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Concert Review by Nick Morgan


THE BARCODES, WITH DANIEL SMITH AND SONNY BLACK - London, Landmark Arts Centre - November 19th

When I was a young man, way back in the early 1970s, we used to make our own entertainment then – rather than turn to computer games and reality TV programmes. And Thursday night was our theatre of dreams – blues night at the Blues Attic. To tell the truth it wasn’t an attic, but rather the function room at the back of the Jolly Weavers – “weddings, funerals, bar-mitzvahs, blues attics…” - but for us, and for all those others at blues-attics across the UK, it was our induction into the soul of music.  
John 'Gandalf' Mayall
Thirty or more years on, last week afforded an unusual opportunity to see how the soul of music was faring. Tuesday. Hammersmith Apollo. Balding, bearded (not me, on either count) and bustin’ for the blues. First up was maverick gunslinger guitarist Stan Webb, of Chicken Shack fame. A couple of timeless hit singles, some OK albums and then a painfully languishing career. Stan, as he confessed, had spent most of the afternoon in the pub – and it showed as he struggled to remember songs, lyrics and licks. The voice (always a Webb trademark) was strong, the guitar not. The band masquerading as Chicken Shack were more like – to be frank – chicken shit. But Stan did remember to pay tribute to John Peel, “oo strtd it ol 4 uz”, which caused a nervous ripple in the audience as the balding bearded ones looked around nervously wondering who might be next …
Who was of course, the Godfather of British Blues. John Mayall jogged on stage looking like Gandalf – minus cloak- and proceeded to romp through an hour or more of a slightly cheesy USA Soul Review style show that nonetheless confirmed why he is considered to be so influential. Thirty-five nights on the road yet this septuagenarian sang, played and mouth-harped like a man half his age, on blues and Bluesbreaker classics. On guitar as Texan Buddy Whittington, whose fluid fingerboard style exemplified the American blues guitar technique.
Mick 'The Pieman' Taylor
  So it was fascinating when veteran Bluesbreaker and ex-Stone Mick Taylor joined the set (only just beating Bruce in the ‘who ate all the pies’ contest) and added his distinctly angular, and Anglo, style playing. Thinking about this later I could see why, ‘tho I’ve been a refusnik for years, Clapton (and for that matter the truly great Peter Green) have been given such universal acclaim, the likes of which Stan, and so many other British axe-meisters have never received. And maybe that’s why Brits apparently like Jack White so much – he plays the blues like a limey.
One final note. John sang us a “new composition” – in the ‘how are we going to save the world for our children’ genre of the late ‘70s. We cringed when he rhymed ‘September 11’ with ‘Heaven’ – but my 21-year-old daughter, taking a night off from the Capitol’s biggest buzz bands, simply laughed (or maybe it was her advanced smoker’s cough). Either way John – stick to the Otis Span.
Magically we found our way from this rather soulless veterans’ night to the beating pulse of blues in London purely by chance – happening on Friday at a gothic church at Teddington, in the heart of the Thames delta. On stage were the Barcodes, featuring Scottish blues-piano virtuoso Daniel Smith, and acclaimed guitarist Sonny Black. In about half an hour Smith played every style of blues-keyboard known to man – failed only by another sub-standard electric piano – from Chicago down to New Orleans, and we did the journey with him. Black, looking like a languorous Texan Sheriff, played acoustic and electric in the British folk-blues style – another musical twist – but was truly captivating.  
Sonny Black and Alan Glenn
But the centre of gravity for the evening were the Barcodes – who took me back to my Blues Attic at a stroke. Soulful Hammond-style organ and vocals from Bob Haddrell (who I mistakenly took to be the rustic jolly lock-keeper from Teddington); artfully syncopated drums from Dino Coccia; and solid Brit style guitar from Alan Glenn – the ex Yardbird and Nine-Below-Zero harmonica player who truly dusted the floor with Mr Mayall every time he picked up his harp. Maybe these guys have day-jobs (you know – Banks, Building Societies etc.) although the astonishing number of blues projects they are involved in makes me doubt this. But they oozed the passion for the roots of rock that characterised my earliest musical adventures. Apparently they find it hard to get gigs – I can’t think why. Check out the website, buy the CDs, pick up the ‘phone, and book them. In a world full of barcodes these are truly unique – and they deserve to be cherished. - Nick Morgan (photos by Kate)

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