Tuesday 16th January
The Half Moon, Putney, London
Last Tuesday at Putney's Half Moon in London saw the debut of 2016 WRC Best Blues Rock award winner Sari Schorr's new band line-up including Ash Wilson (guitar/vocals), Bob Fridzema (ex-King King) on keyboards, Mat Beable (ex-Stevie Nimmo Band) on bass guitar and Roy Martin (ex-Connie Lush Band/Modern English) on drums. We last saw Sari excellently supporting Walter Trout at London's Under The Bridge in October last year and little did those present that night imagine the extraordinary turn of events that would see her entire band replaced just three months later. This was the first night of a five date UK tour that finishes at The Citadel St. Helens tonight. Schorr initially gained prominence throughout the Blues world after several years of touring the US and Europe with Blues legend Joe Louis Walker and renowned guitarist Popa Chubby. Sari is described by many Blues pundits as a modern-day hybrid of Janis Joplin and Tina Turner - a red-hot Blues mama who radiates emotional intensity, connects with and inspires her audiences.
New Yorker Schorr was spotted at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis by producer Mike Vernon who ultimately produced her critically acclaimed 2016 debut album 'A Force of Nature' which delivered hard-driving Blues-Rock, influenced by the late '60's British Blues movement and mixed Blues, Rock and Soul with concrete melodies and poetic lyrics to striking effect. Still on the crest of a wave following 'AFON', to be fair, Sari's new line-up was worth a ticket alone. Indeed we had seen the impressive Wilson supporting Sari and her Engine Room at a newly refurbished Borderline just under a year ago and more recently we caught the magic keys of Fridzema when he played with Joanne Shaw Taylor at The Royal Festival Hall just a couple of months ago.
Despite it being a bitterly cold evening - there was a healthy crowd eagerly awaiting in anticipation - with support from Half Moon favourite Chris Mossop duly warming up the audience with his acoustic guitar and anecdotes. But whose idea was it to have seating down at the front of the stage? Doh! Anyway, Martin's newly monogrammed Sari Schorr drum kit shone out like a beacon as the band made their way on to the stage - unbelievably the word being that the guys had only physically all got together for the first time yesterday! They promised new songs from their all-important sophomore album and they duly delivered with their superb opener 'Revolution' - Ash easing himself in with a cool guitar solo and Schorr's awesome vocals ticking all the right boxes following a conversation I had with some Sari virgins in the bar earlier. It was then three in a row from 'AFON' - Schorr's vocal on the beautifully crafted 'Damn The Reason', featuring Fridzema's keyboards and another Wilson guitar solo - was followed by chuckles from the audience at Sari's throwaway line that the band "had only met yesterday" (which was in fact of course true) before the opening groovy rhythm guitar of Wilson on 'Cat And Mouse' which saw both Ash and Bob excelling again - and finally with Wilson's rockin' solo and Fridzema's keys on 'Demolition Man', again forcefully sung and written by Schorr.
'Ready For Lurve' another from the already underway new album, showcased the quality of the new material, indeed the strength of the musicians and the talents of the Manhattan Records production team, featuring executive producer Mike Vernon again, plus an expanded team of producer Wayne (King King) Proctor and Steve Wright, could make this something very special. Another quartet from 'AFON' was then classily dispatched. The mellow and groovy, 'Oklohoma', with its mean fusional outro jam with Fridzema's keys, another Wilson guitar solo and of course Schorr's excellent lyrical diction and then Lead Belly's 'Black Betty' - with its unique arrangement and Wilson's cajun guitar opening and Schorr's vocal delivery - ultimately resulting in a very powerful version of this classic. A big shout out at this point to Amber (who aptly described 'Black Betty' as gorgeous) and her two friends who not only danced the night away in defiance to those at the front in the cheap seats but also kept the WRC contingent entertained! 'Ordinary Life' (which is the last track on 'AFON') was a measure of Schorr's versatility, with Fridzema's beautiful keyboard intro, proving there was nothing ordinary about this ballad - the crystal clarity of Schorr's vocals all for everyone to see and hear - indeed lighters were at the ready - before the 'AFON' quintet was completed with the stand-out on the album - the melody and harmonics of 'Kiss Me' - which not only saw both Friedzema and Wilson revelling in a riff/chorus/solo that rocks out big time, but once again gave Sari the opportunity to sing the line about her beloved Pit Bulls!
Schorr is a great vocalist with a strong piercing sound, as she danced around the front of stage with the smiles of a woman at one with her music and her voice. It’s sometimes quiet and beautiful, sometimes powerful and strong, but always enthralling. You can imagine her conquering any music genre that she might choose – Rock, Blues, Opera, Soul. In short, a classic. She admits lately to have worked even harder on her songwriting, digging deeper and deeper into lyrics and melodies. The result is what she believe's is some of her best work to date and that was borne out on the final newbie of the evening 'Maybe I'm Fooling'. At this juncture it is opportune to praise the other new kids on the block, namely the baby faced peak capped Beable on bass plus Martin on drums - although drummer Neal Wilkinson, whose work credits include Van Morrison, James Morrison, Paul McCartney, Ray Charles and Annie Lennox, features on the album.
They duly finished the set with a holy trinity from 'AFON' - Wilson doffing his cap (if he had one) to previous Engine Room and Robert Plant guitarist Innes Sibbun, with his killer guitar on their staple cover of Led Zeppelin’s 'Rock and Roll', then the first track off the album 'Ain't Got Not Money' - Wilson's Gary Moore reminiscent style intro with New Yorker Schorr's powerful earthy vocal testing the Half Moon sound system, and finally the clunky opening riff of 'Aunt Hazel' - based on urban slang for heroin - resulted in both Bob and Ash letting us have it with both barrels on this rocker as Sari also took the opportunity to introduced her band to loud applause. "Thank you so much." "Gold bless you" said Sari genuinely to a delighted crowd - some who even got out of their seats! Despite losing her 'Engine Room', The First Lady Of The Blues new line-up (and what a lovely lady she is) is ticking over very nicely thank you - do not miss them when they tour again and keep an eye out for the release of that second album.
AJ (Photos courtesy of Eric Duvet, Richard Bolwell and Edyta Krzesak)