Tag Archives: roots collective

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

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