Ben Poole at the Half Moon Putney, 12th December 2018 (support Matt Pearce & The Mutiny)
I was en-route to this famous venue and South London cultural landmark and thinking how many times over the years I’ve seen adverts for groups or singers I’ve really liked appearing at the Half Moon in Putney, yet I’d never been there before. Walking over Putney Bridge on a cold night with the wind whipping off the Thames while lugging a heavy camera bag, prior to a bit of a stroll alongside the river, reminded me why I hadn’t made the effort before! Out of the cold, I was greeted by the welcoming strains of support group Matt Pearce & The Mutiny beginning their act. Initial thoughts, to be honest, were not totally favourable as their sound was not particularly distinctive or engaging. However, as their short set continued, I began to warm to the very lively and nifty bass playing, powerful drumming, and the nice soloing from frontman Matt Pearce, with the bonus of a backing singer. The set ended with a powerful cover of “OhWell” by the ‘Mac and nicely
There was only a short break with time for a swift pint and a quick jostle into position before Ben Poole and band casually strolled on from stage left and went into the heavy opening riff of “Take it No More” from the recently released album “Anytime You Need Me”. Apart from his tasty guitar playing, the thing that distinguishes Ben from many of the plethora of other guitar slingers operating in the broad spectrum of music that blues-rock encompasses is his voice, which, live is strong enough to dominate the sound but has a lighter and sweeter tone, not to mention a wider range, than the gruff growl that many non-natural singers in the same field adopt to cover up their vocal deficiencies as well as project a dubious macho image (contemporary Kris Barras scores well in this department too). This means that Poole’s songwriting is able to expand and be more musically adventurous, which he has apparently tried to do, with some success, on the new album (something he referred to during the performance), which is a definite step up from its predecessor. However, the “good” song bar is set surprisingly high and it was noticeable that my ears pricked up for the first time during a very enjoyable set by the band during the second song “Win You Over” when it segued into “You Really Turn Me On” by Jacko and the band hit a delightful melodic soft groove. The concert really kicked into life on the next number, taken from the new album, where it’s one of the stand-out tracks – “Start the Car” – a clever choice of a relatively obscure song by Jude Cole, with a fantastic guitar hook and chorus that the band played out to the full; yes, game on! Rather than keep the rocking groove going BPmoved to the front and middle of the stage – a little area that the lighting crew had forgotten to keep in shadow like the rest of the stage, much to the delight of assembled photographers – and literally turned the volume down, all the way to zero, as he went into the oft-covered Freddie King classic “Have You Ever Loved a Woman”. It has become a bit of a cliché but it always looks impressive and sorts out the men from the boys; being able to hold an audience with no amplification (no mic either) and have them straining to hear your playing, which of course gradually grew louder as the volume knob was twiddled upwards before he moved back to his bank of guitar pedals and hit the overdrive for a full-blown essay into showing all his blues soloing repertoire; brilliant! This extended version of the song also featured some very tasteful electric piano work from Joe Mac. He provided superb backing throughout, switching between piano and Hammond Organ as required (or both at the same time) and sharing solos with BP. The four-piece as a whole was tight as might be expected from an ensemble that was two more gigs away from finishing a long European tour; Wayne Proctor, the King King drummer, and producer and part co-writer of the new album kept it solid at the back and Beau Barnard on bass was unfussy but really sharp in his playing too. This was a strong set of songs but the best new original number was kept until last “Anytime You Need Me” a song with a good hook that built powerfully – which Ben prefaced by describing it as being an emotional song for him, all about the support that people provide – and, like all the numbers featured some superb guitar playing. The band returned to the stage and delivered the best track from the album, a sizzling, crowd-pleasing encore of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry”, which suits Ben Poole’s voice perfectly and from the superb opening bass and drum intro was a total joy and great end to a really good evening. Now, if the next album had 12 tracks that good we’d really be talking about Ben Poole! I feel there will be a lot more good music to come from this engaging musician.