Bad Luck and Trouble

Mick Ridgeway and Mojo Hand at the Malt Shovel Tavern

26 September 2012 


Mick Ridgeway was standing by himself just inside the back door of the Malt Shovel tavern, his back to a small group of late revellers vivaciously chatting with each other. The pub had almost emptied of customers and the other band members were busy packing their gear for the road home. Mick was standing with his back hunched, preoccupied with something that he was holding in his hands.


As I approached I could see he was trying to engage the zipper of his jacket. He must have been standing there for two or three minutes, but hadn’t managed to insert the zipper pin into the slider. Although it was obviously a challenging operation for him, he didn’t want to admit defeat, and declined my offer to help.
It seems strange that such a simple task could turn out to be such a difficult operation. But when you’ve been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for several years, even the simplest of tasks becomes a challenge. I was humbled by Mick’s dignity in the face of such grave circumstances.

All the more remarkable, then, when you consider that Mick had just performed a two hours gig at the Malt Shovel tavern with his band, Mojo Hand. And what a rollicking good gig it was.

If your bag is blues in retro livery, then this is the band for you. Mick Ridgeway and Mojo Hand deliver early Chicago blues in its authentic 50’s style.

Not so easily achieved as it might seem, the band stay true to the 50’s sound by keeping things simple. Taking a more direct approach to the music, they don’t just play blues, they actually adjust their modus operandi to emulate the sound and style of the original music, with each musician investing time and effort in achieving a remarkable quality of sonic authenticity from his individual instrument.

Underpinning the band’s 50’s sound was the guitar work of Al Sansome. Notable for a complete absence of the usual array of floor pedals, Al used an unadulterated Fender Stratocaster to achieve a solid and punchy sound. His playing style was deliberately straightforward, but nonetheless articulate and carefully thought through; and meticulously executed. Nice punchy base lines interspersed with crisp alternating chord work, accompanied by early RnB-style solos that had more than the occasional nod towards 50‘s icons such as Chuck Berry, T-Bone Walker and the like. Thoroughly enjoyable!

I was most impressed by the sonic quality of Adrian Wood’s stripped down drum kit, which consisted of snare, crash and ride cymbals, high hat and bass drum. And the smallest bass drum I have ever seen.

“It’s actually a floor tom” he told me later. “You can buy special kit to convert it to a bass drum configuration”.

The lightly dampened snare had a solid resonance with a slight ring; not too dry and not too trashy. The cymbals had a warm and bright timbre, with excellent sustain. The “bass” drum was more than adequate, despite the size. I could easily have been sitting in front of a high-end stereo system.

Charlie Lewin on bass guitar, bedecked in brown trilby, kept watch at the bottom end. He had a tendency to play mid-neck positions, and I would have liked to hear some deeper notes. But he more than made up for this slight shortcoming by an enthusiastic rocking performance.

One could see that Mick was constrained by some illness. Seated on a stool, every movement was slow and laborious. Yet his voice was full of feeling and character, and despite his limited breath intake capacity, his harmonica playing added colour and variation to the mix.

It was nice to see a microphone in front of the other member’s of the band too. This was required because of a good amount of call-and-response type tunes in the set, so typical of the 50’s American R’n’R scene. But vocal duties were also shared between Mick, Al and Charlie; each taking turns with songs such as “Route 66”, “My Babe” etc.

Mick’s rendition of the Willie Dixon/Eddie Boyd song “Third Degree” was perhaps the most poignant. Sounding like Dr John, his croaky voice soaked with the character of a veteran bluesman, the line “Bad luck, bad luck is killing me” echoed a sentiment a little too close to Mick’s heart.

“I just keep going” he told me with a wry smile after the gig. “I have a few years yet.”

For what it's worth, I sincerely wish him well.


Mick Ridgeway – vocals and harmonica
Al Sansome – guitar, slide guitar and vocals
Charlie Lewin – bass and vocals
Adrian Wood – drums and backing vocals


Adrian used Mapex drums and Paiste cymbals

Sound clip:

Listen to Baby, What You Want Me To Do recorded live at the gig (links to external web site)

Clearly Not Green

The Early Mac Band at the Malt Shovel Tavern - 19th September 2012

Tonight the Malt Shovel Tavern was a stopover gig for the Leeds-based Early Mac Band (formerly the Green Mac Band) en route to a short tour of the Netherlands. 

The name change was the result of a complete new band line-up. With the exception of Peter Tallent on drums, the only surviving member from the Green Mac band, the introduction of new blood has transmuted the band into a heavier rock-blues outfit incorporated material from Gary Moore’s back catalogue (spearheaded by Joel Dowson on guitar) as well as many of Fleetwood Mac’s standards from their Peter Green days.

There was little to commend about this band’s performance, and despite their name, even less in respect of any notable deference to the great Peter Green, the inspiration for so many guitar players over the decades.

Lead vocalist and slide-guitar man Luke Smithson was barely functioning, let alone performing. Perversely, his vocal (or more aptly, non-vocal) on “Parisienne Walkways” had a bizarre Lou Reed-esque detachment that underlined his apparent apathy.

Joel Dowson played with youthful enthusiasm fired with adrenalin from his overdriven Peavey amp and Les Paul guitar, but his playing was pretty straightforward and offered little beyond that tired old pentatonic seen a thousand times in pubs and clubs up and down the country. 

When I was an aspiring musician in my teens, my friend and mentor pointed out to me a playing defect prevalent in many rookie guitar players – the tendency to strike the open strings between chord changes. This usually happens when the chord change is neither executed with speed nor precision (a fault easily corrected with attentive practise). The practise is more prevalent today than ever, particularly amongst self-styled singer-songwriters, and in my view is a measure of a player’s laziness and incompetence.

Gary Moore is one world-renowned guitarist who has actually made this particular defect a feature of his guitar playing! Not in his chord changes, but in his solo work; and not through incompetence, but more as an expression of fired emotion. Nevertheless, it has always been a source of annoyance to me, and I have never been a huge fan. Much to my amusement, Joel not only incorporated Moore’s material, but he emulated Moore’s “string-crashing” style of playing as well. D’oh!

To be fair, some of the audience were roused to cheering and clapping, proving that there are plenty of guitar nerds out there receptive to his playing style.

Bass duties were carried out by Ol Jessop, and his playing was no more than that – dutiful.

I commented on Peter Tallent’s playing in a previous review, and tonight’s display of drumability was similar, so I’m not going to repeat myself here.

Sound levels were again a problem, depending on where you were seated. One individual in the front row was amusingly reading a book throughout the first set.

“It’s like being on X-Factor” Peter Tallent commented between numbers, a reference to Simon Cowell, who apparently was seen reading a book during some unfortunate competitor’s performance on the TV show “X-Factor”.

“I was just trying to buffer the sound” the individual protested to me later. “I found that by holding up my book, the sound was reduced slightly!”

Thankfully, the decibel levels were turned down during the second set, no doubt as a result of a number of complaints to the band members during the interval.

My evening’s entertainment wasn’t so bad though, thanks to a very tasty Cornish tipple on offer from the list of guest ales. Porthleven is a special edition pale zingy strong ale from Skinner's in Cornwall, and at abv 4.8% it’s a little stronger than my usual choice. But highly recommended when the alternative is an early night, as with a couple of friends who had had enough by the interval.

“Wan*ers!” was their unabridged and unceremonious prĂ©cis of the evening’s musical offering. Perhaps this band would be better peddling their wares at the King Billy rock venue further along the street.


Luke Smithson – vocals, guitar, slide guitar
Joel Dowson – guitar, backing vocals
Ol Jessop – bass
Peter Tallent - drums

Weathering the Storm

Storm Warning at the Malt Shovel Tavern, 5th September 2012

Having just returned after several weeks away during the summer, it was back once again to Northampton’s Malt Shovel Tavern for their Wednesday night blues gig.

I must admit that I have been in danger of “loosing the faith” with the Malt Shovel’s midweek blues night. Prior to my extended summer recess, a couple of uninspiring and mediocre performances by a number of returning bands (see the opening comments in my Green Mac gig previewfrom March 2011), plus an apparent drop to the lower divisions in the standard of new bands being booked, dampened my enthusiasm for hauling both myself and my wife out to a gig in the middle of the working week.

Well, I know we’re in a recession and money’s tight, and it is easy to surmise that band fees will be squeezed. Understandably, you’re going to draw one or two duds in the space of a year, but this was now becoming the norm rather the exception.

And it seems that I was not alone in my growing despondency. A friend and regular punter at the Malt recently complained to me in no uncertain terms that if standards continue to slide, “he (the vendor) in going to loose it!” Meaning, this cracking little blues gig, which has built its reputation and capacity attendances by showcasing quality blues acts from around the UK, Europe and the USA, is on a slippery slop when it tries to pass off your regular pub bands as a substitute for the real thing. Blues fans tend to be rather fickle, and will not tolerate this masquerade. Despite the free entry, they’ve come for something more that what you’ll find down at your local on a Saturday night. It looks like my friend and his companion may be voting with their feet. 

On the other hand, people soon become accustomed to most things, no matter how good. Perhaps it was simply the case that we had outgrown this local blues gig? 

And so it was that, on Wednesday night last, I drove to the gig with a feeling of hopefulness rather than expectation. Ominously, the band on the night were called Storm Warning! “If their no good, we’ll leave early” was the instruction from my better half. 

We usually arrive a little later than most, and the number of cars at the pub end of Morrison’s car park generally gives a good indication of the attendance. “We won’t have to fight out way through to the bar tonight!” I remarked, noting the unusually low number of parked cars. Maybe it was just a case of people being still away on holiday. But I couldn’t help wondering if the foot vote was in full swing. 

The band had already started into their first number when we arrived, but once inside we were immediately ambushed by a bunch of friends who were keen to catch up and fill us in on all the news and gossip over the summer. 

“… Cousin Avi were pretty good” a friend was telling me. “Great singer! And some nice material too” 

 “Oh, yeah! Pretty good guitarist” I replied, having seen the band in question perform at the Walnut Tree a couple of years ago. But I was already conscious of some pretty nifty guitar playing wafting from the other end of the pub, so I unceremoniously extricated myself from the friendly gathering, leaving my wife to “fill them in”, whilst I grabbed a pint of ale and found somewhere to sit. 

“It’s so nice to see more than ten people and a dog at our gig” the vocalist announced appreciatively between numbers. But the dozen or so regulars in the audience was complemented by a troupe of anything up to ten band associates, partners and friends who had accompanied or followed them to the gig. This was definitely below par for a Wednesday night’s gig at The Malt Shovel. However, what you don’t know you don’t miss, and as far as I could deduce, the band’s performance was unaffected by the low turnout. 

There was no doubt that my battered blues soul needed some urgent restorative therapy. And boy, did it get it! Slick and dirty blues-rock guitar piped through saturated valves, lots of cool Hammond-style keyboard playing, clear and rounded bass lines and some solid blues-rock drumming combined to form a synergy of sound that simple shattered my growing disillusionment.

Steve Norchi on lead vocals delivered blues in his own easy west-coast influenced style, without any attempt to emulate those whisky-soaked Chicago blues growler that so many of our misinformed and misled British “blues” vocalists try to copy. And it worked. 

Thankfully Bob Moore on guitar had a little more about him than that offered by many so-called "blues" guitarists. You know the kind of thing - loud and rasping guitar repeatedly played in one or two of the fretboard positions on the pentatonic minor scale. Bob had a much more sophisticated playing technique, with plenty of cool jazzy triads and rock-influenced chord signatures complementing his measured and articulate solo work. 

Modern keyboards offer the musician a vast array of sounds options and sonic imagery, but I always maintain that this is a serious liability in any blues bands arsenal. There’s nothing worse than a blues keyboard player launching into a solo, whilst at the same time pressing buttons to discoloring the performance with sonic abominations. In many cases it would be far better if keyboards were equipped with just two sound options only – the Hammond B3 and the piano. 

Thankfully, Ian Salisbury stuck faithfully to the blues, evoking images of the early ‘60s London jazz scene with his compelling Hammond B3 sound and lucid piano delivery. He has also undertaken harmonica duties in the wake of the band’s former singer/harmonica player’s departure a couple of years ago. 

Rus Chaney was a good solid blues-rock drummer. Nothing too garish; just good solid rhythms complemented by neat little rolls and fills, where appropriate. God knows! It’s difficult to find a decent back-beat blues drummer these days. They’re either loud and intrusive, or adynamic and nondescript. In many ways Bob was the ideal blues-band drummer.

Bob displayed his soloing skills in the last but one number, “Talk To Your Daughter.” A drummer tearing away at his skins is always an exciting spectacle, and it proved to be a crowd pleaser judging by the audience’s response. But I must admit that I was not impressed. Sorry to be a nit picker, but the solo was simple a loud and straightforward affair containing little or no specific drumming techniques of note. 

Derek White, one of the band’s founding members along with Bob Moore, carried out bass duties on a Fender Precision. It’s not always easy to get a good bass sound. In my opinion, a good blues bass is not overbearing, has lucid top notes and a lower register that’s rockbed solid without being boomy. Derek used Warwick amplification, which produced an exceptionally balanced and well rounded sound. 

One of the most notable things about Storm Warning is that they play as a band rather than as individual musicians jamming together over some tired old blues standards. Although obviously individually adept at their own instruments, each number is nevertheless carefully constructed and rehearsed together, and they produced an interesting and varied take on some notable classics, such as Peter Green’s “Long Grey Mare."

“Who knows 'Hoochi Coochie Man'?” the vocalist interposed at one point, inciting loud affirmations from the audience. “Well you might not recognize it after this!” 

The only flaw in an otherwise enjoyable performance was that, with the exception of Rus on drums, the band never let their hair down. This is not a criticism, more an observation. If you consider for example a band like Steely Dan or Pink Floyd, you don’t expect too much of a rave – the musicians are focused and the music takes precedence. But it would have been nice if the band got into the groove of their music a little more, rather than an overemphasis on the execution, particularly towards the latter half of the evening.

Will the Malt Shovel weather the storm and get the blues nights back on track before the rot sets in? Hopefully, tonight’s performance is a sign of better things to come. There’s no shortage of talented blues acts out there that would jump at the chance to add this Northampton blues venue to their gig circuit. (Why not suggest a few in my blog?)

Maybe with a little more creativity from the venue's booking department, this unique little venue will be kept alive and kicking with lots more good rocking Wednesday night blues!

Steve Norchi – Vocals 
Bob Moore – Guitar 
Rus Chaney - Drums & Percussion 
Ian Salisbury - Keyboards and harmonica
Derek White -Bass Guitar

Web Site: Storm Warning