Night live music with support from Curse of Lono on 19th May 2019
It was a happy Highbury on this particular school night as a capacity crowd filled out the “Garage” to catch the London date of the UK leg of the European tour of American musician Samantha Fish. The Garage is a pretty cool venue located a stones throw from Highbury & Islington Tube Station; the walk is a bit further if, like me, you turn the wrong way and have to negotiate a stretch of cycle path occupied by smug/psycho cyclists, who inhabit that neck of the woods, before realising you are heading away from the action. Any murderous thoughts about urban cyclists were dispelled on entering the venue as the soothing grooves of the support act “Curse of Lono” (ditch the name boys) immediately lifted the mood. Their sound takes me back to my student days when Echo and the Bunnymen and the Comsat Angels etc were constantly on the turntable; not that they sound like them particularly but they create the same sort of interesting moody vibe that makes you want to hear more (and maybe search out for a long overcoat); so, well worth checking out. The venue was buzzing ahead of the arrival on stage of the main act and her band, the floor already sticky from spilt beer as punters navigated through the sweaty crowd in search of friends (maybe that also helped create a nostalgic feeling for yesteryear!).
Listening to her albums does not prepare you for the live version of Samantha Fish; her recorded music displays her versatility but doesn’t give a good impression of the more visceral impact she has on the audience. Her physical look has seemed to vary considerably over the years and she arrived on stage displaying the current style, which could best be described as 50’s bobby soxer having been given a makeover by her new biker boyfriend, the ending of Grease if you will, with Marilyn Monroe in the Olivia Newton John role, all peroxide curls, huge fake lashes, tight leather trousers and killer heels. It’s a confident look and she backed it up with an assured performance that had the audience purring with pleasure; an audience that, for a blues gig, contained a much lower concentration of males than usual, and definitely a younger crowd; the lady has got crossover appeal! She has also got the instincts of a real rocker, hitting the stage sporting a cigar box guitar, and kicking off with the open tuned riff of “Bulletproof”, immediately creating a head nodding beat. What I think makes her different from many others in her field is that her guitar playing is there to service the song being played, rather than the song just being a vehicle to create an opportunity for a grandstanding solo. She searches for the right notes and feel for each solo rather than going for a new land speed record for fretboard wizardry, which made her solos and guitar work generally varied and interesting (given her name she obviously knows her scales – ker-tish!). The same could be said for her selection of songs from different albums, which reflect different styles and are long way from 12 bar shuffles. The second song of the evening, “Chills and Fever” illustrating this, changing the sound from rockin’ blues to a jazzy late-night bar vibe with its catchy vocal hooks and snappy beat. This tune also showed off what a good voice she has, with its echo of Amy Winehouse. “Wild Heart” had her rocking out again and showed that her voice could easily rise above the number’s full on riffing. Later in the set her vocals sounded equally at home on two country tinged numbers from her album “Belle of the West” – “Cowtown” and “Need You More”, which made me think she could easily go some way further down the Nashville route to good effect.
An evening, then, of really good songs, lovely guitar playing and featuring an all-round charismatic and energetic performance, which was rounded off with the cigar box guitar making a re-appearance for a rambunctious slide driven performance of Bukka White’s “Shake ‘Em On Down” which again showed that the Fish can rock out with best. The two new songs featured during the set, especially “Love Letters” with its soulful feel, indicate that there is likely to be a lot more good music coming our way from this interesting performer; try and catch her playing them live, they’ll sound even better!