This was an evening when the blues hit Womanby Street, Cardiff opening the evening was a local delta blues-man Mr. Hugh Price who delivered classic numbers from John Lee Hooker, Skip James, Sam Chapman and more; a good laid- back platform for the main act tonight. Then we had Bella Collins & The Blue to follow. Bella takes the lead fronting the band with her skilful vocals and guitar she has a great trio of support in the band local bluesmen who we have seen play in a number of re-incarnations, Lead Guitarist Jeff Coleman; bassist Paul Higgins and drumming tonight Paul Westwell . They delivered a mix that suited Bella’s voice and built up the atmosphere and anticipation before The Heritage Blues Orchestra stepped onto the stage at The Moon Club.
The Heritage Blues Orchestra are touring the U.K as a quintet, Chaney Sims bringing her warm vocals to the band that are full of tones and inflections a little bit gospel, a whole lot of soul and buckets full of glorious musical shapes. The two guitarists play with perfect understanding they are not duelling with each other, never do they try to out compete because they know they are both class, Bill Sims and Junior Mack, any band with two guitarists should watch, learn and emulate. The quintet is completed by Parisian harp player Vincent Boucher and topped off in all his glorious drummer technique and style Chicago drummer Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith.
The Moon was dark inside and very hot, steamy hot without a breath of fresh air as the quintet played a really authentic sound as they took the crowd on a journey through the history of the blues through the Mississippi, Louisiana and deeper back in time to a darker age with more rhythm drive beats from Mali and Senegal; the heat in the room was authentic too. Son House’s Clarksdale Moan featured Junior Mack as did Eric Bibb’s, Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drive Your Spirit Down delivering sublime guitar playing which met up to my expectations of a player who had played with the greats, worked and collaborated with many major American recording artists including: The Allman Brothers Band, Derek Trucks, Chaka Khan, Magic Slim, Honeyboy Edwards and the list goes on. His influences of the two kings B.B. and Freddie along with Lighntnin’ Hopkins shine through but the technique and delivery is uniquely his as he makes his Gibson SG sing super cool!
Into the mix we had W.C. Handy’s St Louis Blues, invoking Bessie Smith’s sung by Chaney Sims, who bought the spirit of Bessie into the room and on this steamy July night this slow number suited the atmosphere. Then there is the drumming throughout which flashes at a speed that catches your ears like a flying fish catching your eye when leaping out of the water full of glistening silver gone in a flash but lingering on your senses. The drumming is clean fresh and interactive and keeps the beat deep within the soul of the music. Muddy Water’s Catfish Blues sees the drumming pushing the beat along.
We were treated to some acoustic guitar from Junior Mac as the other members took a well deserved breather, the members joined them once again on the tiny stage and they continued to deliver and delight as the night rolled on and the audience were asked to help out, you never have to ask twice in Cardiff. C-Line Women with some lovely harmonies delivered courtesy of the crowd was a special moment and the stage and the club morphed into one harmonious body all singing in the moment and full of harmonious cohesion.
Vincent on the blues-harp playing is at times frenetic in the style of Little Walter was at a very special level with the flair of someone who plays with verve and style, loving the music he is playing and added another layer of sound and tonal quality filling in the gaps when vocals faded away and the guitars were in the background.
The two tracks that for me that had that spine-tingling live music moment was their version of St James’ Infirmary, this American folk-song shows the depth and scope of the combined talents of the quintet with a long slow rendition of this number I have never heard it sung or articulated so well, and the wonderful original take on the classic Hard Times with Chaney leading the vocals and then the gospel harmonies as they all join in.
The whole set was wall-to-wall music, full of energy, emotion, charm that fizzled with talent and vitality , you just have to smile, dance and join in the singing this is a quality act that know how to perform and keep you engaged and entertained. Come back to the U.K. very soon and bring the whole Heritage Blues Orchestra next time; at least those who didn’t already have their Grammy-nominated début album, And Still I Rise could take a little bit of the magic home with them.