Another epic week of far too much music!
It wasn’t a massively attended gig, but I was there, with occasional gig buddies Ruth and Andy. Ryan took the stage with a couple of guitars, a PA, a couple of effects and a loop pedal. When you see 71 Chain, you normally hear Chris on vocals, with Ryan on backing. This time, Ryan had no choice but to be solo. And he’s good.
I arrived part way through the first set. Got a disappointing beer. I can’t even remember what it was to give any kind of review. It was past it’s best. Lets focus on the music, shall we?
Ryan’s solo sets are made up of a carefully selected mix of covers. In the part of the first set I saw, we were treated to skillful renditions of Half The World Away (Oasis), In The Morning (Razorlight), a frantically strummed intro bursting with energy to Mr Nutini’s New Shoes, then moving a little back on the tempo, REM’s Man On The Moon with a muted strum on the verse. Ryan introduced “A bit of modern rock ‘n’ roll” – Jake Bugg’s Lightning Bolt was given the Stevens treatment, which went down a storm (get it? Lightning? Storm? I’ll get my coat…) with the small audience. For the noughties’ kids, Outkast’s Hey Ya led into the first outing of the looper for the evening, for a bit of Ed Sheeran. From personal experience, getting things right with a looper can be hit and miss. Ryan hit. He finished the first set with The Beatles Come Together.
After much chatting with friends, it was time for the second set. Another plethora of very well played covers followed, with T-Rex and Queen getting an airing. One annoyance was that the big screen TV was on in the background and from where I was sitting, Ryan was competing against BBC News 24. I appreciate the pub wasn’t heaving, but those that were there were there to listen to the bloody music (and not drink crap beer).
Ryan dealt his three-chord-wonder, The Joker (Steve Miller Band) followed up with Lizzy’s version of Whiskey In The Jar(o). I’ve often mused over the word ‘Jar-o’
Receptacle for beverage, esp. whiskey
Ryan broke from tradition at this point and treated us to one of his own compositions. It was a really good song – a well-penned Mumford meets Sheeran style piece well executed. Shame I can’t remember what it was bloody called!
After a bit of Sweet Home Alabama (turn it up…), the looper came out again. Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall works really well when you set up the chords on the pedal them play the solo over the top. The looper stayed out for the finale, Hendrix’ version of Watchtower, that was painstakingly built up, layer by layer, into what can only be described as a masterpiece of sound, created layer by layer by a very talented chap.
Ryan Stevens is nothing but a human jukebox. To hear what I have so far, I am impressed. Adding that to his 71 Chain work, his is a name to watch out for.
Friday completed the week’s 71 Chain fix, with the launch of Ruby Blue And The Chain‘s debut release, ‘The Boathouse EP’ at The Hobbit. Ruby Blue is the daughter of Mongo, 71 Chain’s drummer, and The Chain are Chris, Adam and Mongo from the aforementioned band on guitar, bass and drums respectively. Ruby (Emily) plays keyboard and delivers powerful vocals that complete the band’s smooth blues-rock sound.
The venue was packed to the gunnels with fans of the band, fans of 71 Chain and a load of archaeologists from the university who are friends of Emily’s mum. It’s a small world! The gig started with some solo Ruby Blue material, which really showcased Emily’s dynamic, strong voice, which I found somewhat reminiscent of one of my favourite female musicians, the wonderful Thea Gilmore. A voice you can easily become lost in.
After the solo set, Emily called for the band, who appeared on stage after fighting their way through the assembled throng. I’ve seen the band play a couple of times before and I’ve very much enjoyed what they do. Chris’s Gary-Moore-esque guitar and Adam’s fretless five string bass pair faultlessly with the vox and keys from Emily, the package is completed with percussion from Mongo. This evening, though, the band was really rather let down by the quality of the sound. The venue is a fairly small room which was evidently empty at sound check but full of sound-absorbant bodies for the gig. A former sound engineer friend of mine used to take bundles of blankets around to pub gigs, to drape on chairs and tables giving more of an impression of a full room when setting the levels. This evening, there was a tremendous amount of bottom end that largely obscured the vocals and melody. Adam’s bass was perfect, though, even if certain notes did seem to hit the resonant frequency of the room, compounding the problem.
Ruby Blue And The Chain
I elected to stand in the corridor outside the room, which gave a far better sound, but it did mean I ended up talking at length with an old friend I bumped into who happened to be standing out there for the same reason, and whilst I enjoyed the evening, I didn’t really get to enjoy the music as much as I could have. I parted with the princely sum of five whole pounds and left with the five-track Boathouse EP so I could enjoy Ruby Blue And The Chain at my leisure in more acoustically suited surroundings.
When I pulled the disc from its sleeve, I was immediately struck by the graphics on the front, which resemble a vinyl record, with (printed on) grooves and a label. On flipping the disc over, I was surprised to see the reverse is black instead of the usual silver. Impressive! On playing the EP, you are treated to five tracks of audio delight. This is the right balance of blues and rock for me. Chris’s cutting guitar riffs provide a direct contrast to Emily’s piano and the vocals top everything off. All songs are penned by Emily, with three also having Chris credited. A fiver well spent.
Saturday. Almost there! Roadie time for me.
Widge, from my band, Shantyhead, has a long history in the music business. He’s also known as Martin Orford, keyboard player, vocalist and songwriter with several prog rock outfits. Every now and then, he dons his baseball cap and waistcoat and re-enters his prog guise to play small events. Saturday was one of these – a house concert in Chandler’s Ford alongside former Jadis bandmate Gary Chandler. Widge is on keys, flute and other random instruments. Gaz is on guitar. Both share vocals. I come along to roadie, bringing PA equipment and fulfill the role of general dogsbody, lead tester and general sound checkist.
The venue was the house of a nice chap called Paul. The ground floor of his house is open-plan. He fills it with chairs for the audience and puts on a rather large buffet with great stocks of booze for everyone (roadies included) to enjoy. Setting up is a casual affair at Paul’s, a few hours before kickoff, we can get sorted at a comfortable pace. The most daunting bit of the setup is the moving of Paul’s plate glass dining table out into the garden, through a tight ninety degree turn, then propping it up against the wall of the house. Once that’s done and the gear is set up, soundchecks carried out, I change into a clean shirt, grab a beer and enjoy the gig, before doing everything in reverse before disappearing off in Widge’s little van.
It’s a friendly atmosphere at Paul’s house concerts, with lots of familiar faces appearing each time. Everyone knows each other and I’m accepted as one of the prog crowd now, which is really rather pleasant.
Alongside songs from the Jadis back catalogue, Widge plays some of his solo material and things from his time with IQ. They also play a number of covers, which since we’ve converted him to folk, Widge is keen to play with his plethora of bizarre folk instruments. This time, it was the cittern and hurdy gurdy that got an airing. Widge guested on keys, flute and the hand-cranked-multi-stringed-babe-magnet on the last Jadis album ‘No Fear Of Looking Down’, released at the end of last year.
I’m not great with the names of a lot of the Jadis / IQ songs, but I can recall some of the covers. With Widge on vox and keys and Gaz on guitar, Wonderous Stories (Yes) went down well. A cittern / acoustic guitar-based rendition of the Genesis classic Carpet Crawlers warmed the audience up for Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill which started to great appreciation from the audience, most of whom were singing along throughout.
A bit of Floyd brought the evening to a close. Comfortably Numb with Widge on keys and lead vox. Gaz played the solos with his usual skill. Immense applause and general appreciation. It’s guaranteed a great reception.
As the audience and performers were more or less on first name terms, the banter between songs was a great source of amusement to everyone. Many anecdotes were shared, a plethora of stories remembered, including memories of Widge’s good friend John Wetton, who sadly passed away earlier this year. In tribute, Widge announced a song that he’d sung backing on countless times before, but never lead vocals. This was the encore and this was for John. With cittern in hand, backed by Gaz on electric, after a tentative start, the music took hold. It was Asia’s Heat Of The Moment and was performed with great emotion and feeling. A fitting tribute to a great musician.
The evening had drawn to a close. Instruments were cased, cables wound, bags packed and vans loaded. That bloody table was reinstalled without a hitch. The guys have already been booked for this time next year.
Thanks for sticking with this mammoth update! I’ve already uploaded the next blog as it was only short. This coming week, it’s a busy one, with Shantyhead gigs on Friday and Saturday. I’ll tell you more next time!
Keep it live!