May 7, 2017: The Coal Porters, Phil Odgers with Bobby Valentino, and Ben Smith & Jimmy Brewer at Union Chapel Upper Hall
“Purveyors of fine songs and fine velvet jackets”
It’s nice to see that Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer [since performing as Smith and Brewer] are so self-aware. The attire spoke for itself, while the songs lived up to their billing. There were some fine key changes, and the men’s voices blended wonderfully.
Smith took advantage of the laid-back afternoon show to play for one of his biggest little fans: “my son’s here today, which is unusual because he’s only five.”The duo reeled through their multiple songs about the weather, about love, and about letting things slide when love leaves.
In fact, they mentioned that they’ve had tracks featured in a pantomime and in a Dutch horror film. This should give some sense of the extreme range of appeal and universality of their lyrics. Their trump card is, of course, their complementary guitar skill, especially in A Lovely Day For Doing Nothing.
“I was going to come to this gig anyway; I thought I would save myself a ticket!”
Next up were Phil Odgers with Bobby Valentino from The Men They Couldn’t Hang. The Story showcased fiddle and strumming, even though they confessed to “those of a musical persuasion, that song only had two chords.”
The pair had a timeless sound with fast bluegrass instrumentation and modern language. There were between-song references to Kris Kristoffersen and even modern politicians: “Diane Abbott apparently thinks there are two types of people in this world: ones who can count and ones who can’t.”
Odgers made time for a handful of his singer-songwriter solo songs. This included one that mentioned the Lancashire railway that we grew up using!
“I just wanted to wear these suits, so I formed a band”
The Coal Porters were gleeful about being an alternative bluegrass band “which means we can do ridiculous things like counting things to the count of 7.” Demeanour and songs were indeed on the alternative sound of a typically traditionalist genre. Whether that be singing about The Day The Last Ramone Died, dropping covers of Adele’s Rolling In The Deep and Bowie’s Heroes, or launching into “a funky floor-filler about the end of the world.”
Still, there were traditional chops underpinning the raucous afternoon affair, for all their protestations that “this sounds suspiciously like a traditional bluegrass song.” Renowned musician Sid Griffin certainly knows his stuff. Kerenza Peackock on violin impressed too. A rousing version of Ooh La La wrapped things up as the musicians roamed the room mid-song.
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