I was surprised to see a Rockabilly group–even with local guitar hero Joe Guillen making his stage debut playing the double bass–as the opening act; but the Groove Diggers quickly won over any sceptics with a high energy homage to the likes of Sun-era Elvis and Eddie Cochran.
As I’m no expert in this field, I think they played a few classics in-between their own songs with “Lindy Lou” being a real foot stomper and “Beat Up Woman” thundering their short set to a barn-storming end.
When Barrence Whitfield & the Savages were introduced to the packed audience of mods, hipsters and other assorted music cognoscenti, we were told that it was 15 years since they’d last played at the Jumpin’ Hot Club, but it won’t be another 15 years before they come back. That got the first loud cheer of the evening.
Within seconds of taking to the stage, the band launched into “Rambling Rose” with such venom, the bass and drums made my knees shake. Then, with hardly any time for applause, the sax player cranked the atmosphere up to 10 on “Bit By Bit”, which had Barrence doing his first soft shoe shuffle of the evening.
The songs came thick and fast with nothing lasting more than three minutes, which was just perfect for a party band like this. By the time they played “Bloody Mary”, the bouncing beat had as many as forty people at the front dancing–proper boy-girl dancing, not just middle aged men shuffling their feet, which is a rare sight in the Cluny.
After about half an hour, Whitfield’s suit jacket was getting darker by the minute as it soaked up sweat from the fulsome-figured singer; but he refused to take it off, because it “made [him] feel cool!”
This was about the time in the set when things finally slowed down for the theatrical “I’m Sad About It”, during which Barrence did his finest James Brown impersonation, slapping his bald head and hiding his eyes during the beautifully sad love song.
Although I was cramped at the front of the stage taking photos, I loved the raucous “Black Jack”, even though it sounded like the drummer was trying to punch holes in his kit and Whitfield hit notes so high I thought his eyes would pop out.
Another song that my notes have three stars next to was “Who is Gonna Rock My Baby (When I’m Not Home)?” It genuinely was a highlight in a spectacular set, which is really saying something.
Just as the band were about to come back on stage for a well-deserved encore, a local publican, who was celebrating his 50th birthday (the party lasted five days!) took to the stage to announce that we had just witnessed “the world’s best flipping R&B band!” Barrence stood right behind him, and no one who was in the Cluny could disagree with the sentiment as, for an hour and a half, they were.
I can’t begin to tell you what a great concert this was. The band had a swagger that only comes from years on the road. Whitfield himself had us arguing whether he was the “new” Edwin Starr, Solomon Burke or even James Brown. But, with a voice like his, Barrence Whitfield is very much his own man. I can’t recommend going to see this band play live, strongly enough.
8th May 2014