Roll back to March 2015. It was one of those nights you know will be special – JJ Grey & Mofro were headlining, Rockpalast had a cameras eye on everything, and then there was the support band that very nearly stole the show from under JJ’s nose. Two years on find Wille & The Bandits back on the Harmonie stage they made their own on that March day and if the joint wasn’t bursting it was certainly rocking.
I still have to scratch my head when I think about it: A ballsy , bluesy rockband – from Cornwall? When you talk to Wille Edwards he has that gentle and polite Cornish accent. After the show he’s to be found apologizing profusely after miss-spelling a fan’s name when signing her CD case. Can this really be the man with a hoarse, rasping vocal and screaming/screeching lap-steel attack that could tear holes in sheet metal.?
If you were standing just outside the hall you would be forgiven for thinking there were at least six people onstage. Wille Edwards, bassist Matt Brooks and drummer Andrew Naumann don’t look like a power trio the way that bands like Grimbsby’s The Brew do, but boy do they pack a punch. Part of it might be down to the six string bass that Brooks wields so confidently – there are twelve string versions he tells me later but six seems plenty powerful enough. Sticksman Andrew Naumann knows how to belt the sound out too. Don’t let that woollen knitted bass-drum cover fool you – these guys are no grannies when it comes to power. No one sleeps during ‘Virgin Eyes’ as Wille Edwards announces with loud conviction:
“Lie, lie all the time, I’m sick of the sheepish kind,
Hope just ain’t the same when common sense has passed away,
And I hold my shield to the Rat Race” – Virgin Eyes
These guys were definitely not designed to be a part of the ‘rat race’.
Despite the knitted drum cover and the futuristic stand up bass though what catches the eye, and the ear, most is Wille’s Weissenborn lap-steel guitar. It may look like he’s about to iron his shirt when Edward’s swings the support stand of this rather special instrument around and places the guitar on it but the sound he makes is the reason most of us are assembled here this evening. You don’t see these too often – Ben Harper being probably the best known player, so ENJOY!
Opener ‘Bad News’ is a blueprint for the band’s unique sound. Brooks strides onstage and seems to be merely checking the tuning on his bass. Then he gets into a groove… Edwards glides into the sound almost unnoticed at first on slide acoustic like a gentle Ry Cooder before suddenly letting rip vocally like a very ungentle Robert Plant. Nine to ninety in a second. If these guys designed cars they would be formula one classics.
Lots of familiar tunes from the Rockpalast show era – I especially like the Rumba swagger of ‘Mammon’. Something Dire-Straitsy about this. ‘Trouble Down the Line’ though is uniquely Wille & The Bandits with it’s swooping and diving tempo changes.
‘Watch you grow’ is inspired by fatherhood and sees Edwards getting a sitar-like sound from the lap-steel. I was caught out once again when the song ‘Angel’ is introduced. “I wrote this for my mother, who died ten years ago but I still think about her every day” says Wille. The piece starts as did the opener ‘Bad News’ with gentle bass picking taken up by Edwards thoughtful slide playing – only to pick up tempo by the second, rapidly developing into a musical Tour-de-Force that five minutes in has developed into something Jimi would burn his Stratocaster to and just as suddenly channels back into wistfulness.
Encores were the raunchy, bluesy ‘Gypsy Woman’ and a supercharged ‘1970’ which almost had me wishing I was back in that magical year – flared trousers, long sideburns and all.
Wille & The Bandits are one of those rare bands who when they hit a groove don’t sound quite like anyone else. If it’s a sound that you like, and I very definitely do, you just have to bite the bullet, buy the CD’s and hope they liked playing to us as much as we liked hearing them – in short, that they will be back in town. If and when that happens, my advice is to grab a ticket.