Before discussing the gig, it is worth penning a few words about Wilbarston Hall. A village hall situated some small distance outside of Market Harborough it is, on first viewing, a most unlikely setting for a concert and yet it transpires to be one of the friendliest, most well-run venues you could care to come across. Run by Loud Promotions, an organization run for the love of music rather than profit, the stage was well set-up and laid out and whilst the lighting was minimal, it was more than adequate and, anyway, the audience were too busy being blown away by the crystal clear sound to care much about what sort of light was on the stage at any given time. With the staff incredibly friendly and helpful, and (amazingly) the bar prices not set so high a re-mortgage on the house is necessary to buy a round, Wilbarston Hall is an absolute treasure in the heart of the Midlands and cannot be praised highly enough.
Every so often you’ll go to a gig to see an artist with no real thought or expectation of the support act only to be absolutely blown away by what unfolds before you. This gig was one such occasion. Whilst my mind had been firmly set on seeing the ever-wonderful Walter Trout (and you can be sure he does not disappoint), I had missed that support would be coming from up-and-coming blues artist Laurence Jones, a distressingly talented young man whose debut album ‘thunder in the sky’ has garnered no small amount of critical praise and whose work on the fret board is a thing of Faustian wonder. Opening with ‘Put a spell on me’, an original track from the album, Laurence and his band proceed to play for an hour (an unprecedented amount of time for the support act) with two encores proving that the audience as a whole were as thrilled by his fiery prowess as we were. Album closer ‘going down’ is kicked out next with Laurence playing fast and loose while his band keep a tight rhythm going behind his energetic exhortations on the guitar. Equally capable covering Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jimi Hendrix as he is blasting out numbers from his own impressive album, there is no surprise at all that Laurence is up for a British blues award, and he most assuredly deserves to win. ‘Thunder in the sky’ is a fine record, and the recent bout of touring has seen Laurence’s voice toughen a touch, making him one of the finest (if not the finest) blues musicians of his generation. It was a delight to witness him play in a venue so open and friendly and the band further impressed by taking the time to come out afterwards and sign CDs/talk to the audience.
Amazingly the venue is still filling up as Walter Trout takes the stage. Quite simply I could write a million words about Walter and they would all be superlatives. The man is not only a searing talent on the guitar, he is also one of the most personable, passionate artists you will ever see and his love of the blues and of rock n roll is laid bare for all to see as he demolishes the stage with the sheer force of his presence and the almighty groove laid down by his excellent band. Laurence may have played a blinder, but even he would admit that the temperature in the venue went up a fair few degrees as Walter’s licks cried out across the venue. This is a man born to play the blues and his heart and soul are infused into every riff, even as his in-between song banter is hilarious. Part retrofitted blues artist, part hard rocker, Walter looks like a cross between Neil Young and Meat Loaf and when he plays his guitar the venue fills up with the rich tones of his Strat, shot through with gravelly distortion; like the fine taste of Whiskey emboldened with the smoke of peat it just feels right and Trout even makes the whole thing look easy, his whole body becoming animated as he draws ever more brilliant sound from his wailing guitar. Highlights include keyboardist Sammy Alvia, an irrepressible musician who simply cannot keep the smile from his face throughout the gig, singing ‘she’s a no good woman’, whilst Walter Trout dedicating ‘gone too long’ to his few remaining brain cells may receive a laugh but it’s a song that is delivered with a style and fire that is all too often absent from younger musicians raised to find fame more important than the music that gets you there.
Throughout Walter is just unstoppable, and by the time we reach a devastating encore of ‘Going down’ which all but levels the venue, we’ve seen Laurence return to the stage for two numbers (and Walter threatening to find anyone who doesn’t vote for Laurence at the blues awards) and it’s immense watching the two guitar-playing titans firing riffs at each other with such abandon. We are even treated to a solo spot by the immeasurably talented Michael Leasure whose spot on percussion threatens to tear the roof open, especially coupled with the rampant bass of Rick Knapp who stands in the eye of the storm, never appearing fazed by the chaos being eked out around him. It is a mind-blowing performance that is funny, exhilarating and devastating in all the right places and not a single soul left the venue disappointed after so rousing a night of blues. Special mention must be made to the venue itself and its excellent staff who served to make the evening all the more enjoyable, but being able to witness two gems of the current blues scene up close and personal in such a venue will remain a treasured memory for years to come. Walter Trout, I salute you sir