Artist: The Coal Porters
Venue: The Square Tower
Date: 29th March 2014
In anticipation of this evening’s event, I looked back to my original copy of Kentucky born Sid Griffin’s 1983 first foray into rock, The Long Ryders’ ‘10-5-60’, his electric post-punk debut and their Byrds-influenced sophomore release ‘Native Sons’, (which featured one Gene Clark) released during the era of Los Angeles rock, misnomered as The Paisley Underground. Suffice to say, on reflection, you can take the man out of Kentucky, but as with The Everly Brothers, it would prove impossible to take the bluegrass out of the soul. Over a 20 year period, he has collected around him a shifting band of musicians, emulating a brand of country, bluegrass, gospel inspired folk and soul, now mixed with some Celtic stylings.
Tonight’s on-board crew of Neil Robert Herd on guitar, John Breese on banjo, Tali Trow on bass and Carly Frey on fiddle is the latest incarnation of the CPs, and features strength in depth from an inspired band of musicians and songwriters. Now, only a stones-throw away from 60, but never looking it, Sid’s talent is for nurturing a group that can weave these diverse folk elements into an ever-evolving band.
A natural carnival barker, Sid effortlessly and shamelessly promotes and sells his back catalogue, but songs from the new album ‘Find The One’ feature heavily in tonight’s show. The band’s strengths come from various elements within the line-up; Carly’s effortlessly stylish fiddle playing, writing and singing, pitched against Neil’s straight-forward but dour (light-hearted? Scottish?) Celtic acoustics. This shows midway through the evening, when Neil sings his song ‘Farmers Hands’, a poignant tale of leaving his Scottish roots. Aye! Then Sid brings in his roots music, mainly playing mandolin tonight, from Bill Munro’s ‘Pike County Breakdown’ to his own moody ‘Gospel Shore’ and ‘Hush You Babe’, where his lyrics are more evocative and core to the music. Throughout the evening, John’s quietly confident banjo-picking underscores the mix, especially coming to the fore when trading solos with Carly, as on ‘The Betsy Trotwood’, not the old Dickensian tribute, I believe! Tali, meanwhile, has become a bearded attachment to his double bass and regularly offers harmonies with Carly on several numbers.
We are treated to a fistful of covers tonight, not only their impressive acoustic version of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’, but also their Coal Portering (noun to verb) of ‘Paint It, Black’, a surprisingly endearing countrified take on The Only One’s ‘Another Girl Another Planet’ and Adele’s ‘Rolling In The Deep’. We never did find out what Sid’s slight concern over their version was, but I reckon by the expression on his face, it might have been the middle eight. I stand to be corrected here.
They lack for nothing in the area of harmonies, where four of the group really pack a punch, especially shown on Peter Rowan’s ‘Midnight Moonlight’, while on ‘A Light From The Mountains’ we all get to sing in perfect harmony with them, except for our mate Pete who was fired by Neil for his intentionally final off-note.
Just before Sid started singing, he hesitated and mentioned how music can affect you as you age. In a glance back to his early rock days he reflected on the fact that he, and us as a consequence, could now here every single note played by the band, instead of just the kerrang (makes sound of wild guitar chord) of the rock milieu. But, I reckon there are days when both will do very nicely, but tonight the music sounded clear and fine, thanks to Andy Thomas’s crisp sound system.
Neil highlighted with ‘One Is Way Too Many, 3000 Way Too Much’ which may or may not have been a damning slur of the evils of drink, and the band continued to hoe-down on the familiar melody from ‘Sail Way’.
As a final treat, Sid moves down from the stage and, followed by the band, leads us in a rousing version of Ronnie Lane and Ron Wood’s ‘Ooh La La’. From a vacated seat he orchestrated the final band solos, on this most covered of Faces songs, an epic end to a wonderfully diverse night of first class music. Check the finale on Youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXP65fRQoBc
Photos Courtesy Of Paul Windsor (www.southseagallery.co.uk)
“Perfect finish to a great night. Any one who gets Linda and I singing to an old Faces track has my admiration. Thanks for the memory!” (John Bever)
“I am no longer a Bluegrass virgin, thanks to Square Roots Promotions and the Coal Porters!” (Becca Catlin)
“Some exemplary bluegrass at The Square Tower, Old Portsmouth last night courtesy of The Coal Porters. A massive thumbs up to Square Roots Promotions for putting on such a fine gig !” (Dan Ogus)