The Invasion Of The Beery Blues: Part 25

There’s a beery blues invasion on the way, with a quartet of fine practitioners descending on the area. Martin Longley has already caught them all, up in York during the last few months…

Andy Fairweather Low & The Low Riders
Pocklington Arts Centre
October 17, 2012

The Welsh singer and guitarist Andy Fairweather Low is many artists to many folks. Some fans revere his hits with the 1960s pop group Amen Corner. Others remember his 1970s solo albums. Some have caught him in the combos of Eric Clapton, Roger Waters and Bill Wyman. Personally, your scribe was captivated fairly late in the day, as Low became the lead guitarist in trombonist Chris Barber’s band, replacing the prematurely deceased bluesman John Slaughter.

It was clear from this gig that Low’s heart is now deep in the blues, and that he considers guitar soloing as being of equal importance to singing. He even felt is necessary to issue a warning at gig’s start, just in case some punters had come along expecting an unremitting sequence of poppy chestnuts. Of course, Low still obliged with those old ditties, but his two sets were very much occupied with the blues. They were also well populated with searing guitar solos.

Pocklington Arts Centre lies in a village around 10 miles outside York, and it clearly has its own scene. The gig looked virtually sold out. The theatre is quite small, with a cossetting acoustic quality and a punchily clear sound system. All the better to frame Low’s guitar sound, which sparks and smoulders with a barely contained charge. It’s a king amongst amplifier emissions, and he has the playing fluency to match. The dapper Low chooses to adopt the image of a banker, or maybe a tidier, disciplined type of science fiction nerd. Spectacles and skinny tie. No beer-spattered t-shirts for this band. But they still proffer an old school soulful blues, burned by smoking edges.

Low has a very distinctive vocal style, singing high, keening lines out of the tightened corner of his mouth. Perhaps Sting was influenced by him at some stage. Nick Pentelow was a major asset, providing saxophone solos on most of the tunes, invariably ridged with a captivatingly rough texture. The other members were bassist Dave Bronze and drummer Paul Beavis. The set ranged from “Bend Me Shape Me”, once covered by Amen Corner, to songs by Webb Pierce and Jimmy Reed, then “When You’re Smiling” and “Wide Eyed And Legless”, jackknifing into a meaty “Peter Gunn”, and the eponymously titled “Low Rider”. Even if a song wasn’t blues or R&B, the prevailing band sound adopted the stylistic traits of those musics. Low’s governing personality and musicality managed to transform all of the material, even if some songs might have been too bland in their naked state. The Low Rider personality embraced all of the songbook’s diversity, filtering everything into a toughened band sound.

Andy Fairweather Low plays at The Artrix, Bromsgrove, on the 22nd November…

Dr. Feelgood
September 27, 2012

When a band eventually features none of its original members, does it still qualify as being that band? When Dr. Feelgood’s singer and co-founder Lee Brilleaux died in 1994, he apparently instructed his three rockaboogie henchmen to continue handing out their seedy prescriptions. Here in 2012, they remain committed, having inducted their ‘newest’ singer Robert Kane a mere 13 years ago.

York’s long-established rock venue has benefited from a recent re-design, now looking like it can fittingly conduct DJ/electronica nites (indeed, such dates are now part of its programme). Gone is the beery interior of old, although the Feelgood crowd were visibly set on christening the fresh space with their froth. For a band that are teetering dangerously on the edge of being a tribute combo, Feelgood had pulled in a strong gathering. There is a limbo zone where certain players are more qualified to address old repertoires, assuming there’s a strong connection. Jazz rules come into operation, and rock rules are suspended. This is a band whose guitarist (Phil Mitchell) and drummer (Kevin Morris) spent the best part of a decade on the road with Brilleaux prior to his early demise. Bassman Steve Walwyn had at least five years in this company, and singer Kane now has the tough task of emulating the old leader’s frontman presence. With his wiry post-Jagger posturings, Kane stabbed out into the crowd, delivering the necessary swagger alongside Mitchell’s often rather savage guitar explosions. Kane also blew a rugged harmonica when strategically required. The initial strafe included “Milk And Alcohol”, “She’s A Wind Up” and Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?”, which is some testament to the general momentum, established from the very onset.

Dr. Feelgood play at Cox’s Yard, Stratford, on the 23rd of November, and The Robin 2, Bilston, on the 12th of December…

Wilko Johnson
October 18, 2012

Another man with a hot guitar sound is Wilko Johnson, although attempting to pick apart the seams between ‘solo’ and ‘rhythm’ is a challenge, when the riff becomes the abstract explosion, then jolts back again. Only a few weeks earlier, Johnson’s old band had played at this very venue. Even if the present Dr. Feelgood now features no original members, their style remains closer to that of the old combo. Since departing Feelgood in 1977, Johnson has evolved to the point where that outfit’s established sound is now Incorporated into a general landscape of garage rock, with jazzed, funked and souled trimmings. Most of these emanate from the exceedingly agile bass antics of Norman Watt-Roy (an old Blockhead), who was caught in a perpetually soloing frenzy, even as he delivered each sinuous bassline. Johnson’s hair of yore has been replaced, or rather, has vanished to reveal a shining dome. His manic chickenwalking (complete with equally manic staring eyes) remains the same, telegraphing each scattershot guitar punctuation. Playing for well over an hour, Johnson stirred up an atmosphere of crowd-exultation that’s rarely witnessed. This was another crammed gig at Fibbers, with a pact of electricity transmission made between the audience and band.

Wilko Johnson plays at The Robin 2 on the 25th of November…

Chantel McGregor
October 12, 2012

Chantel McGregor

The UK blues scene seems to be suddenly awash with younger talents, all making bold ascents with their nascent careers. Some of these players are female, which doubles the freshness factor. Meaning that the blues scene has mostly been a moonshine brewing den for potent male juices. Chantel McGregor plays guitar and sings, with the six strings providing her most powerful means of expression. She recently won in the ‘female vocalist of the year’ category at the British Blues Awards, although it’s her guitar solos that emit the most potent thrill. The tour was lengthy, but this was almost a homecoming, as she hails from nearby Bradford.

The key to what makes McGregor interesting is the sheer variety of her material. Her own songs are violently rocking one moment, then soft to the point of almost departing the blues zone and becoming ballad pop. During this 90 minute-plus set, she also played tunes by Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Nicks (“Gold Dust Woman”, from her Fleetwood Mac days). This latter was part of a midway solo acoustic spot, which had the audience clutched in a spell of silence. Rejoined by her bassist and drummer, the rest of the set reclaimed an aggressively seething intensity, with several extended guitar solos bleeding through her already wounded amplifier. Previous dates had suffered from blowing valves, so now McGregor had the luxury of being able to switch between two amplifiers, giving both of them a testing time. McGregor displayed a noticeably energised connection with her drummer, entering a rampaging dialogue that kept escalating in extremity. Your scribe has a preference for the rugged end of McGregor’s repertoire, but her gentler selections do add to the dynamic shading, so are perhaps providing a necessary calming point.

Chantel McGregor plays at The Robin 2 on the 11th of December…