Tuesday 17th January 2023
The Beaverwood, Chislehurst, Kent
Walking down Beaverwood Road on a bleak, freezing cold night, the warmth of the music emanating in the distance from Chislehurst's Beaverwood Club, beckoned a welcome return on Tuesday to live music at this very popular Kent venue after its Christmas/New Year recess for site maintenance. Kicking off the first band night of 2023 saw the UK return of the critically acclaimed, Spanish Rock-Blues guitar queen, Susan Santos, not only a former European Awards winner for Best Performer, but also Best Album Female Award winner at the LA Music Critics Awards.
Indeed, this was the first time I had seen Susan, although she has of course been on our WRC radar for a few years now, particularly her 4-track EP 'The L.A. Sessions' released in November 2020, that followed hot on the heels of her aforementioned 2019 award winning album, 'No U Turn'. A fairly healthy Beaverwood faithful were warmly applauding her second number of the evening as I arrived, following 'The L. A. Sessions' opener, 'Dirty Honey'.
Complemented by Ollie Dixon on drums and Jools Kelly on bass guitar, Santos jokingly took the opportunity early doors of plugging her merchandise, before the resplendently Borsalino style hatted left hander took of her jacket, and then let rip on her turquoise coloured guitar on another from 'The L. A. Sessions', namely 'Fever'. And to equal her guitar prowess, Susan proved she also has an outstanding voice to match on 'Dusty Road' from 2016's 'Skin & Bones', before one of the stand outs of the night, the rockier/groovier Blues of 'Fool Me', again from 'No U Turn', with yet another super guitar solo.
'Somebody To Love', her first single from 'The L.A. Sessions', immediately brought to mind Samantha Fish, however the beauty of our current plethora of female Blues Rock guitarists is that they all bring something different to the live table. Santos is no exception, such as her versatility, once again demonstrated in her stomping cowboy boots on the riff of 'Slow Down', rockin' out with the extremely impressive Kelly. A spine tingling version of Ray Charles's 'Hard Times' was evidence, if you indeed needed it, of Susan's take on some pure, classic Blues, with a glorious vocal and guitar solo, ending, as she crouched down still playing her guitar, but with the volume off, to complement her a capella. Mesmerising. These three Stray Cats then closed the first set by serving up some Rockabilly, with the title track from 2016's 'Skin And (fish) Bones'.
In one of those you couldn't make it up moments, the word spread during the intermission that apparently, owing to a misunderstanding in the set timings, Jools Kelly had left for another gig down the road at The New Cross Inn! Awkward, not only in the sense that for the rest of the set they would be a two-piece, but this news would probably decimate my expected set list order before and after the break! Therefore, apologies if I have got anything wrong, given Susan does not have lists on Setlist Fm! Anyway, I understandably digress.
To be fair, drummer Ollie Dixon was outstanding before the break, and indeed wasn't at all phased being one man down in the second set as demonstrated on the opener. Despite not saying much between numbers, but understandably letting her Blues licks do all the talking, Susan did sweetly cut the ice by describing that tonight was like "playing in our house" with the "perfect audience", once again removing her jacket before Brenda Lee's aptly named and slower, 'I'm Sorry', contrasting nicely with the following stomping Delta slide guitar of 'Rattlesnake', again from 'Skin And Bones'.
And no, I'm certainly no guitar geek or into guitar porn (am I allowed to say that?), but there were no racks of guitars present tonight, as Santos used her trusty Fender all night, with her guitar pedals now going sort of Duane Eddy on Patsy Cline's classic, 'Walkin' After Midnight'. 'No U Turn's 'Shakin' All Over', originally the second song of the set, ended up being the penultimate in proceedings, as Santos got in one more 'L.A. Sessions' 7' inch vinyl sales pitch before closing out, although cries for more were deservedly rewarded with an encore.
Even without the sales pitch, the merchandise queue (including me) reflected what an enjoyable, albeit, eventful night it had indeed been, with Santos finally putting her jacket back on, strapping her trusty guitar behind her back, before heading back out into the cold night towards London Blues Week in Oxford Street, where this female guitar slinger would be supporting Band Of Friends at The 100 Club tomorrow night. All in all, a great beginning to 2023.