Laurence Jones Band + Matt Pearce & The Mutiny @ The Actress & The Bishop, Birmingham – 4th December 2019

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Review by Paul H Birch

18 months down the road, Laurence Jones’ fanbase has grown over twice as much since he last played the second city. That on arrival the chilling wind outside is forgotten as we find ourselves in warm surroundings, with good natured folk, strong beer and a compact but impressive looking venue with a solid PA helps put one in the mood.

That atmosphere builds exponentially when Matt Pearce & The Mutiny open proceedings. Big chunky funky-as-hell blues rock pumps and grooves from a tighter-than-tight four-piece on stage. Pearce leans back calm of expression as his guitar squeals out on several numbers with elongated West Coast style riffs.

Possibly a couple of years older than what’s to be a whole evening of skilled young musicians; his keyboard player, whose name we only catch as being “Chris” looks barely legal drinking age and when Pearce announces this is his first night and without any rehearsals, we can hardly believe it because he’s absolutely spot-on and excellent. In fact, despite both bands being guitar lead it’s the organ grinders who will shine here tonight.

‘Like A Hammer’ is Little Feat meets The Blues Brothers, ‘Gotta Get Home’ he describes as “Rush playing the ‘Girl From Ipanema’ or something” and he’s absolutely pegged-it, proving a musical highlight it moves out progressively somewhere that Manfred Mann’s Earth Band mighttake a trip down Mountain’s ‘Nantucket Sleighride’. A couple of the more straight-down-the-line blues numbers don’t always grab us but the killer heavy rocking funk makeover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ is a right rave-up and makes a definitive statement on how to end in style.

On a night where we continue to be impressed (Okay, there’s not much of a seated area if you need to take a pew and chill out after a long day at work) it’s a brisk set change before the Laurence Jones Band is on stage with the somewhat aptly titled ‘I’m Waiting’. Their latest album saw them less blues hooked, more British beat soaked, this track now comes on like the original Deep Purple or Vanilla Fudge.

As the evening progresses, we will find the now hirsute Jones and shaggier-maned Bennett Holland on keyboards are acting out a: What-if-Steve Winwood had joined Derek & The Dominoes? fantasy. Despite which ‘Stay’ opens like The Spencer Davis Group before thrashing its way towards a mod-tempo Small Faces beat.

‘Heart Is On Fire’ opens with organ soaked in whirring funk, Jones’ kerchang of guitar chords chilling the groove and it all offset by his blues-tone vocals. His solo rings out naturally from this, with added whammy bar harmonics near its conclusion.

The sultry walking blues that follows has Holland standing, making out like Jon Lord as his left hand karate chops his Hammond, Jones taking up a high noted whistling melody on his six string and this developing into a wild blast of guitar as the band groove underneath and the long-linked riff of ‘Mistreated’ ensues between inflective shuffles. Live, they’ve come on a bundle collectively in a year, since supporting Glenn Hughes.

What Would You Do’ features some fine harmonies and it’s worth noting the four-piece is supplemented tonight by backing vocals – the name of this lady similarly failing to catch my ears clearly, but seemingly African in its origin albeit she comes from London – on this voodoo blues rocker.

“Are you feeling the blues?” the front man asks several times during their set and we have to declare emotionally far from it. Acoustic-tinged echoed guitar and rolling boogie piano blur into a deeper sound as ‘Long Lonely Ride’ and ‘Take Me’ almost blur into one as they take on jam band convictions – One moment it’s hymn-like over an undulating bass, the next it veers towards a rock steady beat wherein tenderly pinched guitar notes form the beginning of a solo that before long floods over with hard Clapton-style phrases beating down.

Building the momentum up again we get the Santana-style fusion of ‘Wipe Those Tears Dry’, Jones’ guitar solo bursting out naturally from the main song again and him increasingly moving away from the mic to one side of the stage or another, and frequently head to head with Holland. The band’s potent cover of Dylan’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ takes the Hendrix cover as blueprint but imbues it with a slower soul sheen, the organ adding an eeriness taken up by the Gothic guitar notes played out until it all reaches a crescendo, with  new bass player Jack Alexander Timmis shadowing Jones’ fretwork as it races to the top of that watchtower and jumps clean off.

The slow Stevie Ray Vaughn style blues of ‘Thunder In The Sky’ see Jones continuing to stretch out with sweeter noodling and hammer-ons giving way to sustained notes pulled out within clusters of expressive licks. Bo Diddly cover ‘Before You Accuse Me’ is a stomping ground four-to-the-floor rock-out allowing Jones to roam the stage again, but save for some gospel style singing, that the audience join in with, it’s a number I can take or leave.

Their cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Fortunate Son’ remains a powerful addition however, the original’s politics aside they pile on the dance groove rhythm. Following its piano intro ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ brings the band’s main set to a conclusion. Beatles-esque before rocking out with audience participation it features some great drumming throughout courtesy of Phil Wilson who on returning to the stage for encores stands behind his kit bashing away at as they give us ‘Live It Up’ as a bluesy rock ‘n’ roller  turning heavy riffed with classic pop music harmonies.

On stage they’re obviously enjoying themselves and the audience is also certainly getting its money’s worth tonight, band introductions are given, solos offered, and before we know it that’s it, over and job well done by all, including the  guy bravely manning the bar solo!