‘Where the Blues Crosses over’ is how RUF Records describe the music they offer. On this the tenth Anniversary of their Blues Caravan Tour it was very definitely crossing over into Rock, and you didn’t need the tattoo of Hendrix on the shoulder of Christina Skjölberg to tell you that, it pounded out of the speakers from three relatively unknown musicians who all clearly wanted to say ‘Here I Am’. It’s a hard old musical world out there though so who has the looks and the licks to succeed? Christina Skjolberg, Laurence Jones and Albert Castiglia – let battle commence…
Once upon a time there was always a familiar name to draw the punters in to see the newbies on the caravan. An experienced ‘old hand’ in the best sense of the word!) like Candye Kane, Sue Foley, or Deborah Coleman. Recent Caravans have gone with the youth side but alwaysvhad someone already known on the circuit like Oli Brown and Samantha Fish. This year though we have three acts all totally new to the scene, and when I arrive at the Harmonie it seems like that was maybe a mistake as I survey a a hall moderately full of familiar faces. People who are here not necessarily because of the particular musicians but because, hey, it’s Blues Caravan and it’s tradition.
It’s not tradition to have video cameras up for the show of course but there’s no pre-tour disc to sell as in the past so, this being early days on the tour Thomas Ruf clearly aims to have a ‘souvenir’ of the Tenth Anniversary Blues Caravan for punters to put in their pockets from Paris, to Prague, to wherever the Caravan takes them this time around. Wanna souvenir? It will be Bonn Harmonies placard shining on the stage when the laser hits your DVD in the player. Cool for the Beethoven City or what?!
You won’t be disappointed if you want an energetic evening of Blues rock n roll style. Which brings me to the question I was asking earlier. Who will succeed out of tonights acts. Who will be playing in Bonn or even Cologne (gasp!) to packed houses without that magic BC sign that had us all out to see people we’d maybe pass up if it was cold and raining outside and Thomas Ruf wasn’t around with a big smile and an even bigger enthusiasm for the music and musicians he’s presenting?
The opening cluster of songs sung with everyone onstage didn’t yield any clues. Laurence Jones from England was not just the youngest person onstage but the youngest person in the whole theatre by a good few years I’ll wager. He’s looking relaxed and confident, cocky even. Next to him the slightly older, but not by very much, Christina Skjolberg from a small Norwegian Island looks nervous but you can’t wear a skirt that short and be shy I’ll wager. Albert Castiglia is an American with Cuban Italian roots and if he looks a lot older it’s only by comparison. Holding the nerves together as the cameras begin to roll is the ultra capable and calm Mr Roger Innis with a six string bass and no, that doesn’t mean it was a lead guitar – it just means it had a further ‘thick’ string (hope I’m not being too technical here!) Denis Palatin is away touring but there’s still a man with a friendly smile to be found on the drum stool in the wiry form of Miri Mittenen from Erja Lytennens Band. Erja herself is currently getting aquainted with Motherhood although word is she’s back on the road again very soon.
The tried and tested openers ‘Further on up the Road’ and the ‘Blues Caravan’ anthem are clearly there to warm everyone up until the first of the single spots begins and very politely it’s ‘ladies first’ as Christina Skjolberg straps on her sparling powder blue Fender Jaguar. The guitar and it’s player may be soft and feminine looking but the music itself is most definitely not. Christina’s hero is named Jimi, and there’s that tattoo on her shoulder and the swirling sound from her guitar to prove it. Her groove is a heavy one from the first with ‘Come and Get It’. It’s okay but I much prefer the more uptempo numbers like ‘Inspiration’ with its Thin Lizzyish riff. Wouldn’t this sound super with an extra guitar like Scott and Brian? For real effect though she has to head for past masters – in particular Luther Allison with his ‘I’m Back’. Future prediction? She certainly knows how to make a guitar sing and cry as proven on the (inevitable for a girl with Jimi tattoo) Hendrix take of ‘Voodoo Child’ Much will depend on how she develops her voice though which will decide on whether she remains another guitar girl or moves up to guitar star. The days of being special as a girl playing smoking Blues licks are long gone and the competition has never, ever been so fierce in this department of the Blues as it currently is: Tedeschi, Popovic, Fish, Lyttennen, Shaw-Taylor, Eilidh McKellar… That’s what I love about the current Blues Scene. So much happening and so much talent out there waiting to be heard. Which brings me to the next set of the evening, an a fellow Englishman who has been described (By Walter Trout no less) as “A cross between Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy – a genius” and if that isn’t enough to put the fear of God into the boy I don’t know what is.
It doesn’t show though. Laurence Jones just looks glad to be able to plug in a guitar and play Rock Blues. He talks easily with the audience because they immediately see him as one of their own. A Blues fan. The only difference being that he not only loves to hear the music but plays it damn well too! A few years ago I saw Oli Brown with a natty pin stripe waistcoat and jazzy guitar licks steal the show. Oli has moved into other territory these days but there is still plenty of competition for Laurence Jones to face. It seems crazy to ask if he’s the next Jake Bugg I know – Bugg has barely been around long enough to start shaving but already the ferris wheel is turning:who is going up and who down? I have to say I would love to see Laurence Jones succeed and on the strength of this confident and punchy gig he’s got what it takes live. Maybe veering a little too much into the Rock Blues territory so well trodden by the likes of Jason Barwick but if Jones can keep a rootsy integrity to his sound he’s certainly a contender. . He smokes along on tracks like ‘Can’t keep living like this’, boogies majestically on ‘Wind Me Up’, gets down and dirty in the ‘Soul Swamp River’ shows a talent for his own songs on ‘Fall from the Sky’ and when he introduces ‘All Along The Watchtower’ as “One of my favourite songs” has the empathy of every last man jack in the audience. Hey, he’s just like us – apart from the fact that he’s playing licks on his beautifully decorated Lindsay Wilson guitar fretboard that we can only create on air guitars. Not only does he have talent, he has the all important friends in the right places. Walter Trout is a fan and played on Laurence’s debut RUF disc, alongside RSB’s stellar rhythm section of Yonrico Scott and Charlie Wooton. Mike Zito was producing. Get around people who are happening themselves and it may rub off. I hope so. For his sake and the Blues.
Clearly the audience didn’t want Jones to go. Which made it harder for Albert Castiglia for sure. Maybe that would explain why he hit the stage like an overcharged Duracell Bunny and just seemed to get faster and faster with every run of notes. A great guitar player for sure but after fifteen minutes of screaming strings I was almost praying for him to say ‘Here’s a ballad for you’. When he did fianally ask “Anyone here like love songs?” to a cooler than cool response Castiglio merely smiled and announced “Well, you’re gonna like this one!” and if ‘Put some stank on it’ actually was slower than the previous salvo it was hardly ballad country. Remind me later to google the word ‘Stank’. There is a fair bit of showmanship about his set – playing long solos using just his fretting hand (which is a fair indication of where his amp volume controls were) and going for the seemingly obligatory these days walk round in the audience. Gotta say though that the man worked his butt off to make a show of his part of the show and when he came a little off the gas pedal as on a fine cover of the Stones’s ‘Sway’ he was at his best. Frightening to think how fast he would have played earlier on without a bandaged finger (result of an accident on the tour with a drum I’m told not a friction burn from fret blazing).
Three very diverse acts then. One perhaps a little to lacking in punch, one packing maybe a little too much punch and one in the middle who I think got it right. I don’t just say that because Laurence Jones is an Englishman either. The three encore songs were all tried and tested winners: ‘Cocaine’, ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ and finally ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ brought the evening to a bluesier close than it had during much of the show proper. I’d happily see any of these at a show in their own right and as usual Thomas Ruf was waiting with a grin and a box of super Blues CD’s to coax the last loose change out of my pocket as I left for home. For those who weren’t there expect a DVD out anytime soon and make up your own mind if I’m right in this review. Let’s not be small minded though, when you get to hear such great young talent as this playing in one evening – everyone is a winner, especially you and me.
…MORE PHOTOS COMING SOON…