Walter Trout // Elles Bailey // Live Review // The Islington Assembly Hall // London

Regardless of when, where or how often hot weather hits the UK, it’s always a surprise. A mean 30°C embeds London in a thick sweat, offering not much relief from the heat as I walk down the streets of the city towards the Islington Assembly Hall where tonight, blues luminary Walter Trout will play. A musician who has shared the stage with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thornton, Canned Heat and John Mayall to name just a few, whilst also recovering from substance abuse, a liver transplant and brain damage. The latter has caused him to have to re-learn the guitar after completely losing all memory of how to play it. But if you were expecting some self-pitying, preaching man on his last legs, you would be very, very wrong.

The Islington Assembly Hall is a gorgeous Grade II listed live music venue that offers much solace from the overwhelming amount of corner shops trying to flog half-sunken paddling pools for a tenner outside. It’s surprisingly cool inside and with the modest but grandiose scenery of the place; it’s perfect for a blues-infused Friday night. You can even get a double pint-sized cup filled to your liking.

Elles Bailey takes the support act slot with a fine grace. With a stack of awards against her name (Song of The Year, Artist of The Year) she’s becoming the scene as much as she is a part of it. A smoky-voiced songstress who is captivating the hearts of the blues scene both fans and fellow artists alike. ‘Shinning in the Half Light’ is her latest album release which she is currently touring with her steadfast band backing her.

The band play through their set with that certain Elles Bailey charm that soothes and entices her audience with crisp instrumentation, providing her dexterous songwriting with that extra flare.

“Let me just say a hello to my top fan!” Bailey comments as she edges closer to the much-needed fan at the front of the stage.

‘Help Somebody’ and ‘Medicine Man’ both taken from her second album, ‘Road I Call Home’ are particular highlights. Bailey’s released and well-played cover is ‘Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You’ originally by Wilson Picket and it never fails to resonate with the crowd as it does on this night.

‘Riding out the Storm’ and ‘Perfect Storm’ are alike only in name, with the first inspiring feet to shuffle and heads to bounce whilst the latter is an emotive commentary on the ‘colour blind’ town of Muscle Shoals where many artists recorded in a place that refused to discriminate.

Guitarist Joe Wilkins is the dash of soloing perfection sprinkled on top of the well-layered cake of which Baily’s material is made up of.

‘What’s the Matter with You’ and latest single ‘The Game’ also make a splash.

It was my second time seeing Elles Bailey live and will definitely not be the last. She exudes class and yet is utterly approachable. She is equal in her storytelling as well as lyrical vulnerabilities that pull on the heartstrings of the blues. A top-notch opener for the main event.

 

And then, humungous cheer vibratos off of the venue walls as Walter Trout gallivants onstage like a freshly squeezed burst of energy.

“What a great crowd! Let’s have some fun!” He calls out before launching straight into a sweeping solo that both excites and calms at the same time. Within split seconds of him entering the stage, we know we are in safe hands.

Pretty much immediately I’m fully aware this is going to be unlike most blues gigs I’ve been to. Trout sticks his tongue out to the audience in greeting before playing up to the gaggle of cameramen in the pit below him, pulling hilarious faces whilst stand-out bassist, Johnny Griparic, does much of the same, bobbing around the stage looking absolutely fantastic in a baseball cap and shades. They’re having a ridiculous amount of much fun onstage and in return, so are we.

On drums, we have Michael Leasure and on keys, Bob Fridzema. Guitarist Andrew Elt also makes a few appearances during the set, adding doses of added Telecaster depth every so often.

They dip and dive through Trout’s extensively respectable catalogue of music that takes us through his decades with equal profundity and light-hearted recreation. ‘We’re All In This Together’, ‘Me, My Guitar And The Blue’, ‘Almost Gone’, ‘All Out Of Tears’ and new single ‘Ride’ are lengthened into added time extravaganza’s that see the band play off trout’s passion driven playing, leaving the audience hanging on to every single note.

‘Gonna Hurt Like Hell’ is introduced with a meaningful prologue to his struggle post-operation 9 years ago that left him unable to walk, talk or play guitar. Daily 8-hour practice sessions for a year got him back to his finger-picking prime but it’s hearing his story and the genius of his playing when you begin to understand why Trout is now having the time of his life up on that stage. I suppose for a while he didn’t even know if he would ever do a show again.

During the first quarter of the show, he has a quick costume change, “I’m wearing a very nice shirt but I’m passing out in this heat so I’m gonna be like Cher and do a costume change!” This in turn offers the chance for the rest of the band to jam on stage, becoming an added gem of the night. These are seasoned musicians with unwavering chemistry; the brief departure of Trout does not faze nor falter the show.

The lighting is perfection throughout, shining down on Trout in a focussed spotlight gaze for his knock-out moments as he contorts his two strapped white Fenders with every exaggerated movement.

An hour and a half of Trout and his band playing the most delectable blues later and we’re on to the final stages of this perfect Friday night feeling. Griparic teases out a bassline as they sink into a slow, sultry-paced number. A minute in and Trout yells out “oh I can’t help it!” before the band launch into a body-bouncing finish with thumping enthusiasm from both musician and audience alike.

Walter Trout is one of those wonderfully rare artists who’ve done it all, been through it all and still had an insatiable humility about him that resonates with his listeners with an overwhelming amount of appreciation. It was a brilliant show and an even better time. If you haven’t already, for goodness sake go and see a Walter Trout show. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and be thoroughly entertained.

 

Review: Monty Sewell 

Photography: Tony Giannattasio

 

 

UK Tour Dates
Tickets are available from here.
20 Jun – Bury St Edmunds, The Apex Arts Centre w/Elles Bailey
21 Jun – Frome, Cheese and Grain w/Elles Bailey
22 Jun – Southampton, 1865 w/Mollie Marriott

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