It’s been a while since Lucinda has graced the UK with her presence and tonight she fitted in a Festival appearance as part of her north European tour. ‘An Intimate Evening With…’ is a chance to showcase her last album, 2011’s “Blessed”, probably her best offering since “West” in 2006. But she does not take to merely promoting her most recent work, instead preferring to cherrypick songs from over three decades for the festival crowd. But make no mistake, this is no greatest hits package as defined by sales but, thankfully, carefully selected songs from a vintage singer/song-writer. A few technical issues of sound and dry ice distract initially (“We’re not Whitesnake, y’know, I feel like I’m playing in a smoky bar!”)
She kicks off with “Passionate Kisses”, the Grammy-winning track she wrote for Mary Chapin Carpenter. The concert continues her themes of heartbreak and loss, but it takes a specialist to dissect the human heart without merely going over the same ground and Lucinda succeeds. Although repetition is a strong feature of her writing style in terms of turning some of her songs into drawling incantations of powerful lines, there’s not enough of this for me tonight as her song choices on the whole avoid such relentless intimacy. Writing prowess aside, an artist like Lucinda was born to tell her tales live and she certainly is a powerful performer and effective communicator; she also plays a mean acoustic guitar backed only by bass and lead guitar.
Lucinda is “so in the moment” that she forgets her set list and instead works her way through the ballads in her folder, before upping the tempo slightly. Williams’ voice attracts every Bourbon-soaked cliché but let’s just say she really sounds like she’s been there, and probably on more than one occasion, but at 60 years she still walks with her vulnerability; tonight we hear more of the songwriter and less of the singer. First person experiences form the bulk of her canon, which ranges from ballad to blues to rock edge which makes Lucinda an exciting live ticket. Long regarded as a competent live artist, Lucinda delivers those contrasts in tempo well, building the energy of the set that peaks at the much requested “Drunken Angel” and angry anthem, “Joy”. The audience are Lucinda’s contemporaries age-wise and sadly there are very few younger converts in evidence here and mostly festival goers taking a punt on a recommendation, but a core of fans enthusiastically make themselves known between songs.
Most of her albums were represented here including “Jackson” from “West”, the album that did the best, chart-wise in the UK and she showcased 2 new songs including “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, hopefully from a forthcoming disc as she admits that she is longing to get back into the studio.
The encore was an acoustic rendition of Nick Drake’s “Riverman” followed by the gratitude anthem, “Blessed” and it was all over after an impressive set of over 100 minutes. A quick mention is deserved for Jimmy Livingstone, support act who had his moments also on a singer/song-writer ticket.
Shall we get the rant out of the way first? There were two things that really ground my gears about this Paul Rose gig at the Jazz Cafe. First, is it impossible to get 300 people to come out on a Wednesday night in London to see and hear a jaw-droppingly good guitar player (not to mention the other members of a stunning live band)? Second thing; I hate it when people make a lot of noise when performers are trying to work and it’s even worse when those people are with a band who have just finished their set.
Jack Moore and his brother Gus were the victims of this particular type of moron at the Jazz Café, trying to compete with the rudest crowd I’ve ever seen outside of a corporate hospitality area. Their very short, blues-tinged acoustic set showed some really promising signs; they both sing well and Jack is a very good player. I’ll certainly make a point of going to see Jack Moore in a better environment as soon as I can; the songs I heard were strong and the playing was excellent.
The Paul Rose All-Stars are aptly named; the rock-solid rhythm section of Kenny Hutchison and Jim Drummond is augmented by guitarist and singer Randy Jacobs and two wonderful guest singers, Sweet Pea Atkinson and Terry Evans. This tour is in support of the new album “Double Life” and the set is divided pretty equally between the new material and Paul’s established crowd-pleasers. The two singers get to do their stuff with “Dark End of the Street”, “Let’s Straighten it Out”, “Ball and Chain”, “Uphill Climb”, “Just a Little Bit” and (eventually) “Cold Sweat”. As I expected, the songs sound even better live, particularly “Dark End..”. I love the James Carr version of this song, but I think the live Terry Evans version actually surpassed that.
The band mixes up the new material with a selection of older originals and covers and there are a few highlights here as well, including a funky version of the Robert Johnson classic “Crossroads”, the wonderful instrumental “Home” and a storming version of the Was (Not Was) song “11 MPH”’ not to mention a storming version of the “Get Carter” theme. If that’s not enough, there’s an encore of “All Along the Watchtower” as well.
If you read my review of “Double Life”, you’ll know that I described Paul Rose a virtuoso and this performance confirmed that. Most guitarists playing live these days use a battery of stomp boxes to beef up their sound but Paul Rose has a guitar and an amp; everything else is technique and he has a phenomenal mastery of his instrument. I’ve seen many great rock guitarists, but I’ve never seen anyone with so much technical ability.
This tour is very much about the band as well as Paul Rose, and the 2 singers Sweet Pea Atkinson and Terry Evans are outstanding soul/blues singers as well as being incredibly charismatic frontmen. Randy Jacobs spends most of the show taking a back seat to Paul Rose but, when he takes centre stage, he shows why he’s such a respected player (and singer). I would pay to watch any of these guys fronting up a band but playing together in this set-up is something else; all of their abilities are channelled into the songs and the end result is a stunning show. I smiled all the way home.
I’ll be quite honest, The Hippodrome Casino is probably one of the last places in London I thought I’d be sitting in watching a British blues player. Marcus Bonfanti’s show is part of a solo tour which is mainly about trying out songs from the new album (out in May) live in an intimate setting. The Matcham Room is on the first floor of the Hippodrome Casino in Leicester Square and you get there by making your way through the main gaming floor and lots of squeaky-clean and hyper-polite staff. The room is set up cabaret-style with tables (table service only), small booths and a balcony; and don’t even ask about the drinks prices. Ok then, I’ll tell you; over a fiver for a bottle of Corona.
All of this is irrelevant when Marcus Bonfanti ambles on stage; the audience are his and they’re very enthusiastic. He’s best known for his guitar playing, so obviously he started his set with an unaccompanied blues holler. He has a powerful blues voice but, the second he picks up a guitar, you know you’re in the presence of a huge talent. The solo format leaves the performer with nowhere to hide on stage but it’s obvious from the outset that it holds no fears for Marcus Bonfanti. He’s very engaging and self-deprecating, and casually throws out humorous anecdotes between songs which keep the performer/audience rapport alive during the inevitable guitar changes and re-tunings.
On this tour Marcus uses 3 guitars; a 6-string acoustic, a Telecaster and a resonator. Although this is a solo set, there’s a huge variation in style and dynamics from the modern misery of “Sweet Louise” to the traditional stomp of “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” and the rousing slide workouts. During the 2 sets Marcus played, he demonstrated his mastery of finger-picking, bottleneck slide and Chicago electric blues (and the rest) using old and new songs including “Blind Alley”, “Jezebel”, “The Bittersweet”, “My Baby Don’t Dance” and “Cheap Whisky”. As a taster set this works perfectly, because I can’t wait for the album now and the chance to hear the songs played live by the band when they tour to promote the album.
Marcus Bonfanti is a major British talent as a blues guitarist, songwriter and singer and this solo showcase emphasises his abilities while whetting the appetite for the full band appearances which will come in support of the new album. If you’re even vaguely interested in blues, then you really should make the effort to see Marcus when he tours to support the album.
So I wouldn’t normally go to a small, glamour-free, square (in shape) venue like Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush on a cold Wednesday evening in February; my editor Allan and his camera would and probably has but I’d rather stay in and press play. The thought of seeing and more importantly hearing Mancunian Josephine play songs from her sweet and soulful debut album proved too strong though and at 8:30pm I was standing in said hall and looking at a nervous young boy with a guitar called George Ezra whilst he passionately and skilfully sang his 5 or so songs before dashing out to get his train back to Bristol.
At 9 o’clock Josephine and musical partner, Steve, walked onto the tiny stage (with Josephine looking more Studio 54 than you might have imagined in skyscraper heels and a silky bustier pant suit), strapped on their guitars and the beauty begun to unfold. Opening with the stately “I Think it was Love”, Josephine finished the song revealing relief that the hardest song was thankfully out of the way and she could now relax, not that you would have ever known she was anything other than comfortable and confident in front of a pretty packed room. This was a tight 55 minute set consisting mainly of tracks from the surprisingly strong “Portrait” debut album; Josephine is a masterful vocalist with a charming stage presence. The more uptime pop of “A Freak A” and big, warm-hearted “Original Love” were crowd favourites, well-known enough for people to sing along but it was on the waltz-time, Cabaret-like album closer and her most distinctive track “House of Mirrors” that Josephine, stripped of the guitars she had held close to her all night, made for a humble, vulnerable and moving presence.
As a warm up for her first tour proper in April after completing her current support slot with Paloma Faith, Josephine proves that she can hold a room’s attention and I, for one, look forward to experiencing her with a full band in a venue that can fully accommodate her blossoming and considerable talent.