Reviews 2013

Woodman Folk Club - Reviews

Babajack

Bryn Phillips 11 Jan 2013

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Babajack perform at a variety of venues; it could be a blues festival, could be a rock concert, but tonight it was the Woodman Folk Club. Sometimes they are joined by a bass player but tonight it was just Becky Tate on percussion, and Trevor Steger on Guitar. When I say “Guitar”, I really mean guitars. There were five of them; a jazz style guitar, a Dobro and three home made guitars fashioned from wine boxes. These guitars, together with a box choc full of harmonicas, Becky’s cajon, stomp box and Congo-style drum just about filled the stage. As soon as they started playing the room not only filled up but overflowed with sound. On the website they quote “Terrific Blues – not for the faint hearted”. From the first, this statement was proved to be true – it was powerful stuff.

They started off with “Nobody’s Fault”, an old Blind Willie Johnson number. It’s a great number to start off with because it is one of those ubiquitous blues which defines an artist’s approach to the genre. It’s been covered by many performers including John Renbourne, Mance Lipscomb, Nina Simone, The Lucky Four, Led Zeppelin, and many others including Tom Jones. Babajack started off with Trevor playing a few slide guitar patterns, with intermittent harmonica accompaniment, and some gentle drumming from Becky who then sang a plaintive “Ain’t nobody’s fault but mine” verse, before launching into a heavy up-tempo train-rhythm blues. They were defined; and we were in for a tremendous pumped up blues night. No Nina Simone, John Renbourne or Tom Jones here, more Led Zeppelin meets Delta! 

They did one or two other blues classics as the evening rocked on, including a notable version of Sleepy John Estes “Brownsville Blues”, loosely based on the more well known Ry Cooder adaptation. Interestingly Sleepy John was a narcoleptic who according to urban legend sometimes fell asleep on stage; but you can rest assured if he had learnt to play “Brownsville” Babajack-style he would have kept awake! Another blues classic was Son House’s Death Letter Blues which was played in a slower tempo, allowing the emotion of the lyrics to echo the hypnotic slide playing. Some of the lyrics, it has to be said, weren’t vintage Son House, but a Babajack modification, which worked well.

There were also a number of self-penned numbers which were delivered mainly in an upbeat rhythm which from the very beginning got everyone’s feet tapping. Becky explained early on in the evening that they borrow lines from the old blues tradition and just slip them in. This was apparent in a several of their numbers, none more so than in “Running Man” where suddenly Leadbelly’s “Black Girl, Black Girl, Don‘t Lie To Me” appeared from nowhere. Amazing!

Earlier I mentioned the home made wine box guitars. These of course were made by Trevor, who also made Becky’s cajon. These guitars had names. One was called Graeme, and the other was called Joanna (made of an old wine box and bits of piano) and they all had a great sound and together with the accomplished rack harp playing, hauntingly amplified by Derry on sound were the perfect accompaniment to Becky’s powerful vocals and intricate driving percussion. 

Occasionally we also had some very gruff earthy vocals from Trevor; the best example being on Leadbelly’s “Gallows Pole”, where his verses were the perfect counterpoint to Becky’s vocals. For me, this one number made the evening; it is a great adaptation of what once was an old English (or Irish?) folk song. They “ended” the evening with The Well Song, another of my favourites which I remember them playing the first time that I’d heard them and then of course was the encore. “Do you want something slow or fast?” asked Trevor. “Something fast, getting faster” came the helpful suggestion ….. they met the challenge to end a great night with an amazing flourish.

Enthusiastic support was provided by Nothing to Prove who opened the evening, with an excellent set followed by a couple of numbers by “yours truly”, before welcoming Babajack on stage.