Nells Jazz and Blues Club, London
The first thing you notice, on entering Nells, is that that there is no one at the bar. Despite the early hour. This is entirely due to the on-stage presence of ‘support act’ Willow Robinson. For once I’m glad to have arrived at a gig with time to spare. Robinson’s guitar smoulders with the heat of a Memphis afternoon in high summer as he saunters through his promising debut Stones. Undeniably easy on the eye, and with a voice reminiscent of the great Jeff Buckley, Robinson’s trajectory is headed in one direction only. He does the simple things brilliantly, while concealing his art to the point where he appears almost to be playing without thought. With a nonchalence that belies his 22 years, Robinson flicks his hair back and gives his guitar such a lick on new single ‘Ocean Drive’, that the audience justs wants to lick him right back in return!
Garland Jeffreys is cut from very different cloth. In a career spanning more than half a century this laconic negotiater of rock, blues, soul and reggae has yet to enounter a musical frontier he couldn’t cross. He brings it all this evening, except, oddly his guitar. Yet even without actually playing Jeffreys’ leads from the front, his band of accomplished pros doing a brilliant job of keeping pace with a man who’s vitality remains undimmed in his 74th year.
There is always an extra thrill that comes with hearing a great artist as they approach the end of his (or her) career, yet neither Jeffreys, or his band give any reason to be nervous this evening. They know at all times what the other is doing. At 73 Jeffreys knocks younger perfomers out of the park. And then some. Musically, physically – all compacted energy and straining sinews – and emotionally, Jeffreys has a lesson to teach anyone who has ever heard him play, or shared a stage with him. Where Robinson smouldered, Jeffreys’ band combusts. In fact his band throws so many hot coals beneath the audience’s feet, it has no choice but to dance or be burned.
Bob Marley’s ‘Reggae on Broadway’ is followed by the heavy dub and sparkling clavinet combination of Jeffreys’ own ‘Ghost Writer’ (1977), which remains as authentic as jerk chicken during carnival, while ‘Wild in the Streets’, rock n roll at its most pared down, proves you don’t need to use every chord in the book to write a great song. Less is often more, and that’s exactly what Jeffreys, economical, effortless, leaves tonight’s crowd wanting.
’14 Steps to Harlem’ by Garland Jeffreys is relased by Luna Park Records/Rough Trade on April 28