Hiss Golden Messenger at Independent, Sunderland on 7th February 2015

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The Independent is small funky little venue in Sunderland with great sound and a nice line in cider (and beer – Editor). It seems to suit this band who’ve been around a while now and have been picking up rave reviews whilst their most recent album, “Lateness of Dancers” was placed pretty high on most of those year end “Best of the year” listings. The bands guitarist, Phil Cook, delivers a short opening set with some sweet sharp blues and a delightful ode to his young son that has the crowd singing “Ellis – Wake up”. A nice moment.

After a short break singer, song-writer, and head honcho, Michael Taylor takes the stage with his acoustic guitar while the other three members of the band stand off to the left delivering some nice a cappella harmonies on the superb opener that might be called “Kiss Me Brother”. It’s a wonderful opening shot and highlights the tightness of the band almost before they’ve played a note. There’s a searing slide solo from Phil that marks out territory for him as a great funky player. As the song ends Taylor tells us that it’s great to be “in a sunny seaside town” that provokes a few chortles around the room. He laughingly asks about the horse-punching incident from the Newcastle-Sunderland derby a while ago provoking more good natured mirth around the room.

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The band deliver a tight smoking set that has the small but enthusiastic crowd whooping along as they deliver a steaming “Saturday’s Song” locking into a tight groove with Taylor’s slashing chords and Phil’s menacing slide ripping through the mix. They are certainly a meatier prospect live than they are on record – a nice surprise. I’m more than a little astonished when Taylor tells us that he came into music through listening to Hip-Hop and the first CD he remembers buying was the Beastie Boys “License to Ill”!. The band are more akin to the classic Little Feat vibe or the cool blues of JJ Cale than the ol’ hipperty hop.

The band clearly enjoy their live experience and their superb grooving drummer barely stops grinning the whole night and Cook, putting his guitar aside occasionally, locks down into some supremely funky electric piano, hair-flying and huge smiles all around – they love it up there!. At one point they deliver a diamond they’ve mined from Taylor’s parents record collection offering a “sweaty surprise” for anyone who can name it. Amazingly, one punter shouts up “Angry Blues”, a James Taylor song, and is correct – I’m not sure if he got his prize but it’s a terrific cover and Taylor tells us it reminds him of family outings in his dad’s Honda – aah bless!

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We get songs from across the bands albums including a magical “Blue Country Mystic”, a smokey hurt “Sufferer” and end with a pre-encore “Southern Grammy” and Taylor takes the time to name check 80 year-old bluegrass singer Alice Gerrard who’s up for a Grammy this year for her album, “Follow the Music”, on which the band play. Fingers crossed.

There’s a noisy demand for an encore which begins with a solo version of the title track from their current album, “Lateness of Dancers”. It’s a beautiful take but sadly I have to depart for the last metro back to Newcastle knowing that I’m probably going to miss a rip-roaring final tune (Editor’s note – he did, it was a suitably rousing finale to a great gig). This was indeed an excellent show so make sure YOU go and see ’em next time they are in the area. No doubt, given the quality of this performance and the power of “word-of-mouth”, it will be at a bigger venue.

Reviewer: Greg Johnson
Photographer: Russell Poad

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