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Mike Markey and Nick Jones

Heads Of The Valleys


by Ian Mann

November 26, 2009


Authentic and consistently entertaining acoustic blues from this highly skilled duo from Deep South Wales. These guys look and sound the part.

Mike Markey (harmonica and vocals) and Nick Jones (guitars) are an acoustic blues duo from South Wales and this release on the local Clementine label first appeared in 2008. The 2009 edition appears with a bonus disc of the duo’s appearance on Radio Wales in August and includes four songs from the initial album plus an interesting interview with presenter Alan Thompson.

Markey and Jones first met as members of the Tom Williams Jazz & Blues Band but went their separate ways for a number of years before forming the present duo. A popular act on the South Wales scene they are now coming to wider attention with regular gigs in Herefordshire, Swindon , Birmingham and beyond. An appearance on Paul Jones’ Rhythm and Blues Show on Radio 2 brought them to the ears of a national audience and this is also documented on the bonus disc.

I’ve seen the duo several times, the first time at the tiny Blue Note bar in my home town of Leominster where I was hugely impressed. A word by yours truly in the right ears has ensured that they’ve continued to visit the town on a regular basis playing both the Blue Note and the Bell Inn with further dates due at both of these very soon. See for details.

Perhaps the best gig I’ve seen by them was at the 2009 Pontypool Jazz festival where they entertained a larger, harder listening crowd with their blend of interesting and often humorous material and superb musicianship. One of the strengths of the duo is the way that they have the happy ability to appeal to casual pub audiences who may not have heard them before in addition to having the hard won authenticity required to convince hard core blues buffs. Visually the duo look the part, man mountain Mike sports a dark suit and fedora hat, the smaller, dapper Jones totes a brilliantly shining National guitar alongside a more prosaic acoustic. The National is a thing of beauty that draws gasps of admiration wherever and whenever it’s played. Markey has an authentic blues voice, deep, resonant and convincing. Jones is an accomplished finger picker and a superb slide guitar player. He dovetails superbly with Markey’s vocals and harmonica lines, indeed Markey’s harp skills are such that he frequently guests in this capacity for other artists, including King Pleasure And the Biscuit Boys among others. Markey quotes Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and Kim Wilson of The fabulous Thunderbirds as his favourite harpists, Jones’ tastes are rather more catholic, including, rather improbably Thomas Dolby. It’s all there in that radio interview.

Both Markey and Jones have played in electric blues bands before (indeed I saw Markey fronting one such back in the day) but the pared down nature of the duo seems to bring out the best in them. Their chosen repertoire is a big strength. The fourteen songs on this album are witty and pithy, often highly humorous and loaded with double entendres in the best blues tradition- try the opener “Let Me Squeeze Your Lemons” for size, or “My Pencil Won’t Write No More”, a lament penned in the days before Viagra. “Fishin’ Blues” sounds pretty smutty too.

However it’s not all fun and filth, there’s a harrowing blues rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “Dust Pneumonia Blues” and an urgent, insistent version of “Midnight Train To Memphis”, the latter a prison song and a musical first cousin to the better known “Midnight Special” . Also written from the point of view of a convict “If It Hadn’t Been For Love” is a stark murder ballad.

The pair have a particular affinity for the witty songs of the US duo Tim Ball and Kenny Sultan and “Your Red Wagon” and the hilarious “Filthy Rich” grace this selection, the latter a great crowd favourite. Their “Tired As A Man Can Be” has also featured in the Markey/Jones repertoire.

Elsewhere we get to hear Earl Hooker’s “I Need Me A Car” (if you’re wondering Earl was John Lee’s cousin) and Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied”, a slide showcase for Nick Jones.
It’s unfortunate that the album inlay doesn’t list the provenance of all these songs. Some but not all I know from elsewhere, other information I’ve picked from the duo’s website and radio interview. I know it’s not always easy to identify the authorship of blues material but a bit more info would have been welcome.

Anyway we also get “Back To California”, a segue of “My Buckets Got A Hole In It” and “Move It On Over” plus the penultimate track the road song “This Old Band”. The closing “Too Much Alcohol” was associated with the late, great Rory Gallagher (in more ways than one) but not I’m sure if he actually wrote it.

Recorded live in the studio this album is a good approximation of what you can expect if you go to see the duo live. There are no frills but the playing is sharp and precise throughout. With the emphasis on fun this is a hugely entertaining album but the duo clearly have a real love of their source material and their version of the acoustic, country blues is highly convincing. These guys look and sound the part and the spirit of Robert Johnson, pictured on the cover, shines throughout. It’s the sound of the American Deep South even if the geographical location is deep South Wales.

As the duo’s following continues to increase I would think it’s almost certain that they will be recording again in this format at some point. Writing their own songs in this style is a possibility for next time, presumably mixed in with some of the other old classics just waiting to be re-discovered.

For the record the bonus disc contains live versions of “Can’t Be Satisfied”, “If It Hadn’t Been For Love”, “Filthy Rich” and “Too Much Alcohol” from the Radio Wales show plus “I Need Me A Car” from the Paul Jones show. 

In the meantime if you get the chance to catch this consistently entertaining double act live make sure you take the chance. You won’t regret it. That website address again;

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