I really like the 100 Club. I like the history that’s embedded in its DNA. I like that you can practically touch the ceiling. I like that there are tables dotted around the periphery looking less trustworthy under load than the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. I even like there being a view-sapping pillar with the conspicuity of a Brachiosaurus that resides smack bang in front of the stage. Get stuck behind that and you’re in for a fun night – it pays to arrive early. I like the music they put on and I like the punters that go there. I meet one with a pen, writing on the door of the gents: “I had to add the apostrophe in ‘Men’s’, I’m an English teacher”. You even get a better class of graffiti at the 100.
Tonight, the 100 Club is serving up for us singer, songwriter, guitarist, harmonica player and all-round nice guy Hamilton Loomis. Loomis, born and raised in Galveston, Texas, makes an annual trip to the UK around this time of year showcasing his brand of the funkiest of blues and this was the last show of the current tour before he headed back to the US.
‘Tuesday Blues’ at the 100 Club prides itself on mixing legendary headline acts with the best up and coming bands on the blues circuit; and supporting Hamilton tonight are two outfits that certainly fulfill that criteria. As I descend into a gentle breeze of air-conditioned loveliness (something else I like; it’s 31° outside) the first of these – Swansea’s Mark Pontin Group, was already giving the historic plasterwork something to think about. A tight 3-piece, MPG serve up Hendrixesque psychedelia at one end of the spectrum and closet jazz at the other; with brief stop-offs for a gaze at most parts of the musical landscape in-between.
Material hewn from their critically acclaimed debut album Days Of Destiny was interspersed with that from soon to be released Textures – an album title with a nod to the variety of musical styling on offer. Pontin on guitar/vocals, Alun Walters on bass and Dafydd Davies on drums were joined at the end by Duncan Mcphee (guitar), Dawn Sandells (vocals) and Jeff Savage (harmonica) for a nice dose of free-formed exploration. A most enjoyable live band, I bought Days Of Destiny on the strength of their performance and have to say it’s one of the best records I’ve heard in a long time. Recommended.
There’s barely enough time for my punctuation exchange with the teacher in the gents before tonight’s second act, Red Butler are up. Formed in 2012 by guitarist Alex Butler, Red Butler – a young band with energy levels to keep a Ritalin salesman happy, were voted Best New UK Act in the 2014 Blues Matters Writers Poll. They are also a photographer’s delight, with Butler, singer Jane Pearce and bassist Mike Topp pulling moves at will and practically upon demand. Playing music from their 2014 debut album Freedom Bound, the band certainly know how to work the crowd with nice community singing on the album’s opening track, Jaywalker. They also pull off great covers of Sandi Thom’s Belly Of the Blues and the Johnny Kidd & The Pirates classic, Shakin’ All Over. Red Butler are another band I’d like to see again.
A second short break and Hamilton Loomis appeared from stage right to start setting up his own gear – a nice touch from the headline performer. In a week when 135,000 people subjected themselves to the spectacle of Kanye West annihilating Bohemian Rhapsody, I find it mildly depressing that an artist as talented as Loomis hasn’t quite packed out the 100 Club tonight. Fortunately, Hamilton’s effervescent performance indicates that it doesn’t worry him. His music might not be especially on-trend, but at least it has the benefit that it’s not going out of fashion any time soon either – and it’s clear that delivering a good show is more important to him than anything else. There’s a semi-permanent grin etched on his face throughout and he choreographs dance moves and jumps with the rest of the band. I tried to photograph one of these, but got there too late and completely missed it – and my tardiness was not lost on Hamilton. He came back over; fist pumped me and returned to the microphone. Then he looked at me, smiled and said: “You snooze, you loose – y’all gotta be quicker than that!” I like him. A lot.
On this short tour, Loomis is flanked by his full electric band of Fabian Hernandez on sax and keys, Armando Aussenac on drums and Dante Ware on Bass. Loomis describes his band members as “ridiculously talented musicians” and he certainly knows what he’s talking about. Aussenac and Ware form a groove with the solidity of boron, above which Hernandez and Loomis have freedom to work their individual magic. In Give It Back, the title track of his most recent recording from which much of tonight’s music was hewn, Hernandez takes centre stage for an extended sax break that is just jaw-droppingly good. In Stuck In A Rut, they seamlessly segue into Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic and then leave again just as smoothly as they went in. It must be wonderful to be able to pull off stunts like this with such apparent ease.
There are two other stunts in a Hamilton Loomis live show that I’d heard about and was looking forward to seeing. The first, Hamilton wandering into the audience and playing a solo whilst stood on a table, didn’t materialise. I can only assume he’d done an H&S assessment on the 100 Club furniture and thought better of it. Instead, he limited himself to playing solos from the stage apron, left and right. A shame, but at least he finished the show with functioning legs. The other stunt however, we did get to see. Loomis set up a loop on his guitar, then handed it to Hernandez. Hernandez relinquished his position at the keyboard to be replaced by Aussenac. Hamilton took control of the bass from Dante Ware, who occupied the now vacant seat behind the drums. The band then played a brilliant extended instrumental to close out the show. They even found time for a solo each, just in case there was any doubt as to their virtuosity.
The Hamilton Loomis band played right up to the 100 Club curfew, so there wasn’t time to go off and on again for an encore. They just swapped instruments back, gave us a really joyous cover of Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke and then made their exit. I had a very brief chat with Hamilton after the show as I was relieving him of a couple of his CDs. What an unassuming and modest guy he was. I’m already looking forward to next year’s trip. Glastonbury can keep Kanye.
Words and Photography by Simon Reed . Hamilton Loomis @ The 100 Club on 30 June 2015
Simon has his own great site here: www.musicalpictures.co.uk