After the recent cold snap, it was good to be able to have a good old ramble around the Clerkenwell area before pitching up for my first visit to The Betsey Trotwood venue for that night’s gig. Over recent years the pub has made a name for itself both on the live music scene as a hotbed for new and upcoming acts, and also for its comedy sessions, (Henning Wehn was upstairs performing one of 16 sold out dates at the same venue). It was, however to the downstairs cellar space that I headed.
Support came from HOO (aka Holton’s Opulent Oog) – performing as a duo. Having ditched the rustic rambling sound of previous albums, we were presented with a short set of more psychedelically-tinged material, sounding at times to these ears like very early Pink Floyd or Suicide‘s Dream Baby Dream.
However, the room of devotees had come along to witness the first of a completely sold out three-night residency by Bennett Wilson Poole in support of their forthcoming landmark self-titled debut album on April 6th which I reviewed here.
In addition to Robin Bennett, (The Dreaming Spires, Goldrush, Saint Etienne), Danny Wilson (Grand Drive , Danny and the Champions of the World,) and Tony Poole, (Starry Eyed and Laughing), the line-up was augmented by a really tight rhythm section comprising of Robin’s brother Joe Bennett (Dreaming Spires) on bass guitar, together with F.Scott Kenny (Society), on drums.
The set began with the album being performed in its entirety, emulating the track order of the recording. Thus the opening number was the glorious Soon Enough. Released as a single in February, this instantly catchy tune, in which each verse embraced alternating lead vocals from each band member, a technique repeated throughout the set, was ecstatically received. While the recorded track features magical backwards Rickenbacker, we had the alternative bonus of the Pretty Woman riff thrown in by Tony for good measure.
Ask Me Anything, beginning with a guitar sound straight out of vintage Crazy Horse, developed with soaring three-part harmonies in the chorus, and also included a stunning guitar solo from Mr.Poole.
After checking on the well-being of the audience, next up was Funny Guys, redolent of something from the Grand Drive catalogue, before somewhat of a change in mood with a soulful ballad, Hide Behind A Smile, which lyrically touches on anxiety and depression,
‘Everybody has days darker than others
That’s why we have our friends
Fathers and brothers – sisters and lovers.’
Wilson General Store, written by Robin, and alluding to Danny’s grandparents’ shop in Melbourne, snippets of which have appeared online, created a joyful and bright image of Australia, (with or without a rhyme for the word ’emporium’) before there was a marked change in the mood once again.
The spoken introduction to the performance of Hate Won’t Win depicted one of the more thought-provoking moments of the set. Penned immediately after the news of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, the opening guitar pattern brought to mind Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s monumental Ohio. This was reinforced as the song developed, with its Na na na chorus building to an epic finale with Tony’s blistering guitar solo holding the audience spellbound. In another adjunct to the recorded version, the song segued magnificently, and most appropriately, into Find The Cost Of Freedom; if the musical equivalent of OFSTED were inspecting tonight they would have had no trouble in finding ‘awe and wonder’.
Track 7, The Other Side Of The Sky, returned us to a more cheery place, and was another vehicle, (of which the evening was full), for showing off the group’s glorious harmonies. The psychedelia-tinged That Thing That You Called Love recalled Poco, or more parochially, Sutherland Brothers & Quiver, and from my vantage point had everyone blissfully swaying along.
Not Forgetting (Just Not Remembering) again clearly displayed the extremely high quality of the group’s songwriting abilities. Recalling the best of The Byrds, dreamy lyrics intertwined with sonorous melodies, which made for delightful listening.
With Find Your Own Truth, the reasoning behind the countless comparisons that have been made between Bennett Wilson Poole and CS&N/ CSN&Y became patently evident. Despite lacking the steel guitar which appears on the recording, we were privileged to hear harmonies to which others can only aspire, the title tells you all you need to know about this country-flavoured song, and was enthusiastically acclaimed by the now hot, and possibly ‘glowing’, audience.
An emotional introduction to the final song on the album, Lifeboat (Take A Picture Of Yourself), was given. It was triggered when Tony came across a newspaper in which an article on ‘selfies’ appeared next to a photo of a refugee boat in the Mediterranean. This incongruity between the basic instinct of survival instinct against self-absorption was encapsulated in a song lasting almost 8 minutes, featuring poignant lyrics and soaring harmonies, together with a coruscating guitar solo,
‘Is this the world we’ve been waiting for?
Everyone for themselves
Man the lifeboat and paint the doors
Take a picture of yourself.’
So, to the rapturous applause of those present, the album was presented in its totality. To report that it was well-received would be the biggest understatement. In what was described as a trawl through various past histories, much more music was to come.
The first treat was Wide Open Sky, an old Goldrush number from their 2002 Don’t Bring Me Down album. The Grand Drive back-catalogue was represented next, as 5th Letter, from their 1998 Road Music release, was given an airing. For those of a certain age, possibly, the indulgence of the next offering was nostalgia personified as Tony headed up One Foot In The Boat, the second track from the second Starry Eyed and Laughing, L.P. Thought Talk, released way back in 1975. The penultimate song of the night was to be a cover of Big Star‘s The Ballad of El Goodo, from their debut album, #1 Record, before the evening closed with BTW‘s take on The Traveling Wilbury‘s Handle with Care.
This was as good as live music gets. Analogies with the likes of CSN&Y, The Byrds, The Traveling Wilburys, The Jayhawks, et al. are inevitable, but don’t be fooled, what we witnessed was original, euphoric, exhilarating British Americana music of the highest standard, played with unbridled enjoyment by musicians so obviously empathetic to each other.
Bennett Wilson Poole have various dates lined up throughout the rest of the year, catching one, or preferably more, of them is highly recommended.
Pre-order Bennett Wilson Poole here https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/bennett-wilson-poole