(Review by Jerry).
Zöe Gilby, on the sleeve-notes of her latest CD (which I bought and which I would recommend), urges the listener to “enjoy the journey”. The same applies to her live gigs where, thanks to her eclectic tastes and her commendable reluctance to play safe, it is always destination unknown.
Journeys were a bit of a theme tonight with blues (Travellin’ and West Coast), nostalgia for Dublin, adventures - Byker to the Metropolis and, via Caravan, to Marrakesh (Red City) – before re-entering Crook.
The composers, the playing and the singing too, are also a delightfully unpredictable mix. Where else would Brubeck rub shoulders with Phil Lynott, or Lieber and Stoller with Nick Cave? How many guitarists can switch as easily from jazz to rock (or even pop) sounds, from subtle chording to intricate solos, as Mark Williams? On West Coast Blues his solo had rhythms going on which prompted my (amateur) guitarist friend to say, “It’s like he’s playing two guitars at once!” Messrs. Champion and Brown had their limelight moments too: Andy on the voice/bass duo, Weaver of Dreams, which opened the second set and laying down the ominous bass riff which opened, and the scat & bass crescendo which closed, Red Right Hand; Richard Brown drove Caravan along and soloed impressively. His bass-drum was also the beating heart of the fabulous closing number, Red City.
And Zöe? Where to start? You know one thing for certain from the opening note: Zöe does not do bland. For her, a good song (and she only picks good ‘uns!), is not merely to be sung - it is a piece of musical theatre to be performed. Her vocal range goes from soprano to somewhere south of my boot-straps; she loves scat (which she does brilliantly) and produces sounds which raise the hairs on the back of the neck – from a wail to a whisper, from a train-whistle or a siren (in either sense of the word) to a sigh, from sultry (Some Cats Know) to sensitive (We Eat Together) to scary (Red Right Hand and On the Edge).
I’ve mentioned Travellin’ Blues which was followed by an original called Find the Secret. Next up was A Song for You by Leon Russell(?). Then, an up-tempo number whose lyrics appeared to be an ode to saturated fat (but I didn’t get the writer or the title) was followed, naturally, by an original entitled We Eat Together which was, in fact, a beautiful love song. We also had some Monk with Rhythm-a-Ning (much scat and hectic bass and guitar solos); some Peggy Lee, with Some Cats Know (featuring that wonderful American idiom: “If I had my ‘druthers”). I refuse to believe that Lieber and Stoller were only writing about turning out the perfect apple-pie and I think that a version sung by Mary Berry would surely not have the same effect! The set then closed with the aforementioned Wes Montgomery tune, West Coast Blues.
The second set opened with a so-quiet-you-could-hear-a-pin-drop moment with Weaver of Dreams then, unpredictable as ever, we were introduced in an original called On the Edge, to a mad, stalking fantasist (a Kathy Bates as in Misery style character). This was spookily effective with coyly quiet vocals rising to a shriek, and some excellent drumming fuelling the drama. There was more Monk, with In Walked Bud and a moody, haunting original called The Midnight Bell. The beautiful, Red Headed Girl is a lyrical, moving original dedicated to Zöe’s mother which featured an excellent bass intro from Andy.
My apologies for seeming to sprint through so many tunes but there were 17 altogether and I wanted to save space for three which stood out for me. Nick Cave and the Demon Seeds’, Red Right Hand, is a genius song which has prompted more interpretational debate than Hotel California and American Pie put together. Cave’s guitarist simply described it as “unknowable and spooky” – I’d go along with that. The quartet nailed that mood in a performance oozing with menace. “You’ll see him in your nightmares,” said the lyric: I really fear that I might. Mack the Knife is a nursery rhyme by comparison! The second was the Phil Lynott song – more a poem set to music in my opinion – Dublin. I didn’t know this song at all, so thank you, Zöe – it’s a gem! Check out the words on Google: there aren’t many of them and they are deceptively simple but they encapsulate so much about lost love, friends and family and the love of one’s roots – even if it is a city which “brings you down”.
And finally….Red City is a clear reason why you should buy the CD because I do not think my words can do it justice. Inspired by a visit to Marrakesh it is a “sound-painting” of a city which is vibrant and mysterious, exotic and bustling. The opening made me think of chanting from minarets, suggesting the spirituality of the place, the bass drum gave the city’s “pulse”, the guitar (with pedals) was haunting. Zöe deployed her whole vocal range and even made evocative sounds which were non-vocal – just breathing into the mic’ like a warm wind. My last scribbled note was “Wow!” and is as near as I can get to doing it justice. You really have to hear it.
Thanks to all at Crook. I loved the three-branched candelabra, by the way!