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Friday, December 31, 2010

Zoe Gilby Quartet @ Queen's Hall, Hexham. December 30th

Zoe Gilby (vocals), Mark Williams (guitar), Andy Champion (double bass) & Richard Brown (drums) Arriving in Hexham there was a distinct lack of activity. Walking up the hill to the Queen's Hall I didn't see a single soul. The 4x4s, so beloved of Tyne Valley residents were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps the well heeled welly brigade were off skiing somewhere. The trees in the grounds of Hexham Abbey were adorned with simple white lights, there's none of that multi-coloured bling tat round these parts you know.
The Queen's Hall usually has an art exhibition worth looking at, so I wondered around the ground floor gallery, noticed a sign saying ''exhibition continues upstairs'' and duly climbed them to be met with a locked door to the first floor gallery.
Hmm. Is Hexham closed on a Thursday?
I wandered into the cafe fully expecting to be met by an empty room and so I was, almost. No punters, just Zoe and ''the boys''. The bar wasn't doing a roaring trade. A bottle of Allendale's Golden Plover seemed like a good idea although at £3.50. a bottle it made it seem like being at The Sage! I opted for a plush low-level sofa as the band prepared for the gig...at the bar.
The set started with No More Blues. Oh, yes, I almost forgot, the audience did materialise. Ms.Gilby had them just there, right from the off. In the absence of Noel Dennis (trumpet/flugelhorn) the spotlight fell on guitarist Mark Williams. Tunes from the latest CD Looking Glass featured on the set list. Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me, A Song For You (atmospheric bowing from bassist Andy Champion), Round Midnight (Williams quite brilliant, Joe Pass would have been proud), May I Come In (deep sonorous vocals), George Milburn's Take It Easy (But Take It) and others were performed with panache.
Drummer Richard Brown featured on Caravan producing everything you would hope for on the number (the rattle, the crash, the rhythm) and Gilby's vocals were full of imagination and improvisation. The highlight of the evening came at the end. The closer, Centrepiece, is a highlight any time, any where, but this was, well, something else. Gilby's vocals are great, regular readers can be in no doubt about that, but the last couple of bars produced a remarkable succession of notes in double quick time that I think Gilby herself didn't know she had in her locker. Amazing, absolutely amazing. Russell.

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