This week, those wonderful people at Staines Riverside Club [6 Laleham Road Staines TW18 2DX) brought us one of the best blues / rock guitarists in the UK.
Robin Bibi, the slightly diminutive blues-man, with his trademark black hat, and scary stare – has worked with all the greats – including Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Ben.E.King, The Pretty Things and Helen Shapiro. He launched his own band in 1996.
Because of their reputation for a putting on some very entertaining stage shows, the Robin Bibi Band is now one of the UK’s most active bands on the live circuit. They have played most of the major Blues festivals in the UK, Ireland, and in Europe.
The trio – Bibi on guitar (and voice) Matt Beable – bass (and vocals) and Craig Bacon (drums) kicked off the show with a storming, thrashing number that allowed the musicians to “flex their muscles – and loosen their fingers … “ It was a good deal stronger – and louder – than some of the material we have seen at Riverside Club. It was a turbulent and exciting start to an above-average show.
Bibi’s guitar technique reminded us very much of Mark Knopfler – his fingers are all over the body of the guitar. He seems supremely comfortable squeezing the strings at the neck end – then almost simultaneously – he can flick down near the saddles. And he uses his tremolo arm at any given opportunity. He stretches each and every note.
It was also interesting to observe that he is more than happy to vitalize those chunky chords when the song has to be kept moving along. He isn’t one of those self centred guitarists who feels that he has to concentrate on pin-point accuracy, super-sharp fill passages or solo breaks. He can do all those things, of course. But Bibi plays with an air of total authority and efficient omni competence.
In addition to his peerless guitar work, he also played some refreshing harmonica on a couple of tracks. And his gruff, tough, corn-husk voice is often smeared with a generous – yet uncharacteristic – glob of syrup. This meant that he could achieve some quite remarkable vocal peaks, and he could also take that voice way-down low.
He played a collection of cover choices, and also some of his own compositions. “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)” was one of two Peter Green numbers ( the other was Albatross) – that went down a storm at The Riverside Club.
Where Fleetwood Mac’s menacing original version of ‘Green Manalishi’ is a track full of half-shadows, buzzes and dangerous corners, it always seems surprisingly empty. But Bibi’s rendering had a roundness and a complete fullness to it – in his hands it became a sturdy and muscular song. In fact, it was more like the full ‘Judas Priest’.
One of the stand out tracks, on the night, was the traditional ‘Down In The Valley’ gospel song (made famous in the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and performed by Alison Krauss – titled as “Down to the River to Pray” .) It has those generous rat-a-tat military drums and an effusive guitar that fusses and flourishes before the swirling bottleneck patterns take hold.
Another favourite was his own composition ‘Sonesta Stomp’ with it’s squeezed guitar embellishments and an extraordinarily contagious riff. This song harboured a muddy fuzziness inside- and seemed totally inventive. It was truly descriptive of the madness and stifling chaos of an agitated night in the Big Easy.
One of the final songs was ‘Switch Off The Night’. This number particularly reminded us of Thin Lizzy – with those slow lyrics that seem too lanky for the melody. And the atmospheric blues vapour that absorbed each smoky chord.
The guitar-work on this song included fancy flamenco strumming and a bass sound that was like chewing tobacco – it was so abrasive that it felt as if salt had been rubbed into our chest. Bibi demonstrated his ability to create the most delicate fronds of sound on this piece- and some of these almost melted in the air, like miniature sonic tear-drops .
Bibi is an exceptional performer – and he often took his guitar into the audience to play ‘Up close and personal’. He even got up on top of the tables to play.
Thanks again Riverside Club – this time for bringing a truly remarkable artist to Staines. And for hosting such a memorable night.
– © Neil_Mach June 2013 –