Introduction And Apology!
I feel I should almost start with an apology. It would seem Willie And The Bandits have played Edinburgh twice before and somehow I didn’t check them out. More Fool me! So apologies for being late to the party, but I am glad to have got here now.
Willie And The Bandits were playing as part of their UK tour The Voodoo Rooms(in the lovely big ballroom) and were performing for the Edinburgh Blues Club, a group of blues aficionados who promote blues-based gigs in the area. Most of the folks involved volunteer their time to put shows on which is terrific for my home town. The band talked about that from the stage saying how good it is to see real love and enthusiasm for music which was obviously shared by the great crowd that turned up to enjoy it.
The first thing that interested me was even before they hit the stage that there was quite a variety of guitars, basses and drums suggesting this might not be an average gig. So it proved to be. Although the majority of folks there were hardcore blues fans they still loved and appreciated the many different styles of music that the band incorporated over the night. They always ended up at the blues but they certainly open up folks horizons musically. In fact, bassist Matt Brooks did say to me afterwards that they are fans of all sorts of music and they want to be the best they can be at all the styles they find interesting to them.
The Gig Itself:
So onto the gig itself. They were introduced to the stage by the one of the Blues Club folk who mentioned that the band are quite political and hold to their beliefs quite strongly having asked that no plastic bottles were used or provided which of course was organized. Yes, a blues band (and more) with political and social lyrics and attitude. The set was comprised heavily from their latest album Paths which is just out. They opened with the rocking funky number called “Victim Of The Night” with its chorus of “they say I’m bat-shit crazy but I’m on the run” and lovely solo, building from very gentle into a more heavier piece. It certainly was warmly welcomed. Second song in and their political views come through very strongly. Called “Make Love” but not about the “eros” type of love. The lyrics that screamed out to me were “politicians choose an eye for eye, not war! Make love“. The emotion in Willie‘svoice (that being Willie Edwards singer and guitarist) during some sections especially when singing about the effects of war on children was beautiful and passionate. Although the song was or is political it never lost its groove. Feet were tapping and heads bobbing all around.
Talking of children, Willie spoke about now being a dad before they took it down a notch with “Watch You Grow”. He transferred to slide/steel guitar and drummer Andy Naumann went all early Santana using his kit superbly. Moving as far as I could tell from hands only to sticks and back again sounding all Latin in style. Keeping with that theme they then played a blinding version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Black Magic Woman“, introducing it by remarking about everyone being blues fans, and no doubt Peter Green fans and a quick quip about “winning a prize” probably due to the raffle before they came on (It is part of the way they finance putting on gigs). It had a more Santana feel to it and was first class. “Judgement Day” had a guitar and vocal opening and headed into almost gospel at one point. I did say they explore musical styles! “Keep It On The Down-Low” had folks dancing beside me, A rather funky number with a lovely bass solo and 2 guitar solos. One of the most infectious tracks of the night.
Bassist Matt introduced the following number saying that although they were featuring new material that they still wanted to play some old stuff including their first called “New Breed“(2010). As the song was called “Keep Your Head Up” (not the Argent song) he joked that as he now has less hair than when they wrote it we should keep our heads lower down from his. This had Willie playing slide on acoustic guitar and musically had a more Cajun blues vibe with the band doing “mmms” for background vocals. They kept it more acoustic on “Mammon” with drummer Andy on bongos. This is another strong track lyrically. I particularly loved the line that you “celebrate conformity, not our humanity“. They said or joked that they used to busk doing songs like this until they accidentally one day became a rock band. Good to see they still can perform like that.
Things changed again when Matt transferred over to a very slim double bass for “Four Million Days” and “One Way”. At one point it went all psychedelic meets classical. Their versatility seems remarkable. Each time they changed direction or style they seemed to nail it. Utterly remarkable. Even the band introductions by Andy were inventively done in an American wrestling style as if the guy was a fan of death metal. He had folks in fits of laughter.
The slide work on “Virgin Eyes” had my chin on the floor. Between the Ry Cooder guitar work and the raspy Tom Waits vocal this was stunning. Really stunning. With that and “Jack The Lad” they can also kick like a mule rocking wise. The latter reminded me of Primus as well. Never a bad thing. They finished with a song about “traveling in a time machine to their dad’s record collection” where they say they take many of their influences. The song is called “1970“. They obviously take so many influences from history yet make them 100% their own. Between the various styles, they are absolutely fantastic to watch, causing folks to dance, be still and at the right moments rock like a bastard. I started by saying I was late to the party, I suggest anyone who hasn’t got to it yet get in quick before they moved onto bigger stages.
Before finishing it is only fair to say at least a few words about support outfit Rainbreakers.“Got Me Where She Wants” had a cracking riff which got my head moving immediately. Funky heavy rock blues. “Need Your Love” had a Bad Co type sound especially on the chorus. The lead solo was very good and powerful. “Take It Or Leave It” was a nice funky piece with a strong chorus which I found myself joining in with. Great on a first listen. They did a couple of slower numbers of which the second was for me the best. “Waiting On You” about being in love with someone you shouldn’t (so Ben the vocalist informed us) was quite a light summery piece with plenty of mood and a delicate touch. Best track from them though was their longest one “When My Train Pulls In” which had a quieter start and built up until it was really hard rocking blues. There was a reggae/ska type thing early doors that guitar wise made me think of Alex Lifeson (Rush) from Signals (Alex, of course, is never far from my mind at any point) in its tone. Part funk, blues and rock it was a great workout that impressed the crowd that was in. The folks around me afterwards spoke highly of them as well. A band to keep a good eye out for.