BY CHRIS MORRISON
At the end of January, my duty as SSB’s tour manager took me to one of the first major festivals of the year – the Great British Rock and Blues Festival in Skegness, Lincolnshire. The band was the first one on to kick things off on the Friday at the massive Butlins resort.
The band and the backline travelled from its base in Surrey on the tour van while I was to take the train with Monica as the London team. The band’s live sound engineer, Harley was travelling with his mate and his ubiquitous mixing desk and meeting us at Skegness. The band van was running late when I arrived at the station (Monica missed the train), but I was met up by smiling long tall Ally Lee, a killer guitarist, a DJ and overall a wonder company. Ally arrived early (after 5 hour journey from Newcastle) and volunteered to pick me up! How kind!
The setting is an impressive building, with good lighting and a smoke machine in evidence. Despite it being Friday afternoon, a crowd is already gathering in the area in front of the stage. The band minus Saiichi go off to have a bite while he warms up at the side of the stage and I set up the merch while waiting for Monica’s arrival, who was now travelling by herself. It is my duty as a tour manager to keep on track on her progress and make sure that she arrives safe and sound.
Jane and Paul Stiles of the Blues In Britain magazine stand kindly offer to run our merch desk next to them for us. Saiichi has featured in Blues In Britain repeatedly and he and the editor are clearly enjoying catching up.
The band eventually come together for a soundcheck and then it is the show time.
The set opens with a driving version of Cellar Full of Noise and segue into a funky groove of Somewhere Down the Road with Saiichi’s guitar wailing over Monica’s soulful vocals.
With Mune, Sam, Ben and Ally laying down impeccable grooves and rich soundscapes, the band plays a concise and commanding set. After last year’s spring and autumn tours and a few festivals in between, it was evident that the chemistry of the band is now working very well. With the luxury of having Harley, the 7th member of the band, sending out an excellent onstage monitoring sound, the musicians lock in like well-oiled machine.
Not much talking from Saiichi this afternoon and after the haunting I Got News, the band turns up the tempo with Magic Wand, which ends with a short quote from Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
Then Sam and Ally temporarily step off stage for Melting Away. The deceptively gentle intro morphs into the powerful Fire and Water-like groove as the classic power trio of Saiichi, Ben and Mune kick in behind Monica, the audience’s excitement is visible. Ben’s bass solo channelling the spirit of Andy Fraser climaxes and the band receives a thunderous applause.
All in all, it is turning out to be an impressive show at what is a main space in the complex. I look around and see at least half a dozen photographers at work with massive lenses. (Great photos by Liz Aiken, Sally Newhouse and Haydn Hartare featured on this page).
Their forty five minutes comes to an all-too-soon end with the funk tour-de-force of Is That You Baby showcasing Monica’s soul vocal prowess, but not before the audience were treated to an extended jam featuring solos from all of the band. The loud cheer clearly shows the Skegness audience approve SSB.
After the show, people queue up to sign up to the mailing list and pick up the latest CD singles while Saiichi and the band get busy getting off the stage to make way to Mike Ross and his band. A few people patiently wait for Saiichi to talk to him and sign CDs and join them in photos. It is good to see that the band that I work for getting appreciated by the public.
Good-bye to Ally after the gig and a long drive back to Surrey where we stay the night as just a night later, the band is playing the Basingstoke Blues Club, not far from the band’s Surrey base. /TO BE CONTINUED TO PART 2…