I have been to three gigs in the past week - Richard Thompson last night at the Festival Hall, Laura Cantrell last week at the Water Rats, and in between the far-famed Catalina Blues Band in the Hare, a fine public house in Cambridge Heath Road (and not to be confused with Vejer, where Lord Roper has his summer residence).
Richard Thompson was in fine form as always, and backed by a top-notch band. Special mention should go to Pete Zorn for his astonishing versatility on guitar, mandolin, lute, flute (both normal and Moroccan nose varieties), gamelan, gimbri, spoons, kazoo, mbira, zither, ocarina and all four types of saxaphone. I had never expected to hear a version of "I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight" that featured the bass sax as a rhythm instrument, but it worked very well.
We got two sets off Tommo and the gang, the first a selection of songs from his current album "Dream Attic" (most of which I enjoyed more than the album versions) and the second from all stages of his solo career, kicking off with "The Angels Took My Racehorse Away" from his debut solo album "Henry The Human Fly". One of the many highlights was a blistering rendition of "Tear Stained Letter" featuring his grandson Zack on guitar, who has clearly inherited some of his grandad's talent.
Here is the song they started the encores with.
"Take Care The Road You Choose" - Richard Thompson (from "Live Warrior", 2009)
I find it slightly difficult to tell how good the Laura Cantrell gig was. I thought she sounded pretty good but we didn't see a thing because the Water Rats is such a poorly designed venue. There is a fairly spacious bar which leads, through a narrow doorway, into a back room where the stage is. When someone as popular as Laura is playing, you have a choice of getting there as soon as the doors open two hours before the headliner comes on and getting down the front, knowing that you will never be able to get to the bar or the toilets, or getting there at a normal time and not seeing a thing. Even though Mr F and I got there an hour before Laura came on, we ended up having to sit in the bar and listen through the door.
One thing we learnt was that Laura has a new album coming out in a few months. Called "Kitty Wells' Dresses", it consists of Kitty covers plus the title track, which is the only original. Here is a demo version of that song, put out last year on Radio Free Song Club, an excellent site which regularly showcases new songs by the likes of Laura, Victoria Williams, Freedy Johnston and Peter Blegvad.
"Kitty Wells' Dresses" - Laura Cantrell
In between those two gigs, Mr F and I had an unexpected bonus when we popped into the Hare for a pint on Saturday night only to discover that the Catalina Blues Band were playing. While, in the words of the miserable old bugger I was standing next to (not Mr F - the other side), they were "not exactly Jeff Beck", I thought they were pretty good for a band you can see for free in the local. Their repertoire mainly consisted of old blues standards, including this one.
"Dust My Broom" - Elmore James
Laura Cantrell was supported by James Walbourne, who has previously played with the likes of the Pretenders, the Pernice Brothers and Jerry Lee Lewis and whose first album "The Hill" has just come out. Here he is performing the title track.
James is from Muswell Hill. So were this lot. James isn't bad, but I know who I prefer.