On & Offstage #6
Review/Interviews by Cameron Arndt, all photos courtesy and © Stuart Stott
After a successful first year in 2016, the Edinburgh Blues & Rock Festival returned to the Corn Exchange last week boasting another sterling – and surprisingly eclectic – line-up of some of the best blues/rock talent that Scotland, Britain, and indeed the world has to offer. This time Rock And Roll Traffic was there to catch all the action, sample the atmosphere backstage, and grab many of the bands for a quick chat about their music, the other artists and the festival as a whole.
So let’s get to it!
Click the band name below to jump to a section, or read on through and find something new!!
Black Cat Bone
Due to a slew of unfortunate occurrences – including a train which hurtled us straight through to Haymarket instead of stopping next to the venue at Slateford – we regretfully arrived later than planned and missed Black Cat Bone’s opening set. Fortunately many others had avoided any such issues and there was a healthy crowd already filling up the tables and milling about at the bar in the Corn Exchange when we finally rocked up around 3pm. There’s a relaxed, friendly and informal feel to proceedings, with everyone in good spirits and looking forward to the day, both out front and backstage.
Although we missed their set, Black Cat Bone’s reputation certainly precedes them, the local lads have been a force in the Edinburgh music scene for a number of years now. They’ve recently expanded their line up to five musicians, adopting a slightly more filled out, heavy sound while still retaining the raw bluesy vibe that has been their trademark thus far.
There was a positive buzz from both the audience and staff when we questioned them on the how the group’s set went, while the band themselves were very gracious about our faux pa. Ross Craig and Luis Del Castillo were kind enough to sit down for an interview, and fill us in on what we’d missed. We’ve been listening to them online since the gig and we’ll definitely make a point of being there to catch them next time!
Follow Black Cat Bone on Facebook
Deke McGhee/Mirror Speaks The Truth
As we got ourselves sorted out and met up with Black Cat Bone, second act The Deke McGhee Band were already in full swing. Despite the early hour they were determined to kick off the party with a high energy set of uptempo jazzy, swinging blues numbers. A real old-school set up including particularly excellent double bass produced a big sound and cool rockabilly grooves which were all topped by the strong vocals and superb saxophone stylings of frontman Deke McGhee.
A short break then followed before a completely different set from US duo Mirror Speaks The Truth. With a sparse onstage presence featuring only singer Glenda Benevides and guitarist/vocalist Gene Williams the sound is filled out with a variety of tracks and effects to create intriguing, surprising soundscapes for the two to perform over. This meant that the audience were treated to everything from hip-hop beats to autotune (as an effect) vocals while Benevides keeps things moving with gritty, passionate singing. The band prove to be the first of a number of left turns from the ‘Blues & Rock’ template today, a move which speaks well of the organisers wish to be as inclusive as possible, and which will hopefully help future events appeal to a wider audience.
Gerry Jablonski & The Electric Band
As is often the case at events like this, the festival is a chance for musicians and artists to catch up for a while – since old friends in this business often find themselves passing each other by on the touring circuit. There’s only one slight element of tension in the green room as MSTT’s set heads to a close – a couple of staffers are milling about asking questions like ‘Where’s the Gerry Jablonski Band?’ ‘Who’re the Gerry Jablonski Band?’ and ‘How do you pronounce Gerry Jablonski?!’
There needn’t have been any worry, however, as the mischievous Aberdeen foursome arrived in plenty of time to set up for their 5pm set, and were on typically effervescent form. We’ve been lucky enough to interview the lads before and it’s… never boring. Today we made the mistake of catching up with them after their set and the post-show adrenaline only served to heighten their hi-jinks. As always, harp man Peter Narojczyk is brash, outgoing and friendly, while drummer Lewis Fraser – nursing something of a hangover from a big gig in his hometown the previous night – is a little quieter, but no less amusing. Frontman Jablonski, meanwhile, has an off-kilter style which perfectly complements his madcap onstage antics. This leaves bassist Grigor Leslie to sneakily turn the screws in the background, dispensing a stream of witty, irreverent comments which seem designed to throw the interview off course. It’s a nightmare to orchestrate, but great fun to be a part of…
Onstage they take their work seriously, while still injecting plenty of humour into each performance. They bely their early evening slot by charging onto stage as if headlining a major festival and, though the slow burn intro to Heavy Water is disrupted by a swirl of feedback, the band push on into the stomping blues number and are fully in control by the time they rock into the second number. It’s not long before Jablonski’s dancing a jig across the stage, even as he rips and shreds stunning licks from his wood-effect strat. Narojczyk isn’t about to be shown up either, as leaps from the stage twice in quick succession. After a first foray into the disappointingly sparsely populated front stage area, he goes the extra mile in the very next track, quickly covering the distance to the first set of seated patrons and bounding up onto their table, all the while busting out whooping, swooping lines from his harmonica – aided by a trusty radio mic.
Despite being the youngest member of the band, Lewis Fraser is already a seasoned professional and peppers his solid, driving beats with delightful fills and asides, all the while grinning at his bandmates whenever they venture close. He’s partnered in the rhythm section by Lesilie, who’s thrumming, bluesy bass lines always serve the song first, though he gets to stand out during a cool funky solo in Trouble With The Blues – which sees Jablonski shimmying across the stage, drunk on rock n roll perhaps…?!
As is customary, Fraser steps out front to sing Anybody, the emotional tribute to the bands former drummer. No matter how many times you witness this song, it always packs a punch. It’s time then for the sweep into the last few uptempo rocking blues numbers, and a breathless 45 mins is rounded off by the slinky guitar/harp riff of Slave To The Rhythm. A full-length set from Gerry and the boys is always worth getting along to (they headline Nice N Sleazy’s in Glasgow on August 25th!) but they also know how to wring maximum impact out of a short stint in front of a less partisan crowd, and we know for a fact (this being the first time one of our team had caught the band live) that they converted a few more folk to the cause today!
Miracle Glass Company
I sat down for a quick chat with Austen George and William Douglas from Miracle Glass Company a short while before they took to the stage…
Even having gleaned a little idea of what to expect from the interview, I was seriously impressed by the band. Their opening, with buzzing guitars, thick drums and plenty of attitude brought to mind bands like Kasabian or Oasis, but as the three piece grabbed the set by the scruff of the neck and dragged it forth they proved to be plenty more than that.
Their stripped back style and the way they fuse brash modern sensibilities with a slew of stomping beats (drummer Andy Duncan knocked seven shades out of his kit throughout!) and smooth, perfect harmonies that harken back to 70s greats like CSNY provide yet another great contrast to the earlier bands – another point for the organisers there.
With Duncan driving them on from a small, low down drum kit – reminiscent of Ringo Starr’s in The Beatles – there’s a raw, old school vibe about the band, but also plenty of up-to-date punch typified by George’s use of an octave pedal to add extra dimensions to his crackling, visceral guitar playing.
The trio take turns at singing lead, while the cohesion of the three vocals is simply astounding when they join together. The songs are catchy, running the gamut from tight, slow grooves to big soundscapes, like The Who in their more grandiose moments.
Relaxing at the back of hall after their set, Gerry Jablonski and his band are clearly enjoying the music and, as I sauntered by to say hello, Jablonski summed up the Miracle Glass Company’s appeal for him, ‘Like a cross between Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Monkees’ he says, marvelling at the locked in vocals, ‘I like them!’
Miracle Glass Company on Facebook
The Stevie Nimmo Trio
Up next, another known quantity for us. It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Stevie Nimmo (and, indeed, of his younger brother’s band – though their name escapes us at the moment…), and it’s always a pleasure to catch the big man in action. Nimmo and his backing band, stalwarts Matt Beable (bass) and Craig Bacon (drums) never disappoint and this evening they comfortably own the stage – and the vast hall of the Corn Exchange – for their hour long set.
In fact the audience have still been a touch reticent to interact up till now, but Nimmo’s having none of that, greeting everyone happily before telling them to get to their feet and get into the music, ‘If I’ve got to stand, you do too!’ he jokes before launching into the propulsive, clattering Roll The Dice.
Nimmo’s big, soulful voice reverberates around the room while his guitar playing is slick and intuitive. It’s all about delivering the song in the best way possible, but the vibe is simply electric when he strikes out with a wah-infused solo on both the opening track and the follow-up, the hard rockin’ Still Hungry.
There’s a nice moment when Nimmo notes that this is the first time he’s played here, and recalls the last time he attended the Corn Exchange. Many years ago he saw Otis Rush here, supported by Glasgow blues legend Big George, and Nimmo, who’s been there and done it all over the last twenty years, is clearly honoured to be playing on that same stage now himself. He immediately lives up to his heroes with the epic, emotional slow blues of Running On Back To You. Beable and Bacon provide superb backing as Nimmo reaches the solo and the trio build the track up into a frenzy before pulling it right back again for a subtle finish. Great stuff.
The vast majority of the set is taken from Nimmo’s recent second solo album, Sky Won’t Fall (2016) – no surprise given the well-deserved success of that record, which has kept the trio on the road for most of the past year – but they also include the excellent Good Day For The Blues, originally by Storyville but also featured on Nimmo’s debut, The Wynds Of Life (2010).
Beable provides solid backing vocals to fill out Chains Of Hope – my personal favourite on the current album – before Bacon leads into Loving Might Do You Good with a slightly funky drum intro. The song is, for me, just a wee tiny bit too bouncy, maybe too cheerful I guess… That’s just me though, and it’s actually simply sensational tonight, as the band stretch out the coda with stunning soloing from the frontman, telepathic stop/starts, band intros and crowd singing – Nimmo has long since got them dancing.
They close things out with an infectious version of Going Down – and later I hear everyone from other musicians, stage crew and promoters singing the old Freddie King classic backstage.
With a storming set under their belts Nimmo and the band retire for some well-earned dinner in the green room. It turns out that the guitarist’s work is not yet done for the day, however, as he steps in to help two young ladies who’re struggling heat up stovies in the backstage microwave. Nimmo’s own food is sitting, getting cold, as he good naturedly talks the duo through the entire process, to the amusement of the other musicians present.
At the same time we’re trying to corral and settle Jablonski & the Electric Band for their interview (as you’ve seen, we weren’t very successful!), and the odd goings on across the room definitely aren’t helping. Just we’re finally getting on track – and Nimmo is at last getting to eat – one of the ladies pipes up in a small voice ‘…so, are any of you guys famous then?’
Another round of laughter, before the musicians exchange knowing smiles while one of the promoters attempts to explain how well respected they all are, even if they’re not mega stars!
It’s all indicative of the chilled out, friendly attitude that’s present amongst the performers and staff of the festival, a feeling which extends out into the main hall, where everyone seems relaxed and contented as they await the final two acts of the day.
After dinner Stevie Nimmo and his band were good enough to give us a few minutes of their time to discuss the festival, the band, and their future plans:
Stevie Nimmo Upcoming Tour Dates:
The Pretty Things
The Pretty Things have been a working band for over 50 years now, having been formed in 1963 by current members, guitarist Dick Taylor (who played bass with The Rolling Stones for the first few months of their career) and singer Phil May. Those two are still present and correct today they tour along with long serving guitarist/harp player Frank Holland and the younger rhythm section of Jack Greenwood (drums) and George Woosey (bass) – who themselves have now been part of the group for round about a decade.
The high-octane contributions of those two players help to give the modern version of the band an injection of dynamic, youthful energy – in particular Greenwood’s drumming is a pounding, cracking force of nature – but the veterans don’t lack for sparky enthusiasm either. May and Taylor seems just as invigorated by performing today as they would have been 50 years ago, and clearly delight in the robust response of the fans, much more of whom are now finally congregating directly before the stage to dance and sing along.
Taylor’s vocals are still strong and expressive, easily handling and selling the lyrics even as the music twists and changes – much as the band itself has throughout their many decades. He has an easy charisma onstage, and spices up the performances by employing shakers, maracas or tambourines at various points. Taylor, meanwhile, is a top notch guitarist and lays out fiery licks and rattling chords throughout on an array of beautiful – and presumably largely vintage – guitars.
After starting out as a kick-ass British R&B band in the 60s, much like the Stones themselves, The Pretty Things morphed through the years. The band’s SF Sorrow album, in 1968, is acclaimed as the first ever rock opera, beating The Who’s Tommy by a good few months, while the 70s saw them embrace psychedelia and the 80s the sounds of New Wave. Nowadays the group are a fusion of all their past endeavours and represent their many eras tonight with songs from SF Sorrow, old blues covers and psychedelic excursions.
A cover of the classic Bo Diddley number You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover fizzes while the band’s own more robust and angular Don’t Bring Me Down is another highlight. Mona is a thrilling R&B blast (with skirling blues harp from Holland) while the band also supply their own take on Road Runner.
An iconic band, still going strong in their fifth decade.
May was also more than happy to sit down with me after the set for a quick interview and proved just as warm and friendly in person. Taylor also joined in halfway, adding his own dry wit to proceedings:
The Pretty Things Official Website
Topping the bill today is pianist/singer Mike Sanchez, best known for his work with Big Town Playboys and Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings – though in over 30 years in the business he’s played with just about everybody! This evening he brings his solo band to Edinburgh for a set of boisterous, exuberant rhythm and blues that has most of the crowd up on the dance floor, jumping and jiving along.
The group has a classic big-band style sound, with Sanchez’s freewheeling piano and gritty vocals augmented by guitar, drums, double bass and a two-piece horn section. The songs, meanwhile, cover a wide range of bluesy, jazzy sounds. One minute you’re deep in the swamps of Mississippi, the next walking the big streets of Chicago before descending into some grimy, yet still buoyant New Orleans blues.
The band is slick, well drilled and enthusiastic, while the frontman is charismatic and engaging. It all makes for a perfect way to finish a long but endlessly entertaining day.
Mike Sanchez on Facebook
While attendance was a little lower than last year, and folks seemed a touch reticent at points to get up close to the bands, the talent on offer has been top class, with a congenial atmosphere around the Corn Exchange complex. Hopefully there’ll be a lot of good feedback from the event and people will get on board with helping to stage it again in 2018. There’s not too many events like it in Scotland so we at Rock And Roll Traffic are definitely hoping to be back for more next year. I’m pretty sure all the acts involved, and everyone who made it along today, feel the same way.