23 March 2014 (gig)
25 March 2014
There are a select number of performers who I would drop everything to see live – Jack Bruce, Joe Bonamassa, Bassekou Kouyate - but Sam James is close to the top of the list. He is charismatic, tuneful and has a great way with an audience and is beginning to build a following that is young and enthusiastic – not bad for a guy who is a self-confessed ‘Blues nerd’.
The Constitution in Camden holds, comfortably, around thirty people in the downstairs bar and by the time he went on stage we were all synchronising our breathing as more than double that number were in the room. Tables were being passed overhead to make more room (I have no idea where they disappeared) but the general mood in the room was upbeat and people were happy to help accommodate even more souls.
The crowd was treated to around an hour and a half of excellent songs, happy conversation and truly excruciating knock/knock jokes and enjoyed the heck out of a performer who most of them had only heard about through word of mouth and were experiencing for the first time
James was, as usual, suffering from the detrimental effects of sleep deprivation and overnight flights (he had just finished a whirlwind set of shows in Portugal and flown in direct to the gig) but it didn’t seem to affect his voice and certainly did not impact on his guitar playing and he ran through most of his catalogue sat on a tiny stage that only just encompassed his 6’ 2” frame. He plays every inch of the guitar, rapping out percussive taps and using the strings as a harp, and his instrumental pieces got as much applause as his lyrical ones.
The little tales that accompanied numbers like ‘Nineteen’ – his song for his father – went down well and his descriptions of the problems of having a beard and brown skin at airports had us all in stitches but it was his playing that really set him apart from the norm and he proved, once again, that you don’t have to play electric to play Blues.
The Sunday curfew limited him to finishing around 10:15 but the crowd would have been happy to see him play for another hour and a half.
Earlier, the early birds had been treated to a set from Garry ‘The Slide Guy’ Smith who plays a metal bodied Resonator with some wicked slide and fine humour. A lovely version of ‘What Would John Lee Hooker Do; and a wonderful instrumental ‘Outbound To Wonderland’ were the highspots.
All told, a terrific night.
I have to comment on venue and on the audience here.
A few years ago Blues music was ‘old man’s music’ and most gigs would have seen an audience of a dozen men of advanced years and almost no females.
The crowd here was predominantly young, evenly split between male and female and having a great time.
The venue is tiny, and has the ‘stage’ squeezed into the space below the old beer lift but also has a brilliant ‘vibe’ and pretty good sound.
Little clubs and rooms like this are a great place to see artists up close and personal and almost every old pub has some space that could make a venue. If people come out to support acts in these places it will encourage live music and begin to kill off the ‘X-Factor’ effect – support your local.