The Royal Albert Hall London - 15/06/15
LeadBelly Fest, June 2015, Royal Albert Hall, London, United Kingdom
Glenn Sargeant | June 17, 2015 | Live Reviews
Monday 15th June 2015
Royal Albert Hall, London, United Kingdom
* A host of stars of all ages gather to celebrate the musical legacy of folk blues original Leadbelly – JLTT are there to report and provide a gallery of images as our documentation of this splendid charity event.
On first view the venue seems quite empty at about two-thirds full as we all stood up for the national anthem. The reason for this was that HRH The Countess of Wessex GCVO was in attendance as it was also a charity event for Shooting Star Chase Children’s Hospice Care and she is the Royal Patron for the charity. The MC for the evening was Canadian David ‘Kid’ Jensen
The Blues Inc house band with Grammy-award winning producer Kipper Elridge and Mick ‘The Switch’ Rogers walked onstage and began to accompany a recording of Leadbelly singing ‘Black Betty’. Straight away you knew that these guys could play but unfortunately the sound was very quiet and muffled (something which would continue during most of the first half). Slim Chance took to the stage and played their new single ‘Duncan and Brady’, a Leadbelly song. Charlie Hart on keyboards played a great solo whilst Steve Simpson on the fiddle was flawless.
Dennis Locorriere (founding member of Dr Hook) explained that he was born in the year that Leadbelly passed away but his work, particularly in the sixties was influenced by Leadbelly. ‘I’m not really a blues guy. I mean I can be as miserable as the next guy!’ One key thing about Locorriere is he is a phenomenal harmonica player as ‘Last Go Round’ proved. He then closed his set with ‘Take This Hammer To the Captain’ (I believe Joe Bonamassa’s ‘Ballad of John Henry’ is heavily influenced by Leadbelly). A definite highlight for me.
Singer-songwriter Gemma Ray was next and although she is an able player, her take on ‘I’m Alone Because I Love’ felt quite out of place with her over breathy vocals and ‘Long Gone’ overall just seemed quite unexciting.
Next up was 23 year old blues rock guitarist Laurence Jones with his incredible band of Roger Inniss (bass) and Miri Mirimiettinen (drums). His new album ‘What’s It Gonna Be?’ is out now and features his version of Leadbelly’s ‘Good Morning Blues’ which went down a treat in the auditorium. The thing about Laurence is that he is an extremely entertaining performer but he isn’t a flashy in-your-face player and at that point in the show he seemed to be the player with the most feeling especially on his own ‘Thunder in the Sky’. On this form, Laurence Jones has a bright future ahead of him.
Manfred Mann and Blues Band member Paul Jones arrived with his harmonica and told us stories of how they sang work songs in prisons not to only keep their spirits up but to also avoid being accidentally beheaded when they were cutting down trees as hard labour. He then went straight into ‘Black Betty’ and even interjected some ‘Do Wah Diddy’. Little sidenote, but it would have been nice to have seen Dave Kelly onstage as well as i know that he can put on a show…
It was then the turn of broadcaster and musician Jools Holland with vocals by long-term friend Ruby Turner. Ruby’s vocals on ‘Pack Up My Things and Go’ were pleasant and at The Royal Albert Hall Jools Holland can do no wrong but unfortunately he isn’t my cup of tea.
After showing us a video (which couldn’t be seen in restricted view), the musical director bought on singer Dana Fuchs who appeared without a guitar and just let her voice say what she wanted to say. Her vocals were incredible and I really wanted to hear more but they only bought her out for one song whilst other acts got two songs. A crying shame really. I would definitely see her when she returns to the UK.
I heard that during the interval people had complained about the poor sound at the sound desk as it really wasn’t very good to start off with. Billy Bragg appeared and began to show off his encyclopaedic knowledge of skiffle music. His first song about livestock was entertaining but then he brought on Paul Jones (harmonica) and Chris Barber (double bass). Their version of ‘ Love Me Do’ was well received by the crowd.
Mick Rogers then played ‘Tear It Up’ and ‘Shake and Rattle and Roll’ before the guitarist Eric Bibb walked on. Eric explained that Leadbelly was courageous and fearless and he played ‘Bourgeois Blues’ with such intricacy and emotion that he received some fantastic crowd reaction. It was a very emotional set especially as it was just him as a solo acoustic artist. ‘Going Down Slow’ from 1941 was a special moment as well. Well done Mr Bibb.
Now the next performer was a piece of music history as Marie Trout walked onstage to introduce her husband Walter Trout who was to perform his first live performance in two years following his severe medical battle with his liver. ‘I’m gonna do a tribute to B.B. King!’ he bellowed as he went into ‘Say Goodbye’. It was just a magical moment given everything that he’d gone through. He then asked Laurence Jones to join him onstage for Leadbelly’s ‘TB Blues’. ‘I thought about changing it to hepatitis C blues!’ Walter joked. These two just go together like musical bread and butter and it was a definite welcome return to the stage for the legend that is Walter Trout. (Also, he was the only artist who thanked the house band excluding the musical director. Pure class)
Time was slipping away and we still had quite a few artists to go. Josh White Jr and Gwen Dickey of Rose Royce for ‘Take My Hand, Precious Love’ as Josh White Jr told us that he met Leadbelly when he was nine as his father was a good friend of Leadbelly’s. ‘He wore striped trousers and suspenders’ he informed us. ‘Man Going Round Takin’ Names’ has real meaning and I felt that his set was not only heartfelt but also featured an interesting collection of songs.
Next was Eric Burdon of The Animals who doesn’t play in the UK enough and when he sang you couldn’t hear a pin drop especially during ‘House of The Rising Sun’. I had never seen Eric Burdon live and I am so glad that I attended this show just to say I saw him live.
The next performer was very special because he had actually performed with Leadbelly. This was Tom Paley who at 83 years old, walked on with his acoustic guitar and played ‘Monday Blues’. I felt very sorry for Mr Paley as he turned to the audience and said ‘I’ve just been told I’m only doing one song now.’ He had travelled all the way from the United States of America and only got to do one song. I was actually quite disgusted at this as Tom Paley was a friend of Leadbelly’s who got to play with him. It really was a sad state of affairs for me.
At this point the idea of a 10.45pm curfew was a distant memory as the recently knighted Sir Van Morrison appeared on stage with an acoustic guitar and a face like thunder. Maybe it was because David ‘Kid’ Jensen introduced him as Van Morrison rather than Sir Van Morrison I don’t know. I have to say on recordings I do like Van Morrison and songs like ‘Moondance’ and ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ are timeless classics that will be played forever (especially if they never shut down Magic FM). In a live setting, Sir Van Morrison does like to mumble quite a bit and I honestly couldn’t tell you the song titles. But Van is Van and it is his catalogue that keeps him going.
At about ten past eleven as people left to get last trains on a Monday night they brought everybody out for one final song. In conclusion, the sentiment and meaning behind this concert are to be congratulated and respected. Highlights were Walter Trout’s comeback, Dana Fuchs astonishing vocals, Eric Bibb’s musical storytelling, Laurence Jones’s Royal Albert Hall debut and Tom Paley performing one of his friend’s songs.
As there were so many acts, it appears that the backstage organisation and logistics was pretty much non-existent and that is the reason why our photo gallery by our multi-talented photographer Kieran White is missing some of the acts. Also, with the show running over it seemed that even though they got through acts as quickly as they could, from an event planning standpoint, the organisers may have bitten off more than they could chew…but what an assembly of talent
Words: Glenn Sargeant Visuals: Kieran White
(Many thanks to Pete Sargeant, Kieran White and Golly Gallagher for help with this review and gallery)