Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Allen Toussaint, Roundhouse, Monday August 4th 2008

The Camden Roundhouse has stood for over a 160 years, a relic of the long defunct London and Birmingham Railway, and a testament to the craftsmanship of 19th Century Britain. The railway has long since departed, and the sounds of the Stones, Hendrix, Bowie and Led Zep no longer vibrate the walls, but the Roundhouse Trust has created a very special and unique performing arts space, and a welcome refuge from the mildly threatening "bohemian vibe" of Camden.

The setting then for last nights gig was superb - tiered seating around, and cabaret tables in front of the stage. Candles, warm red lighting, mirror balls and table service conspired to create a great atmosphere and sense of anticipation for the High Priest of New Orleans' R&B, Allen Toussaint. The great man came on at 9pm sharp, backed by a superb US band of black musicians, drums, bass and sax. But then, things took a turn for the proverbial - a muddy and tinny sound mix soon became overwhelmed by feedback from the vocal and piano mics, which presumably were picking up from the fold backs.

Dear Blog, why oh why (etc etc) is the gig going public blighted by incompetent and ineffectual sound men? What did we deserve to have our enjoyment dashed so cruelly on the rocks of audio despair? Given that most people have a home stereo and are capable of setting that up properly, is it that much to ask (at £27.50 per ticket plus admin fee) to get someone in who knows what they are doing? Such a terrible shame that a fantastic venue, and a chance to see such an artist, was blighted by such an amateur.

Toussaint bravely soldiered on, and in fairness, the mix marginally improved by the end of the gig, where we were given a glimpse of this great musician's songwriting and piano skills in sparkling audio clarity. As great as the performance was, you couldn't help thinking about what might have been......

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Ian McLagan and the Bump Band, Jazz Cafe, Sunday 27th July 2008

Sometimes unexpected things happen - a gig with low potential can turn out to be a barnstormer, a long awaited once in a lifetime opportunity can turn out to be a disaster (O2 - Leonard Cohen, the man with the dreads in seat Q888, Level 4, Block H - you'll know exactly what I mean). Sometimes, though, something that you expect to be brilliant turns out to be something really special, and those at Ian McLagan at the Jazz Cafe last Sunday will have experienced that.

McLagan and the Bump Band (featuring a founder member of Canned Heat, no less) are based in Austin, TX, and as McLagan pointed out, you can see them for free for 2 hours every Thursday night at the Lucky Lounge in town. However, £20 was a fair swap for the intense heat of the London summer, and the refurbished Jazz Cafe was as good as it has ever been. The band played a great set - some of McLagan's solo material from his acclaimed Bump In the Night album, available from www.macspages.com, as well as some timeless Faces and Small Faces classics - Get Yourself Together, You're So Rude, and Cindy, Incidentally. Magic stuff.

But the evening was more than just a concert - it was a gathering of friends and fans for a homecoming. The audience was populated by mods, Mac's friends and family, and the Faces producer who sat in the balcony, and got several cheers from the assembled crowd. Not bad, eh? I thought as I wandered to the gents after a couple of beers. Opening the door, a bloke was gathering up his keys, cash and wallet which he had dropped. I offered to give him a hand, which he politely declined, and as he stood up, it became apparent that the bloke in question was none other than Paul Weller. An unexpected moment of extreme coolness, to see two Modfathers in one evening.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Lucky 13 Lounge Review, Tuesday 15th July 2008

One of the many and great pleasures of hosting a music night is the chance to hang out with talented musicians. So, last night, there were 4 top acts at the lounge, one regular, two second timers, and a self confessed newbie, though judging by his keyboard talents, is underestimating his own capabilities.

First up was the superb Eddie's Brother, with a sharp set played on a five string guitar. What impressed last night was not so much the material, which is clearly a strong set of highly crafted songs and is always good, but Chris' guitar technique, which blended jazz voicings, rhythm and time signature changes, and arpeggios seamlessly. All guitar players should try and check this guy out - Chris claims it is "musical meanderings", but I would argue that this is a craftsman at work.

Next up was Tim Eveleigh, with a set of strong songs, and a great voice. Tim is appearing outside the Croydon Council offices on an open stage on Friday lunchtime (18th July), and at the N1 shopping centre, Islington, on Saturday daytime. Clearly the spirit of Woodstock lives on! Tim does some fantastic music promotion in and around London, through his Freedom of Expression organisation, and all budding musicians and enthusiasts should check it out.

Third on was Aaron McMullan, who we were glad to invite back to the Lounge for the second time. Aaron again delivered a raw, intense and passionate set, with a performance that captivated the audience. Finally, Jonny Carr closed the show, with his first performance at the Lucky Lounge. Continuing the tradition of a random unexpected cover in the Lounge, Jon slipped in The Cure's "Boys don't cry". His set, and musicianship were strong, and we look forward to having all these guys back soon.

The next Lucky 13 Lounge is on Tuesday 29th July, at 7:30pm, at the Istanbul Meze, 100 Cleveland Street, London, W1T 6NS. Rod on!

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Solomon Burke Review, Barbican, 3rd July 2008

Father to 21, Grandfather to 89, owner of a chain of funeral directors, active preacher, and saviour of Atlantic Records in the early 1960s, Solomon Burke is a living legend, a force of nature and a magnificent performer, whose diem must well and truly be carped. His show at the Barbican was less of a concert, more of an experience, that those who were are unlikely to forget.

First to the stage was the band, led by the extraordinarily talented Hammond B-3 player Rudy Copeland, whose mannerisms and appearance led to you believe Ray Charles had returned from the great gig in the sky. Burke himself made a dignified and touching entrance, helped to an enormous throne under dimmed lights. When the lights came up, he was surrounded by roses, and dressed in a silver-lame suit wearing shades. Beyond cool.

Burke played for two hours, taking requests from the audience, preaching in between songs, and teasing every ounce of emotion from his still strong voice. The majority of his set was material from two recent album's, "Don't Give Up On Me", the title track of which bought tears to grown men's eyes, and "Nashville". Burke's late career material is superbly strong and well crafted (Paul McCartney take note), and his super tight band cut a sharp southern soul groove throughout. Great, and very special stuff.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Lucky 13 Lounge Review, Tuesday 1st July 2008

If anyone suggested to you that you put on a gig in a basement bar in central London, 500 yards from Regent's Park, during the hottest day in June, then you would be well within your rights to suggest that they had taken leave of their senses. Though, in fairness, we did have the air conditioning turned onto to American settings, and everyone got a seat.

First up, Mississippi MacDonald opened the show. Following, the Quiet Loner played 30 minutes of sublime americana, singing songs about the southlands, attempted murders, his brush with the strong arm of the surveillance culture (at Smithfield's Market, which must rank right up there with the Pentagon for high security installations) and closing with some Buck Owens.

Next up was the great Phil Lunn, 3 songs solo, then 3 with his superb cello player, Marianne. Fresh from a meltdown in a field in Somerset that would make even a Camden songstress weep, their set was powerful, intense and at times achingly poignant.

Closing the show was Benjamin Shaw, for his fourth time at the Lucky 13 Lounge. Twanging a nylon string axe that had been acquired through tortured negociations at a car boot sale ("go on then, I'll take 20" etc etc), Ben's material was funny, sad, comitragic and touching, but most of all captivating and engaging. Bravo sir!

The Lucky 13 Lounge is back on the 15th July, in the basement bar of the Istanbul Meze, 100 Cleveland Street, London, W1T 6NS. Free entry, and Time Out rave about the food.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Buddy Guy Review: Shepherd's Bush Empire, 24/6/08

At 70 years old, Buddy Guy remains an electrifying and extraordinary musician and performer, capable of terrifying audiences and guitar slingers therein with explosive, wild solos and licks, and a voice that can roar like a southern soul train in full steam, or can whisper falsetto that the great Reverend himself would be proud of. His shows can be both an incredible, or an unsatisfying, fragmented experience, but on Tuesday at 'ShBuE', the citizens of this great city so often starved of this music were treated to a performance from a master at the top of his game.

Guy's band were tight, well drilled, and schooled in Chicago Blues, able to whip up a storm, nail a back beat, or slide into a smooth soul groove at a seconds notice. The second song, Muddy Water's Hoochie Coochie Man started so quietly you could hear a pin drop, but exploded like a neutron bomb at each chorus. Guy, dressed in white slacks, non matching shoes and a classic showbiz shirt was beaming from ear to ear, and interacting with the crowd who were cheering every moment. A string of sublime Buddy Guy blues followed - but the piece de resistance was a cover of the O V Wright classic, "Drowning on Dry Land", during which Guy went into the crowd and nearly blew the 104 year old roof off the premises.

As is the case with the pleasurable, the sublime, the illicit or the incredible, the curfew fell at 10:30, but not until after Guy had closed the show with a little John Lee Hooker, a grateful appreciation for the UK for popularising the blues again in America following the 1960s - for which Guy "..woke up everyday, prayed and gave thanks.." , and an affecting and moving song "Skin Deep" from his new album, due out 22nd July. This evening was a revelatory and intense experience, and a demonstration of the deep joy and emotion of this precious music.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Guarding a Musical Legacy

With the passing of Bo Diddley, another link to the rich tapestry of American rhythm and blues heritage fades. Whilst we celebrate the lives of long passed classical musicians, writers and performers on stage and screen, who will mount the Blue Plaques for the Blues? Does a legacy stop at a few youtube postings, a myspace cyber existence and a repackaged "Hits of...."?

Two projects, each different in their aims, are being undertaken that seek to preserve this legacy. The first is led by Red Kelly, author of a superb blog on American music, and is raising money to purchase a stone to mark the grave of seminal southern soul giant OV Wright, who to this day 28 years after his untimely death, lies in an unmarked grave in southern Memphis, TN. Red and the guys also did the same for James Carr.

The second project is a film, Where Lightnin' Strikes, a collaboration between film companies to produce a feature length documentary about the life and times of Houston, TX based blues singer Sam Lightnin' Hopkins.

You can donate to each of these projects, through Paypal donations at the OV Wright memorial pages, or by buying a T-Shirt for the film project from the project site ($35 + P&P outside the US, which is about £22).