Belated New Year's greetings to all... I'm off to see the mighty Charles Gayle at the Cafe Oto in a few days (see previous review here...) but ventured out on Saturday afternoon with Mr Marmion to Leicester, a kip of a place as we used to say in Dublin, but the Criterion is a great little bar and the attraction of a solo performance by one of our favourites, Gren Bartley was the main reason to drag us out of God's Little Acre for a few hours.
A fair crowd when we arrived, which would get bigger... the performance space is a relatively small room so lends itself to the intimacies of acoustic gigs. Gren was on good form – admitting that he had not played in public since before the New Year, he did not sound rusty at all. The usual exemplary picking on guitar and occasional banjo buttressed his voice which has been getting stronger down the years, a deeper emotional edge to it now. An eclectic mix of songs – from self-penned, old and very new, (i.e, the day before) to covers from Paul Curreri to Skip James via Leadbelly and Lonnie Johnson, among others. Criticism? One small one - perhaps a bit of throttling back on the mid-atlantic accent here and there, but that's a personal thing. What I do find fascinating is Gren's take on old blues numbers which he revitalises without slavish copying: coming at a diagonal almost from alternate bass 'folk' picking styles, the blue notes and runs are there but lightly inflect the songs rather than dominate. He's a fine writer as well, some interesting new stuff.
A lot of faces we knew there – these afternoon sessions are very much a meeting place for local musicians, especially now that the Phoenix lunchtime gig has gone down. Which means a lot of chat in the background but that's the nature of these gigs and the p.a. cuts through most of it – although we noticed Gren was turning it up as the afternoon went on and crowd lubrication levels rose. Nigel Lawson was at our table, asked up a couple of times to play some blues harp and acquitting himself well, some added value. (This is not Baron Lawson of Blaby, by the way, but the front man of local band Dangerous Dogs).
Relaxed, good vibes and good music...