Hosted by Keith
Arriving just in time via roadworks closing the Heathfield to Horam, and Horam to Chiddingly, roads (yet again!) I started off with my own Blues Comin’ On. Jason, hero that he is, had set up the PA and made the performers list. Thanks Jason. It was hard to recognise the mainstay supporters of the club among a packed room containing many new faces – even more people squeezed in during the first few songs.
Simon Watt is not a usual singer of the blues and has even written against the genre in I Refuse to Sing the Blues, which can be heard on his drily funny album God’s Christmas Card. Tonight, he did two sad songs: I’d Rather be Lonely and Mean Odd world.
Amanda and Mat started with something written a day ago: Stop Trying, Stop Crying. Amandas assured vocals and piano playing were complemented by Mat’s guitar. Their second song was Into the Fire.
On my way in, Paul, the landlord, had grabbed me, enthusiastically, to say that James was there – a James I hadn’t met before but it turned out he was well worth meeting. Paul’s recommendation of James’ talent was borne out by a rocking performance. Before my time, his band used to play at the ‘Bells. He was accompanied by Archie, also another sometime ‘Bells artiste, playing lead licks on his guitar and sporting a hot hat. They started with James’ own composition Mojo Filter and then Chuck Berry’s standard Johnny B Goode. Demand for an encore from the unprecedented crowd meant that I took the unprecedented step of keeping them on stage for a third song. They were joined by their good old friend Tim Kent (also hatted) on blues Harp for Get Back. More of Tim later.
It was great that Manus, temporarily unable to drive, was brought from St Leonards by his kind neighbour, who apparently wasn’t disappointed by the night. Manus joined Helga on her set, singing and playing Key to the Highway, and she asked me up to jam. Then Helga, always keen to disprove the adage that the flute isn’t a blues instrument, asked me to sing something while she disproved extremely well. I chose my own The Slow One, which she’d recorded with me on my Home and Dry album.
Jason and Lisa, with their sensitive close harmonies, can do a thing or two in the blues region. In this case, the Big Bill Broonzy favourite The Glory of Love and Leadbelly’s Cotton Fields Back Home. Neither are blues songs (Glory of Love is a ’30s pop song). But they’re forever associated with those two singers.
Monica is to be found at the Green Man in Ringmer but, recently, has been coming to the ‘Bells. She picked up her uke, along with Kat, on uke too, to sing in harmony on a couple of standards: John Lennon’s Imagine and Dolly Parton’s Jolene.
Tim Kent returned to the platform for his solo spot. He’s an old face who used to run the club too. His contribution was Never Tire of the Road, Andy Irvine’s tribute to Woody Guthrie. Playing a small bodied six-string guitar brought at a closing-down sale in Brighton, and playing with a capo in an open tuning I couldn’t fathom. He followed with the pop standard Love is All Around Me.
Paula met the blues challenge by wearing the bluest dress she owned, and played an environmental song of her own making: Blue Moon Rising. Terry Lees stepped up to accompany her on an instrumental version of The Reverend Garry Davis’s Candy Man.
That master of the guitar, Terry, then stepped up to the spot to play It’s All Right and the (highly apt for our times) How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? His resonator guitar, whose make I didn’t catch, was one he liked better than a National, he said.
Andy Melrose cracked the best joke of the evening whilst slowly beating his intonation into submission. ‘Tuning a guitar is a bit like aircraft maintenance,’ he said, ‘it’s worth it in the end!’ He then tunefully played his recently-written song Hope is Murder with and instantly singable chorus. I think he’s got a winner there. The song is inspired by a refugee’s suffering. Andy lives in Brighton and, walking down London Road, he came up with his second song I Don’t Know How We’ve Come to this.
Penny Payne, national treasure of a Blues Diva, called me up to help out on piano for Stormy Monday Blues and on guitar for Snap Your Fingers. It’s a real joy to work with Penny, who’s always in the groove and out there in tune with the crowd when she sings.
Ella sat at the piano to play and sing two real blues: John Mayall’s ‘Laurel Canyon Home’ and ‘Love me like a Man’, from a version by Bonnie Raitt, with a style that suits that old piano well. Some nice improvising.
Mike Osborne started with the definitive Robert Johnson blues standard Come on in my Kitchen. He then went off on an adventure. ‘Every time I play this tune it’s different. I’m gonna’ be as surprised as you at what happens, all I know is that it starts with “woke up this morning”’. The song turned out to have a theme: ‘Searchin’ for the sun; all I find is the rain.’
Steph stepped up to play songs with ‘blue’ in the title: Songs Sung Blue and Inertia Blues, about not wanting to get out of bed. Steph’s voice is always welcome, whatever she plays.
Helen sang a capella as she does so tunefully and well: Don’t it Make my Brown Eyes Blue, followed by an, equally impeccably in tune, Blue Skies.
Heather’s self-penned song Glory Can Wait, about striving to be famous, was something we could all relate to. She announced her second song as being ‘very blue’. It turned out to be a tribute to Sinead ‘o Conner with the wonderful Nothing Compares to You.
Mr Heather, as of recently, is Chris Martin, prolific songwriter and recordist, who dragged out a fearsomely-red solid-bodied electric from his last century band days. Using an appropriately-distorting tiny amp, he thoroughly entered into the spirit with Acoustic Blues and Me and, of course, Toast for One (catch his video on YouTube).
Finally the two Johns took the stage, with a slide piece and the blues classic Talk to Me Baby, to end a really successful and varied evening. We went up to the 11 ‘o clock wire with 18 acts, and sincere apologies to the ’Bells staff for being a bit late clearing up.
There was a lot of blues – and a lot of unblues – this evening. But theme nights at the Bells are never strictly implemented anyway – all are welcome and we wouldn’t want to put anyone off who’s not comfortable with the themes chosen from time to time. It was great to have such a variety of material.
Thanks to everybody who came, those who played, and particularly Jason and helpers for setting up and running the PA.
The person that runs the evening writes the blog
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