(PHOTOS: SAMANTHA LLOYD PHOTOGRAPHY)
It’s becoming a tradition now that I turn up to the Robin2 in Bilston to a poor turnout for an artist who deserves so much more. Week after week the midweek shows are met with a poor number of attendees and that, in my book is simply not on. Walking into the main room I count 5 people including myself… 5! Shocking! Thankfully throughout the evening that number grows to around 35, maybe 40 at a push but for this awarding winning Canadian bluesman and his outstanding band I’m deeply annoyed at the poor turnout. What happened to supporting live music? I think The Robin2 missed that memo! As J.W. Jones so humorously points out later in the evening, if he sells one album to everyone in the room he could go platinum on his new album ‘High Temperature’… the sarcasm isn’t lost on me or anyone else in the room.
The first band of the evening take to the stage and it’s a band that I reviewed back in July this year. The Hand and The Flowers. I’m curious to see how well they perform tonight in comparison to the previous show where they supported Crow Black Chicken.
Gareth Williams (vocals and guitar) seems very comfortable as he addresses the audience, thanks JW Jones for having them here tonight and introduces their first track ‘One is the Truth, The Other is a Lie’. It’s a great opening track and the band immediately seem a lot tighter in their performance. ‘What You Want’ is up next, more upbeat than the previous track, heavier blues with a great little riff thrown in for good measure amidst the “woah, woah” vocals from Williams that are really catchy.
Throughout their set, the audience is treated to a much more intricate set of Americana riffs that really stand out for me. ‘What You Do For Me’ and ‘Run’ has Williams’ vocals sounding a lot harsher and I like the difference in the light and shade of his vocals throughout the set. Sam Bispham on guitar seems a little shy in engaging with the audience and spends a lot of time looking at George Land (drums) but this doesn’t take away from the fact that he plays some great guitar throughout the set. Standing nearer the back, and to the side of the drums, bass player Julius Adams would also, in my opinion, benefit from more engaged eye contact with audience, though again this doesn’t detract from the mean rhythmic bass that he lays down throughout the set alongside George Land on the drums who counts in every song for the guys.
‘Time Passes Slow’ sees a much quieter build up of the drums before Land hits with full boom only to quieten down again for the guitars to drive the song forward. Land has quite a face during the set while he is bashing away at the drums, contorting and scrunching his face during the heavier sections, the whole time Williams plays the part of the front man with ease and decorum, engaging in conversation with the small audience, and even taking time to make a joke about the Brexit negotiations. ‘Cheatin’ Heart’ and ‘Gotta Move Heaven’, a real up beat-blues-swaggering number, brings their set to a close, which I thoroughly enjoyed; to be honest I wanted to hear more this time round. Truly a great performance from The Hand and The Flowers!
The Hand and The Flowers are:
Gareth Williams – Vocals and Guitar
Sam Bispham – Guitar
Julius Adams – Bass
George Land – Drums
Check out more from this Transatlantic Americana meets British decorum band at the following links:
One is the Truth, The Other is a Lie
What You Want
Rich or Poor
What You Do For Me
Time Passes Slow
Blame It All On Me
Deal In Death
Gotta Move Heaven
After a brief break, JW Jones and his band take to the stage and warm us all up nicely with ‘Wham’ from the new album ‘High Temperature’, which has been nominated for a Maples Blues Award (Canada’s Blues Music Awards). It’s a solid instrumental intro that not only warms up the band but warms the audience too. Launching instantly into the track ‘High Temperature’, a swaggering tune of clean blues accentuated by Jones’ intricate guitar work; then into ‘Price You Pay’ and ‘How Many Hearts’, which are also from the new album. Jones refers to these as ‘the teasers for the album version that you’re going to take home with you tonight, right?’
Throughout the evening JW Jones delights our ears with a foray of blues covers; BB Kings ‘Early Every Morning’ that is accompanied by the story of how Jones spends hour after hour perfecting and practicing his skill, though he feels that even when he hits his 80s he still won’t match the skill of BB King when he was in his 30s. The cover is amazing, full of rootsy blues and a slightly more technically diverse guitar style from Jones, those hours of practice are paying off! Jones speaks with such admiration for the King of the Blues and it’s apparent in his cover that nothing short of perfect will do here.
‘A Memo’, a Robert Cray cover, is next and again Jones displays his talent with amazing musicianship throughout. “Time to get different” says JW as Laura Greenberg and Will Laurin entertain us with bass and drums before the explosion of heavier riffs from Jones as he launches into ‘Watch Your Step’, a track oozing depth that blends nicely into Charlie Musslewhite’s ‘I Don’t Believe a Word You Say’ with its groove laden blues, Laurin quieter on the drums, the bass of Greenberg quietly throbbing as Jones plays a delicate set of low volume then hard scuzzy riffs that draw in the audience and then blows them away.
Jones likes to mix things up slightly so on the next track he proclaims, “We’ll turn it up a notch I think!” which he does with the heavier, harder edged and up tempo swaggerlicious track ‘West Side Magic Boogie’ from the album Belmont Boulevard. I would say this one is my favourite track of the evening, ripe with scorching riffs, thunderous drums and a real bounce that just makes me want to get up and dance, I probably would if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d be the only one doing it! The whole place remains seated throughout the performance, however, feet are tapping and people are swaying in time with the rhythm.
JW Jones goes on to say, “Some people like rock in their blues, some like it in the pure form. I like it somewhere in between and both ends of the spectrum apparently”, then decides the guitar needs a quick retune, “Hold please!” he says, retunes then returns to his dialogue, “You know some people think blues in its purest form shouldn’t be electrified, as soon as you electrify it, it ain’t blues anymore! And that’s crazy if you ask me!” Then goes on to play a cover of Jimmy Rogers’ ‘That’s All Right’, a slow stripped down track with quiet bass and drums while JW plays his soulful and captivating blues with such exquisite perfection. Then he walks over to Will Laurin, picks up a drum stick and shows us how he plays guitar with a drumstick… yes you read that correctly!
‘What’s Inside of You’ is another great cover from Buddy Guy who has joined JW on stage quite a few times to play this great blues number. ‘Same Mistakes’, from the new album, is a more contemporary blues track, full of clear riffs and bouncy rhythm. JW attempts to dig up some audience interaction but I think everyone is firmly glued to their chair and enjoying the music. The only movement from the crowd is in the form of three photographers casually moving around the floor directly in front of the stage.
Jones takes time to acknowledge the expertly played bass of Laura Greenberg and drums of Will Laurin as they move into a bit of fun territory. For a second I thought that JW was having a technical issue with his guitar as he puts it down, walks over to Will and picks up a second set of drum sticks and starts playing alongside him. Will then stands, JW sits down and displays his skills on the drum kit as Will takes the bass from Laura, who in turn, walks across the stage and picks up JW’s Les Paul guitar. Did I miss the memo where we get to play musical instruments this evening? Great fun and great to see that these musicians are skilled across more than just the instruments that they are known for. They all switch back to their prospective instruments then finish off the evening of contemporary and old school blues with what I’m calling ‘The Blues Rock’N’Surf Medley’, simply because JW Jones didn’t give it a name! This Medley is a mix up of The Beach boys ‘Wipe Out’, The Rolling Stones ‘Satisfaction’, The Bond Theme, The Ventures ‘Hawaii Five-0’ with a shot of Hendrix’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ among others, before returning to a smoother blues outro.
For me a smaller venue would have provided a more ‘intimate’ gig tonight and would have added to the general atmosphere of the evening. The likes of JW Jones should not be playing to an almost empty room!
An awesome evening full of tremendous Americana and Chicago Blues from both The Hand and The Flowers and JW Jones and His Band.
To find out more about JW Jones and His Band or to catch him live before he goes back to Canada, check out the following links:
Price you Pay
How any Hearts
Early Every Morning
Watch Your Step
I Don’t Believe A Word You Say
West Side Magic Boogie
That’s All Right
What’s Inside of You
The Blues Rock’N’Surf Medley (my title, not the official title!)
**PHOTOS ARE NOT TO BE USED WITHOUT THE PRIOR CONSENT OF DOWN THE FRONT MEDIA**