Keeping the blues alive

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 Written by Craig Chaligne 11 October, 2018

Brook Williams

The Hawth – Crawley

7th October 2018

Always on tour, always playing, Brooks Williams made his (almost) annual stop at the Crawley Blues Club and for the first time at the venue he was in solo mode. Based on the survey on who had already seen Brooks live (conducted by promoter Tony Molloy before the start of the performance) Brooks would be preaching the converted that evening. Armed with a trio of guitars, his warm manner and great voice (and guitar playing) were the basis of a fantastic night of music. Thirty years of touring and twenty-eight albums can’t be condensed in a two-hour performance but the show certainly proved that our host was the master of many musical styles.

Starting with “Trouble in Mind” (covered by many including Nina Simone who had a hit with the song in 1961), he then moved into a more soulful territory with “Whatever It Takes” (a song that Dan Penn wouldn’t have mind written). Such is the quality of Brooks’ original material that if it wasn’t for his introductions, you’d have been hard pressed guessing what was a cover and what had been written by him. Jumping with ease from a Bessie Smith number (“After You’ve Gone”) to a Delmore Brothers’ track (“Deep River Blues”), our host also took the time to recall how we met one of his musical heroes, Wizz Jones on first trip to the UK as a professional musician before playing “Weeping Willow Blues”. An insight on his song writing process before “Gambling Man” proved very interesting as he explained that the song was written in response to another one (a source of inspiration he has used many time apparently). The simply titled “Georgia” about Brooks’ home state was penned in the standard style that his mum enjoyed while the energetic “Jump That Train” (from his latest LP “Lucky Star”0 proved to be one of the catchiest songs of the evening.

The second set started with the classic “Statesboro Blues”, a song that Brooks can really make his own as contrary to most people who covered it, he’s actually lived in the town !!! Another tune inspired by one of the many places he lived was the groovy “Mama’s Song”, inspired by the community feeling that reigned in Mobile, Alabama during Brooks’ teenage years. Brooks, ever critical, said his shows had sometimes been described as too slick when in fact the impression he gives is one of effortlessness, jumping from Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Rock Me” to the delightfully sarcastic “Save The Bones”. The excellent “Bright Side of the Blues” was followed by what remains one of Brooks’ best tracks, the biographical “Frank Delandry”, which relates the disappearance of a guitar player.

Ben Tyzak & Guy Tortora 16/3/18

Crawley Blues Club

Both Ben and Guy have a rich history in playing the blues US style in their owns bands, the Spikedrivers and Guy Tortora band respectively.

They also both have a long history associated with Crawley Blues Club and It was the clubs head honcho Tony Molloy who first suggested a duo several years ago. Due to its overwhelming success they have been taking time out from their bands to tour as a duo for about a month a year ever since.

I think they are ideally suited to each other as, although they play a similar style, they are nearly polar opposites. Ben’s voice is smooth and mellow whereas Guy’s is brighter and grittier. Ben’s slide playing on his large vintage guitars give off some hauntingly beautiful tones and Guy effortlessly fingerpicks and slides his way along a little parlour guitar and mandolin.

They played a selection of self-written pieces and older classics with some surprises.

Taj Mahal’s ‘Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes’ came across as a slow melodic love song with some great harp playing from Guy.

Ben then did a solo slot opening with ‘John Henry The Steel Driving Man’. Ben started it with some lovely slow slide playing and kept the pace down throughout, allowing his voice to take the lead. There have been many many songs about John Henry, but this is probably as close to the original as you will get. There was a theme started when Ben played ‘Riding With My Baby’, a walking blues about a bicycle interspersed with the chorus from ‘Daisy’ with audience participation. He ended his solo set with a Jimmy Vaughan favourite ‘Six Strings Down’.

Following an interval, Guy played a short solo set continuing Ben’s transport theme with ‘I Need A Car’, a self-penned number Guy referred to as Californian Blues, because In California, you’ve just gotta have a car.

With Ben back on stage there was more audience participation in ‘Glad That Walls Can’t Talk’. They ended with a Spikedrivers number ‘Laying Down Lincolns’, a variation on a railroad song, the Lincolns referring to the US penny and a childhood game Ben used to play where they put pennies on the tracks to see if they would fall off or get crushed by the trains.

For the encore we were treated to a Robert Johnson number ‘They’re Red Hot’, a fast ragtime with Ben’s ‘horn section’ made out of a kazoo and a Brasso tin, unique and effective.

Ben and Guy are like old friends to the long-time members of the club and were received as such.

It was a lovely laid back and relaxing evening as many of the club’s gigs are, with two of the best in the business doing what they love.

If you like your blues mainly acoustic, in the traditional style, from artists who were born with it in their blood then Crawley Blues Club is the place to be.

Graham Hutton