Papa George & Steve Simpson Staines Riverside Club April 16 2009
Papa George is generally regarded as one of the major electric blues musicians playing on the British blues scene today.
Although inspired by the Southern style of country blues that grew out of the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana his sounds and techniques also lean heavily towards the influence of the Chicago blues sounds reminiscent of Muddy Waters – who himself became a success in the UK after an acclaimed tour in 1960.
Papa George’s style is characterized by the use of amplified resonator guitars or Fender Strat, picked or bottled, as each note is gently squeezed from soulful strings. His deep, great smoky voice is a mixture of honeyed molasses and Tennessee sourmash whiskey- sometimes dark and bitter as the cocoa bean, but most of the time, as sweet and as merry as a Piña Colada.
There is enough bitterness and maturity in and around Papa George’s chord progressions to ferment a state of melancholy in the heart of everyone in the room, without resorting to farce or fantasy. In his concerts, you remain firmly within Papa George’s world of blackjack back-room bars or windswept palm-fringed beaches but the settings and vibrations of all the songs seem authentic enough to be recognisably rooted in West London and the English blues setting.
Papa George employs a more up-tempo style than many of his blues playing buddies (reminding me of John Lee Hooker) with a driving rhythm and a tendency to walk the bass pattern with his thumb- this especially nimble method helping to illuminate and add texture to the rhythm of the faster numbers. Papa George treated us to great big dollops of shoofly pie and soda and cream with cheery songs like Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’ and soulful numbers like ‘Moonshadows On Coconut Grove’. At times the sounds were as fiery as a string of Texas jalapeños and at other times as passionate as a fling on the Yazoo River. His fighting spirit is always served with generous spoonfuls of butter and cream.
Ably and competently supporting him, and taking some astonishing lead parts, was the loveable Stevie Simpson playing accompanying Strat or, at times, his amplified Hathaway mandolin. Steve is a class-act in his own right, having played with all the ‘greats’ including Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band, The Atlanta Rhythm Section, and Ry Cooders’ Chicken Skin Music Band. His slightly higher and sweeter vocals helped to lighten the mood and his amazing finger pickin’ techniques and his overall clarity and precision meant that this duo put on an immensely tight show.
Although George and Steve took us on a voyage through the history of rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll, folk, jazz, and even country it is their style of electric blues that is the most important lesson in musical history- as each carefully picked or bottled tune directs the audience ever closer towards the sounds we now take for granted in the genres of hard rock and heavy metal.
© Neil_Mach April 2009