Thursday 20th February 2020
Original Ealing Club, London
When I worked in Ealing, a few years ago, I must have passed the dingy stairwell at least a thousand times of what is the most important venue in British R&B and not even known it was there, so inconspicuous it is. The Red Room, formerly known as The Ealing Club, as legend would have it, is the place that the Rolling Stones had formed and the place where dozens of mega-famous Rock musicians cut their teeth (Alex Korner, Cyril Davies, Cream, Graham Bond, to name but a few, apparently even David Bowie visited on one occasion). In fact, Ealing, or more accurately nearby Hanwell, was the site of the original Marshall Amp shop and the birth place of the drummer of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mitch Mitchell.
The bill tonight was an exciting blend of Blues-scene stalwarts: the Paul Cook Blues band, Emma Wilson and Robert Hokum; relative newcomers in Half Moon Panic; and Chicago grandee Jim Kahr headlining. Paul Cook’s Band pretty much hold these monthly revues together as they warmed up the evening with some Blues standards, with delightful harmonica playing from Dave Hallam.
Half Moon Panic have only been together eighteen months but are accomplished musicians in their own right and gel very well. The vocalist Gerard Jacques managed to overcome the mangled tuning of the microphone on their stirring rendition of ‘Fortunate Son’; the microphone adding an almost tape-slap effect that made it sound like a studio recording from the sixties. Nights are always special when accidents happen like these.
Emma Wilson, who hails from Teesside, provides a soulful turn with series of covers including songs from Etta James and Aretha Franklin. The show-stopper is her take on 'Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone' with a melancholic feel which betrayed a genuine empathy, perfectly channeling Bill Withers.
Robert Hokum changes the mood with his light tone and regales the crowd with his tales of life on the London Blues circuit. 'Why the Hell was I not Born Rich?' was followed by a offer to shower the stage with gold coins from a member of the audience, which prompted another anecdote about a one-time gig where a Blues legend received a coin from an enthusiastic fan which he immediately bit into and then threw away prompting Robert to launch into the number 'Cash is Trash'.
Onto the main-man himself, Jim Kahr, who’s playing was simply magnificent, with more Soul in his finger-tips then many lesser Blues guitarists have in their entire bodies (rumour has it he played with John Lee Hooker at his peak). He invited Emma Wilson back to accompany him on a jam about his homeplace, Chicago, which quickly morphed into a paean to Ealing, and then all the musicians on the bill gathered and joined in for the rousing finale.
Which leaves me with a quick note about Ealing and the documentary ‘Suburban Steps to Rockland’: I was fortunate enough to bump into one of the producer’s Alistair Young, and he discussed the making of it and some of the famous collaborators that they interviewed (Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and a whole host). So I urge you, if you have at least a small inkling of the history of R&B in the UK and more the foundations of the 60's and 70's Rock boom, to beg, steal, borrow or better still buy the documentary ‘Suburban Steps to Rockland: The Story of the Ealing Club' on DVD.
Ivan De Mello