Category Archives: Reviews

A proud return

Mike Ross. Photo White
Mike Ross. Photo White

PAUL WHITE reviews North East musician Mike Ross on a return gig to the region.

Back in the late 90s, I had the pleasure of writing about live music for The Northern Echo. While the opportunities to interview the likes of Bon Jovi drummer Tico Torres, Gerry Marsden, Terrorvision, Deacon Blue and many more was fantastic, what I really loved was seeing local bands play live and be well-received by decent-sized audiences around the Darlington and Durham music scenes.

One band that I maintain to this day to be one of the best and most exciting bands to see live was Taller Than, a three-piece outfit from the Sacriston and Lanchester area.

Playing their own music as Taller Than, often coupled with covers sets as the Popular Beat Combo, they were regulars at the likes of O’Neills in both Durham and Darlington, and the Filibuster & Firkin in Darlington, along with many more venues around the region.

In 2000, they played their last gig in Darlington before moving to the Brighton area, where all three members are still active in the music industry.

Sixteen years on, singer and guitarist Mike Ross returned to Darlington on Sunday night for his first return gig in the town, playing a two-set late afternoon session at The Quakerhouse.

Normally fronting the Mike Ross Band, Mike stripped back a range of his own numbers and covers, without losing anything in his simple guitar and vocals arrangements.

Opening with a Credence Clearwater cover, he quickly got the audience onside before heading into the latest version of an old Taller Than number, Questions, and mixing his own tracks like Ran Thru Here and Statesboro Blues with his own cover of Aretha Franklin’s Baby I Love You, which appears on his latest album, Jenny’s Place.

The hugely appreciative audience in a venue I had forgotten how much I like, complete with a great selection of real ales – right up my street – were ready and waiting for a second set to follow the break.

Set two opened with a version of Stephen Stills’ Love The One You’re With and took a blues journey through Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon, before dipping into Mike’s Spindrift debut album for Don’t Worry Baby Just Call, then returning to the familiar for the audience, with Johnny cash’s Get Rhythm, Marvin Gaye’s Heard It Through The Grapevine and more.

Closing the show with his own Bamboozled, Mike left the audience happy at the close of his mini North East tour and promising a return to the region in the Spring.

It was a great way to remind myself just how good Mike Ross is and what a great venue The Quakerhouse is, as well as what a hotbed of great musical talent the North East is, whether or not you’ve heard of many of the acts.

Mike Ross Music: www.mikerossmusic.co.uk/

On Twitter: @spindriftmike

On Facebook: www.facebook.com/themikerossband

A taste of the Deep South in South Shields

HELEN GILDERSLEEVE gets a taste of Louisiana as she chats to local Americana bluegrass band with a difference, Big Red & the Grinners.

Helen Gildersleeve (left) meets Big Red and the Grinners
Helen Gildersleeve (left) meets Big Red & the Grinners

Trying to describe the talent of this band is difficult – you just need to see them.

Featuring banjo, accordion, double bass, acoustic guitars and percussion, Big Red & the Grinners move seamlessly from the likes of Jay Z’s 99 Problems, Technotronic’s Pump Up the Jam, Tony Rice’s bluegrass classic Freeborn Man to a hilarious rendition of Paradise City by Guns n’ Roses.

It’s clear from the minute Big Red & the Grinner’s step onto the stage at any of their gigs (and I’ve been to six), that the audience love them. And if they don’t immediately, they soon will.

“They call us Big Red and The Grinners because I’m Big Red, and these are the Grinners” followed by yells of “Yee Haws” is how this band operates. You just can’t help but like them and I defy anybody not to.

So what makes this band so likeable? It’s a mix of their hilarious and foot tappingly addictive covers of classic songs through to the jovial and informal way they interact with their audience treating them to cheesy jokes between songs. It’s a struggle not to smile and get up and dance.

A particular favourite of mine is their cover of the popular ‘Crazy’; “my Grand-pappy wrote this song for a young fellow named Ceelo Green, or Gnarles Barkley, whatever you wanna call him”, shouts Red as he laughs into his microphone, beer in hand, and stays that way until they finish with John Denver’s ‘Country Roads’ with the whole audience dancing away and singing along at the top of their lungs.

Big Red & the Grinners. Photo: DanielRomani, Subtle-Sensor Photography
Big Red & the Grinners. Photo: DanielRomani, Subtle-Sensor Photography

Tell me a bit about Big Red and how you began?

Joe, our guitarist and banjo player had become tired of what had become a stale and predictable music scene in the local bars and clubs where most of the bands all seemed to be playing the same stuff. With a desire to create something different he set about assembling a band of musicians willing to try something out of the ordinary. We didn’t set out to create a certain ‘type’ of band, the only brief was that the song choices had to be different from what anyone else was doing at the time.

After a few rehearsals and some interesting early gigs, the songs themselves somehow seemed to shape what became Big Red & the Grinners and things just developed from there. Our music has been described as a combination of bluegrass, rockgrass, folk and blues – we’re still not entirely sure ourselves –  or what ‘type of band we are! Ask ten people at one of our gigs and you’ll get ten different answers – we like that!

What’s the perks of the job?

Apart from the free beer and private planes? Getting to meet lots of interesting folks is a great part of the job. We’ve been lucky enough to share the stage with the likes of Ward Thomas, Della Mae, Lost Bros and Field Music which has been great. We’ve also popped up on TV a couple of times too and it’s been good to see how all that works behind the scenes. We’re still waiting on the call from James Corden that he promised though!

bigred
Big Red & the Grinners

What’s your musical inspiration?

Well anyone who’s ever seen us knows that Red’s Grandpappy is our musical inspiration. People are amazed at how many hit songs that man wrote! We’ll be bringing out our first CD containing a good selection of them in time for Christmas. Forget Little Mix, Michael Buble or Lady Gaga….it’s Grandpappy’s Greatest Hits Volume 1 that you need as your stocking filler this year. Available from all good high street stockists…..or from us which will be easier!

Where do you enjoy performing?

We enjoy performing everywhere but festivals are our favourite gigs. You get to travel round the country to play for people who don’t often get the chance to see us – or have never seen us before. We closed the Upton Blues Festival down in Gloucestershire this year where almost every building in the town is turned into a music venue. Headlining the outdoor stage on the final night next to the river was pretty special.

Locally, we love playing Sage Gateshead and The Cluny. Two very different venues in terms of size and atmosphere but both have something about them. The Americana Festival at Sage Gateshead and Stormin’ The Castle down in County Durham are particular favourites.

Where does the deep south influence come from?

That will be Red’s Grandpappy again! He’s from that neck of the woods.

We keep telling Red we’re only bringing back home what’s rightfully ours though as much of American roots music is based on Irish, Scottish and English traditional music. He begs to differ but everyone knows he gets his geography mixed up now and then – I suppose it’s only to be expected from someone who must clock up more air miles than Springsteen!

 

@BigRedGrinners

www.facebook.com/Big-Red-and-The-Grinners

 

Review: Martha, Live Theatre, Saturday 08/10/2016

RICHARD CALLAGHAN is captivated by Durham-based Martha, one of the most exciting bands to emerge from the North East in recent years

Photo: Steven Landles
Photo: Steven Landles

This Saturday’s concert in Newcastle was the third time I’ve had the privilege of watching Martha live, my sole regret upon leaving Live Theatre being that it was only the third. Where their 2014 debut Courting Strong confirmed them as the most exciting band to have emerged from the North East for years, this year’s thrilling follow up, Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart, surpassed its predecessor in every department. Yet, such recorded brilliance threatens to raise expectations to a level that many bands simply cannot meet. All too often the product of a tightly controlled recording studio, however exemplary, can prove impossible to match on the stage. It takes a very good band to be as good live as they are on a record. Fortunately for all concerned, Martha are indeed a very good band.

Matching music with an uncommonly muscular grace to lyrics betraying an acute and gentle wit, the Durham four piece know exactly what is required, the ferocious charm of their live performance grabbing the audience by the scruff of the neck and dragging us along. It helps, of course, that they possess such a strong collection of songs, but as previously stated having great tunes is only an asset if you can carry them off in person. This Martha do with aplomb.

Blisters in the Pit of My Heart
Blisters in the Pit of My Heart

The ability to produce a set entirely free of filler is a rarity in a band with only two full length albums behind them, yet the eleven songs Martha raced through on Saturday evening constituted just that. Personal highlights included two of my favourites from the new record (“Chekhov’s Hangnail” and “Goldman’s Detective Agency”), alongside Courting Strong’s “Present, Tense”, and the ever wonderful “1967, I Miss You, I’m Lonely”.

Whether it is by virtue of their determinedly DIY ethos, or a symptom of the changing face of the music industry (one cannot help but feel that were this a decade or so ago they would have been beguiled with, and engulfed by, an enormous recording deal long before now), Martha have emerged as one of the most consistently interesting and staggeringly complete bands in the country. That the nature of their progress to this point means that we still have the opportunity to watch them play in small rooms (rather than the enormous venues which are clearly their destiny) is a gift to music fans everywhere, and one I urge you to seize if you have the chance. You might not get it again.

Any review ought to be balanced by the mention of both positives and negatives, so I’ll end this one with my two biggest criticisms of Martha’s performance. The set was too short, and they’re not playing again tomorrow. Come back soon Martha, I can’t wait to make it time number four.

Martha. Photo: Steven Landles
Martha. Photo: Steven Landles

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