It was hot today! Outside on the street people sweltered on what was the hottest July day since records began. Inside it was also hot. But I'm not talking about the ambient temperature inside The Atkinson [which was pleasantly cool], I'm talking about the music, which was red hot, thanks to Gal Holiday & The Honky Tonk Revue who brought their unique brand of New Orleans Swingabilly to Southport.
What you may well ask is Swingabilly? Well, it is best described as a combo [ or gumbo?] of vintage rock and roll, country and swing. And who is Gal Holiday? Well, she is the alter ego of Vanessa Niemann, who adopted the surname of her favourite singer, Billie Holiday. Vanessa has been hailed as New Orleans' finest songstress, a statement that I would not dispute, having seen her charming and charismatic performance tonight. And the Honky Tonk Revue? They are a trio of fabulous musicians led by dynamic upright bass player and co-founder of the band, David Brouillette, together with Gregory Good on acoustic guitar and vocals and, last but not least, lead guitarist extraordinaire Izzy Zaidman, frontman of rockabilly band Izzy and The Catastrophics. Izzy was the longtime guitarist for Wayne "The Train" Hancock and is the absolute master of retro guitar styles, including swing, honky tonk, rock and roll and country, often swapping from one style to another within the space of one song.
It is an indication of Grateful Fred's stature on the British Americana scene that tonight's opening act were one of the best acts from that scene, Liverpool's own The Good Intentions [aka R. Peter Davies and Gabi Monk] who treated us to a superb set of their own harmony-filled songs including "Hometown Girl", "Colfax", the especially poignant "I Dreamed About You" and the tragic tale of "Hank's Last Ride".
As an extra treat, Peter and Gabi were joined on stage for a new song of Pete's called "Appalachian Girl" by Nashville-based duo Jeni and Billy, who had made a detour all the way from Filey on their current UK tour to be here tonight. The choice of song was not accidental as Jeni is a genuine Appalachian girl from West Virginia. Pete's lovely song was beautifully enhanced by the four part harmonies and Billy's National Steel guitar solo.
Next up on the bill were the Grateful Fred's Ukulele Trio, Pete, Vinnie and Colin [I wonder whether they should call themselves "PVC"for short?]. Whatever they call themselves, this trio are growing stronger all the time and have some excellent self-written songs in "Say You Will Remember", "Further Down The Road"and "Friendly Fire", as well as some choice covers :"Downtown Train", "I'll Come Running Back To You" and "What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding".
I have already introduced Gal Holiday and The Honky Tonk Revue. Naturally, the larger part of their set was drawn from their third and most recent album, the superbly rocking [and highly recommended ] "Last to Leave". Their set was an utter treat for lovers of Americana music, whether it be classic country, rockabilly or swing. In Gal Holiday/Vanessa Niemann they have an outstanding singer who clearly lives and breathes the music. When you add in one of hottest bands around and some excellent original songs, you have an unbeatable combination, quite unlike much of the commercial pap which passes for "country music" these days. They are, in fact, the real deal.
As well as the excellent original songs written by the band, we were also treated to some choice covers, including a swamp-pop version of Hank Williams' "You Win Again", Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice It's Aright" [as sung by Waylon Jennings], a honky tonk version of "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" and a rocking rendition of Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues".
Perhaps the most surprising cover was an amazing country-rock version of the Pat Benetar hit "Love Is a Battlefield", which was transformed into a honky tonk masterpiece.
For a finale Gal Holiday and her band were joined on stage by all of the evening's other performers, The Good Intentions, Jeni and Billy and the GF Ukulele Trio for an ensemble version of "You Are My Sunshine" [the state song of Louisiana because of its association with former state governor and country singer Jimmie Davies]. With ten musicians on stage, this was a fitting end to yet another superb evening at Grateful Fred's.
There are only so many hours in a day and only so many gigs we can get to. We'd really like to expand our national coverage of the live scene as it remains the life blood of music.
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