Rob Heron & the Teapad Orchestra Artisan Tap Newcastle-under-Lyme Thursday 10th October 2019
Sometimes, the thing that makes a great gig is placing the right band in the right venue – and thanks to the good taste of ‘Biddulph Up In Arms’ promoter Craig Pickering, this was a perfect example of how to do it right. The Artisan Tap – a converted storeroom and shop – is now a craft beer bar with a curry house right next door, that puts on regular live music. It’s only small – capacity of 80 – but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in character and atmosphere, no small thanks to proprietor Wayne Lucas, who also happens to be an experienced soundman and musicologist par excellence. A healthy part of the crowd were in early to enjoy the support from Joe Strouzer – playing New Orleans blues on a resonator with some beautifully grungy harmonica too and dry observational humour. He deservedly went down well.
Although they claimed that it was their first visit to Stoke-on-Trent, the Teapad Orchestra had played just ten miles away in Biddulph in 2016. Tonight was a much more exuberant and feisty performance featuring songs from the new EP “Eta Carinae” as well as old favourites like ‘Une Bouteille De Beaujolais’ “Rich man now”, “Cats and Chickens” and the opener “Still go Honky Tonkin’”. This line-up of the band is minus Tim Bloomer who played with the Teapad Orchestra over the summer and instead of adding another lead guitar recruit, the role has largely been taken by Rob himself, giving the band, (if anything) a more rhythmic sound. Even mentioning that he’d heard that Stoke-on-Trent is the Brexit capital of the UK – followed by huge booing and then the comment – “Obviously not in here” to cheers – Rob and the band completely won over an audience of fans familiar with them and those less so too.
A boisterous encore of “She don’t like the fish” finished the night and left the room bubbling. Rob himself thanked the audience on not staying in and viewing “Bake Off or whatever you’re supposed to be watching at the moment”. Thankfully, this was one of those nights where several people living in the murky border between Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme discovered that there is indeed a great deal of wonderful stuff out there – and tonight its name was Rob Heron & the Teapad Orchestra.
Review courtesy photographer extraordinaire, Mr Nick Barber
Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra Eta Carinae (EP) Tea Pad Recordings
An Exotic Musical Cocktail That Will Make Your Heart Swing.
#Disclaimer ….. Rob Heron is a genuine ‘Friend of RMHQ’ and one of the very, very few people who grace these pages that would recognise me in a crowded room; and has bought me a cup of tea on more than one occasion. The Teapads came bursting out of a wave of young musical madness that erupted in the North East around 2011/2012 and and it was instantly apparent that they were ‘special,’ in a ‘different’ kind of way. While most of their peers have disappeared into the world of marriage, mortgage and holidays in Magaluf; Mr. Heron and friends have ploughed a very singular field that has evolved with not just every recording but, it could be said every live appearance too….. as no two gigs are ever the same. While not a million miles different to the casual listener, from their debut LP in 2012 MONEY ISN’T EVERYTHING, to those of us who have followed the band, this is actually light years away in construction, writing, playing and production! The party starts with some feisty and danceable Western Swing on the ‘breakup song’ Swinging Like a Brick ………. “You left my poor heart, Shoulda been singin’ Swingin’ like a brick!” We’ve all been there haven’t we? But Rob somehow makes this absolute tearjerker not just touching but toe-tapping too; which is a rare talent indeed. Now anyone who knows these crazy cats, will know that they are no ‘one trick ponies’; as they can slip, slide and jive between musical modes with the greatest of ease; utilizing Rob and Tom Cronin’s bizarre and extensive record collections to great advantage. Which brings us to the dark Gypsy Jazz of Black Dog; a daring step into the world of depression and wow…….. do they turn this very mature subject into a beautiful love song! The title track, Eta Carinae appears twice; with a ‘Radio Edit’ tagged on at the end; although the original only comes in at 4.42 minutes; which is hardly Meat Loaf, is it? The song is actually all that is good and great about The Tea Pad Orchestra; they are far more than just the man whose name is emblazoned at the front; here the Tea Pad Orchestra and Rob Heron, give his words the full Orchestral treatment and make it all as if it should be gracing a pre-WWII film set in Paris or Berlin (or Byker if you have a very vivid imagination!); with everyone giving their all without ever overshadowing the song itself. Now, let’s just hope there’s a radio programmer brave enough to play it outside of Newcastle. Then we skip back to track #2 Basket Full of Nothing for the RMHQ Favourite Track. In many ways, while the other songs are a massive leap forward for the band, this is Trademark Tea Pad; but that in it’s own little way is a beautiful thing …… sometimes you have to look backwards to move forwards. As always it’s a love song of sorts; but one straight out of left field, and featuring some stunning violin playing, guitar and slap-bass ……. and those finger-clicks do it no harm at all either. I know it’s a cliche but Rob Heron and the Tea Pad Orchestra just may be the hardest working band in the country, with each member nipping off to join other bands in their ‘down time’ and Rob Himself has several other side projects on the go at any time; and I can heartily recommend his occasional DJ spots …….. Tony Blackburn he ain’t!! All of which comes together like a 1,000 piece musical jigsaw to create these fabulous four songs.
Hot Club of Cowtown Wild Kingdom Gold Strike/The Orchard
Still Swinging and Sizzling After All These Years!
While they’ve been around virtually forever in musical terms (since 1994 actually) Hot Club of Cowtown have rarely crossed my path; even though I’ve been privy to conversations (arguments?) between friends who salivate at the prospect of seeing them on their irregular sojourns to NE England; and the thought of this, the band’s first album of ‘original’ in 10 years has had them bouncing around like cats on a hot tin roof ! I don’t know why I’ve not ‘got into them’ before; as straight from opening track My Candy the bizarre blend of Red Hot Parisienne Jazz and Western Swing actually works a treat; especially the way Elana James purrs the lyrics with an obvious ‘twinkle in her eye’; as she does through the rest of her songs on the album btw. The word that keeps springing to mind as my laptop bounces on my knees as I try to type, is ‘delightful’ ….. and I can’t think of a better way to describe the extraordinary Near Mrs. and of course High Up The Mountain which makes me smile like a ninny every time I’ve heard it. As far as I understand it, this wouldn’t be a Hot Club of Cowtown album without the inclusion of a couple of standards; and here they charm the life out of you with their luscious harmonies on How High The Moon, which also features some staggering interplay from this dexterous trio and who’d have thought that the Andy Stewart (ask your Grandma!!!) ‘Classic’ Loch Lomond would ever sound even vaguely contemporary in the 21st Century; but somehow these crazy kids manage it. It’s both odd and clever how the writers here can drop in the aforementioned songs then add one about a (prehistoric) Caveman, placing alongside Whit creating a genuine heartbreaker of a Cowboy song in Billy The Kid and then include a bittersweet breakup song, Easy Money too and they all make perfect sense in this particular setting. Classy, or what? Baring in mind there are only ever three musicians playing and/or singing here they make a truly beautiful noise; which isn’t really a surprise after all this time; is it? Earlier today I was stumped for what to select as my Favourite Song; but an hour or so ago I was in the car and the rambunctious Tall, Tall Ships and the more sentimental and emotional Before The Time Before Men really struck a chord; with Whit Smith’s intense guitar playing and Elana James fiery fiddle plus Jake Erwin’s understated bass combine to create a really stunning song; so it wins the prize. I’ve really enjoyed listening to this album as it’s been like a breath of fresh air; especially as Hot Club of Cowtown sound so unlike anyone else I think I’ve ever heard before …… and that’s a good thing, isn’t it?
Hey! Hey! Hey! Putting the Western Swing Into Honky-Tonking Classic Country!
This is another album where tracks keep popping up on my I-Phone ‘random selector’; but yesterday was the first time I’ve actually sat down and listened to it from start to finish. Being the old duffer I am, I remember when Akron, Ohio was the Capital of Alternative Music and seemed the most exotic place on earth; so it’s probably no real surprise that Akronites Ryan Humbert (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and Brian Poston (electric & acoustic guitar) would find each other via a mutual love of proper Country music and go on to record their own version in all it’s glory and occasionally glamour. Opening track Cleaning House virtually crackles with excitement as the guitars Twang like a call of nature; and the ‘ear-worm’ chorus ain’t too bad either. As is common in the modern idiom The Shootouts cleverly draw bits and pieces from lots of Classic genres to make what becomes their very own swaggering style; giving us some crash-bang Rockabilly (or is it Honky-Tonk?) with Who Needs Rock & Roll and If I Could both leaving you breathless by the end and even the title track Quick Draw as an instrumental sounds like Duanne Eddy and Link Wray having a shoot-out at the OK Coral wine bar in downtown Akron! With so much history to draw from, The Shootouts manage to do their melancholy love songs with ease and grace, making Lonely Never Let Me Down and the pedal-steelfest that is Losing Faith in Being Faithful sounding like dusty old 60’s Country love songs that have been gussied up, cherished and refreshed by their owners; but they are actually brand new from the box. For me; and I hope you too, this album is totally refreshing in such a mad world that we find ourselves in today; and three songs in particular have caught my attention and tugged at my tired old heartstrings. If We Quit Now not just stars that sublime pedal-steel again, but just when you’re not expecting them a string section of Buddy Holly proportions sweep in and whisk you off into Country Music Heaven for three minutes or so. Then, Radio Jesus is definitely a song that defies genre and it’s only the subject matter that makes you realise that it is a contemporary Country song of the Alternative persuasion; and the other song is one I instantly recognised; though I doubt 99.9% of record buyers will. Each time my I-Phone has played the jaunty It Must Be Love my brain presumed it was some olde songe from ye darke ages; possibly an Everly Brothers minor hit; then I finally read the Press Release. Damn my eyes and curse my memory! It Must Be Love is already a Favourite Song on RMHQ by it’s writer, the divine Stacey Earle (aunt of Justin T and sister of Steve) who has been a favourite here for many years. If you only buy or listen to one song, make it this and then, not only buy QUICK DRAW but then discover the delights of Stacey Earle herself. You won’t regret it. If there’s a downside to this album (and there isn’t) it would be finding a category to comfortably fit it into in a Record Shop…… or perhaps that’s the cunning plan; the shop has to buy five copies to put one each into Country, Honky Tonk, Rockabilly, Western Swing and even Americana. Clever that!
Shipcote & Friends
I’M QUITE HAPPY WITH THAT.
Low Fella Records
Laid Back Americana Full of Warmth Via NE England.
The once thriving Shipcote area of Gateshead in Tyne and Wear has all but gone now; but the name lives on as the alter-ego of one half of the Jumpin’ Hot Club and full time musical troubadour Mr Graham Anderson; of which this is his latest disc.
If you already know him and his music you will buy this CD regardless of what I have to say; as ‘once a fan, always a fan’ in my experience; but to the uninitiated he writes very clever and intricate songs about the immediate world around him and the people who inhabit it; performing them in a warm, charming and laid-back Western-Swing meets American Folk via a traditional singer-songwriter hybrid that doesn’t particularly sound like anyone else I can think of. Confused? You won’t be!
I had to take a deep breath the first time I heard opening track Mystery Waltz as it begins with Cath and her accordion nodding towards something akin to the Captain Pugwash tune; but mercifully Shipcote and the other Friends seamlessly slide in with the first of a series of magical love songs sung to a hypnotic melody that will make you sway along as you aimlessly mouth the words, while thinking that you know who the song is really about.
The jaunty Photograph follows; and yet again a simple thing like ‘looking at a photograph of his wedding day’ ends up taking us all down ‘memory lane’ thinking exactly the same thoughts about our own past; such is the power of clever songwriting.
Although a man of a ‘certain age’ Shipcote isn’t as cynical as the majority of people I know; generally seeing the best in life; as the punchy Sanctuary Street and the delightfully romantic Country Swing of Lucky Me prove; but he can also let his imagination go wild with the insightful and sensitive I’m Coming To Get You, which will also turn a few eyes misty as time goes by.
The whimsical I Get Around and title track, I’m Quite Happy With That are both autobiographical ditties that had me smiling from start to finish as our man describes his day to day life; with the latter being a description of his office including the posters on the wall , the swivel chair and his name sat next to a paperweight on his desk; and is all only an 8 minute ride away each day. I doubt Robbie Williams will ever cover this song; but I love it to bits!
Picking a Favourite Track on a Shipcote album is never easy, as each song always has its merits; and this one is no different with the slightly brittle and dark break up Hope It Stays That Way is unlike anything I’ve heard from him before and would be a contender for that reason alone; but the addition of luscious harmonies and a heartbreaking cello take it onto a whole other level.
Then there are two songs that are very close to my own heart, the first is a tongue in cheek tilt towards the myriad of Award Ceremonies every year, covering just about every (and some made up) categories in our own little musical world; leaving them with very little, if any meaning save for the Press Releases that litter my desk.
The other; and it’s the one I’m actually giving the prize to is What Can a City Do? Specifically about Newcastle which is on the verge of having more student accommodation than it has for actual rate payers and (more importantly) Social Housing; Shippy lists all of the new businesses that now litter the High Streets of our once Green and Pleasant land. And, in Shipcote & Friends style it’s all sung over a charming and lazy Countryfied melody.
Okay, I’m a friend first, a fan second and only thirdly an impartial reviewer; but if ever a song title summed up the contents of the music within the cover it’s, I’m Quite Happy With That and that’s is exactly what you will feel as the final song runs out into the groove.
Charming Contemporary Country Music That Nods Back To The Golden Years.
Well…..this is a fascinating … as I first encountered Sophia and her sister Hannah when they were members of the Toy Hearts alongside Dad Stewart; and loved seeing them play live many times, plus their song Tequila and High Heels was a favourite of my listeners on the Jumping Hot Club Radio Show many years ago.
Sophia eventually re-located to the Colonies and the home of the music she loves, Austin. She skillfully describes the initial frustration she encountered entering the US of A very eloquently on the swinging opening track Visa Blues; and I’m sure will be sung with a rye smile when featured in concert. And it has to be said Sophia’s guitar playing is as extraordinary as ever on the solos; often hinting at Chet Atkins several times.
What pleases me most here is the way Sophia slips and slides between several Country Music styles with ease; although the title track One Year, and her version of the intriguingly titled Bob Wills instrumental Big Beaver truly showcase her first love, Western Swing.
While she wrote and arranged most of the Toy Hearts songs, Sophia’s writing has really matured since she moved to Austin; with Don’t Call and the acutely observed bittersweet Kitchen Floor and Rue The Day showing a new contemporary style of storytelling which I like a lot.
Now;the accolade of ‘RMHQ Favourite Song’ goes to Starting Fires; because it’s not just an exceptional Country ‘Break Up’ song but also a superb slice of Classic Country melancholic melodrama played out to a haunting backdrop and a wailing fiddle from Beth Chrisman and some divine Honky-Tonk piano from the delightfully monikered Earle Poole Ball all combine to create a song that would have done Patsy or Loretta proud in the heyday of Country Music on National Radio.
The album comes to a sweet and swinging close with a jaunty rendition of I’m an Old Cowhand and Beaumont Rag which showcases not just Sophia Johnson’s dexterity on the geetar, but the amazing skills of the musicians she has surrounded herself with.
First released in 2016 this album has arrived too late to be featured in any of my Top 10’s; but it would have been a worthy contender as it’s been a bundle of pleasant surprises from start to finish.
As things have shown in my personal life recently; life’s too short and it’s all about the music at the end of the day; and this album is really well worth searching out.
Country AND Western That Will Break Your Heart (And Mend It Too!)
This is a weird thing to say, but I always felt sorry for the Toy Hearts (sisters Sophia and Hannah Johnson plus Dad Stewart) as they were exceptionally talented, looked good and were bloody hard working; but were treading the circuit and releasing albums in the years just before British Country Music became cool (and profitable).
So it was a lovely surprise when I saw a link to Hannah Johnson’s IndiGoGo page last week financing her maiden solo album; then before I had the chance to pledge some dosh, or ask a mutual friend for a contact number, Stewart sent me an e-mail offering a review copy – RESULT!
It arrived the following morning and hasn’t been out of the car stereo for the last three days.
The opening track Nowhere Train is an absolute delight; with Hannah channelling her inner Reba and Tammy on a delicious slice of Classic Country with enough Telecaster Twang to set my heart on fire.
With not hearing the Toy Hearts for a couple of years I’d forgot what a lovely and distinctive voice young Ms. Johnson has; soft, velvety and with just the slightest ‘rasp’ around the edges; and alongside Stewart’s classy pedal-steel and Chris Shirley’s subtle bass playing gives a truly authentic sound to Morning Cocktail* and the swoonsome West Texas Lullaby.
Hannah co-wrote 3 songs here; but it’s her ability to choose a song to suit her voice that is most impressive. She could easily have gone for a bunch of Classics; but no….there are a couple of brave choices here that work a damn site better than they should. I already own three versions of Trouble in Mind; and there are scores of others but Hannah takes it, turns it inside out and makes it a sultry Western Swing song; perfect for a late night in a Downtown Honky Tonk; and it’s a similar story with Willie Nelson’s Three Days on which she really does get to show her vocal range in all it’s glory.
I had a rye smile when I first heard Hannah purr her way through this sultry version of Not In Birmingham; not just because it’s marvellous; but of course because Ms Johnson comes from Birmingham…..ENGLAND; which I doubt Roger Miller had in mind when he wrote it.
For once Mrs Magpie agree on a ‘favourite song’ and I’m thrilled to say that the clever and bittersweet your Girlfriend Hates Me is a co-write between Hannah and Sarah Sharp; and is as good a Country song that I’ve heard in years; and is absolutely perfect for National Radio and TV; in the UK and US of A!
The Toy Hearts were probably best associated with Bluegrass and possibly Western Swing; but were never ‘one trick ponies’ and Hannah moves through the different genres with the same ease and cool herself; with every song being different enough from the previous one to keep the whole album interesting but nothing ever jars; which is quite some feat for Hannah Stewart and Chris Barns who all co-produced this 36 minutes minutes of Country Heaven.
The funniest part of me keep talking about SHAKEN being an ‘Authentic Country’ album is that expression is out of fashion these days and Hannah Johnson (& The Broken Hearts) recorded the album at the Ameripolitan Studios in Austin TX and has firmly aligned herself (and band) to Dale Watson’s Ameripolitan Movement which is rekindling this type of quality music around the globe; and more power to all of them.
PS i I’m pleased to see that sister Sophia, while not in ‘the band’ plays acoustic guitar throughout.
PS ii My car stereo doesn’t have enough room to show the full title of *Morning Cocktail; missing ‘tail’…..which made me blush the first time I looked!
The legendary Martin Stephenson and Graeme ‘Shipcote’ Anderson talk about their time in The Toe Rags (and more); who are reforming for one night only on 1st August in the Q Festival Speigletent in Baltic Square, Gateshead alongside Jumping Hot Club regulars…. HYMN FOR HER (USA), BRENNEN LEIGH & NOEL McKAY (USA) and GEORGE WELCH & CHRISTINE JEANS on 1st August 2017.
Aha! Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock really is a ‘one off’ sounding quite unlike anyone else, especially all the pretenders to his self-made throne.
I only discovered his magnificent 1995 debut album Thunderstorms and Neon Signs a couple of years ago when I had my radio show. A friend with impeccable taste asked for the title track to be played on one of the very first episodes; and the album became a favourite of our listeners; but that’s in the past.
Three years since his last album hasn’t seen Hancock resting on his laurels; no sirree! Averaging over 200 gigs every year where he has honed these new songs like a razors edge; and the time is finally right for another dose of good time, Juke-Joint, Hill-billy, Swing with assorted love songs for good measure.
The album opens with Hancock introducing the title track Slingin’ Rhythm then counting the band in and …phew we then get the coolest, autobiographical ‘road song’ you will ever hear; and more than a smattering of red hot gee-tar…Mister!
While Wayne Hancock certainly has a distinctive ‘sound’ based around a head mix of Western Swing and Classic Country with a spine of Rockabilly in there too; but he somehow manages to never repeat himself.
Wear Out Your Welcome; even features some sweet guitar that owes more than a nod in the direction of Les Paul and Chet Atkins; but certainly doesn’t sound dated.
What may or may not be overlooked with Hancock is his song-writing and story telling which gets over shadowed by the way he sings. Divorce Me C.O.D is a very clever song based around a very Country ‘theme’ going back to Hank, George and the rest; but Hancock’s turn of phrase never sounds dated.
Dirty House Blues is a stunning little number featuring some absolutely sizzling pedal-steel alongside a chunka-chunka 4/4 back-beat that will have toes a tapping and fingers clicking all over the world.
OK I’m a sucker for a love song; always have been and always will be so the short and sweet, Love You Always is already a favourite at RMHQ, but there are two other songs that certainly take Wayne Hancock to another level.
Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine is the type of Country-Gospel I would normally associate with Hank Williams but this song has more than a hint of Woody Guthrie in it too and was spine-tingling the first time I heard it.
But….by far the favourite song at RMHQ is the Murder Ballad ‘Killed em Both;’ a fabulous song that has all of the hallmarks of a show stealer wherever and when ever Wayne ‘The Train’ Hancock comes to town.
Dog Day Blues and Small Bouquet of Roses are both the type of song that would have been Top of the Hit Parade in the late 50’s or early 60’s perhaps; but are probably ‘too Country’ for Modern FM Radio….but with the upsurge in specialist Digital Radio I’m sure you will hear them and just about all of the other songs here somewhere on the World Wide Web.