Reviews of The Coal Porters

A couple of great reviews from The Coal Porters Recent gigs this September…

“The Coal Porters,The Greys, Southover Street, Brighton, Monday, September 14 (From The Argus)

For the record I had a really nice time,” said Sid Griffin at the end.
He wasn’t the only one.
His band’s alternative take on bluegrass was a joy, with two uplifting sets and a singalong encore, Ronnie Lane’s Ooh-La-La.
Bowie’s Heroes and Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane were also given a make-over with style.

Brighton’s Andrew Stafford provided stand-up bass while Paul Fitzgerald’s banjo burned white hot.
Neil Robert ‘Private Fraser’ Herd let his guitar fingers fly and shared the civilities with Sid who, when he put down his mandolin, picked up the banjo he bought from Brian Wilson no less! Maroon suited, tie knotted, dead pan; but one wore a billowy frock, smiled serenely and played wild, fiery fiddle.

Fresh from her gig the night before with Rod Stewart, Kerenza Peacock took the whole performance up a notch.
To experience such an exceptional musician in a small intimate space was breathtaking.
Without in any way denigrating the rest of the band, it was her playing that made this performance extra special.
Yet again The Greys showed why it is such a prestigious and respected venue with musicians both here and across the pond.

We all had a nice time too, thank you Sid.

Five stars
Tom Locke / Tuesday 15 September 2015 / Arts and Entertainments

Letham Nights 43 – The Coal Porters – The Review

September 11th, 2015
by Letham Nights

If music be the food of love then what a careening cacophony of carefree corpulescence we must have made. Yes, fatty bum bums all, in the gluttonous gloaming of the hall. And were we satiated? [burp] Oh, mightily, thank you kindly.

Steve Dempsey is more used to having his musical chums up on stage with him but tonight he took his talent in both hands and jumped right in to give us a glimpse of his (not inconsiderable) musical charms. Uncomplicated structures and simple guitar strumming allowed his heartfelt love songs and anthems to broken romance to shine through, unpolluted by the tyranny of lead guitars and crashing cymbals. And it sounded pretty good for it, you have to say. But it was on his penultimate number, ‘Brothers and Sisters’, that the fire in his belly became a roar and he belted out his moving protest song showing us all a startling set of pipes and nearly taking off the roof. Nice moves, Steve!

So, to The Coal Porters!

coal porters Instant charm, musical affection and Bluegrass dynamite exploding forth from every tensioned length of steel and catgut. Good vibrations wobbling their way through the dense night air, setting each hair a shivering and a quivering, each hair passing it along and down, down, down into the roots and into the blood, round and round into those deep, deep sensory centres where the physical blossoms into the emotional and then…. BOOM! THE DANCING FEET! Here they come now, some whirling, some twirling, others just going up and down. Some are going from side to side, hypnotised by Sid Griffin’s merry band of banjo wielding (Paul Fitzgerald), fiddle searing (Kerenza Peacock), bass tearing (Jonny Bridgwater), mandolin worrying (Sid, the man himself), guitar bustin’ (Neil Robert Herd) gods and goddesses of good-time Americana. Hot diggety, what a night of music and chatter.

Sid’s been doing this a good while now, both in this current incarnation and previously with the brilliant Long Ryders, and his well-honed low-key showmanship shine through with homely banter keeping it humming along in between songs. And how about those songs? Great original compositions such as ‘The Old Style Prison Break’ and ‘Barefoot On The Courthouse Lawn’ sit tightly alongside brilliant (and unexpected, perhaps) covers of Bowie, The Stones, The Only Ones and even The Undertones. And let us not forget the stormingly ace homage to New York’s finest, ‘The Day of The Last Ramone’ (“gabba gabba hey, 1,2,3,4 they did say”, oh yes indeed). So not your average Bluegrass bandits, although there might well have been mention of a foggy mountain in there somewhere near the end of the night, but by that time the heels were oiled and context was the last thing on our minds.

The encore saw Letham Nights first stage invasion, sorry, dancefloor invasion as the spirit of Jimmy Shand took hold (not for the first time) and the band finished sans amp in the heart of the reveller’s pit. Almighty stuff, just almighty. When can we do it again?

And this just in from Toby Wood re the bands Sold Out gig at the Barn in Baston…

It ain’t often you get to meet a legend. True, the club at Baston has two legends of its very own, mein host and serial warm-up act Woody as well as the celebrated raffle, without whose revenue the whole Baston caboodle would be in unmusical dire straits. But tonight we are visited by a band fronted by a man whose name features in all rock music encyclopedias as a musician, writer and inspiration to others – Sid Griffin. Sid’s band in the last century were The Long Ryders who, in the 1980s, were exponents of what was much later to become Alt. Country/Americana, a fusion of driving, expansive rock laced with traditional tunes and riffs. The whole sound was forged out of the legacy of 1960s Byrds and Gram Parsons, the ‘Cosmic American Music’ genius who died aged 26.

Sid is now London-based and, as well as performing, spends time writing – his latest book, Million Dollar Bash, the story of Bob Dylan, The Band and the Basement Tapes, has been widely critically acclaimed. Such is Sid’s renown that, when he was 60 years old a week ago, the Guardian included him in its Birthdays list, along with sports people Lance Armstrong, Sol Campbell and Darren Gough! I don’t think that Sid was feeling particularly sporty this evening – he told us so – “I’ve got a heavy head cold and I may well infect you all.” That’s a good start! Beecham’s Powders and Paracetamol all round!

But tonight we don’t have The Long Ryders or Sid Griffin solo – laydeezandgenerlmen we have the those bluegrass sensations – The Coal Porters! The very name Coal Porters is a wry pun and even their album titles raise a smile – backtrack and check out Land of Hope and Crosby, Rebels Without Applause.

It is remiss of me to concentrate so heavily on Sid and his pedigree. He would be nothing without the band – Paul Fitzgerald on banjo, Andrew Stafford (a litigation lawyer!) on bass, Neil Bob Herd on guitar/droll Scottish asides – all magenta suited. The final member of the band is Kerenza Peacock in her Patsy Cline hoedown dress – a fiddler of the highest order. During the evening we learn that she is a classical violinist and has also played with Adele and Rod Stewart. She clearly plays with the Coal Porters for fun – and what fun! At one point during the second set a birthday cake suddenly appears for her (with 21 candles!) – she is talented, popular and a year older!

Much of the Coal Porters’ material is from their most recent album Find The One, songs such as Barefoot On The Courthouse Lawn, Hush U Babe and Gospel Shore all delivered with verve and gusto – Sid, Neil and Paul in particular swaying and moving to the mic at the front of the stage like 21st –century Bill Monroes. New songs are thrown into the mix – if The Day The Last Ramone Died and Train Number 1005 are included on any 2016 recording I shall be first in the queue at the record shop! One of the Coal Porters’ many strengths is their ability to take unlikely songs and turn them into what sound like timeless bluegrass standards – Bowie’s Heroes and Neil Young’s Like A Hurricane are cases in point. Playing songs in a bluegrass style turns them into perfect cameos for Sid’s dry-humoured style – perhaps they ought to go for Young’s Cortez The Killer, Dylan’s Just Like A Woman or even God Save The Queen. Go on – I dare you!

One of the hallmarks of a great live act is having an encore that just can’t be followed and so it proved tonight – the whole band, standing offstage near the audience and complete with Woody and squeezebox, ended the night with a ten-minute rendition of Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere with which the whole audience joined in lustily. A casual visitor might have thought they had stumbled across an American music revivalist meeting being led by a Kentuckian manic street preacher.

So, this was the start of a new season and what a start – cracking stuff! If I were awarding stars for a good night out I wouldn’t award five – I would go for six and if the rest of the upcoming Baston gigs are as good as this I shall be a very happy man.

It was a pleasure to watch the Coal Porters and to talk to Sid Griffin, a legend in his own Lemsip. Advice on a speedy recovery from a dastardly head cold might be found in the title of Sid’s own recent solo album – The Trick Is To Breathe.

Read more reviews here and also catch the band as they play more live dates this month and into October. Full details on the Tour Dates page.

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