Monday, 4 April 2011

Atmospheric Intonations and Trance-like Grooves

David Catermole Band at the Malt Shovel Tavern
30 March 2011

One of the few new faces to play the Malt Shovel Tavern this year, David Catermole was perhaps an unusual choice for a blues venue. A singer/songwriter with a vocal style reminiscent of David Gray and a set list consisting entirely of self-penned songs (I assume, not recognising any), he was questionably a step too far off the beaten blues track. However, the presence in the band of the complete rhythm section of Del Bromham’s Stray (one of the Malt Shovel’s most prolific performing acts) predicated some rationale to this booking.

If you arrived at the Malt Shovel expecting the usual blues fare, you were in for either a surprise or disappointment (depending on your standpoint), as there wasn’t a single morsel of blues to be had throughout the whole set. Not even one blues standard made it onto the set list. If this guy was hoping to appeal to the predominantly blues-entrenched mindset of the Malt Shovel audience without as much as a nod towards the blues fellowship, he was going to have to put on one hell of a show to win the audience over. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

This is not to decry the level of musicianship, which was generally excellent. But whilst this type of act would no doubt be perfectly at home on a summer afternoon slot at a music festival, or an indie music venue, a blues club was just stretching it a little too far. To my surprise, not everybody was as despondent as me.

“Fantastic” exclaimed one Malt Shovel regular. “Excellent” extolled another. There were the detractors though.

“Every song sounds the same” declared one exasperated attendee. “I can’t distinguish one song from another. They all just merge into the same mush.”

For myself, I found the songs tedious and elongated, with repetitive refrains that had me nodding off. I was even contemplating leaving early, which would have been an unprecedented break with tradition (see previous article), as the sound levels were fine. My interest was however sustained by the musicianship of the band members.

I saw Karl and Stuart perform with Stray many times. Karl’s drum kit was unaltered from his Stray setup, and sported the dreaded Sabian APX crash cymbals with the sound agitating holes, as well as the extra deep snare drum (for loudness, of course). Stuart’s rig was the usual Harte powerhouse. I was understandably anticipating (and dreading) a loud and heavy rock sound, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.

Despite his threatening setup, Karl used brushes throughout, and exhibited a dexterity and subtleness in his playing that was great to watch.

Stuart’s playing also demonstrated a step-change in subtleness and melody from the heavy rock bass sound of Stray, and his unassuming attitude concealed a skill around the fret board that exemplified the finer intricacies of funk, blues and rock musicianship.

Lead guitar duties were discharged by Matt Prior. Matt has toured the world with Bonnie Tyler, is also a producer and writes music for film and TV. His studio pedigree was evident on stage, and his meticulous attention to detail and refined playing technique emphasized the sonic textures of the music rather than virtuosity. His guitar solos were articulate and purposeful but were unfortunately marred by inadequate volume levels and an overuse of reverb.

“I switched the reverb completely off on my amp” he bemoaned when I brought this fact to his attention at the end of the set. More attention to the effects pedal would have easily resolved this particular issue. But what do I know?

With Stuart’s bass weaving melodic patterns against the sonic backdrops created by Matt, and with Karl maintaining a pulsing rhythm, the band created an atmospheric soundscape reminiscent of the psychedelic bands of the late 60s. The band would have been readily at home on the bill of a Saturday all-nighter at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm in ‘68. And therein lays my gripe.

On an multi-act or festival gig, you could easily chill out and enjoy the atmospheric intonations and trancelike grooves of this band. But with just two hours available on a Wednesday night, which usually includes a 30 minute interval, you raally want the band to cut to the chase and get straight to the music. There just isn’t enough time for this type of sonic intellectual journey across an unfamiliar lyrical terrain in the few short hours, especially on a very busy night in a packed pub full of friendly faces who just wanted to listen to some good live blues-oriented music, socialise with their friends, maybe dance a bit, and generally have a real good time.

David Catermole Band are:-

David Catermole – Guitar & Vocal
Matt Prior – Guitar
Stuart Uren - Bass
Karl Randall – Drums

Gear talk:-

David’s was using a Bose L1 PA system. The unusual speaker system design consists of two 6ft speaker "poles" packed with tiny little high quality speakers, 24 in each pole.

David played a Cole Clarke guitar, hand made by a small guitar manufacturer in Australia.

Matt used a Divided By 13 head and cabinet. It seems like there is a plethora of boutique guitar amplification manufacturers out there these days. And depending on the size of your wallet, you can really personalize your gear to impress. Last week I reported on a Dr Z head and cabinet for around £1,800. Matt’s amp puts this in the shade with a price tag as impressive as the amplifier itself – yours for a neat £3,600.

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