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Live Reviews

Live From Old York: Mysore Brothers, Martin Carthy, Dave Swarbrick, Dr. Feelgood, Jesca Hoop & Chicken Shack

By Published: October 12, 2012
She was well prepared for a Yorkian visitation, garbed in an elaborate red velvet dress (with white fluffy sleeves) that would be prime attire for a mediaeval function. This was just the opening parry of her eccentric spread, as Hoop unveiled her kooky variation on the pop form. She cannily combines melodic approachability with a subtle verbal darkness, making odd turns with her song-structures. The band was three strong, but sonically minimalist. Her female backing singer was not so much a backing singer, as a close harmonic shadower (or illuminator) for many of the verses, creating qualities that Hoop would usually have overdubbed in the studio. Then, there was a sketchily watercoloring guitarist who sometimes picked up the bass, and a skeletal percussion triggerer, employing just a small sample pad to create stark electro-beats.

Hoop played a long set which was remarkable for the way it continually ensnared the audience. Complete captivation was her aim, even when she slipped in a bloodthirsty anecdote about skewering a rat with her shim. Her song highlights included "DNR," "Hospital (Win Your Love)" and "The House That Jack Built" (Jack being her father, and this being the title tune of her latest album). The crowd wouldn't allow her to leave, so there were two encores adding to the already substantial set. Hoop has a quality that bewitches her acolytes into a mood of savoring rapture.

York Blues Festival
The Duchess
York, England
September 30, 2012

It was a return for the male-orientated oldsters three days later at the same haunt. The Duchess has a penchant for organizing weekend mini-fests, beginning in the afternoons and seeping into the evenings. The emphasis with this York Blues Festival was on the rockier, heavily amplified manifestation of the music. Sadly, somewhere along the way British harpster Giles Robson and Finnish singer-guitarist Erja Lyytinen had disappeared from the bill, so the all-dayer ended up in a slightly shrunken form. Nevertheless, it offered the opportunity to check out some unfamiliar names on the UK blues scene, in the run-up to the headlining Stan Webb's Chicken Shack.

The Little Devils arrived early in the afternoon, operating a two-female front line, with a saxophonist who also handled backing vocals, and a lead singer who occasionally picked up a flute or saxophone. Their emphasis was on a rockin,' soulful R&B concoction that swerved from exultantly stomping to emotionally exposed, often with a few stinging solos from their lead guitarist. Their "Black Diamond" song introduced a chilling, confrontational aura, dealing with the local Easington Colliery mining disaster in 1951, whose sole survivor was the bassist Graeme Wheatley's grandfather. The lead vocalist's voice was "merely" powerful for most of the time, but there were a few strategic moments where it hiked even further up to thrilling soul-gospel heights.

The Avit Blues Band's from Doncaster, and three out of its four members, share the name of Ferguson. It must be a family affair! The elder David Ferguson led on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, but lead guitarist Matthew laced the set with scorching statements, making a dangerous combination punch. About equally level on the blues-rock power scale was the whippersnapper singer-guitarist Laurence Jones, leading his bass/drums trio. He's a mere 19 years old, hails from Stratford-upon-Avon, and also pens most of his own material. Jo Harman & Company played penultimately, but this singer's soulful blues sagged slightly following the preceding rock-out combustions. Her influences must surely be Robert Plant (his 'dance' moves too), and Janis Joplin, descended through Joss Stone. Harman's stagecraft needs some improvement, and she seems a touch dominating with her band mates. Ultimately, though, she delivered a sturdy performance.

There was an air of tension emanating from the stage when Chicken Shack opened their climactic set. Founder and leader Stan Webb (the only original member) was in a relaxedly grouchy mood, perhaps for good reason,who knows. He seemed worried about the gig's curfew (but the foursome were still able to play for well over an hour), and dissatisfied with his onstage sound—he was searching for just the right degree of foldback delay, which is presumably a vital requirement for his almost peculiarly high-toned soul/gospel-derived vocals.

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