A gusty wet Friday night in Bristol saw the welcome return of hot blues guitarist Oli Brown and his band during the latter end of his latest UK Tour.
The Thunderbolt on the outskirts of Bristol was tonight’s venue and despite the night being young, there was already a scattered mix of clientele dotted around the venue. Punters were welcomed by a smiley gent on the door then launched into the middle of the room amongst the sounds of Christmas music, 90s tunes, and Orla Kiely curtains.
8.15 pm arrived and support tonight was from Steve Mercy – a local Black Country Rock artist who has more recently flourished as a solo artist. Tonight’s gig supporting Oli Brown is a first for Steve, but another string to his bow which can be added to his list of collaborations that he has under his belt.
Taking center stage with his semi-acoustic guitar, Steve introduced himself to the audience that had been rounded up by the Landlord like a sheepdog, ushering them into the middle of the venue. No stranger to The Thunderbolt, this was Steve’s fourth time playing there and expressed his gratitude for supporting Oli and his band.
After his first track, it was already time for a guitar change, putting down his sticker-covered acoustic akin to CJ Wildheart’s heavily customized BB King guitar. It was time for dedication. The track was titled ‘Beautiful’ and this was dedicated to a friend called Maria who performed with Steve on his recent album ‘Sketches’ and had sadly lost her fight against ovarian cancer.
Although a true northerner, Steve’s vocals had a smokey western kind of vibe to them backed up with a heap of power. Both vocals and guitar were strong and confident and in between tracks Steve joked with the audience about the spirit of Maria being present and that his next track he’d only finished writing last night. A trusty mouth organ was added to the next track and by now the audience had loosened up and moved towards the stage whilst Steve looked at home chatting to them like a friend over a cuppa.
With the melancholy tracks done and dusted, some upbeat ones followed and the topic of support was hot on Steve’s agenda at the end of his half-hour set. Quite clearly chuffed at the opportunity to support Oli Brown, he laughed at the fact that it was highly likely that the reason people were there tonight was that Oli was ‘fucking awesome’.
‘A little too much’ was the last track and the audience was given a heartfelt thank you as Steve came to the end of his set. A round of applause marked the start of a great night and as the venue had now become busier and warmer, those in need of a beer hit the bar.
Having already witnessed how busy it could get with Oli Brown in the room, the size of the venue became a bit of a concern. The venue had suddenly become a lot busier as some people had made their way to the front of the stage with a drink and mobile phone to hand. Oli Brown appeared and the rest of his band quietly drifted out behind him on the stage, jumping straight into the set with no intro.
Those who know Oli as the lead guitarist and vocalist from rock outfit Raveneye will know that fellow bassist Aaron Spiers would usually join Oli and his blues band along with ex-King King drummer Wayne Proctor. It just so happens that with many musicians having their fingers in a lot of pies, both Aaron and Wayne are otherwise engaged tonight and Oli has been joined on stage with some new recruits that have accompanied him on the last leg of his tour.
Debuting with Oli’s band is session drummer Jacob Evans who’s recently moved to the UK from Australia and also a friend of Aarons. Teaming up with Jacob and Oli is Steve Amadeo on bass guitar, who has been playing bass for non-other than Aynsley Lister for the last 7 years and coincidentally known Oli for years. The music industry can be a small world it seems!
Starting the set with ‘Here I Am’ from Oli’s last album released in 2012, their performance was flawless from the offset. That’s musicianship right there.
Brandishing an open black floral shirt, tight black jeans and vegan DM’s, Oli and the band wasted no time in between tracks. The venue was already starting to swelter – no surprise with the intimacy between the band and the audience. But as close as it was, there was no getting away from Oli’s modesty when it came to playing his Gibson SG as he lured the audience closer with his colossal and convoluted guitar solos.
Some old and new tracks were on the setlist for tonight with heavy blues tracks such as ‘Thinkin About Her’ to the brisker sound of ‘Evil Soul’ with its upbeat tempo and country feel. No matter what, the audience was in for a real treat whether it was their first time watching Oli Brown and his band on stage or an avid fan who appeared at every gig on offer.
Both Jacob and Steve settled well into the night with Steve ‘breaking-in’ his new bass guitar much to Oli’s amusement. The banter between them on stage just showed how relaxed their relationship was, even with the pressure of being thrown in the deep end playing tracks together for the first time.
But in true Rockstar fashion, Oli took the lead on a stage dishing out jam after jam with hair to die for and a smoldering jawline. Every guitar solo oozed with his passion for the music with a plethora of erogenous riffs. He looked the part, played the guitar like it was second nature and he could sing. Oli Brown is the ‘Real Deal’ when it comes to his music and owns any stage he’s performing on. Fact.
Midway through a fusion of tracks from his discography, it was time for the rest of the band to take a breather leaving Oli solo with just a mic that had been lowered to capture the tones from his acoustic guitar. He took the opportunity to tell a tale about how close he came to giving up his love of music for a girl. Although this was some time ago, it formed the basis of his next track ‘Love’s Gone Cold’ – needless to say, he was fleeced. But on a positive note, the tale has created one of Oli’s most zealous tracks, coupled with the sound of softly caressed guitar strings and seductive vocals. A truly beautiful song to hear which had the audience lost in the moment, manifesting the versatility of both Oli’s vocal range and guitar playing.
The audience was thanked for listening to the acoustic tracks before the pace was knocked up as Jacob and Steve jumped back onto the stage raring to go. And it wasn’t long before more band banter popped up with Oli tantalizing Steve and Jacob about what they’d been up to in the ‘wings’ whilst he’d been on stage. A ‘massage’ perhaps? But one thing’s for sure, they were back on it and the audience was game. ‘Is your bass still in tune Steve?’ Oli asked. The next track proved just that, as the spotlight moved onto Steve to play a bass solo whilst Oli took a step back. And he nailed it.
All focus was now back on Oli as he launched into yet another monster, mind-bending solo that could blow the socks off of many other guitar legends in the blues industry. He was born to perform and that Gibson was a part of him.
The last track of the set was ‘You Can Only Blame Yourself’ and the audience was fully engaged. The venue was at full capacity and steaming hot with arms in the air – some holding phones hoping to catch a snap or two of the band performing.
Summarising the night, Oli did a final introduction of the band and talked about his next album that is near completion. It’s hard to believe that his last album ‘Here I am’ was released 7 years ago. A lot has happened during that time with Oli splitting his time performing with Raveneye whilst also trying to concentrate on his solo career.
Remaining on stage, there was a one-track encore from the band. Buzzing from the vibes of the crowd, Oli had the audience repeating lyrics from ‘Stone Cold’ for this last track of the night. Not only did they oblige, but they were also treated to the final finger-licking’ guitar solo of the night followed by a whole lotta love and thanks from Oli and his band as they took a bow. Absolute legends who are masters at their game, appreciating every single person who came to watch them perform.
The music industry is tough in this day and age and for talented artists such as Oli Brown, it can also be callous leaving many disheartened, disappointed and in despair. It’s no wonder that bands are having to self-fund to get noticed by labels.
But the sheer determination and passion that Oli puts into his music is second to none and doesn’t go unnoticed to those watching him perform. It’s not unusual to witness some of the audience lingering after one of his gigs to simply shake his hand and tell him how ‘fucking awesome’ he really is.
One final date on this current tour, London – Under The Bridge (With Stanton Moore) – 31st Jan
Oli Brown and his Blues band should be on everyone’s bucket list – believe me, you won’t be disappointed.
Review & Photography // Emma Painter // Pacific Curd Photography