Coming to the end of another year. Mixed fortunes for BelperMusicAndArts - some really terrific musicians which many of you missed by not attending - that's the rub, attendance figures have been sporadic.
I missed Red Wedding, Martin Stephenson, Tom McConville, Spokane and, despite Chris and Phil's best efforts I still have not seen Danbert Nobacon! You might well have missed Sally Barris, The Wrigley Sisters (with able support from MAIN), Smith & Buckley, Emily Druce, Pete Morton, Lewie D's Blues Shack, Stephen Fearing, Steve Tilston, Michael Weston King and Peter Price (and probably some others earlier in the year that I can't find the programme for!).
Some of these you might have the chance to see again as they drop in on a fairly regular basis but some really are 'one appearance only'.
What can be done to increase audiences? Despite the image of capitalism rearing its ugly head BMA cannot keep dipping into its own pocket - we need bums on seats to survive. Dick does a grand job but needs lots of support.
So, please, please, please SUPPORT LIVE MUSIC. Come along as often as you can or tell your friends. And let me know if you think there are musicians we should be booking (within reason and bearing in mind the type of music we have at The Queens). I know some of you read these blogs so let me know how BMA can improve (I get stats from the host. A special thanks to whoever logged on at 02.50 Christmas morning - just back from the pub were you?) .
When I was young and had visions of becoming a Marine Biologist I was given a portable record player. It didn’t fit in my pocket, didn’t have personal headphones and could only play one record at a time (it was not a Dansette Autochanger!) but I loved it because it meant I could play the music I wanted and not be reliant on the radio for the odd song which was not performed by Billy Cotton’s band. The very first record I bought was Lonnie Donegan’s version of Rock Island Line on a Decca 78 with a pale blue label. This was very quickly followed by 45s – the first, Lttle Richard’s Ready Teddy on the London label when the writing was still gold - lots of Bo Diddley and all, yes every single one - including the early Brunswick releases, of Buddy Holly’s canon.
I adorned the machine with pictures of my heroes (mostly Buddy and Elvis). However over the next couple of years I noticed that some of the pics were changing – Leadbelly, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. I told myself I was discovering the Blues but really these (readily available) artists were ‘Folk Singers’ (‘proper’ Blues came later when I first heard Blind Blake and Mississippi Fred McDowell). I had a brief flirtation with folksingers, Tom Paxton; Dave Van Ronk; Phil Ochs; Koerner, Ray & Glover; Carolyn Hester, but seeing as I had actually started with Woody (by way of Ramblin’ Jack Elliot admittedly) and seeing as Spider, Snaker & Little Sun were definitely Blues orientated I was never really going to be big into folksinging. Also The Beatles were already in the Hit Parade.
You will notice that all the aforementioned are American; British folksong was a whole different ballgame (Fairport Convention was years away). Although by this time I had already picked up the guitar (slightly ahead of Eric Clapton), had sung in the school and church choir (and had started a ‘Folk Club’ in a friend’s cellar) I did not persevere; so now Ol’ Slowhand is Rich and Famous and I’m not. Folksingers? Pshaw!
I had heard that PETE MORTONwas a folksinger so it was with some trepidation that The Driver and Me trudged up Mill Street last Saturday (15th). We needn’t have worried for Pete is a very fine, and very droll, contemporary singer/songwriter, even if that label is only alternative nomenclature for… folksinger.
A rousing start with The Cloning Song, slightly more mellow on (The Girl I Love Is In) A Buddhist Retreat, followed quickly by the ever popular Shepherds Song. I sang along to this! Enjoying myself already? The Luckiest Man, a poignant tale about his Mum & Dad’s relationship ("…she’s my best friend…") went straight into the hard hitting polemic siting Israel and Palestine as two naughty boys squabbling, Two Brothers. (It was at this point that The Driver made her sartorial observation; it in no way detracted from the power of the song).
At some point in his career Pete had been a street singer – not sure if this was before or after his punk-rocker phase – so the humorous Busker Song was highly apposite and then more (local) humour Ay Up Mi Duck (if it was actually called that!) "Call me luv, duck, hen, mate, friend, pet or flower but never Madam or Sir." Next, a more thoughtful Constant Motion and the haunting Climbing Up Forgiveness Hill. During all this Pete had been competently strumming away on a very resonant Martin D-28 but in the last couple of numbers there had been short breaks with him singing unaccompanied and here one could appreciate just how rich and powerful his singing voice is.
With hindsight I would probably have had a more interesting life as a folksinger than working for the Post Office but would I have appreciated Post Office Queue quite so much; I doubt it even though there was no robotic "Customer number four, please…" in my day. That one was v. close to my heart. (cf. Ay Up Mi Duck above!).
After the performance Pete and I spoke of many things (sealing wax not amongst them) like how a professional will give a good performance for two or two thousand listeners. And when a story, or even just an idea, becomes a song. I mentioned this as the next few songs seemed to illustrate this last point. (I’m In Love With) Emily Dickinson inspired by her poetry; Saint George Slew The Dragon (a simple song with much darker undercurrent about depression because "…dragons don’t really exist." Naseby Field where a dying soldier has the precognition of the horrors of future wars. I can string words together but doubt I could make them into a song.
Luckily the sombre mood was quickly alleviated by the hilarious story (in song!) of Fred Dudley’s Brand New Knee. And then Pete’s Anthem Another Train – "There's another train, there always is, maybe the next one is yours, get up and climb aboard another train." Unfortunately this is not always the case in Belper as My-Friend-The-Councillor, who was sitting with us, can attest. (The less said about that the better). The sing-along Six Billion Eccentrics finished an enthralling set and then came the encore,
"I’ll plough and sow, I’ll reap and mow. To be a Farmer’s Boy."
This was a folk song I knew. I have sung this. I could have been a folksinger. Although Marine Biologist would have been better.
The Driver and Me didn’t have to walk up Mill Street last Friday (4th) to see EMILY DRUCE and STEVE JONES as Friend-Who-Has-Moved-Away had made a special trip back for the evening and he really was The Driver on this occasion. So we arrived fresh and eager to a disappointingly sparsely peopled Top Bar. The performers were off eating their take-away pizzas probably waiting for more punters to arrive.
When they came back, not the most uplifting start - Plenty More Fish In The Sea, and then, would you believe, a funeral song, Bring Me Flowers. Blues Rolling ‘Round My Door was a bit livelier; perhaps they were still waiting for more people to turn up before they really got into their stride (talking of stride: I never knew that New Orleans Legend, stride pianist Champion Jack Dupree who was planning the flowers for his funeral had lived in Halifax, W. Yorks - just down the road from Emily. You can always learn something new).
But then, more up-tempo with Freight Train, possibly a Lightning Hopkins number but I remember it from Nancy Whiskey’s dulcet tones with the Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group, here a duo number with Steve and some nice harmonies. Emily has dulcet tones too, and she can also sing gritty Blues. In fact she has an extremely versatile voice as the next number – a sultry version of I Can’t Give You Anything But Love Baby – ably demonstrated. And she also slips effortlessly between ‘English’ and ‘American’ phrasing.
Steve’s turn to shine next with harmonica on Bright Light Of Day and vocal on Floating Bridge although his falsetto didn’t quite reach the heights of Sleepy John Estes.
Emily and Steve have been gigging together for a couple of years but, by their own admission, they have not practised together for a couple of months (this was their first gig since before Christmas) and, whether it was timing or tuning, this was apparent. There were times when it sounded as if the two guitars might be playing to different drums (there’s a mixed metaphor to be proud of!). Individually they sounded very accomplished, just not always very together! Steve appears to be taking over on lead, starting to be bit ‘showy’ and, unrehearsed as they were, wasn’t absolutely keeping up with the singing. Or maybe it was vice-versa. There also was a lot of retuning of instruments between numbers. It didn’t spoil the evening – but. Or perhaps they still hadn’t quite got into their stride.
Actually both performers individually are excellent guitarists, Emily picking away on an oldish Martin (OM-18?; J-15? She did tell me but I didn’t write it down and short term memory…), and Steve variously on a trio of guitars which he, along with his partner Colin Kendall, had built himself. Overall some good pickin’ and slidin’ notwithstanding my earlier criticism. Although Friend–Who-Has-Moved-Away said that Emily played much more slide guitar a few years back when solo (and you know what a sucker I am for that!). She only picked up the JonesKendall N1Reso once during the evening which was a pity.
It probably was just a warm-up thing because the next number, Same Air was very together both vocally and musically; a self-penned number nicely performed.
They were now starting to stride along. Hank Williams’ Lonesome Blues where Emily can reach the high notes but then get right down’n’dirty on good ole blues like See What The Lord Has Done and Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning. Then effortlessly switch back to a ballad like Love (For Me) Is Like A Summer’s Day.
For me the zenith was reached next with a surprisingly close-to-the-recording-I know-and-love-version of … Elvis’s Trying To Get To You followed by a gutsy version of My Babe. Steve took vocal honours on I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (no H. W. yodel though) with Emily on fiddle (is there no end to the woman’s talent?).
In between the last two numbers the duo had sung Lets Walk Out, the out and out Country opening track, from their first album together ‘Songs From The Silver Band Room’ recorded in the eponymous practice room of the Honley Silver Band. On this track Steve makes his little wood bodied O-hole Sonny sound for all the world like a National Steel. The Honley Band (on the CD) play on Lay Your Burden Down which (on the evening) we were invited to sing along to although I had difficulty NOT singing "will the circle be unbroken!". Similarly I can’t remember how they titled what I know as St James Infirmary!! Bit of muddle for me here as the Friend-Who-etc. was leaving and we had a little chat.
Generally the evening’s performance was good. With a bit of rehearsal and better continuity it would probably have been great. I eagerly await Emily (and Steve’s) return.
The downstairs bar was no more crowded than upstairs so The Driver and Me just went home.
"I could see myself in a red ballgown." Helen Watson
We didn’t go out on Friday, The Driver and Me. The impending cold snap was imminent and the prospect of consecutive treks up Mill Street seemed daunting [it has only just started snowing now – three days later]. So we stayed in. And watched television. Top Of The Pops. Absolute rubbish! [It’s stopped snowing already].
The state of popular music leaves a lot to be desired – RagHav is quite lively and G4, a group of classically trained, Guildhall School of Music buskers, can at least sing but add nothing to their covers of halfway decent pop songs of previous decades. Mario is on a par with Norah Jones (interpret that as you see fit; but those of you who have been following these reviews…) and the new face of ProgRock – The Doves – simply seemed bemused by it all (and isn’t Jimi Goodwin a little too dumpy to be a rock giant?). But the worst, the absolute nadir, was McFly, a Boy Band(?) who simply CANNOT SING. Reedy little voices that were…
Their lead singer (Danny? Tom? Dougie? Not Harry he doesn’t attempt to sing) actually failed to get into Busted… no big deal as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a mystery how he (and the other one or even two) got into any vocal group which people pay money to hear. Also, another cover of an old song, James Taylor’s original wasn’t wonderful but this version was absolutely terrible. U2 was Number One last week but after all these years even they seemed past their sell by date. If Bono had a moustache he would look like Ray Saywer from Dr. Hook (I presume the hat is covering up incipient baldness). Old men and children. All very worrying.
[It’s snowing again; it hasn’t lasted].
But the Future of Grown-up Music is in safe hands - for we did make it to the top of Mill Street on Saturday (19th) to see HELEN WATSON - and what a versatile vocal performer she is.
Off to a good start with stunning acapella version of Ain’t Got You (à la The Boss rather than The Yardbirds) accompanying herself with a small bead shaker. Then into Mystery Train (yes, the Elvis version) with some adroit picking on a Martin HD-28. Next, a very jazzy version of Til’ The Clock Strikes Twelve. Here I realised that Helen is not just a fine singer but also a storyteller – not just in her songs, as she did few of her own numbers – but in various ramblings between numbers; a welcome return for this type of presentation.
The next few numbers demonstrated her wide range. From ultra cool – Blossom Dearie’s Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You and the immaculate phrasing of Is That All There Is? (Peggy Lee) – through smokey Blues – Billie Holiday’s You Don’t Know What Love Is (acapella again) – swing – Just As long As I’m Moving and I Love You Baby Now Get Out – to a gravelly impersonation of Leonard Cohen on Dance Me To The End Of Love. Oh, and I missed the Country And Western – That’s All It Took, George Jones.
In between there had been a couple of her own songs which were good but I feel it was her interpretation of other great female (and just a few male) singers which really hit the high spots.
It didn’t slow down after the break. Beat Out That Rhythm On A Drum (acapella) and a stunning version of Nina Simone’s Don’t Smoke In Bed (it was at this point she made the comment about the ballgown; but her feet were still on the ground as my later suggestion that, "pointy toed pumps were needed to set such a dress off" were dismissed with the thought that, "trekking boots would suit perfectly well!"). A chronology of ‘real’ pop music followed; amongst others (but not necessarily in this order), 1932: Bunny Berigan, I Can’t Get Started; 1957: Sam Cooke, You Send Me; 1962: Gladys Knight, Letter Full Of Tears; 1975: Dwight Twilley, If You’re Thinking of Breaking My Heart. All executed with skill and a bucketful of feeling. And also some humour as Helen very ably impersonated a trumpet on a couple of the numbers!
Then we had a sing-along number. Of all things, Concrete And Clay, uh-huh Unit 4 + 2. The Driver reckoned it lent itself very well.
We coasted to the finish. (You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am (Nancy Wilson originally), but still with time to rock though Slim Harpo’s Keep What I Got segueing into Barefootin’ (Slim and Robert Parker Jnr. have very similar voices) which some of us managed to sing along to also. And a big finish with a song from my favourite Torch singer, Julie London, No Moon At All. An even bigger encore - Lady Day’s Darn That Dream.
Reading back there are a lot of names mentioned (but you know it’s what I do); many fine females and a few good blokes but this only serves to show what a wide ranging and eclectic repertoire this excellent performer has. On the night there was only one name and only one voice – even if it was capable of producing many different sounds. A singer who can go from low down and dirty to the epitome of chic, Helen is worth battling the elements for.
Yup, Jazz, Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll with some swing and a few Torch songs for good measure. Grown-up music for Grown-up people.
Later, downstairs, those of who were left talked of Tonik suits and life in Essex; and between us managed all of the words to Travellin’ Light – much to Helen’s delight.
…Later still we trooped merrily down Mill Street to Neighbours-Round-The-Corner where we all had a couple more drinks. Which was nice…
"Dick will be gutted to have missed this." - Tracey
Mill Street, oh! Mill Street. My heart sinks at the very thought of scaling your giddy heights. But The Driver and Me invariably drag ourselves out to see what’s occurring up the top. And Saturday (19th) was another one of those Magic Moments that so many of you are missing by not coming to these great gigs.
LEWIE D’s BLUES SHACK is a grand band which could rock up a storm from Amarillo to Austin, or Belper to Bonsall. Five very accomplished performers who brought their own sound system – which, it has be said, was a bit of an improvement! Although on a sad note, the magnificent house Hammond was relegated to the back of the room (must try and find some Leslie speakers!) to make way for the portable Hammond XK(?) which the band brought along - which did sound pretty good under the nimble fingers of Andy, their keyboard man.
[On an even sadder note Jimmy Smith died last week; R.I.P. the finest modern exponent of the Hammond sound. 1926-2005]
But back to happier thoughts. Although the band started the ball rolling (and rocking) with Good Clean Fun it was obvious it was going to be a low down ‘n’ dirty night. Dope, a song with a message ("STOP, you know you can.") followed, then two numbers showcasing Lewie’s powerful voice - Big Change Gonna Come (Neville Brothers or Sam Cooke?) and Rain Start To Falling – the latter with some driving boogie piano from Andy on his other keyboard (it’s a wonder they got themselves on stage with all the equipment up there!).
Then the first high spot of the evening - a long, lazy, bluesy intro, with fine guitar from Joe interwoven with complex Hammond riffs, before Lewie poured his heart into the vocal of Leanne. A song of which I know nuthin’ other than it was damn fine. So far a solid rhythm had been maintained by Dave on drums and Keith on bass but they came into their own on a driving version of Route 66, and we all sang along... which was nice. Circle Round The Sun next with Joe sounding like Martin Pugh (I think; I only remember SteamHammer vaguely). But then having a great stab at sounding like B.B. King (but let’s face it, a Strat – even a shiny green one - ain’t ever gonna sound like Lucille!) on The Thrill Is Gone. I haven’t said that much abut Lewie’s singing but he is a versatile performer this ably demonstrated by that last number and the next two, Lead Me To The Dark Days and a spine tingling rendition of Colin Bluntstone’s She’s Not There. He is a joy to listen to – and to watch, he puts so much heart and soul into his performance.
[A quick bit of proselytizing, although no doubt most of you are already converted: I think it iniquitous that certain bands with minimal talent can be hugely rich and famous on the back of pubescent whims whilst grown-up musicians have to struggle on a pub circuit. O.K. back to the music]
A foot stomping Cheap Sunglasses (The Bearded Ones; it’s always struck me as funny that Frank Beard was the only one of the Boyzz who wasn’t grossly hirsute). Then my notes seem to have been ‘rained on’ as I have Raining On Me, Still The Rain and Raining Drums! In amongst it all though I do have "GREAT GUITAR BREAKS." I try hard not to miss anything whilst taking notes, and I am listening and, "Yes, thank you Lewie, I did get the title of Wait A Minute Baby," which was my second serious high point of the evening. Pure swing.
And it swung on, although by now I was popping out the back with increasing frequency (it’s a beer thing dear!) and missed Blue On Black and shortly afterwards The Driver’s favourite which has no title (!) but was described as "incredibly Yardbirdy." But I didn’t miss their versions of Johnny Lang’s Midnite Train or a tremendous rendition of Badge. Which was the last number and highly appropriate as it has the line "before they let the curtain down."
They weren’t going to get off that lightly though. This was our second legendary night in the Top Bar this season (more or less the same people there this time so they will know what I mean. The rest of you? Well…) Audience power prevailed and produced a truly inspired rendition of You Can’t Always Get What You Want and a band-powered version of Lowell Fulson’s Talking Woman.
We let them go after that being pretty exhausted. Us that is. I’ve absolutely no idea how they managed to get all that gear down the stairs.
Mill Street never gets any better – that’s a fact, but I am always glad that The Driver and Me make the effort because the music does get better – exponentially – going up in leaps and bounds seemingly in a direct relationship to how cream crackered we feel by the time we reach the front door of the Queens (a bonus though: recovery time does seem to be decreasing). So, on Saturday (23rd) we were dead in the water which was great because it meant that STEPHEN FEARING, a fine contemporary singer/songwriter from Canada, was bound to be simply marvellous. And he was. And we were lucky to get a seat as the Top Bar was pretty crowded (just because recovery time is shorter doesn’t mean it is more effective, I have to sit!).
A gaunt, black clad figure, sombre but with a smile that can light up the room he launched straight into Glory Train followed quickly by Black Silk Gown both with a heavy guitar accompaniment (more about that later). This was followed by Little Bit Of Blue Sky (or maybe it was See You In The Morning) and then Vancouver (or perhaps Pounding Guitar; that’s what I wrote. Unfortunately Stephen wrapped his songs in anecdotes and didn’t really announce them in a formal manner so one just had to guess at a title. I told you they were all approximate.). Having said all that – it was good to have a storyteller back on the stage!
Vancouver is in Canada which was what the next number was about even if it might have been called The Longest Road but the next very melodic tune showed that he was Born To Be A Traveller – In childhood, Canada to Ireland. In maturity, Belper! Bass heavy riffs on that one.
George Bush has an I-Pod (which makes up for him not having an I.Q.) and Stephen plays with a (very local) supergroup, ‘Blackie and the Rodeo Kings’ and one of the tracks on G. Dubya’s machine is by someone who has recorded a BARK song, so by association Stephen is very close to the President! That song might be Rave On Captain which was pretty clever and contained the excellent reference to "Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumber".
Stephen is a fine songwriter and I never cease to marvel at the skill with which such clever people can make a song from either the most mundane or the most poignant experience. The opportunity just has to be grabbed. Your friends are in a car crash but the show must go on so On The Great Divide evolves. That it turns out to be a real swamp rocker is a bonus for those who are only involved vicariously. Oh yes, and there is A Town Called Jesus, in Paraguay, just as Stephen said, "Nearly half a world away".
All The Mistakes I Have Made followed - no sorry it’s actually called Like A Dog On A Chain. A little melancholy but quickly livened up by segueing into an instrumental medley, and what a fine player he is. He picked away at his Manzer Cowpoke like there was no tomorrow. (Linda Manzer, a Canadian luthier has been making fine custom guitars for thirty years, most notably for Pat Methany, the jazz guitarist who only took up acoustic after playing a Manzer: and check this out - the Pikasso – the wildest guitar you will ever see). Stephen gets his interesting sound by having a combination of installed piezo pickup and placing a small microphone in the guitar also.
Some lovelorn songs followed. Fools Who Can’t Forget, Finest Kind, If I Catch You Crying. All mellifluous in spite of the melancholy. Then some new songs, travelling songs again, fourteen hours from Nashville to Toronto with only Yellowjackets to keep him awake (they’re sweeties loaded with sugar, not dope!) and One Flat Tyre. Both rocking, both good. More instrumental: variations – and what a lot of them – on Early One Morning (Trad. You know, " Oh do not leave me, oh don’t deceive me… etc"). He titles the selection The Lark/Robert’s Waterloo, either way it’s pretty damn fine playing. Incidentally Stephen uses Newtone Strings made in Heanor which are pretty damn fine strings according to many..
I missed Human Beings Were Never Born To be So Mean which The Driver said was "rocking". Bad luck on Me but someone has to get the beers in.
Beguiling Eyes was probably my favourite song of the evening and, for reference, it was Clive Gregson and Christine Collister who recorded it on their album ‘Love is a Strange Hotel’. This number seemed to involve a lot of complex retuning of the axe (see under!) but this, coupled with some really powerful singing, made for a real highspot. It was already late but no-one was leaving to catch a bus yet. Which was lucky, for had they, they would have missed another bout of guitar virtuosity based around Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now and the uplifting encore number Back Home. It was all over but I had got the lowdown on Manzer guitars.
I very rarely remember going down Mill Street.
Footnote: never throw anything away. For years I owned a book called ‘Canajun, eh?’ which purported to be a lexicon of Canadian vocabulary. I’ve no idea where it came from and it was really a bit of joke for, of course, Canadians speak English (other than those who speak French!) and Canajun is a bit like Franglais or Spanglish. I disposed of the book only when we moved a couple of years ago; I wish I hadn’t.
I have just found the programme for earlier last year. I'd missed out - Helen Watson, Joseph Porter, John Brindley, Erroll Linton, Eranim, Steve Ashley, Screaming Hawks (I saw them and they were good), ZZ Birmingham, Attilla and David Rovics.