by Ian Mann
May 01, 2013
Ruby Rose is a young band with a good deal of potential. In Will Cass they have an accomplished songwriter who has absorbed a number of influences to come up with an interesting hybrid of his own.
Ruby Rose / Richard Jones, Black Mountain Jazz, The Swan Hotel, Abergavenny, 30/04/2013.
I first encountered the five piece group Ruby Rose when they played a brief support slot at this venue earlier in the year opening for Gilad Atzmon and The Orient House Ensemble. Young and locally based Ruby Rose exhibited considerable promise as they performed a clutch of original songs plus a couple of well chosen covers.
The band is fronted by guitarist and vocalist Will Cass, the band’s principal song writer and also features Martha Skilton on soprano saxophone, Sam Pierce on trumpet and Matt Brown at the drums. For the Gilad gig Will Barnes, best known as a guitarist with his bebop flavoured gypsy jazz combo Inspector Gadjo, played electric bass but tonight this role was taken on by Oliver Cahlane, a friend of Cass’ from London. This was strictly a one off appearance- it’s something of a band joke that Ruby Rose seem to go through bass players like Spinal Tap go through drummers - and already there is a new bassist waiting in the wings. Fortunately the fates of these musicians are rather less violent and a good deal less terminal than those endured by the Tap’s unfortunate sticksmen.
It’s perhaps a touch ironic that the bass plays such a central part in the Ruby Rose sound. The group’s music places a strong reliance on the often funky grooves generated by Brown and the bassist of the moment, these powering the punchy horn lines of Skilton and Pierce which in turn frame the voice and guitar of front man Cass. The group have been together for around six months and are already an impressively tight and cohesive unit with a collection of strong original material. Although the songs are written by Cass other band members chip in with ideas and arrangements and there’s plenty of room given over to instrumental breaks and solos. The group’s music touches on jazz, rock, funk and blues plus tonight the occasional dash of ska, all delivered with a strong group vibe and something of an indie rock attitude. It’s music that’s capable of having a broad appeal and should ensure that Ruby Rose go down well with both rock and jazz audiences.
Since their previous appearance at The Swan it was obvious that the group had been rehearsing hard and there was a commendable tightness about their playing. Cass has also been busy with the pen and an impressive twelve song set featured only two covers, a song by the Australian group The Cat Empire and a blues by American guitarist/vocalist Joe Bonamassa.
The group have recently recorded a three track EP with a Birmingham based producer. It’s a good calling card for their abilities and opens with the funk groove of “Bed Time Story”, also the opening number here. Instrumentally the honours went to Skilton on soprano, she specialises on the straight horn in this group but is also an accomplished tenor saxophonist and is a graduate of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff.
Cass, meanwhile studied in London where he encountered bassist Cahlane, a larger than life figure toting a salmon pink electric bass and matching trousers - not a combination that’s seen very often on the streets of Abergavenny! Cahlane proved to be an extrovert performer whose technical skill, propulsive grooves and good humour added much to the music and to the success of the evening. He rumbled away effectively on “Innocent” as singer Cass also stepped up to the plate with a sharp and tasty rock guitar solo.
Skilton brought The Cat Empire’s witty “Fishies” to the group, a song that made a big impression on the occasion of the Atzmon concert. The Aussie band’s barbed and clever lyrics were enhanced by the blazing trumpet playing of the talented Sam Pierce.
New song “Nothing Real” featured the instrumental talents of Cass and Skilton and was followed by the rock riffing and reverb of “Ready Now”, the hook laden final number on the band’s newly released EP.
Introduced by Carlane at the bass “Fine Lines” was inspired by Cass’s recent trip to Amsterdam and featured a pithy solo from Skilton’s soprano over Cahlane’s ska like grooves.
It was then the turn of Brown to kick off “Rescuing Again”, another tune that had been well received at the group’s previous BMJ performance. Here the twin horns of Skilton and Pearce coalesced with admirable precision to add extra impact to an already hook laden tune.
Skilton’s soprano bookended Bonamassa’s dramatic blues “Asking Around For You” as eighteen year old Pierce wrung blue notes from his trumpet with the poise of a veteran. The song also provided one of Cass’ strongest vocal performances plus a correspondingly powerful blues drenched guitar solo.
New song “Lullaby” was rather more funky than the title might have suggested with Cahlane slipping into ska mode again and Pierce taking the instrumental honours on the trumpet. “Forever Girl”, the middle track on the EP ,represented another dip into the band’s established repertoire and had previously been performed at the Atzmon show.
“Lost Again” had also been played at the band’s previous appearance and this concluded a highly accomplished set with the instrumental honours shared between Cass and Skilton. This also seems a good time to mention that the pair also host a monthly open mic night under the Black Mountain Jazz banner at The Swan. Details at http://www.bmjazz.tumblr.com
Martha’s father, BMJ promoter Mike Skilton coaxed the group back to the stage for an encore of “Running Blind”, a tune inspired by the Dave Matthews Band, which saw Cass abandoning his electric for an acoustic guitar. The band revealed a sense of showmanship with an ending that involved the instrumentalists trading breaks, including features for bass and drums, as Cass acknowledged his colleagues a final time.
I was impressed by this second sighting of Ruby Rose. This is a young band with a good deal of potential, both musically and commercially. In Cass they have an accomplished songwriter who has absorbed a number of influences to come up with an interesting hybrid of his own. Skilton is a quality instrumentalist who has been performing in public since her teenage years and in Brown and Pierce, both only eighteen, they have two exceptional young talents. Brown is a seriously good drummer who is due to study music in Manchester, birthplace of the Beats & Pieces Big Band, Pierce is bound for the Royal Academy of Music in London. With this in mind let’s hope Cass and Skilton can keep the group together.
Meanwhile the buzz about Ruby Rose continues to grow, they drew a good crowd of supporters tonight and genuinely went down well. They just need to secure a few more gigs to keep the momentum going and the way Cass’ writing is progressing they’ll soon have enough material for a full length album. I shall continue to monitor their progress with interest.
The evening has originally been billed as featuring Ruby Rose supported by Hot Club Gallois, a gypsy jazz duo featuring guitarist Richard Jones and violinist Heulwen Thomas. I recall seeing Thomas perform with the gypsy jazz combo 5 Go Swing at BMJ’s old venue the Kings Arms back in 2009. Jones I’m familiar with through his work with the Jones O’Connor Group, the Cardiff based jazz/rock band who released the excellent “A Crow For Every Crow” album (their second) back in 2007. Unfortunately Thomas was ill and unable to appear this evening so Jones opened the evening with a solo slot which saw him playing and singing a selection of acoustic blues numbers.
Besides his work with numerous South Wales groups and his teaching commitments at the RWCMD Jones plays gigs as a solo guitarist/vocalist specialising in the acoustic blues. He’s a supremely versatile guitarist who can play in a variety of styles and as tonight revealed is a more than adequate vocalist.
Unfortunately much of his set this evening was drowned out by the incessant talking of an audience that were clearly here to see Ruby Rose and who afforded Jones precious little respect. I’m sure that as a pub gig veteran Jones was probably used to this and remained unphased. However, crucially, this wasn’t an ordinary pub gig, people had paid an £8.00 admission fee and those who wanted to listen were denied the opportunity of doing so. Besides disrespecting their fellow audience members the talkers revealed a stunning lack of respect for Jones, one of South Wales’ most accomplished musicians. I’ve never previously witnessed such appalling behaviour at a BMJ gig and I hope that it’s something I’ll never see repeated. I’ve alluded to Ruby Rose’s appeal to rock audiences and this was definite “rock fan behaviour” and to make it worse some of the loudest conversations involved other musicians.
I enjoyed the music that I was able to hear with Jones performing such acoustic blues staples as “Fishin’ Blues”, “Down Home Blues” and Sleepy John Estes’ “Diving Duck” in addition to Ry Cooder’s “Jesus On The Mainline” . A couple of instrumentals, including “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” were drowned out by the incessant babble.
For me the behaviour of some members of the audience put a damper on the evening and left a sour taste in the mouth that lingered even after the highly promising set by Ruby Rose. This was conduct that went beyond mere indifference and extended into outright disrespect. Those who didn’t wish to listen to Richard Jones should have removed themselves to the downstairs bar for a drink and a chat and come back later for the headliners; that way everybody would have been happy. Let’s hope that this regrettable incident was a one off, I wouldn’t like to think that such rudeness could become a regular occurrence at BMJ.