Beauty And The Obeast

Ma Brown's Groove Box at the Malt Shovel Tavern
29 September 2013

Late September, and the weather has been unseasonably warm and sunny for the time of year. It’s understandable then that, on such a glorious Sunday afternoon, I might choose not to spend it in a dimly lit town centre pub. But the venue in question happened to be hosting the first in a series of monthly Sunday afternoon concerts that promised to be a little different from the regular diet of blues and rock served up at the venue’s weekly blues nights and occasional music weekenders. And the new last-Sunday-of-the-month schedule was kicking off with a local seven-piece soul-funk band called Ma Brown’s Groove Box

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Now I am not versed in the finer points of funk-soul music (or is it soul-funk?), and in that respect I am probably not qualified to offer a serious critique on the bands performance. But I know enough about the genre to differentiate between the rather frivolous glitzy pop-disco style of the 80s by bands such as Chic and Rose Royce, and the more introverted and significantly more socially conscious African-American funk music from the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. Ma Brown’s Groove Box sits somewhere in the middle of these two camps.

Washed-up Whale

Fronted by the dynamic Kristel Morrison, the band ripped through a stream of 70s, 80s and 90s covers. Highlights of the afternoon were the eloquent "Move On Up" by Curtis Mayfield, a stomping rendition of the Carl Carlton 80’s hit "She's a Bad Mama Jama" (written incidentally by Sam Cooke’s keyboard player) and an erstwhile unfamiliar (to me, at least) groove thing called "Apparently Nothin'" ascribed to a 90’s acid-jazz band called Young Disciples.

But the band also covered some hackneyed girlie-type pop disco covers, plus a few banal 80s hit songs such as the Sister Sledge hit “Thinking Of You” (Well, you may not agree, but then you should write your own review!). It was entertainment I might have felt comfortable with at a corporate dinner and dance party, or a wedding reception. But hardly ideal for the present gallimaufry of ale-drinking Malt Shovel regulars generally disposed to more mannish genres of music like rock and blues. It had one self-professed rock music enthusiast’s head in a spin. I found him outside in a side ally, alone and disconcerted, able to engage with neither the music nor the audience.

“I just can’t get my head around it” he bemoaned, alluding incredulously to some regular blues aficionados (including myself to some degree) who seemed to be soaking up the atmosphere.

He was like a deep blues whale washed up in shallow waters next to a disco beach party. I left him staring into his half empty beer glass, as if somehow it might provide him with some sort of recourse.

Off the record

Meanwhile back inside the pub the party was in full swing, with the revelers at the back of the room now joined by the vendor. He seemed particularly enthused by the music, and had unceremoniously excused himself from duties behind the bar to join in the dancing and general carrying-on.

Wearing a black one-shoulder neckline top with a bold silver swirl pattern on the front, jeans and high heel platform shoes, Kristel Morrison on lead vocals strutted her stuff with a kind of soca dancing style that exhibited a well honed stage craft. She was simply engaging and her energy and vivaciousness pervaded the band’s vibe of upbeat good-time funky grooves.

Aisha Daisy on backing vocals provided a measure of support, but her harmonies were at times limited in scope and she seemed lacking in experience. She did just about enough to cover the essentials, but potentially she could have provided a lot more.

It seemed to me that the backing vocal parts were simply copied straight from the record, without any attempt to exploit the band’s resources. Given that they had only been together for a few months, this was forgivable.

An attractive young lady with dyed platinum-blond hair, Aisha’s striking looks compensated for her prosaic vocal achievements. She was dressed in black leggings and a plain oversized boat neck jumper, draped off her left shoulder in that modern fashion of wearing cloths in a loosely disheveled manner. It was daringly risqué, occasionally slipping off the other shoulder as well. and Aisha spent much of the performance casually redressing the slippage back over her shoulder, much to the distraction of some male members of the audience.

For those inclined towards more musical predilections however, there was plenty on offer from the quirky cast of characters that inhabited this band.

Musical predilections

Most notable was David Williams on guitar. He predominantly played chord patterns over the band’s funky rhythmic grooves, with little or no soloing work involved. However, his chord changes were clean, crisp, accurate, and interesting; and it displayed a well rehearsed individual who invests time in low-latency chord changes; a refreshing change from some of the careless lethargic fingering we sometimes get from guitarists who play this venue.

Incidentally, David’s was having difficulty standing during the gig as he suffers with vertigo, and was experiencing a bout of spinning motion that afternoon. He consequently remained seated throughout the performance.

The bass guitar has a prominent role in funk music, and Tom Purr was slap bang in the middle of proceedings, both physically and musically, with plenty of funky riffs in his musical arsenal to satisfy the keenest listener.

The saxophone of Daniel Wyllie added the obligatory touch of class and authenticity that’s needed in a funk band. His playing was well rehearsed and not over-bearing. However, I would have liked to have heard a few extended sax solos included in the set.

The remaining members of the ensemble were less noticeable, musically speaking.

Travor Rock on drums seemed friendly and relaxed, and exuding an air of authority over the other members of the band. His supervision of the beat was systematic and frugal, but he caught my attention for another reason.

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I could see he was a little on the large size, and I noticed during the interval that he never emerged from behind the drum kit, remaining seated on his stool throughout the whole afternoon. It was only after the gig had finished, and after some band members had removed the drum kit from around him (whilst he remained seated), that I suddenly became aware of his predicament.


Rock was extremely obese. I'd seen poeple on TV like that before, but never in real life.

"Can you walk?" I asked, recalling TV images of extremely obese people who were bedridden because they were unable to stand or get up without assistance.

"With difficulty" he admitted.

He went on to tell me that he can't sleep at night, and that this is a major contributor to his body mass.

"At night, when you sleep, your body repairs itself" he explained."But I can't sleep!".

I wasn't convinced. But considering his condition, I was quite impressed that he could not only run a band (apparently Rock is the band's founder) but remain an active member as well.

Well, I've already mentioned Beauty. Now you've met the Obeast.*

Joe Anzalone’s contribution on keyboards was less satisfying. Whether this was because the sound level of his instrument was set too low, or there was a lack of application, I could not ascertain. But there was little of note in his performance during the afternoon. But what a great name - Joe Anzalone!!!!!!!!

Sololess soul

I referred earlier to the band's disposition towards song arrangements straight off the original recordings. We all know that the amount of recordable material on a vinyl single meant that, in the era of the 7” 45 rpm record, the track length had to be curtailed to around 3 minutes. Generally, this song length limitation did not spill over onto the recording artists’ live performances, but Ma Brown’s Groove Box seemed to have missed this point. As a result of sticking to the original recordings, some of their covers were too short for a live performance, and there was little individual soloing from any of the band’s musicians; a point I already commented on, but also noted by some other members of the audience after the gig.

“I would have liked to have heard more from the guy on guitar” one regular griped.

“A few decent sax solos would have been nice” carped another.

But generally the band went down well with the audience, and they made a pleasant change from the usual fare of male-orientated blues and rock on offer at the Malt Shovel. An up-tempo good-time funk band fronted by an energetic leading lady and an attractive demure backing vocalist, with a raft of musical talent from amidst the ranks. It’s only funk and soul, but I like it! 


Kristel Morrison – Vocals 
Aisha Daisy – Backing vocals 
David Williams - Guitar 
Daniel Wyllie - Saxophone 
Tom Purr - Bass 
Joe Anzalone - Keyboards
Trevor Rock - Drums 

Paul Martin - Sound engineering

* apologies to Mr Rock for the irresistible pun. No offence intended.

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