REVIEW: Blues musicians turn up the heat in Coolham

From left: Papa George, Elizabeth Loates-Taylor and Spy Austin
From left: Papa George, Elizabeth Loates-Taylor and Spy Austin
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Coolham Live Music Club: The Ali Maas Band and The Sam Kelly Band (featuring Papa George), Coolham Village Hall, Saturday, July 26

It’s already a sweltering evening in West Sussex but the musicians on tonight’s line-up seem determined to power through some sizzling blues numbers anyway.

Ali Maas

Ali Maas

Before the show singer Ali Maas speaks to the County Times about her band’s style, which is “a fusion of rocking blues and southern soul, with a bit of Chicago in there.”

The singer, who grew up in Horsham and met event organiser Graeme Tame while performing in Dorking, is enthusiastic about the Coolham blues nights.

“I think it’s brilliant, Graeme’s putting on a fantastic show,” she says. “It’s really important to keep music live.”

The power of live music becomes clear as The Ali Maas Band begin their set. They sound effortlessly cool thanks to guitarist Alan Glen and keyboardist Bob Haddrell, with a relentlessly toe-tapping rhythm provided by Peter Miles on drums. The band’s sound has plenty of attitude, with Alan occasionally swapping his guitar for a harmonica, giving the set a particularly American flavour. The bass work is strong too, with Glynn Evans getting a round of applause for an elaborate solo about 15 minutes in.

The guys with the instruments are firmly in sync with each other but it’s Ali who’s in the driving seat of this well-oiled blues machine. Her fiery vocals give the music a real intensity as the passionate frontwoman puts in an athletic physical performance.

Before the break, the audience gets a brief but intriguing glimpse of 21-year-old singer Elizabeth Loates-Taylor, who fearlessly performs three songs on her own.

She keeps her piano playing simple, which shifts the focus onto her surprisingly deep and husky singing voice. The highlight of her set is a version of Wicked Game by Chris Isaak, with Beth’s soulful and controlled delivery giving the warm summer’s evening a beautifully melancholic atmosphere.

In the break, the members of The Sam Kelly band chat briefly to the County Times.

I ask bassist Spy Austin what kind of atmosphere they aim to create. Spy, one of the best professional reggae/soul bass players on the London circuit, keeps his answer simple.

“A happy one,” he says. “As long as we’re happy onstage we expect it to be projected to the audience.”

Spy and guitarist Papa George take each gig as they come and don’t place much importance on whether they play larger or smaller venues. However, drummer Sam Kelly has a different take on things.

“I like smaller venues where I can see the people and the people can see me and you can see the reaction rather than just a sea of faces,” he says. “It’s nice to play gigs where you get that kind of personal contact.”

The Sam Kelly Band sets a slower pace than Ali Maas, but the laid back tone is welcome as the evening shows no sign of cooling down.

The band’s riffs are pretty muscular too and the musicians create a very rich sound for just three people on stage.

The slower pace also allows guitarist Papa George to get the most out of his vocals, moaning and growling his way through each song in a way that prompts shouts of appreciation from the audience.

The singing is particularly strong in Cleansing My Soul, a soothing yet uplifting number, which sees Ali Maas return to the stage for a superb duet with Papa George.

The band members seem to focus on the emotions behind the music but that doesn’t mean the playing is subdued – not by a long shot.

There’s a strong rhythmic element thanks to Sam Kelly’s expert drum work and Spy Austin’s bass playing, which comes to the fore during several rousing numbers. Sam knows how to get the best from his instrument, restraining himself during quieter songs and then unleashing an exhilarating display of rhythmic power when it’s required.

In fact, all the band members get a chance to show off with several intoxicating solos throughout the set.

Overall then, it’s another great night for live music in what is normally a quiet hamlet.

The next gig is Saturday, September 13. Click here for more information.