Following some extremely well received appearances at various festivals, as well as going down well doing support slots Chantal McGregor BLUE NATION played their own headline show for the Lichfield Blues and Jazz Festival at the Guildhall. There was no support on the night, the band played two sets, which gave them a chance to rehearse their new set for foe further festival appearances over the summer, as well as recording a new EP.
There was a decent crowd in the Guildhall, on an extremely humid Friday night, although it was a bit of a surprise that the hall was laid out in ‘cabaret’ format with tables and chairs. The band’s regular drummer, Oli Jefferson, was, as Neil Murdoch put it, ‘Swanning off with Robert Plant’, and replaced by Nick Sharman, who did an excellent job. Having released the excellent ‘Echoes EP last year, the band are ready to record a follow up, and were keen to roadtest some of the new songs, but the opening half of the show was pretty much their festival set, although such is the quality of some of their newer songs, I can see them being included sooner rather than later.
The band opened up with ‘Joker’ and straight away they looked to be in a relaxed frame of mind, with Neil egging bassist Luke Machin into a solo that early in the set. In the first half, ‘Melody’ was a particular highlight, with the band breaking into parts of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ and Zeppelin’s ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ in the finale. Those Zeppelin comparisons keep coming to mind with Blue Nation, not that they’re soundalikes, but they often have the same combination of heaviness and groove. If Neil’s vocals were a little indistinct at times, no doubt the Guildhall’s high, vaulted ceiling makes sound mixing a bit of a challenge, the band were playing really well, especially in closing the opening half with ‘Rich Girl’ and ‘Good Times’.
The interval didn’t seem to have affected their momentum, as they slipped straight back into their groove, opening the second set with a terrific ‘Give Me Some Time’. Early in this set, they began to introduce the new songs, the first of which was ‘Hand Me Down’, then a lighter, dare I say more commercial song, ‘Every Single Time’, which they noted was their producer, Terry Gibson’s, favourite among the new ones. Unfortunately, just as they were hitting top gear, the band were bedevilled by the first of a number of technical problems, that were to occur throughout the show. This time the vocals went silent, although the band seemed unaware at first, playing until shouts from the crowd and signals from the crew brought the music to a halt. This was soon cured, but shortly, also in another new song, ‘Old Friends’, there were more issues when it seemed that Neil Murdoch’s wireless pack for his guitar had gone down, but it was found that the problem was actually with his backline, eventually solved by connecting his guitar setup directly into the PA. Meanwhile Luke and Nick kept the crowd entertained with a solo each, with the watching Neil noting that the bass one included a bit of Primus.
Once the technical gremlins has been banished, the band seemed firstly relieved and secondly remotivated, working up to the finale of the gig. Two of the songs from their most recent EP, ‘The Reason’ and ‘Strangers’ lifted the gig up to a new level, and another excellent new song, ‘Strangers’ fit into the set perfectly. That just left two of their very best songs to round the evening off. Firstly the ever emotional ‘Echoes’, a song that the band feel has taken on a life of it’s own, and raised their profile even higher, with them pointing out the issues it’s raised have moved them to officially supporting the Samaritans, with a collecting bowl on their merch table, then bringing things to a big finish with ‘Down by the River’.
Despite the technical problems, the band had delivered a memorable gig. They’ll be playing a lot of support and festival sets over the rest of the year, which means there may not be many chances to see them locally again this year. But if you can the chance to see them you really should, they’re more than ready to move into bigger venues sometime soon.
Reviewed by Paul Quinton