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Laurence Jones + Half Moon Panic

Saturday 28th January 2023

Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks

This Saturday night gig turned out to be a bit of a trip down memory lane as queuing in the cold outside the venue I realised that the office in Sevenoaks I used to pop into a couple of times a week about thirty years back was exactly where the extension to the theatre had been built. Not exactly fascinating but food for thought, especially when musing that headliner Laurence Jones hadn’t been born when I started there, which was a little sobering. I hadn’t been to the venue before so it was interesting the get the lay of the land, in this case the low level stage offered an intimate experience for the audience, which was a healthy size and, a pleasant surprise, made up of a wide variety of age groups.

Support act, Half Moon Panic, a trio consisting of Gerard Jacques on bass and lead vocals, Taj Mian on lead guitar and James Dixon on drums. To be honest, having had a quick listen their amusingly titled recent album, ‘Welcome to the Small Time’, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect but happily discovered that some of the areas that were not as strong on the album, such as the vocals and the depth of the songs were more than compensated by some strong musicianship. The group focused on songs from Small Time, playing ‘Hold Tight’, ‘Survival’, ‘Chasing the Sun’, ‘New Blues’ and ‘Rollin’ On’, which all featured extended arrangements and some nice guitar work. The vocals of Gerard Jacques were more effective in a live setting and he provided a strong focal point, looking like Sting’s slightly older brother. It was an enjoyable set with the band combining a bit of a New Wave vibe with song arrangements that had more than a hint of a Prog influence.

As a photographer, the lighting typically left a lot to be desired, which had nothing to do with the quality of the rig, which looked quite sophisticated, but the usual unimaginative thought that wan red lighting reminiscent of a seedy nightclub from the 1950s would create just the right ambience. After queuing for a pint before Laurence Jones came on (the bar arrangements could be improved to say the least, but the staff were very pleasant. Needless to say that any thirst felt when heading to the bar got a lot worse before being quenched) I did try and ask for something different from the soundman. He seemed quite obliging up till the point I accidentally knocked someone’s full pint over his cables which not only resulted in another tiresome queue for the bar but even worse lighting thereafter.

None of this really mattered as Laurence Jones came out and, also playing as part of a trio, performed a blistering set. Having seen him a few times, I’ve come to the conclusion that he is about as good a guitarist as anyone you’ll likely be going to see anytime soon. His dexterous fluidity was all part of a high energy performance that had him alternating riffing, playing chunky chords and letting rip on a series of flowing solos.

Opening with the punchy ‘What’s It Going To Be’ from the 2015 album of the same name, the band were cooking immediately and went straight into two numbers from his recent album ‘Destination Unknown’, ‘Anywhere With Me’ and ‘In Too Deep’ both at the rockier end of Blues Rock. By contrast, every note during his performance of the title track of his debut album ‘Thunder In The Sky’ including an absolutely stunning, extended solo was slow, classic Blues at its very best.

He’s also a compelling vocalist and rather than just rely on his virtuoso musicianship he has a very engaging stage presence, so, the complete package! He was ably supported by regular bassist Jack Timmis and, what I think must have been a stand in drummer who’s name I didn’t catch, but who was not only an excellent player, particularly during a wild solo, but also a bit of a character. Other standout songs were old favourite ‘Stop Moving The House’, a speedy boogie, and closing number ‘Purple Haze’, a blistering version that Jimi would have approved of. A faultless performance.

Simon Green

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