In this age of instant downloads and 15 second celebrities, it’s refreshing to catch a legend worthy of the term. Step right up Mike Vernon in his new found career as lead vocalist and song writer with his excellent band The Mighty Combo.
He’s someone who has made a huge contribution to the contemporary music scene in general and the blues scene in particular. After a stellar 50 year career as a music executive, top producer, studio owner, label boss, magazine editor, song writer, and occasional singer, the indefatigable Mike Vernon now finds himself in the role of game keeper turned poacher.
The impossibly youthful septuagenarian tailors much of tonight’s set from his recent ‘Just A Little Bit’ CD and the forthcoming ’A Little Bit More’ CD/EP. His musical oeuvre is both a personal homage to the classic 40′s and 50′s R&B, as well as a handful of self penned songs that sit well with the classics.
This Boom Boom Club show is an object lesson in the art of performing, the joy of getting inside the songs, the discipline of phrasing and balancing that with buckets of passion.
Indeed in his more unfettered moments he alternates between driving on his band to greater heights and sharing a heartfelt enthusiasm with the crowd in some belligerent call and response moments.
He also cleverly incorporates his stellar band into booming arrangements that always leave room for their collective virtuosity on accessible choruses.
And what a band it its. Locked in by the rock solid rhythm section of Ian Jennings on double bass and Mike Hellier on drums, the front line players of saxist Paul Tasker, keyboard player Matt Little and the hugely impressive guitarist and Otis Grand mentored Kid Carlos Moreno, are left with plenty of options to fill out the spaces with a variety of solos.
They open with a brace of big hitters – Gatemouth Brown’s ‘Okie Dokie Stomp’ and Leiber & Stoller’s ‘Kansas City’ – both of which serve to warm up the band and set the template for an evening of swing, boogie, blues and occasional ballads.
‘All By Myself’ is an early highlight, as Mike gives us the low-down on the Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew penned song, before the band cranks up the jump blues arrangement on which everyone contributes fully.
The Vernon/Kid Carlos co-write ‘Heart And Soul’ is a celebratory love song with a poppy vibe that narrowly avoids schmaltz, if only because of Mike’s total commitment to the song. The band revels on a bouncing arrangement and receives warm applause from the crowd.
You can imagine The Mighty Combo being a popular festival band and fitting into theatre blues bills, but it’s Mike’s natural exuberance that transforms a potentially quiet Monday night club gig into a retro blues party.
The stop-time dynamic of Junior Parker’s ‘Next Time You See Me’ appears to light the fuse, as Kid Carlos stretches out with a beautifully nuanced solo. But just as the place is jumping, Mike bravely ushers us into “the only slow number of the night”, on the Vernon/Quique Bonal penned ‘Old Man Dreams’ which leaves plenty of space for a passionate vocal and crisp guitar work.
The number also serves to build up the anticipation of what has gone before, and suddenly the place is rocking as ‘Hot Little Mama’ provides a cathartic release.
Mike takes a deserved brief rest as Carlos leads the band into the fiery Freddie King instrumental ‘Zan Ho Zay’, but Vernon quickly returns as he’s clearly having too much fun.
He soon clapping, swaying and encouraging the band and won’t let the audience go home until they too have had their quotient of fun.
He’s Mr. Perpetual Motion on ‘Seventh Son’ and the Combo leans into an animated shuffle ‘Jump Up’.
Vernon leaves the best to last on the self penned ‘Hard To Leave (Hate To Say Goodbye)’. Featuring a climactic call and response section on one last call to arms, the band swings extravagantly and takes one more solo each to earn a well deserved encore. Congratulations Sir and welcome to the poachers club!
Finally a word about tonight’s support Uncle Buck. Billed as leading UK exponents of Americana, they are much more than that, as they impressively draw on soul, funk and blues influences on well chosen covers.
In Nick Hyde they have a versatile, soulful vocalist with a wide range, while the rhythm section of Peter Miles drums and bassist Russ Brown ensure the grooves flow like a mountain stream
Unusually two keyboard players alternate between solos and faux horn parts, which all works particularly well on Keb Mo’s ‘The Whole Enchilada’. A very stylish band well worth checking out.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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Power Plays w/c 13 May (Mon-Fri)
WARM RAIN Here Comes The Rain Again (Rain Recordings)
DARWIN Cosmic Rays (indie)
MICHAEL THOMPSON BAND Love & Beyond (Frontiers)
MARQUIS DRIVE Shine On (indie)
YOUR LIFE & MINE Remind To Remember (indie)
EMERALD SUN What becomes Of You (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 13 May (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 JIM PETERIK WORLD STAGE Winds Of Change (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 WHITESNAKE Flesh & Blood (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 BUFORD POPE The Waiting Game (Unchained Records)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
NEVER THE BRIDE Surprise (2005)
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