Friday, 16 October 2015

Steel Town Blues

The Nimmo Brothers at The Raven Hotel, Corby
10 October 2015


“We built this city... on rock and roll” 

That was the refrain emanating from the radio during breakfast.

“What city?” my wife ventured, out of the blue.

It was a rhetorical question, but thinking about it, there is a limited number of possibilities. Nashville? Memphis? Maybe New Orleans?

The former industrial town of Corby in Northamptonshire was most definitely NOT built on rock 'n' roll. Corby was built on steel, by a predominantly Scottish (and especially Glaswegian) workforce. The town suffered when the great British Steel works closed shop in the early 80s, leaving Corby an industrial wilderness; with high unemployment, and all the attendant social problems that ensued. I hadn't been to Corby for years. No reason to go there, really; either for work or pleasure. But tonight I was making an exception.

And the reason? Two blues music adventurers named Dave Morse and Richard Boyles got together and formed Corn Market Blues, a non-profit organisation dedicated to bringing the cream of British blues to Northamptonshire, and tonight's billing at Corby boasted the nationally acclaimed blues brothers from Glasgow, The Nimmo Brothers.

The Nimmo Brothers have been wooing audiences up and down the country and beyond for years with their special brand of honest, hard-working, and down-to-earth rock blues. After 20 years on the road together, and each with their own solo projects demanding more attention and time, Alan and Stevie Nimmo have decided to give The Nimmo Brothers a rest. This would be my one chance to catch them performing live together. I wasn't about to miss their show.

The gig advertisement boasted “... disappointment is most definitely not an option!” It seemed like a no-brainer, really. My only concern was that the venue might be … er... less than comfortable for an old geezer like me, as it was a standing-only event. That turned out not to be true.

The Raven Hall, attached to the Raven Hotel, turned out to be an exceptionally suitable venue for this type of event. Car parking was ample, especially considering the large number of people arriving from outside Corby. The entrance foyer was accessible, comfortable and well lit. Once past the ticketing desk, you entered the bar area, which was comfortable and well serviced with the usual range of lagers, beers and a couple of cask ales. Beyond the bar was the larger performance space, with seating and tables around the perimeter, a dance floor in the middle, and a stage at the far end.

More importantly, the event was well attended. It was nice to see a generous smattering of youngsters as well as the usual gamut of maturing blues faithful in the audience. You could feel the excitement and anticipation. Part of the enthusiasm was no doubt due to the fact that finally, local music fans had a venue that could attract the kind of blues artists hitherto only available at venues like the Musician in Leicester, or the Stables in Milton Keynes.The atmosphere was electric.

With seven albums and an extensive back catalogue of material to choose from, the band opened with “Bad Luck” from their 2009 album “Picking Up The Pieces” With brother Stevie taking the vocal, the band hit the ground running, displaying a professionalism, musicianship and readiness to deliver that can only be acquired from years of hard touring.

I was struck by how relaxed and unfazed they both were, with a complete absence of any of the narcissistic mannerism often associated with celebrity (Alan had recently won two awards at the British Blues Awards 2015 - Male Vocalist and Guitarist).

“It's like playing back home” Stevie exclaimed between numbers, an obvious acknowledgment to his fellow Scots in the audience (Corby's large Scottish population had earned the town the title of “Little Scotland”). Perhaps he was also conceding that famous Scots' prescript that “we're all Jock Tamson's bairns” 

The opener was followed by the rocking “Shape I'm In” from their 2012 album “Brother To Brother”, with guitar solos shared between the two front men. Disappointment was now most definitely not an option!

Digging back to their first album together, the band slowed things down with a bluesy rendition of “Long Way From Everywhere” (“Coming Your Way” - 2001) before Alan blasted into the soulful “Slow Down” (from “Picking Up The Pieces”).

By now the party was in full swing, with the band obviously enjoying the proceedings as much as the audience. 
 
Stylistically, Stevie and Alan had a lot in common. Although both voices have a distinctly different resonance, vocals were equally powerful and soulful; and their guitar playing was obviously honed on the same stone. Neither had the upper hand, and their camaraderie was infectious.

Standing stage right and stage left, the brothers had an almost telepathic understanding. Both knew each other's parts, and could swap roles at any given time. It was akin to watching two hands on the same body. One moment the hands were spread apart, the next joined together.

Both took turns soloing at stage centre. With enough savvy to know that around every street corner there's another young kid waiting to make every guitar player on the planet want to hang his or her guitar up, their solos were not a show of fretboard dexterity. Instead, these solos connected with audiences in a way that carried all and sundry along on a jaunt of sustained and searing highs and rocking rolling twists and turns. The brothers were simply orchestrating these emotional joy rides. And the audience loved it.

With drummer Wayne Procter (Blues Awards 2015 “Drummer of the Year”) providing the driving heartbeat, and bassist Matt Beable providing the underlying aural chassis, the unit was a formidable blues/rock roller-coaster.

Other songs from their back catalogue included “Still Here Strumming”, “All I Want”, “Nothing In Chicago For Free”, “Reason To Believe” and “Waiting For The Heart To Fall”
The band finished with an extended “Black Cat Bone” during which the brothers traded guitar licks and performed their pièce de résistance; each playing both guitars simultaneously in a kind of double guitar embrace. 

The Nimmo Brothers will be put in mothballs for at least two years while the brothers pursue their separate musical projects. But with such a unique chemistry between them, there is sure to be a big demand for their return before too long.

In the meantime, Corn Market Blues will continue to put Corby on the rock/blues map by serving up more delicacies for the local concert goer. With a programme to whet the appetite of even the most discerning music fan, there's no excuse. Disappointment is not an option. Corby, here I come! 

John Finn


Keep in touch! Get regular updates on the latest gig reviews via my Facebook page

Click the link below to go to our Facebook Page and "Like"

Blues Alive (UK) Facebook Page


Tuesday, 16 June 2015

A Blues Habit

Kara Grainger at The Convent Club, Stroud
3rd May 2015
Review by Liz Aiken

During her recent UK tour, California-based Kara Grainger played The Convent Club in Stroud. The gig was professionally recorded and streamed live on the venue's media partner's website. Liz Aiken (Bluesdoodles.com) took advantage of this service and watched the gig in the comfort of her own home. Here's her review of the show.
 
Well, the process was easy. Bought my ticket online, received confirmation, followed the link at the allotted time, then sat back to enjoy the show.

The backdrop of The Convent Club is stunning, even in your own home. You may miss out on the panoramic view as your gaze moves around the venue, but you can certainly feel the anticipation of the audience waiting for the evening's performance to begin.

Matt, co-owner of The Convent, comes on and chats, welcoming the live audience and everyone live streaming the gig in their own homes.

Kara Grainger's touring band is augmented for one night only by Paddy Milner on keyboards and grand piano. Jules Fothergill is on electric guitars, Damon Sawyer on drums, and bassist Andy Tolman completes the lineup.

L to R - Paddy Milner, Andy Tolman, Damon Sawyer, Kara Grainge & Jules Fothergill
                                                                                                 Photo: Nikoletta Monyok
The show opens with Mercury Blues, on which Paddy Milner takes a solo. This is followed by Jules's electric blues guitar acting as a dirty counterpoint to Kara's subtle slide. Then Paddy joins the party and we have a blues picnic with Kara singing Come On Into Our Kitchen, her charisma and warm smile shining through. 



Her guitar has a harmonious depth of musical tone that makes the lyrics sparkle, and you just want to sit back and enjoy the company of top-notch musicians in your own home.

Lost in You, from her latest album Shiver and Sigh, shows off Kara's soft and sultry vocals, while her guitar playing is smooth and stylish. Paddy's stellar skills on the keyboard adds a layer of sound. This is funky blues that is fun to listen to.

Kara understands the musical idiom that is blues, and Little Pack of Lies has some blistering slide guitar, with her rhythm section responding with drum solo and some funky bass. I’m Not Ready is a relatively new song recently added to Kara’s catalogue, while Whipping Post allowes Jules to showcase the power of his guitar prowess on the Gibson. Kara’s vocal strips back the lyrics to the bone, and so full of quivering emotions that I feel like I'm dying.

Finishing the set with Sky Is Falling (the first blues song she ever wrote), the finale concludes with Paddy putting in a blistering solo on the grand piano, playing with such dexterity, perfect pitch and tone.

Of course that was not the last. We had the encore, the cherry on top of a musically rich cake.

Kara's playing was full of bravura, poise and desire. Her music takes the essence of blues, mixed with roots and adds a generous helping of soul, with a topping of funk when needed. Never over-complicating the melody; never a cascade of unnecessary notes; she keeps her lyrics central to the performance. The result is disarmingly complex, yet retains its simplicity; a wondrous act to hear live.


Another great blues artist, this Australian guitarist, songwriter and singer certainly can entertain. The early May skies is grey with summer seemingly a long way off, but when she plays the “blues”, your spirits are lifted by the quality of the musicianship.

A big thank you to Matt & Charlotte for a great concept - to be able to stream a gig live on the web from The Convent Club in Stroud, Gloucestershire. Check it out on Netgig. It's simple to use – just follow the LINK – it is the next best thing to seeing music live at The Convent Club.

To purchase tickets and watch the full gig, go to Kara Grainger @ The Convent

For further reviews by Liz Aiken, visit her blog at www.bluesdoodles.com

If you would like to book Kara Grainger at your club or venue when she next visits the UK, email John Finn at johnfinnmusic@hotmail.com


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Hungry for the Blues

John Nemeth is a blue-eyed soul/blues singer from Idaho, USA who is currently riding the crest of a wave on the back of his hughly successful 2014 CD "Memphis Grease". With a string of albums and blues awards already under his belt, the 2014 Soul/Blues Male Artist of the Year will be back in downtown Memphis, Tennessee for the 36th Blues Music Awards in May this year. Nemeth is in the leading group of nominees, alongside Elvin Bishop and Sugar Ray Norcia, each having received no less than six nominations. The following is an interview I conducted with John last year, shortly before he visited the UK for a number of dates that included Ronnie Scott's in Soho, London, and a live session recorded at the famous BBC's Maida Vale Studios.

The John Nemeth Interview

Billboard charting John Nemeth was on his way back home from a gig in Alabama when I caught up with him to discuss his life, his music and his latest album “Memphis Grease”. The album was released earlier this year (2014), and by all accounts John's music has definitely taken a different track to his earlier records. John's previous albums were all soaked in the West Coast blues sound, whereas this album is leaning heavily towards the Memphis-soul sound typified by record labels from the 60s and early 70s such as Stax. I asked John if this was simply a natural development to his music, or something that he'd been wanting to do for a long time.

John: Well, the song-writing is still similar to the other records I cut when I lived out in California. One of the main differences is we have a Memphis band playing on this record. They just have a different feel, a different style. The horns are more groovy and sparse then on previous records, and the style of drumming is a lot simpler - partly because that drummer is so great that he can play a lot less, and make it sound just as cool.
The drumming John was referring to was the work of veteran Memphis legend Howard Grimes. Bassist Scott Bomer produced the album.

John: Scott recorded the whole album on 1” analogue tape using a Scully 8-track tape machine, and we mixed it on an MCI mixer board; gear they used in a lot of studios back in the 60s, but especially in Memphis. The album has that vintage sound, but that's not only because of the gear; it's partly due to the way you have to record using those vintage machines.

I asked if this was because of the 8-track limitation, so tracks had to be cut live, without too much overdubbing.

John: It's live, but also sounds more live, owing to the actual dynamic range of the tape. Whereas the digital sound is more compressed. We released the album in vinyl as well as in digital format, and the vinyl version is selling well.

John affirmed proudly that he was born and raised in Boise, Idaho. I was curious about the music scene he cut his chops around, and asked him if he listened to a lot of blues.

John: Blues was a novelty thing; there was a couple of blues bands in town, but it really wasn't part of the music scene there. The majority of music in Idaho was country and western. But if you had a good band, and a good beat that people could dance to, it didn't matter what you played. The ears of the folks in Boise were good, and if the music was good, they'd like it. That actually helped us quite a bit. I worked 5 to 7 nights a week for a decade out there in Idaho, playing all the clubs. It was great.

That being the case, it didn't sound like the place that could produce an international blues artist. So how did he get involved in the Blues?

John: Music on the radio just wasn't my thing, so I listened to lots of records from the 50s, 60s and 70s. A friend of mine in high school made me up a mix-tape of some great blues – Little Walter, Albert King, Robert Johnson and Blind Blake. When I heard that I thought “Wow! This music is cool!” A lot cooler than all the grunge and country and western, which was turning real pop. It was a pretty easy sell.

We've all been there. But what made him choose to play the harmonica over the guitar or piano?

John: I didn't have enough money to buy a piano. The harmonica was five bucks!

We both laughed at how such an innocent economical decision like that could so dramatically and completely change or alter a person's path through life.

John: I went to a place to buy an electronic keyboard. Back then you had to buy the amp and the stand and the stool and the chords and the peddles and all that, and you're looking at about $3,000 to get it out of the music store! Shoot! No kid in Idaho was making that kinda' money. So, there's this harmonica in the case. Well. I loved the harmonica – Junior Wells and Little Walter and all those. So I just bought the harmonica. I showed up at the gig that night, and the guitar player is like “Where's the piano?”

John moved to San Francisco when a girl he started dating in Boise when there to live.

John: After the 9/11 situation in New York City, things really died out in Idaho. People stopped going out to clubs, people started discovering the internet, and local venues started disappearing or stopped having music. My job status changed in that I was going to have to start travelling more in order to pay the bills. So I thought “Well! I might as well be somewhere where there's more of a vibrant music scene”. So I went to the big city of San Francisco to keep things going, and it sure paid off.

John Nemeth & Elvin Bishop
One of the people John met after moving to San Francisco was the legendary guitar player Elvin Bishop (Paul Butterfirld Blues Band)

John: I've actually cut four records with Elvin – his Grammy-nominated record “The Blues Rolls On” I also did “Dead Dogs Speak” and two live records with him; one that was on a Blues Cruise, and another one that was recorded in a club in California. Yeah! We done a lot of great stuff together.

John now lives in one of America's blues capitals, Memphis. I asked him what the draw was.

John: In my mind the greatest things about American come out of southern culture – the musicians, the song writers, the literary writers, the painters. And it's just where Memphis sits. It's a major crossroads for the mid-South, so people coming out of Arkansas, Mississippi and Alabama converge on Memphis. There's a lot of recording industry here.

And of course, Memphis is the home of the Blues Foundation. I asked him about his recent Blues Award for “Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year ” I wanted to know what value this had for him.

John: Anyone who receives a nomination for an award … it means that people out there are recognising your work. It builds your confidence, and I think to actually win one pretty-much means that you've legitimised yourself as an artist. So it's a big thing for me. I'm very proud of it. And people take note of that. They say “Hey! John Nemeth won this award. We oughta' all go out and check him out” And shoot! Its a big honour to be recognised as a contemporary of Bobby Rush, Otis Clay and other folks that were in the same category.

Having now established himself as an artist in the US, John is looking to expand his fan base into other countries such as Europe. I asked him about his plans.

John: Yeah! I'm gone really big here in the US. Whatever it is that I do hasn't really taken off in the UK or Europe yet. But it's more difficult to make it here in the US. Some places in Europe and other parts of the world have funding aid from their governments. Subsidies and sponsorship and stuff. Here in the US, if you're a blues artists, or soul artist, or jazz artist, you have to have a name, you have to go into a place and you have to sell tickets. That's what it takes to make it here.

I wondered if it was more difficult to break ground here in the UK for a blues artist who's main instrument was not a guitar.

John: Could be? In the blues industry I think a lot of people are looking back to their youth, looking at young guitar players that remind them of 70s rock. You hear 70s rock guitar everywhere, but that's alright; that's just the way people's taste go. There's nothing right or nothing wrong about it. Writing songs from scratch takes a lot of twists and turns stylistically, and I write 95% of all my music. What I'm doing is just different.

This interview was originally published in "Blues In Britain" magazine in July 2014

Photos: Aubrey Edwards

Keep in touch! Get regular updates on the latest gig reviews via my Facebook page

Click the link below to go to our Facebook Page and "Like"

Blues Alive (UK) Facebook Page