The Soundhouse has become an increasingly essential venue on the Leicester music scene thanks to a decent stage, excellent sound and a well-stocked bar. Of late, it seems that more and more artists have taken note because we’ve seen performances in the last year from the likes of Broken Witt Rebels (who played a storming set there in the summer) and Senser, whilst the future looks equally promising. Tonight sees Casbah MMP welcoming The Graveltones to the stage with support from three excellent artists who represent some of the best up-and-coming blues talent in the country. As we have come to expect from Casbah, everything on the night runs like clockwork with merchandise sensibly placed in a well-lit area away from the stage, change-over times mercifully swift and typically impressive sound and lighting only adding to the power of the music itself. These may seem like small things, but not every venue is fortunate enough to have a promoter who pays such attention to detail and it makes for a fantastic night for both bands and audience.
The first act of the night is Freddie Webber who eloquently describes himself as “just another guy with long hair and a guitar”. Whilst it is true that he has a guitar and there is some truth to the claim that he has long hair (we’d probably opt for mid-length), we’d contest the notion that Freddie is just another artist. Despite his self-effacing banter, Freddie is a deeply engaging performer who manages, thanks to some rather cool toys to produce an impressively large sound that not only fills the venue, but which also rattles its foundations. Offering up songs that combine wit with substance, whether stripped-back (as he is on ‘keep your cool’ and the brilliantly mordant ‘a song for you’) or blazing away with an army of looper pedals at his command on closing number ‘Simmer down’, Freddie Webber commands the attention. At one point Freddie kindly asks us to speak to him afterwards to show his uncle (in attendance) that he’s made a good career choice – we need no such incentive – Freddie’s music speaks for itself and his performance belies his opening slot on the bill.
Next up is an artist with whom we are already familiar – Tom McCartney, who played so exhilarating a solo set in support of the Broken Witt Rebels. This time, Tom’s in the house with a chain gang of brutal Blues revivalists who play their instruments with all the repressed fury of innovators of the genre to which they are in thrall. Tom’s voice remains the thing – old before its time and worn with the spirit, if not the experience, of Muddy. As if to confirm this latter point, Tom and his cohorts even throw in a suitably dusty Waters cover, but it’s the original numbers that impress the most. This is the future of the blues: young artists such as Tom keeping the flame alive with passion and talent. It’s a pleasure to see him alongside his band and I can’t wait to see him reach ever wider audiences upon the release of his debut EP, ‘well-dressed man’, the title of which gets an impressive airing this evening.
Following on from the rootsy vibe of Tom McCartney, Ross Connor appears on stage with just drummer Carl Wallace in tow with the apparent intention of giving the blues a thorough kicking. It is a heavy, heavy blues that Ross deals in and his guitar roars with authority over Carl’s propulsive backdrop. For reference, think Walter Trout and Big Boy Bloater at their heaviest and Ross certainly has the power to go head to head with the headline act who adopt the same two-piece format. Tracks like Wandering blues have a traditional vibe to them whilst ‘solitary woman’ and walking blues’ are shot through with feedback and the rolling thunder of Carl’s drums. The set reaches a peak with a headlong rush through Ross’ latest EP, the excellent ‘old school sessions’ with Ross playing the tracks ‘Like she do’, ‘I don’t care’ ‘Down’ and ‘Walking free’ back to back and in EP order. Ross is frankly brilliant and the way the set neatly segues together only adds to the feeling that he’ll be headlining shows like this himself in the not too distant future.
Whilst there is no doubting the anticipation for the Graveltones, the quality of the line-up has kept people’s attention for the whole night and so the band arrive on stage to a crowd who have been thoroughly warmed up. Combining the earthen vibe of blues with the blistering power of old school heavy metal (Jimmy O was a heavy metal fiend before Dylan sent him spinning off in a different direction), the Graveltones lay waste to the venue with devastating precision.
With the apocalyptic percussion of Mikey Sorbello providing a brutal foundation for Jimmy’s snarling riffs, the Graveltones are nothing less than epic and tracks like ‘never going to let you go’ are shot through with so much spit and sweat that they leave the audience staggering around the area in front of the stage like the victims of some secret medical experiment. Capturing the same sense of raw authenticity that powers the likes of AC/DC and the Stones, the Graveltones emphasise spirit over accuracy, assaulting their instruments as if it’s the last gig they’ll ever play and laying down some of the most ferociously stripped-back rock ‘n’ roll-infused blues you’ll ever see. Of course, raw spirit can only take you so far, but the Graveltones have the tracks to back up their sonic bluster. One listen to songs like ‘can’t tell a man’ and ‘catch me on the fly’ and you’ll be hooked, even if not caught in the cosmos-sized earthquake of their live sound.
Whether blues, rock, punk or metal, music is an art form that has the power to move the soul as well as the body. When you witness a gig like this, where a number of talented young musicians have come together to pool their skill and their energy, it’s nothing short of inspirational and although the Graveltones were seismic with their manic performance, every artist on the bill tonight captured the attention and held it. Highlights included Freddie Webber’s ‘simmer down’, Tom McCartney and his band channelling Muddy Waters, Ross Connor’s epic take on ‘Like she do’ from his new EP and Jimmy from the Graveltones spitting out the lyrics to ‘never going to let you go’ like machine gun bullets. The audience left sweaty and drained, but also euphoric at yet another reminder of the near-spiritual power of live music at its best.