Sandi Thom – The Duchess, 29/04/11

It’s the day of the Royal Wedding and, having spent the day walking in the countryside away from all TVs, I’ve decided to spend the evening inside the Duchess. (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist…)

Marcus Bonfanti is a half-English, half-Italian, self-taught Blues guitarist (and former guitarist for tonight’s headline act). Tonight he is playing solo rather than as part of a trio. He has already released two albums, with a third on the way and has been nominated for British Blues Awards for two years running – Best Male Vocals and Best Album in 2010 and Best Male Vocals and Best Guitar in 2011. Opening with a deceptively simple harmonica and vocals number, Marcus immediately set his stall out by showing what a strong voice he has. Moving on to the likes of Devil Girl, with its almost shouted lyrics, and What Good Am I To You?, with its much lighter, catchy riff, he also showed how versatile that voice was and how good he was with the guitar. Peppering his act with amusing interludes delivered in a nice easy-going style and thereby providing more entertainment than just the musical performance, he continued with Now I’m Gone Is Your Life Better?, Cookie (I think) and the ironically meant Sweet Louise (for which he apologised to anybody in the audience thus named…) Finishing with Give Me All Your Cash, even more ironic than the previous song given how many times he’d reminded us that he would be selling his CD during the interval, Marcus provided a very entertaining set and turned out to be an addition to the growing number of man-and-guitar acts, not to mention Blues artistes, that I find increasingly engrossing. And yes, I bought a copy of the CD and, while chatting, discovered we had a mutual appreciation for Seasick Steve and abhorrence of people who talk through gigs. Nice, as well as talented guy.

I came across Sandi Thom at much the same time as most other people, when I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker… was riding high in the charts, at a time when I was working up and down the country and generally travelling with somebody who preferred listening to the radio rather than CDs. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the hype surrounding her and her live webcasts. I just liked the song. Liked it enough to buy the album, Smile… It Confuses People, which I also enjoyed a lot. I eventually noticed that she was appearing live near York at the Pocklington Arts Centre and thought about, although never got round to, seeing her perform. Later I bought the second album, The Pink & The Lily, and was disappointed, if not underwhelmed, by it, leading to me not bothering to venture out the first time she played the Duchess and to her disappearing off my radar for a while. However, I never really give up on artists I like and, seeing that a return trip to the Duchess was on the cards, as well as having read good things about her third, very different album, was already planning a possible solo excursion when Roj said that he and Lynn would also be interested in going along.

As the support may have intimated, Sandi has moved more towards a Blues style and, together with her four-piece band, opened with an un-introduced which started out folksy but ended much more powerfully, before treating us to some harmonica playing for Heart Of Stone, which also built to a loud ending. The set continued to be varied, with a more rock-and-roll/country number followed by a slower, more bluesy song which should probably have showcased Sandi’s vocals, except that they ended up being slightly drowned out by cymbals. I’m fairly certain that the set featured songs from all three albums, but I failed to recognise anything from The Pink & The Lily. I did, however, recognise What If I’m Right and I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker from Smile…, despite both songs being heavily tweaked to reflect the new style, the latter being played just on harmonica, with the rest of the band just clapping along. We also got a few covers, including Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain, The Animals’ House Of The Rising Sun and Blues standard Help Me (Sonny Boy Williamson and also recently on Chantel McGregor’s debut album), all of which were delivered in style. Sandi herself played a mixture of acoustic rhythm and electric lead (albeit as part of a duet) guitar, as well as harmonica and the rest of the band (whose names I didn’t note down, sorry…) all played well. Particularly of note was the lead guitarist, who also provided backing vocals and whose facial contortions at times made his playing look painful, and the nice sounds which came from a nigh-on invisible (from where I was standing) keyboard player. There were also guest spots from Bob Powell on trombone and Marcus Bonfanti, who returned to the stage to play harmonica for the Runaway Train encore. It really was an excellent set, mixing country, folk, rock-and-roll and blues to great effect and proving that Sandi (and her band) is more than the hyped-up star of a few years ago. I’m glad I ventured out, may have to re-evaluate The Pink & The Lily and will definitely be ordering a copy of Merchant And Thieves.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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