|Oli Brown Band/Chris Buck & The Big Horns - Ebbw Vale, The Steelhouse - 27th April 2012|
|Written by Johnny H|
|Friday, 04 May 2012 05:01|
I one hundred percent have the power of social media to thank for me being stood here in the Steelhouse tonight. Yup, if an old mate of Uber Rock's hadn't dropped yours truly a very direct kick up the arse via a certain social networking site telling me to get myself along to this event to experience the delights of tonight's headlining act, I guess right now I'd have been sat in the house listening to music instead watching it live. So entering the venue in plenty of time to see local guitar whiz kid Chris Buck I can only hazard a guess that the same individual has also been working his magic on many others here too as the place is already about three quarters full, which is no mean feat for The Steelhouse given the tough economic times we all find ourselves in right now.
In saying that the people who follow the blues rock genre (and I'm not one of them in case you can't tell) are a tough bunch who do tend to operate on a very loyal grass roots level, more prone perhaps to be waxing lyrically to one another about how great Virgil & The Accelerators are live rather than boasting to their drinking buddies about the ticket they have to see a blues guitar dot playing far off in the distance in an enormodome somewhere. This is where blues music is still very much alive and well, and as one of The Steelhouse founding fathers would oh so eloquently put it later on in the evening - "this is music for people who know the difference".
With more than just a smattering of the more regular rock/metal crowd The Steelhouse now attracts on a monthly basis all dotted around the audience, I'm guessing they are all here for the aforementioned Welsh guitar hotshot Chris Buck to get the blues party started. Many will no doubt have previously experienced his talents on the six strings as part of the Tom Hollister Trio (TH3) a band name synonymous with the rise of The Steelhouse on the local live scene over the last year or so. Tonight stepping out into the spotlight as bandleader Chris is playing what appears to be one of his first shows with his all new four/five piece band The Big Horns (TH3 now sadly no more), and having already been badged as a Slash for the next generation by many in the mainstream media, this is in fact my first encounter with the dreadlocked wunderkind and I'm keen to see what he has to offer.
Hitting the stage in a suitably relaxed manner, The Big Horns initially come across as something closely resembling a tight but loose four piece blues jam band, things do then suddenly spring into life with the addition of vocalist Alexander John for their second tune 'Muddy Waters'. Now this is more like it, things immediately sound more focussed with the husky vocals of John subtly complementing the slick telecaster licks of Buck, and this is something that continues into the next tune 'It Hurts Me Too', which to my ears at least is pitch perfect whisky soaked blues of the highest order.
Sadly as a result of this, on this showing at least, I just can't see what all the fuss is about Chris Buck, he's good at what he does, and he's obviously full of confidence, but if Mick Wall wants a serious answer to his "Have you heard a better guitarist than this in the last 10 years?" Let's just say I didn't have to look too far for the answer.
With the sound of Muddy Waters' signature tune 'Manish Boy' ringing out from the P.A. the waif like figure of Oli Brown cuts a sharp dressed silhouette through the dry ice centre stage, Telecaster hanging just at the right height for him to be immediately considered cool. To his immediate right and left, drummer Wayne Proctor and bassist Scott Barnes take up their positions and from the collective smiles plastered on their faces you immediately get the sense that these guys are ready to have some fun with yet another audience in the name of their just released album 'Here I Am'.
Now I've got a confession to make at this point, because before tonight I'd not actually heard a full album by Oli and his band, but what I had heard whilst doing some pre gig swotting immediately filled me with the confidence that Oli was right up there with the likes of Scott McKeon and Philip Sayce in the latest list of red hot blues guitarist/singers plying their wares on the UK gig circuit. And just like my cyber chum had so rightly pointed out to me a week or so previous, I'd have been a total idiot to have not taken a chance on going to see such a raw talent playing my local rock club.
So bearing in mind my knowledge of Oli Brown song titles isn't going to be that fantastic, what immediately has me scribbling into my review pad about the joyous racket that is unfolding in front of me is the fact that 1) Oli plays with a thumb pick and 2) he somehow makes a Telecaster sound a hell of a lot like a Stratocaster, so much so it isn't until I do finally recognise the evening's second song 'Thinking About Her' that I remember it's actually Oli's voice that I'm most here to witness. Believe me this kid (he is still only 21 after all) can sing, and it is on tracks like the aforementioned 'Thinking About Her that in particular he reminds me of the rather awesome Jarle Bernhoft. Something even my camera-clicking partner in crime (and uber Bernhoft fan) stuck somewhere down the front cannot dispute.
Pulling out songs from his award winning 2011 album 'Head I Win Tails You Lose' like 'Evil Soul' and 'Keeping My Options Open' also illustrates the frontman/guitarist's ability to funk it up with the best of them, and it isn't long before our man behind the lens is complaining of clammy hands, not because of the stage lights you understand, but because of the fine collection of ladies he has assembled around him all swinging their pants in the general direction of the power trio playing the blues on The Steelhouse stage. Having delivered us some blues and then some funk Oli then turns his attentions to some good old fashioned heavy rock with the title track from his latest album 'Here I Am', and here in the live setting this fine tune actually comes over a bit more Black Crowesy, albeit thankfully minus the dungarees, beards and 20 minute fret wankouts.
That's not to say that Oli's isn't prone to showing off his talents on the fretboard though, nah he's a guitarist for fucks sake, you know he's going to do just that, it's just he keeps things nice and tight, and where I was bored stupid when I witnessed a certain world renowned hard rock band in this very venue late last year, it is to Oli and his band's credit that | never once get the chance to drift off during their 90 odd minutes on stage. In fact when it comes to keeping me engaged the easiest thing to do is drop a Donny Hathaway cover in your set, and here tonight Oli not only plays 'I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know' (from Donny's immense 'Extension Of A Man album') but he also goes some way to making it all his own, something that I honestly never ever thought I would write in a music review outside of perhaps a Glenn Hughes cover of the great man's work still yet to be recorded.
With the purr of Oli's amp (thanks to a dodgy lead) growing more ferocious with each subsequent tune it'll take something pretty damn special to top that Hathaway in the Valleys, and this eventually comes during the first encore where the Mario Kempes of blues guitar finally decides to come out and meet his people as he goes walkabout during an extended singalong version of Blackstreet's 'No Diggity'. The girls go crazy, the band goes crazy, my social networking pal goes crazy (for the cameras), hell even I go crazy, as Oli Brown, Wayne Proctor and Scott Barnes truly demolish what is left of Ebbw Vale still left standing, before the Telecaster then rings out some of it's final strangled notes during a watertight version of 'Stone Cold (Roxanne)' from Oli's debut album 'Open Road'.
Look if I can go to an Oli Brown Band gig totally neutral and come away loaded up with merch from the startling array on offer in the foyer, so can you, or at the very least for the more sceptical among you can at least check out the band's latest album 'Here I Am' because it truly is a belter of a blues rock record.
The Steelhouse 1 (Oli Brown 90m) - Queen Elizabeth II 0
LOVE IT LIVE!
Photos by Russell Prothero http://www.russellprothero.co.uk/
Oli Brown/Chris Buck poster art courtesy of Lucy Alford.
To pick up your copy of 'Here I Am' - CLICK HERE