Billy Walton Band @The Old Fold Manor 24/01/16
Now I’ve seen the Billy Walton Band in a variety of venues including village halls, rugby clubs and even the occasional music venue, but this was a first; BWB playing in a golf club in north London. First impressions were that, well, it was a golf club lounge with a temporary stage at one end and a bit of dance floor in front of it. None of that was going to put me off, because the venue’s almost irrelevant; these guys create their own live music bubble in any room they play.
I think the band needs a name change as well; maybe the Ever-Expanding Billy Walton Band would work. The first time I saw the band (almost six years ago) they were a power trio – Billy, William Paris and drummer John Hummel. Since then, the brilliant John D’Angelo has taken over as the pulse behind the band and, after a brief spell with Richie Taz playing tenor sax, a horn section evolved adding tenor sax and trombone to the mix. The current BWB horn players are Tom Petracarro (sax) and Matt (Fish) Fisher (trombone); they add a huge soulful punch to the mix and they’re a whole bunch of fun as well. As of last year, Stateside keyboard collaborator Sam Sherman completed the six-piece line-up that is the current touring Billy Walton Band.
So, back to Barnet. From the moment the band hit the stage, the audience was with them, waiting for the magic to begin. The impact of the augmented line-up is obvious from the start; as a three-piece, every fill and solo was Billy’s responsibility but now it’s spread out over another three players. There was a perfect demonstration of the power this adds to the band during their cover of the Creedence song “Green River” (and where did that come from?), where the horns reinforced the guitar riff to create a punch that John Fogerty would be proud of.
There’s another way that the band have moved on since 2010; the songs from the last two albums are much more commercial and the part of the audience that isn’t worshipping the phenomenal guitar playing can appreciate the quality of the newer songs, particularly “Till Tomorrow”, with its insanely catchy hook. You expect great guitar solos, but the horns and keys are featured as well, creating a bit of breathing space and a perfect setting for Billy’s phenomenal playing. The song “Hot Blues” normally features Billy’s guitar mash-up of various recognisable riffs (and maybe a quick burst of vocals) from various classic rock tunes, but it was extended even further in Barnet because of the Grim Reaper’s hyperactive January. The solo featured quick tributes to Bowie (“Ziggy Stardust”), Glenn Frey (“Life in the Fast Lane”) and Buffin (“All the Young Dudes”) as well as “Kashmir” and the usual suspects.
I’m crossing my fingers here, but Billy seems to have hit on the line-up and the format to display his talents and appeal to a wider audience. There’s a perfect balance between strong songs, guitar virtuosity and the good time bar band playing soul, blues and rock that should push them up to the next level; I really hope it does.