Artist: Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers
Venue: The Square Tower
Date: 19th May 2016
There are occasionally times when words become superfluous, and although I’m going to have a damn good try here, our sold out show at the Square Tower hosting one of America’s leading bluegrass exponents, Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, was one such occasion.
The origins of the show go way back to August 21st 2015! Our first ever visit to the home of the “mother church of country music”! The Grand Ole Opry was pretty much at the top of the ‘must do’ list, and we were lucky that there were shows there on both the 21st and 22nd August. Having looked on You Tube at the various acts that were appearing on both days, we spotted a video of Joe and the boys performing a song called “The Last Parade” – immediately it was one of those songs that literally made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, so our mind was made up that we’d go and see the 21st August show.
The show itself was just fabulous, with so many wonderful acts playing. And just to experience the Opry was something that any self respecting music lover should do at least once in their lifetime. But of course the stand out act for us was the wonderful Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers, who knocked us out with their short set.
When we returned home from the whole trip (complete with over 40 CD’s!!), it was in fact Lloyd who dashed off an e-mail to Joe mentioning that we run a monthly show in the UK that we think would be perfect for them if they were ever touring the UK in the future. We thought maybe the venue would be a little too small for them, but hey, nothing ventured nothing gained. It was then a few weeks later that, to our surprise, we received an e-mail from Joe himself saying that they were in fact playing some dates and a bluegrass festival in Switzerland in May and that if they could re-arrange flights could they fly in, play a date for us, then fly on to Switzerland, would that be a possibility? We were naturally very excited, but also a little worried as we already had 2 shows booked for that particular month – but the chance of hosting a show for a band that have appeared at the Grand Ole Opry numerous times and are legends in the bluegrass scene in the States may never have come around again, so we decided to go for it! And, as they always do, our awesome supporters responded magnificently by making sure the show sold out in double quick time!
Joe and the boys flew into London the day before the gig, and we picked them up from Portsmouth Harbour station later that afternoon and made sure they got to their lodgings for the next 2 nights, the Queens Hotel, safely. Having spent the best part of 30 hours awake, no doubt they slept soundly that night, but they were up bright and breezy by lunch time on show day, where we treated them to a sunshine walk around historic Old Portsmouth and some lovely food in the Spice Island Inn and views over the harbour.
Arriving for sound check at 5.30, Joe and the boys were thrilled to see the venue and where they would be playing that evening. Lots of photos were taken, and they particularly enjoyed the Tower roof top views over the City and to the Isle Of Wight. Sound check time is always an exciting time for us as organisers, as we get to see how the sound is put together by artist and Andy Thomas our superb sound technician. This is often why I get excited – as I get to see in advance what the audience are just about to witness!
Our audiences here at the Tower are always amazing, and always pay the artists the utmost respect by actually listening to the music – and that’s something lots of artists have emphasised to us after shows. This particular evening, there just seemed to be something ‘in the air’. I can’t explain it, it was just what I felt – there was a real and tangible sense of eager anticipation.
And having received an almighty cheer welcoming them to the stage, I knew that I was right. The roar of delight that erupted after the Ramblers finished their first number was justification enough for the show! And that was pretty much the way it went for the whole evening – massive audience reaction for every song, and a genuine out pouring of love for Joe and the boys, and their music, which was reciprocated by the band who were genuinely moved by the love and appreciation shown to them by our audience.
Bluegrass music doesn’t really get any better than this, and it would be churlish of me to go through their set song by song and pick out highlights as the whole show itself was one complete highlight, but to see the professionalism and sheer joy that these guys project with their music is an utter privilege.
Joe is the consummate genial host, with his sometimes serious and sometimes dead-pan comical asides. He also happens to be a banjo genius with a wonderful voice. Mike Terry, co-former of the Ramblers with Joe, is the man charged with injecting those beautiful mandolin runs into the songs. That man can play! There were several mandolin players in the audience that night who all said that after watching Mike they were thinking of giving up! Duane Sparks is main vocalist and acoustic guitarist, and he has a voice to die for. Once more his vocals on “The Last Parade” literally sent a shiver down the spine. Randy Barnes is the man that holds everything together, with his perfect double bass and gorgeously rich baritone vocal. And Jason Barie is the fiddle player who others aspire to. His fingers were smokin’ that night! And as each member took their turn for solos, they were met with plenty of whoops and hollers!
2 encores and 3 standing ovations ( yes 3!!) later and the boys are saying “hi” to new fans by the merch stand, signing CD’s (they broke the record for sales at a Square Roots show!) and posing happily for photos.
We’ve had some amazing gigs here at the Tower, but Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers just took it to a completely different level. As our audience left the gig, there were massive smiles on their faces and that is the effect that great music can have on us. That is also a wonderful testament to Joe and the boys.
But don’t just take it from me – here’s what our audience also said:
“Truly world class entertainment on our doorstep. Fabulous harmonies, great musicians and a crowd really up for it got their just rewards. So much thanks to Ken and his team, what a stupendous night!” (Bob Chaffey)
“Just to say, what an amazing evening last night. You are great at sourcing all these diverse groups, and it is also fun to see their reaction to the venue. We are lucky to be so near. Thank you for all your hard work.” (Richard & Barbara Stanley)
“Just home from seeing Joe Mullins & the Radio Ramblers at the Square Tower, Old Portsmouth. Two words, absolutely stunning! If you ever get the chance to see them, take it, don’t hesitate, just do it, they’re some of the finest musicians and nicest people you’ll ever have the pleasure of meeting. Huge thanks to Ken Brown & his Square Roots Promotions team for putting them on. Bluegrass really doesn’t get much better than these guys!” (David Rozzell)
“Thanks for a great night out, Joe Mullins and the lads were absolutely brilliant. What a scoop getting those guys on the way to Europe!” (Ted Wake)
“It was a privilege to see these guys,we were so lucky!! A really great night, and a great venue, thanks again!” (Dennis Plumb)
“I’ve never heard or seen a more enthusiastic audience and the atmosphere was fantastic , thanks for another great night!” (Viv Chatfield)
“The bar has now been set very high! What a band! One of the most perfect bluegrass bands I shall ever see this year or any other!” (Dan Ogus – Express FM)
“Unbelievable! Best so far and we’ve seen some real stunners! Thanks Ken” (Jenni Jones)
“Amazing night! These guys are so talented, and so much fun!” (Sheila Matthews)
“These guys are the real deal. Let’s hope they come back to the UK some time in the future!” (Richard Holland)
“They were absolutely amazing. Thank you again Ken for another fantastic night of quality music!” (Simon McClumpha)
“Great evening. Fantastic music. Awesome band!” (Adrian Clabburn)
“F***ing brilliant!” (Unknown audience member on the way out!)
Review – Ken Brown
Photos – Courtesy of Liam Brown