Bennett Wilson Poole. Aurora Records

largeIt’s difficult to be objective about a record that, since its announcement a few months back, has had one panting in anticipation to hear the music inscribed in its groove. Hearing that Danny Wilson of Danny & The Champs, Robin Bennett from The Dreaming Spires and Tony Poole, the estimable 12 string maestro of Starry Eyed & Laughing Fame (and a true Blabber’n’Smoke hero) had joined forces was somewhat equivalent to being told that everyone had lied and that Santa Claus did exist. Well, maybe some exaggeration there, but the concept was exciting and intriguing and as some songs and videos emerged along with reports of their initial live shows the die was surely cast, this might be something special.

How did three songwriters, all steeped in American music, two of them with a particular penchant for the west coast variety and one of them armed with a particularly lethal 12 string Rickenbacker, get together? Wilson, an inveterate songwriter, had teamed up with Bennett writing songs together over Facetime and they decided that Poole, who has produced both of them in the past, was a perfect fit for the songs. So, roped in, Poole had a bunch of songs in his own grab bag which were added to the mix and he recorded the basic tracks in his home studio over a bunch of weekends. The result is this 11 song collection which, for several reasons (a trio, the name of the band, the album cover) has seen them being compared to Crosby Stills & Nash (and Young although there are only three of them) but we’d hazard that a more apt comparison is to The Travelling Wilburys, another talented bunch of blokes who kind of came about when George Harrison just wanted to make an album with “some of my mates.”

The Wilburys’ influence is evident from the opening rush of Soon Enough which has a sheer joie de vivre in its Tom Petty like power pop jangle but the band transcend any such comparison as the song powers on with references to Junior Parker’s Mystery Train and a blistering 12 string raga rock solo which blasts the song into the 5th Dimension. And so it goes throughout the album. It wears its heart on its sleeve pumping a rich stew of influences – Beatles, Kinks, CS&N, Byrds – throughout, but the whole is greater than the parts as the trio’s songs stand up well on their own two feet, there’s not one dud here and the musical architecture supporting them is just the icing on the cake.

It would take a hard heart not to appreciate the chiming beauty of Funny Guys with its backward guitars, Searchers like Merseybeat beat and Wilson’s soulful voice as he takes the song on a left field turn into outer space. Elsewhere they deliver some delicious low key delicacies draped in a mild psychedelic fuzz with The Thing That You Called Love approaching Gene Clark’s baroque folk rock melancholy and The Other Side of The Sky recalling Lennon circa 1970 while Hide Behind a Smile goes further back quoting The Beatles’ In My Life on guitar towards the end. Meanwhile there’s a nod to The Kinks’ unique take on whimsical psychedelia on Wilson General Store.

The band do lean towards the west coast on several numbers.  Ask Me Anything weighs in with a chunky riff and lyrics redolent of the idealism of the late sixties with the guitar solo as tortured as anything Steve Stills came up with while the harmonies (as throughout the album) are classic. Hate Won’t Win, written by Poole in the immediate aftermath of the political assassination of MP Jo Cox, is an almost direct lift of Neil Young’s Ohio (a lift Poole readily admits to), his anger and dismay the equivalent of Young’s way back then leading to a fiery blast of disgust borne out with some ferocious guitar work. Finally there’s the closing Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself), a song written by Poole after reading an article about refugees which was next to an article on the selfie phenomenon. The indignation at the absurdity and implied equivalence of disaster and life style choice burns brightly here as the band wig out on this lengthy outing with the spirit of David Crosby hovering close by. Imbued with the apocalyptic vision of Wooden Ships and bolstered by the broiling guitar broth and mantras which informed Crosby’s If Only I Could Remember My Name, it’s a monumental song and one which the band apparently turned into a 15 minute epic on their run of shows in London the other week.

Despite the plethora of names above, Bennett Wilson Poole rise above their antecedents. The album talks to today as much as it talks to the past and the band are to be congratulated for such an endeavour. A certain contender for album of the year.

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Chatting about the chimes of freedom with Tony Poole

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This Friday sees the release of one of the most hotly anticipated discs of the year in the shape of Bennett Wilson Poole’s debut album. Ever since news of the trio was  announced the web has been buzzing with a frisson of delight at the prospect of hearing what in effect has been dubbed a UK Americana “supergroup.” A carefully managed lead up to the release with notable video productions and a handful of live shows has only whetted the appetite. BWP, as we shall henceforth call them, consist of three very talented musicians –  Robin Bennett of The Dreaming Spires, Danny Wilson from Danny & The Champions of The World and Tony Poole, best known for his seventies star jangled band, Starry Eyed & Laughing, and a producer and arranger of note, widely acknowledged for his prowess on the Rickenbacker 12 string guitar.

Blabber’n’Smoke has been lucky enough to have encountered all three previously in term of record reviews and, like the rest of the Americana blogosphere, was somewhat giddy at the prospect of hearing their collaboration. Happily, the album more than lives up to the expectations  with the band creating some excellent music and in the meantime building up a singular image as inheritors of the precursors of Americana with their sly nods, musically and visually,  to the likes of The Byrds and Crosby Stills & Nash amongst others. The trio are uncanny in their evocation of those past times while at the same time adding their own personalities to their songs along with a topical protest touch which again reflects their predecessors’ ideals.

The trio have spoken at some length on the genesis of their partnership in two fine interviews with Lonesome Highway and Say It With garage Flowers so when Tony Poole agreed to talk to Blabber’n’Smoke we thought that, rather than regurgitate the same old questions, we’d concentrate on the live shows the band played in London two weeks ago and try to figure out why BWP are currently the bees knees. So we started off by asking Tony why he thought that the album had whipped up so much excitement and anticipation.

I think it’s a couple of things. The three of us have our own backgrounds and people who know us through them so there’s a fan base already there. When we had finished recording the album I sent out CDRs to folk we knew like Nick West of Bucketfull of Brains and Pete Frame of ZigZag magazine and the reaction we were getting back was really positive. Danny knows this guy Phillip Mills who manages Emily Barker and others and he’s been amazing. We hired him to coordinate the project back in November and again the feedback was so positive and so we built up quite a lot of advance anticipation. It was quite a surprise because I’ve been working away for ages chucking stuff out and never got that sort of feedback. We were all excited as well and Danny’s reaction in particular was so good. He was texting me every day saying he hadn’t had as much fun ever listening to a record he had made and that sort of reaction seems to have followed through with other folk. It’s hit some sort of spot which I couldn’t begin to explain and it’s even carried over to the live shows although we’ve only done five, they’ve all hit that spot also. It’s been a joy so far and, OK, all of this has been happening in a kind of an echo chamber that the three of us live in comprised of people we all know and who like our kind of stuff so I don’t know if when the record comes out it will get much further beyond that but it’s been wonderfully rewarding so far.

Part of the build up has been the three videos you’ve released.

Robin has been the mainstay here. It was his idea to do a Two Ronnie’s’ type thing on the first video, Welcome To The Wilson General Store, while he conceived the train video as a direct homage to The Wilburys’ End Of The Line. We’ve been really lucky to have Martyn Chalk and his brother Barrie of Chalkstar films on board and it was Martyn who came up with the spy video idea for Ask Me Anything and the Ice Cold In Alex ending. As for Danny and myself, we just do what we’re told to do. 

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There’s been a great response to the three shows you played in London at The Betsy Trotwood the other week.

Well they were the first shows we did with a full band with Joe Bennett, Robin’s brother from The Dreaming Spires and Fin Kenny who has drummed with the Spires and who is just the most amazing drummer. We only had two days to rehearse but I’d sent them the songs beforehand and they were amazing. I don’t know if you know the Betsy Trotwood? I’ve got a journalist friend who remembers it when it was kind of like an old man and his dog type of pub but this guy Raz has turned it into a great venue. It’s got an upstairs room which I’ve played solo in a couple of times and a basement which I hadn’t appeared in before but that’s where the band played. It’s a great venue, when you come in it looks a bit like The Cavern, all old arches and such and I couldn’t resist singing Some Other Guy once we were in there. It only holds about 60 people so there’s a great atmosphere. The place was rammed and the shows went fantastically well, there was a great sound guy so that really helped.  We played the album from start to finish. I sequenced the album and I think it holds up really well when you’re listening to it but live it really worked. The last song (Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself)) is a kind of wig out jam sort of thing and on the first night we played it about the same length as the album version but by Friday it was about 15 minutes long.

The response has been wonderful. You’re always unsure as to how well a live show will go down and I haven’t played three nights in a row for a long time so by Friday morning I could hardly talk but a little bit of medicinal whisky got me back singing that night. Along with the album we decided to add on a couple of songs each from our back catalogues including what was Starry Eyed’s “hit,” One Foot in The Boat, a couple of Danny’s including Old Soul and one from Robin’s old band Goldrush along with The Dreaming Spires’ Searching For The Supertruth which was really great because I played on the original. When we were rehearing we had so much fun trying out songs like The Wilburys’ Handle With Care, Find The Cost of Freedom and 100 Years From Now so we did them as well. And then Danny’s such a musical person, he’s always got a guitar in his hand, always playing some music, in fact I think he wrote a couple of new songs while we were rehearsing but he just started off playing Michael Nesmith’s Different Drum and we all joined in and I’d forgotten what a great song it is so we threw that in as well.

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People have of course compared BWP with Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young). How do you feel about that?

I’m easy with it.  I mean I’m too old to be bothered by that sort of thing. But even things like the album cover, well that was an accident. We were taking some photos at Truck Festival last year with John Morgan and we saw this temporary saloon bar they had put up for some of the smaller bands to play in and we took about six pictures there. When we were planning the album cover Danny was a bit concerned about the similarity however and he had another idea which led to us doing another photo shoot where we were on the surface of the moon but it looked like we were Kraftwerk or something. Anyway, we went with the saloon shot and I’m totally happy with it. One of the things that’s been good about the reviews that have come in is that people have said that we’re not pastiche and that we’re not coming across like a tribute band. There is a sixties feel to some of the album and when I was doing the arrangements I consciously put in some quotes that kind of reinforce that. At the end of Hide Behind a smile I put in a lick from The Beatles’ In My Life while one of my guitar solos on the album is actually just the start of the melody of the middle eight of I Am The Walrus. There’s lots of little pointers in there but hopefully I won’t get sued for plagiarism!

One of the things that struck me is the sense of how much fun the three of you are having playing together; it really comes across in both the album and the videos.

I’ve known Danny for about 10 years and Robin just a little less and we really get on well together. Somebody said that you had to have some conflict in order to produce greatness but I’ve never believed that, I think you need some harmony. The making of the record was just so easy, they had their songs and when they came to me I had a few bits and pieces, mainly finished songs, and they just slotted in. I’ve always thought, even back in the day, that it’s the intention of what you are doing when you are recording something rather than the perfection of it that matters. Music is such a powerful thing and I think it connects on a subliminal level and it’s great if you can pick that up when listening to the album. When we were recording it was just so smooth. We were in my little room with three mics set up, Robin and Danny were playing acoustics and I was laying down an electric kind of guide guitar and we spent just three weekends laying down the songs and then I had the time to think about the arrangements. I’d never aspire to compare myself to him but I felt a little like Jeff Lynne.

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With all this publicity do you think that it will rekindle folks’ interest in Starry eyed & Laughing?

That’s funny you ask because I’ve just spent a few days with Iain Whitmore (Starry Eyed’s bass player) and we were talking about that. We’ve always kept in touch, Iain and I, and we actually started recording some songs back in 2013 for a new Starry Eyed album but then I developed this thing called polymyalgia and it floored me for some time and we had to put the project on ice. But I’m hoping that the awareness due to this will help us, it’s a bit like when the internet started up and I began to get emails from some fans and that started a bit of resurgence then.  I mean we’ve beaten David Crosby’s record for the longest gap between albums, our last one came out in 1975!

So Iain and I have been working on a new Starry Eyed project over the past six months or so but when Bennett Wilson Poole played the Union Chapel Ross McGeeney, our guitar player came along to see us. I’d last seen Ross at the funeral of our drummer Michael Wackford, we hadn’t kept in touch but we spoke after the show and I’ve met up with him since then. It adds another possible dimension to a new Starry Eyed & Laughing album, I did get in touch with our original drummer but he doesn’t play anymore. Anyway we’ve been working on it and one of the things we wanted to do was revive the tradition of having other musicians come in to play with us. Our producer in the 70s, Dan Loggins, brought in Russ Ballard, he was quite a character, and B. J. Cole. I saw B. J. last summer at a festival in Woodstock in Oxfordshire and he’s agreed to be on the new record and I’d like Danny and Robin to be on it. Obviously there are people who are fans of Danny and Robin who haven’t heard of Starry Eyed & Laughing, I’ve met a few at the gigs who had no idea of us so getting the name back out there is a great thing. We were only together for about three years but we did play a lot of gigs and we were on a major label so we did make a few waves. But then again when we were on CBS their biggest act was The Wombles.

Bennett Wilson Poole is released on Friday and can be purchased (on vinyl even) at The Wilson General Store. They play at this weekend’s Ramblin’ Roots Revue in High Wycombe and are appearing at Kilkenny Roots Festival in May while further festival appearances over summer are in the offing.

You can read more about the adventures of Starry Eyed & Laughing and buy their records here

Thanks to John Morgan for his excellent BWP photographs

Best of 2017

OK, decorations are coming down, it’s back to work time but before that here’s a short list of the albums that have stood out over the past year. If there’s a link it will take you a review of the album. Looking back it seems that 2017 wasn’t a bad year for music in terms of releases but a total bummer in terms of Tom Petty leaving us. Here’s hoping next year is as good so, all the best for 2018.

Chuck Prophet, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins

cp18cdIn the year of Brexit and Trump, Chuck’s sheer love of rock’n’roll shone throughout this album. Coupled with seeing him play two blindingly great gigs this year the album’s been a regular on the stereo and in the car while Jesus Was A Social Drinker is my song of the year.

 

Jeremy Pinnell, Ties Of Blood And Affection

e2069a_5277bb38e84c4e118495b89d2105a130mv2While Stapleton gets all the notice I think there are numerous others who are bringing out better albums and Jeremy’s second solo album is the best of the lot this year. I was privileged to host a house concert with Jeremy and Ags Connolly and it was a great occasion.

 

Courtney Marie Andrews, Honest Life

cc752a_ccb74ac415f74324bdde66d0b5f81184mv2An album of glacial purity with glimpses of Joni Mitchell in its shadows.

 

 

GospelbeacH, Another Summer Of Love

500x500Jangled sunny California music which stretches from Petty to The Jam in its inspiration.

 

 

Nathan Bell, Love > Fear (48 hours in Traitorland)

love-fear-front-coverOld fashioned protest perhaps but Bell is a powerful writer and as good a champion of “blue collar” folk as Rod Picott. And, in concert, he’s funny with it (just like Rod Picott).

 

Blue Rose Code. The Water Of Leith

the-water-of-leithRoss Wilson continues his journey into the hinterlands of folk and jazz. A wonderful and evocative album.

 

Eric Ambel, At The Lakeside

61ceyom7fgl-_ss500It took 12 years for Ambel to come up with this one, a bunch of songs he imagined could have been on his pub’s jukebox. Guitar album of the year.

 

Don Antonio, Don Antonio

cs646897-01a-bigAside from his band, Sacri Cuori, Antonio Gramantieri has worked with Howe Gelb, Dan Stewart and Alejandro Escovedo. This solo album is a magnificent retro stew of sixties soundtracks and Italian cool.

 

Jaime Wyatt, Felony Blues

jaime_coverA true jailbird, Wyatt’s album is part outlaw country, part Laurel Canyon country rock. For me she just beats Margo Price

 

Malojian, Let Your Weirdness Carry You Home.

a1294981180_16Irishman Stevie Scullion conjures up a slight psychedelic trip with McCartney like melodies and Harrison’s Blue Jay Way vibes.

 

Best reissue/compilation

The Wynntown Marshals, After All These Years

a2597450969_16A perfect introduction to the band if you haven’t heard them before. A perfect keepsake for those who are in the know.

 

 

Also of note…

Slaid Cleaves, Ghost On the Car Radio

Margo Price, All American Made

Danny & The Champions Of The World, Brilliant Light

Ags Connolly, Nothin’ Unexpected

Robyn Hitchcock, Robyn Hitchcock

Todd Day Wait, Folk-Country-Blues

Whitney Rose, South Texas Suite

Norrie McCulloch, Bare Along The Branches

Russ Tolman. Compass & Map

John Murry, A Short History of Decay

Jim Keaveny, Put It Together

Ian Felice, In The Kingdom Of Dreams

Gill Landry, Love Rides A Dark Horse

Amanda Anne Platt & The Honeycutters

Daniel Meade Shooting Stars & Tiny Tears 

The Sadies, Northern Passages

John Alexander, Of These Lands

There are many others which could/should be mentioned here, apologies to those I’ve either forgotten about or overlooked. In the meantime here’s the song of the year.

 

Danny & The Champions Of The World. Brilliant Light. Loose Music

165014One of the greatest live acts currently in the UK, Danny & The Champions Of The World are a wonderful conglomeration of Country, Soul and Springsteen-like blue collar rockers, an incredibly attractive mix that is intoxicating in a live setting but which they also manage to convey on their recordings. 2015’s What Kind Of Love leaned heavily on Danny Wilson’s love of classic soul singers such as Solomon Burke and Arthur Alexander with their then live show coming across almost as a Soul Revue, the band adopting several styles throughout the night, able to be soulful, sobbing or flying with some fine extended workouts. The expansive Brilliant Light (an album that was several months in the making as opposed to their usual tight studio schedule), finds the band drawing all the threads together. A supremely well drilled unit comfortable enough to take their time, collaborate more than is their norm and deliver a hefty double disc worth of what is, in the end, just about a perfect Danny & The Champs album.

Brilliant Light has 18 songs spread over two discs (on CD and vinyl) offering almost 80 minutes of unalloyed joy. The songs cover the spectrum, pedal steel honeyed country songs, soulful epics and even a brief jaunt into reggae rhythms. Wilson has, for the first time in several years, collaborated with various band members and others in the songwriting process with only one song here a solo effort. So there’s a poem by Will Burns set to music, a co write with John Wheatley while James Yorkston has two co writing credits with other numbers down to the likes of Chris Clarke and Paul Lush (who kind of kick-started this off as he worked with Wilson on a couple of songs on What Kind Of Love). Despite the all hands to the deck approach (and the addition of a brass section and numerous backing singers) the album is a cohesive whole with Wilson’s attractive slightly husked voice and the mellifluous sounds of the band never failing throughout.

It’s tempting to look at the album as four distinct slices of music (the way some double albums used to be) but in the end this theory doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. However a rough guide might consider side one as classic Danny & The Champs, side two the soul side and three and four a fine mix of the above. They open with Waiting For The Right Time, a vigorous mix of piano, organ, pedal steel, guitar and backing singers, the definitive Champs sound indeed as Wilson considers a gypsy like musical existence. Bring Me To My Knees is another fine glide into country rock with glistening pedal steel to the fore. The seventies tinged mix of reggae and blue eyed soul of It Hit Me startles at first but as the band (in particular organist Andy Fairclough) settle into the groove the song grows in stature and the overall playing as it runs to its end is just spectacular. You’ll Remember Me harks back to Rod Stewart’s glory days when he might have looked like a dandified scarecrow but was singing from his soul as Wilson commands this impassioned ballad and the band are slinky and soulful- it’s the slow dance song that used to close school discos if anyone can remember that far back. Wilson closes the side with his own dose of nostalgia on Swift Street, recalling his childhood in Melbourne, again with a hefty dose of soul in his voice while the band here are more akin to the Stax template with the drums in particular getting that snare snap just right.

Rather than go throughout all 18 songs it’s suffice to say that the standard of side one is maintained throughout.  Consider Me has the keyboards somewhat Stevie Wonder funkified although the pedal steel continues to glide throughout and Lush has a particularly fine solo while Coley Point (with words by Will Burns) is a fine impressionistic portrait.. There’s a Van Morrison bustle to the brisk It’s Just A Game (That We Were Playing) and some Little Feat funkiness on Waiting For The Wheels To Come Off and Long Distance Tears while Let The Water Wash Over You (Don’t You Know) opens with a guitar motif that recalls The Allmans and closes almost like a jam band with guitar and keyboards meandering in a fine fashion and Don’t You Lose Your Nerve is more silky seventies soul. The album closes with another classic Champs styled song, Flying By The Seat Of Our Pants, the glorious sounds generated grounded by Wilson’s on the road philosophy and a rejoinder of sorts to the opening song.

There’s so much to discover and relish here and, should you wish, you can buy a deluxe 3CD version which has an extra disc of instrumentals. In the meantime, I have to mention my favourite song from the album, Gotta Get Things Right In My Life. Here everything clicks, Wilson sounds wonderful, the chorus is mesmeric and the band just lock into a groove that will charm the socks off you. Here the Champs stake their claim to be considered in the pantheon of the greats as the song spirals through seven minutes of unparalleled beauty.

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Static Roots Festival, Oberhausen, Germany, 9-10th June 2017

A few weeks ago we delved into the background of and the inspiration for the Static Roots Festival with Dietmar Liebecke. It’s a fascinating story and all down to Dietmar and his wife, Marion’s love of music. Well the second Festival has come and gone and unfortunately we weren’t able to be there. Fortunately, a good friend of Blabber’n’Smoke, the inveterate gig goer Ken Beveridge attended and he was kind enough to pen this report for us. So, over to Ken.

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Mr. Beveridge in his usual habitat

Many of you will have heard of (or attended) The Kilkenny Roots Festival. One of the stalwarts of that festival is a seriously nice German chap, Dietmar Liebecke. So enamoured has he become of The Kilkenny setup he decided last year to have a go at organising a similar, but much smaller event in Oberhausen in Germany. The inaugural Static Roots Festival was held last June and was such a success that Dietmar set about putting together a second one, which was held on June 9-10th this year.

The festival takes place in one indoor venue in The Altenberg Zentrum, a former zinc factory turned cultural centre, with a beer garden, that hosts drama, concerts & parties. It is a small and intimate venue which houses around 200 people. The immediate exterior is a tree-strewn terrace with loads of seating and tables where festival-goers can sit, chat, drink and eat the most gorgeous of beef burgers or German pastries. It is a fantastic venue. The festival featured nine bands over the two days – three on the Friday evening and six the following afternoon and evening.

34924303630_6ca603e5f5_bThe opening act was the wonderful David Corley. David played a divine set featuring songs from his first album Available Light and the follow up Zero Moon (released this month). That David is even here playing is remarkable given that he suffered a major heart attack whilst playing onstage in Holland less than18 months ago. His whisky soaked voice, reminiscent at times of Tom Waits, holds the audience spellbound. Highlights include Available Light and the marvellous Down With The Universe from his latest release. Mention has to be made of the sublime keyboard playing of Canadian Chris Brown and the subtle drumming of Gregor Beresford (who came on as a half time substitute!)

34501937613_f8e1f98f0c_bNext on stage was the much-travelled Peter Bruntnell and his band. Your correspondent has seen Peter many times in various, mainly small, venues in the UK and Ireland. The larger stage here allowed Peter and his band (the magnificent Dave Little on guitar, Peter Noone on drums and Mike Clews on bass) to broaden their sound. His set contained crowd pleasers Here Come The Swells, his anti Trump Mr Sunshine, the mighty Yuri Gagarin from his latest album (Nos Da Comrade) and the show topping By The Time My Head Gets To Phoenix.

35182344551_60aaa6fb03_bClosing the night were the Irish band John Blek and The Rats. Front man John O’Connor is a larger than life character whose frame belies the most gentlest of singing voices. He and his five piece band, including the brilliant Anne Mitchell on keyboards, presided over a rollicking set containing the sing-a-long Calling Out My Name, the poignant The Barman, The Barfly And Me and a magnificent rendition of Neil Young’s Don’t Let It Bring You Down.

A great end to a great evening.

35289358266_4c5520e998_bA late night and the need for some brunch meant that I missed the first act on the Saturday – Nadine Khouri. By all accounts she performed a great set which I now regret missing. Next up was Jack Marks, a Canadian singer who was completely new to me, He and his two sidekicks – Leslie Ann Christi on drums and her husband, Alistair, on bass – played a faultless set featuring Americana ballads that could have been taken from The John Prine songbook. Brilliant story telling songs full of imagery that had me spellbound. A great new find and well worth looking out for.

35199960951_8e0949b545_bNext up was another new to me British artist, David Ford. In contrast to the previous act, David, played solo and entertained us with his wonderful set of strong gritty songs whilst backing himself via a loop system incorporating guitar, keyboards, drums and a variety of percussion instruments. His heart felt To Hell With The World had me mesmerised – think Bruce Springsteen meets Billy Joel. The song that he sang eschewing the rampant greed for stardom – the title of which I have forgotten – was worth the price of entry on its own. Another wonderful act which was followed by the incomparable Erin Rae and The Meanwhiles. This American songstress is in the mould of Iris DeMent and Kate Campbell Succulent, intimate, songs, sung in a wonderfully understated voice with backing vocals provided by her brilliant guitarist Jerry Berhardt. She sings to you as if you are the only person in the room, nay universe. The haunting Clean Slate is the pick from a most wonderful set. The need for food and the chance to have a chat with Erin Rae on the terrace means that I miss most of the following band’s performance. That which I did catch from the German band, Torpus And The Art Directors, was interesting. Fairly standard Americana stuff (hints of Wilco) with the quirky addition of a trombone-playing front man.

34960793870_8b5c0339fb_bAnd so to the highlight of the weekend. The ever popular, spectacularly hard working Danny and The Champions Of The World. I can’t count the number of times that I have seen this band. They never fail to deliver. In Danny Champ they must have the most effervescent front man in Roots music. They play with a tightness that only comes with much hard work on and off the road mixing songs from their soon to be released album with a host of crowd-pleasing favourites. Particular favourites on the night included (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket, Stop Thief, Clear Water and they finished with the ever popular, crowd sing-a-long that is Henry The Van.

The whole weekend was marvellously managed by Master Of Ceremonies, Canadian DJ, Jeff Robson. His obvious knowledge of each and every act and his enthusiastic cajoling of the audience to listen, enjoy and buy merchandise was spot on.

We finish as we started, out on to the terrace, where nearly every musician that has played during the day is hanging about talking and drinking with members of the audience. Not an ego in sight. If Roots music is your thing, look out for this festival next year. It really is The Business.

Thanks to Ken for his words and to Klaas Guchelaar for the pictures.

Static Roots Festival takes off

sr posterBack in the sixties Immediate Records (home to The Small Faces, The Nice, Humble Pie and others) had a neat little slogan which went, Happy To Be Part of The Industry of Human Happiness. Reason I mention this is because I recently had spent some time in the company of a German friend of Blabber’n’Smoke who just about epitomises that epithet especially with regard to music. Dietmar Leibecke is a tall (very tall) and wonderful human being who may be known to several readers given his habit of turning up all over the place whenever there’s some good music to be heard.

Dietmar lives in Mullhelm An Der Rhur in Germany and for the past ten years he’s been promoting Americana and roots music in Germany with a host of house concerts along with booking tours for bands we’re all familiar with. Last year Dietmar ventured into the dangerous waters of setting up a music festival which he called Static Roots. Held in Oberhausen it was a two day event that featured Leeroy Stagger (Canada), The Wynntown Marshals (Scotland), John Blek & The Rats (Ireland), Malojian (Northern-Ireland), Meena Cryle & The Chris Fillmore Band (Austria), The Midnight Union Band (Ireland), and Anna Mitchell (Ireland). By all accounts, it was a great time and he’s set to do it again this year. Intrigued by the thought of setting up such a venture from scratch Blabber’n’Smoke wanted to hear more so we spoke to Dietmar to learn his story.

dietmar

The first Static Roots was held last year. Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you did it?

Well last year was a year of anniversaries. First off, there was my Silver Wedding anniversary and it was also my 50th birthday. It was also ten years since we had started to promote shows and on a personal note it was five years since I had received a kidney transplant so there was a lot to celebrate. My wife and I wanted to do something special and we decided on the idea of setting up a small festival. Where I stay there wasn’t anything like that going on and I was completely influenced by the Kilkenny Roots Festival. They always have a great line up and it’s so much fun. Wherever you go you see great acts and it’s not just the music but it’s the people as well, a real community. So we were thinking about that and decided to go for it and we got in touch with some of our friends in the music business and asked them to come over and play and we got a great response. Artists we had met in Kilkenny like John Blek and The Rats, Malojian and The Midnight Union Band agreed to come and then my friends from Scotland, The Wynntown Marshals signed up. And then there was Leeroy Stagger from Canada who has become one of my best friends, I’ve known him for around ten years now. The one act we got who I didn’t know personally was Daniel Romano. I’d seen him live and thought he was great but in the end his satnav took him to another town called Oberhausen which was near Munich. He called and offered to come the next day but by then the festival was closing so we didn’t get to see him.

It sounds like quite an adventure but you’ve been promoting shows for around ten years now. How did that start?

It was another birthday, my 40th. Steve Wynn has been my biggest influence since I was young, his album with The Dream Syndicate, Days Of Wine and Roses was really the first record that blew me over and made me think that this was music that was made for me. It opened up a completely new world for me and it’s still one of the best albums I’ve ever listened to.  So I got in touch with Steve and asked him to play my 40th birthday and he said yes! He came with the Miracle Three and put on a fantastic show and that’s really how we got into the business of putting on shows. When Steve came over he introduced me to the idea of doing house concerts.  I hadn’t  really heard of the concept up till then but then I looked it up and found a couple of American bands who were open to playing house concerts so a little while later I invited Leeroy Stagger over to play our house. He was the first artist to play there and it was just so touching and so intense so we’ve continued to do it and so far we’ve hosted about 50 house concerts. We started off with solo acoustic shows but then we had Easton Stagger Phillips (Tim Easton, Leeroy Stagger and Evan Phillips) come to play and we had to get a PA system for that. From then we went on to have full bands like Danny & The champions of The World and The Wynntown Marshals playing in our house. I think that Leeroy has been here the most, about five times. It’s great fun and nowadays I occasionally book tours in Germany for bands I want to see in my house. The house concerts, even with a full band are very intimate and it’s great to see the audience being so attentive and the acts can take their time and tell their stories behind the songs, it’s so much more than playing in a bar for them.

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So how many people would you normally have at a house concert?

Well they always sell out and we have space for around 65 people there but it depends on the size of the band. If it’s a six-piece band we only let in 60 people but for a smaller band we can squeeze in maybe five more people.

You must have quite a large room

It’s not so big but we have a couple of beer benches, you know the traditional lederhosen and sauerkraut German beer benches so we have space for about 30 to 35 seats with the rest of the audience standing at the back of the room.

OK, you’ve got a full band, amplified, playing in your house. What do the neighbours think?

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They are all invited! Last summer we had John Blek and The Rats over and it was loud but it was so hot we had to open all the windows and leave the door open and some folk came over to see what the noise was and ended up staying. We converted a few people that night and made some new friends. Sometimes it’s been so loud I’ve wondered if the police might show up but so far so good.

 

Back to Static Roots. Can you tell us a little more about that?

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It’s held in an old zinc factory which has been converted into a theatre. It was built I think in 1904 and it’s a lovely building with old brick walls and some of the original fixtures. It looks really cool with huge windows, a big stage and a great sound and a great crew. It’s a nice big venue with a beer garden out front, burger stands and all and it really worked well last year. It holds around 300 people which I thought was a good number. I didn’t want to go for a bigger place because I knew it would be hard to fill it. Again I was thinking of Kilkenny where I think the biggest venue holds around 400.

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Have you gone again for acts you know?

Danny and The Champions of The World, Peter Bruntnell and John Blek are good friends but we’ve also got David Corley who I saw last year at Kilkenny and Erin Rea and The Meanwhiles, both of them making their first appearances in Germany.

Hopefully this is not an insensitive question but do you expect to make any money from this?

Well last year, because it really was a celebration of our wedding anniversary and such it was an invitation only event in the main. We did spread the word around friends in the music world and asked them to donate to a fund we had set up for Doctors Without Borders (AKA Médecins Sans Frontières) so there was no ticket fee, just a donation and we collected around 9,000 Euros for the campaign. We covered the artists’ fees and the cost of the venue out of our own pocket. This year it’s a public event and we’re selling tickets for the show and so far it’s going fairly well with more than half the tickets already gone. We are getting some press coverage and we’ll see how it goes but I’m sure that the festival is going to be a success some day along the line. It will need some time to get established but it was so much fun last year and the audience was great. We had a bunch of folk who came over from Kilkenny, the Kilkenny Roots Family we called them and there’s a great bunch of Scottish people who came over as well. A lot of people I had met at shows before, there were so many friends there. It’s quite funny but also important that wherever you travel music wise you meet people, like minded people and you keep in touch and it’s such a great community of open minded people interested in music, peace, love. I love the idea of music bringing people together, I’ve been to Rambling Roots in High Wycombe, March into Pitlochry and Kilkenny Roots so far this year and I can keep all those memories for ever and I hope that Static Roots will be as good. I’m going to have the time of my life at it even if it’s been lots of work in setting it up but once the last note is played I’m going  to say, “Man, this was brilliant” and then it will be looking forward to next year’s festival.

Static Roots takes place on the 9th and 10th June at Oberheim  with the following line up

David Corley

Peter Bruntnell

John Blek & The Rats

Danny & The Champions Of The World

Erin Rae & The Meanwhiles

Torpus & The Art Directors

David Ford

Nadine Khouri

Jack Marks

Tickets are available here. It’s only a hop and a skip away.

Festival pictures by Klaas Guchelaar

 

 

 

Donald Byron Wheatley. Moondogs and Mad Dogs. Maiden Voyage Recording Company

267934Life Is A Carnival sang The Band and for Donald Byron Wheatley it could be his signature song. A scion of a travelling fairground family Wheatley had a nomadic upbringing, setting up and dismantling show rides across the country, a wild and probably not so romantic existence but once the crowds had their fill of candy floss and cheap thrills and set off home Wheatley would listen to his showman father sing songs culled from the blues tradition along with his abiding love, Bob Dylan.  The young Wheatley learned these songs (he recalls singing along to Subterranean Homesick Blues, word-perfect, when he was six years old) and toyed with the idea of a musical career but life intervened, as it does. However that six year old Dylan aficionado resurfaced years later as Wheatley had to deal with adult issues; the death of his father, friends facing hard times and he found himself writing some songs. A musician cousin of his, John Wheatley, encouraged him to capture these in a studio and the pair headed off to Reservoir Recording Studio, a lucky strike on two accounts as it brought them into the orbit of Chris Clarke who runs the studios and is bass player with Danny & The Champions Of The World and Danny himself who was in the process of setting up a record label. Happenstance indeed but the upshot is that Wheatley can now proudly offer up Moondogs and Mad Dogs, a debut years in the making and adorned with a prime set of musicians including several of The Champs and pedal steel legend BJ Cole.

Like a musical Grandma Moses Wheatley is a primitive folk artist, his canvas the songs he heard growing up. Dylan is the prime mover. Several of the song titles nod to Dylan originals and he dots and darts throughout various Dylan eras, the amphetameanied talking blues of Subterranean Homesick Blues, Big Pink and The Basement Tapes, the red hot punk guitar assaults of Mike Bloomfield as Dylan transversed from folk to rock at Newport and Rolling Thunder Gypsy jaunts . But he also delves into Southern soul and funk (Not Tonight Josephine and Ten Dollar Jenny) along with the Romany wanderings of Ronnie Lane on Swalley Howell while there’s a nod to the pained solo recordings of John Lennon on Nothing, his voice smothered in echo uncannily akin to the late Beatle. He’s a grand wordsmith and half the fun here is in following the lyrics as there are unexpected twists and turns in the grand Dylan tradition as on the opening Life’s A Beach while Greenwich Village Blues is a wonderful capture of that time when Dylan et al invaded The Gaslight and it’s delivered with just the right amount of patina to allow the listener to wallow in the past.

On an album that’s unashamedly proud to wear its colours on its sleeve Wheatley transcends his influences coming across as a UK version of The Felice Brothers. The cracked voice, the sheer joy of the title song, the wracked and organ fuelled barnstorm of Smoking Gun are all delights but the best is on the blistering quicksilver ramshackle blues of Hand Me Down Leopard Skin Hat which, in a blind test, could easily be taken for a genuine lost Dylan song.

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