What could be better — in this season of giving — than to receive a generous two-for-one deal? That was the gift they gave us at Staines Riverside Club this week when we saw the fabulous SPIKEDRIVERS play alongside the sensational FRAN MCGILLIVRAY BAND (with Mike Burke) in a special show of “Saints and Sinners”.
“We aim to bring you our interpretations of blues and gospel...” Ben Tyzack of the Spikedrivers told the appreciative audience right at the start. “A big stew-up of sounds, if you like.”
And it’s true, the gumbo of sounds that these talented musicians brought to the good people of Staines was a “holy trinity” of spirituals, sharp blues and zesty rock ‘n’ roll.
Beginning with the traditional gospel number “Gospel Plow (Hold On)” that was made notable by Odetta in 1961, the outfit brought smooth combings of guitar, delicious choral melodies, double bass lines (double, as in two of them!) and ripples of elegant rhythm.
Other songs, such as a smooth Marvin Gaye-ish soul version of the traditional gospel number “Up Above My Head” (rendered with an added soupçon of funk) resonated with the feeling of sweet victory over sin…
But alongside such sacred songs were more obviously turbid numbers, like “Got My Mojo Working” with its reference to Louisiana Hoodoo.
This song danced with the devil as much as the fast and urgent interpretation of the “Cross Road Blues” (Robert Johnson, 1936) that came later in the show. Here, there were glorious backing vocals, guitar howls that ripped through the night air, and an edgy feeling of hustle & bustle that would not have been out of place at Sun Studios around 1952 .
We were told that many spirituals were written in code: for example, “Wade in the Water” probably helped fugitive slaves by warning them that the dogs had been released. Or that the Jordan River would correlate with the Potomac — “once you’d crossed the “Nation’s River” you would find yourself in the promised land.” So, the evening was instructive as well as being highly enjoyable.
Fran’s nuanced vocal work reminded us of Elkie Brooks (in her Vinegar Joe days), while Mike’s expressive finger-work was skillful and inventive, Ben’s voice was firm and vigorous and Constance’s voice was silver-toned and soothing. All the while, the imaginative percussion was a joy.
The two-bands-in-one of the “Saints and Sinners” combo produced a charming iridescence and brought a sincere commitment to authenticity. This was an equanimous concert, delivered by confident and cool-headed music professionals who brought honeyed rhythmic cadences, easy-street rock ‘n’ roll highlights and dignified call-and-response verses that simply slid off the tongue.
Another exceptional night of superlative music at the Staines Riverside Club.
For lovers of the Staples Singers
Ben Tyzack: guitar, vocals & harmonica
Maurice Mcelroy : drums, vocals & percussion
Constance Redgrave: bass guitar, vocals & percussion
Fran McGillivray: bass, vocals
Mike Burke: guitar, vocals
Words: @neilmach 2019 ©