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The Slocan Ramblers + Two Black Sheep

Venue: Grateful Fred's @ The Atkinson
Town: Southport
Date: 1/11/17

It may only have been the first day of November but their were plenty of fireworks on stage tonight at Grateful Fred's at The Atkinson , with two marvellous but very different bands.

For the first half, we had the melodic pop/folk of Two Black Sheep and for the second we had the sensational Canadian bluegrass band ,The Slocan Ramblers, from Toronto.

As their name suggests ,Two Black Sheep are a duo , namely Amy Chalmers [vocals and violin] and Ian Davies [ guitar and vocals].However, as a special treat for Grateful Fred's Fredheads , TBS were augmented by a wonderful all-female string quartet [ "the best looking band that I have played with" quipped Ian].

Last year Amy and Ian released an excellent album called "Coffee & Gin" and ,naturally, songs from the album made up most of their set. Coincidentally, the most recent album by tonight's headliners, The Slocan Ramblers is called "Coffee Creek"! Spooky or what?

The presence of the string quartet [ with arrangements by Amy] added depth and drama to the duo's fine songs ,including break-up song "I'm Gone" ["Just go find someone nice"]; "Glasgow Train" [which was written during a Virgin Trains journey to Scotland] and the catchy upbeat single "Be Mine".

A touching moment came with the Celtic-flavoured "One Of God's Angels" , which was written for a departed "beautiful friend".

Amy and Ian made full use of the string quartet on a stunning version of Elbow's mega-hit "One Day Like This", with a superb vocal interpretation by Ian ,with stirring string accompaniment.

Apparently, Ian is a big fan of the Eurovision Song Contest and decided to write a Song for Europe. The result was the insanely catchy "Tongue Tied" ,with which TBS concluded their highly entertaining set.

After the interval , The Slocan Ramblers took to the stage . TSR are an up-and-coming young Canadian bluegrass band with a big reputation for their energetic live shows and impeccable musicianship. Well, they certainly lived up to that reputation on this, their first ever gig in England.

TSR are a quartet comprising Frank Evans [lead vocals and guitar]; Adrian Gross [mandolin]; Darryl Poulsen [guitar and vocals] and Alastair Whitehead [acoustic bass and vocals] and together they make a beautiful noise ,which they honed in the rowdy bars of Toronto where you have to be good to win over the crowd.

TSR play an eclectic blend of traditional and original material but so good is the latter that it's difficult to tell the difference.

The band's main tune writer is mandolinist Adrian Gross and we were treated to his lovely instrumental compositions "Galilee" and "Lone Pine".

On the traditional side we had wonderful versions of "Dark Hollow", "Groundhog" and the old-time Appalachian fiddle tune "Hunting The Buffalo" , with an intricate duet from Adrian on mandolin and Frank on banjo. Frank is also an impressive singer, taking lead vocals on most of the band's numbers ,although bassist Alastair Whitehead does take his turn ,as he did on his song to new wife "First Train In The Morning", which featured some neat flat-picking from Darryl Poulsen.

This band is nothing if not eclectic ,as demonstrated in the final part of their set which consisted of a lovely version of Anais Mitchell's "The Shepherd's Song"; Bill Cox's mournful death-row prison song "Long Chain Charlie" ; The Memphis Jug Band's "Stealin'" and Flatt and Scruggs' "Sun Gonna Shine In My Backdoor Someday".

Of course, after such an amazing performance ,the Fredheads were not going to let them get off stage without an encore and they duly obliged with a glorious rendition of Barbeque Bob's 1927 classic "Mississippi Heavy Water Blues".

In the words of Lincoln Chase "It was a night, what a night it was, it really was".

Peter Cowley

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