On Sunday I went down to Clerkenwell, early evening, to see a gig at the Betsy Trotwood pub which had been organised by a friend of mine, Paul. I think I’m keen on music, but I’m absolutely not worthy in comparison to Paul. Neil Young and Grateful Dead are his benchmarks, but he has a wide range of musical tastes, including Americana, Americana and… Black Sabbath!
There were two performances yesterday. First Danny George Wilson, recently of Danny and the Champions of the World, but before that Grand Drive, one of my favourite bands of the late 1990s/early 2000s. Yes, I loved the music of Grand Drive, after being introduced to their first album, “Road Music” by a colleague in the civil service in 1999. I gave them a good write up in my book, “I Was There – a Musical Journey”. (Available on Amazon!). They made five albums. The first three were the best, full of wonderful, often wistful and always melodious tunes. The reference points were REM, the Beatles, Neil Young, maybe Teenage Fanclub, Bob Dylan – great reference points. While the last album, “Everything” wasn’t quite in the same league, it did have a song, “Talking in Your Sleep”, which I played to death on my iPod, walking into work from Green Park at one point. Memories!
After Grand Drive I saw Danny play a couple of times. Once at Bush Hall in Shepherds Bush, when he was promoting his album “Hearts and Arrows”. I think you could call this his Bruce Springsteen phase. And second, in 2013 at Leyton Working Men’s Club in the East End, when, with a full band he played a scintillating show which reminded me of Van Morrison at his best, Graham Parker and even Steely Dan, with its jazziness. Great stuff!
But yesterday was the first time since then. Danny was opening for GospelbeacH and played for about three quarters of an hour. He opened, to my delight, with “Love and the Truth”, a Grand Drive song from their fourth album, “The Lights in this Town are Too Many to Count”. On the album there’s a murky electric guitar threading its way through the song; at this show it was a stripped-down acoustic affair with some Dylanesque harmonica. A real tour de force and the first of four songs that ran into each other, with occasional bursts of that harmonica. Later on, he brought on a fellow singer called Robin Bennett for a couple of songs, before finishing with a lovely version of Grand Drive’s “Firefly” from their third album “See The Morning In”.
So yeah, this was a nice bit of updated nostalgia for me, but also an encouragement to see Danny perform again, with more time. I’ve made a note to do so!
GospelbeacH, the headliners, were new to me, but I did a bit of mugging up on Spotify before the show, taking in their debut album from 2015, “Pacific Surf Line” and recent release “Let it Burn”. I liked the sound: classic Americana with a Californian west coast tinge. A sound rooted in the 1970s (if not the 60s) but constantly updated. I really liked some of the guitars – without Paul’s compendious knowledge of Americana I was hearing a bit of the Allmans, the Byrds, maybe just a touch of Lynyrd Skynyrd, but most of all, within my fairly limited listening in the genre, the Jayhawks. By that I don’t mean copying, but just in a similar vein. I can never resist describing bands I haven’t heard before in terms of bands I do know!
What I can say is the set that GospelbeacH played last night was really enjoyable. Uplifting. It felt like a celebration of that Americana sound. The opening song, “Sunshine Skyway”, set the tone. It was also the name of a very nice IPA of the same time which was on tap at the bar. I enjoyed three pints of it!
The singer, acoustic guitarist and main man is Brent Rademaker. He was accompanied by Matt on electric guitar and Jonny on keys. There was a bit of that west coast jauntiness, but also some lovely, wistful songs with mellifluous guitar solos from Matt. “Get it Back” and “Bad Habits” were two examples, both from the new album. They are the sort of solos I associate with the likes of the Allmans and Skynyrd; I have a feeling the Grateful Dead would be more accurate, but to date, I’ve resisted Paul’s invitations to delve into that band. I think it comes from my 70s punk aversion to hippy music…
I also really enjoyed one of the last songs, “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”, a cover of the song by Bob Dylan and the Band, which is on “The Basement Tapes” album. A real singalong song, which got the assembled throng going. And an indication of the roots of this music, I think.
So thanks to both acts, and to Paul for getting it together. A great evening.