Friday, 1 March 2013

Raising A Little Sand


Electric Experience at the Malt Shovel Tavern 
27th February 2013

Electric Experience is a three-piece outfit from the London area devoted primarily, though not exclusively, to the music of Jimi Hendrix. As well as Hendrix perennials the band’s set usually consists of numbers from Cream’s back catalogue, the odd track from The Who, The Doors, Santana, and a couple of their own.


I’ve seen the band perform at the Malt Shovel Tavern and The Wig and Pen (another local Northampton music venue) on a number of occasions, and I can safely say that Electric Experience is one of the more popular bands to perform here.

But it’s just another Hendrix tribute band, I hear you say! So what?

In one way, I agree. But on a different level, Electric Experience offers a pretty convincing jaunt back to the psychedelic era of the mid-to-late 60s.

Many imminent guitarists have covered Hendrix’s work - Gary Moore, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Gales amongst them, as well as countless cover bands. Even blues bands invariably cover one or two Hendrix numbers.

In addition to being a real crowd pleaser, Hendrix has become a kind of standard for measuring a guitarist’s ability. If the guitarist pulls it off, the performance is usually followed by loud cheers of approval. Hendrix material is therefore more often than not used by guitar players as a way of showing off their technical abilities. After all, nobody is going to argue with Hendrix, right? But it rarely goes beyond that.

With Peter Orr, however, you know he can cut it. He’s been doing it for years, so forget it! You can go beyond the technical details and get into the spirit of the music. Needless to say, Electric Experience has many admirers among the Malt Shovel’s faithful, and there was a good turnout for the gig.

Unlike other guitarists who take Hendrix’s licks and chord structures, and expand, adapt or transmute them - effectively creating a new piece of music in their own style, Orr makes no attempt to superimpose any individualistic style or guitar signature over the original material. He keeps fairly true to Hendrix’s original recordings, and his playing intentionally emulates the great man as closely as is humanly possible. As a result, you end up with a pretty authentic rendition of some of the more famous Hendrix songs.

Aural stimulation is a powerful agent on the memory cells, and Orr’s elaboration and attention to detail acts like a bridge to another time and place; much like a medium facilitating a séance. His playing evokes a feeling of transcendency, and before you know it, you could easily find yourself basking in the nebulous irradiation of a purple haze. If you’re lucky, you might even get to kiss the sky!

That was my expectation anyway as I ventured out into a cold dark Wednesday night to catch the band’s nth performance at the Malt Shovel Tavern. But things didn't go according to plan, and my feet never left the ground.

Maybe it’s just maturing age, but I seem to be getting less and less tolerant to loud music. It’s not a complaint I’ve had with the Electric Experience before, but tonight they were LOUD. A familiar theme was beginning to repeat itself again – the snare drum and lead guitar (see 52nd Street Reverie).

Then I noticed the bassist Andy Tolman had something in his ears. Ear plugs!

As it happened, I’d brought a pair along myself, just in case – a pair of general-purpose foam type plugs. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as they say. So I popped a pair into my own ears.

The effect was dramatic - comparable to the difference between driving a go-kart at speed around a racing circuit and driving a warm sound-insulated soft-suspensioned executive saloon on a motorway. The saloon buffers you from the harshness of the outside environment, but you don’t get to feel the exhilaration and thrill like you do when driving a go-kart, despite the attendant noise and vibrations. The ear-plugs reduced the sound intensity to a comfortable level, but I was also strangely isolated in my own cocoon, my experience of the music benumbed.

“Try silicon ones next time” a friend advised me at the end of the gig, producing a pair he’d been wearing from his pocket.

The band’s drummer John Tonks also produced a pair of custom-made earplugs which he was wearing during the gig.

“Specially moulded to my ears” he told me. “With changeable filters”

“They don’t muffle the sound like bog-standard ones” he continued. “You can still hear quite clearly, but at a lower volume. These ones reduce the sound levels by -15 Db, which is equivalent to a fivefold reduction. But some of the bands I play with are REALLY loud, so I use -25 db filters. ”

“Harley Street Hearing” Tolman interjected as he was passing, referring to his preferred supplier located at the London hub of private health clinics and medical practises.

“I was using rolled up tissue paper” Orr simpered. “Besides, they’re more hygienic”

Jeez! Was I the only one still wet behind the ears? The only one not to have grasped the benefits of ear protection at live gigs until now? This revelation seems to mock my former ranting about loud bands (see previous gig reviews).

During the interval, I’d had a conversation with a friend who was seated directly in front of Peter Orr’s position – in the direct line of fire, as it were. He objected when I complained that the band was too loud.

“No!” he objected “It’s just right.”

Which goes to prove that different people have different noise level tolerances. I think I may need to investigate this little revelation further.

Keeping their feet firmly on the ground, the remainder of the band’s complement of guitar, bass and drums was drawn from a crème-de-la-crème of musicians from London and the South East.

Peter’s sidekick on bass was the unassuming Andy Tolman. Andy’s outwardly laid-back and rather staid stage presence gives very little clue as to his musical prowess, but in my opinion, he’s one of the best bassists currently playing the UK’s blues circuit.

Andy takes the bass guitar from being merely an accompaniment instrument to a complete instrument in its own right. His musical knowledge and fret-board dexterity stretch far beyond the confines of the blues or rock idioms; competently demonstrated by his Latin-style bass solo on “Black Magic Woman” and his funky slap-bass solo on “Voodoo Chile”. No doubt Andy would be equally at home in a Latin or jazz fusion combo.

"...a vintage 1971 Ludwig drum kit..."
Completing the line-up on drums, John Tonks has been playing with the band for a few years now. John is one of the drummers to fill the vacant seat in the band left by the amazing Dave Innis, who moved back to Scotland some years ago. Sporting a vintage 1971 Ludwig drum kit, John undertook his duties with typical fervour and agility, and put on a display of blistering drumability rarely equalled at the Malt Shovel since Innis’s departure from these regions.

Notable songs during the evening's performance included The Doors “Riders of the Storm”; Santana’s version of the Peter Green classic “Black Magic Woman” featuring the Latin-style bass solo by Tolman; and Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile”, which included Andy’s funk-style slap-bass solo and a blistering drum solo by John.

But the highpoint for me was the band's literal interpretation of Hendrix’s “If 6 Was 9” which featured in the 1969 film Easy Rider. I was bowled over by Orr’s mimicry of Hendrix’s flighty guitar work and Tonk’s explicit rendition of Mitch Mitchell's drum patterns from the original recording.

As it happened, the band didn’t cover the Hendrix classic "Purple Haze" during the show. So we didn’t get to “kiss the sky”, but we did managed to “raise a little sand.”

Sound clip:

Listen to If 6 Was 9
recorded live at the gig (links to external web site) 


Line-up: 

Peter Orr - Guitar and vocals
Andy Tolman - Bass and backing vocals
John Tonks - Drums and backing vocals

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