Sunday, April 13, 2014

A deeper shade of blue - review of The Blue Bishops and Invisible Vegas at Ace Space

Photo: Richard Markham

The Blue Bishops and Invisible Vegas, at ACE Space, Newbury on Friday, October 26, 2013

A BAND with true blue credentials (in the musical, not political sense) oozing out of their pores, The Blue Bishops cranked the sound up to 11, nearly “red lining” the sound system, and rocked to the rafters at ACE Space on Friday night.

Joined by local musician and regular band stand-in Chris Hook while usual bassist Jim Rodford was elsewhere doing his thing with The Zombies, the Bishops demonstrated what decades of individual professional musicianship and years playing as a four-piece should sound like.

Despite the slightly unatmospheric setting - ACE Space’s lighting rig  went kaput earlier in the week, meaning that the band performed their set under the hall’s harsh florescent strips - the Bishops created a sweaty ambience all of their own with two storming sets.  

The blues’ heaviest sounds, such as Fleetwood Mac’s Drifting (written by Peter Green) were juxtaposed with covers swiped from the less well-thumbed pages of the blues songbook, such as Elvis Presley’s That’s Alright Mama, which I wouldn’t have previously spotted as featuring a classic blues progression, but was actually written by blues singer Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup back in the ’40s.

However, it was with their own songs, mainly written by frontman Geoff Grange and guitarist Simon Burrett, that the Bishops came into their own, bringing a rocky - nay, poppy - and often fun edge to their sound, on more lighthearted songs such as Credit Card. A darker, Springsteen-esque seam ran through Black Diamond, written about a 1950s mining disaster at a Durham Colliery, near to Grange’s home town of Hartlepool.

Grange himself is all you want from a frontman; with a wiry charisma, he held the stage with each song, with plenty of opportunity to showcase his prodigious harmonica playing which has secured him long-standing collaborations with the likes of Bill Wyman and Nicky Hopkins. Overall, the band were truly excellent - a real treat for ACE Space, which is getting a name for itself as a small but welcoming venue, helping to put Newbury back on the musical map.

Support came from two of Invisible Vegas, a youthful Oxford band discovered by gig promoter Richard Markham, testing the water at ACE Space with a view to returning with their full membership in the New Year. Their polished indie rock sound and boyish charm went down well with the audience, so I’m pretty sure that they’d receive a warm welcome if they were to return. They’ll have to crank up the sound a fair bit to compete with The Blue Bishops, though.

* First published in the Newbury Weekly News in November 2013

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