Keeping the blues alive

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Hans Theessink & Brooks Williams 4/5/18 published in BiB

Steady Rolling Blues Tour by Graham Hutton

Crawley Blues Club have a solid reputation for putting on totally authentic roots blues and tonight was no exception with Dutchman Hans Theessink and American Brooks Williams on their steady rolling blues tours.

Google these guys and you will see that they have a whole bunch of experience under their belts and have worked with some of the biggest names in the business.

Having just celebrated his 70th birthday, Hans has spent a lot of time in the US honing his skills as a bluesman and Brooks was just born into it.

They played 2 lengthy sets of originals and covers from some of the early blues artists. Opening with ‘Key To The Highway’, they moved onto ‘Vicksburg Is My Home’, a self penned piece by Hans and dedicated to his friend and fellow bluesman Terry Evans who sadly passed away in January of this year. Hans and Terry had worked together for 25 years so this was a song with deep meaning for him. Lovely acoustic playing with some great licks.

At this point I will say that Hans’ voice is a little monotone, but it suits his spoken blues style very well. It is at opposite ends of the spectrum to Brooks who’s voice is highly modulated with a really good range.

They upped the tempo nicely with Brooks’ ‘Walking You Off My Mind’, written after a visit to, and seeing the realities of Paris, Texas. Brooks is a very animated person, constantly on the move and counters Hans’ more sedate persona perfectly.

The first set carried on in similar fashion with songs from Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bessie Smith and included a new and unreleased number ‘Here Comes the Blues’, destined for a future album.

The set ended with Hans singing ‘Slow Train’ a song he was privileged to play at the funeral of Dubliner Barney McKenna in 2012.

After the ice cream break (I kid you not, there was ice cream for sale as well as liquid refreshment) Hans opened with ‘Tears Are Rolling’ co-written with Terry Evans.

More songs from Dog Watson, Mississippi John Hurt and Sister Rosetta Sharpe followed, the latter being ‘Rock Me’, a song she released and had hits with twice.

The interaction between the two showed how relaxed they were with each other, taking it in turns to sing, taking the lead or sitting back and keeping the rhythm. They each played resonators and acoustics while Hans also played a 12 string and a mandolin. Plenty of variation to keep the capacity audience interested.

Brooks gave us a lovely rendition of ‘My Babe’, a song he was very proud to have played on Paul Jones’ very last Radio 2 Blues Show.

There were entertaining stories of other artists including Hans, at the tender age of 18, playing a festival and seeing Big Bill Broonzy on stage wearing skin tight pink latex shorts. It certainly takes all sorts to make a world.

The second set ended with Leadbelly’s ‘Bourgeois Blues’ and the classic ‘Pallet On Your Floor’.

The audience were on their feet to applaud the end and they came back for an encore of ‘Down In The Hole’ by Tom Waits.

During the interval and after the encore they were both inundated with people at the merch table which to me is a good gauge of the enjoyment the audience were having.

There are a vast number of albums to choose from if you like these two extremely experienced and competent musicians. Their talent is obvious from the very start. I am finding it difficult to put into words exactly what a great experience the night was so all I can suggest is this. If they are near you, take a punt and go and see them. If you like blues of any style you really won’t regret it.

Graham HuttonHans Theessink & Brooks Williams 4/5/18

Steady Rolling Blues Tour

Crawley Live Music Club

Crawley Blues Club have a solid reputation for putting on totally authentic roots blues and tonight was no exception with Dutchman Hans Theessink and American Brooks Williams on their steady rolling blues tours.

Google these guys and you will see that they have a whole bunch of experience under their belts and have worked with some of the biggest names in the business.

Having just celebrated his 70th birthday, Hans has spent a lot of time in the US honing his skills as a bluesman and Brooks was just born into it.

They played 2 lengthy sets of originals and covers from some of the early blues artists. Opening with ‘Key To The Highway’, they moved onto ‘Vicksburg Is My Home’, a self penned piece by Hans and dedicated to his friend and fellow bluesman Terry Evans who sadly passed away in January of this year. Hans and Terry had worked together for 25 years so this was a song with deep meaning for him. Lovely acoustic playing with some great licks.

At this point I will say that Hans’ voice is a little monotone, but it suits his spoken blues style very well. It is at opposite ends of the spectrum to Brooks who’s voice is highly modulated with a really good range.

They upped the tempo nicely with Brooks’ ‘Walking You Off My Mind’, written after a visit to, and seeing the realities of Paris, Texas. Brooks is a very animated person, constantly on the move and counters Hans’ more sedate persona perfectly.

The first set carried on in similar fashion with songs from Blind Lemon Jefferson and Bessie Smith and included a new and unreleased number ‘Here Comes the Blues’, destined for a future album.

The set ended with Hans singing ‘Slow Train’ a song he was privileged to play at the funeral of Dubliner Barney McKenna in 2012.

After the ice cream break (I kid you not, there was ice cream for sale as well as liquid refreshment) Hans opened with ‘Tears Are Rolling’ co-written with Terry Evans.

More songs from Dog Watson, Mississippi John Hurt and Sister Rosetta Sharpe followed, the latter being ‘Rock Me’, a song she released and had hits with twice.

The interaction between the two showed how relaxed they were with each other, taking it in turns to sing, taking the lead or sitting back and keeping the rhythm. They each played resonators and acoustics while Hans also played a 12 string and a mandolin. Plenty of variation to keep the capacity audience interested.

Brooks gave us a lovely rendition of ‘My Babe’, a song he was very proud to have played on Paul Jones’ very last Radio 2 Blues Show.

There were entertaining stories of other artists including Hans, at the tender age of 18, playing a festival and seeing Big Bill Broonzy on stage wearing skin tight pink latex shorts. It certainly takes all sorts to make a world.

The second set ended with Leadbelly’s ‘Bourgeois Blues’ and the classic ‘Pallet On Your Floor’.

The audience were on their feet to applaud the end and they came back for an encore of ‘Down In The Hole’ by Tom Waits.

During the interval and after the encore they were both inundated with people at the merch table which to me is a good gauge of the enjoyment the audience were having.

There are a vast number of albums to choose from if you like these two extremely experienced and competent musicians. Their talent is obvious from the very start. I am finding it difficult to put into words exactly what a great experience the night was so all I can suggest is this. If they are near you, take a punt and go and see them. If you like blues of any style you really won’t regret it.

Graham Hutton

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Geoff Achison & the UK Souldiggers supported by Alex Butler & Dan Spellman (Red Butler),  BiB June '18, Hawth studio 13/4/18

Having just received my May copy of BiB I noticed a few reviews of the spellbinding Geoff Achison & the UK Souldiggers, who appeared at Crawley Blues in the Hawth studio. I had already started to pen/type my review and I thought I must finish the copy as it was one of those seminal evenings. The club is celebrating its 20th anniversary and Geoff has been associated with the club since ’99. However, there was another treat in store for the expectant audience with the Red Butler acoustic duo of Alex & Dan, who also have strong affiliation with us.

An acoustic set from this wonderfully talented band is a rare treat and Alex mentioned that he had been in the audience around six years ago to see Geoff and didn’t want to miss the opportunity. In turn we did not want to miss a chance to see the guys again for what was an exquisite performance. Alex mention that he had shred the stage with us a number of years ago with Rory Graham aka Rag ’N Bone man, who was a close friend and they played together in a local band. As an homage to Rory they covered ‘Human’ with Dan’s sensitive vocals melded with Alex’s deft guitar work, which justifiably brought a standing ovation. They have an EP out called appropriately “Acoustic”, which has that track on it, therefore if you are fortunate enough to be at one of their gigs don’t overlook this treasure. The featured one of their own tracks ‘Bad old days’, which featured Dan’s poignant vocals with Alex filling in the spaces on guitar. All too soon their short set ended with their cover of Clapton’s ‘Old love’, which as a long-term fan of EC back to the days of Mayall was perhaps a risky venture. I knew it was not as I had witnessed it before. Adjectives do not do this track justice as it must be seen and heard. I feel that it epitomises where the duo is comfortable playing guitar together with vocals & harmony. In a slower tempo than the original but reminiscent of the unplugged version. However, the real piece de resistance was the two guitars in sync in the latter stages that took on a classical quality, which would not have been out of place in the main theatre where the RPO were performing….absolute bliss and this was only the start of the show.

Ordinarily we would have Geoff play a short solo, acoustic set but in this instance, we segued into the full band. It was evident from the get go that the band were on top form as they showcased their collective brilliance with ‘Crazy Horse’, which featured the interplay with Geoff and Paul Jobson on keys swapping licks grounded by a superb rhythm section of Sam Kelly, drums and Andy Hodge on bass. ‘Rule the world’ again showed the tightness of the band with superb guitar/vocals from Geoff, both soaring into the air, also featured was a melodic solo by Paul, rich in colour and content. The band ended what was a short set by reprising an old Muddy waters number covered on “Souldiggin’ in the UK” in ‘01, ‘Sugar sweet’, which clearly illustrates the blues roots of the band blended with funk.

The second set got under way with Geoff mining the back catalogue as well as featuring tracks off “Another mile another minute”. Geoff welcomed Alex back up onto the stage, something I knew about but a surprise to the audience, to jam on a couple of numbers. Interestingly it was a track I had never heard live from a ’94 album entitled ‘Big machine’, reference that Geoff once had a day job before going professional. The interplay between the two of them was sublime with Geoff taking the lead and Alex following then it was training licks with both musicians having a blast. The audience rose to their feet in appreciation wanting more and they were not disappointed. A slow blues ‘Be careful what you wish you for’ was the second number with Alex. A Chicago style blues with Geoff’s vocals reminding us of the Chess classics. Geoff called upon Paul to solo and you could shut your eyes thinking you were in some small club in the states. Alex stepped in to solo with virtuosity akin to that of Buddy Guy, clearly the band were having a ball. On leaving the stage the band returned to a funk groove with ‘One ticket one ride’, the contrast between the two numbers helps to encompass what the band are about. On completion of the number Geoff mentioned the dvd that was playing earlier featuring the “Tedeschi Trucks band: Live from the Fox Oakland” featuring the Falcon, Tyler ‘Falcon’ Greenwell, drummer/percussionist, who Geoff played with in the US Souldiggers on the original One Ticket track. This put into perspective for me the quality of the band and the musicians that are present in each variation of the Souldiggers. The common denominator and the band leader is Geoff Achison who by his playing attracts such esteemed talents and we are the more fortunate for their company. Finally, a blast from the past ‘Walking blues’ taken from “Souldiggin’ in the UK’, which I was fortunate enough to be present at the live recording. However, the number has grown out of the Robert Johnson classic into an epic track on a par with Cream’s version of ‘Crossroads. Once again, the audience rose to their feet in unison hoping for an encore. Geoff and I had been reflecting about old times and John Adams his former manager, who we must credit with bringing Geoff and many more great artists to our attention, has not ben well recently but is on the mend. Geoff finished with a blues shuffle entitled ‘I’m going to ride’ a reference to earlier days when a UK promoter took his money and left him in the lurch, basically ‘bugger this for a game of soldiers’. An apposite end to a memorable and thanks to John, Tom and many other supporters Geoff did not turn his back on this country. The final word came from Sam Kelly, who as been the only ever present in the band, who extolled the virtues of Geoff by saying “it gets better and better” and he should know as one of the most respected drummers in the business.

PS the 2018 tour schedule comprised 33 shows in 36 days. The reaction has been both encouraging and inspiring with a myriad of new fans. During one of the tour "off" days, they were able to find time to record a brand-new album with his UK Souldiggers and this will be scheduled for release prior to his return to the UK in 2019, supported by a promo video of the live recording. Geoff is also working on a new solo acoustic album which will be released Worldwide from September 2018. Geoff will be returning for his 20th Anniversary tour in 2019. The anticipated tour period will be from the middle of August 2019 through end of October and will include a week's tour in Germany.

Wheelman

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Ben Tyzack & Guy Tortora 16/03/18 Blues in Britain by Graham Hutton

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.

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