Aidan Connell “Grio” album launch @The Borderline

4 stars (out of 5)

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Aidan Connell TitleEvery time I go into a venue in Soho like The Borderline, I wonder if it’s going to be the last time; the headlong rush to gentrify messy, sordid old Soho seems to be progressing at a frantic pace and it doesn’t look like there’s room in the planners’ brave new world for basement venues where you can hear great musicians play loud, beautiful and sometimes messy music. So I’m making the most of it while I can.

The occasion this time was the launch of Aidan Connell’s “Grio” album, and Aidan celebrated by putting together a programme which built steadily toward his headline appearance. The opening band on the night was The Wang Dang Doodle playing their version of Chicago electric blues; they sounded good and workmanlike, but really caught fire when Laurent Mouflier evoked the spirit of Little Walter with his blistering harmonica solos.

Next up was Southbound, a five-piece from Hertfordshire delivering a set of original songs inspired by (surprisingly enough)seventies multi-guitar bands from the Southern states of the USA; if you start with the Allman Brothers and throw in a bit of Lynyrd Skynyrd, then you’re probably fairly close. The rhythm section was tight and funky, allowing the two guitarists space to play together or trade solos, and the vocals were always convincing. They’re very good at the moment, but you can’t help thinking that there’s a lot more to come.

But this was Aidan Connell’s party and he was never going to disappoint. Throughout the set the band play in the tradition of the sixties power trio; rock-solid most of the time underneath the lead vocal and guitar, but with the ability to loosen up and improvise (or follow the leader) when required. The relatively short set opened with the uptempo “Everybody Else” from “Grio” and about half of the songs were from the album, including the absolute standout single, “I Hate Rock ‘n’ Roll”. The songs are strong, the playing’s spot on and there was even a bit of fun at the end of the set when Laurent Mouflier stepped back up to join the band for the final number, trading licks with Aidan and generally having a great time.

Aidan Connell’s a very interesting proposition; he’s heavily influenced by the original blues greats and the power trio era, but he brings some twenty-first century influences to the party as well. His voice is a bit more soulful than bluesy and he likes to introduce a bit of a psychedelic element as well. While some blues players can be a bit serious, or even precious, about the music, Aidan likes to have a bit of fun as well, playing solos with just the left hand while having a drink, playing behind his head and with his teeth; it’s not even showing off, really, it’s just someone who’s really, really good having a bit of a play while doing his job. Wouldn’t we all like to do that?

“Grio” is released on October 2 and we’ll have a review for you very soon.