Earlier in this amazing evening at the Royal Park Cellars CHICKEN LEGS WEAVER's Norton Lees had been helping out with changeover time for openers JACKSON PALMER. He looked every bit the Helpful Roadie Dad, and that's what I assumed he was. He looked a dead ringer for Simon Day from the Fast Show (the big lumpy one who did Billy Bleach and Dave Angel, eco warrior). So that pretty well clinched it. Seeing him in charge of an upright bass as headline performer was shock number one. His sublimely fluent playing and his sweet-as-a-nut harmony singing utterly smacked gob. The man is a star. But that was just the beginning. Weird looking, shiny suited Andy Weaver comes on like Braniac with a blonde goatee. With a slightly not-right-somehow Ovation solid electric he sets me up to expect ... well, anything but the fabulous hardwood and rusty nails voice that startles with its impossible clarity and expressive genius. A suspiciously incognito drummer sneaks on too. He could be an accountant or a school teacher, turning out one last time to play (Charlie Watts like) for his old mates. Turns out he's former Comsat Angel Mik Glaisher.
We've had a bit of a vogue for blues-based acts of late, have we not? Loosely speaking.
Well bollocks to that. Chicken Legs Weaver, dear friends, are rawly, searingly, mind-snappingly blues in the bones and blues in the soul. They are part of the flood that comes straight from that bit of every culture's hard times, sharp observation and unbreakable spirit. This is music with power and dignity. It IS the blues. It has ripped the flesh off rock and punk, and it spits it out fresh and clean as you like.
Straight into the set I'm making impossible leaps to Dr Feelgood, to Jimmy Reed and to early Magic Band. But this isn't Essex Delta, it isn't Texas and it sure as hell isn't California. Stalwart blues enthusiast Andy Weaver has the voice of a broken-necked angel, with a full glasspaper range for every musical occasion. His industrial strength and poetic lyrics come over as clear as ice. The sound in the Royal Park Cellars is always good, but this is something more than just good sound. The man has words he wants you to hear and shiver to. You hear. You shiver. Every word drops like a knife.
His guitar does less to play more. Fingers and thumb only - with a steel slide on his left hand little finger. It rocks, chugs, screams or roars on demand. Effortless riffs, huge volume, piercing wails of emotion - just like in your dreams. Punky, romantic or patient. Whatever it takes. But with Norton Lees' double bass and Mik Glaisher's massive drumming it's a full band line-up with every man punching his weight behind the power of the songs themselves. This is no guitar hero freak show. Surprises throughout, don't forget - and every time Norton Lees steps up to the mike I get another stab of astonishment at how well the guys sing. "Whiskey Soaked Roses" is a working man's bitter regret at his own blundering. "Zombified" is a scary evocation of everything turned to shit. Epoch defining "Street Cleaner" says everything you need to know about hacking a life in cities like Sheffield and Leeds.
For me, it's the first and only time I've heard these songs. The Johnny Dowd-produced album "Nowhere" must be one of the closer guarded secrets of our time. My mail order copy is crawling to me through the wasteland of Blairland's postal service, one breakdown at a time. But I know it's going to be good, and all those razor-wired lines about truth, death and the white canyons are going to become part of my internal conversation for months to come. Get this pencilled in, and filed under "Seriously good": it's Chicken Legs Weaver.
The crazy thing is that this gig also had CURTIS ELLER'S AMERICAN CIRCUS as support. Now it's hard to describe a one man acrobatic yodelling politically angry bluegrass cowgirl fantasist Buster Keaton inspired black and white performance artist from New York City in one sentence. So I'll slow down and say that Curtis Eller plays distinctive banjo in a rhythmic and blues/rock inflected way. He contorts his body as he plays and does shivering, cowering, menacing and just plain deranged balancing things with one leg wrapped over the banjo neck throughout the set. He climbs onto and off of a chair, he calls up serpents and plays a kazoo. His face dances around his silent movie moustache and he gets the crowd to sing that Buster Keaton can't be beaten. He wishes he was Amelia Earhart (1897-1937 -American aviatrix), and suggests we send telegrams of complaint to Phineas Taylor Barnum about the Texas Elephant Lynching. He calls our bluff on the killing George Bush plan (we were holding Jack High). He has staring eyes and wide elastic braces, that (being American) he probably calls suspenders. His songs have great tunes and actually stand up without the visual delights as fine music on the album "1890" from which many of tonight's songs are taken. They sound pretty grand tonight as a solo outing (with a flush of some fine bluegrass harmony from travelling companion Jamie on the aeroplane tune).
The audience, of course, go crazy and, despite time running out on a Religiously Ordained Curfew night, demand two encores before they'll let him out of the building.
JACKSON PALMER played a satisfactory set of brit-tinged Americana to open the night. A guitar-and-keyboard band JACKSON PALMER roll more than they rock. They have a bundle of decent songs based on standard chord progressions and no fancy stuff. Their modest aspirations are comfortably achieved, and they can go home content with not blowing a great opportunity to play on a stage with two acts of a quality that they might have waited years to get near to. Band direction seems to come from Ware brothers Toby (keyboards) and Gaz (guitar). Visual style and singing confidence comes from bass touting Leigh Linley. Rhys Jones plays guitar and Jason Gardner is the competent drummer. This was a fine start for them and for the night.