In their first St Ives Guildhall concert on March 22, The Producers showcased the contemporary manifestation of a musical tradition that traces its roots back more than a century and a half, more than four thousand miles away and to a world far from our experience. But, whether distance, time or culture, the Blues travels well.
From the southern USA to that country’s northern cities, it was the music of the underdog: chronicling life, love, sex, betrayal, hardship and death in the Afro-American experience. Given that past, it’s a miracle that the Blues ever broke free of its origins; but it did and we’re eternally grateful for that.
Britain, in particular, took to the music and the 1960s, alongside the ‘pop music’ revolution, also spawned a thriving and creative Blues scene.
Whether it was the straightforward and earthy themes, the less cluttered solo performances or the rhythms; the Blues inspired a British music scene new conquests for a genre. And it has always been creative with British artists contributing massively to the Blues canon and none more so than The Producers.
Any band is only as good as the musicians and, by that measure, The Producers are brilliant, outstanding lights in their milieu. Harry Skinner fronts the band with hugely good guitar (he makes the instrument live) and vocals but he is also a songwriter of talent as is superb bass player Dave Saunders. This lets the band range across traditional numbers and wholly new pieces in an evening displaying the musicianship of Harry and Dave as well as the equally outstanding Ray Drury on organ and piano. and Biff Smith on drums. Ray also supplies that authentic ‘Hammond Organ’ tone while Biff, like most drummers, is the force that holds it all on track. I could say that we were, at turns, reminded of Georgie Fame, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker, Professor Longhair, Chuck Berry… even Bob Marley; but only as a compliment to the band’s innate ability; this was no copycat performance but original music which moved us as only the Blues can. You won’t want a shopping list of songs but aficionados not there will regret missing the pathos of New Money and the fast paced Blues of Bitter and Sweet and Blue. While others were watching TV ‘talent’ shows, We were enjoying talent with songs like Lazy Lester’s 1958, Sugar Coated Love and Harry Skinner’s own Preservation Blues (close your eyes and you could have forgotten that the nanny movement against atmosphere had decreed a smoking ban) or Harry and Dave’s You’ve Got to Change.
It was a joy to today’s Blues, keeping the faith for a music tradition that still talks truth in 2014; the Blues is us… set to music.
With the unmistakable and much recorded Baby Please Don’t G01, Robert Johnson’s Crossroad Blues and, for an encore, the powerfully driven Roadhouse Blues: this was vivid musical clarity to set against the fog of machine music, a performance to remember until 20th September when The Producers will be back at the Festival with Kent DuChaine. If you miss that one, I’ll have to assume you’ve gone deaf; there could be no other reason not to be there.
As is often the case after a brilliant evening of music, we retired to the Kettle & Wink bar at the Western Hotel where local band, The Biscuits were holding the room spellbound with their musicianship and range. The stones of this place seem to ooze talent and it doesn’t get much better than a Saturday night in St Ives.