One thing is certain: There are a LOT of people releasing music and, to put it in the nicest possible way, the good stuff is by far outnumbered by the ‘don’t quit your day job’ stuff.
That’s why, when I listened to Canadian blues star Angel Forrest’s two live CDs – one with her acoustic trio set up “Live Love At The Palace” and the current one with her Electric band “Electric Love” ahead of her debut UK tour, I immediately breathed a sigh of relief.
Here was a powerful singer backed by seasoned musicians, playing great music in front of a large enthusiastic audience. The six-time Maple Blues Award winner’s records provided a great mixture of originals and covers that are embedded in rock and blues from the sixties and seventies.
The performances managed to dodge the cliches that are usually dredged up when new music is styled upon, or cover songs are chosen from this period. These were musicians who knew their game and were living the music – keeping it fresh, loose and alive.
I found myself compelled to see her live show, so to the famed Half Moon in Putney, one of London’s great old Warhorse music venues, to catch Angel’s debut London show. I am glad I caught the opening act, special guests from these shores, The Sharpeez.
An energetic, convincing Dr Feelgood-era pub rock style R&B band with Loz Netto from Sniff ‘n The Tears on lead guitar, and William (or Bill) Mead at the front on lead vocals. Much pedigree as individual players who have all earned their dues, and they pack a punch live.
I am told they have a new album due out in May called, “Wild One”. Must get to hear that soon. The band’s full line-up is: William Mead on guitar and vocals, Loz Netto on slide and lead guitar, Michael Steed on bass, David Tettmar on drums.
They get a warm reception from the good sized audience, which is made up of a surprisingly wide age range. Blues audiences are usually OLD – and MALE. No offence intended! This audience was multi-generational and the younger members were largely FEMALE.
Great to see and to which I put some of that maybe down to, perhaps, the continuing fascination with the life and music of Janis Joplin; one of Angel’s biggest influences. She started out, and built up her career, paying homage to Janis Joplin, which brought her solid national attention in her native Canada.
And so the main attraction hits the the stage – Angel Forrest. Barefoot, and in how she is dressed, looking every inch the committed 1960s/70s hippie. She’s flanked by an acoustic guitarist either side of her who stay sat on bar stools, while she is stood for the whole set.
Angel is often animated and expressive, and lost in the music. Grabbing the mike stand aggressively and tilting it in true 1970s Led Zep stylee. Great to watch and even better to hear!
To her left, husband Denis Columbe, holding down rhythm and the the 27-year-old virtuoso Ricky Paquette to her right, embellishing each song with some sizzling lead work.
She wins an instant rapport with her audience – which includes Brits, Canadians, Australian, South African and Scottish – with the relaxed authority and humour of a seasoned pro.
What follows is a simply stunning performance, the likes of which have not been witnessed on these shores by a female blues artist for many decades…
In fact, let’s forget gender. It is not relevant. Angel is more ballsy than many male rock singers out there striking their poses, and screaming into the mike at volume.
Yes, you can tell she adores Mr Plant and Ms Joplin, but she is her own woman and artist, that’s for sure.
On paper, singer and two acoustic guitarists, low volume, laid back set, akin to folk clubs and background fodder.
Might be interspersed with chatter from certain members of the audience who have zero respect for the performers, or other audience members.
1. A brace of powerful guitarists who attack those instruments like they are electric.
2. A lead vocal to strip wallpaper with its ferocity, but also sweet tenderness on the ballads.
3. You could have heard a pin drop for every second of Angel’s set. Apart from the whoops and hollers at the end of each song.
Forget thoughts of, ‘I’ll wait until she has a full band with her…’. This set up kicks serious butt. Surprisingly so.
Angel captivates and leads, her sensational voice soaring across the Half Moon’s atmospheric gig room. Circa 20 years since I was last here, and I’d forgotten what a great room it is for live music. Nicely furnished and designed too.
She could not have brought along two better equipped guitarists; in skill and in value added to what she offers up. Denis, as I find out later, was originally a bassist who switched to guitar and has developed a sensational style – both melodic and highly rhythmical.
It really fills out the sound, quite percussive in nature and thus obliterating the need for a bass or drums. It also gives a strong foundation for Ricky to soar on top of, with intricate emotionally-charged lead work.
The two of them together interweave with each other and vary the dynamics to an incredible degree. Angel is in safe hands, but she is the governor up there and has a lovely command of the stage and her audience.
The three of them working together is itself a unique treat – masses of palpable chemistry – giving a high degree of originality to the show, and massive dynamic and textural range. Both from Angel’s voice and the two guitarists working together.
Apart from some really strong originals, stand outs include perennial favourite “House Of The Rising Sun”, “Mother Tongue Blues” – an original to the tune of Muddy Waters “Can’t Be Satisfied”, Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues”, and a great mash-up of Ruth Brown’s “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean”, with Led Zeppelin”s “Whole Lotta Love”.
A truly great show, and a tremendous London debut for Angel Forrest, who along with her partners in crime, Ricky and Denis, thoroughly deserve their standing ovation tonight. I am told that was the normal reaction at the end of every show, for the whole tour here.
She has a very bright future ahead of her in the UK, if she chooses to return after this tour – nine dates kicking off in Sheffield almost two weeks before tonight’s triumph, and which ends in Glasgow on 30th March. I hope that is in no doubt.
The music Angel performs is a perfect fit for the thriving UK blues-rock scene.
But perhaps there’s an even bigger market for her, beyond that ‘scene’.
She wants to come back with her full electric band…
I have a feeling though, that there is also great mileage left in this acoustic set-up. Let’s have both!
Wherever you are on the planet reading this; if you get the chance to go see this Angel in full flight, I highly recommend you do so. For us here in the UK, I sincerely hope we get the chance to welcome her back with open arms very soon.
- Editor’s note: Our reviewer for tonight, Giles Robson is far too modest to tell you himself, but Angel got the whisper before the gig that Giles is one of the UK’s best known blues harmonica players, and travels the world doing his thing.
So knowing he was due to be there to review the show, she asked him to bring along a couple of harps to get up and join in the fun. (Giles and Angel caught in action in the photo, above).
So one planned song, turned into an extended incendiary guest spot. Angel, Denis, Ricky and the audience lapped it up, and my spies report that it put the icing on top of a very tasty cake that night. Bravo Mr Robson. See, we don’t send just any old body to represent Music Republic Magazine…
Review: Giles Robson
Photos: Alex Asprey