Hanging from Elizabeth's neck are two native American dream-catchers. Elizabeth, for those who haven't had the privilege of her acquaintance, is the name that Cathryn Craig has given to her acoustic guitar. As Cathryn and her partner, Brian Willoughby have long dreamt of putting together a band, you need look no further for proof that native American magic works.
There were many obstacles for the magic to overcome. Firstly, by pure chance, they'd chosen the night of an England World cup football match for the debut performance of Craig and Willoughby's Rockin' Rhythm Revue. There was consternation that the match and the gig would coincide, resulting in a poor turn out, and if England had lost and been ejected from the cup, there would have been few people in Twickenham in the mood for celebrating. Luckily kick-off was early and the score was favourable.
Secondly, during the match there had been a power cut in the Twickenham area, but luckily the powers that be had managed to restore power before the gig, otherwise we could have been treated to a purely acoustic concert by candlelight.
Thirdly, the power cut had affected the water board pumping station in nearby Hampton, and there were 500,000 homes without water in the area, so no-one was sure whether the Eel Pie club would be able to open, but somehow, with the help of a couple of dream-catchers, everything went ahead as planned.
The Eel Pie club! What a venue for a band's debut! Nearby Eel Pie Island was instrumental in the birth of legends such as The Rolling Stones, and The Who. The club is known as "the home of British rhythm and blues." Only the previous week, Ali McKenzie had reformed his band The Birds there. (That's Birds with an "i" and not with "y").
Only complaint about the venue is that it was quite hot up there, even for us, the audience, so it must have felt like a sauna for the band.
Craig & Willoughby's Rockin' Rhythm Revue comprise Cathryn Craig (vocals, guitar), Brian Willoughby (guitar), (Big) John Evans (guitar, vocals), Mark Pickup (sax, recorder, vocals), Jim Mason (bass) and Jim Kean (drums). In addition, they were joined in the second set by Bob Lewis (vocals, guitar) aka Dr. Bob
Think they're all pretty well known in the area. Brian and Cathryn, as a folk duo, have played at the Cabbage Patch several times, Brian, Bob and John almost have a residency at the Fox with their rhythm and blues trio: The Three Must Get Beers and the two Jim's play in a very popular band called the Sheppertones. I think, though, that they were all very surprised at what a warm reception they got. The audience loved them, cheering and applauding at every solo. When Bob joined them in the second half, he had a look of total surprise when he was cheered. You could almost see him worrying that the audience had mistaken him for someone else. But no. All applause was meant, and was richly deserved.
I was very impressed with Mark. I adore the sound of the saxophone, so I'm biased, but Mark is primarily a guitarist, and the sax is his second instrument. Not only that, he normally uses the sax for jazz, and guitar based music such as rock and roll, blues and r and b are played in completely different keys to those he is used to. You could not have told that he was on unfamiliar ground. His performance was immaculate.
Very impressed with Cathryn, too. She showed a great range of vocal talents, and demonstrated that she is an ideal frontperson for a band.
Of course, I was blown away with Brian. I could listen to him tune a cricket bat all night. He has such an effortles way of seemingly just holding a guitar and beautiful music just pours out of it. For most of the evening he played a Gretsch guitar, I believe a relatively new acquisition. An ideal instrument for rock and roll, at least in his hands. For "Accanoe", he normally plays a resonator, but he switched to a bright emerald green guitar that I had never seen him play before. It looked like a Fender, but I didn't think to examine it close enough to confirm the make. I'm not a huge fan of rock and roll, but Brian's improvising added such depth to the music, that every track they played sounded truly beautiful
They opened with "Mountain of Love", an old Johnny Rivers number from 1961. (Johnny is still working in the music industry having recently recorded a tribute album to Buddy Holly with Clapton, McCartney and Tom Petty). I am used to hearing Cathryn singing sweet gentle folk songs, but boy, can she belt out rock 'n' roll when she wants. John, Brian and Mark all took turns at improvising. Through their band The Three Must Get Beers, John and Brian have developed an almost telepathic connection weaving the tune between them, and it was great to hear the saxophone adding to their tapestry.
This was followed by another sixties American rock 'n' roll number, "Many Tears Ago", originally by Connie Francis (who had hits with songs like "Who's Sorry Now", "Stupid Cupid", and "Lipstick On Your Collar"),and then Cathryn continued with "I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)", Barbara George's debut single which has been covered by Cher and Ike and Tina Turner.
John then took over the lead vocals for the next two songs, firstly "Let's Work Together", written by Wilbert Harrison but made famous by Canned Heat and Brian Ferry. He then switched to a completely different change of pace with a mournful 12 bar blues song by T-Bone Walker called "Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday's Just As Bad)". (The song is sometimes called "Stormy Monday Blues", but gets confused with Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine's similarly titled song). Amongst others who have covered this are Jethro Tull, Eva Cassidy and Bobby Bland. The Rockin' Rhythm Revue's version was breathtakingly beautiful. My favourite song of the evening.
When playing "Cotton Fields", Cathryn often sings the first note, then switches to the first verse of Ike Turner's "River Deep, Mountain High", so it was wonderful to finally hear her sing the whole song, accompanied by a full band. A wonderful performance, so much better than the original.
They ended the first set with Brian and Cathryn's own composition about Pocahontas, (who grew up in the same area of Virginia as Cathryn), "Accanoe". Normally, the only percussion on this song comes from bells round Cathryn's wrist, but the song cries out for a drum beat as evidenced by the studio version on their album "Calling All Angels". The pounding rhythm from the two Jims gave this live version a real feel of sitting round a native American camp fire. Cathryn's bells couldn't take the strain, and the wrist strap snapped, leaving her clutching a hand full of bells, whilst still playing her guitar. Although this was the debut performance, I had been lucky enough to have sat in on a rehearsal a couple of night before. Mark played his sax on "Accanoe" during the rehearsal, making it howl like a pack of wolves in the Virginian mountains. For the performance, he switched to a recorder, to give a more authentic red-Indian sound, but I don't think the effect was quite as haunting. Said I was biased over the saxophone, didn't I?
After a break, they returned on stage, and Cathryn broke in to an a capella version of Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz". The soundman made a mad dash to the bar to switch off the music that had been playing during the interval.
John and Cathryn performed a duet to the Righteous Brother's hit, "My Babe", and Cathryn then took the lead again for Dylan's, "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" (also covered by the Hollies, Ian Gillan, Norah Jones and Burl Ives).
Cathryn introduced "You Don't Know Me" by saying it was one of her favourite songs. It was written in 1948 by Cindy Walker, then a junior song writer, when Eddy Arnold suggested the title to her at a convention in Nashville. The biggest chart success for this song came from Ray Charles, whose version was featured in the film "Groundhog Day". After hearing the Rockin' Rhythm Revue's version, I have to agree with Cathryn. A truly great song.
Bob Lewis (known as Dr Bob) then joined them for three songs, Bo Diddley's "Businessman" and two songs by J. J. Cale, "Call Me The Breeze" and "Ride The River". All three are great favourites when played by the Three Must Get Beers, "Businessman" is normally used as their finale. Especially liked "Ride The River", with the main riff started by John, and then finished by Mark and Brian together.
They finished the second set with an old gospel song, "Down By The Riverside" also known as "I Ain't Gonna Study War No More", aka "Lay Down My Burden". The song dates back to the American civil war and was sung by both sides, white and black. It has been covered by Elvis, Louis Armstrong, Van Morrison and Peter, Paul and Mary.
Tumultuous calls for an encore, so they ended the evening with Del Shannon's "Runaway", the original of which being included in Rolling Stones list of 500 greatest songs of all time.
For a band where early rehearsals had been played across two continents by Skype, with all of the inherent delays, this was a really tight performance, as good as if they'd been playing together for years. Great variety of styles, from blues, gospel, blues to rock and roll. Really looking forward to another performance.
Excuse me whilst I just pop off and hang up a few dream-catchers.