Gig Review, Blues At Barleylands, Essex 23rd June 2018, 4/5 stars
A really enjoyable Saturday afternoon at Blues At Barleylands watching Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion live.
I’ve been trying for a while to see Zoe Schwarz but also been meaning to pay a visit to the Blues At Barleylands and the opportunity to do both at once was worth the drive down to Billericay in deepest Essex.
Zoe Schwarz has been around for a while and has now got 5 studio albums to her credit. They have different take on the Blues to most of the bands around, a tinge of jazz behind Zoe’s strong vocals and excellent guitar from her partner Rob Koral. Pete Whittaker supplies Hammond and Paul Robinson on drums is subtle and powerful.
The thing that struck me about the band was that they are remarkably relaxed. Very little in the way of histrionics and letting the music speak for them conjures up quite the hypnotic effect on the audience. Zoe Schwarz herself is a statuesque front person, very tall, very blond and really focussing the eyes as she sings. Sensibly, when she isn’t singing she tends to move away from the front so that the band can take the lead.
The crowd was really appreciative and although the venue is tiny were making a good noise in support of the band.
There were a few real favourite numbers – an excellent version of the title track from her latest album ‘The Blues & I Should Have A Party’ with a terrific keyboard solo from Pete Whittaker and ‘My Handsome Man’ which really swung. They even snuck in a version of ‘The Caves’ written by Pete Feenstra and closed on a powerful version of Anthony Newley & Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ with Zoe showing the power of her vocals.
The band mix up the pace and the groove, moving effortlessly from straight Blues to jazz and adding a bit of funk here and there. The result is a very fine listen and a band who deserve all the plaudits they have been getting.
Blues At Barleylands is a tiny little club but I was really amazed at how friendly the management and the audience were. The place maybe holds 120 people at absolutely packed and the prices of entry and at the bar suggest that the place is being run purely for the love of it. I was blown away at how good their PA sound it, really clear and not too loud and they have a decent seating area with a good view of the stage. Ash Wilson played his debut there and they will be featuring gigs regularly on a Saturday afternoon through the rest of the year as well as their annual festival. Talking with Keith Chilton I got the feeling that the team there love doing what they do. Clubs like this are a critical part of the Blues & R&B scene in Britain with many young bands getting their first opportunities.
Coupled with a really fine set from Zoe Schwarz Blue Commotion, Blues At Barleylands made for a great afternoon.
- Words by: Andy Snipper