Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Blair Dunlop - Hare and Hounds, Kings Heath, Birmingham Tuesday 27th May 2014

The band in full tour rehearsal 
His background may be rooted in the folk tradition but the unveiling of the new Blair Dunlop live persona, coupled with full band, revealed a sound as good as any UK act exploring the world of country rock Americana on the circuit. Switching between electric and acoustic, Blair focussed heavily on his new album during this near-90 minute set and received stellar support from Jacob Stoney on keys, Fred Claridge on percussion and the usual quality fiddle and mandolin playing we have come to expect from Kat Gilmore.

Over the last twelve months, Blair has been seen live in several developing roles as he tied the loose ends in promoting BLIGHT AND BLOSSOM including a Birmingham date supporting the Carrivick Sisters and another in a similar role with Larkin Poe. However the support element was well and truly dropped from this gig which was held in the Hare and Hounds’ larger music room and attracted a respectable sized audience. For this evening the opening slot was awarded to local artist Michael King who is the front person for up and coming Birmingham folk outfit Boat to Row. It was felt that the sound didn’t do justice to Michael’s acoustic slot with his violin accomplice Anna Bennett but there was no such concern once Blair launched his set with ‘Something’s Gonna Give Way’, the opening track from the newly released HOUSE OF JACKS.

Over the next hour and a half we were treated to almost the entirety of this album, of which most as originated from the pen of the talented Blair. Although this was the first serious listen to the album, a handful of the tracks had a feel of being long time favourites and I’m sure ‘House and Jacks’, ‘Fifty Shades of Blue’ and ‘Chain By Design’ will assume this status. The musical connection between Rebecca Lovell of Larkin Poe and Blair has been well documented and as well as plugging her Hare and Hounds gig next month, we learnt that she provided backing vocals on ‘Different Schools’, which tonight featured the delightful Kat.

As earlier mentioned, the band development is a major surge forward for Blair and Kat was no stranger to a Birmingham audience having played a sold out gig recently as one half of the Gilmore Roberts duo. The keys of Jacob Stoney gave many of the tracks a soulful feel and he played a beautiful accompaniment to an acoustic Blair on ‘Song of Two Bridges’, a number co-written by his father Ashley Hutchings. This was part of a three song segment which saw Blair also perform solo, the title track from BLIGHT AND BLOSSOM and his usual stunning version of Richard Thompson’s ‘Vincent Black Lightning 1952’. We also shouldn’t underestimate the contribution on percussion from Fred Claridge who drove the band along all evening, being especially valuable on faster numbers like ‘45s (c.’14)’ and a ramped up version of ‘Less The Pawn’. To complete the contribution from his debut album, Blair turned to the reliable ‘Secret Theatre’ and started the two-song encore with ‘Fallout’.

The evening ended with Blair reminding the audience that he is no mean guitarist with a blistering acoustic version of the instrumental ‘Si Bheagh Si Mhor’. Yet this new incarnation of Blair is very much about the band sound which as indicated in the opening paragraph possessed a significant folk tinged country rock feel, and will be enjoyed by many who may hold a primary allegiance to music from the Americana movement. However the most important aspect is that Blair Dunlop continues to widen his appeal and is well on the way to fulfilling his prodigious potential.

Set List – Something’s Gonna Give Way: 45s (c.’69): The Station: Secret Theatre: Fifty Shades of Blue: Different Schools: House of Jacks: The Ballad of Enzo Laviano: Blight and Blossom: Song of Two Bridges: Vincent Black Lightning 1952: Chain by Design: Less the Pawn: 45 (c.’14) Encore – Fallout: Si Beagh Si Mhor

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