A Tour de Café’s on Saturday 29th November 2014.
This is not some account of modfather inspired sham jazz, no – simply put, today was a tale of two café’s featuring blues and bluegrass.
Saturday afternoon, and Andy Gunn launched his new album Miracle of Healing at the Tea Cosy in Dingwall. Now the back-story to the album is, shall we say, pretty spectacular. I’m not going to dwell on that here, there are plenty of accounts in the local press and I’d much rather encourage you to check out Andy’s website – it’s all there. But, there is an argument that to deliver authentic blues you have to have lived a little, some hardship and a soupçon of existential crisis is no bad thing. Suffice it to say, Andy has had his fair share of both.
He has emerged from this to produce his new album, a collaborative effort brokered by Martin Stephenson featuring more than a few fine musicians scattered around the country. So no coming together to ‘make a record’ – but the end result is a cohesive, well produced collection of songs that is attracting consistently positive reviews. Now, I have had my own existential crisis of sorts with the blues, due in no small part to having a friend in school who subjected me once too often to his massive Eric Clapton bootleg collection, so this was going to be a challenge for me.
It was standing room only as Andy kicked off solo and acoustic before plugging in and beefing it up with bass (Kevin Ronaldson) and drums (Nathan Fraser). He was also joined by one of the artists who collaborated on the album, Susanna Wolf who provided delightful backing vocals on several songs. Andy has four albums to his name, but today alongside his own material he referenced some classics, treating us to numbers from Robert Johnson, Bob Neuwirth and a really fine performance of the Fred Neil classic ‘Dolphins’.
He mixed it up nicely, playing solo the likes of Hurts and Haunts from his Regional Variations album alongside his new material. He also varied tone and pace with a blend of ballads and more up-tempo rock based blues with the likes of Planting the Seeds from the new album cracking along at a real good pace. I was really impressed with the vocals throughout, warm, resonant and melodic with a hint of fragility at times, all in all a very fine afternoon, and no mention of Eric . . .
Saturday evening and more tea and cake, this time at Velocity Café in Inverness who hosted a bluegrass flavoured evening with California’s Caitlin Jemma topping the bill. Second venue of the day with standing room only, the evening kicked off with the Greig Street Collective. Comprising fiddle and guitar with banjo player James Shewan also on vocals they are far more used to providing the music to ceilidh by.
Highlight of the set had to be their bluegrass homage to cycling, seriously, what’s not to like about that. Although admitting to feeling a tad nervous (people were listening appreciatively and generally paying attention) James has a fine voice and surely there is more scope for the Collective to take their roots to the citizenry of Inverness? I’d like to think so.
Now it’s some time since the Slim Panatellas have experienced nerves during a performance, I’m guessing. Certainly no sign of any as they entertained a crowd who were up for a yodel and a sing-a-long. The Slims were a new act to many this evening and they were duly treated to some classics, including Hotel Caledonia, before a final song allegedly about posting photos of kittens on the likes of Facebook (I stand accused). Having wrestled with their set list to finish with a song that might not offend, they just about managed it, although lyrically it did come within a whisker of lapsing into a single entendre at times. A fine set indeed.
Now Caitlin Jemma is currently on a European tour that has taken in Ireland and Scotland before heading south to London. Flying solo she usually plays with her band The Long Gone Stringband. She is a hardworking songwriter clearly steeped in the bluegrass tradition and has a really fine voice with echoes of Iris DeMent and Gillian Welch in there.
Switching between guitar and banjo Caitlin seemed right at home, treating us to a range of self-penned songs with a fine mix of ballads and upbeat sing-a-longs. Indeed the crowd were pretty impressive with a serious attempt at bluegrass inspired dissonant harmonies – elsewhere there was plenty of tapping and clapping throughout. Typically intricate guitar played in a fingerpicking style and while there were of course no breakdowns there were several episodes of accomplished solo breaks on the guitar and banjo.
It wouldn’t be bluegrass without some reference to the origins of the genre and tonight that came with Caitlin providing a fine cover of the father of bluegrass Bill Monroe’s ‘Can’t You Hear Me Calling’. Highlight of the evening for me though was her first ballad of the evening, requested by her father alas I missed the name. That however was closely followed by the up-tempo ‘One More Dollar’, with the audience participation very much to the fore. Smiles all round at the end of the set, the evening of course closed with a right good sesh.
You should keep an eye on both these venues folks; great music, tea, coffee, cake and craic guaranteed.