Wily Bo Walker + The Vampirettes
Friday 8th April 2022
Fiddler's Elbow, Camden, London
Hands up all of you that love a proper Rock pub? Who remembers the days of seeing The Stranglers at The Nashville, Thin Lizzy at The Greyhound or seeing The Hamsters at The Woodman? Indeed, it was great to be back at Camden's iconic Fiddler's Elbow last Friday night to see the enticing combination of The Wily Bo Walker Electric Band and The Vampirettes, even though it was a first for our photographer, Simon Green, who initially thought the gig was taking place at a namesake in Brighton! And despite a warm welcome from The Vampirettes Karena K at the door and a cheery smile from the bar staff, poor old Simon was not immediately impressed after he put down his pint of Elbow Grease to test the photo lighting, to then find his pint had disappeared! Time for another round, although the night would get much much better.
Indeed, Simon had himself previously reviewed Wily Bo's 2021 Tex-Mex influenced, 'Tales Of The Mescal Canyon Troubadours', however this gig was the first time we had both seen Bo live. Although this independent Scottish award-winning solo artist, songwriter, storyteller, producer, composer and performer, was well renown for his swaggering live performances and is certainly no one genre trick pony, working across many styles and genres; Rock, Blues, Gospel, Soul, Classic R&B, Jazz, AAA and Americana. One of the top Blues vocalists in Europe, with a career spanning more than 40 years, Wily Bo has played ‘live’ worldwide with many award-winning musicians, featuring on hundreds of recordings, and has also been inducted in to the U.S. Blues Hall of Fame.
Tonight it was his ‘live’n’kickin’ electric 5 piece band, consisting of Walker - rhythm guitars and lead vocals, E D Brayshaw - lead guitar and backing vocals (who we had also reviewed his previous outstanding albums, 'Fire Without Water' and 'Random Repeat'), Clarky - electric bass, Lyle Zimmerman - Hammond, mandolin and backing vocals and Ant Sullivan drums and percussion. Kicking off with the Mescal Canyon Troubadours funkin' Rock Blues of 'Chattahoochee Coochee Man', we witnessed the first amazing, but by no means the last, E D guitar solo of the night, followed by mid-paced rocker, 'Storm Warning', written by E D on their 2019 dual collaboration, 'The Roads We Ride'. To say that Bo and E D are prolific songwriters, would be an understatement, however, next up was a seldom cover, Tommy Bolin's 'Wild Dogs', that they released as a single last year, which built to an explosive dual guitar climax from Walker and Brayshaw, complemented by some exquisite mandolin from Zimmerman.
"Let's hear it for our drummer" demanded the shades wearing Bo, before one of the highlights of the evening, 2014's 'Long Way To Heaven', the original recording of which featured the aforementioned Karena K, that saw not only another excellent solo from E D (I did warn you) and some more mandolin, but also some great backing vocals, that Karena herself would have been proud of, even if she was in hair and make-up at that moment! Lyle was back now on keys for the Santana vibe of 'I Want To Know', another Bo/E D tune from 2015's 'Stone Cold Beautiful', although the tightness of the band on 'Killers On The Run', originally a loose acoustic style on 'The Roads We Ride', complemented by Walker's gravel tone vocal (think of a cross between Chris Rea and Mark Knopfler), was a joy to behold.
In our review of 'The Road We Ride', we remarked that Brayshaw's guitar work reminded us of Thin Lizzy, a la Gary Moore and Brian Robertson, and on E D's intro to the gutsy Rock 'n' Roller, 'Night Of The Hunter, this was never more evident. After dedicating 'Walking With The Devil' to the memory of a late acquaintance, Bo duly praised those of us actually present - "There's a lot of noise for so few". Indeed, those who weren't there to share this memorable evening with us, missed out on yet another dexterous vocal from Bo, sounding very much like The Stereophonics' Kelly Jones on 'Red Jackets & Jeans' (no not 'Handbags And Gladrags'), with Clarky (Elbow Grease - long story) looking calmness personified on bass guitar, whilst E D on the other hand appeared to verging on going all Wilko Johnson!
Wily will be working with E D once more, this time on an album trilogy: ‘Some People Kill for Passion’, ‘Drinking to Forget’ and ‘Upon Leaving’, that will feature dark Americana, Gothic noir, swampy Blues tales and of course, soaring guitar solos! Hence, a new song, 'Primetime', once the guys had agreed on the key! It was now time to turn on the radio and 'Drive' (at 145 beats per minute), their rip-roaring single from the tales and drunken fables of 'Tales of the Mescal Canyon Troubadours', bursting out of the Fiddler's speakers with a melodic E D guitar line, sounding like Duane Eddy, once again complemented by the growling vocals of Wily Bo. Another gutsy Rock and Roller in the form of ‘Running Wild’, not only saw another outstanding E D solo (final mention) but was also indicative of the undoubted live passion of the band, something that we have all missed because of Covid.
Bo's early warning that "there were bats in the house", meant that we were heading towards the end of this energetic set, and sure enough E D's guitar showcase and ballad, 'Montgomery', was followed finally by Wily Bo's demand, "Come on its Friday night!", as we all duly clapped along to the uptempo Blues closer of 'One Way Out'. Cue well deserved applause, although one of the main reasons why we all love a Rock pub is that you can also have a drink with the band after their set! Therefore, a massive thank you to both Bo and E D for their time afterwards, although Simon was still unable to locate that pint of Elbow Grease!
And we still had The Vampirettes waiting in the wings! We'd actually bumped into lead vocalist Kareña K, sorry, Belladonna, earlier in the evening, tucking into some chips soaked in tomato sauce, or was it blood? In a previous incarnation, we well remember this Northern belle coming up through the big band scene, belting out the Blues or sizzling with smoky Jazz vocals. Now, in later life, from the darkest depths of her twisted imagination, come the deadly girl band from hell, The Vampirettes - the greatest undead girl group of all time!
So the story goes, in 1966, rising stars The Wandettes, and their manager, Rafe Tuson, disappeared after taking off in a private plane to begin a tour of Europe. Presumed dead, they lived in the shadows until now, risen from the grave, they are set to Rock the world! "Are you ready for love at first bite?", asked vocalist Belladonna, alongside her equally frightening bandmates, Datura and Wolfsbane on lead guitars, Deadly Nightshade on bass guitar and Violet Mandrakia on drums, all who had ventured out of their crypt tonight, to trick or treat us to some classic vampish covers.
Van Halen's 'Runnin With The Devil' immediately gave Belladonna something to get her teeth into, as did Ozzy's 'Bark At The Moon', with an impressive dual guitar attack from the aptly named Wolfsbane and Datura, her poisonous partner in crime. Lead Guitarist Datura (aka Ezra) continued to flower, leading her undead pack on The Shangri-Las '(Remember) Walking In The Sand', before their "oldie, but a goodie", and Fleetwood Mac's, (Peter) 'Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)'. An eclectic list of classics continued with UFO's 'Doctor Doctor' and even Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit' - both dispatched with frightening professional aplomb and a refreshing change from the standard covers that are churned out so often.
"Any fans of Kiss?" asked MC Belladonna, cue 'I Was Made For Lovin' You', before another unusual stand-out, and a highlight for mine, Python Lee Jackson's (or Rod Stewart's for those of you that are a lot younger than me) 'In A Broken Dream'. Brilliant. The vampire banter continued, before Wolfsbane launched into the awesome opening riff of Metallica's 'Enter Sandman' (never tire of that one), although their vampish antics continued when they stopped during the intro of Blue Oyster Cult's 'Don't Fear The Reaper'. "What are we missing?" they asked. "More cowbell!" was the answer. Enter The Reaper (not The Sandman) on stage with trusty cowbell, although, seriously, this was another highlight of the set with great harmonies, spot on guitars plus some demon drumming from dear Violet.
A special mention for the excellent Deadly Nightshade, who confided with me after the set that her bass guitar idol was indeed, the one and only Phil Lynott. Sadly, no Thin Lizzy in their set tonight, although from one girl band to another, The Vampirettes did salute The Runaways very own Joan Jett with 'I Hate Myself For Loving You'. So pleased I wore my special edition Motorhead t-shirt on the night as they tore into Lemmy's 'Born To Raise Hell', with some more brilliant drumming from Ms. Mandrakia, before some 'Tainted Love', with Soft Cell's classic given the werewolf guitar treatment. And talking of Wolfsbane, "Lord" Alice Cooper's 'Poison' was the penultimate in the set, and despite pleads for "more", rather aptly Rainbow's 'Long Live Rock 'N' Roll', with a bit of audience participation and band intros, brought the night's proceedings to an end. A great set. Great content. Great musicians. Great fun. All in all a brilliant evening.