by Ian Mann
May 31, 2012
This unpretentious evening combined pure entertainment and a good sense of fun with a high degree of musical sophistication from three seasoned local professionals.
Tom Hill Blues Trio, Tarc Gallery and Café, Stanford Bridge, Worcestershire, 29/05/2012.
Tarc Gallery & Café is a new enterprise in the heart of the Worcestershire countryside, the name “Tarc” being an acronym for “Teme Arts & Rural Crafts”. It forms part of a complex on the site of Mill Farm that also includes a farm & garden shop, a wine merchants, a gift shop, a butchers and a beauty parlour all situated in what used to be farm outbuildings.
Gallery & Café proprietor Rosemary Kirby has instigated a series of successful music and supper evenings (price £22.00 including admission and food) covering a variety of musical genres and hosted by singer Deborah Rose (the artist formerly known as Deborah Hodgson and a regular presence on these web pages). My thanks to Deborah for inviting me along to this sold out performance by bassist Tom Hill and his Blues Trio, a second full house following the appearance of New York based singer/songwriter Kenny White in April.
We arrived in good time for the evening which was scheduled to commence at 7.30 pm. Nibbles were already out on the tables and we ordered drinks and chatted to our fellow audience members. The main course of pasta and meatballs with an accompanying salad was tasty and substantial, this was much more than the token “light supper” you sometimes get at these occasions. Visitors to subsequent evenings can safely regard a Tarc supper as being sufficient for their main meal of the day. A sweet was served too and although there were no choices for either course the food could be considered more than adequate. If I’m invited again I’ll ensure that I eat a good deal less at lunchtime!
It was a good idea to serve the meals before the performance which eventually started at 9.00 pm. This way everybody was able to concentrate fully on the music with no to-ing and fro-ing of waiting staff or extraneous eating related noises. Hill and his colleagues played two good humoured and engaging sets taking the blues as a starting point but also incorporating gospel, pop, rock, jazz and country.
A word about the musicians; Tom Hill moved to the UK from Los Angeles in 1993 and has established himself as a
major figure on the Midlands music scene. He’s based in Droitwich but does much of his playing in Birmingham. Hill is a superb double bassist with a big, meaty tone and is also a fluent and dexterous soloist. I know him primarily as a jazz bassist and recently saw him backing British alto sax legend Peter King at a performance in Shrewsbury. Tonight’s performance showed just what a versatile player Hill is, comfortable across a range of genres and with a real love for the blues. He’s got a good singing voice too, particularly well suited to his choice of blues material, but perhaps that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. As Tom Clarke-Hill he also has a parallel career as an actor, presenter and voice over artist. In this area he’s probably best known as the voice of “Tony the Tiger” on the Kelloggs’ Frosties ads but he has also lent his voice to other advertisements, Hollywood animation movies and numerous computer games. His website covering this area of his work (http://www.clarke-hill.com) describes his vocal range as being “deep to squeaky, straight to freaky!” Of course to do this sort of thing convincingly one needs to be something of an extrovert and Hill is certainly that. He fronts the trio with humour and panache, the inter tune banter riddled with wise cracks. Hill may be an excellent bass player but he’s also an all round entertainer.
Not that the Blues Trio is a one man show. Phil Bond on keyboards and vocals is a veteran of the Birmingham music scene and has worked with the Steve Gibbons Band, folk rockers Little Johnny England and The Dylan Project plus jazz fusion outfit MJHQ led by bassist Mike Hatton. He’s also an assured lead vocalist and brought a couple of his original songs to the set.
Guitarist Pete Harris’ session credits may be less cool-Donny Osmond and Aled Jones- but I dare say they were a lot more lucrative. I’d previously seen him perform as part of Birmingham bassist Ben Markland’s quintet. Again he’s a versatile player, well schooled in a number of musical styles and in a group where everyone sang a more than adequate vocalist with a warm, emotive tone particularly well suited to rock ballads.
True to their billing the trio started with the blues, Hill’s solo bass introduction ushering a segue of “Everyday I Have The Blues” and “C C Rider” featuring Hill’s authentically bluesy vocals and instrumental solos from Bond at his Kawai MP4 keyboard and Harris on guitar. Hill’s closing scat vocal was a device he returned to several times over the course of the evening.
Ray Charles’ “Hard Times” was sung by Phil Bond who has worked with Hill in various groups since 1994.A suitably soulful singer Bond’s feet also beat out the time as he soloed on keyboards. Harris’ solo cleverly worked the Hoagy Carmichael tune “Georgia” into the composition.
Hill took over the vocals for a brace of B.B. King numbers, “Ask Me No Questions” and “How Blue Can You Be”? The latter also gave Hill the chance to show off his considerable harmonica skills with a couple of blistering but well received solos. King’s sometimes humorous, politically incorrect lyrics also went down rather well.
Pete Harris took the vocal mic for a version of the old soul hit “What a Difference A Day Makes”. Harris’ version of the tune introduced a more pronounced blues inflection and was inspired by Jamie Cullum’s interpretation of the song. Harris’ softer vocal tone contrasted well with the blues growl of Hill and the soul drenched sound of Bond.
Bond’s original “I Won’t Wait On Time” offered him another opportunity to showcase his singing skills on an unpretentious blues boogie centred around his voice and keyboards but also including features for bass and guitar.
To close the first set the trio invited Deborah Rose up from the floor to sing a couple of numbers with them. It was interesting to hear Rose in a different context, previously I’ve only really seen her presenting songs in a folk setting where the focus has been on the crystalline purity of her voice and the delicate sound of her acoustic guitar. Here her voice was deeper and more obviously blues inflected as the extended line up delivered a lovely version of the spiritual tune “Wayfaring Stranger”. Rose’s vocals were strong and soulful but without sacrificing any of her trademark clarity.
Instrumental solos came from Harris and Hill with Bond adding an unusual funk element to the proceedings as he adopted a “clavinet” like sound on the keyboards. Rose is currently undertaking academic research into the origins of the blues so it’s possible we may see hear her performing more material from this area in the future.
The rather more secular “A Night Like This”, a hit for Caro Emerald, ended the first half on a good natured note with Hill pretending to dance with his bass as Rose sang. The breezy, Latin feel of the tune was just right for a balmy summer’s evening and during the interval both band and audience took themselves outside to cool off. The venue, a converted granary, was getting stiflingly hot.
Set two began in relatively low key fashion with Bond singing his original song “Wandering” with instrumental solos coming from Bond, Hill and Harris. The composer wove a quote from “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” into his solo contribution.
Never one to be out of the spotlight for long Hill took over the vocals for a humorous rendition of Muddy Waters’ “Garbage Man Blues”, his amusing vocals complemented by some more fine harmonica blowing above Bond’s boogie style piano.
Bond’s involvement with the Dylan Project was acknowledged by the inclusion of a Dylan tune in the set. Feelingly sung by Bond this was not one of the obvious choices but a version of “I and I” (from the “Infidels” album) which at one point saw Hill taking over the melody on his bass before Harris’ subsequent guitar solo.
The only instrumental of the evening was a feature for Harris, the Pat Metheny tune “Travels” (the title track of the Metheny Group’s 1983 live album) . One of Metheny’s most engaging melodies was sympathetically handled by the trio with the string setting on Bond’s keyboard approximating Lyle Mays’ contribution on the original.
Harris then remained the focus as he movingly sung John Lennon’s song “Jealous Guy” in an interpretation inspired by the version by soul singer Donny Hathaway.
The trio invited Deborah Rose back to the stand for the last two numbers of their set. Firstly they dipped into the country oeuvre for Hank Williams’ classic “Cold, Cold Ground”, beautifully sung by Rose and with Harris approximating the sound of the steel guitar by sliding a glass tumbler across the strings of his guitar. Rose’s rendition of the jazz standard “The Nearness Of You” then appeared to conclude a highly enjoyable evening of music making.
However the clamour for an encore couldn’t be ignored and Hill and the trio remained on stage for an uproarious version of Ray Charles’ “Let’s Go Get Stoned” with the audience clapping and singing along.
This unpretentious evening combined pure entertainment and a good sense of fun with a high degree of musical sophistication from three seasoned local professionals. Their show was well honed with each member of the group taking a turn in the spotlight under the benign dictatorship of leader Hill. The songs with Deborah Rose were less well rehearsed and although occasionally a little ragged still worked well. In any event the purity of Deborah’s voice adds a touch of class and sophistication to pretty much anything she becomes involved in. She’s also one of the area’s great movers and shakers in terms of organisation and it’s good to see this new enterprise doing so well.
The Tarc “Music and Supper” evenings continue on July 3rd when Deborah will host singer songwriters Boo Hewerdine and Brooks Williams. Details at http://www.tarcgallery.co.uk
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