BY CHRIS MORRISON
Basingstoke Blues Club – Saturday 27 Jan
Rex who has run the Basingstoke Blues Club for a long time has been speaking with Saiichi for a numbers of years to find the right time to put on a SSB gig and this was finally to happen tonight. The load-in was a little tricky to say the least. The Club’s car park has a height restriction and the band’s van could not get in. All the backline needed to go up a flight of steep and slippery outdoor steps to load-in, but having had a relaxing day shopping for vinyl LPs in Guildford and Farnham with Ben, it was not too difficult for me personally.
The special task for me tonight was to get Monica on the train from Basingstoke station after the first set with only ten minutes to spare. She had an engagement that she had to keep in London and she needed to get away. I make a dry run to make sure that we will be able to do this in time, Fortunately, the station is a stone’s throw from the club, but I need to make sure that we don’t have to go out of our way to get to the platform etc.
With no support and with two one hour sets, the band plays much longer than the 45 minute set in Skegness. We have Nick Judd on the keyboard tonight with Sam swapping between guitars and keyboards. Saiichi sets up for a solo-acoustic section which is to occupy the earlier part of the second set. Acoustic or electric, it is going to be an intimate show in a total contrast to the afternoon before, but equally enjoyable. Harley is using his own PA tonight and he has a total control of the sound, which is great for the music.
The audience arrive and there is lovely casual air in the place as it is apparent that they know each other well. Even here, there are a couple of photographers with the ubiquitous big lenses. The band shuffle on to the stage, almost casually this time, followed by Rex’s announcement touching on just how long this gig was in the pipeline.
Then they kick in with the powerful Cellar Full of Noise, just like they did on the big stage in Skegness the day before and the atmosphere immediately gets electrified. The band is clearly on form this weekend and their performance tonight is probably the best I heard them. The musicians seem to share this assessment as well as I see them exchanging smiles on stage.
The first hour goes too quickly and as they approach the end of the first set, I get ready to do the station run, making sure Monica’s suitcase is waiting for her to pick up straight from stage. As the last note of Walkin’s is sounded and the crowd applaud, Monica comes running off from the stage and we make a run to the station entrance. I make sure that she is on the train to London and return to the club to relieve Saiichi from the merch desk duty. It was a contrast with Skegness, an intimate club, but again there was an appreciative audience, which makes all the travelling and humping the gear worthwhile.
The second set opens with a totally different vibe as Saiichi sits down to play his acoustic guitars and take the lead vocal. Sam and Ben occasionally join in to fill out the sound. Saiichi only started playing solo acoustic sets last September after a break of almost ten years and he is still experimenting with the set. Tonight, he changes the key of “Blue Moon Rising” his version of Delta Blues from G to Bb and it sounded more poignant with a echo of Robert Johnson in his voice. I notice that Mune is taking photos with his old Leica film camera from behind his drum kit. Yet another photographer. Saiichi unexpectedly throws in an acoustic version of I Got News, that I never heard before. It sounded quite different from the band version but was equally convincing. After all, he wrote that song (and all the others).
At the end of the acoustic set, I remove the chair form the stage and the band comes back on. Sam straps on an acoustic guitar this time while Saiichi changes back to his Les Paul. After the acapella intro, Sam plays the Neil Young style acoustic guitar and the band tears into a tribal groove. The song is Bitter Ground.
The rest of the second set draws heavily from Saiichi’s eponymous first album from 1994 with the rocker You Never Turn Back and the extended guitar outing reminiscent of Carlos Santana’s Samba Pa Ti on China Doll.
When the last note of the encore, Is That You Baby is played, the audience seem happy and content. There are some great photos taken by Tony Cole and Vic Hayes on the night which are featured on this page.
The merch stand was busy again tonight with numerous people signing onto the email list and picking up the band’s CD singles as well as Saiichi’s solo back catalogues, perhaps on the strengths of his second set performance. So much so that we ran out of CDs! In the age of the digital download, that is impressive. I heard that the CD singles also did well at Under The Bridge, a significant London venue, when playing solo support to Ariel Posen (Canada) and Josh Smith (US), but that will be for another review by Darren.
The time to pack up again. It was good to hear, as we were packing up, Harley’s friend who came to give him a hand comment that although he normally only listens to heavier music, he really enjoyed Saiichi’s acoustic version of Crossroads. We got back to Farnham at close to 1am ready to crash out. I stayed at a beautiful B&B by a brook. Fortunately, my fellow guests at the B&B were attending a wedding and I was not alone in getting in late. I recuperated well in the fresh air and took the train back to Chris HQ on Sunday morning. I later heard that my fellow vinyl record collector, Ben went back to the record shop in Guildford the first thing on the Sunday morning to buy an LP that he had forgotten to pick up the previous afternoon, but he was disappointed to learn that someone else beaten him to it. I feel your pain, Ben.
I could tell you more about the other various behind the scenes tasks of a tour manager, but in any case, the old saying ‘no two days are the same’ certainly describes the job well.