It’s a bit like the footie really; the real fans are the ones who come out on a cold Tuesday night in January to show their support. Things start slowly but by the time Little Devils hit the stage, the 100 Club’s full and everyone’s forgotten that it’s brass monkeys out on Oxford Street. It’s one of those nights that proves that there’s still a healthy audience for blues bands (and it isn’t just the Wrinkly Rockers) but it also shows the range of artists taking shelter under the blues umbrella.
Stark suffer a little bit from the ‘I’m only here to see the headliners’ syndrome (and too many people having loud conversations, but don’t get me started on that) but they power-trio their way through a solid set to a decent response (and it still seems odd to see a guitarist play a resonator for electric blues, but it seemed to work).
It’s about a year since I last saw Little Devils (one of my Top 5 gigs of the year) and, in that time, they’ve certainly moved on. Most of last year’s set came from the then-current EP “About Time”, but there was a lot of new material this time which should be appearing on the album they’re just about to record. They cover a wide range of styles in forty-five minutes, ranging from funked-up blues driven along by Sara’s drums and Graeme’s sinuous basslines, through slow blues ballads showing the power of Yoka’s voice and Big Ray’s fret-bashing, almost all the way to prog-rock with some of the flute solos (well, they are on the same bill as Focus in a month). The Devils have a very strong stage presence, good songs and the kind of feelgood factor that generates a loyal fanbase; tonight, the cold January night seems a long way away as they turn the audience from quiet foot-tappers into a seething mass that’s ready for anything.
Which brings us to Aynsley Lister. I’ve never seen Aynsley do a headline set and I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. He’s a little bit more subdued than usual following a recent back injury, but that doesn’t mean he’s holding back musically, although we certainly don’t get any star jumps. The longer headline set gives the band the opportunity to have a bit of fun and jam a little with guitar and keys trading licks occasionally, but the songs are still strong, with “Inside Out”, “Broke”, “Sugar”, “Impossible” and “Hyde 2612” from the latest album “Home” all making the set, each one showing a different facet of Aynsley’s playing, writing or singing. It’s all too easy to focus on Aynsley’s playing, but his voice really does set him apart; it’s a soulful rock voice with a bit of a plaintive edge which works perfectly for the songs from “Home”. The finale’s “Purple Rain” of course, which combines a bit of guitar flash with audience participation and that’s a pretty solid way to end the night.
It’s pretty good demonstration of the diversity and general good health of the British blues scene that three bands so different can share a bill and all be appreciated by the audience. We all expect musicians this scene to be able to play, but both Little Devils and Aynsley Lister have very strong original material and the best songs tonight from both bands are probably the ones that are furthest away from traditional blues roots (Aynsley’s “Inside Out”, for example). I think that’s a good thing (it certainly made “Home” one of my favourite albums of 2013) but I know that not everyone agrees.
Anyway, the bottom line is that this was a great night out with two bands playing such different styles that there was no sense of competition, just a huge effort to give the audience a good time. And you can’t argue with that on a Tuesday night in January.
We think this one deserves a quick mention; it’s a single from Dave Fidler’s album, “I’m Not Here” and we really like it.
It’s been featured on 6 Music Introducing and it’s a game of two halves really; the first part is a fairly basic acoustic twelve-bar blues that morphs into a mainly-fingerpicked, gradually accelerating coda which demonstrates Dave’s outstanding ability as an acoustic player. And it’s great fun.
If you like this, you can find some more videos here.
Out on February 17.
We’re continuing our European journey into 2015 with a blues band from Hungary who write and sing in English and take their inspiration from the legendary Keb’ Mo’, who also makes a guest appearance on one song. The album, “Simple Life”, is the fourth from T Rogers, following “Driven by the Blues”, “Wear your Soul”, and the live album “Live from Home”. The band has been together for about ten years with a core of Bélá Baráth (drums), Ferci Kovács (vocals, guitars), Pál Sturmann (guitars), Zsolt Szatai (bass), Vince Széil (percussion) joined in 2010 by Canadian Stew Hay (harmonica). The album has been available for almost two years, but the lovely people at Cable Car Records have sent me a copy, so it would be rude not to tell you about it.
The first three tracks, “Far and Slow”, “Weary Road” and “Gotta Go” kick things off reasonably well with nice harmonica and guitar solos; “Gotta Go” taking its inspiration from “Sweet Home Chicago” and ”Dust My Broom” and featuring solos with some of the cleanest picking this side of Albert Collins. But it’s only after this opening trio that things start to get really interesting.
“Angelina”, a Keb’ Mo’ cover, featuring vocals and acoustic slide from the man himself, seems to bring out the best in the entire band, from the stuttering acoustic intro to Stew Hay’s manic harmonica solo. While “Weary Road” shows hints of something other than blues, “Something Human” moves into rock territory with a hint of that uncertain late sixties/early seventies era when blues, via the power trios and The Yardbirds, was morphing into rock. The uptempo shuffle of “The Regular’s Blues” is more of the harmonica and ice pickin’ interplay with one of the most clean, laid-back blues solos you’re ever likely to hear, leading into a noisy guitar/harmonica duet.
“Sun on my Back” and “Mood for the Day” are both acoustic, country blues, but that’s where the similarity ends; “Sun on my Back” is a rattling upbeat, uptempo piece with harmonica and acoustic guitar solos but “Mood for the Day” is much slower and builds layer by layer from an acoustic and tambourine intro to a full band and massed chorus finale. There’s even a trucker’s gear change coming into the acoustic solo; what more do you want?
“It Hurts me Too” is a fairly straightforward Elmore James cover, and “Sunshine Cold” opens with a funky guitar riff and verse before moving into a straight rock chorus and then we close with the title track of the album. “Simple Life” is the album’s ‘message song’ and the message is a very clear ‘let’s get back to basics with our lives’. The song ebbs and flows using volume dynamics, acoustic and electric instrumentation and tempo changes to keep the interest level high and is the perfect choice to close out the album.
If you’re a blues/rock or blues fan, there’s definitely something here for you; it’s mainly influenced by traditional country and Chicago blues, bypassing the sixties and seventies interpretations and it’s played with a lot of skill and a fair amount of style. I’m guessing that this would be a great band to see live.
“Simple Life” is out now and is self-released.
So what’s been happening to the Billy Walton Band since the release of “Crank it Up” in 2012? Well, apart from the non-stop touring in the USA, Europe and the UK, the band has had a few line-up changes. Tenor sax player Rich Taskowitz has moved on and Billy has brought in Ian Gray (trombone) and Sean Marks (tenor and baritone sax) to fill out the band’s sound, moving away from a jazz set-up with two soloists to more conventional rock and soul lineup with frontman and backing horn section. It’s a slight change of emphasis, but it creates a more cohesive full-band sound underpinned by the rock-solid rhythm section of John D’Angelo (drums) and William Paris (bass).
For their fourth studio album, “Wish for What You Want” (released in the USA on Vizztone on January 27), the band has enlisted the services of respected producer Tony Braunagel and keyboard player Mike Finnigan, plus a few special guests from New Jersey and the tweaks seem to have paid off. As you might expect from the Billy Walton Band, the album works across many styles and genres, featuring strong songs and the usual high quality arrangements and playing; oh, and a bit of fun as well.
The album opens in a blast of horns and guitar with the uplifting rock and soul of “Wish for What You Want” and the first of many proper endings – none of your lazy fade-outs here and a standout track. “True Lovin’ Man” has a mid-tempo 70s feel, particularly in the horn arrangements before the blues stomper “Mountain” bursts in with a huge guitar riff. “Come on Up” is an organ-driven straight-ahead rocker, building up a head of steam before changing down a few gears for the country blues of “Blues Comes A Knockin’” featuring Southside Johnny on harmonica. “Forgive and Forget” takes the tempo straight back up again with the full band with organ and horns laying the foundation for Billy’s wah-wah guitar fills and solo. If the album gets a vinyl release, this is the perfect way to end Side One.
“Change” is exactly that, a brooding, atmospheric piece which channels Sergio Leone through Ray Manzarek before breaking into the straightforward blues chugger, “Worried Blues”. The next three tracks are probably the most commercial songs on the album; “Till Tomorrow” is a reworking of a “Crank It Up” song which adds a piano intro and plays down the horn fills. It’s a great song with a perfect guitar hook and in earlier times it would have been a perfect choice for a single. “Walk that Little Girl Home” is a Willy de Ville cover which mixes early Springsteen with The Drifters to evoke the Jersey shore perfectly and create another of the album’s highlights. “It Don’t Matter” has an E Street Band–inspired intro leading in to a “Take Your Job and Shove It” lyric which might or might not be autobiographical; it also features a great sax solo from Joey Stann; another former Asbury Juke. The album’s final track, “Hudson County Star” is loose blues/rock workout poking fun at corruption in the New Jersey political scene (a wide target, to be fair) which gives William Paris his customary shot at a lead vocal.
“Wish for What You Want” is another step forward for the Billy Walton Band. The band has evolved from the original power trio line-up focussing mainly on Billy’s guitar work to a rock and soul five-piece capable of covering a wide variety of styles. If you like your songs served up with big guitars and horns, then this one’s for you. If you decide that you like the album, then I’ve got a piece of advice for you; go out and watch the band live. You won’t regret it.
Released January 27 2015 on Vizztone.
Well, first gig of 2015 and it’s my first visit to The Hospital Club near Covent Garden to see Mollie Marriott play an acoustic set at ‘Vin’s Night In’. The former St Paul’s Hospital has an unassuming exterior on Endell Street which opens into an Aladdin’s Cave of bars, television and recording studios, an art gallery, a restaurant and a live music space, so guess where we’re heading (after the bar)? The Oak Room is a cosy 125-capacity space with a nice sound system and, more importantly, a good sound engineer. Musically, ‘Vin’s Night In’ is about giving a break to up-and-coming or undiscovered talent and we’re not about to argue with that.
So, first up musically was Louis Dunford and the impact was immediate. His highly distinctive deadpan vocal delivery works perfectly as a vehicle for his songs of adolescence and teenage years in London in the Lily Allen era mid-noughties. The lyrics are well-crafted and witty, and feel like a darker, grittier version of “Alright, Still”. It’s only a short set, but the audience love “When We Were Hooligans”, Saturday Night/Sunday Mourning” and “London’s Requiem”. Let’s hope his mum forgave him for “When We Were Hooligans”. Chaz Thorogood was next up, turning in an interesting set which relied on his loop pedal a little bit too much for my liking, but which finished on a spacy, psychedelic cover of “Toxic” with not even a hint of that annoyingly catchy hook; fair play to him for that.
After a quick interval and a one-song cameo appearance (sounding great without the benefit of a soundcheck) from singer-songwriter Bea Munro, it was time for Mollie Marriott.
It’s hard to believe that Mollie Marriott’s been involved in the music business for nearly twenty years now. She started at the age of twelve with her girl band D2M and has been involved in music ever since, racking up a very impressive list of backing vocal credits. After hearing her with the Jim Stapley Band, I’ve been looking out for a solo gig and this was it. Mollie was joined by Jim Stapley band members Johnson Jay Medwik-Daley (for the entire set) and Izzy Chase-Phillmore (for most of the set); you’d be surprised at how big one guitar and three voices can sound. Even within the limits of a short acoustic set which included the two singles “Ship of Fools” (a World Party cover) and “Transformer” (co-written with Judie Tzuke and Graham Kearns) and a cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Mary Jane”, Mollie displayed a very impressive dynamic range and the ability to engage effortlessly with the audience.
What sets Mollie Marriott apart from the thousands of performers who can sing well is that she has a lot more than the powerful pure pop voice of “Transformer”; she can push it to the limit to bring out the ragged emotional edges that work so well with blues and soul songs. As a singer, she’s the real deal and it’s looking like she can write as well. This should be a big year for Mollie, with a new album due out in 2015; let’s hope it gives her the breakthrough her talent deserves.
You can see Mollie playing with her band at The Half Moon in Putney on Monday 23 February.
So that’s 2014 well and truly put to bed. We’ve had great fun telling you about an interesting and varied bunch of albums and gigs and we’ve even thrown in a few photos as well. I suppose you want to know what delicacies MusicRiot has lined up for you in 2015; well, we’re only five days in so far, but we’re starting to get an idea of some of the music we’re looking forward to this year. Just bear with me a second while I clean the fingerprints off this crystal ball; I knew it was a mistake going for the touch-screen version.
Okay, a couple of predictions to start with. Two very different bands that we love at Riot Towers, Stone Foundation and Federal Charm, are continuing their march towards world domination. Both bands are currently demoing new albums while taking every opportunity to play live as well. Stone Foundation, following the success of the album, “To Find the Spirit”, tours of the UK and Japan and heaps of radio play last year are taking their brand of small town soul to Europe this April with gigs in France, Germany and The Czech Republic. There’s a British tour as well, which will probably feature some of the material from the new album. Federal Charm, after a hectic year supporting the likes of Ian Hunter and Rich Robinson are focussing on studio life for a while but I guess we can look forward to hearing more from them live later in the year; they just seem to get better with every tour. Another of our old friends, Maura Kennedy, is working on a solo album this year as well, although we don’t know about release dates for that one yet. I suspect we also have a new Southside Johnny album this year as well.
As for albums which are definite releases for this year, we’re quite excited by a few of those as well. Our live favourites The Billy Walton Band have secured a deal for the release their album “Wish for What You Want” and that should be coming out in February. Drumfire Records have new releases in the spring from Dean Owens and Phil Burdett (who also has an acoustic album coming out this year. We reviewed Bob Malone’s “Mojo EP” as well as a gig last year and we’re really looking forward to the release of his “Mojo Deluxe” album, probably in April this year. And that’s before we even start on John’s picks for this year.
Keep an eye out here or like or Facebook page to keep up with all of our news this year.
I think we may just have saved the best till last here. OK, it isn’t 2014 now but I think this was worth waiting for. We expected something slightly different from Marcus Bonfanti and we weren’t disappointed. Here’s a road warrior’s guide to the Top 5 hotel breakfasts:
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day and usually I don’t subscribe to this way of thinking, eating my first meal of the day around 4pm! BUT touring can be a brutal endeavour sometimes and after a good gig and serious night out, breakfast not only becomes the most important meal of the day, it becomes the only thing that makes any sense to you.
So here are my Top 5 Hotel Breakfasts of 2014 (in no particular order)…
Novotel, Schiffbaustrasse, Zurich, Switzerland
Not only is this a quality breakfast that has all the necessary components from fried to fruit for my bass player Matthew to have his well-planned-out 7 plates. It is open from 6am and the people in charge were actually happy to see us when we rocked up at 6am after a pretty serious after-show party out in Zurich and served us up exactly what we needed to make everything alright. They also didn’t eject my Tour Manager Jim when he decided to light a post breakfast cigarette in the restaurant. They didn’t let him smoke it but they didn’t kick him out.
Kimos, Mount Pleasant, Liverpool, UK
Not strictly a Hotel Breakfast as it isn’t attached to a hotel BUT it serves breakfast all day and not just your standard fry up but also Mediterranean Breakfast and Foul Mudammas (tastes so much better than it sounds). When I lived in Liverpool I’d eat all my meals (usually one a day as they serve ‘em big) at this place and now whenever we are in the city I take the band there for dinner and breakfast regardless of what delights the hotel is offering. It could never beat Kimos on taste or price.
Hotel Im GVZ Ingolstadt, Germany
This hotel is owned by Audi and precision engineering doesn’t come close to doing this place justice. My windows and blinds were all remote controlled and offered me every natural lighting option and permutation I could imagine and a few more I hadn’t thought of.
This way of thinking was apparent throughout the hotel and even made it into the breakfast where not only did we have all the options you would expect but there was a Vitamin Bar where you could wash away the night before and give the day ahead a kickstart in many different ways all laid out for you in the booklets provided.
There were also loads of coloured marker pens by the egg boiling pot. Why? So you can mark your egg and identify it when you come to collect it as we all like ‘em done that little bit different. Just beautiful.
Ducks at Kilspindie, Aberlady, Scotland
This is like a home for battered musicians and has been both the solution and cause for us on many occasions. I’ve woken up to this incredible fry up on countless occasions and it’s almost brought me close to tears. The best thing about it tho’ is the many journeys you can take to arrive at the fry up. Whether its playing there the night before and being woken up by the proprietor and general legend Malcolm Duck playing last night’s gig through his portable speakers in the hotel corridor shouting “Time for breakfast” or putting a call in to him after a brutal leg of a UK tour and stopping by to ‘get straight’ or just hanging out there and drinking whisky with him all night on a day off during a tour. I strongly believe this breakfast can literally cure anything, oh yeah and it’s served with a healthy measure of a top quality single malt too…
Gasthaus Tübli, Gersau, Switzerland
Now this breakfast was great for one special reason and that is that it was organised with the chef at 5am after a pretty heavy post gig session with him and his friends in the hotel bar. At one point my drummer Craig said that he’d never had a fondue; the chef took it upon himself to promise him one before he left (the only opportunity being breakfast). My bass player Matthew enquired about another dish he’d had before somewhere which the chef also promised to make him so we all had a go! At 11am we all sat around the breakfast table as this lovely bloke brought out about 5 tailor-made breakfasts to all our requests after about 3 hours sleep.
They also crowded round to watch the crazy Scottish drummer wade through an entire fondue for breakfast… and he did!
In November 2014, we reviewed “Wild Skies”, Linda Sutti’s debut album, released on Cable Car Records and produced by Henrik Freischlader. Allan was really impressed by the album so when we discovered that Linda was in London for a few days just before Christmas, we sent him out to the wilds of Camden (well, The World’s End) to have a chat with her about her first album, working with Henrik Freischlader, her songwriting influences and a few other things as well. This is what happened:
AM – So, you’re from Piacenza in Italy, you sing and write in English and your album was produced by a German, Henrik Freischlader; how did that all happen?
LS – I don’t know; I’ve tried to figure out how it worked out but I still don’t know. I had many chances to make music and I was always in love with English as a language and that’s why I started to write in English. Also, I was a member of a blues band and it’s unusual to write Italian blues; as for the German thing, it was just good luck to meet Henrik.
AM – I suppose if you sing in English, it gives you a wider audience as well.
LS – That wasn’t the main reason; I didn’t think of anything other than my love for English music and American-English music and songwriting in general when I was writing my songs.
AM – So that actually brings me quite neatly on to the singers and songwriters you listened to when you were younger; who influenced you?
LS – I loved and I still love the British folk scene, Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention and Donovan and generally the music of the sixties. That’s why I fell in love with folk music after flirting first with the blues.
AM – From the album sleeve notes, it looks like you were into music from a very young age; is that right?
LS – In my very first band, when I was sixteen, I was playing with another musician and we played covers in English and Italian and I wrote two songs in Italian and then, with other musicians we formed a blues band when I was eighteen/nineteen years old.
AM – It also sounds like your family really supported you as well.
LS – Yeah, very much. My father used to play guitar in a band when he was younger; he had a big band called Sunflowers but they weren’t famous at all. It was very fashionable in Italy at that time to have a big band at that time and, yes, my family has supported me all the way.
AM – On your first album, “Wild Skies”, there are some great arrangements from Henrik; did you have a lot of songs before that you were performing before that as solo acoustic songs.
LS – Last October (2013), I was invited to Opole Songwriters Festival in Poland and that was my first chance to play my songs outside Italy.
AM – I’ve been reading a very good book recently, exploring the ways different songwriters work (“Isle of Noises”) and I wondered how you approach songwriting.
LS – I don’t have a particular recipe; I don’t really have a structure. Basically it comes from the music; I start with a chord progression and some words will come out and then I try to fill in the blanks.
AM – A lot of it sounds very personal in the singer/songwriter tradition of the seventies; James Taylor and Carole King. Do you write about your own life?
LS – Yes, of course, from my personal life and from my friends’ life stories because it’s easier to express ideas about being single, for example, if I write while I’m single.
AM – I have to ask; what was it like working with Henrik on the album?
LS – It was great because I really felt from the start that he understood what I wanted to express, not only with my music and songwriting, but also with my idea of being an artist. Also Cable Car Records is very careful about the personality of the artist. It was amazing and I learned many things about music and about working in the studio, so it wasn’t only about making an album, it’s about growing as an artist and a person; it was great.
AM – And he’s a great player, isn’t he?
LS – Yes, he’s amazing and me and the other artists on Cable Car are so lucky because he plays bass, drums and guitar so when you start to work, he knows everything about the song and he has it all in his mind so you can trust him from the start.
AM – I’ve always had this idea that Henrik works that way; he doesn’t think about different parts, he hears the whole thing in his head.
LS – Yeah, it’s amazing. And the backing vocals as well; he does all the backing vocals on the album.
AM – And what was it like touring with Henrik on his final tour?
LS – It was very special because, as you say, it was the last tour, so I was very honoured. I really felt that the audience was very close to him and it was great to be a part of that atmosphere. For me as an artist, it was a great moment and a great occasion to grow and learn.
AM – And I know that Henrik’s audience is open to listening to different styles of music and I imagine they gave you a good welcome.
LS – I was very grateful to play to the audience and I knew that, me and Henrik, we have different styles (and volumes, we all know how powerful the band and Henrik’s playing is) but the audience was great with me because Henrik allowed them to make room for my music. He always introduced me before he played and I appreciated that very much. I think the audience was also prepared because he produced the album (“Wild Skies”).
LS – (laughs) Thanks.
AM – The strings on the album were great as well, weren’t they?
LS – It was a particularly moving afternoon when we recorded the strings; they’re played by two musicians, one plays violin and one plays cello and the parts they wrote sound like an orchestra. It was amazing.
AM – So that’s the first album done now, where to next?
LS – I don’t know; I’m still focussed on promoting this one. I hope I’ll be touring this album soon. I have many songs in store but, you know, you have to move one step at a time.
AM – Well, let’s hope we get to see you in the UK sometime soon; that would be something to look forward to.
LS – (laughs) I would love it; I’m ready. If you want me call me, I’m here.
AM – There are certainly a few places in London and around the UK where your music would work really well.
LS – I’m looking for places but there are so many musicians here so I think I may have to wait a while.
AM – Well, we’re looking forward to seeing you.
We’ve published a few pieces about Vera Lynch this year and we were very sorry to hear that the band had decided to split at the end of October. Despite having an incredibly hectic schedule touring in Japan, former singer Guy Harries made time to tell us about his favourite five musical events of 2014.
These New Puritans live at the Barbican -- 17 April 2014
An astounding live show in which the band performed their spellbinding album “Field of Reeds” with a large ensemble (members of the Heritage Orchestra) and vocalists (Synergy Vocals), along with a couple of older material and a new track. The material is so nuanced, intricate and complex, that it was a wonder that it could be played live. I later found out that the performance was recorded and will be released soon.
Rediscovering Kate Bush’s more recent material
The whole buzz around Kate’s live comeback (which, alas, I did not manage to attend), encouraged me to have another listen to her album “Aerial” from 2005 (which I didn’t really think much of at the time), as well as her more recent “50 Words for Snow”. This time around, I found a deeply moving voice of an artist who is true to her own artistic vision, takes her time to move beyond short song -form to create atmospheric, personal songs with a melancholy touch that I highly recommend for these wintry months…
This musician stretches the boundaries of rap music in terms of sound, agendas, voices and looks. I particularly like his “Liquid EP”, in collaboration with producer Boody. His live performance in Hackney this year was no disappointment, revealing a charismatic artist, with some killer dance moves.
On the heels of their recent album “Mexico”, which is a return to form for this Icelandic band, the band performed in Koko, London in November. Underground house beats and soul-drenched vocals from Daniel Agust and Stephen Stephensen were a complete treat. Unfortunately, the set was too short and we had to shift to make way for the ensuing NME club night.
Aurora Orchestra playing Benedict Mason’s Meld at the Proms 2014
This spectacular piece makes use of the entire Albert Hall, with musicians constantly moving throughout the whole space, including the galleries, entrance corridors, back stage, and audience area. It questions what a musical performance or classical concert is and was utterly immersive.