weekend, Nigel Foster got up on stage to present him with a special award for all the hard work he’d done in promoting all sorts of music acts over the years. It was well deserved, and Nigel summed it up excellently with some very well-chosen words. Charlie and I also got talking to the photographer JENNIFER NOBLE of BLUES MATTERS magazine and her husband. She is a big blues fan; very knowledgeable; and quite a character.

Coco Montoya -  now that's what I call the blues! (Photo by PTMQ)

Coco Montoya – ‘now THAT’S the blues!’ (Photo by PTMQ)

Now for the main event. I’d been waiting a long time to see Coco. In my mind I always lump Montoya, Trout and BUDDY WHITTINGTON together – all big American bluesmen from the prolific JOHN MAYALL’S BLUESBREAKERS stable. I’ve seen Trout and Whittington several times (and my son James and I have had the honour of meeting them both too. Unfortunately James couldn’t make it tonight), but I’ve been waiting for Montoya for years; having never seen him live. Tonight was to complete the trinity.

Coco Montoya and his band; consisting of Nate Brown on bass; Brant Leeper on keyboards; and Rene Beevers on drums; took to the stage to great applause. Brandishing a brilliant blue left-handed Strat, fitted with a right-handed neck; the big bluesman kicked off his set with ‘Wish I Could Be that Strong’. It was a great opener, and was quickly followed by ‘Hey Seniorita’, with its latin feel. Various favourites followed, including: ‘Too Much Water Under The Bridge’; the funky ‘Don’t Go Makin’ Plans’; and finishing with ‘Three Sides To Every Story’.

Coco’s repertoire is a blend of various well-known bluesy vibes – both traditional and modern in style; yet all of it with Coco’s personal stamp of genius at its core. The influence of his original mentor, the late great ALBERT COLLINS, is manifest; and the tutorship of JOHN MAYALL is apparent; but his feeling and understanding of the blues obviously comes from deep down inside. Jennifer Noble summed it up succinctly to me half-way through the set: ‘Now THAT’S the blues!’ she said.

I met Coco after the show and had a brief chat with him. We talked about his blue lefty Strat; and about flying back to the USA next day. He is like many great musicians: modest and approachable; and has a genuine love of, and gratitude towards his fans. He told me he’s not going to leave it so long this time before returning to the UK for another tour – let’s hope he means it as I think everyone there would be up for another Coco gig ASAP! Thanks Coco – it was a fantastic night!

A final word should also be said about the hard-working bar staff at the Boom Boom Club – you never have to wait long for a pint, and you are always served with a pretty smile – A BIG THANK YOU LADIES!

Here is a vid of Coco in action at this very gig…..

May the Blues be with you! Phil The Music Quill