Jumping Hot Club
6th June 2015
The Caedmon Hall in Gateshead is the latest in a longish list of venues the Jumping Hot Club have promoted gigs over thirty exciting years; and even though it’s situated inside a library it still doesn’t count as the oddest venue in that time. All Saints Church wins for me; unless you know differently.
While they’ve used the venue for nearly eighteen months now; it appeared to a first visit for many of Slaid Cleaves fans as they excitedly took their seats in the auditorium.
Probably expecting a support act many were still filtering in as Slaid and cohort Scrappy Jud Newcomb wandered onto the stage.
Barely making eye contact with the audience; the duo immediately swept into Slaid’s ‘signature tune’ Horseshoe Lounge which took us all by surprise. A song this good would normally be kept back to the end of a show; but hey ho this is Slaid Cleaves and even followed this with another minor ‘classic’ – My Drinking Days Are Over; which really suited his soft, smoky singing voice.
It shouldn’t really make a difference but Slaid was looking cool tonight; wearing an open red plaid work shirt over a grey College T-shirt, blue jeans and quite dapper cowboy boots and his salt and pepper goatee beard is making him the George Clooney of the Roots world.
Now visibly relaxed Slaid introduced the first new song of the evening, as another collaboration with his lifelong friend Rod Picott; and while Take Home Pay held no surprises, the blue-collar tale was beautifully told and really whetted the appetite for both songwriters new albums (whenever they will arrive).
I will never tire of hearing Broke Down; and it too came early in the set; and tonight Slaid made a point of explaining that this co-write with Picott was constructed via the medium of cassette tapes through the post; he earlier one was done via I-phone. How times change.
We also got the ‘well told’ story of how after Bob Harris played it on BBC Radio and it was included on Various Artist CD given away with Uncut magazine his career was catapulted from obscurity to…..relative obscurity!
Personally I was thrilled to hear a few songs from his 2013 album Still Fighting the War included tonight. I think it’s his most complete work to date; and the title track was absolutely spell binding but Hometown USA got a few laughs when he had to start again after beginning in the wrong key.
We were given a bit of a treat with another Picott collaboration that he claimed wasn’t the finished article yet; but there wasn’t an awful lot wrong with Working Hard to my ears.
As the first half drew to a close Cleaves asked if there were any requests; and a lonely voice called out for Lydia; and Scrappy Jud’s bottle neck playing in the background was quite spooky and really lifted the song. The loud and long applause at the end appeared to take Jud by surprise, as he presumably didn’t know what a proud Coal Mining heritage we have in the Region.
The set ended with my own favourite track from the latest album; Texas Love Song; as I can’t resist a song that rhymes Lexus with Tex-us!
Refreshments were purchased during the break (coffee for me – I must be getting old) and I saw Slaid in deep conversation with a steady stream of well-wishers throughout the whole twenty minutes until he was corralled back onto the stage for part II. This set began with his tale of ‘teenage angst’ – Black T-shirt, which received a squeal of recognition from a table at the back of room.
The next few songs were a mix of requests with Cleaves beautiful and poignant anti-war song The Green Mountains and Me preceding Don’t Tell Me; and you could have heard a pin drop as Slaid poured his heart out and Jud earned his money on the guitar.
Members of a local band had accosted Slaid during the break and assured the singer that they included Horses and Divorces in their set; he didn’t believe them but dedicated the song to them. Always a staple of Slaid’s concerts it ended up as a bit of a sing along tonight, which was a treat for everyone concerned.
As the concert rattled quickly towards the 11pm curfew; Slaid slid in another ‘not quite finished’ song; and when The Old Guard is finished I swear it will become a cornerstone of future gigs. I’m not giving away any secrets; but a Slaid Cleaves song about meeting up with old friends, drinking beer and talking about music is always going to be a winner in my book.
Much to my wife’s dismay Slaid also included Texas Top Hand and its yodelling chorus – her face was a picture every time the yodel made its appearance. She’s not a fan!
Immediately afterwards Jud got his three minutes in the spotlight with a song of his own. His warm leatherette voice was perfect for the ‘lowdown, soulful, cool and dirty’ Driving Wheel; which got two stars in my note pad.
Slaid then explained that Scrappy Jud had been in the late departed Ian McLagan’s Bump Band and the two stood off mic and serenaded us with a beautiful version of Mac’s Never Say Never, which drew a small standing ovation at the end.
Without even leaving the stage; the pair soaked up the applause before performing One Good Year as an ‘encore’ then they actually stepped off the stage to walk through the audience as they performed Going For Gold, note perfectly.
I’m an unashamed fan and have been for the twelve years he’s been visiting the UK; and it baffles me as to why he is still only drawing crowds of approximately 150 on a Saturday night; when younger less talented, singer-songwriters can fill the 1,000 capacity Academy across the river.
I console myself by knowing that it’s them that are missing out!