Sunday 11 September I went to see Roy Bailey at the Green Note in Camden. This was a suggestion of friends in London. I was not familiar with Roy's music, but have since learned that he is a legendary folk singer; a kind of English equivalent to Pete Seeger no less. A protest singer, a socialist, half of an award-winning duo with the late Tony Benn and an academic. And all I knew was that he was Martin Simpson's father-in-law, although I am now sure Martin would say that the other way around.
The Green Note is a lovely venue. It is so small that you can see well from anywhere inside. The place filled up early with a dedicated listening audience. I drank organic draught beer; surprisingly good. I was in London on my way back from the Netherlands, where I am from but which long ago stopped feeling like home. I had a very happy night in the Green Note, sitting in this dark, atmospheric café among like-minded music fans. Audience participation was very much encouraged, as Roy said he wanted the show to be a communal experience, rather than just him doing his thing and us listening.
Roy is 80 years of age and walks with a stick. His voice is strong though and this was not a short gig either. Roy was accompanied by Marc Block, whom he credited with enabling him to continue to do gigs, as Marc drives him around. Marc contributed guitar, harmonica, bodhrán and vocals. They were also joined by Ian Brown, who added guitar and vocals to the songs he knew, and stayed out of the ones he didn't. I liked this, as guests outstaying their welcome can sometimes mar a gig.
Highlight for me was a song called 'Everything possible', written by Fred Small, an American songwriter. The song had a lovely message, as had Sunday's show in general. Roy very much came across as a man with his heart in the right place. He is not a songwriter but a collector of songs, and a well-travelled one. Storytelling and anecdotes were an important part of the gig.
Roy has only recently released his first ever live CD 'Live at Towersey 2015', featuring the aforementioned Marc and Ian, as well as Martin Simpson and Andy Cutting.
Last Monday the Amsterdam Bos Theatre hosted an evening of acoustic music. What a great location: An open air theatre in the Amsterdam Forest, a park three times the size of Central Park on the outskirts of the city. It was a dry and warm evening with mosquitos who calmed down once it got dark.
I had been apprehensive about this gig. A mailing that had gone out from promotor warned of a token system for drinks and that payment would be by "pin" only. They even tried to flog a very un-rock'n roll €35 picnic hamper. Thankfully cash was eventually accepted and there were no hipster picnickers in evidence at all.
Call It Off opened the show. They describe themselves as a pop punk quartet and hail from Eindhoven. For this concert band members Maurice and Adrian performed as a duo. The hallmark of a good song is that it should work with just guitar and vocals and that was indeed the case here. The guys have strong voices, they harmonize nicely and they got some crowd participation going, even if it did take them until their last song to realize that there were a lot of travelling fans at the show who had not understood any of their introductions in Dutch.
Tim Vantol is a Dutch singer/songwriter who is actually better known in Germany than at home. I was not familiar with his music, but I knew that he came highly recommended. I was won over quickly: A huge voice, warm personality and anthemic songs about life and its ups and downs. Tim is a hardworking touring machine and a seasoned live act. He had the audience on his side from the start. He asked where people were from and effortlessly switched to Spanish in mid-song for a girl in the audience.
It was unfortunate that Tim's merch guy did not have sufficient change and was not prepared to accept 1 and 2 cent coins. I resigned myself to the fact that I was not meant to have Tim's CD. For the record, Tim has released two full-length albums and they are out on vinyl as well.
Frank Turner's gig was a rare duo performance with his friend and Sleeping Soul member Matt Nasir on mandolin, mandola and backing vocals. With a bottle of wine on a table between them they put on a laid-back, humorous show. The set differed significantly from Frank's previous concert in the Netherlands (Utrecht, January), which pleases multiple gig goers. The songs from Frank's most recent album 'Positive Songs For Negative People' translated particularly well to the guitar and mandolin treatment. 'Glorious You' and 'The Opening Act Of Spring' were the standouts for me.
'A Love Worth Keeping' was played especially for a fan for whom this was her 50th show. Frank inpires this kind of loyalty among his listeners, most of whom will be able to tell you their gig count. A check on Setlist.fm revealed ten previous live renditions of the song 'A Love Worth Keeping'. In comparison, the site lists Frank's most successful song 'Photosynthesis' 787 times, though given that this was Frank's 1958th show as a solo artist (he does keep count) the actual figure is probably double that.
Other rarities performed at the Bos Theatre were the Million Dead song 'Smiling At Strangers On Trains' and a new song entitled 'Eye Of The Day'. This song is about Mata Hari and is part of a kind of concept album that Frank may be working on. It is a beautiful quiet song and the audience gave it the reverence it deserved.
The encore included a guitar and mandolin classic rock extravaganza with covers of Wings' 'Live And Let Die' and Queen's 'Somebody To Love'. 'Get Better' closed the concert. The 'Get Better' Tour of the UK featuring Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls plus two support acts kicks off on 18 November.
Mutefish are an instrumental six piece, best know for their street gigs. Dublin has a great tradition of buskers who have gone on to bigger things. This was particularly the case in the 80s, with the scene that spawned the Hothouse Flowers, Kíla and that included the late Mic Christopher and, most successful of all, Glen Hansard.
Mutefish have released a full length album and an EP to date. They are a festival band and they tour internationally as well (they were in Belgium and Switzerland earlier this year), but they opt to continue busking alongside this. They used to play in Grafton Street. When Mike Scott of the Waterboys posted regular - and amusing - busker reports from Grafton Street on Twitter and he mentioned Mutefish favourably more than once. Nowadays the band can be found on the main square in Temple Bar. My guess is that busking in this touristy area enables them to reach new listeners all the time, in a way that playing in venues simply cannot.
I caught them at a headline gig in Whelans, two days after they supported the Damned at the Academy and prior to their three appearances, they inform us, at the Electric Picnic next weekend.
They drew a seizable crowd, some of which were wearing Mutefish T-shirts. Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese were the dominant languages in the audience, although I overheard an American as well, who was saying to his friend: “This is Whelans, this is where it all happens”.
The current Mutefish line up consists of musicians from Ireland, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine and Portugal. I was not aware that there had been a line up change and I have to admit that I was disappointed to discover that flute player extraordinaire Daithi O'Cearuill is no longer with the band. He featured prominently on the band's first CD, 'On Draught', and since I am quite a flute aficionado I missed his input.
According to the info on the band's website fiddler Pedro Martinho plays flute, whistle and pipes as well, but he did not do so at Sunday's show (except for one very brief part). The line up changes have resulted in a much heavier sound. Mutefish describe their music as progressive techno folk, and on Sunday at least the emphasis was more on prog than on folk.
Once I put my disappointment about the absence of flute aside, I realised that their newer music is actually good. The fiddle is the main provider of the melody and the Portuguese fiddler is also the spokesman for the band. Bo Stelmach (Polish) switched between guitar and mandolin and the mandolin lightened the mood nicely whenever it made an appearance. The rhythm section is made up of Tomas Pupalaigis (from Lithuania) and drummer Philip Staunton (Irish). Ukrainian Peter Karabasoff is another multi-instrumentalist, though he stuck mostly to percussion for this gig and, the sound is rounded out by Marka Lovkil on electric guitar.
At times their music is reminiscent of the Levellers, minus vocals, or of instrumental acts such as And So I Watch You From Afar and Redneck Manifesto. Due to the international make up of the band there is a Manu Chao vibe about them as well.
Their encore was played especially for all the Brazilians in the audience. Apparently it was a cover of a song by a Brazilian band, with a death metal vocal 'sung' by the drummer Philip. It went down a storm and it was a fun end the show.
Mutefish's current EP '360 Hangovers' is available at their busking sessions and via the band's website.
I travelled to Kilkenny on Saturday for a gig at the lovely Set Theatre. I had been there once before, to see Frank Turner, and I liked the venue so much that I had been keeping an eye on their listings ever since. A concert by the Unthanks was a good excuse for a visit to the Marble City.
The last few times I had seen the Unthanks it had been their big band extravaganza with brass and string sections. This time it was only the core five members, and I liked it all the more for that. There would not have been room for more on the Set's tiny stage in any case.
The Unthanks are celebrating ten years as a band and were doing some looking back tonight. They played songs from the Rachel Unthank & the Winterset era, which suited the smaller set up. They also did a good few songs from 'Songs from the shipyards', a show I had missed when they toured it. In addition they did a song from Sting's shipyard project on which they had guested.
They talked about the fact that Becky had got to sing a duet with Sting (cue much joking from all band members and audience; poor old Sting..), but it was Rachel's song they performed: 'Peggy's song' was one of the highlights of the evening for me. Other standouts were 'Anarchie Gordon', 'The testimony of Patience Kershaw' and 'Here's the tender coming'.
For one song Rachel and Becky divided up the audience and taught us some three part harmonies, as they do in their workshops and singing weekends. The resulting singalong sounded great. There was then an interval during which people went to the bar and bought CDs. Rachel came over to say hello as she remembered me from a singing weekend a good few years ago. Her husband Adrian recognised me as well. Such nice people. We talked about the differences between the big band and this smaller set up. Adrian said they like to think that neither is better; just different (true).
Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill were in the audience for the concert, which was a good two hours long. In the queue beforehand I had talked with some musos who were grumbling about Ricky Scaggs' very short show as part of the Kilkenny Arts Festival a few days earlier. One man spotted my Bruce shirt and commented that Ricky could learn a thing or two from the Boss. No such complaints with the Unthanks.
On my way back to the hostel I witnessed what I presume is a typical Saturday night in Kilkenny. Girls on stilts in swimwear and many folks in Kilkenny shirts. I came home with the Unthanks' 'Archive Treasures', which has rarities, demos and alternative live versions – a great collection.
Hot on the heels of the New York maestro’s latest album release Blues of Desperation, followed by a short UK tour, Joe Bonamassa hits these shores again for a run of 5 Summer shows as an homage to his British blues guitar heroes : Clapton, Beck and Page.
Billed as A Salute to the British Blues Explosion, Bonamassa is famously quoted as saying that without the British influence during the early 60’s, rock as we now now it may never have happened...
Set up like a mini festival, and with the impressive Newark Castle ruins behind the stage, first up is Brummie Joanne Shaw Taylor. Despite being the support act, the majority of the assembled are in their seats and attentive during her impressive 40 minute set. She sure can play guitar and has an impressive set of lungs to match. Job done ; crowd warmed up.
And so at 8pm sharp, the now familiar opening backing track of Cash’s Ring of Fire blares out before the band, and finally the immaculately suited and shaded Bonamassa joins them. And without ceremony, they set off into Beck’s Bolero.
Despite the poor vocal volume during the first couple of songs, momentum grows especially when the first Zep song of the night Boogie With Stu lands, and the population of middle aged blokes in the audience show their appreciation.
Bonamassa’s first address to the audience basically suggests that without listening to his heroes back in his childhood, he wouldn’t have picked up a guitar and would have gone down the house painting route...Their loss....
Double Crossing Time, actually a John Mayall cover, features one of several insane solos during the night, and leaves us aspiring guitarists wondering why we bother.
The Clapton songs covered during the night are obvious even if you are were not familiar with the tracks, as Bonamassa almost has a touch of old Slow Hand’s vocal style, and Motherless Children is the perfect example.
Bonamassa’s backing band are Anton Fig on drums, Russ Irwin on rhythm guitar, Reece Wynans on Keys and the inimitable Michael Rhodes on bass. And what a band. They are certainly not just there for Bonamassa to show off his peerless talent, but to enhance it. Let’s face it, you’ve got to be on your game when playing with a maestro.
SWLABR is one of the many highlights of the night, culminating is a furious bass/guitar play off which clearly shows 2 friends having fun and loving what they do.
Zeppelin’s I’ Can’t Quit You Babe is also a masterpiece....is it sacrilege to suggest it actually might have been an improvement on the original...? Magnificent.
Finally, the crowd are urged to join the band on their feet for the finale of How Many More Times, and sadly it felt like this should have happened an hour ago to really get the party started, but better late than never and the euphoric ending was entirely appropriate.
And so to the encore. Bonamassa himself announced that he would not have been able to sleep properly tonight if he hadn’t played something the crowd really knew and loved, and so onto the epic Sloe Gin. The roof would have been brought down if we’d had one, instead we showed our appreciation into the usual manner and sloped off into the now chilly night grinning from ear to ear.
So a unique occasion, in a unique setting and a truly special night. If the aim of the tour was to show his admiration and respect for his heroes, then mission accomplished. If it was to entertain his legions of fans along the way, then mission accomplished with bells on it. Page, Beck and Clapton may have been pivotal at the beginning of blues rock as we know it, but Bonamassa is at the forefront of its future. The Blues couldn’t be in better hands.
photo: Christie Goodwin