by Ian Mann
February 17, 2020
"Jamming, blues and big riffs". Ian Mann enjoys the music of guitarist Remi Harris' new rock and blues project, The Electric Beat Combo.
Jamming, blues and big riifs”. Ian Mann enjoys the music of guitarist Remi Harris’ new rock and blues project, The Electric Beat Combo.
Remi Harris & The Electric Beat Combo, Ludlow Brewery, Ludlow, Shropshire, 15/02/2020.
Remi Harris – electric guitars, Darren Beale – electric bass, Shane Dixon – drums
Guitarist Remi Harris has been a regular presence on the Jazzmann web pages, usually in his capacity as a ‘gypsy jazz’ guitarist blessed with a formidable technique and a genuine love of the music.
I first witnessed him playing in the gypsy jazz style a decade ago when he performed with his trio in the nearby town of Presteigne back in 2010. I have seen him perform many times since, both in my capacity as a reviewer and as a very satisfied ‘punter’. I’ve never seen him play a bad gig and over the years he has accrued a very healthy following on the jazz circuit, his reputation flourishing by sheer word of mouth. Audiences at Remi Harris gigs tend to come back for more.
As a result Harris has become one of the UK’s most successful jazz guitarists and an increasingly popular live attraction. He has played sell out shows at the Brecon and Cheltenham Jazz Festivals and in 2016 travelled to Canada to appear at the prestigious Montreal Jazz Festival. Harris’ performances at Cheltenham have led to airplay on Jamie Cullum’s Radio 2 programme and on Cerys Matthews’ show on BBC Radio 6. The summer of 2016 also saw him appearing on national radio and TV as he and his trio guested with Cullum at the latter’s BBC Promenade Concert, for Harris the culmination of a six year journey from the back-room of The Bell in Leominster to the Royal Albert Hall.
But Django Reinhardt and gypsy jazz wasn’t Harris’ first musical love. He was first inspired to play guitar by listening to his dad’s Led Zeppelin records and retains a fondness for rock and blues and music. Indeed he began his career as lead guitarist of the rock group Mars Bonfire, a band that also included drummer Shane Dixon and which built up an impressive local following as well as supporting leading hard rock acts at the 700 capacity rock club the Robin 2 in Bilston, one of the Midlands’ leading rock venues.
Harris’ discovery of Reinhardt and his music eventually led to him following a different musical path but a residual fondness for rock and blues remained and in recent years Harris has brought elements of this back into his jazz performances. Far from alienating his jazz fan base he has actually increased his following and his live shows have become more interesting and varied as a result. Even Harris himself has admitted that playing Hot Club style music exclusively can become restrictive and he has welcomed the opportunity to revisit his rock and blues roots.
Tonight’s date was part of an intensive series of live dates stretching towards the end of May which will see Harris touring the UK presenting three different projects, including Light & Shade, the latest incarnation of his jazz trio show and one which will broaden his stylistic template even more by using a combination of acoustic and electric instruments. There is also his ongoing duo with double bassist Tom Moore, the pair sometimes being joined by guest musicians such as multi reed player Alan Barnes.
Then there is The Electric Beat Combo, a new project but an absolute return to roots. The EBC teams Harris with his old school mate Shane Dixon, who he first met at primary school in the Herefordshire town of Bromyard at the age of seven. When Dixon was eleven his parents bought him a drum kit and as Harris developed his fascination with the guitar the pair would sit and jam for hours, honing the skills that would later lead them to Mars Bonfire and beyond.
Dixon, who used to work behind the bar in my local pub, the Chequers in Leominster is also a guitar player and once played a singer-songwriter style gig at the pub back in the day.
Slightly older than the other two Darren Beale also hails from Bromyard and is the son of guitarist and vocalist Dave Beale, the latter a highly skilled musician and a veteran of countless local rock bands. Also a guitar player Darren Beale currently has a high profile gig as the guitarist with Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats. Dixon, meanwhile is the drummer with what must by now be the 99th incarnation of legendary Welsh psychedelic rockers Man, following in the footprints of such drumming greats as Terry Williams and John ‘Pugwash’ Weathers. With Harris having established his own successful solo career it’s a pretty impressive musical CV for three lads who grew up within a couple of hundred yards of each other in a small rural town like Bromyard. Maybe there’s something in the air in a town that has also produced jazz trumpeter Bryan Corbett and one time Mott The Hoople and Bad Company guitarist Mick Ralphs.
The Electric Beat Combo re-unites these three long standing friends and re-ignites their collective love affair with rock and blues. Harris has frequently spoken of his regard for the playing of such rock legends as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, plus former Fleetwood Mac leader Peter Green and of blues specialists Stevie Ray Vaughan and Freddie King. He cites the improvisation that he encountered on live recordings by Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple as being a key factor in steering him towards jazz and it was the riffs of bands such as these, discovered in his father’s record collection, that Harris and Dixon used to improvise around as teenagers.
The Electric Beat Combo finds the trio re-visiting this material but approaching it with the benefit of professionally honed experience and technical ability. Despite the presence in the UK of Storm Dennis a large crowd crammed itself into the performance space at Ludlow Brewery to enjoy the performance by these local heroes. By chance it was also the time of the brewery’s annual Valentine’s Day Beer Festival, so in addition to Ludlow Brewery’s own excellent range of ales there were also plenty of tempting guest beers to try. Real ale and live music – what’s not to like?
The publicity for the EBC leg of the tour promised; “there will be lots of jamming, blues and big riffs and might get loud!”
Over the course of two invigorating sets the trio certainly delivered on this pledge with Harris strapping on a white Fender Stratocaster as the band brought a heavy blues approach to the old Ray Charles song “What’d I Say”, his chunky riffing and powerful soloing buoyed by Beale’s fluid electric bass grooves and Dixon’s sturdy drumming. The open ended nature of these performances allowed plenty of room for quotes from other songs, Harris’ love of the music of The Beatles is well documented and the riff from “Day Tripper” made a fleeting appearance here.
The EBC is about more than just having fun jamming with your old school mates and Harris has already commenced writing original material for the group. The riff based “Flight Mode” was teamed with the Charles tune in a blistering opening salvo that got the audience on side from the off.
Next up was a medley of Jimi Hendrix tunes, centred around the famous riff of “Voodoo Chile”, a pub rock staple but here played with a far greater technical facility than the average pub blues rock act. The piece allowed Harris the opportunity to utilise his arsenal of effects – wah wah, tremolo, fuzz, sustain etc. as Beale and Dixon filled the Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell roles to perfection.
A second Harris original, titled “Don’t Let Them Get You Down”, was written in a hotel room in a Travelodge near Nottingham, the name of the piece perhaps a wry reflection on the life of a touring musician. Introduced by a passage of unaccompanied guitar the piece brought some of Harris’ jazz leanings into the context of this blues rock power trio and its central riff wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Jeff beck’s landmark “Blow by Blow” album. Elsewhere the leader’s melodic guitar soloing was reminiscent of the playing of Mick Ralphs or Free’s Paul Kossoff.
The Peter Green song “Need Your Love So Bad” was one of the first non jazz pieces that Harris brought to the repertoire of his regular ‘Hot Club’ style jazz trio. It re-emerged here with a harder, sustain heavy blues-rock edge, teamed with an opening slice of blues boogie and a tantalisingly brief snippet of Zeppelin’s famous “Heartbreaker” riff. Quotes and allusions have long been part of Harris’ jazz performances and it was good to see him bringing something of that into this environment too.
An even more energised second set commenced with an extended jam / segue that began with the unaccompanied Harris putting a bluesy slant on “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. The trio as a whole then launched into Led Zep’s “Moby Dick”, teaming it with “ I Walk On Gilded Splinters”, the main riff of which had also found its way into the earlier Hendrix medley. Harris first heard the song on the Paul Weller album “Stanley Road”, but old codgers like me first came to this much covered song via the “Gris Gris” album of its creator, Dr. John. This segment also included an old Mars Bonfire song, re-worked by the EBC as an instrumental.
Following this energetic opening sequence the trio slowed things down a little with slow blues arrangements of “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” and the Neil Young song “Old Man”, with Harris deploying a finger slide and wringing plenty of sustain drenched emotion out of his Gibson. I seem to recall the Neil Young song also being played by his jazz trio at some point in the dim and distant.
A brief but energetic high speed blues-rock jam was followed by a Beatles medley that incorporated “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” and other excerpts from the “Abbey Road” album, with Beale’s bass counter melodies complementing Harris’ guitar. Delivered in true power trio style the EBC captured something of that ‘heaviness’ in the title.
To close the trio delivered an epic “mash up” based around Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” but also incorporating Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”, in addition as fleeting flashes of other riffs, themes and motifs. I think I might have detected another glimpse of The Beatles, but the band moved on so quickly that I couldn’t be sure. This was a genuine “Rifferama” as Hatfield and The North might have put it. The piece included an extended feature for drummer Dixon, who had played with power and precision all night, combining effectively with Beale, a highly ‘musical’ bassist whose supple grooves also offered a good counterpoint to Harris’ searing guitar.
A deserved encore featured another extended blues rock jam and a happy audience eventually made their way out to brave the torrential rain and gale force winds of Storm Dennis. Harris and his colleagues had brewed up a storm of their own, this was definitely a rock gig rather than a jazz performance with rock rhythms predominating, albeit with plenty of improvisation thrown into the mix to provide something of a jazz element.
Having a followed a similar route to Harris by coming to jazz from rock music I was quite at home with this stuff and it brought back some childhood memories for me too, albeit that I’m probably from the same generation as Remi’s dad and heard it all first time round.
Having covered many of Harris’ jazz gigs and having charted his progress over the years it was good to see him doing something different and expressing another side of his admirably diverse musical personality. He was clearly having great fun playing with his old mates and that joy communicated itself to a large, enthusiastic and well watered audience. I enjoyed my first EBC experience and the trio looks likely to continue, subject to the commitments of its three very busy members. With original material being featured in the group’s performance let’s hope that they develop this side of things and record an album at some future point.
My thanks to Dani Harris, Remi’s wife and manager, for inviting me along to cover this event and to Remi himself for the half time chat in which he imparted valuable information regarding the material and the musical careers of his two band mates.
Remi Harris’ remaining tour dates are as follows;
Tues 18th Feb Yardbird Arts Jazz & Blues Club, Worcestershire
Sat 22nd Feb Cossington Village Hall, Somerset - with Alan Barnes & Tom Moore
Fri 28th Feb Wakefield Jazz Club, West Yorkshire - with Tom Moore on Double Bass
Sun 1st Mar Sunflower and I, Cardiff - with Tom Moore on Double Bass
Fri 6th Mar Lighthorne Village Hall, Warwickshire - Light & Shade
Sat 7th Mar Crich Glebe, Derbyshire - Light & Shade
Sat 14th Mar Weobley Village Hall, Herefordshire - Light & Shade
Tues 17th Mar Yardbird Arts Jazz & Blues Club, Worcestershire
Fri 20th Mar Priory Hall, Much Wenlock, Shropshire - with Tom Moore on Double Bass
Fri 27th Mar The Spring, Havant, Hampshire - Light & Shade
Sat 28th Mar Thornbury Jazz Festival, Gloucestershire - with Tom Moore on Double Bass
Sun 29th Mar Black Mountain Jazz, Abergavenny - Light & Shade
Sat 4th Apr Theatr Gwaun, Fishguard, Pembrokeshire - Light & Shade
Sat 18th Apr The Chequers Village Hub, Barkestone Le Vale, Leicestershire - with Tom Moore on Double Bass
Sat 25th Apr Quay Arts, Newport, Isle of Wight - Light & Shade
Fri 1st May St Austell Arts Centre, Cornwall - Light & Shade
Sat 2nd May The George Hotel, South Molton, Devon - Light & Shade
Sat 9th May Hullavington Village Hall, Wiltshire - with Tom Moore on Double Bass
Sat 16th May Quay Theatre, Sudbury, Suffolk - Light & Shade
Fri 22nd May Huntingdon Hall, Worcester - Light & Shade
Sat 23rd May Chapel-en-le-Frith Town Hall, Derbyshire - Light & Shade
Further information at http://www.remiharris.comblog comments powered by Disqus