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CRISIS BLUES BAND (The Station, Sutton Coldfield, 22 Sept)

26-09-2007

Stirrer webmaster Andy Goff was allowed to unchain himself from the keyboard for a night - but only condition that he do some more work for us by reviewing a gig. No wonder he's singing the blues.

The last time I had a drink in The Station at the top of Sutton High Street was about 38 years ago. This was in the days when the Gracechurch Centre was a twinkle in the church commissioners' eyes and there were at least five pubs within a few yards walk of each other.

The Museum, The Gate, The Station, The Three Tuns and The Royal Hotel. The Museum made way for a road system but the others survived Sutton's regeneration.

The Station now has a giant rear outdoor smoking area and a little room upstairs where they promote live music - a bar, some seats and a quiet corner if the music is background to conversation.

Saturday night was an intimate evening with one of the best blues bands in the Midlands, Crisis Blues Band. So along with my Dad, I wandered up there.

I have to admit a certain bias in the pleasure I take from watching them play. The lead guitarist Fred Robinson used to play bass in a band I was in while still at school at Arthur Terry in Four Oaks. He was a great bass player then but over the years his dedication has turned him into one of the foremost lead guitar players of his generation.

Interlacing their own material with that of Coco Montoya, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Moore, Fred's best mate Walter Trout and other classic Blues artists, they perform an eclectic mix of heavy blues and softer rock.

Vocalist Keith Thompson has a voice that really suits the genre - filled with passion and soul. He 'feels' the blues with tenderness squeezing meaning into occasionally banal lyrics.

The solid rhythm section consists of the exceptional Andy Vere on bass, unassuming yet brilliant Mark Johnson on keyboards and rock steady Neil Cottrell holding the pace on drums. I'm always fascinated watching Neil as he plays drums left-handed and I can never get my head round how he does that.

Kicking off the first half, the staccato start of 'Riding with the King' leads in to a full blast "wall of sound" of driving excitement filled with soaring keyboard and thumping bass, followed smoothly by 'Somehow Somewhere Someway.'

A favourite of mine, Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'Pride and Joy', rocks along, but the mellow 'On A Bus To St Cloud' brings out a gentler more subtle form of "The Blues".

Their own compositions, 'Truth & Lies' - the title track from their first CD - 'Gonna Lose', 'Old Grey House', 'Pictures', 'Broken Heart Blues' and 'Sweeter than Wine' are dotted through the evening adding variety through unfamiliarity.

But it's their versions of the classics that are a must. The late Rory Gallagher's 'Laundromat', 'Wee Wee Babe', 'Parisienne Walkways' and Robert Johnson's great 'Crossroads'

Their website, www.crisisblues.com, lists them as "award winning". Fred explains: "We'd been formed for about six months and just starting to get regular gigs, (about June 1999) when we saw an advert in the Birmingham Mail and Sutton News promoting Fat Man Recording Studios in Canwell, near Sutton Coldfield.

The studio were also running a competition offering three prizes, the first being £1,000 studio time and CD promotion. We were lucky enough to win first prize, which led to the production of our first CD, "Truth & Lies".

Crisis Blues Band can be seen at regular gigs around the Midlands and parts of Wales - Llangollen is a big event for them - so if you have a chance, go and see them.

Seen any other good local bands around who are worth a mention? Leave a comment on the TV, Music etc section of our Message Board.

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