Wille & The Bandits + Mike Ross
March Wednesday 23rd + Friday 25th + Saturday 26th 2022
Elsewhere Margate + 100 Club London + Thekla Bristol
Following the release at the end of January of their fifth studio album, 'When The World Stood Still' on their independent label, Fat Toad Records, Cornwall-based Roots Rock band Wille & The Bandits continue their UK Tour, with support from Mike Ross, at Guildford's The Star tonight, and today we feature a montage of some of their UK gigs so far, including a review below and photos of Margate's Elsewhere from Simon Green, photos from London's 100 Club courtesy of Bruce Biege and Ivan De Mello, plus a video from Bristol's Thekla.
"Since the last time I saw the band in 2019, there has been a major personnel change in the Cornish combo, with long time cohorts Matt Brooks and Andrew Nauman departing and the three piece expanded to a four piece, with the addition of a keyboard player Matthew Gallagher and a new rhythm section of Harry Mackaill on bass and Matt Partridge on drums. As well as a new line-up there was also the no small matter of a new album to debut. So, all for all these reasons the anticipation levels were peaking in the red for this show, postponed twice because of you know what.
The venue, “Elsewhere” in Margate has an Indie vibe, which was perfect for this band, even if the audience on this occasion was a little bit more well seasoned than the venue’s usual crowd. The stage area is in a sepulchral subterranean setting, down some potentially hazardous stairs (especially after a few pints of “Roadie”). It’s not the standard venue, with a small vinyl record shop in the upper bar along with pool tables, a fact that Wille commented on during the gig, noting with amusement that the band’s latest release was not on offer (“It’s sold out” came back from the crowd). The venue has obviously decided to keep the electricity bill down with the dimmest of stage lighting with red being the primary colour. I’m getting the excuses in early, but it was a photographer’ nightmare.
If you haven’t seen the band before it’s probably simplest to describe them as a Roots, Blues infused outfit that is quite unlike any other Blues band out there. Wille Edwards, the principal creative force behind the band takes a left field approach to song writing. A lot of the traditional elements are there, searing slide licks that cry out Elmore James, howling vocals that blend together the sound of multiple Blues hollering vocalists from the black and white era of the Blues but overlaid with contemporary lyrics that are generally a mile away from the standard fare offered by fellow Blues travellers, featuring unusual song structures often with memorably big chorus hooks.
Watching them live is an immersive experience. On this night, the charismatic front man delivered his usual impassioned performance, seemingly shredding his voice and holding nothing back as he led the band through most of the powerful new album ‘When the World Stood Still’, as well as some favourites from the eclectic back catalogue.
The show kicked off with the album’s opening track ‘Caught in the Middle’ which, typical of this band, was like all the light and shade of an evening’s performance rolled into one song: an opening thunderous riff and pounding drums dropping away for the verse, with keyboards underpinning a sort of West country jive singing style that changed to a dreamy melodic vocal on the refrain “love is the only way, dream of better days, to never fight a war, to never need a cage…” before crashing into full overdrive for the “we’re caught in the middle” chorus. The instrumental section alternated between riffing and Spanish influenced single note runs. There’s a heck of a lot going on to maintain interest.
One of the noticeable differences between this and the old band is the extra dimension given to songs by having all four members contributing vocally. This was especially noticeable on a fan fave track from previous album ‘Paths’, ‘Keep it on the Down-Low’, adding power to what is already a massively catchy chorus.
The band collectively and individually were excellent. Wille Edwards varied his guitar playing from full out riffing and power chords, to burning slide licks and delicate acoustic picking on tracks like ‘Mammon’ from 2012’s ‘Breakfree’ album, as he alternated between his Les Paul, lap steel and acoustic. Matt Partridge is one of those high-energy drummers who like to hit the skins hard and gave a fully engaged performance. Matt Gallagher’s keyboards have added an extra depth to the sound, as has his guitar playing on a few numbers. Stand out moment for me from him was his gossamer like single note run at the start of the epic ‘Solid Ground’, reminiscent of the intro to the Doors’ ‘Riding on the Storm’. Harry Mackaill on bass was a calm presence, playing a fluid style that also kept the songs rooted to the beat.
When the band hit a groove on a superb song like ‘Good Stuff’, with its infectiously jaunty riff, there aren’t really many bands that can come close to them. Songs like these sound great on the recorded version but really go somewhere else live. This is one of those rare moments when you get to see a band that has that much faith in their new music that they play a new album almost in its entirety. I have the feeling that the combined musical force of this group will continue to add new facets to familiar Bandits’ songs as they continue to build momentum. This is a must-see live band."