A return to normality for gigging is a long way off, just witness the continuing cancellation or postponements of shows into 2022. However at least lockdown has lifted enough for a few socially distanced shows to resume. Last autumn I witnessed a couple of them at the Cabbage Patch, staged by the stalwart Eel Pie Club, and was due to attend a third with these two respected local musicians. Three postponements and seven months later, it was a relief that it finally took place.
Papa George, the genial London bluesman with the Greek-Cypriot heritage, has been a regular on the local gig scene in and around South-West London ever since I moved here 30 years ago, and probably longer. The singer and guitarist’s afternoon acoustic sessions alongside Micky Moody at the Red Lion in Isleworth for many years are the stuff of local legend.
Val Cowell has been treading the boards for just as long with Bad Influence – inspired by the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin, her powerful bluesy singing even (if I recall) attracted attention from Raw magazine back in the day. While the big time never beckoned they have been reliable live performers and even featured on Radio 2.
So it was perhaps surprising that, given they inhabit a similar musical and geographical orbit, the two have only joined forces relatively recently.
The format was consistent – the two generally alternated lead vocals from one song to the next, though Val also added harmony vocals to George’s. They both played electric Fenders, and George’s lead playing was a revelation to one weaned on his acoustic shows- with a heavier edge and even an aggressive, ragged feel at times.
His ‘Blackjack’ has long been a staple of his live set while that richly warm and comforting voice enlivened ‘Cleansing My Soul’ and the gospel-tinged ‘Sun Gonna Shine’. He played a few numbers from recent album ‘These Wheels’, and both ‘Roll With You’ and main set closer ‘Heading South’ chugged away in satisfyingly rocking fashion.
However the majority of songs in the set were choice blues and rock covers, starting with Val singing Keb Mo’s ‘I’m On Your Side’. Her Bonnie Raitt influence shone through as she covered ‘Love Me Like a Man’ and her version of ‘Runaway’, and she put her own stamp on Randy Newman’s ‘Guilty’ very effectively. More mainstream stuff included the Stones ‘Dead Flowers’ and a pair of ‘pre-mechanical’ ZZ Top, as Val called them, in ‘I Thank You’ and Jesus Just Left Chicago’.
They interpreted a number of old standards including the old spiritual ‘Wade in the Water’ and ‘Baby What You Want Me to Do’ (which I always associate with Wishbone Ash but my partner was quick to recognise as an Elvis staple!”) However ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ as recently popularised by Chris Stapleton had every member of our party separately wondering if this wasn’t ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ with different lyrics?
Ending with a very suitably chosen encore in ‘Pride and Joy’, this was an excellent if sedate evening of rocking blues to provide a memory to savour while the gig scene, including further Eel Pie shows, slowly returns to normal. The two worked together so beautifully that the only question is, what took them so long?
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 12 September 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at www.getreadytorock.com for that week.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 14 September 2021.
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Featured Albums w/c 6 September 2021 (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 HEARTLAND Into The Future (Escape Music)
12:00-13:00 VEGA Anarchy And Unity (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 JACKSON BROWNE Downhill From Everywhere (indie)
Power Plays w/c 20 September 2021 (Mon-Fri)
BAD TOUCH Twenty Five Miles (Marshall)
THE HUMAN VEIL Enemies (indie)
DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY Now’s The Time (Golden Robot Records)
VANSLEEP Oceans (indie)
TRUE NORTH Save Me (Out Of Line Music)
SORROW & THE SPIRE In The City Tonight (Golden Robot Records)
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