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

Saiichi Sugiyama (Photo: Karen Rockingham)

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

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

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

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

(Image: Saiichi Sugiyama website)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Anderton Band (Photo: Chris Richardson)

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

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

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

Saiichi Sugiyama Band (Photo: Chris Richardson)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saiichi Sugiyama website

Joe Anderton Band website

New Crawdaddy website

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

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

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

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

121. TREV TURLEY AND FRIENDS (+ special guest MARK ‘BOWEEVIL’ HOWES and support from THE HEATERS) at THE NEW CRAWDADDY BLUES CLUB, Billericay, Essex. Friday 12th August 2016. A review by Ralph Carter.

(Photo: Karen R)

Bass man, Trev Turley (Photo: Karen R)

I spoke to bassist Trev Turley at a gig a few weeks ago; and he told me that he would be putting together a band of friends for a one-off show; and would I be interested in coming along? It sounded interesting so along I went… to The New Crawdaddy Blues Club in Billericay, Essex, to see him and his band-mates in action.

This band of friends consisted of: Trev Turley himself of course (bass); Andrew Walker (guitar); Simon Dring (drums); Andy Cooper (keys); Phil Marshall (sax); and last but by no means least, Norfolk-based Yve Mary Barwood (vocals). The more astute of my readers will have already realised – if they didn’t know beforehand – that these fine musicians were (apart from Yve), Malaya Blue’s erstwhile touring band.

Yve Mary Barwood (Photo: Karen R)

Yve Mary Barwood (Photo: Karen R)

I bumped into Trev outside the venue when I arrived on the evening; but he was keeping shtoom about what the Set List would consist of. I didn’t know what to expect but I like surprises, and this turned out to be a pleasant one… in fact a damn fine show!

First on the bill though was the NCBC’s excellent House Band, The Heaters. They usually – but not always – play support at the club, and I’ve seen them many times before. They play a good variety of covers; and they play them well. As Trev Turley described them: ‘The best band that never ever headlined at The Crawdaddy!’ Always good to see them. On this occasion I particularly liked their renditions of Freddy King’s ‘Hideaway’; and The Beatles’ ‘Come Together’.

(Photo: Karen R)

Sax man: Phil Marshall (Photo: Karen R)

It wasn’t long before Trev and co were climbing on stage. ‘Don’t worry I’m not going to sing!’ Trev reassured us! Right from the start it was clear that the friends were tight and well used to playing together, as they launched into their set. It was also clear from the outset that Yve is a fine vocalist – equally capable of sweetness and passion in her singing. I previously knew nothing about her, but I am now much wiser!

A fine and eclectic set of mainly Blues, and Blues-based covers was played; including: an interesting version of Hardin’s ‘If I Were A Carpenter’; a blinding and faithful version of Winwood’s ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’; Johnson’s oft covered classic ‘Dust My Broom’; a wonderfully lengthy rendition of ‘It Hurts Me Too’ (which you can see here); Johnny Taylor’s ‘Who’s Making Love?’; a sweetly sung version of the Blues staple ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’; a stunning cover of Greeny’s ‘I Loved Another Woman’ (sax was superb on this); and a Funked up version of Clapton’s (in his Derek guise) ‘Got To Get Better In A Little While’, which included a fine drum solo from Simon. And that concluded the main set.

But an encore was then of course demanded; and they were joined on stage by special guest Mark ‘Boweevil’ Howes. Trev thanked everyone for their support and said that they’d play one more…. a cover of Joe Cocker’s, perhaps appropriately titled, ‘High Time We Went’ – inappropriate I thought, as we could have stood a lot more from this great band! This rendition included a lot of solos and duelling from the members of the group –  and amusing too, as one by one, the members of the band waved goodbye to Trev and left him alone on stage!  It received rousing – and well-deserved applause at the end.

The musicianship throughout the gig was exceptional, and its difficult to pick out anyone, because all of the friends were at the top of their game; but I particularly enjoyed Phil’s superb sax playing. He and Trev were also very entertaining too, which got a few laughs.

As I left the venue I saw Trev and remarked that he should definitely get this outfit together again – even if only for an occasional gig. He smiled but didn’t answer! But as I write this, it has recently been announced that the friends will play a follow up gig at The Murderers in Norwich. I probably won’t be there, but I can predict it’ll be a great show, so best get along there on 15th December and see for yourself what I’ve been on about! All the members are pursuing their own projects now, but I’m sure we’ll being seeing them back together again periodically.

Thanks to Trev and co for wonderful entertainment. Thanks to impresario Paul Dean and his fine team of volunteers, for hosting a great show once again; to Karen R for superb photography; and to Trevor Taylor for the video.

By Ralph Carter.

(photo: Karen R)

Thank you and good night Billericay! The magnificent seven (L – R):  Simon Dring; Andy Cooper; Mark ‘Boweevil’ Howes; Phil Marshall; Yve Mary B; Andrew Walker; and the main man himself, Trev Turley. (Photo: Karen R).

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