Wednesday 16th December saw the first of a sixteen-night tour featuring some of the finest young talent that the heavy blues-rock spectrum currently has on offer. ‘Roadstars’, sponsored by Planet Rock, landed at The Talking Heads in Southampton – and if early indications are to be trusted, it promises to be quite a ride. The tour pitches Stockport four-piece Federal Charm with Chicago born guitarist J D Simo (pronounced ‘Symo’) and eighteen-year-old six-string sensation Aaron Keylock. Each act brings something a little different to the table and the tour is billed as a triple-headliner. Until you arrive, you don’t know who plays when. Turn up late at your peril. I rather like this idea.
Tonight, they went in reverse order of current Facebook page likes – as good a metric for measure of potential global dominance as you’re likely to get and an interesting tactic for day one of the tour. This meant first up was Simo, who fronts his eponymously titled band; the collective capitalised SIMO to save any confusion with the individual. The attendance was respectable for a grizzly Autumn night, though in a peculiar act of venue self-harming a ring of impenetrable tables and chairs had been set 80% of the way back. The first punters through the door plonked themselves at the tables and everybody else felt obligated to stand behind them. Simo came out to what approximated an aircraft hangar with ten rows of blokes all standing on each other’s toes in the far distance. “Don’t all rush the stage” was his rather dry sounding introduction.
Save for a brief flirtation with them at this years’ Ramblin Man Fair, I wasn’t familiar with SIMO before tonight, but did enjoy their set, which frequently meandered down Jimmy Hendrix Experience style extended psychedelic avenues. In this regard, the bass of Elad Shapiro and drums of Adam Abrashoff fully came into their own – the trio really are extremely accomplished musicians. They closed with a fine cover of With A Little Help From My Friends, though bizarrely the first few bars would have had you believing it was going to be Status Quo’s Whatever You Want. Given the psychedelia that preceded it, had they actually gone out to the strains of Rossi and Parfitt, the surrealism quotient would have made Salvador Dali choke on his paintbrush.
Following the standard swapping over of cymbals (why do drummers happily play each other’s drums, but never their cymbals?) and a top up for us at the bar, Aaron Keylock and his band came out to play next. There aren’t enough adjectives to direct towards Keylock, who at the age of eighteen is already an accomplished live performer. Of very slight build, Aaron looks as though he could be at risk in even a modest wind and his trademark Gibson Firebird (a sizeable hunk of timber in anyone’s hands) looked absolutely enormous on him. It became obvious who was in charge as soon as he started to play however, his modest years being easily outweighed by a precocious talent. Keylock’s band are another power trio. Sonny Greaves sat behind the skins and he certainly knew how to batter them. He appeared on stage naked from the waist up; always a good sign in a drummer if you ask me.
Completing the line-up stage left was bassist Jordan Maycock. Being left-handed, he gave the band a pleasing aesthetic symmetry. Keylock was promoting his highly anticipated debut album Cut Against The Grain, to be released in January 2017 and on the strength of what I heard tonight I concluded it should be an enjoyable listen.
That just left Federal Charm drummer Danny Rigg to swap the cymbals again before the headline act took to the stage. FC were the only band I knew well and the four-piece line up with duelling lead guitars does give the band a few more creative options. Vocalist and the stage right half of the pairing, Nick Bowden delivers a great sound. Powerful, yet never losing control, he has a bit of the Paul Rodgers about him. To his left, Paul Bowe wields a Les Paul with style and a permagrin etched to his face. He obviously loves being on the stage and makes no attempt to hide it.
On the far right, bassist L D Morawski thumped his E string with such attack that it went boing and for a time he only had A, D and G strings from which to choose. It’s to their credit that the band gave so much in performance because the artificial table and chair barrier was still resolutely in place and Federal Charm appeared to be playing to a three-quarter empty room.
Bowe made a point of questioning the layout and a couple of brave souls moved forward. I have to say this sort of thing does my nut. C’mon people; this much talent comes to your town (and in SIMO’s case, comes half way around the world, and then to your town) and it’s all too exhausting to stand up? Some music was designed to be listened to sitting down, and this isn’t it. As if to prove a point, Federal Charm closed with Give Me Something, a cut from their excellent second album, Across The Divide. It’s a brilliant bluegrass inspired hoe-down that saw Rigg hit a 1/16th beat over five hundred times a minute whilst Bowden blasted stabs of blues harp from the front. All that was missing were denim dungarees and assorted ‘yee-haw’s’ from the crowd.
The Roadstars tour is heartily recommended and concludes in London on 7th December. The full list of dates is as follows:
Southampton Talking Heads – Wed 16th
Brighton Haunt – Thu 17th
Cardiff Globe – Fri 18th
Leek Foxlowe Arts – Sat 19th
Nottingham Bodega – Mon 21st
Wolverhampton Robin 2 – Tue 22nd
Bristol Tunnels – Wed 23rd
York Fibbers – Fri 25th
Crewe Box – Sat 26th
Norwich Waterfront Studio – Sun 27th
Sheffield Greystones – Mon 28th
Newcastle Cluny –Wed 30th
Glasgow O2 ABC2 – Thu 1st
Edinburgh Mash House – Fri 2nd
Manchester Deaf Institute – Sat 3rd
London Islington O2 Academy – Wed 7th
Review and photography by Simon Reed. Simon has his own music photography site here: www.musicalpictures.co.uk