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)…

NovotelNovotel, 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.

KimosKimos,  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 ImHotel 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.

DOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAucks 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…

GerhausGasthaus 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!

So, how was 2013 for you?  The Riot Squad have had a brilliant year bringing you the best in contemporary music wherever we find it.  Allan, John, Klare and Louie have reviewed some exceptional live and recorded music throughout the year and we all thank you for reading our reviews and looking at our photos.  We couldn’t resist this opportunity to remind you of some of the artists we reviewed for the first time in 2013.

We saw live performances by the Emile Gerber Band (which became Stoneface Travellers), Henrik Freischlader, Josephine, Marcus Bonfanti (solo and with his band), The Kennedys, Federal Charm (twice), Black Casino & The Ghost, Coco and the Butterfields (several times), The Dirt Tracks, Carrie Rodriguez, Aynsley Lister, Civil Protection, Wheatus, Dean Owens and Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion.  Quite a selection, really.

We reviewed albums and singles by Henrik Freischlader, Marcus Bonfanti, Sally Shapiro, Tomorrow’s World, Black Casino & The Ghost, Jimmy Livingstone, Austra, Tess of the Circle, Aynsley Lister, The Nyco Project, The Dirt Tracks, Nadine Shah, Sullivn,  Radio (in my) Head, Tal National, Layla Zoe, Kinver, Au Revoir Simone, DENA, Hartebeest, Polly Scattergood, Glasser, Annie, Emika and John Grant and probably a few others as well.  Along the way we had some great fun and met some lovely people; you all know who you are, and we’re hoping to meet most of you again this year.

Looking forward to 2014, we’re hoping for more of the same.  The review copies are already coming in and it’s starting to look pretty good already.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of our predictions for 2014 from the Riot Squad and possibly from a few guest contributors as well.  And, while we’re on the subject of guest contributions, many thanks to Aynsley Lister, Steve Jenner, Marcus Bonfanti and Billie Ray Martin for their contributions to our High Fives feature last year.

This is what happens when you ask a musician to give you a Top Five of “anything music-related”.  We’ve seen Marcus twice this year and we know all about his dry sense of humour and, as a touring musician, he’s obviously an expert in this field.  Here’s Marcus Bonfanti’s High Five of motorway service stations.

1) Total Station Belmos (Belgium) – handmade sandwiches when you’re so near Calais you’ve resigned yourself to the overpriced P&O beige food.

2) Tebay Westmoreland Farm Shop (M6) – once you’ve stopped laughing at the pie called “beef growler” you realise they sell homemade pies.Tebay

3) Medway (M2) – The inclusion of a Greggs is perfect as if you’re approaching Dover from the north it’s been an early morning, from the South it’s been a late night. Either way you all need a sausage roll.Medway

4) Moto Donington Park (M1) – there’s a girl who works nights there and if you turn up at about 2am she’ll sell you all the doughnuts for a quid.Donington Park

5) Newport Pagnell (M1) – Fruit machine always seems to pay out when our tour manager plays it which means we all get a coffee bought for us.Newport Pagnell


I love this; it’s time for the High Fives again and it’s a very different challenge this year with my live selections.  I had to work really hard to bring this down to just five gigs, but I think this just about sums it up.  In no particular order, here they are.

The Kennedys @Kings Place

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was one of the many venues I visited for the first time this year and it was a perfect place to see Pete and Maura Kennedy live proving that you can create musical perfection with just two guitars and two voices.  As well as having a stack of their own songs to create a set from (with plenty of input from the audience) they very generously feature songs by other writers and give the audience plenty of background about the songs and writers as well.  I know you’ll find this difficult to believe, but they also did something that left me speechless; Pete played a ukulele version of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” which was stunning.  And I got to hear a live version of “Big Star Song” which had been impossible to get out of my head after reviewing the album.  And they are two genuinely lovely people.

08) Federal CharmFederal Charm and Southside Johnny @The Apex, Bury St Edmunds

Predictable, me?  The truth is, I’ve seen Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes dozens of times and I’ve never seen a bad gig.  I’ve also never seen anything resembling the same set twice.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  We got to the venue just as the support band, Federal Charm, were starting their set and the impact was instant; frontmen Nick Bowden and Paul Bowe trading riffs and solos under Nick’s incredibly powerful lead vocal.  They’ve got self-assurance by the bucketload and a bunch of great songs as well.  And that was just the support act.  Southside Johnny, surrounded by a bunch of Jukes that have been playing as a unit for a few years now, looked more relaxed than I’ve seen him in years and sounded better than ever.  They played a set that wasn’t too reliant on the old classics, but was still appreciated by the old fans.  As always, the audience (and most of the band) had no idea where the set was going next and we loved it.

Dean Owens @The Cabbage Patch, Twickenham

Dean OwensYou might have noticed that the Riot Squad are big fans of Dean Owens.  We’ve been telling you about his albums for a couple of years now but, living in London, it’s a bit of a challenge seeing a live show; luckily we like a challenge and the first one was getting the squad from various parts of London and the south-east to Twickenham on a Friday evening.  When we finally made it, the venue was perfect; intimate with a nice sound system and a very appreciative audience.  Ags Connolly (whose debut album on Drumfire Records was produced by Dean) opened the show with a strong bunch of songs before Dean delivered a great set built around the “Cash Back” album with loads of songs from earlier albums and audience requests thrown in.  It’s worth adding that Dean has a very dry sense of humour and the audience interaction between songs was great fun as well.  Top night and many thanks to Phil Penman and Drumfire for keeping the faith.

Marcus Bonfanti

10) Marcus BonfantiMarcus Bonfanti is the British blues equivalent of the Duracell bunny; he never stops working.  During 2013, he released an album and did a solo acoustic tour and a full band tour to promote the album.  I was lucky enough to see an acoustic show (in the unlikely environment of a casino in the West End) and a full band show in The Borderline.  Both gigs were excellent and Marcus is a superb blues player and singer with a great line in self-deprecatory chat and humour between songs.  The highlight of each set was the wonderful “The Bittersweet”, one of the best new songs from any genre I’ve heard this year. All of the songs are so strong that they worked perfectly in a solo setting and with the full band; spot on musically and great fun as well.


Carrie Rodriguez @The Old Queen’s Head, Islington

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYet another venue that I haven’t visited before; this is a room above a pub with a capacity of about eighty.  Yet again, the sound system was spot-on and the audience were very appreciative as Carrie, accompanied by Luke Jacobs (and playing between them fiddle, tenor guitar, acoustic and electric guitars and lap steel) rattled through two sets of songs taken mainly from her current album, “Give Me All You Got”, with some old favourites thrown in as well.  The songs were very high quality, the playing and vocals were superb, and Carrie and Luke’s easy relationship with the audience made this a superb night.

It wasn’t easy picking just five great live shows from the many I’ve seen this year and I should really give a mention to some of the others who didn’t quite make the list.  I saw great sets this year from Coco and the Butterfields, Henrik Freischlader, Billy Walton (four times), Paul Rose, Aynsley Lister, Elvis Costello, Civil Protection and Bruce Springsteen, but the five I’ve chosen here are the ones which surprised and delighted me.


Shake the WallsIf anyone’s paying attention you might have noticed that I wrote about Marcus Bonfanti earlier this year when he did an unplugged gig in the very un-blues setting of the Hippodrome Casino where he previewed some of the songs from his album “Shake the Walls” which is released on Monday June 17 on Jigsaw (SAW4).  The acoustic preview was a bit like a pencil drawing of painting; it gave a hint of the big picture but a lot of the colours and textures were missing.  With his classic blues band line-up of bass (Scott Wiber), drums (Alex Reeves) and Hammond organ (Paddy Milner) on the album, the arrangements are filled out perfectly, with the exception of “The Bittersweet” which was written as a solo acoustic piece and works perfectly in that format.

The album starts in the way I like albums to start, with a statement of intent.  “Alley Cat” opens with a rising guitar riff before the band kicks in followed by Marcus’s full-throated blues growl and we’re off and running with “Cheap Whisky” next up in a similar vein.  The album covers a wide range of blues styles from the electric high-powered blues of “Jezebel” to the acoustic “We All Do Bad Sometimes”, the country-styled “Blind Alley” and the solo classic “The Bittersweet”.  “Shake the Walls” demonstrates the full range of Marcus Bonfanti’s instrumental and vocal abilities from all-out raucous electric workouts to acoustic ballads and all stops in between.  The sequencing of the album is absolutely spot on as well; after every couple of stompers, there’s a change of pace with to an acoustic blues or something with a gentler country inflection.

If you wanted a perfect showcase for Marcus Bonfanti’s work, then this it.  He’s perfectly convincing as a player with all of the styles on the album from the opening riff-based electric songs to the solo acoustic album closer “The Bittersweet”.  What sets Marcus apart from the many great blues players around at the moment (and there are a lot of them out there) is the quality and power of his voice.  It works over the whole dynamic range of the album and he can do it live as well.  If you wanted a comparison for this album I think Rory Gallagher at his peak, in the “Calling Card” era, is about right.

The only thing that I’m not sure about on “Shake the Walls” is the quality of the lyrics.  I know that blues at the moment is much more about the poetry of the playing, but a lot of the lyrics here are the old blues clichés of whisky and bad women.  The chorus of the opening track starts with the lines “She got the claws out like an alley cat, she got the impact of a heart attack”.  It’s not quite as bad as Duran Duran’s “serious as a nuclear war”, but it’s going down that same highway.  But I guess if you wanted clever, meaningful lyrics you would all be listening to Jackson Browne albums and not British blues.

Anyway, it’s a small criticism because I love the playing, the arrangements and the dynamics of the album.  It’s not just one for the blues purists; there are lots of different musical styles on offer here.  Get the album when it’s released on Monday but, even better, go out and see Marcus and the band on tour from Thursday June 20.  You can get the dates and even a free download of “Cheap Whisky” from his website.


Marcus Bonfanti (Photo by Allan McKay)

I’ll be quite honest, The Hippodrome Casino is probably one of the last places in London I thought I’d be sitting in watching a British blues player. Marcus Bonfanti’s show is part of a solo tour which is mainly about trying out songs from the new album (out in May) live in an intimate setting.  The Matcham Room is on the first floor of the Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square and you get there by making your way through the main gaming floor and lots of squeaky-clean and hyper-polite staff.  The room is set up cabaret-style with tables (table service only), small booths and a balcony; and don’t even ask about the drinks prices.  Ok then, I’ll tell you; over a fiver for a bottle of Corona.

All of this is irrelevant when Marcus Bonfanti ambles on stage; the audience are his and they’re very enthusiastic.  He’s best known for his guitar playing, so obviously he started his set with an unaccompanied blues holler.  He has a powerful blues voice but, the second he picks up a guitar, you know you’re in the presence of a huge talent.  The solo format leaves the performer with nowhere to hide on stage but it’s obvious from the outset that it holds no fears for Marcus Bonfanti.  He’s very engaging and self-deprecating, and casually throws out humorous anecdotes between songs which keep the performer/audience rapport alive during the inevitable guitar changes and re-tunings.

On this tour Marcus uses 3 guitars; a 6-string acoustic, a Telecaster and a resonator.  Although this is a solo set, there’s a huge variation in style and dynamics from the modern misery of “Sweet Louise” to the traditional stomp of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” and the rousing slide workouts.  During the 2 sets Marcus played, he demonstrated his mastery of finger-picking, bottleneck slide and Chicago electric blues (and the rest) using old and new songs including “Blind Alley”, “Jezebel”, “The Bittersweet”, “My Baby Don’t Dance” and “Cheap Whisky”.  As a taster set this works perfectly, because I can’t wait for the album now and the chance to hear the songs played live by the band when they tour to promote the album.

Marcus Bonfanti is a major British talent as a blues guitarist, songwriter and singer and this solo showcase emphasises his abilities while whetting the appetite for the full band appearances which will come in support of the new album.  If you’re even vaguely interested in blues, then you really should make the effort to see Marcus when he tours to support the album.