Reviews 2012

Woodman Folk Club - Reviews

Pete Boddis

Malcolm Jeffrey 2 June 2012

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Pete Boddis and I go back a long way. Although my folk credentials pale beside his in terms of both experience and longevity, I was around playing in folk clubs with Pete in the very early 1980's (eek), was a regular (and did most of my "courting") at Pete's legendary 'Seven Whistlers Folk Club' in The Mitre, Stourbridge, and have had the privilege of playing bass for him in the odd solo gig and at least two bands (although technically speaking, 'Shaken - Not Stirred' only ever did one practice and one gig...) However, a full Pete Boddis solo night is an all too rare thing, and one to be savoured : so I turn up eagerly at The Woodman on a pre-Jubilee weekend Friday.

Buying raffle tickets from the redoubtable Pete on the door, and chatting to some of my old chums there, I collect some beer and peruse the stage/skittle alley area, where there is a very professional array of back-line instruments arranged at the back of the stage : Pete's Martin, an unfamiliar red Fender Jazz bass, and a Cajon - one of those drum-boxes-cum-stools which have become more prevalent of late. There's enough time for a more detailed chat with Velvet Green's Paul concerning the sudden appearance on YouTube of a plethora of Waterfall ( and Cosmotheka ( footage from Pebble Mill, when it's time to shush, and Ian Munro takes the mike for the graveyard shift. 

Settling into an on-stage chair - "it's set up for sitting down", says he - Ian opens the night on his own with a miked-up bouzouki. He plays us a tidy, jolly new one called 'The Close Shave' - a similar plot to 'The Tailor's Britches', where a dim but unsuspecting traveller is waylaid by an overnight companion, only to be left with all money gone and just ladies' garments for clothing - but in Ian's version, the companion is a bearded bloke in drag to boot ! Ian's second number is Lindisfarne's 'Born At The Right Time' - one tricky chord progression causes him to utter many Carthy-like off-mike curses, but the whole is well-received, and eagerly joined in with both vocally and on percussion by the punters.

Following our applause, Ian muses on-mike as to who should follow him : both Bryn and Velvet Green are available tonight. The exchange goes :
Ian - "Who wants to go on next ?
Paul (he of Velvet Green) "Go on then."
Ian - "Please welcome to the stage... Mr Bryn Phillips !"
Ian will later claim superannuated hearing as a contributory factor...

Bryn takes the stage with a cheery "Hi, folks !" ("Hi, Bryn !") and sings us the first of a fine, self-penned, and surprisingly death-free set, "All I Listen To Is The Blues" - all Robert Johnson's causing, allegedly, rather than that of an estranged lady partner, as might more usually be the case. Bryn's second song tackles the obscurities of the South Sea Islands' 'Cargo Cult' religions, inspired in locals by the relatively bountiful riches and possessions of American aviators : it's a fine, interesting song which brings the best out of the Woodman shakers. Following Bryn's set, Velvet Green take their turn, with Sue and Paul sharing vocals on a deftly played "Unicorns" - a Bill Caddick song not heard enough - and with Sue particularly wistful and sweet on 'Who Knows Where The Time Goes ?' : both songs are warmly applauded by the Woodman gathering.

And then it's time for Ian to call Pete Boddis to the stage, to a genuinely enthusiastic welcome from us all. Pete is sporting a light blue stripey t-shirt displaying the legend "No Job. No Car. No Money. But I'm In A Band" - ain't that just the truth, Pete ! Pete sits down, picks up and fine-tunes his Martin, almost apologetically tells us that his band will only be on in the second half, and then hes away with "Deep River Blues" (possibly the only cover he'll sing in a night of Pete-penned material) with a last verse of old gospel song "I Am A Pilgrim" segued onto the end, the whole demonstrating quite satisfactorily that Pete has bought his singing and playing heads with him tonight. Pete tells us that Tony Portlock did the same song earlier this week somewhere, and a great deal faster to boot, but from the audience's warm reception, slower will do them just fine, thank you very much ! Pete next plays us "Gone Now", a song he wrote after hearing of the death of singer-songwriter Steve Bruton, and centering on a Bruton gig Pete saw at the Connaught Hotel, and where Pete was struck by Bruton's passion and professionalism in front of an audience far smaller than he deserved : it's a super song and a very thought-provoking one too, and much appreciated by the punters. Following that, Pete keeps up the early high standard with another finely penned observation of city life, "New York City 2am", featuring Pete's trademark intricate, controlled fingerpicking to fine and well-received effect. Mr Boddis follows this with the less recent "Stanley And Iris", a romantic number inspired by the film of the same name and also a crowd-pleaser tonight.

Pete now swaps his Martin for a Dobro - he's been playing some nice slide blues of late - and shows us his new hand-made glass slider which is being debuted tonight. Pete starts this slide guitar section of the set - he plays it lap-steel style - with a tasty, bluesy road song called "Denver Simpson's Last Ride", which is warmly applauded. Next is a song which very much put me in mind of the old days when Pete was running the Seven Whistlers Folk Club at The Mitre in Stourbridge, and my wife (then girlfriend) and I were regulars :it's called "Nobody's Coming Out Tonight" and describes those quieter nights in a folk club when adverse weather dissuades people from attending. It seems to have struck a chord or two with the Woodman attendees - themselves predominately regulars - too, as they show strong appreciation for this well-performed song. Lastly, Pete plays us a slow blues instrumental in the style of "Albatross" which Pete has mischievously entitled "Wood Pigeon" ! However, it proves an atmospheric, accurately played number, with a lot of slide work at the octave fret / dusty end of the fretboard, and which brings to an end this lap-steel part of the set having shown us another side of Mr Boddis' undoubted talents.

Back on his Martin, Pete checks the tuning, and then dedicates the next song to, shall we say, his fellow more, er, follically challenged members of the audience. Sadly for Pete, as he glances round his audience, he is the least hirsute gentleman in the room by a long way : but this shouldn't, and doesn't, deter the performance of a fine song, so Pete proceeds to play us "James Taylor He Don't Wear No Hat" - having been an attendee of James Taylor gigs for some time now, I can confirm that a) JT does indeed perform both hatless and hairless and also the premise of the song, that b) absence of locks is no barrier to high quality singer-songwriter performance standards, both in the case of Mr Taylor or Mr Boddis himself ! Following our appreciation, Pete rocks out a tad with the more up-tempo "Midnight Cowboy" - ably using the time-honoured "play the chorus again" method of reminding yourself how the next verse starts ! - and then brings this excellent first half to a close with "From The Heart", a song Pete wrote inspired by seeing Kris Kristofferson live : the Woodman audience treats Pete to a warm and prolonged round of applause and Pete seems almost surprised by the reception.

Interval time affords a few moments for chats, refills and comfort breaks, and I briefly pass a few words with Mr Boddis too, on the subjects of James Taylor and ice creams (see my review here - and also share a few reminiscences on the Seven Whistlers, and our late mutual friend Tony Jones who was also a regular musician there.

No luck with the raffle, though...

Ian calls time on the interval chat and invites Pete Boddis, this time with his band, back to the stage to begin the second half. The band don't have a name as such, so Pete introduces them all before they start : Ken, a chum of mine from Stourbridge folk sessions on sax and harmonica, an unfamiliar Fender Jazz bass player called Robin, and a welcome sighting of Marilyn, who I've not seen for yonks, and who is performing percussion duties on the cajon. Much is made of two guitar footrests - you know, the kind of adjustable footrest a classical guitarist might use to lift one of his knees to the correct height for sitting down - because the band have bought them as a present for Marilyn. Their function becomes apparent when she sits on the cajon, as the footrests are positioned on either side of the box so that Marilyn's feet don't dangle in mid air... (I too suffer from the curse of short legs.)

First up is the up-tempo "Lady Of The Highway", another Pete-penned number, so continuing this theme into the second half, and featuring Ken on tasty harp, and which proves to be a popular opener. Ken switches to sax for the next one, "That's What I Call Cool", a slower, bouncy number with some nice tight interplay between Pete, his bassist Robin and Marilyn's tidy cajon tapping. Next is one of my personal favourites, from times and bands in the past, "Soft Summer Sky" - possibly Pete's most famous number this side of "Jodie Blue", and which has the Woodman harmonising along and applauding warmly after. Marilyn takes the vocals for the next ballad, "Somewhere In The Night", and she does a fine, sensitive job on this old standard, which proves a crowd pleaser : Ken's sax work is particularly tasty too. "Blues In A Minor" follows - I'm pleased to see that Pete still points out that it's actually in Cm ! - and again Ken's sax is nicely atmospheric on this Boddis original : and barely has the appreciation died down before they're rocking out with "Dallas" and the Woodman shakers and percussionists are out in force, along with a nice driving bass line from Robin. A casual observer might have seen two shadowy figures jiving by the corner of the bar during the song : it was Velvet Green's Sue and me...

After some considerable applause has died down, Pete informs us that he was recently asked, while playing in a cider festival in Wolverhampton (as you do...), for a Spanish song : and he doesn't know any. However, he HAD written this next song, "She Never Spoke Spanish To Me", so that's close enough for skiffle, and that's the one he plays for us now : very catchy, nicely played by the band (Marilyn has to work hard on this one), with a great sing-a-long chorus that sends the Woodman punters scurrying for their shakers. This is backed up by another audience-rousing up-tempo number, "About As Far As I Can Go", which turns out to be appropriately entitled, as Ian signals for the last number of the set : this proves to be another one of Pete's self-penned and uplifting gems, "Shining", and when he finishes, the Woodman's applause is loud and sincere. As luck would have it, though, it is only Ten Past Eleven, so Mr Boddis and co are easily coaxed back on stage for an encore : Pete selects "So Low In The Bistro", to which Ken calls out "Which key is it in ?" - Ken is duly informed, and mutters "I should have bought a CD" so he would have known... and then it's time for us all to show our appreciation for a splendid night's entertainment, backed by a mellow solid band, but mostly courtesy of Pete Boddis, one of the Midlands' most consistently fine, well-loved and respected singer-songwriters. A splendid night out !