The Dirt Road Band supported by The Session & The Della GrantsReview
Dirt Road Band gigs tend to be special affairs (please pardon the slight reference dropped in there): despite the fact that they are now gigging both internationally (they were playing in Spain last week) and regularly, which was certainly not the aim when they first came together (see my chat with Steve in the magazine before the Godiva Festival), they still want to make performances, especially on home turf a real event.
Therefore last night's gig at Coventry's Standard-Triumph Club was very carefully put together with people they wanted to play with: both support bands (The Session and The Della Grants) and guest performers with themselves: Holly Hewitt, Bob Jackson & Martin Cure. One imagines the queue of those willing & anxious to play with them is a pretty long one.
Despite their individual fame (and last night I had the pleasure of congratulating Horace on having a Number One Single: "Friday Night Saturday Morning" by The Specials topping the current vinyl sales) and growing collective renown, the band are very committed to their local area & maintain very strong grassroots links: I doubt if there was a person in the capacity audience unknown to one or more band members. Consequently the decision to invite The Session to support them was hardly surprising.
It's tricky to pass comment on this band so soon after reviewing their Covtember set. One interesting aspect is that they do seem to be keen at the moment of building a core set along the lines of what I reported in September: not particularly favouring recent material to the exclusion of older songs, but offering a career wide perspective. To that end, we got a selection somewhat similar to last time, which was nice, with tracks long absent from setlists being reinstated and re-enjoyed.
I suppose when people think of The Session, they think of a band with heart, but there is a lot of reflection going on there too. Chatting with Dean beforehand, he was talking about his concept for the current setlist: part of which was that he sees it as an organic whole at the moment and the thought of trimming it down for a limited support slot was so troubling that they went on ten minutes early so they could avoid the painful choice of what to drop. Which I found most interesting.
Live, again there were a few differences: one relatively significant, the other perhaps more my judgement. In the room they played last night, the acoustics were markedly different to those of The Tin where I last saw them & it was noticeable how, despite sound mixing being absolutely fine on both occasions, on this one I could pick out the contributions of individual elements, both vocal & instrumental, more easily.
The other thing is that the band clearly are not just relishing the material, but also each other: there is such a joy in playing which is evident on stage & which is communicated to the audience. The introduction of lead guitarist Mark Boorman a year ago (it was his anniversary gig) has changed their style in the subtle way The Session's sound has always evolved after a quarter of a century, and it seems to be to one where they all feel not just happy but refreshed.
Leicester based The Della Grants are a band Steve in particular has mentioned to me on a number of occasions, though this is the first time I'd caught them live. A five piece with two guitarists (one of whom also switched to harmonica), keyboards, drums & bass, their sound is "blues & Americana based" in their own words: an accurate description as it wasn't tied to any specific genre or sub-genre but roamed fairly freely & above all with a high amount of energy which I suspect is a large part of their attraction to Steve & the band.
Like The Session, they took from across their own body of work, including bringing the song "Fairground Soul" back into the set after half a dozen years at the express request of DRB manager Alan Joseph.
What can I say about the DRB themselves? Once again, this was a band who were clearly having a whale of a time playing with each other: quite as much as the audience. If the assemblage of the band was something of an act of serendipity, you can tell the great pleasure they are taking in the opportunity to both make it a long term affair & to develop what they are doing.
A few brief thoughts to begin with.
Firstly, I completely lost count of the songs played: there were a lot but in the moment of enjoying each, jotting them down wasn't a priority I'm afraid. There may have been an element of time travel technology involved in how they did this: though there was no grandstanding extended soloing (they have far too much taste for that), the nature of the material called for some teasing out beyond the standard three minutes in many cases, yet my watch didn't indicate an abnormally long set….. most perplexing.
Secondly, it's a pleasure to watch such skill at play: especially when it's done with such apparent ease. You'll go a long time before you see musicians of this calibre needing such little equipment: it really is far more the technique with them. Steve required three guitars only because certain songs needed different approaches: he used The Plank, his customised metal bodied slide instrument and a Burns Flyte as necessary. Horace was content with a Thunderbird throughout & as for Ted, when did I last see such a simple kit? It's what they do with them which counts folks….
The in DRB stands for "Band" and at some stage in their history there was an additional one for "Blues" but that's gone as the repertoire is broader: journeying through personal interests & history, though returning to touch base with the blues every so often. I'd go with R&B for a general brand descriptor.
As you might expect, the songs are not the over-played ones of bar bands (though the communal encores did relax that a bit) but introduce us to less abused pieces: so we open with Chuck Berry but it's "Tulane" not "Johnny B Goode". Other tracks by well known composers are not necessarily played in slavish copies of the originals & there are originals dotted in there, though not (for some reason) announced as such.
Many tracks have the high energy you'd expect from the players, but others are really slow burners. Many more slow down & then roar into something more furious: one of the delights is seeing & hearing the tightness of the band in these searing transitions.
Part of their commitment to their guests & the diversity of the set is how those joining them do so to perform songs from their own repertoires and not the DRB's. Clearly to get three other singers involved (one being a female one) plus Bob's keyboards adds still further dimensions to an already rich selection.
Of the many famous bands which Steve, Ted, Bob & Martin have been part of, Red on Red is perhaps not one of the best remembered (they did in fact, as Steve reminded us "get on the telly" as proved by this unfortunately far from wonderful clip I found for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n00RxsKAMak) but apparently this evening marked the first time since (virtually forty years ago) the four had shared a stage since. Although containing many of the members of Chevy, this band seemed to veer towards the New Wave end of the rock spectrum and so a little glimpse of their sound added still more variety.
As noted, the band and all three guests reconvened at the end to inform us that their mojo was working (which I'd guessed much earlier in the evening) and to take us for a trip on Route 66 before I personally went for the A45.
Finally, huge thanks to John Coles for offering us use of his superb photos.