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16 January 2018

Vintage Blues


The Eel Pie Club, Twickenham, 11th January

Review by Vince Francis

A welcome return to the Eel Pie Club last Thursday, to see the first gig of the year featuring BluesClub. I wouldn’t claim to be an aficionado of the genre, but, as a sometime guitar player, I’m well aware of the history of blues music and how it has influenced much of the popular music of western culture, including Jazz, Folk and Country & Western. Apart from all that, I do enjoy the occasional immersion in the baptismal font that is a live blues gig.


This particular area of London also has a noble history in taking the blues to its bosom and continuing the form. The Eel Pie Club acknowledges in its name the original home of British blues on Eel Pie Island, a venue which provided the seedbed for talent such as Alexis Korner, Long John Baldry, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones and many, many others. I think it was B. B. King who said that without the interest shown by the British in the late 50s and early 60s, the form might well have died out. It’s also fair to say that the British blues scene introduced (re-introduced?) the form to the mainstream U.S. audience. Today, of course, there is a fairly healthy scene, both here in London and elsewhere in the country and considerable credit is due to people like Warren Walters and Gina Way, who continue to walk the walk with regard to live music.

Being a geek, the first thing I noticed was the banner at the back of the stage advertising the club and using the image of a Gibson Les Paul guitar to underline the point. All fine and well until a recce of the kit onstage revealed everything guitar related to be Fender. Just sayin’.

On this particular evening, the BluesClub’s stellar line up was:

• Guy Fletcher – Keys and Steel Guitar
• William Topley – Vocals
• Peter Hope-Evans – Harmonica and Jew’s Harp
• Paul Beavis – Drums
• Robbie McIntosh – Guitar
• Elliott Randall – Guitar
• Alan Rogan – Fender Bass

Each of the above has a very respectable CV and this was demonstrated in the opening number, a cool version of Taj Mahal’s 1968 track She Caught the Katy, probably most famously known for underscoring the introduction to the 1980 film The Blues Brothers.

It quickly became apparent that there was an issue with Elliott Randall’s amplification during an otherwise slick performance of Junior Reed’s I Ain’t Got You. This meant his solo went unheard which I felt was a shame for a musician of this standing. As vocalist and front man William Topley wryly observed, vintage gear sometimes breaks down and needs a little TLC – a bit like vintage people, really. In this instance, Robbie McIntosh stepped in with the solution of plugging Elliot’s guitar into the spare channel on his amp, which got us to the interval effectively, after which the original amplifier was back in the line and working.

Peter Hope-Evans deserves a mention for staying power on harmonica and Jew’s harp. Always in there with an appropriate musical flourish to underpin the number and ready to step forward as required.

I also liked drummer Paul Beavis’s work: crisp, enthusiastic and, again, ever ready with a tasteful fill to drive matters forward.

But, overall, it feels churlish to critique musicians of this standard and experience in detail. Suffice it to say that this is a band that admirably demonstrates what professional standard live playing should be and which is well worth booking tickets for.

Of the numbers, the standouts for me were the trance like, Latin influenced Meet Me at the Clubhouse, the whacky, cross-rhythmed I’m Drunk and the very tasty lap steel work from Guy Fletcher in Bring It to Jerome.

I don’t know if I imagined this, but I felt there was a further nod to the area’s illustrious blues past in William Topley’s vocals. I thought he sounded a bit like Long John Baldry – and I intend that as a compliment. Baldry and his Hoochie Coochie Men band were regulars at the Eel Pie Island Hotel in the 60s and the legend goes that Baldry provided the launch pad for Rod Stewart’s career, having heard him busking at Twickenham Station.

I like this club a lot. It fulfils a need for properly equipped and managed performance spaces. The 11:00 p.m. curfew keeps things sweet with the neighbours and means you’re not tempted into a 3:00 a.m. session (believe me, I could be). As indicated earlier, Warren and Gina have a long-standing and heartfelt commitment to live music, which I find admirable.

Every venue has its own quirks and limitations and the EPC is no exception. You need to be in the queue early in order to give yourself a chance at getting a seat. It can get very crowded, although I’ve found the crowd to be very friendly each time I’ve been. Also, I would have liked to have heard the solos more forward in the mix, but this might have been due to where we were seated.

And a final thought. I don’t want to guess at the average age, but looking around the audience, I was struck at one point by the soft shimmer of grey ponytails nodding sagely to old school riffs in the dimmed lights. I do wonder what’s going to happen to this music when this generation of performers and fans finally hangs up their Strats. I said earlier that there is a fairly healthy scene at the moment, with some brilliant young players, such as John Mayer coming through. I hope they continue to acknowledge the roots – of the music, that is.

Vince Francis
January 2018

Photography by Pat Stancliffe






From → Gigs, Reviews

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