When I saw them at the prestigious 100 Club only six months ago, Buck and Evans were still previewing songs from an album that, like Billy Bunter’s postal order or an election manifesto promise, was constantly about to be delivered- delayed by the demise of Pledge Music among other things. Fortunately, a return visit as part of an extensive tour was finally able to promote the release of ‘Write Another Day’.
Having familiarised myself last time round with the unique charms of this Welsh band, this time there was also an opportunity to familiarise myself with Cambridge-based Sweet Crisis, who opened the blues stage at last year’s Ramblin Man Fair.
A fresh-faced band yet oozing with vintage classic rock, blues and soul influences, they opened with ‘Loosen Up’ with the keyboards prominent, though others like ‘Balling Ball’ and ‘One Way Traffic’ had meatier guitar riffs from Piers Mortimer whose soulful playing was a delight throughout .
While they initially seemed a little tentative on the 100 Club’s oddly long stage, tousle-haired singer Leo Robarts soon found his mojo, his strong voice shown to best effect on the stripped back ‘Karma Will Come’ although the song reminded me a little of Maroon 5 or Train.
What was most impressive for a young band was the sense of space they created between their unhurried grooves. The likes of ‘Black Magic’ and ‘Great Big Steps’ grew on me while ‘Misty Haze’ had a lazy blues feel with Piers playing one of his finest solos.
On the heavy duty funk of ‘Rolling In It’. Leo worked himself into a trance like a young Van Morrison before they closed with a rather more conventional blues rocker in ‘’Treading in Deep Water’, with a southern feel, right down to a piano solo that echoed Billy Powell’s on ‘Sweet Hone Alabama’.
It was a very impressive set from an interesting proposition: I look forward to following their rise, provided they can develop their own style.
Buck and Evans have been through that journey to create a distinct sound of their own as well as a loyal following. They opened with ‘One Four’, Sally Ann Evans singing out front before returning in more familiar fashion to her electric piano for ‘Going Home’, showing off her soulful vocals.
Surprisingly early they dropped in their best known song ‘Slow Train’, with a dramatic atmosphere building up to the first of Chris Buck’s epic solos of the night, and Common Ground also impressed with its catchy ‘never giving up now’ chorus while the up tempo ‘Impossible’ had a somewhat jazzy swing to it.
‘Treat Me Right’ apparently dated back to their earliest days and had been brought back into the set and was a slow blues with Chris and drummer Bob Richards singing the vocal coda ‘over and over again’, while the ballad ‘Fix You’ was a showcase for some marvellously emotive singing from Sally Ann.
‘Trail of Tears’ epitomised the unique style that Chris brings to their songs. He plays with quite remarkable feeling but best of all is not afraid to slow his playing right down, allowing the emotion of every note to seep through.
He also acts as the band’s frontperson and in his matted hair and denim jacket came over as the precocious but cheeky student with a series of witty jibes at his elders, who give as good as they get in return and take him down a peg or two for talking too much.
There is something endearingly lo-fi about their stage presence, though in front of larger crowds and particularly international audiences I wonder if they may need to tone this down in favour of a slicker presentation.
As the set wore on, the songs became increasingly epic in scope and length as ‘Change’ gave way to the soulful ‘Dreams to Remember’, beautifully stripped back and building in drama as Chris wound up to another superb solo.
Fleetwood Mac comparisons recur in reviews of the band but on ‘Sinking’ Sally Ann’s cool bluesiness reminded me more of Christine Perfect, as she then was, in Chicken Shack.
‘Sunrise’ was somewhat different with an atmospheric, almost progressive feel and a prominent bassline from Dominic Hill- hilariously likened by Chris to Robbie Savage and Dog the Bounty Hunter, who seemed in a happy world of his own stage right- before Chris’ closing solo again took off into another dimension.
They encored with Sally Ann back up front as she and Chris orchestrated the chant to ‘Back to Yesterday’, the nearest to a singalong we will ever get at a Buck and Evans gig, then the more conventionally up tempo, funky feel of ‘Ain’t No Moonlight’ complete with band intros and some rather looser jamming.
With the album now safely delivered, this evening of original and, in places, stunning music showed that Buck and Evans can, if they choose, break out of their cult following and into the mainstream.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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