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Live From Old York: Delta Saxophone Quartet, Ballaké Sissoko, Larry Miller & Blackbeard's Tea Party

Martin Longley By

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Blackbeard's Tea Party are an indigenous York folk-rock combo, with a penchant for hardy busking around the city centre. Not that they'd had much time for such activities prior to this date, which was the climactic homecoming following an extensive autumn UK tour. When considering folk-rock progenitors, the BTP are descending down the line of The Pogues or The Bad Livers rather than Steeleye Span or Jethro Tull, although their guitarist does hark back to touches of Fairport Convention's acidic stringbursting. It was a welcome surprise to find this basement venue heaving with folksy folks, ranging widely in age ranges, with a handful of pirates in attendance to boot. Okay, so we were on local turf, but it was still gratifying to find The Duchess so throbbing on a Friday nite. This well-populated state ensured the ease with which BTP almost immediately stomped their riotous presence, totally together and toughened by weeks out on the road. Indeed, the band now rejoices in a national reputation, making appearances at the major UK folkfests. Even though much of their songbook is traditional, the gang's delivery siphons the material through their own punky style tubes, to match the vocabulary of their original material. There's none of the preeningly self-conscious pomp found in a band such as Bellowhead. This bunch are more interested in the sawdust that soaks up all the blood, booze, vomit and sperm of ancient folkloric yarn-weaving.

Frontman singer and melodeon player Stuart Giddens joined the ranks a couple of years after the band formed in 2009, but is now established as a crucial member. Although retaining a modest image as a regular geezer, he casually operates as a bounding focal point, tossing off accurately phrased couplets with aplomb, in a voice that's pitched equally in folk and rock registers. We could still discern most of the lyrics to each song, but this didn't lessen the forcefulness of their delivery. The other sharp points of the combo's demonic trident of attack are fiddler Laura Barber and guitarist Martin Coumbe. Barber hails from the rustic friction side of the river, delivering solos with sawing edges and swift embellishments. Coumbe's axe strafes were never lengthy, but he managed to fill each decorative outburst with many notes that meant mucho, a smouldering distortion infusing his licks. The crowd did a lot of the work, but the players jumped in to feed off this energy, trouncing through a set that wheeled by in its dazzling variety of melodic convulsions. They didn't feel the lack of a conventional drummer due to the interlocking hand-slaps of their djembe/cajón duo. Song highlights included "Landlady," a tale of sexual stamina unbound, told with tongue-twisting swiftness, the self-explanatory "Mr. Slippyfist" and "Whip Jamboree," the title tune of the latest album. It was the wildest of beer-drenched nights, and at noon the next day, the piratical crew were back to busking in front of All Saints Church...

Photo Credit
Joze Balas

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