Review: Smokehouse Blues – Buckley – 22 Nov 2008

Posted on: Sunday, Nov 23, 2008

Smokehouse Blues – Buckley Academy – 22 November 2008

Let me first of all apologise for the writing style and the lack of pictures.  Unfortunately Grahame could not make the gig, this means that the review was left to me – not one of my strengths – everyone knows this.  My camera travelled to Leicester with my wife who was away having fun elsewhere.

This was the first blues gig at this excellent venue promoted by the venue owners and it was a great event for all concerned.  The turnout was acceptable, if not stunning; a great mixture of regular blues faces, locals tempted out by something new in Buckley and swing dancers.

Let me talk about the venue for a little while before going on to discuss the music.  Without over enthusing, the venue itself is simply stunning.  It is a beautiful original dance hall that has been lovingly restored by the owners.  The room is famous for its original sprung wooden dance floor – a feature that is enjoyed frequently by the many dancers who attend the live events and the dance classes that are held there each week.

Bloater 002

Smokehouse Blues have gone from strength to strength in their lifetime and, along with The Stumble, they are at the top of the pile of northwest bands.  The first set showed just why they are in demand at festivals and the high-class blues clubs of the north.  The set featured the classic Smokehouse blend of traditional Chicago blues with a handful of West Coast swing thrown in for good measure.  A highlight for me was the classic Sonny Boy Williamson tune “Nine Below Zero” with vocalist and harmonica player Johny Hewitt’s big voice and sweet acoustic harmonica played with beautiful hand expression shaping the sound to sweep through the eaves of the hall.  I also very much enjoyed Louis Jordan’s “Early In The Mornin'” a rhumba beat classic enhanced by a lovely Little Walter-style head.

Along with Johny Hewitt the band is “Barney” Barnett on guitar who, as always, was excellent throughout the night really locking in with the rhythm section of Mark Donaldson on drums and in-demand Russ Williams on the upright bass.  A special mention is necessary for Barney’s fabulous guitar tone using a vintage-looking right-handed semi-acoustic, strung left handed and played upside down.  There are very few guitarists in Great Britain that can really nail the authentic Chicago blues rhythm playing – Barney is one of them.

The second set started in fine style with a bass and harmonica duo with Russ Williams taking the vocal duties and showing us his fine rockabilly vocal style with a flavour of country yodel for good measure – showing just how close vintage country is to vintage blues.
The rest of the show was more of the same top stuff.  Featuring a couple of handfuls of shuffles and swings keeping the dance floor in use the whole night.  Half way though the second set I was given a great opportunity to sit in with the band – it’s quite a challenge to follow an incredible harp player like Johny Hewitt who was simply superb all night with perfect tone and chops – one of the elite group of great harmonica players that this country has produced.  It was a pleasure to use his perfect rig of a beautifully setup Fender Bassman ’59 re-issue (significantly tweaked for tone) along with an original Shure Green Bullet mike.

A couple of encores sent the crowd home very happy, looking forward to a programme of gigs and events that they venue will be planning for next year.  So watch this space for the future events.  It is a perfect room for blues events, with good acoustics, good visibility and a great atmosphere.  It’s handy for Chester, Wrexham and The Wirral and there is a stack of free parking right outside.

Congratulations to all concerned a great band in a fabulous venue.  Who could ask for anything more.



November 23rd, 2008 at 11:29
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Yes! I know that I said that I didn’t have a camera. The picture shown is a picture of the stage area taken from the Big Boy Bloater gig at the Academy in September.



November 23rd, 2008 at 12:37
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Glad it all went well, especially for Neil at the venue who took the time and effort to publicise the gig! Unfortunately could not make it myself due to unforseen circumstances, but sounds like a reasonable turnout and great night!


Pete Evans

November 23rd, 2008 at 12:52
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Yes, congratulations to Neil and Ellie. I spoke to Neil earlier in the day and apologised for not being able to turn up but I am very pleased to say that Neil has asked me to meet up with him and Ellie shortly to put together a programme of bi-monthly gigs at the venue hopefully starting in February. As you said Ken, Buckley is ideally placed to tap into not only Chester, Wrexham and The Wirral, but also Deeside and inland to Ruthin. Could be the start of something exciting.



November 23rd, 2008 at 13:08
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Think that the very nature of the venue lends itself to the more dance-orientated bands – our good buddies The Cadillac Kings would be a blast in there! Is the Memo gig still going ahead?



November 23rd, 2008 at 19:50
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Good review Ken, I agree with most of your comments, and it’s great to know that there is some input from you guys to help keep this venue going, the venue was where my wife and I got engaged on Christmas eve 1977, although it was then known as Bistre workingmens club, it has been idle for too long and it’s great to see it back on the map so to speak, Loved your little stint with the band, I wasn’t expecting that, Excellant !!! and like Pete says lets hope this is the start of something exiting !