Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The Blow Monkeys & The Scott Ashley Band @ The Sugarmill, Hanley. 1st September

Review by Steve Dean

Photo by Simon Bamford

Opening his act with a song which may or not be by the Fine Young Cannibals, but certainly included parts of ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ as a possible nod to the 80s veterans to follow, Scott Ashley and his band displayed some fine musicianship and songwriting throughout their short, but impressive set. The included cover number was slick and well-executed, sticking more or less to the original arrangement, but the band’s first and foremost strength is in Scott’s own compositions. He featured a new single, ‘Blinking, Not Thinking’; a robust, catchy song in the pop/rock vein and I particularly liked James Marsh’s lead guitar over Scott’s jangling 12-string accompaniment. He also has a very able rhythm section in Ryan Whitmore and Gaz Ryder on bass and drums respectively. With its strong introduction and attention-grabbing incidental parts ‘Together as One’ also stood out, as did ‘Must Have Been the Weather’. Having broken two strings early in the set, Scott managed to play round them admirably and there is no doubt at all of his strong vocal ability. Each member articulately soloing as they went out on ‘Here’s My Imagination’, The Scott Ashley Band proved themselves a worthy outfit to play alongside just about anybody.

“This is only their third gig in eighteen years”, announced the announcer before bassist Mick Anker, saxman Neville Henry, drummer Tony Kiley, and frontman and guitarist Dr Robert, known collectively as the Blow Monkeys, took the stage. A quick check reveals that the other two were both on the previous day. However, there were no obvious signs of such a long break, the old songs sounding just as fresh as they did nearly two decades ago and the new ones bringing a new aspect to their overall sound. Their first number, the stylish and jazzy ‘The World Can Wait’, has the most silky, slinky bassline and a melody that puts me in mind of Pink Floyd of all bands. A great opening song which featured some excellent drum soloing as it neared close. Following this with the thumping ‘Bullet Train’, their new single, Dr Robert and the Blow Monkeys demonstrated a willingness to branch out in all directions musically and this was very evident in the variety of their set. For instance ‘Travellin’ Soul’ has an easy country ’n’ western feel in contrast to the funky soul vibe they are usually associated with. Their best known songs, ‘Diggin’ Your Scene’ and ‘It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way’, had a good few of the mainly middle-aged audience up dancing and they returned for two encores at the end, although it has to be said that the calling for them was lamentably half-hearted. This was no reflection on their act though, and they can congratulate themselves on a fine hour and a quarter set well-played and certainly up to scratch - nice to have them back.


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