Although the past week has seen us spend the odd evening immersed in our favourite occupation of searching out records to buy, cataloguing the ones we’ve bought, planning our playlists for upcoming gigs and, most importantly, listening to the ones we’ve already got, our diary has suddenly exploded with live music events. The bar was set high at the start, with a Tuesday evening gig at Gloucester Guildhall by the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. We’d heard good reports of them and we love a dose of jazz/funk keyboard sound a la Jimmy Smith so a weekday appearance on our doorstep was too good to miss. Arriving ridiculously early having misread the doors time as the start of the gig, we were at least able to take in the atmosphere as a crowd of jazz lovers slowly grew whilst entertained by a DJ spinning a selection of acid jazz platters (which looked a much easier job with his little pile of 12” singles compared to our frenetic juggling of 2-minute rockabilly 45s). In true relaxed style, the band ambled onto the stage at their allotted time and launched into a fantastic instrumental that quickly showcased every member of the trio. The band’s website and tour information shows Devlon supported by Jimmy James on guitar and Julian MacDonough on drums. I’m sure that’s not right – and a bit of searching around shows Sam Groveman as the current drummer and Jon Foshee on guitar, but the mix was absolutely spot on, with each member capable of stepping forward into the lead but equally strong when in support. The guitar styling owed much to the likes of Steve Cropper and, like Devlon himself, was able to range comfortably from the strident to the subtle. The numbers were a mix of instrumentals and vocals, mostly originals but with the occasional cover slipped in and made their own. Ironically, though it was the organ that had lured us there, and which lived up to its promise, it was the drumming that captivated us. Having watch ‘Whiplash’ and its depiction of jazz drumming several times, we found ourselves witnessing that level of proficiency just a few feet in front of us, culminating in a breathtaking solo in the band’s penultimate number. I’m not even going to try to find the vocab to describe what the guy was doing but, boy, it looked and sounded good.

For a complete contrast, the following night we headed for Cheltenham Racecourse’s Centaur hall for an evening of popular classics performed by the Fulltone Orchestra, compered by nannas’ favourite, Aled Jones. Tuneful and light hearted, it was a nice night out but doesn’t need an in-depth analysis here. Nor, indeed, did our Saturday night outing to see local rock’n’roll band Johnny Clash at a local pub, but only because they were the subject of last month’s blog entry and they were just as good as when I wrote about them!

Sunday was a more significant outing for us, though, and not our usual kind of venue. We’re very much not ‘Festival Folk’, preferring to consume our popular culture in the comfort of indoor surroundings rather than camping out and hiking miles across the countryside to stand in a field to bands, but Cheltenham’s Wychwood festival threw out the tempting prospect of three acts performing on the same evening in quick succession, all of whom we’d have gone out of our way to see individually. Given that the venue is on our doorstep, we’d have been fools not to go for it. First up was Mr B, the Gentleman Rhymer, an artist who has graced the pages of The Chap magazine pretty much from its inception and who, if we haven’t actually met before, is only one degree removed in our circle. We’d not had the opportunity to see him perform, though, and we were intrigued to see how his brand of ‘Chap Hop’ would go down with a late Sunday afternoon crowd of Cotswold festival goers. On stage in one of the more intimate performance tents, and equipped only with Banjolele and a backing track device, he launched into a series of raps reflecting the tribulations of chapdom in the modern world. Despite a good PA system, we struggled to catch every nuance of a stream of witty lyrics, leaving us determined to study his performances at leisure on YouTube, but the reception was surprising. We couldn’t decide whether the crowd of bucket-hatted, cargo shorted festival types instinctively ‘got’ what they were seeing, or whether they were so determinedly up for a good time that they’ve have cheered along to anything, but the tent quickly filled up and stayed that way to the last ‘ping’ of the Banjolele. And if just one of those assembled went home vowing to do their next festival in full tweed, then the Apostle of Chap will have done good in the world.

A short break for food and we were securing a place in front of the main stage for the first appearance in the UK for over 18 months of a true original of American roots music. Seasick Steve has built a strong reputation as a solo artist playing downhome rural country blues, and the addition of an accompanying drummer presented no threat to the purity of his sound. Our vantage point allowed us to watch the stage crew sound checking, with lots of emphasis on the guitar settings which set the tone for what was to come. Steve is a one-off – steeped in the heritage of his own music, but utterly at home in front of a large British festival crowd. Each of his songs is self-penned and each, amazingly, was performed on a different guitar. These ranged from conventional electric guitars to entirely home made affairs, including the simplest imaginable – a piece of two by four with a single string nailed to it, a beer can tacked on the end (for no musical reason that we could ascertain), and a piece of Christmas decoration dangling underneath for aesthetic purposes. Others followed, from the cigar box style to a couple of old hubcaps clamped on a stick (that’s not our being pejorative – that’s how Steve described them), each with its individual sound but all used to great effect. He’d have been worth the trip on his own and is definitely an artist we’d make an effort to see again.

Rounding up the evening for us were Dexys Midnight Runners or, to be completely accurate, Kevin Rowland with the current line-up making up the band given that Dexys have been in a constant state of flux with only Rowland remaining the constant other than during his brief solo career. This was Mrs M’s moment, as the original Dexys were her introduction to soul music played live and with passion back in 1980, but I was impressed at the fidelity with which the band recreated the hit songs I remember from the time, including the iconic ‘Geno’ and ‘Jackie Wilson Said’. Of course, there was more to the set than that with a wide range of numbers featured, along with a bit of somewhat over-extended vocal interplay between Rowland and his trombone player that seemed a touch self-indulgent but, hey, it’s his gig and he’s been doing this a long time so why shouldn’t he play around with it. Unsurprisingly, the crowd went wild for ‘Come On Eileen’, with a performance bang on the money but representing the band’s shift from pure soul influences to a more pop presentation. All in all, though, a most enjoyable gig by a band I wouldn’t have sought out when they were in their heyday.

 

So, sated with live performances, it’s back to curating the vinyl in preparation for a little string of gigs coming up in the diary, but deeply impressed with what we’d found within half an hour’s drive of our own front door.