Retroville at the Magic Lantern
It was nearly a year ago (January 28th 2018) that I reported in the pages of "Hot Music Live" that Holly Hewitt & David Page of Retroville were developing their Hounds blues band to create a fuller sound beyond their duo lineup. Last night they delivered a stunning set in the Magic Lantern in what might be described as a hybrid identity as nominally an expanded lineup Retroville with the addition of a rhythm section of Craig Rhind & John Webber, yet the gig, given the personnel & much of the setlist, might equally reasonable have been a Hounds concert (or indeed a ‘Beloved Hounds' one to use a name they had toyed with at one time & one I'm slightly disappointed they put aside).
You may have seen the video they shot in the venue last year (https://www.facebook.com/welcometoretroville/videos/724001991291473/) so you'll know how well they fit into it both visually & sonically. Playing to a capacity (sold out) crowd, the intimacy suited the material & Holly's soulful delivery: each audience member must have felt she was singing directly to them. Even so, I salute their sound engineering: for a full blues band it couldn't have been easy suiting volumes to the space without compromising performance: Craig told me he had his bass amp as low as it could be set yet it was still the loudest gig I've heard down there (and I'm certainly not complaining: I was right up by one speaker so might have expected it to be over loud & biased towards only part of the mix, yet it was not so).
The typically eclectic setlist as I say retained many favourites from the duo format Retroville (including the audience participation "Minnie the Moocher": always a highlight) yet also added many Hounds ones & as usual featured quite a few from the encyclopaedic knowledge of the band members which might have been less known to the crowd: a real ear opener was one slotted in second drop (and not on the printed setlist): "Muddy Water": apparently the most complex to play it also was a real statement of intent showcasing the great strength of Holly's vocal abilities as well as the instrumental prowess of the band.
Another key part of the evening was a magical moment in the second set when "Voodoo Mama" seemed to catalyse something within the band (possibly the power of voodoo itself I wonder) it and they suddenly erupted into a yet higher gear and roared through the rest of their songs with a clear joy & abandon. I haven't heard Dave "Master of the Telecaster" Page's guitar snarl like that & clearly he relished the freedom the support of a full band gave his playing: indeed a sense of liberation was palpable all evening, something band members confirmed after the gig.
This band is really coming into its own (check out the gigs they are getting & the company they are keeping on their website) & the potential of the venue is being picked up more & more: I commend both to you.
Retroville at Tunehouse at the Townhouse
The law of averages suggests that many "Hot Music Live" readers will have seen & heard Holly Hewitt (vocals) & David Page (guitar & vocals) perform though probably not necessarily under their own names, but instead as part of one or more of their myriad projects. So many are these and so dynamic (new ones are added & each one itself evolves: nothing is static let alone complacent in their world), that in order to make this review as accurate as the band & readers deserve, I sat down with them both just to get my bearings on where they are as of January 2018.
Tonight, they were performing as "Retroville" at "Tunehouse at the Townhouse" (a second great gig of the year in this series after last week's superb South Town performance kicked off 2018). "Retroville" is the intended counterpoint to their "Gloria Sunset" set: the latter being orientated (in theory) around earlier, jazzier, swing type material & the former within a later set of periods including rock etc. In fact even this distinction is no more than an indicative guide to what you might hear: "eclectic" barely does justice to a set which encompasses Cab Calloway, Guns N' Roses (a cracking country version of "Sweet Child o'Mine") via Billie Holliday, Robert Palmer, Aretha Franklin and many others: no two consecutive songs belonging to any one genre or style: in fact many songs have been rearranged into other styles from their original one anyway. To cap that, the band have decided to move away from using backing tracks (each lovingly constructed by David in his home studio rather than purchased) to a fully "no safety net" set. With their skills, this is an obvious move which I'm looking forward to & tonight a most poignant version of "The Tennessee Waltz" gave us an inkling of their new direction.
Holly & David were also founder members of local country supergroup "Honky Tonk Rose" with such luminaries as Horace Panter & Malc Evans (though pressure of their other work has led to their moving on from this band recently) and they also have a blues band the "Hounds Blues Band" with DTs bass master Craig Rhind joining them to create a trio lineup. Add to that their separate work performing for residents in care homes (and listening to them talk about this side of what they do really tells you all your need to know about their personal & musical values) and Holly's recent work guesting with the "Dirt Road Blues Band" supergroup (Steve Walwyn, Sir Horace again & Ted Duggan plus Patricia Moore, Mark Feltham & Holly as guests) and you begin to get a feel for how incredibly active they are: and that is not even taking account of their substantial work for private parties & functions (as "Gloria Sunset" outstripping their public gigs) and retro events such as 40s nights & "Peaky Blinders" themed parties.
As noted above, they roam through their favourite songs at will, keeping the set fresh & audience engaged with constant shifts of tone & style. They believe strongly in playing songs likely to be less familiar to audiences, whether by less well known names (such as "If It Hadn't Been For Love" by Chris Stapleton) or by avoiding the cover band staples of famous artists in favour of more obscure numbers. Soliciting audience participation must be a reasonably risky strategy in any event, especially when it descends (ascends?) into playful tongue twisters, but tonight's crowd certainly played their honourable part in "Minnie the Moocher": or at least as far as anyone could be reasonably expected to go. I urge you to check Holly & David out in at least one of their guises & preferably the full set to get the most complete picture of all they are so capable of.
Next stop? Apehangers on 10th February