Saturday, 2 June 2018

GIG REVIEW: Bennett Wilson Poole - St.Georges Hall, Bewdley. Friday 1st June 2018

Liberté, egalité, fraternité is an old French revolutionary saying that applies to Bennett Wilson Poole in terms of their free spirit, egalitarian approach to music and comradeship. Maybe their unison has not quite stirred a musical revolution in 2018, but it is definitively re-energising an iconic sound. Billed as an Americana supergroup revs up the hyperbole, although echoes of 60s LA fire out of a multi guitar attack stoked by the jangle tones of the twelve stringed Rickenbacker. 

Gigs are beginning to stack up for this seasoned trio, formed to quantify a mutual love shared by Robin Bennett, Danny Wilson and Tony Poole. It was no surprise to see one of their early shows scheduled for St. George’s Hall in the north Worcestershire town of Bewdley, a venue frequented twice by Robin in the guise of his band The Dreaming Spires and sibling collaboration The Bennett Family Singers. Therefore, it was all systems go when the full band hit the stage at 9:30 complete with a further Dreaming Spires complement of Joe Bennett on bass and backing vocals and Fin Kenny on drums.

When you want to expose the fruits of a brand new album then why not play it in its entirety, even in track order. Self-titling their album further etched the name Bennett Wilson Poole on the roots music scene and its contents quickly accrued widespread praise when it hit the shelves earlier this year. The birth of eleven new original songs only begin to tell the story of how well this trio have gelled as both a recording and live performing unit. Across the hour and forty minutes onstage, the vocal harmony and exchange excelled alongside a tight knit sound that ebbed and flowed within the mood of each song.

A carefree and good time atmosphere exuded from the stage as frivolous humour sandwiched some heavy content in the songs. Danny adopted the central position and lost none of the impish wit that defines a ‘Champions of the World’ show, but it is clear that no leader emerges in Bennett Wilson Poole. Robin plays the measured role, often keeping Danny in check and effortlessly switching between electric and acoustic guitar as required. Elder statesman of the trio Tony Poole, hailed as the UK’s greatest exponent of the twelve stringed guitar, was up for milking the opportunity to share the limelight in an acclaimed set up, probably re-living his performing heyday as lead member of 70s rock band Starry Eyed and Laughing.

There was a great deal of insight to the songs in the press around release time and this reaffirmed during the evening. Interesting nuggets included Robin writing ‘Wilson General Store’ as a tribute to Danny’s grandparents in Australia, and Tony providing the stimulus for the two politically charged songs – ‘Hate Won’t Win’ in response to the death of MP Jo Cox and ‘Lifeboat (Take a Picture of Yourself)’ paradoxically linking the refugee crisis to the phenomena of the selfie. The eight-minute duration of the latter proved the fitting climax to the main set with Danny strapping on the electric guitar to ensure the powerful instrumental segment got the full amped up treatment.

Without exhausting the content of the album, it all came across brilliantly in the live format and at least you should be checking it out on a format of your choice.

Of course you need some extra material to pad out a full headline set, but that presented little trouble for the band. The Dreaming Spires’ ‘Searching for the Supertruth’ and ‘One Foot in the Boat’ by Starry Eyed and Laughing were easy fits, while paying homage to the Traveling Wilburys with a cover of ‘Handle With Care’ saw the band pin an allegiance. The temptation to utilise the venue’s piano was too good to miss and Robin showed his pianist skills to play Graham Nash’s ‘Simple Man’, vocally accompanied by Danny and Tony. This show saw no Grand Drive or Champs tribute, with Danny choosing to celebrate the work of Michael Nesmith in covering ‘Different Drum’. The final cover appeared earlier in the set when Crosby Stills and Nash’s ‘Find the Cost of Freedom’ bridged the serving of sides 1 and 2 from the album.

In line with previous Severn Sessions presentations at this venue, the evening opened with a double set from a youth and bona fide support act. Local duo Ivywoods were the youngsters on show and used their slot to deliver a bunch of mainly familiar covers, while the not much older but distinctly more experienced Chloe Mogg followed with a set of original material delivered in a quirky and offbeat style that displayed a growing confidence.

In contrast to the openers, it would be difficult to count the number of years and shows members of Bennett Wilson Poole have accumulated over the years. Yet you are often judged on your most recent output and against this measure they are in safe territory. Although it may be considered a side project in some respects, this set up is likely to take up much of the year and keep all concerned busy. The blistering performance delivered tonight proved ample evidence that no effort is wasted in making it a wholesale success. 

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