Despite two of the band barely looking old enough to have left school, The Mentulls have already notched up an impressive array of support slots for bands including Dr Feelgood, Focus, King King and Aynsley Lister, as well as touring in their own right and appearing at a number of high profile festivals. Tonight, however, was their first appearance in York and I suspect they gained a few new fans. Jamie Pipe opened the set with an organ sound that brought to mind church music before his brother, Andrew, broke the spell with a mellow guitar line that slowly got deeper. As the keyboards dropped off slightly the guitar got rockier and Nick Colman joined in on drums and, as Andrew’s vocals started, a definite Blues sound emerged. Blues remained the style for Reflections, an instrumental track once again opened by Jamie but with a much shorter introduction. Andrew’s guitar playing was accompanied by tortured facial expressions and body contortions and his skill was undeniable, especially during the lovely build in the middle of the track. Towards the end, Nick’s drums dropped off, allowing for a subtle end to the track. A more raucous track from the band’s upcoming second album came next and I was sure I heard hints of Eric Clapton in it. But The Mentulls don’t limit themselves to Blues. The next track, from their first album (Time Flies) opened with Andrew’s guitar and included a riff that brought to mind sounds of NWOBHM. Unlike some bands who use keyboards to weave in and out of the guitar line, Jamie and Andrew seemed to play alongside each other, keyboards and guitar complementing each other while Nick’s drums provided a solid backdrop. Andrew switched guitars to give the next track a slower, more mellow sound, spoiled only by the bass line provided by Jamie’s keys being a touch too loud. During the start of this track the drums were barely noticeable, becoming more prevalent during the louder and rockier second half. The final song of their all too short set opened was opened once again by Jamie. This time his piano sound, along with the fact that Andrew started singing before playing guitar, almost gave the track a lounge music sound and it was definitely the least Blues-like of the set, even though its slower first half morphed effortlessly into a much rockier instrumental section. Throughout the set the playing had been tight and the audience had been appreciative. As the set ended, the crowd gave the band a a great reception – in my experience there haven’t been many support acts who receive shouts for more – and a fair few people seemed to head towards the merchandise desk to chat to the band and, I assume, to pick up a copy of Time Flies.
I like the Blues. They don’t tell my story, but I like them and I try to get to see as many Blues acts as I can when they visit York. Tonight, though, is the first chance I’ve had to see Larry Miller, only previously knowing him by reputation and hear-say, which basically boiled down to him being a brilliant guitar-player who knows how to work a crowd and who holds the record for the most number of encores played at the Cambridge Rock Festival (seven, in case you were wondering).
What I hadn’t been prepared for was the energy and personality he brought to tonight’s performance. After being introduced by Dave the roadie, Larry emerged smiling from Fibbers’ green room to join the rest of his band – Derek White on bass and drummer Graham Walker – and starting to play almost before he had got through the door. Once again the unmistakeable sound of Blues filled the room as Larry’s vocals were interspersed with long technical guitar sections. As the song – Mad Dog, I think – finished, Larry ran across the stage, screaming, “Yeah!” into the audience. The second track was darker and more riff driven, the guitar playing once again bringing forth the seemingly requisite facial contortions. It was at the end of that song that we got our first glimpse of the humour that Larry imbues his set with. Accidentally dropping an un-capped water bottle he good-naturedly berated Dave who, after rushing on to pick up the bottle, went to mop up the spillage with a towel he picked up form the side of the stage. “Not my towel!” Larry mock shouted. Dave returned with a different towel. “I hope that’s Derek’s towel,”said Larry. All this and much more delivered at incredible speed. While introducing the next song Larry, noticing a plume emerging from the smoke machine, ran across stage to waft it away, shouting, “Fire! Fire!” He certainly knows how to entertain, even between songs. He punctuated his guitar introduction to The Girl That Got Away with shouts of “Whoo!” It was a silky song to start with, enhanced by a very subtle lightshow projected onto the ceiling and almost completely avoiding the stage, which ended in very different style. “Is my guitar loud enough,” asked Larry at the end. “No,” came the resounding response, alongside a few “Whoo”s from the audience, prompting him to explain that every “Whoo” and “Yeah” was appreciated. The next song was introduced as a a calm down track, the guitar playing soft and subtle as well as mesmerising. Larry switched guitars for the next track, which was louder, rockier and more energetic and incorporated an incredible instrumental section featuring screaming guitar and a faster and faster drum line. Switching again, this time to acoustic, Larry treated us to a solo rendition of Soldier Of The Line – the title track from his latest album – a short melancholy song with lyrics, if I heard them correctly, about World War 1. Despite being another new song, One Fine Day featured a riff that somehow felt familiar, reminding me, I think, of something by Chantel McGregor. A third new track, Mississippi Mama followed and by now a good proportion of the crowd were dancing in place in front of the stage, most of them not as energetically as the young couple off to one side. Stoic behind his wraparound shades until now, Derek seemed to come to life as Larry left the microphone to play alongside him.
The announcement that, for the next track, the band would be going back through time prompted a flurry of requests from the audience. The first two were greeted by, “Aaaaah… no” and “That’s a good song. Isn’t that a good song?” while a shout of, “Get on with it.” drew the response, “I’m doing my best, but my best isn’t good enough is it?” before Larry took time to explain that he was rushing through the set and hardly talking because of the early curfew. (Which kind of defeated the object.) When the song finally started it was slower and more sultry that the rest of the set, but I don’t remember hearing a title being announced. “Now, ve shall play for you a song,” he said, his fake German accent perhaps referencing the fact that one or two members had turned round in annoyance when noise from the Bier Keller had intruded into the quieter sections of the set. Once more we saw Larry’s fingers flying up and down the frets as Derek encouraged the audience to clap along. Making up for some of the time lost earlier, Larry indicated that the band should go straight into the next song as this one ended. Again it was faster and rockier, bridging the gap between Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll while its instrumental section incorporated a drum line that reminded me of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird. Having taken their bows the band left the stage with shouts for more already. There was barely time for the trio to turn around before they were back on stage, Larry taking up a sparkling gold guitar with a curved headstock for the encore. “We’ve only got five minutes,” he announced before launching into a track whose introduction seemed to included the riff from Whole Lotta Rosie and only got rockier from there. With time tight the band seemed to be flying through the track, even though there was time for the crowd to echo back “yeah, yeah, yeah”. And with that it was all over. Well almost, like all the best artistes, Larry took time after the gig to come out and sign merchandise, chatting and joking to any fans who had stayed behind, myself included. My purchase? I debated one of his studio albums but went straight for the live double CD Live And Outlawed. There’s no substitute for being there, but here’s hoping this gets close.