Outside stage, Perth Concert Hall
Sound: Atmosphere: Performance:
It’s an ill wind that blows no good, or so they say. Friday seemed like a game of ‘Good news – bad news’ for me. Good news, STV player had its Thursday 6pm News broadcast, and there was the item with Yola Carter (and myself standing dourly in the audience). Bad news, due to circumstances beyond my control I wasn’t able to be at the gig I was supposed to be at today. Good news, I was there for an excellent performance by Martha Fields – ‘Texas Martha’. Usually the outdoor free gigs at Southern Fried seem to be blessed by the weather. “I ordered sun,” complained Tayside bluesman Pete Caban. “It was here at three o’clock!” That was at the moment when raindrops began to hit the flagstones and a sharp petrichor floated up to our nostrils. Umbrellas went up, most of us skedaddled under the large overhang of the Concert Hall roof, some of us went inside for soul food.
Meanwhile ‘Shady’ Pete Caban and his sidekicks answered the hoary old question – Can blue men sing the whites? Well the answer is that they do, whether they can or not. Over this side of the pond, they’ve been doing so since the Rolling Stones’ first album, since Lonnie Donnegan, probably since before that. One thing that is a certainty in Britain is, in the words of Adrian Henri, the ‘Fleetwood Mac, Chicken Shack, John Mayall, can’t fail blues’! Pete and the lads launch into the exercise with gusto and a pint of elbow grease each, in just the way that you would expect from a middle-aged, Scottish four-piece. Everyone’s embarrassing uncles, especially when Pete attempts a duck-walk. It’s all fairly predictable, but that’s what you hire Shady Pete for – reliable support – and that’s what you get.
The rain cleared for the afternoon’s headliners, and gradually people risked getting damp bums to see and hear ‘Texas’ Martha Fields and the House of Twang, the French backing band she takes on European tour with her. Martha’s heritage, before Texas, is Appalachia. A couple of centuries, maybe more, before that a branch of her family came from Scotland, and she is the first one of them to come back here. If Shady set the blues stage for us, then there was plenty of blues/country crossover for us in Martha’s act. For me, Martha is one of these performers you have to hear live, as there is a tendency for her recorded work to have an edge slightly smoothed off. That can be a disadvantage, because her voice has a strict contralto range, which often seems restricted in the product of a recording studio. What you get from a live performance, on the other hand, is one-hundred- percent drive.
That’s what we got today, and it was a near-faultless performance. Martha always radiates good-naturedness. She actually enjoys being on stage, singing, seeing the audience, getting feedback, smiling with us. And she brings that persona off stage too, being a total charmer signing autographs afterwards. You can’t help but warm to her. The material was mainly promotion for her new album Southern White Lies, and it rocked and never let up. We heard songs such as the title track ‘Southern White Lies’, ‘What Good Can Drinkin’ Do?’, ‘Do As You Are Told’, ‘Lonesome Road Blues’, ‘Johanna’, and ‘Born To Boogie’.
The House Of Twang are a powerhouse on stage, driven by drums and stand-up bass. The guy wielding the Fender Telecaster can’t half play, and the same may be said about the band-member who trebles on pedal steel, resonator, and banjo. The ensemble as a whole has the edge of a bowie knife! A while back I said ‘near-faultless’. If there was a fault it was the slide-guitarist/banjoist being slightly lost in the mix, but that wasn’t his fault. Based on the headline act alone I’m going to rate the show thus: 3 stars for sound, it would have been more but for that loss in the mix; 5 stars for atmosphere, even though we came in dribs and drabs back into the audience area, scared of getting wet bums, the whole ambience was a crimson glow towards the end; stars for performance – slick, expert, exciting, and driven. Martha has a second appearance scheduled for the weekend, and if I can wangle my way into that I will!
Reviewer : Paul Thompson