Big bloke, Scottish, playing the Blues, name of Nimmo – we’ve been here before, haven’t we? Well, no. While I’ve seen Alan Nimmo’s band three times, I’ve never seen his brother, Stevie, before tonight. In fact, being a relative newcomer to the Nimmos, until this gig was announced I wasn’t even aware that Stevie was still performing. Tonight he wandered on stage, along with rhythm section of Craig Bacon (drums) and Matt Beable (bass), with little fanfare, immediately encouraging the crowd to move forward with the promise, “I don’t bite.”
His opening track was, perhaps, a rockier style of Blues to that of his brother and included two instrumental sections, the second of which saw Stevie’s fingers moving up and down the whole neck of his guitar. The second track came without a break and something about the lyrics gave me the impression that it was a song giving the finger to the cancer that Stevie survived in 2009 and celebrating his return to music afterwards. Addressing the audience after that track, Stevie told them that it was his first time in York for many years and, like a fair few people playing Fibbers these days, joked that the last time he played the venue, it wasn’t here. Moving onto newer material, Change came from his latest album – Sky Won’t Fall (to be released in March, but on sale at the merchandise stand tonight) – was slightly lighter musically, with quieter, more subtle vocals which belied the big man’s appearance. Again, fingers danced along guitar string during the instrumental section, which built the track nicely to its conclusion. “That’s coming,” said Stevie in response to a request from the audience, before the slower Running On Back To You, with its rich and delicious guitar playing and Stevie’s facial expressions showing all the passion of his brother and so many other Blues guitarists. This track made the previous one seem almost frothy in comparison and while Change built to a climax, this one faded out into a very quiet section (along the lines of King King’s A Long History Of Love) with a brief two note burst at the end. The guitar sections during Gambler’s Roll were, in places, a high-pitched scream, although much more pleasant than that description makes them sound, and that track received the best reception yet from the crowd. Back to Stevie’s first solo album – The Wynds Of Life – and Good Day For The Blues, written by David Grissom of U.S. band Storyville, was the most mainstream track yet. Something about the delivery brought to mind Elton John. Stevie explained that the next track, Eye Of The Storm, was written by a, “late, great friend back in Scotland,” prompting one audience member to speculate it was Frankie Miller. Stevie said not, although admitted that, whoever it was (if he said, I missed it) suffered from the same as Frankie, in that he liked a little drink. Again Stevie’s guitar “screamed” during a brilliant instrumental section that drew applause from the audience. A second guitar section saw those anguish-filled facial expression return. Beadle and Bacon provided a rhythm section opening for the final song of the set, while Stevie thanked us for listening. The catchy, un-Blues-like opening guitar section had at least one person near the front dancing, making the lyric “The way you looked at me tonight, you make me just wanna dance” somewhat appropriate, while “So cold outside” probably couldn’t have been more accurate. A playful sing-back with the crowd let into an extended instrumental section to bring the set to its end.
My first exposure to Ben Nimmo was when I saw a poster advertising an earlier gig – one that I was interested in but couldn’t get to – in York, probably a couple of years ago. Somewhat similar to the cover of his Live At The Albert Hall album (perhaps even the same, I can’t quite remember), it showed a muscular, tattooed arm playing a guitar and an up-tilted face. While the poster proclaimed Poole to be a young Blues guitarist, something about the picture said to me that he would be grittier, more “working class” perhaps, than other purveyors of the Blues that I had come across. So, I was slightly surprised when a slight young man (certainly younger than he looked on the poster) in a rather nice jumper came on stage tonight, his only concession to “gritty” being a ripped pair of jeans. His rhythm section was the same as Nimmo’s but Poole also added keyboard player Stevie Watts to his line-up.
Then there was the music. While you could have played me any snippet of a track from Nimmo’s set and I would probably have recognised it as Blues, Poole’s was different and, to me, not as instantly recognisable. (As usual, that is probably more down to my knowledge of the genre than anything else.) He opened his set in lively fashion before making things moodier with a track that showed off Watts prowess with a mid-song keyboard section that led into a full instrumental. Like Stevie, Ben waited until his third track to engage fully with the audience, explaining that Longing For A Woman was from his upcoming album and apologising for delays which meant that he wasn’t able to have any for sale on the night. The track opened quietly before crashing into life before calming down again, gentle vocal sections alternating with lively instrumentals. After, in his own words, rocking things up with Lying To Me, Ben told how he got into the Blues as a kid, when he was bought a copy of Eric Clapton’s Backtrackin’ album, then played a cover of Freddie King’s Have You Ever Loved A Woman?, opening solo before the rest of the band joined subtly, letting Ben’s guitar and vocals stay very much to the fore of the sound and then, as a whole, building abruptly until the keys were allowed to dominate and lead into a strong instrumental section and a final set of vocals. Compared to this near-epic, Just When You Thought It Was Safe, for which Ben changed to a battered looking guitar, was short and sharp, but no less enjoyable. Another mood change came with Time Might Never Come, which Ben explained was inspired by and dedicated to Gary Moore. Slower, this track had, to me, the most recognisable Blues sound of the set and featured a stunning instrumental section during which Ben wrung every drop of life out of his guitar and probably wore his plectrum down to a nub. Craig Bacon’s drum solo opened Are You Going To Stay At Mine?, a faster track which saw Matt Beadle’s liveliest performance of the evening and brought the main set to a close, with the foursome leaving the stage, with the obligatory thanks to the crowd for supporting live music, with cries of “More” already filling the venue.
With barely time for them to turn around in the green room the three band members came back on stage, opening the encore before Ben and Stevie returned together. “We’re going to have some fun now,” said one of the pair (I can’t remember which) before launching into an energetic version of Freddie King’s Going Down, with Stevie on vocals and with lead and rhythm guitar sections being passed between the two of them. Again Watts’ keyboards were allowed to come to the fore before the two frontmen encouraged the audience to participate in a sing-along. The extended cover and whole evening ended with what had the feel of a jam session, Ben and Stevie brilliantly playing off each other with smiles all round on stage.