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30. AN EVENING FOR WALTER TROUT. Featuring OTIS GRAND; ALAN DARBY; SONJA KRISTINA; LAURENCE JONES; and THE VOODOO SHEIKS. The 1,000th gig at the BOOM BOOM CLUB. Friday, 28th November, 2014

PETE FEENSTRA: Promoter and Master of Ceremonies at the Boom Boom Club (Photo by CGM)

PETE FEENSTRA: Promoter and Master of Ceremonies at the Boom Boom Club (Photo by CGM)

 

This gig was originally billed as AN EVENING FOR WALTER TROUT – with  The Walter Trout Band (without Walter, of course as he is still recovering from illness), but featuring his son, JON TROUT; LAURENCE JONES; ANDREW ELT; and MITCH LADDIE. And many people (including myself) were very much looking forward to it. However, just a few days before the show, we heard that the plug had been pulled on the whole WTB tour – and to be honest, I don’t fully understand why. This was disappointing enough, but left PETE FEENSTRA of the BOOM BOOM CLUB with a double sticky wicket, as not only did he need a gig for the Friday night, but it was also to be a celebration of 1,000 gigs at the venue – a very special milestone in the history of the club indeed! Drastic action was required, sharpish!

Thankfully, ‘The future of British Blues’ Laurence Jones agreed to play anyway (a big plus as he is very well liked at the club); and Pete managed to get together some other very good musicians for the line-up at short notice. As well as LJ; he roped in OTIS GRAND; ALAN DARBY; SONJA KRISTINA (of CURVED AIR); and THE VOODOO SHEIKS. Backing musicians too (of whom, more later) had to be shackled together ASAP.

Now, I like the Boom Boom Club, although its a fair trot from where I live. But if something special at the venue is going down, I’ll drive over and stay with cousin Charlie who is a big music fan and lives locally. This means I can sink a few pints as well! Charlie is also a keen photographer, and often comes along to take photos for me; and this he agreed to do tonight, of course. My son James came too as he’s a great fan of some of the very talented young Blues and Rock guitarists (like Jones)  that seem to have emerged lately (I’m glad to say); and sometimes accompanies me to gigs.

We tres hombres arrived early at the venue to have a chat with a few people I wanted to speak to – not to mention  to take advantage of the free drink that had been offered to the first 100 punters! So, gratis pint of Bombardier in hand, I spoke to the guv’nor Pete Feenstra about a couple of things; and I was also keen to have a word or two with fellow music writer NIGEL FOSTER (who had got an excellent review of this gig on line within a few hours).

VOODOO SHEIKS: A white-knuckle Blues ride! (Photo by CGM)

VOODOO SHEIKS: A white-knuckle Blues ride! (Photo by CGM)

Before long, Pete (in his role as master Of Ceremonies) was on stage welcoming we punters and explaining that all the proceeds from the gig were to go towards Walter Trout’s on-going medical treatment. Then he announced the first act:  the Sussex-based Voodoo Sheiks. I’d heard the name and was keen to see them live. They are a four-piece R’n’B outfit consisting of ‘SLOW-BLOW DAVE’ MAGSON (Vocals & Harp); ADRIAN THOMAS (Guitar & Backing Vocals); ANDY PULLIN (Bass); and JOHN COOMBES (Drums).

There is no messing about with this band: right from the off – with a song called ‘The Thrill Ain’t Gone’ – you know that you’re in for a white-knuckle ride of Blues at the R’n’R end of the spectrum. Before we had time to take a breath, they followed up with ‘Automatic’ featuring ‘Slow-Blow Dave’ on Harmonica. Then they gave us a good new song called ‘Have A Heart’ (from their forthcoming album) – great use of the Wah-Wah from Adrian on this one. Next they covered JOHN LEE HOOKER’s classic ‘Boom Boom’ – and what more appropriate song could be played at this club for this gig?  Excellent.

The band slowed things down a lot then, playing ‘Exit Wound’ – a slow, mellow 12-Bar. I loved it. Nice solo from Adrian.  This was followed by the lively ‘Spirit’ –  an original composition from their Borrowed And New album. ‘Can’t Keep A Good Man Down’ kept us up and rockin’; and their final offering was another from their Borrowed… album, ‘I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog That Way’.

This was a good little set from a very good band indeed. The rhythm section were impressively tight and competent; ‘Sow-Blow’ was great on vocals and harp (and entertainingly animated as a front-man!) But I was most impressed by Adrian’s playing; and guitar sound.  I spoke to him briefly after their set. He played an  ERNIE BALL MUSICMAN SILHOUETTE SPECIAL through a BLACK STAR amp. I must say, this gave a very impressive sound throughout; for both rhythm and lead work.

LAURENCE JONES: Golden Boy of the Boom Boom Club! (Photo by CGM)

LAURENCE JONES: Golden Boy of the Boom Boom Club! (Photo by CGM)

Next on the Bill was the Golden Boy of the Boom Boom Club – the young and very talented Laurence Jones. He was accompanied by his usual Bassist, the incomparable ROGER INNIS; but his drummer MIRI MIETTINEN unfortunately couldn’t make it, and so had to be replaced by IAN PALMER for the night. (Who, incidentally, is the nephew of legendary Prog-Rock drummer, CARL PALMER).

Gold Top in hand, LJ’s set opened with ‘Can’t Keep Living Like This’ from his latest album Temptation.  It was a rousing start; LJ immediately impressing with guitar and vocals. After thanking the fans for their avid applause, he posed the question: ‘Are you ready to hear some Blues?’ Oh yes! And the lively ‘You Wind Me Up’ continued the Heavy Blues vibe. Changing to a Strat, he gave us his moody ‘Southern Breeze’ next; and followed it with his song inspired by his confrontation with a huge ‘dirty rat in my bed’ in Louisiana:  ‘Soul Swamp River’. Standing at the front of the stage he sang confidently without mic for part of the song.

One of LJ’s favourite songs is the iconic, ‘All Along The Watchtower’.  He has made this his own to some extent, and it has become a regular part of his set – and a firm favourite of his fans too. Again standing front of stage, he played a blinding solo right in front of our little party; and we were treated to a master-class in lead guitar at close range. ‘Foolin’ Me’ (the opener from Temptation), followed. Its a great rocker. There was only time for one more number: ‘Fall From The Sky’ finished the set. This a well-constructed melodic rock song; during which we were encouraged to sing along.  All in all, very enjoyable little set.

This was the third time I’d seen LJ live – all three times at the Boom Boom Club – and the third time I’ve been impressed with his performance. (see my blog entry #14). He has noticeably improved yet again in only the six months since I saw him last. He is more confidant; more relaxed; more skilful – and with stubble on his  face, he doesn’t look like a boy any more either! Roger was outstanding with his monstrous 6-string Bass as usual; and there is a good on-stage interaction between the two; both musically and personally. Stand-in drummer Ian Palmer did a very fine job too. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t hear ‘Move On’; but with so much to get through, set-time was obviously limited.

SONJA KRISTINA: Acid-Folk diva! (Photo by CGM)

SONJA KRISTINA: Respected Acid-Folk diva! (Photo by CGM)

It was time for a significant change of pace then, as SONJA KRISTINA (of Progressive Folk-Rock veterans CURVED AIR), took to the stage with only her keyboard player ROBERT NORTON – and a  very distinctive Washburn acoustic in hand. Unannounced, she began her set with the hauntingly beautiful ‘Citadel’ (from her Songs From The Acid Folk album). This was followed by ‘Colder Than A Rose In Snow’, which is from the same collection; and also on Curved Air’s new North Star album. It has the same vibe about it too. She gave us her ‘Melinda More Or Less’ (from Phantsmagoria) next – a classic originally penned in 1967.  She followed this with her cover of Lennon and McCartney’s song ‘Across The Universe’ – a nice version of an old classic. Sonja then said she’d do one more. ‘Back Street Luv’?  I asked from the audience. ‘Yeah’ she replied ‘….a kind of acidy-folky ‘Back Street Luv”. I love the original of this song, and I loved this ‘acidy-folky’ version too. It was nice for me to see it performed live after all this time as well.

I thought it was a good little set. There were a couple of  people around me  who voiced an opinion that perhaps this wasn’t a suitable set for the Bluesy vibe of the evening, but I couldn’t agree – I thought it made for an interesting change of pace in the proceedings; and introduced a little variety.  Having said that, I think I’d rather have listened to it in the laid-back comfort of a sleepy Folk club, but I enjoyed it very much nonetheless. Sonja was in good voice throughout, and Mr.Norton was impressive on the keys.

Could have ben in Chicago - Grand, Jones and Darby (Photo by CGM)

We could have ben in Chicago! Grand, Jones and Darby (Photo by CGM)

The headliners for the night were then introduced by Pete: veteran guitarists  OTIS GRAND and ALAN DARBY; backed by GLYNN EVANS (Bass); MUNCH MOORE (Keys); and Ian Palmer once again (Drums). This was a band hastily coupled together at short notice, and most of them had never played together before. So what we were about to witness was  testament to their professionalism, experience and skill.  As soon as we heard the first few licks, we felt that we’d been spiritually transported to a Blues club in Downtown Chicago! And that vibe stayed put right through the set; as what was to follow was a demonstration of pure Urban Electric Blues at its best.

Darby (tooled up  with beautiful looking Firebird); and Grand (armed with a red Strat sprayed gold – and wearing a remarkable Mexican Mariachi suit) immediately  launched into ‘A Man Like Me’ – the suit entirely appropriate for the Latin-Blues vibe of the number!  Sharing vocals and swapping solos, our two lead guitarists led us into a classy Blues wonderland.  It was an impressive start from a group of musos not at all used to playing together as a unit. And if anything,  the next offering was even better; as they then hit us with a sublime version of ‘There’s Gotta Be Changes Made’ – a laid-back Chicago Blues to close your eyes and drift away to. The two of them duelled solos for a good eleven minutes  – and I loved it!

Welcomed back on stage then was Laurence Jones. He’d already proved that he can hold his own with the old masters – I’d seen him jam impressively with Walter Trout on this very stage 18 months before. This time with a Telecaster, LJ immediately took to the mic for ‘Easy Baby’ – he and the other two, with faces contorted in ecstasy,  jammed in turns; improvising from the heart for another lengthy demonstration of their art. There then followed an up-tempo untitled instrumental shuffle; again show-casing their collective skills.

Feenstra retuned to the stage once again then; introducing the formidable rhythm section of Evans, Moore and Palmer, and emphasising that they’d only met this afternoon and had been ‘…working their socks off here tonight!’. There was time for one more he said. It was ‘Looking Good’ – in both title and performance. Grand and Darby traded licks superlatively; and when they finished, the applause was deafening. Fantastic!

After the gig Otis soon appeared at the bar, and I tackled him. I asked if he remembered the JOHNNY WINTER  gig back in ’92  where the Blues expert RAY TOPPING and myself met him backstage. (See my blog entry #17). He said that he did, so I told him Ray had since passed away; and we spoke of Ray’s famous vinyl collection (God knows what happened to that after he died). Then someone asked about the Mariachi suit. Otis said he bought it from a Mexican who happened to be the same size!  After a couple of photos, and a bit more chat, we left Otis to speak to some others.

At the merch desk we spoke to Laurence Jones, and congratulated him on a fine performance. We spoke of his nomination for the UK Blues Challenge (‘The Battle For Brussels’), which is to be held at the Boom Boom Club on 11th December (which sadly  I cannot now attend).   Unfortunately I didn’t see Alan Darby, or Sonja Kristina; I’d like to have had a word with them too. And I missed the opportunity to speak to the two bassists, Glynn Evans and Roger Inniss. But I did have a little chat with Pete and Nigel again.

Kudos to to Pete, Eric, and all the staff at the Boom Boom Club (including the hard-working ladies behind the bar) for their marvellous efforts in getting this milestone show up and running; and to all the very talented musicians who made this a most memorable experience. Thanks to Charlie for the excellent photos; and Phil Honley for the video.  Looking forward to the next 1,000 gigs at the club! PTMQ

Here’s a Phil Honley video of Grand and Darby playing ‘There’s Gotta Be Changes Made’ . Other videos from Phil from the same show are also on You Tube……

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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