Monday 18th July
Bulls Head, Barnes, London
A beautiful Summer's evening setting of The Bulls Head by the Thames in Barnes, London, welcomed Toronto based Blues guitarist, singer and songwriter Chris Antonik last Monday. Halfway through his debut UK tour, an intimate setting contrasted with Chris's appearance at The Upton Blues Festival at the weekend, with his band consisting of Ben Fisher (guitar), Mark Wotherspoon (drums) and Guenther Kapelle (bass). A rising star of the vibrant Canadian Blues scene, his self-titled debut album was nominated for Best New Artist in 2011 at Canada's Maple Blues Awards and in 2013, his critically acclaimed second album 'Better For You' reached number 1 in the Canadian Blues FM Radio charts.
Focussing understandably on the undoubted strength of both the US and Canadian Blues market, good UK music press coverage in the last couple of years - had forced Antonik's hand to test the muddy waters, and hopefully take advantage of, the growing, receptive UK Blues Rock scene - despite the financial reality of touring as an independent artist. Indeed Blues In Britain's John Mitchell and his wife, who were in the audience, were accommodating Chris on this tour. Delving into 'Roll With It' and 'More To Give' from his debut album for openers, Chris then threw in his first cover of the evening - Charles Segar and Willie Broonzy's standard 'Key To The Highway' followed by the first of his songs from his second album 'Better For You' - 'Come From A Good Place'. 'King Of Infidelity' - again from his debut album - rubber-stamped his blend of innovative, thoughtful songwriting with stunning Blues guitar work - written at the time of Antonik's transformation from a club guitarist to a songwriter - allowing his creative juices to acknowledge the influences of Dylan, Cale and compatriot Cohen.
Following Robert Johnson's 'Stones In My Passway', the first new song 'Slip In The Rain' from his forthcoming album, due for release in around April 2017 - took feeding off fellow guitarist Ben Fisher to another level. Believe it or not Ben from Essex hooked up with Chris on Myspace in 2010 exchanging song riffs and lyrics which led not only to a number of songs being written for 'BFY' but also for the said new album. The undoubted power of the internet and the shift in the music industry was very apparent as the guitars of both Antonik and Fisher sweetly jousted - despite the fact that this tour was only the second time they had met in person. You couldn't make it up. Another off the new album 'New Religion' was sandwiched in between two covers - another Blues standard - Jimmy Cox's 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out' plus Antonik's readily admitted main British Blues influence - Clapton (and Bobby Whitlock's) Derek & The Dominoes 'Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad' which ended the first set.
Antonik kept up the heat as he opened the second set with 'I Know' another from the new album. "Classy" was how one punter summed up Chris on the night - and despite one of that said intimate crowd suggesting that Chris remove his jacket because of the temperature - Antonik maintained his standards - not only refusing to remove said jacket - but also blasting out two crackers from 'BFY' namely 'Shake Me Down' and 'Long Way To Go'. Billy Myles' 'Have You Ever Loved A Woman' preceded 'Forgiveness Is Free' - the irony - as Antonik admitted before the gig - that despite the excitement and ambition of his new album with it's keyboards, string section and horns - this tour, with its financial constraints has actually been inspiring with Ben's extra guitar adding a new layer and direction to the band. No 'Tell Me What You Need' (a track that Paul Jones recently played on his Radio 2 show) nor 'Nothing I Can Do' (they ran out of time) from 'BFY' - although there was time for the title track which gave a deserved solo opportunity for both Wotherspoon (also from Essex) and Kapelle (also from Toronto and tour driver) to show their value. All in all a great set and all round nice guy. Antonik's promise of going "outside the lines" on his new album, possibly incorporating Prog Rock, Folk, Jazz, funky drumbeats and different recording techniques - should make things very interesting - particularly on tonight's evidence.