Transexual Blues

Elephant Shelf at the Malt Shovel Tavern

11 May 2011

“Entertaining” was a phrase a friend of mine used to describe the Elephant Shelf gig at the Malt Shovel Tavern on May 11th. I thought he was being rather generous as I couldn’t find anything in the early stages of the set to elicit any commendation. But as the gig progressed I came to the opinion that it was a pretty fair summation, giving the bands somewhat theatrical persona and eclectic mix of material

Not having heard the band before, I had no idea what to expect. By the time I arrived at the venue, the pub was packed, and the band had already started their first set. As I waded through groups of people towards the bar, I was pleasantly surprised at the driving boogie-woogie sounds emanating from the back of the pub.

“Sounds good” I remarked to no one in particular. Someone nearby retorted something about a “gender bender”. A little bemused, I took a spare seat at one of the front row tables. Then I noticed something odd. Was that long-haired denim-clad lead guitarist/vocalist wearing makeup?

“He’s wearing makeup?” I called across to a friend, as if to confirm what I was seeing.

“Yes” he shouted in order to be heard over the frantic strains of the rock’n’roll number “In Trouble Again”. “And he’s wearing a woman’s top, women’s shoes, and women’s TIGHTS!”

I acknowledged my friend’s eagle-eyed observations with a thumbs up sign. Well, I could see that the singer was wearing a denim jacket and trousers, but he did look weird! He was obviously not youthful enough to be able to carry off the effeminate look like a young Bowie or Bolan. This was an altogether more serious statement of male femininity (if this be a valid expression?) and evoked the question “Could this band be really taken seriously as a blues outfit?”

The early numbers certainly sounded a little disjointed and unrehearsed, and it was difficult to find any noteworthy musicianship to spark the interest.

The drummer did capture my attention, however, but not for the obvious reason. His playing style was very unusual. He seemed to hold the sticks much too near the tip end, which gave very little recoil when struck. This was very apparent when he hit the hi-hat, which he did almost haphazardly using a kind of circular stroking motion, as one might turn the pedal of a bicycle.

His drum rolls were also amusing to watch. He seemed to approach each roll with a kind of hopeful trepidation, and once executed, seemed visibly relieved. And he had a somewhat unusual and amusing habit of verbalising his drumming as he played, as if this was acting as a guide to his playing.

But I dare say this would be rather irritating for any keen drummer in the audience hoping to acquire some new knowledge or drumming tips. I know of at least one such person who was so dismayed that he had already left even before I arrived.

The keyboard player put in a rather lame performance, but everybody comes to watch the guitarist. So who cares? And whilst there was little flair or technical skill in Vicky Martin’s guitar work, he displayed a passable level of musicianship.

As a result, what otherwise might have been a rather feeble and unconvincing show was rescued by the unusual and quirky line up, the extremely friendly vibe, the enthusiast singing and dancing of the Rosie on second vocals, and the guitar player’s unassuming and laid back approach to the music.

If I was to suggest that this was a kind of blues/boogie/rock’n’roll cabaret act, then you might appreciate my friends compendious summary. Entertaining? Well, yes!.


Vicky Martin – Vocals and guitar
Rosie Swan – Vocals
Diana Stone – Keyboards
Rob Charles – Bass
Terry McInerney – Drums


Blues de la France

NZZ Blues Band at the Malt Shovel Tavern

27 April 2011

Nico' ZZ Blues (formerly known as NZZ Blues) are a blues outfit from the Champagne-Ardenne region of France fronted by singer/guitarist Nicolas Zdankiewicz. They generally tour the UK once or twice a year and are a regular feature on the Malt Shovel Tavern gig list.

I saw the band perform at The Malt Shovel a couple of times before, but this latest visit compounded my respect for the band. There was a marked improvement in Nicolas' guitar work, and he has not only matured into a fine blues player, but also a songwriter and arranger of considerable talent. Supported by the intricate fretwork of name? on bass, and the young and exceptionally talented Francois Cossin on drums, the trio bashed out an interesting mix of self-penned songs and blues standards.

They delivered a very palatable rendition of B.B.King's "The Thrill Has Gone", and a convincing interpretation of the ever popular Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile" and "Foxy Lady".

But it was their own original compositions that gripped me the most. Nico employed some interesting 3-note and 4-note chord voicings, and combining these with some simple but cleverly crafted signature licks, added interest and variation to their own material.

The levels were ideal, and Nico's Stratocaster produced a classic blues sound via the Fender Deluxe valve amp without requiring too much volume.

That's What I Call Rock 'n' Roll

The John Verity Band at the Malt Shovel Tavern
2nd May 2011

Musical preferences are very personal, and whilst most people enjoy a particular musical performance once or twice, not everyone wants to see the same show over and over again. So if you end up in an eternal afterlife with a bunch of musicians, you'd better pray that they play the kind of music you really like. After all, I'm sure Matt Monro fans will be hoping that all trash metal musicians end up in hell. 

This thought struck me during the John Verity Band's bank holiday Monday afternoon gig at the Malt Shovel Tavern. I visualized a huge UFO descending over the small Northampton real ale pub and magically transporting the pub and its occupants up into the hovering craft before whisking us all away to a distant planet called Ogg. Stuck on Ogg with a pub full of friendly people, first class real ale and the John Verity Band would not be half bad! 

Back here on earth, the John Verity Band was the concluding act in a weekend of music concerts at the Malt Shovel Tavern, part of the pub's royal wedding celebratory beer festival. John's vocals and guitar playing were in excellent form, and despite turning 60 a couple of years ago, his vocals still retain all the power and range of a 30-year old. The set list was almost identical to the one he performed at the pub a couple of months earlier, but the performance lost none of its sparkle and drive, and the band pulled out all the stops for the friendly and enthusiastic crowd.

John played a Fender Stratocaster guitar through two daisy-chained Fender amps, both turned to full power. This arrangement provided plenty of overdriven which John masterfully controlled using the Strat's tremolo arm, teasing soaring Hendrix-like feedback effects and stunning blues-rock guitar licks.

The set list comprised mostly of covers, including a couple of Hendrix songs, plus some of John's own work, and the inevitable Argent classic, Hold Your Head Up. My particular favourites were the soulful Prove Your Love, written by John and sang with emotion and sincerity that only a personal investment in the lyrics can inspire, and Willie Dixon's Hoochie Coochie Man, a well worn blues standard that has found a new lease of life in John's cleverly rearranged score.

John was backed by his old friend and Argent band mate Bob Henrit on drums, and the indelible Northampton musical legend Mark Griffiths on bass.

Don't be fooled by the advancing years of these musicians. They can still rock it with the best of them. And if you think I'm kidding, consider for a moment the fact that Hendrit played the whole gig under some considerable physical discomfort, having been involved in a motorcycle crash the previous week. He sustained six cracked ribs to his back, and two to his chest! Yet he dragged himself all the way up from London to play the Malt Shovel gig. Now that's what I call rock 'n' roll.


John Verity - Guitar and Vocals
Mark Griffiths - Bass
Bob Henrit - Drums

They're Up and Running!

24 Pesos at the Malt Shovel Tavern – 4 April 2011

If you like your blues flavoured with jazzy guitar, driving rhythms and funky bass, all wrapped up in that cool Hammond sound, then 24 Pesos will get you a mouth-watering feast. This band doesn’t hold back, and from the word go they’re up and running on high octane blues/jazz /funk.

No meandering and incoherent jamming here. All the arrangements were meticulously crafted, with plenty of variations in key and tempo changes, plus some nice jazzy signature duets by Julian and Moz. This band was really tight and professional in their approach, and their overall sound was well balanced, with volume levels just about right for the venue.

Julian coaxed a killer Les Paul sound from his Bacchus guitar using a little 40W Marshall amplifier, whilst Moz was right there with the Hammond B3 sound on his Nord keyboard. Well, he did use an old Leslie speaker cabinet, complete with revolving-horns!

The musicianship was excellent in all quarters. Julian’s skill around the fretboard was precise and purposeful, playing a sizzling mix of jazz chords and solos, and raw blues riffs; all with considerable drive and passion. What more could you ask for?

Still, it’s hard to please everyone.

“They’re a band that could grow on me, I expect” commented one of my friends who hadn’t heard the band before.

“Some of the things they do are brilliant, but some of it is crap” moaned another, who's companion later informed me apologetically that his mate was “in a bad mood”

Those were the exceptions, however. Generally, the response was very positive.

If the band have a weakness, then it was an important one: the vocals. Many of the self-penned songs lacked melodic structure, and Julian's singing sounded strained, as if he was continually singing at the upper limits of his vocal range. As a consequence, the vocals were lacking in timbre, tonal warmth and melodic vividness, and the songs were wanting in emotional perceptiveness and depth.

24 Pesos are a young band full of energy and enthusiasm playing their own compositions, and looking forward to an exciting future. With two albums already under their belts, their beginning to make waves across the British blues scene. They were recently recorded at the Maida Vale Studios for a 25th Anniversary celebration of the Paul Jones Rhythm and Blues Show on BBC Radio 2, going out on April 25th. And they saw off hundreds of blues hopefuls to win the prestigious New Brunswick Battle of the Blues award, and are off to Canada to play at the Harvest Festival in September for their efforts. Not bad, eh?

And if they can sort the shortcomings in the vocal department mentioned earlier, 24 Pesos will definately be a band with the full package.

We wish them luck for the future.

24 pesos are:

Julian Burdock – Guitars and Vocals
Moz Gamble – Keyboards & Backing Vocals
Silas Maitland – Bass
Mike Connolly – Drums

Gear Snippets:

Julian uses Bacchus guitars hand-made in Japan. Bacchus is a subsidiary of the Japanese guitar company Deviser. See Bacchus

A good site about the Bacchus blood-line can be found here

Moz uses a Nord keyboard plugged into an original ’65 Leslie speaker cabinet. Wow!

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.

Peter Green Tribute Band

Green Mac at The Malt Shovel Tavern - 23rd March 2011

"This is beginning to look a little tired" I thought to myself as I glanced through the latest gig list for the Wednesday night blues show at the Malt Shovel Tavern in Northampton. Although the flyer was recently revamped with an impressive glossy full-colour printed layout, scanning through the gig list gave me a feeling of déjà-vu. Spotting names that hadn't appeared at the Malt Shovel at least half a dozen times was becoming more and more difficult.

Green Mac are certainly no strangers to the Northampton blues venue, having played there a number of times in recent years. However, it isn't that often that we get a band from northern England at the Malt, but the long trip down the M1 motorway for this Leeds-based unit is not as illogical as it might seem. The band were on their way to Holland via Dover for a series of Dutch gigs, and the Malt Shovel provided a welcome stopover en route.

Green Mac is effectively a Peter Green tribute band, playing a selection of the iconic blues-guitarist's classic repertoire. And they were sporting the latest edition to the band, a young guitarist and singer named Trevor Birkinshaw.

My initial reaction on arriving at the venue amidst one of the band's earlier numbers was "TOO LOUD". Over the years we've been treated to a wide variety of musical talent at the Malt, ranging from mediocre to excellent. A lot of focus understandably centers on the lead guitar player (well, it is a blues venue), but in cases where the guitarist’s performance falls short, there is generally some other aspect of the band that captures the interest, if not the emotion. So it's very rare indeed that I would contemplate leaving the Wednesday night gig prematurely. There is one exception however – DECIBEL LEVELS. Fortunately, I'm glad to report that on only one or two occasions over the last five or so years have I had to depart early, or withdraw to the pub's lounge area, because of the volume levels. My view is that if I want to wreck my hearing, I can always pop over to the King Billy rock venue across the street. I guess you could say that I don't have too much toleration for loud bands. So I was greatly relieved when Green Mac finished the first set, having spent most of the time out of harms way at the bar chatting to a friend.

The interval provided me with the opportunity to gauge reaction from some of the punters who regularly attend the Wednesday night gig, and who are usually keen to engage in a little "intelligent" commentary or opinion about the band's performance. Overall, the response was pretty positive. Nobody I spoke to seemed bothered about the volume! In fact, one guy stated that he LIKED to feel the bass "in his gut". "Yeah" I retorted "But this is like getting punched in the solar plexus and being knocked against the back wall every time the bass player plays the lower register notes!”

During the interval I found a vacant seat beside a couple I know, who uncustomarily were STAYING for the second set! "You staying too?" they asked. Then the awful truth dawned on me. "Where else is there to go?" I conceded. I guess we're a little spoiled here in Northampton's premier blues venue. The music is put on for free, the beer is excellent, and the audience is friendly and enthusiastic about the blues. "Ah!" I mused, sipping my pint of real ale. "Maybe it's not so bad after all?"

Actually, from my new position, I found the sound levels during the second set vastly improved. Bass no longer posed a treat to my stomach, and though the guitars were loud, they were tolerable. Peter Tallent on drums was however noisy, especially when he banged out a roll on his snare. I remembered this guy from the last time the band played at the Malt, and I wasn't impressed then. I began to understand why one of my friends, who had dropped by my house earlier that day, had stated that he wouldn't be coming to the Malt that evening. A drumming enthusiast, he stated he was beginning to get a little more selective in his listening habits these days. "Hmm!" I thought, as Peter hammered out another laboured straight roll, moving in a recurring pattern from the snare to each toms in turn, then back to snare. "Now I understand."

I also remembered Dusty Miller, the left-handed guitar player with his left-handed guitar strung in reverse order. "The strings may be the wrong way around to you, but they're the right way around for me" he retorted when I queried the logic of this particular arrangement. I've only ever seen one other guitarist playing this way, and that was back in the late 60s at a Sunday afternoon blues gig in a pub in Dublin.

Despite the string arrangements, his playing was proficient, though his style was more reminiscent of Danny Kirwan than Green. But I was a little put out by his excessive use of reverb. I know Green used a lot of reverb in his later solo albums, but the early Fleetwood Mac sound was notable for its stripped-down unadulterated sharp crisp guitar tones.

Overall, it was an unremarkable performance, memorable for its deficiencies rather than its highlights.

"They SHOULD have been good!" one punter commented. "After all, they have the pick of some of the best music of the 60s" I guess that about summed up their performance.

Green Mac are:

Dusty Miller – guitar and vocals
Peter Tallent – drums
Trevor Birkinshaw - bass
Luke Smithson – guitar and vocals

For the gear geeks:

Dusty was using a guitar amp that I had not seen before, a Dr Z head and cabinet. "They are a small boutique guitar amplification manufacturer in the US" Dusty told me. "Boutique" apparently means not mass produced. Dusty told me his rig cost £1,800! Well, he does own a guitar shop in Leeds. Not too sure which particular model he was using, but the company's website is