Monday, January 28, 2013

Two I's show number seven really rocks

The annual Tales From The Woods tribute to the early days of British rock and roll and to Soho's famous 2 Is coffee bar has reached its seventh year and, judging by the sell out crowd at the Borderline last night, it will be around for many years to come. This was an excellent show from beginning to end with some lesser known names from the fifties and early sixties holding their own with some of the bigger names from the period. Once again the TFTW House Band, led by ace guitarist John Spencely, provided great support for five of the six acts on the bill, and Rockin' Rick Stevens acted as MC, also singing three numbers during the evening. John Howard spun the discs between acts.
First act on shortly after 5pm was Robb Shenton, not a well known name but a man who was in demand as a session man with Joe Meek and who has recently made an album of rock and roll covers. Starting off with Down The Line (one of many Jerry Lee songs on the night), his set included several tracks from the CD, including Be Bopping Baby, Cincinatti Fireball, Lonely Blue Boy, the Jesse Belvin original I'm In Love, Pretty Little Love Song and the title track We're Gonna Rock, before signing off with Mean Woman Blues. Robb has a strong voice and his interesting choice of songs set the night off to a rocking start.
Next on stage was the diminutive Liverpudlian Beryl Marsden who made her name in Liverpool and Hamburg and had a minor hit with a cover of Barbara George's I Know in 1963. Her set included Shotgun, three Shirelles numbers - Baby It's You, Everybody Loves A Lover and Boys - a lively version of Irma Thomas's Breakaway and finished with Hi Heel Sneakers and Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On. This was another good set, with great backing again from John Spencely and the House Band, with Claire Hamlin providing great support on the keyboards, Brian 'Bunter' Clark on drums, Alex Bland on sax and Robb Davis on bass.
Next on stage was a man billed as 'the oldest rock and roller in Britain' - the irrepressible Wee Willie Harris, who will be 80 in March. I'm not a fan of Willie's rather basic version of rock and roll but he looked good in a bright green jacket and rocked through Be My Guest, his one non-cover record Rockin' at the 2 Is, Blue Moon of Kentucky, Hound Dog, Splish Splash, Let's Have A Party, See You Later Alligator and Big Fat Woman. These are all well known songs and good for a sing along, and if not exactly great art, were certainly good fun.
The House Band took a break for the next act, Vince Eager and his new band The Memphis Tones, who provided some excellent harmony during his set. Vince's connection with the 2 Is goes back to 1958 and he had a fund of tales about his time there, his links with the notorious Larry Parnes and how he would have recorded with Eddie Cochran, if Eddie hadn't died. It was a varied set with a couple of Johnnie Ray numbers (Such A Night and Yes Tonight Josephine), his little known first recording Gumdrop, Charlie Gracie's Fabulous, a couple of slower dramatic numbers - It's Only Make Believe and I Don't Want No Other Baby But You, plus Summertime Blues, Lonely Weekends and Gene Vincent's Baby Blue. He has a new album out - You're Never Too Old To Rock and Roll - and he sang the self-penned title song which was really his life story set to music. For an encore Vince and the band did Mean Woman Blues (second time on the night). Another highly proficient set by someone who still performs regularly and showed it.
The fifth act of the night was Mike Berry who, for me, provided the highlight, with his choice of material (John Spencely apparently persuaded him to do some originals that he hadn't performed for many years, if at all), great sense of humour and still intact Buddy Holly style voice. Kicking off with Somethin' Else he moved on to his 1962 hit Don't You Think It's Time, the rockabilly standard Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache, a couple of Jerry Lee numbers (Put Me Down and It'll Be Me), Buddy Holly's Mailman Bring Me No More Blues and Ricky Nelson's A Little Too Much, featuring a great James Burton style guitar break by John. Of his own material he sang My Baby Doll (B side of his first release), his classic Tribute To Buddy Holly and a Joe Meek produced B Side Loneliness. Mike finished off with a rocking Move It, with High School Confidential as an encore to complete a highly professional and enjoyable set.
Headlining this 2 Is 7 heritage show was another big name from the sixties Cliff Bennett, whose roots go back to 1957 when he formed the Rebel Rousers. He was joined on stage by former Rebel Rouser Sid Phillips on baritone sax, who combined well with Alex Bland's tenor. Kicking off another good rocking set Cliff began with Bobby Bland's classic Turn On Your Lovelight before launching into pure rock and roll with Lovin' Up A Storm, Ubangi Stomp, Good Golly Miss Molly, Bobby Parker's Watch Your Step, Hello Josephine, Why Me (not sure if there are one or three 'whys' in the title), Money and his final number, Slow Down.

Here are Alex Bland and Sid Phillips blowing in tandem.

This was the best attended 2 Is show yet, and the format is now proving so successful that there is another show planned for April featuring King Size Taylor and Roy Young, among others.
Introduced as the House Band's musical director, here's John Spencely, whose guitar playing was impressive throughout the show.

Finally, here's the man who made it all possible, Keith Woods. His Tales From The Woods newsletter provides a quirky outlet for this loose network of music obsessives and roots music enthusiasts and is the glue that binds the group together. Keith struggled to get decent attendances for his early promotions, but the long queue of people outside the Borderline must have been very satisfying for him. Well done Keith.


At 6:59 pm , Anonymous John S. (snr) said...

A great write up Nick. I thought Mike Berry and Beryl Marsdan were the stand out acts. I have congratulated the "musical director"

At 1:25 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please stop using the term "musical director". I prefer the term "bloke who tells the act what the next song on their list is...."

John S (jnr)

At 6:32 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a great show. Rock 'n Roll will never die. Many thanks to the master Keith Woods.
Svein Sorlie, Norway


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