Before coming to the Woodman I had checked out a couple of Mumbo Jumbo's videos on YouTube, and I was surprised to find, not only the usual club based camcorder videos, but a production that was more like a pop video. The video in question was "Nice Work",
short-listed in the British Blues awards. Strange really, because it wasn't a blues number; but it was catchy, full of fun, and an excellent video. So, as I was setting off to the Woodman "Nice work if you can get it ...." was going around in my head. When I went in they were doing a sound check, again I heard "Nice work if you can get it ....". I was beginning to wonder whether they had more to offer, but I had to wait an hour or so for them to come on stage to find out. With hindsight it was a bit like wondering whether Ralph McTell had more to offer than "Streets of London".
They describe themselves as a piano led band, and that's all down to the very talented Abby Brant, who defines the mood of the music with her
accomplished keyboard playing, whether it's a rolling blues piano, or a soulful organ accompaniment. To say the keyboard playing was good is an understatement; it was a knockout! It's a change not to have a guitar in a band, but it works and works really well. Chris Lomas played ukuleles and bass, and one particularly impressive instrument that I haven't heard before was the U-bass, which is basically a Ukulele with polymer bass strings that has tremendous double bass sound, which is incredible for such a little instrument. If I was a bass player I'd get one of those. Finally there is Oliver Carpenter, who provides percussion to the mix
either on his acoustic beat box, or on washboard,
and occasionally lets rip with a high octane trumpet fill-in. All three are
excellent vocalists, with very different styles. Abby
provides powerful soulful jazz vocals, whilst Chris is more in the bluesy country vein. Oliver meanwhile is out on his own with a vocal style that contains elements of Tom Waits, Louis
Armstrong and John B Spencer, combined with a boundless energy that kept going,
undiminished, throughout the entire performance.
They opened up with Graveyard Shift, a fast moving blues number, and I knew from that moment on that we were in for one of those memorable evenings. Chris started with a strumming mandolin, then Oliver thumped his washboard with his fists, before launching into a more conventional washboard rhythm. Then Abby came in with the keyboard, played as electric piano, and finally Oliver launched into some impressively energetic vocals. That was just the start. There were other blues numbers, mainly self penned ("This is a blues I wrote in Redditch"), but always moving along with a nice steady rhythm. This isn't heavy Mississippi Delta Blues, or dark Chicago Blues, this is "Bringing New Orleans to The West Midlands" type blues. If they had only performed blues numbers I would have been happy, but they gave us much more. As well as some original and well-crafted songs,
such as the afore-mentioned "Nice Work", we had covers. In the first half we had Ray Charles' "Lucky Old Sun" and in the second half Tom Waits' "I Wish I Was in New
Orleans", both resulting in an impressive performance by Oliver. Abby came into her own on "Fever", which is one of the best performances of this song I've seen live. It also showcased Chris' U-Bass and Oliver's double handed finger clicking (not everyone can do that!). As well as the blues, the covers, and self-penned numbers, they had a couple of gospel numbers for us. Fist of all there was "Wade In The Water", and then as a grand finale "Mary Don't You Weep" which got Oliver off the stage, coaxing the audience into harmonies.
This was a band that enjoyed the music they were playing and this resulted in a relaxed atmosphere with excellent interaction with the audience. Also, although they are three individually talented musicians, they come together perfectly in the band, with each in turn taking the lead. Surprisingly, although they have played together for some years, they are only just venturing out into the folk club circuit. It left me wondering how many more talented musicians and bands have held back from the folk club world because they don't realise how
eclectic it is nowadays. Mumbo Jumbo are a perfect fit for performance clubs such as the Woodman and so I'll give eleven out of ten to Ian Munro for booking them and I'm hoping that they'll be back again next year.
As usual support was provided by some of the Woodman residents with excellent performances by Nothing To Prove and Velvet Green in the first half,
followed by a couple of numbers from "yours truly" in the second half.