Thursday, June 27, 2019

Stray Cats at Hammersmith Apollo

Having failed to see The Stray Cats live over the best part of four decades I've now seen them twice in little over 12 months - in Las Vegas last year and at the Hammersmith Apollo last night. The place was packed showing that the Long Island trio's fan base has stayed loyal over the years. And the band's neo-rockabilly music has stayed much the same: great if you like it - and most people there most certainly did - but lacking in passion so far as I'm concerned. They look the part, however, with multiple tattoos and rocker style clothing and hair, and still have plenty of energy, and clearly know what their fans expect and like.
This was the 40th anniversary tour and follows various splits and reunions over the years. Brian Setzer remains the lynch pin of the band and he's a fine guitarist. Lee Rocker's double bass playing provides a strong base and 'Slim Jim' Phantom, who continues to live up to his nickname, gives the drums a good hammering.
They began with a new song, 'Cat Fight (Over a Dog Like Me)' from their new album '40', but it was soon back to their roots with 'Runaway Boys', the number that put them on the map 40 years ago. This, for me, was the best song they recorded, bringing back memories of three fresh faced youths trying their best to make rockabilly commercial, and succeeding. Next came a Gene Vincent number 'Double Talkin' Baby', 'Stray Cat Strut' and a tribute to their musical heroes 'Gene and Eddie'. Stuck down the front, trying to get some photos, it was impossible to move because of the crush and a kind attendant had brought glasses of water to some of the audience, who were clearly wilting as they waited for the show to begin.
They were more than happy when it did and the trio continued with 'Mean Pickin' Man, 'I Won't Stand In Your Way' and a good instrumental version of Dick Dale's 'Misirlou'. Lee Rocker took the lead on 'When Nothing's Going Right' and Brian Setzer continued with '(She's) Sexy + 17) and Dorsey Burnette's 'My One Desire'.
I moved to the back to get some air but could see little as the music continued. The middle aged crowd, mostly male, lapped up two of their best known songs 'Fishnet Stockings' and 'Rock This Town' and the encore of a further three songs, including 'Rock It Off' and 'Rumble In Brighton' went down well.
This was my first visit to the Hammersmith Odeon (as was) for several years and it proved a pretty good venue for a sold out concert even if the size of the crowd made viewing difficult and listening tricky too. But I doubt I will bother to go and see their 50th anniversary tour, should either they or I still be around then.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Dave Bartholomew RIP

In what has been a terrible few weeks for New Orleans music, following the deaths of Dr John and Lil Buck Sinegal, the latest twist is the news that Dave Bartholomew has died at the age of 100. The trumpeter, composer and bandleader, the man who launched the careers of Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, Shirley and Lee, Snooks Eaglin, Frankie Ford and many others, had a long life, but his death still hits hard. He was the man who effectively put New Orleans R and B on the map. I have always loved the music and have been there countless times over the last 30 years . I've been fortunate enough to see Dave perform several times. He was at Jazzfest on my first visit in 1989 and I last saw him perform, aged 88, at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2007 (pictured above). His influence on New Orleans music cannot be over-estimated. He composed many songs, including most of Fats Domino's hits, and had a few significant recordings of his own with his band, including 'Ding A Ling', 'Jump Children', 'Shout Sister Shout' and 'The Monkey'.
RIP to a great man.
There's an obituary of Dave here.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Doug Kershaw at the 100 Club

After a great weekend of soul music 'up north' I hurried back to London to catch the first ever UK performance by the 'Rajin' Cajun' Doug Kershaw at the 100 Club. This was yet another in the long run of Tales From The Woods shows organised by Keith Woods and it was good to see a fair sized crowd present for this one off occasion, including quite a few music industry people.
Providing the backing throughout was the ever reliable Tales From The Woods band (John Spencely, Claire Hamlin, Rob Davis and Jeff Tuck) who got things going with a few well chosen numbers, including 'Ain't Got You', Gene Terry's 'Cindy Lou', 'I'm On Fire' and 'Thirty Days'. John's vocals are getting more confident and he really got the songs across strongly.
The support act on the night was veteran rocker Graham Fenton, who sang a couple of Gene Vincent numbers, along with 'Wild One', 'Pretend', 'Buzz Buzz A Diddle It' (from his time with Match Box), Conway Twitty's 'I'll Try', Ronnie Hawkins' 'Southern Love' and, inevitably, 'Rockabilly Rebel'.  It was a good solid set and Graham was to play his part later in the main event of the night, the Rajin' Cajun's London debut.
Doug Kershaw's appearance onstage, in a bright red jacket, really got the place jumping. He's 83 but his stage act is as animated as ever. It's riotously chaotic, with piles of papers on his music stand and bows for his fiddle flying here and there. But what a great performer he is. He attacks his fiddle with ferocity, smiles and winks his way through every number and you can't help smiling yourself as his engaging personality fills the stage.
He first performed in 1948 with brother Rusty and many of his songs date back to his Louisiana days in the fifties and early sixties. He began with 'Diggy Diggy Lo' and he was joined on stage by his son Zachary for 'Hey Sheriff', with added vocal support from John Spencely. 'It's Better To Be A Has Been' went down well, as did 'Goin' Down The Road', a song he recorded with Rusty back in the fifties. A solo stab as 'Cajun Joe (The Bully Of The Bayou'), was short but quite magnificent with some manic fiddling, and another Rusty and Doug number 'Why Don't You Love me' followed. He said he wished Rusty was still alive to see how the music still lives.
He turned to his guitar for his next song, 'Love Me To Pieces' and Graham Fenton came on stage to provide added support on 'Hey Mae'. 'There was a group approach to his classic 'Louisiana Man' and as an encore the Cajun anthem 'Jambalaya'. Finally, after a few minutes, he returned for a second encore, this time of 'Hey Mae'. Throughout his set the band did a sterling job and this was a fantastic night of music. Once again Keith has pulled off a triumph on 'the stage of legends' at the 100 Club.

4th Blackpool International Soul Festival

The annual International Soul Festival in Blackpool has rapidly developed into Northern Soul's premier event with many hundreds of people dancing and otherwise enjoying all forms of soul music in the many bars and ballrooms at Blackpool's Winter Gardens. This year's festival - the fourth - was probably the best yet, with four excellent acts, each doing shortish sets on the Friday and Saturday nights in the huge Empress Ballroom, a screening of a film about legendary producer Bert Berns and an interview session with long time record producer H B Barnum.
Friday's live session began with Randy Brown, a Memphis born singer with a smooth and quite beautiful voice. Randy was once in the Stax group The Newcomers, as was his brother Bertram, who joined two other backing singers and the Snake Davis band in providing solid support. Dressed in a smart light purple suit, Randy's sang just four numbers, but his voice caressed each of them in a quite sublime way. These included 'I Was Blessed (the Day I Found You)', the Teddy Pendergrass-like 'I Would Rather Hurt Myself Than Hurt You' and the uptempo 'I'm Always In the Mood'. Not long enough, it must be said, but a highly enjoyable set. 
He was followed on stage by Motown star Brenda Holloway, who was a vision to behold in a flowing peach coloured gown. Brenda, who I've seen several times in recent years and who never disappoints, despite a slightly wavery voice at times, gave it her all with a dynamic performance. She included 'How Many Times Did You Mean It' - a song requested by festival organiser Richard Searling (recently awarded a British Empire Medal) which she had not performed live before. Other numbers included 'I'll Be Available', 'When I'm Gone', 'He's My Kind of Fella', her first big hit 'Every Little Bit Hurts', 'Starting The Hurt All Over' and 'Reconsider'. She ended with a song she wrote herself and which has been recorded by many other singers, 'You Make Me So Very Happy'.
Saturday morning saw the screening of 'Bang', a film about legendary Sixties record producer Bert Berns who died tragically young aged 38. The film was fascinating, although the sound was so bad that I could only understand about one word in five. This was followed by an interview by producer H B Barnum with Kev Roberts, which covered his varied career in a fair amount of detail and which I found very interesting. He was worked with such artists as Martha Reeves, Gladys Knight, Irma Thomas ('Time Is On My Side'), Al Wilson, Johnny Bristol and Nancy Wilson and was the 'go to' man for people like Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. He was also a member of the Robins vocal group. He said he had hundreds of unissued tapes in his possession: what a treasure house there must be there.
Saturday night's live show began with Ronnie McNeir, who I've never seen before and who surprised me with a very proficient, slick and thoroughly enjoyable Northern Soul set, which included some good moves too. He began with 'Isn't She A Pretty Girl' and continued with the Four Tops song 'Ask The Lonely' (Ronnie had a spell with Motown in the seventies and still sings with the Four Tops ), 'You're My Lucky Number' and the Northern flavoured 'Sitting In My Class'. He moved to the keyboard for one final number, his best known record 'Wendy Is Gone'. A good and highly enjoyable set. 
Next up was supposed to have been Prince Philip Mitchell, who backed out due to illness, so instead we had a couple of Prince Philip related numbers from the Snake Davis band, including Bobby Womack's 'Home Is Where The Heart Is', followed by a reprise of a couple of numbers by Brenda Holloway, this time wearing a tight fitting white trouser suit, ('When I'm Gone and 'You Make Me So Very Happy') and Randy Brown (I'm Always In The Mood') who showed some pretty good dance steps.
Final act of what was a brilliant evening was Eddie Holman, looking extremely dapper in a shiny red suit. Eddie is hardly the most modest of men, bragging about how young he looked and how sexy he was in his red suit. But his description of himself as 'the greatest falsetto of all time' was hard to dispute, as his voice, even in his seventies, remains incredibly pure on the impossible top notes that he reaches. His highly enjoyable set included 'She's Wanted (In Three States), a stunning 'I Surrender', a fantastic 'Hey There Lonely Girl' and 'This Will Be A Night To Remember'. I can't remember a more enjoyable set at Blackpool and it truly was a night to remember. Thanks go to everyone who made it possible, not least Simon White, who helped with my VIP pass and the many fans who danced the nights away and who clearly love this very distinct and obsessive music style.
Finally, here are some shots of me with some of the stars: Brenda Holloway, Randy Brown and Eddie Holman.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Dr John/ Mac Rebennack RIP

Some music deaths hit harder than others and that of Mac Rebennack aka Dr John at the age of 77 hits very hard indeed. Not only was he one of the last of the New Orleans music greats, but his mixture of jazz, R and B, soul and rock and roll, combined with some voodoo showmanship, made every performance by him memorable. I saw the good Doctor many times - in New Orleans, on visits to London and at the North Sea Jazz festival - and he never disappointed. His piano playing was legendary, but he started his career as a guitarist until having a finger shot off. He showed that he was still a fine guitarist when, rather hidden behind his piano, he played brilliant versions of his early recording 'Storm Warning', 'Carry On' and 'Lights Out' at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2008 (pictured below). My photo above shows Dr John signing a copy of his autobiography 'Under A Hoodoo Moon' at Jazzfest in 1995. It's one of the best books about New Orleans R and B that I've read and runs through the many facets of his career, from his early rock and roll routes, producing and playing on many of the great New Orleans R and B classics and his emergence as Dr John, The Night Tripper. Here's his brilliant version of 'I Walk on Gilded Splinters' from the 'Gris Gris' LP plus his early 'Storm Warning' from 1959..
For a fuller review of his life and work I recommend the Guardian obituary.
The last week has also seen the death of another New Orleans legend Leah Chase, aged 96, founder of the Dooky Chase soul food restaurant which opened in 1941 and which was a meeting place during the Civil Rights Struggle. I remember having a superb lunch there in 2014.
Another notable death is that of Roky Erickson of the 13th Floor Elevators. Here he is (left) performing a very late night set with the group at the Ponderosa Stomp in 2008.