In Conversation and then Live Music perfect combo
Friday Night saw Big Boy Bloater and the Limits play the Fuel Club in Cardiff. Having previously seen him play at the HRH Festival in North Wales and have since had a chance to hear more of his hard-hitting unique Style of Blues I wasn’t going to miss out hearing BBB playing live in Cardiff. It is not good to pigeon hole any artist and you would need a big pigeon hole to start off with. Why? Big Boy Bloater poses a huge presence on stage nor because his powerful growly voice is one that you have to sit up and take notice of but because his music and blues style has a huge and widely drawn from a myriad of styles.
Part One – In Conversation with Big Boy Bloater before the gig.
In a relaxed conversation with BBB after the soundcheck. I asked if you could go back in time who would you go and see? Well, it would have to be Howling Wolf, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters he replied. So there we have an insight into his singing approach with Howling Wolf and certainly, Bo Diddley’s beat makes appearances in his playing style. But BBB’s playing style is far more than this, even throwing in the recurring hook lines that are the basis of several songs so characteristic of Muddy Waters. So what is uniquely different about BBB is that with this background to start off with you have to throw into the mix some Shuffle blues some Ska, Two-Tone and an underlying hint of swamp music. Then there are the songs themselves which are drawn on a refreshing and often witty view of day to day life such as Robot Girlfriend, The Digital Number of the Beast and It Came Out Of The Swamp.
BBB is currently on a last short run of Gigs promoting his latest Album “Pills” which was released in 2018 before next year’s tour “Any Last Requests” where his fans get a chance to request prior to the tour what the setlist is going to be drawn from his now quite considerable back catalogue. His one and a half-hour show featuring 8 out of the 12 songs from this album from a 20 song setlist.
Asking about touring the last album Pills and the inspiration behind it? BBB explains Pills is an album pretty much based on the world around us, how great it is sometimes but often how shitty it is too. The self-titled track Pills highlights the use of drugs from backache to fix everything approach that has taken over the way people run their lives and particularly in America where it is a huge business. BBB Toured the States a few times at the beginning of this century and still has not got over the immense size of the country and how far it is travelling from one place to another!
His writing approach to songs is often made up from a collection of notes from things that have caught his attention from phrases that he heard and liked, a piece of graffiti perhaps or an incident he witnessed all of which get stored onto his phone like an artists mood board.
When did you first play live? BBB, well my first playing performances were to his school friends I would listen to Bo Diddley songs that I had heard and would learn to play them from listening to the Radio then make them listen to them, I decided there and then that my friends were all heathens.
How did you go about learning to play the guitar. BBB. I found learning guitar at a young age that playing the blues just rolled along and that the learning process came naturally, a John Lee Hooker song you would need to learn a chord and stamp your feet and away you would be. I would also learn from 45’s and play them at 33 to make it easier to figure things out and you would put in all your own inflections which built your own style.so pretty much went along like that.
Your first Guitar Was? BBB “well that was a real piece of shit ” he laughs my Dad had got it for a £5 from a pub and it had been painted in Leopard skin all over and I mean all over, the frets as well as the neck. It had its original tremolo arm missing and it had been somehow replaced with a brake lever from some old bike ….it was probably some defunct Czechoslovakian model. My early amp was a 58 fender Princeton with no effects at all just plugged it in and turned it up and away I’d go. Now I use overdrive a bit but really use the way I play to determine the sound as much as anything else.
Asking about his guitars and ever fancied playing national steel or another resonator type guitar and do a few songs on set with it? BBB. “well I would love to have one but I am not a collector of guitars and at the moment probably have more than I have ever had with 7 maybe and really only ever use one and that is on stage. I used to have some vintage stuff that I used to tour with but I always worried it would get wrecked on tour so I stopped taking them out with me, I do have an acoustic I use sometimes but then it is another kind of beast!
Your current Strat is that an off the wall one or has it been modified as sometimes it sounds a bit like a Telecaster. BBB. Well, it is not really quite what it seems I had it shipped over from Japan 20 years ago and in Britain, they stopped bringing them in because they were too good and half the price of the American ones! It has got new pickups in it and I upgraded the Trem system in the block. I had the tone taken off a bit its 3 pickups 2 tones and 1 volume switch! There is a lot of snobbery in guitars and cars for that matter and I don’t lust after any of them. There was this one time Chet Atkins was playing a guitar in a shop and another customer came over and said wow that guitar sounds great and Chet put it back on the stand and says” How does it sound now?” it is all about the player really and not so much the guitar.
Now you are a three-piece band now? BBB yes well it’s been a while now our Keyboard Players life sort of change quite drastically when he started a family so we thought we would try something new and played a few times then as a 3 piece and quite liked it as being a guitarist you have to work that little bit harder and there is now more space on stage and yes we quite liked that so have kept with it.
Touring has changed so much these days as especially as so many venues are closing down. If you went back in time who would you see? BBB well probably Howling Wolf that would be a bit scary really, actually would quite like to just pop into the early chess studios and see who was there on the day possibly Willie Dickson or Bo Diddley see the whole entourage some Muddy Waters perhaps that would be good.
Part Two – The Live Music….
The gig starts off with the upbeat Saturday Night Desperation shuffle from his new album Pills BBB wearing his trademark 1920’s Al Capone Gangster hat followed by his humorous song from Luxury Hobo, I Love you ( but I can’t stand your friends) which rolls along superbly into a gritty solo before he welcomes the band to Wales well the good half anyway.
Insanely Happy is his next song which is deeply rooted to Two Tone influences his raunchy solo sound has a more Telecaster sound to it than the Start he is playing tonight. After drinking a toast to Cardiff he plays Messing with the Blues taking us back to when he played with the City Shakers. This number which has a Steve Ray Vaughan style to it with a stunningly Texas Blues crunching grinding flowing solos and great drum rolling and pounding bass line to support him. After an introduction to the band with Matt Cowley on Drums and Steven Oates on a stripped-down Fender Bass guitar Friday Nights Alright for Drinking starts off with a deep Growling bass rhythm with an Albert Collinsesque hook line over the top, “The Sun Sets Over Toyland and the Dogs begin to Howl ” quickly paints a vivid story.
Going next into his angry song with a happy upbeat feel “Stop Stringing Me Along ” hits hard at the music business moneymen for their own personal gain and sit back and let the Artist do all the hard work without giving them the support or help that they need. His View on the modern world follows when Alexa will run our lives and a super Artificial Intelligence will be all-powerful and we will have a new super evil power with a Digital Number of the Beast! Unnaturally Charming follows and is the fourth track in a row from the power-packed Pills Album. A song about a boy who seemed charming but there was that something different just below the surface but lay hidden just like the bodies he had buried.
A song next from way back with that Bo Diddley beat about people who ask what BBBs name is all he can say to is it Harry or Bob is “That Aint My Name!” A superbly crafted Guitar solo weaves in between the main blues Hook putting any Ting Ting song to shame!
We are then taken to the Church of Big Boy Bloater Halleluiah! for a fast song A nasty Little Rash which leads to the halfway stage of his set. Without a break, he continues to one of two songs from BBB and the Limits first self-titled Album.
The Song Leonard Cohen which is not about Leonard Cohen moves along at a hefty pace leading into Pills with a heavy walking bass line a song about how we use pills for everything in our lives. The walking hookline interspersed with grinding wailing solos makes this an instant Big Song.
A break-up song follows how to break up with a total idiot Oops Sorry could have been written for Ian Dury! Oops sorry I didn’t mean to break your heart in two you can fix it back together with gaffa tape and super glue the possibly Hawaiian feel guitar solo played more from the heart than his apology adds to the sincerity of this song.
The Bluesy Jazz swinging drums on Every path has its Puddle takes us back to his first album His half growling half howling solo set against a reverb echo solo riff bring great light and shade to this song.
Banging my head against the Wall, (don’t do this at home) is what we end up doing when working hard most of the time gives the bass and drums a time to take the front spot and for them to show their wonderful talent and why BBB and the Limits is a band that could play against any of the famous 3 piece bands such as Cream without feeling in any way inferior.
His funny up to date song about this guy and his ” Robot Girlfriend ” is a little visionary and a warning of be careful what you wish for and if you so do you still have responsibilities to it. The last four songs of the set being from the Luxury Hob Album with ” This Aint Rufus ” interjected between them This last song from the Pills Album highlights the strength and Depth of BBB’s playing and songwriting. A master of his craft the joy and love he gets from playing live is most clearly evident. Bright and shiny and full of energy he performs energetically through his setlist, whilst introducing the band again to well-deserved applause taking us to the bridge before the last song Devils Not Angels. A start-stop song with a ghost half bar about having Devils not Angels looking over you with a blistering solo that could have come from Chuck Berry at his very best finishes the set.
The end is not the end as always but “It Came Outta the Swamp” an old favourite and one you produce a whole film inside your head whilst listening to it. A story about human nature and how we are incapable of dealing with anything without having to control or kill it to our own peril and downfall. Listening to the band and closing your eyes you would be hard pushed to think there are only three people on stage the full-on sound is full of artfully crafted and delivered sounds where loudness does not obliterate deftness of touch. The ascending glass slide final notes finish the show to the fortunate audience for we witnessed a master at work. Many great Bluesmen have now passed on to the next but we have one walking amongst us. So if I needed to go back in time to see those great bluesmen of BBB’s past I don’t need to because I just have and then some.