Review by Steve Dean
Photo by Angela Pike
Having seen acoustic guitarist and singer Ant Mayer earlier this year, I was pleased to find him on tonight’s bill at this popular Friday venue and judging by his reception, so was everybody else there. A passionate vocalist, capable performer and fine songwriter, his use of a phasing unit on his first number added yet a new dimension to his already varied repetoire. Although his set was comprised mainly of his own compositions, the addition of a White Stripes number went down very well, as did all his numbers and I especially liked ‘Waterline’ and his bluesy closing number ‘Hard to decide’ ensured he left the stage to much warm applause. I’m sure he’ll be around as a singer/songwriter for some time to come.
Alfa 9 are somewhat different to any other band I’ve encountered in Stoke so far; their sound like an amazingly accurate reproduction of mid-sixties American pop/rock; although whether that’s completely intentional or not, I’ve no idea. Although there are plenty of influences from that time in the mix, to me they sound almost exactly like an updated Byrds, the captivating harmonies of guitarist Phil Mason and Bass player Ali Heath recapturing Roger McGuinn and Dave Crosby pretty much exactly. They are not singing The Byrds songs though; the self-penned numbers I heard here tonight were every bit as melodically appealing as anything those country rockers of yore turned out. I always like to hear the odd guitar solo and Leon Jones, at times wielding an unusual 12-string Phantom Teardrop, played some very enjoyable ones. Some powerful drumming from Andy Vernon carried things along nicely and of the songs I was particulary taken by the chiming riff on the Beatle-ish ‘Castle’ and they have a great closing number in their up tempo rocker ‘Old Man's Blues’. They have a pretty unique take as far as all things musical go these days and I can see a big future for them. Music as good as this should be heard by a much wider audience.
Up from North London with local lad Liam Ward on bass, Tall Stories began with an amusing ditty about Stoke-on-Trent chirpily sung solo by likeable frontman Rob McCabe. They have an infectious sense of fun and their opening number as a group, the rock-a-billyish ‘Lie Baby Lie’ set the scene for a cracking set full of interesting and amusing songs. Although they put me in mind of a cross between Dr Feelgood and a little of the Stray Cats, their myspace profile decribes them as ‘Lonnie Donegan skipping bail at the Kinks’ house’; neat, that; and sums them up pretty well; although it must be added that their overall take on things appears a tad unique. ‘Gun ‘em Down’ has a great choppy riff and although McCabe isn’t exactly a technical guitarist, he does play some interestingly scratchy solos. Some galvinising keyboard work from Stu Maxwell and energetic drumming from Saul Eisenberg soon had a great many of the audience on their feet and judging by the amount of punters singing along with the memorable lyrics, it is pretty obvious they have a decent sized following. Their closing number containing much frivilous bounding around, Tall Stories finished their set to well-deserved uproarious applause. It would be good to see them in Stoke again in the not-too-distant future.
Headliners Black Apples played their usual set of hard rocking blues numbers and having reviewed them twice already in the past few months, it’s enough to say that they went down an absolute bomb; coming back to play no less than three encores. They have recently secured a recording contract and I see no reason why the future ahead for them should be anything less than rosy. A great night once again.