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The latest showcase of contemporary blues artists was launched by the Spitz as the finale of the four day long Kings Place Festival at the now well established music venue in Kings Cross.
As last year three very different and distinctive performers could be seen in the St. Pancras Room’s intimate atmosphere with the sound and lighting being noticeably better than last year, a credit to the work of the evening’s in-house engineers .
The opening performer, JD Smith, looked slightly bemused as he surveyed a possibly unfamiliar audience (some of whom may have bought tickets for the entire Kings Place Festival?) who in turn may have been bemused when he suddenly announced “I’m from Romford”.
Rockabilly meets Son House and skiffle thrown in, created via soaring voice and furious guitar, was the response as this powerful and distinctive performer rattled off a memorable set using just a custom-made guitar and plug-in stomp box..
The opener, When You Want, a fast strummed electric boogie, reminiscent at times of an early John Lee Hooker, and with some rapid slide playing, set the tone for his performance. The following two numbers continued in this high energy blues vein before Gallows Tree moved into a punk-meets-gospel territory as JDS (the moniker he likes to use) pushed up the guitar volume matched by a powerful accompanying vocal.
On You Gotta Run he employed a heavy, rhythmic guitar pattern which built to a crescendo following which he then sensibly slowed proceedings down with the more melancholy Lay Me Low.
JDS retuned again to finish with two more up-tempo numbers Talking About the Blues, featuring distinctive slide playing and Get My Feet and Fly with its Rolling-and-Tumbling type rhythm incorporating bass stomp.
Audience reaction seemed mixed but it was a breathless, hard working performance from an artist well worth seeing again and who appears regularly on the London circuit. It proved to be a showcase for eight as yet unrecorded numbers and his handing out of a substantial twelve track CD of existing material provided gratis was well received and evidence of his prolific song-writing.
John Crampton appeared for the second consecutive year at the festival and again played a variety of vocal and instrumental pieces, some self-penned, drawn from three of the six CDs he’s produced to date. He leads his growling, stomping blues and bluegrass with skilful finger work on either national steel or banjo, frequently propelled by use of a stomp box and occasionally interspersed with harmonica blasts and trills.
He warmed up with the (relatively) gentle stomping instrumental Micklepage Stomp, with its English-Americana style, that featured John on guitar, foot stomp box and harmonica. Proceedings were then livened up with the higher tempo stomping boogie and rasping vocal of Million Miles followed by the compulsive country dance of the banjo-driven Black Beetle Blues.
On another fast number, Shoot Me Down in Flames, John employed a rapid slide guitar technique, holding down the strings intermittently to create a manic, percussive effect— suggesting indeed that he planned a bad end for someone, if not himself. He then turned to more familiar blues territory demonstrating his excellent harmonica and rasping vocals on the traditional Train Song.
John Crampton finished his set with two excellent covers of classic blues, Joe Williams 1930’s country blues Baby Please Don’t Go and Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love?
The festival was topped by the only group act of the night Parkbench, a five-piece band, who featured tracks mainly from Versus Blackout and their current release Wanderworld both on Spitz Records.
Led by writer/vocalist Martin Wissenberg, originally from Denmark and sounding curiously like Jim Morison, Parkbench created a sound not strictly blues in terms of style but moody, contemplative and often melancholy with each song characterised by their leader’s poetic explorations.
The opening piece, The One eyed Man is King (but he's still half blind), was dark in mood and featured twin lead guitars framed by a powerful guitar sustain. This was followed by Tom Waits’ Fumblin’ with the Blues and its memorable refrain “You know the bartenders all know my Name”
The third number Slowly Healin’ Widows was a slow, stomping blues with lead guitar and harmonica strangely reminiscent of the Doors especially with the repeated line “keep your hands upon the wheel”. Parkbench’s following piece, Dog on a Pole, was more up tempo with strum-and-drone guitar motif and bridged by a striking slide solo.
A melodic piece with twin, low key twin guitars broke the mood temporarily before the band returned with the more typical but quirky She Looks Like a Bus with its catchy chorus.
Unusually the drummer used brushes almost throughout, until the penultimate high tempo number where he switched to conventional sticks. The final track Time don’t Fly was drawn from Versus Blackout.
The Spitz Blues Festival again showcased the variety of musical genres present within contemporary blues to produce a thoroughly enjoyable evening. With its maverick approach to the blues the festival certainly stands out due to the diversity when compared with better known, larger scale festivals.
Sadly the attendance was lower than last year, probably due to the event being switched to a Sunday, as opposed to last years Friday slot.