NORMAN'S DARWEN'S BLUES NEWS FROM ENGLAND
May saw plenty of American visitors heading to Britain's shores. On the rockier side of the blues, Kenny Wayne Shepherd had several prestigious appearances including the Cheltenham Jazz Festival and London’s O2 Arena (he also attracted a lot of attention from the blues press), and Vancouver’s bluesy rockers No Sinner were also in the country.
Robert Cray continued his tour, wildman Barrence Whitfield And The Savages flew in for several shows, guitarist Coco Montoya appeared in the Midlands, and Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings brought their soul sound to north London. Corey Harris toured, and Eric Bibb also played with the excellent Michael Jerome Brown as support act. Guy Davies had an extensive list of dates, and Larry Garner was back in England, working again with the Norman Beaker Band, The rootsy outfit Moreland & Arbuckle from Kansas also had a very well-received series of shows around Britain.
Martha Reeves of “... And The Vandellas” fame appeared at London’s Jazz Cafe, Madison, Wisconsin born guitarist John Jorgenson had several shows in Scotland, and as usual, Kent DuChaine was just about everywhere! Detroit blues-rockers P-A-U-L Lamb & The Detroit Breakdown, frequent visitors to the UK over the last decade or so, returned for eight dates across England and Scotland, taking them through the end of May and into June. American roots and blues duo Swamp Candy - guitarist Ruben Dodds from Maryland and bass player/ multi-instrumentalist Joey Mitchell had a very well-received tour of Britain in May.
Of The UK's resident Americans, former Ike Turner vocalist Jimmy Thomas worked with Blues Eternity around the London area, and also gigging was John Idan, the Detroit born singer and guitarist who has worked with The Yardbirds and several other UK outfits. Acoustic artist Brooks Williams appeared in the north-west of England.
Walter Trout has been immensely popular in the UK since the beginning of the 90s, and he has toured here frequently, always to a rapturous reception. Now he is seriously ill, it is good to see that the UK blues scene has rallied to his support with numerous benefit concerts organised by local blues societies and clubs right across the country to help to pay his medical bills. Do check out www.waltertrout.com.
Big Joe Bone is the alter-ego of London-born but now central Wales based Danny Wilson, who describes his music as a mixture of blues and bluegrass - as on his album entitled "Blues Grass Kicks Ass" (Recordiau Awen AWENCD234). He actually does manage to achieve a fine mixture of blues and old-timey music, with some excellent steel bodied guitar playing, fine banjo picking and very authentic sounding vocals. Look him up at www.bigjoebone.com.
Southampton’s Bob Pearce (www.bobpearce.co.uk) is the subject of an excellent retrospective CD “From Another Lifetime 1985–1999” (Fuzzy Pig Records FPCD 019), which collects together some of Bob’s most soulful numbers, and includes a previously unissued live track. A fine set which shows just why Bob is so highly regarded by his peers.
The monthly newsletter Blues In The South has been running since 1987, firstly with Bob Pearce and latterly Ian McKenzie as editor. For all this time a paper copy has been available free of charge at venues across England's south-west coast and beyond, but sadly rising costs mean that from now on it will only be available as a pdf. It can be found at www.bluesinthesouth.com.
April has gone from being one of the busiest months in the UK’s blues calendar to one of
the quietest. Doug MacLeod toured extensively, as did Mud Morganfield and the Texas
guitarist Buddy Whittington. Ben Harper stopped off for several shows in Britain as part of
his acoustic tour. Opening act, and also playing with Ben, was American multi-instrumentalist
Tom Freund, who first worked with him more than two decades ago. Eli Paperboy Reed & The
True Loves had several extremely well-received major venue shows around the end of April.
The only other activity was from Britain’s resident Americans: Geno Washington offered
several of his pulsating classic soul shows and former Ike Turner vocalist Jimmy Thomas
toured with Mark Olbrich Blues Eternity.
On the new release front, there were several interesting new releases. The Scottish duo of
Kevin Jordan and Reece Hillis make their debut on CD with ”Rising Sun” (Perdovan PRCD002; www.perdovanrecordings.com),
an excellent collection of all original vocal, guitar and harmonica country blues akin to Cephas
& Wiggins or maybe Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, with a few Mississippi influences too.
From Steve Morrison (www.stevemorrison.eu) and Alan Glen comes ”Blues From South Of The River (Live)” on
the SMG label. The amazingly accomplished London-born guitarist Steve and harmonica
ace Alan create a strongly individual approach to the blues – both rural and urban – that has
drawn rave reviews from those lucky enough to have heard them.
Three piece outfit The Lol Goodman Band (www.lolgoodmanband.com) are based in the
north-west of England and are rapidly acquiring a strong following for their late 60s/early
70s styled blues-rock. These guys should appeal to anyone who enjoys the music of Led Zeppelin,
Free or others around back then – do check out their latest, all original CD, “Tautology”.
Jamaican born poet Linton Kwesi Johnson first came to public notice in the 70s with many
hard-hitting poems that dealt with black life in Britain. 16 are gathered together on “Reality
Poems: The Best Of Linton Kwesi Johnson” (Island SPEC2171; www.islandrecords.co.uk); also
note that a couple of these reggae numbers include blues harmonica backing by Billy Boy
Arnold’s brother Julio Finn.
Sadly there are a couple of deaths to report: Mississippi John L. Watson, former US airman
from Clarksdale, Mississippi and a long-time UK resident who worked with several rock and
soul groups, died in mid-March 2014. John often recorded blues material and in the 90s he
was closely associated with The Odyssey Blues Band. He was buried in his adopted hometown
of Bristol on 17th March.
Guitarist Geoff Bradford died on 24th March at the age of 80. Born in London in 1934, he
played skiffle in the 50s and later worked with harmonica legend Cyril Davies. Though highly
respected as a musician, he never really achieved the fame of some of his peers.
As happens most years, March saw the blues
year in the Britain begin in earnest. The number
of touring acts coming over from the USA increased
greatly, and included Maria Muldaur,
New Orleans bass player and former member of
the Meters George Porter Jr. and blues-rocker
Popa Chubby. Ronnie Spector appeared in
Britain for the first time in four years in March,
presenting her multi-media show entitled ”Beyond
Singer Gary “US” Bonds was also in the
country, taking part in the celebrations for Albert
Lee’s 70th birthday at the beginning of March.
The visit also coincided with the publication of
Gary’s absorbing autobiography, “By U.S. Bonds
– That’s My Story” written by Gary and Stephen
Cooper and published by Wheatley Press here
in Britain. People like B.B. King, Sam Cooke, Ricky
Nelson and Bruce Springsteen come into the
story of this rock and roll pioneer.
Others on tour included Eugene “Hideaway”
Bridges, Memo Gonzalez and The Broadcasters,
Kent DuChaine, and Eric Bibb. The UK
born Harry Manx, now living in Canada, played
several shows where he mixes blues and folk
with Indian music.
The Ruf label’s “Blues Caravan 2014” tour arrived
in Britain with the up-and-coming young
UK singer and guitarist Laurence Jones leading
a line-up of American Albert Castiglia and the
Norwegian Christina Skjolberg.
Among the UK residents touring around the
United Kingdom were Brooks Williams and Kat
& Co. Harpman Johnny Mars began working on
a new album, due for release in Summer 2014.
Wilko Johnson is back in the charts with his
most successful recording since 1976, when he
was still playing guitar with UK group Dr. Feelgood.
He has been diagnosed with pancreatic
cancer – which is terminal – and “Going Back
Home” (Chess Records), his collaboration with
Roger Daltrey of The Who entered the UK charts
at number 2 towards the end of March.
There were several interesting new releases
from members of the UK blues scene. Young
vocalist Jim Stapley has a new album “Long
Time Coming” (Mita CD002; www.mitamedia.com) which, despite Jim only being in is mid-20s,
is an excellent example of UK rock-blues with an
early 70s sound.
Terry Taylor is the guitarist with Bill Wyman’s
Rhythm Kings, several members of whom, – including
Bill himself – help him out on his own
album “Taylor Made” (Repertoire REPUK 1202;
www.repertoirerecords.com). This is a fine set of
mostly covers from Terry’s own record collection
and includes some lovely blues, rock and roll
and soul numbers.
Eagerly awaited is the totally solo album from
Ian Siegal, “Man & Guitar” (Nugene NUG1401;
www.nugenerecords.com) recorded at London’s
prestigious Royal Albert Hall by the BBC in 2013.
Ian plays a mixture of his own and borrowed
material and the result is an album as fine as
anything he has made.
February was another quiet month blueswise.
Singer and guitarist Samantha Fish
from Kansas City and Eric Steckel, who started
recording in his early teens. both toured in Britain.
Others who appeared were resident in this
country: soul veteran Geno Washington, Kat
And Co, led by singer Kathleen Pearson, and
guitarist Guy Tortora, originally form Phoenix,
Both Michael Roach and the Holland
based harmonica player Keith Dunn appeared
at the Acoustic Blues Weekend in Bromsgrove
in the south Midlands at the end of the month;
the UK’s own Michael Messer handled slide
guitar duties in workshops and performances
at this event.
The Trevor Sewell Band has a new release
entitled ”Independence” (War WAR082). Leader/
guitarist Trevor is being touted as one of the real
hopes for UK blues-rock, and this album certainly
lives up to the billing.
The Universal label has issued two albums
by Nine Below Zero, the supercharged London
band extremely popular around the beginning
of the 1980s. ”Don’t Point Your Finger” dates
from 1981 and comes with a red hot live show
from the same year as a bonus disc, whilst ”The
Third Degree” comes with the version A&M issued
in 1982 plus the first version of the album
that the band recorded and was rejected as
being ”too raw”.
Those who enjoy the connections between
Black American music and the sounds of Jamaica
are recommended to check out the two CD set
”Island Presents Lover’s Rock 1976 To 1988”
(Island/ Spectrum SPECXX 2106; www.islandrecords.co.uk) which has many reggae styled
covers by some of the island’s greatest singers
of tracks originally recorded by the likes of Lou
Rawls, Marvin Gaye, The Stylistics, The Delfonics,
Smokey Robinson and soul man Al Wilson.
January brought the usual low-key start
to the UK blues year 2014. Michael Katon, the
blues rocker from Hell (that’s in Michigan, by the
way) played his first show here for several years –
he used to be a regular visitor back in the 90s. Soul
legend Bobby Womack was, for some reason, on
the bill of the “Celtic Connections” festival in Glasgow,
Scotland, but no-one complained! Steel guitarist
Kent DuChaine was also on tour.
Paul Rodgers, the vocalist with late 60s UK
blues-rock band Free and 70s rockers Bad Company,
has a new CD out of classic soul and blues material
recorded in Memphis with some of the veteran
musicians who played on the original recordings.
“The Royal Sessions” (429 Records FTN17976) is
well worth a listen, especially if your interest lies
in the Stax/Hi sound.
The 70s soulman Nolan Porter is one of the
guests on “To Find The Spirit” (Turning Point Recording
Organisation TPCD007) by UK outfit Stone
Foundation (www.stonefoundation.co.uk). He sings
two songs on a very interesting and enjoyable set
that draws its inspiration from the 60s and 70s
Those who enjoy the sound of Jamaican rhythm
& blues should check out the three CD collection
“Jump Blues Jamaica Way” (Fantastic Voyage
FVTD185; www.fantasticvoyagemusic.co.uk), a
various artists collection of American rhythm and
blues material that was popular on the island’s
sound systems between 1945 and 1960. There
are many obscurities to be found among the
collection’s 84 tracks.
December 2013 brought its usual quiet end to
the blues year in Britain. Hamilton Loomis had a
short tour of the British Isles, whilst Texas guitarist
Buddy Whittington and the always soul-drenched
Eugene ”Hideaway” Bridges finished off their
tours. One of The Drifters groups – in this case
actually known as The Drifters, associated with
manager Faye Treadwell who moved to London
in the early 70s – closed out the year that marked
the sixtieth anniversary of the group's formation
with some shows in the north of England as part
of their ”Diamond Dynasty” tour. Meanwhile, the
plush Palace Hotel in Manchester celebrated the
end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 with a show
by Richie Sampson’s Drifters on New Year’s Eve.
Krossborder is the new label associated with
the magazine ”Blues Matters!” (www.bluesmatters.com/krossborder-rekords), with the new release
”Krossborder Kompilation Vol. 1 – The Best British
Blues” (Krossborder KBR20132). This contains 16
original compositions by 16 acts, all of whom are at
least reasonably well-known on the UK blues scene
(in Innes Sibun’s case, rather more than ”reasonably
well-known”). This is an excellent overview of the
Kurrent state of blues in Britain.
Of definite interest to lovers of vintage Caribbean
music is ”Island in The Sun – A History Of
Caribbean Music” (Sunrise SUNRDD006; www.secretrecordslimited.com). This is a wonderful
51 track various artists double CD collection of
music from the 20s onwards, covering many of the
region’s English speaking islands, though with the
focus chiefly on Trinidad and Jamaica.
A new book entitled ”Sounds Like London – 100 Years Of Black Music In The Capital” by Lloyd
Bradley and published by Serpent’s Tail (www.serpentstail.com) examines those forms of music
which have been brought to London and then subtly
altered in the UK before influencing the parent
forms. So, Lloyd looks at genres such as calypso and
steel band music of the 50s, West African music of
the 60s, and South African jazz, among many others,
coming right up to the present day. An excellently
researched and written book, this is a must for
those interested in the wider field of Black music.