Once again the Golden Lion has delivered a quality pair of acts for a ridiculously VFM fiver (they deserve your support: bookmark them, like their page, follow them on social media or go old school – pop in for a pint). A finely judged bill brought together a fantastic night of 21st century blues and 20th century gonzo rock n roll.
First up, another new venture for the Long Tall V – The Nurses are a four piece outfit featuring John E Vistic on the geetar, Joe Coles on the vox, George on bass and all the way from Donegal, James on drums; all spivved up, looking like a bar band from a David Lynch speakeasy and ready to rock. Coles was frankly mesmerising throughout, coming across as a young Orson Wells doing his best Screaming Jay Hawkins; psychotic stare in full effect, eyeballing the crowd (hell, dancing and smooching with most of the front row) all the while alternating full moon howling with anguished crooning and full throttle rock n roll vox. For all the twisted menacing front man vibe, Coles brought plenty of quirks to liven up the night, at times surreal (requesting a car be moved as it was blocking his childhood memories and inhibiting his therapy) and at times ribald (“Everybody raise your left hand…now grab the arse of the person to your left”). In these days of production line frontman ubiquity a genuine maverick is to be cherished even if he leaves the front row nervously sweaty, dancing warily lest they attract his attention.
The band were confident enough in their abilities to keep it basic but in a really good way, so no complexity, no show boating just ridiculously entertaining rock n roll songs and although the songs were simple and to the point, there was variety on display across the set – all originals bar an apocalyptic Cool Jerk to end the set (apocalyptic enough to knock the Vistic stack out of commission, on stage repairs covered by bass and drum solos before Vistic exorcised the near-disaster with his most venomous solo of the night). Into Town was built on a monster bass groove with Gang of Four drums; She’s My Witch slower and thus eliciting yet another Coles crowd invasion for hugs and Summer Night flirted with a reggae beat under menacing vocals.
The Nurses are an outfit full of promise, they aren’t a band that’s going to set the word to rights nor are they a band to push the boundaries of rock music in to new territories: both of these comments are compliments rather than criticisms. There is now, and always has been, a need for musicians who tap in to the primal jungle beat of the original rockers and thus provide an escape into the primitive. Sometimes the best response to a surge in bigotry and a lurch to the right is take a night off and dance the night away to beautifully constructed simple (but not simplistic) rock n roll before re-manning the barricades.
John Fairhurst is a much travelled and ubiquitous player (find out more here) and his Trio project is the current work in progress – terminating a short UK tour with a closing night in Bristol and recordings already planned for the New Year. The Trio have been road testing their songs, some already almost fully formed, some so new they don’t even have official titles. A packed Lion was treated to an exemplary display of technical expertise delivered with warmth, humour and passion, along with an ass shaking momentum that kept the whole room moving for the entire set. Fairhurst’s playing was on fire from the off as the band used the basic songs as launch pads for groovesome extended excursions to a uniquely bluesy funkiverse. And that’s the key to the Trio, they know how to make the blues swing, how to get you dancing. The trouble with a lot of blues based players & bands is that they miss the point of the music and either deliver flat, lumbering tempos or bludgeon the audience with heft but by contrast the John Fairhurst Trio have an enviable sense of dynamics. They specialise in blues based tunes that are nimble, light on their feet and yet often with considerable weight – Fairhurst gets you head banging while the rhythm section get you up on the good foot.
As for that rhythm section, Nina Harries was phenomenal throughout, stand-up bass plucked, slapped and bowed to provide supple rhythm throughout the night (and somehow managing to even make her bass sound like a Theremin at one point). At times she was an intense, fierce presence on stage with a “Don’t fuck with me” expression that would make Slayer shit themselves; but then also spent plenty of time laughing and enjoying the night, joining the on stage banter; grinning at the audacity of her band mates as the music twisted & turned; chuckling as songs were extended and jammed while the band followed their muse. Harries really came in to her own when the Trio played her composition Shoreditch Dickie an intricate funky jazz number that was as delightful as it was lyrically hilarious, dedicated to all present who had lived in Shoreditch but found themselves now Bristolian “…but you’re still from Shoreditch.”
Her rhythm partner Nuno Brito was physically unassuming (and tranquil in demeanor) yet rhythmically commanding, he grounded the jams with a relentless beat and yet managed to drum with a funk and playfulness that was a joy to dance to whilst totally confusing – he filled the room with riffs and fills that shouldn’t have worked with the beat and yet he kept it all together with a polyrhythmic display par excellence.
The songs worked well, the set had light and shade aplenty, mostly up tempo but with slower sides too and Fairhurst’s molasses dark gravelly voice is tailor made for both. We got nine or so generously lengthy tunes, including two instrumentals and if the studio sessions are as fiery as the live versions then we’re in for a treat next year. A topless Fairhurst saluted the crowd at the end of the show, genuinely moved by the raucous reception. The crowd were never gonna let the show end without an encore and sure enough the Trio returned for a rendition of Saltwater that can only be described as epic: a slow building ambitious tune; an autobiographical tale of redemption with multiple crescendos and easily the match of any of those rawk epics banned by the fashion police and discouraged in guitar shops. The band took their final bows with massive grins to a rambunctious round of cheering and still more calls for the band to play on.
The performance tonight confirmed that Fairhurst is an outstanding bluesman but exactly what does make Fairhurst stand out? Well, we’ve a rich vein of talented players at all levels of the business all the way up to players selling out the Colston Hall locally and similar sized venues across the Nation – including the Albert Hall. Sure all of these players are talented, they’re well versed in the tropes & form and have studied their predecessors. And yeah, they’ve got the tone, they’ve got the technique and they’ve sets full of blistering solos and wailing riffs, but what they’re not doing is advancing the genre and playing blues for the 21st century. They’re preaching to the converted and arguably treading water (albeit with genuine commitment and some cracking tunes), but Harries, Brito and Fairhurst are pushing the blues in to new unexpected places. You need to get on the ride, it’s gonna be a blast.
All pix John Morgan