Robin Robertson Blues Band, Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, Tuesday 25 February 2014
The Robin Robertson Blues Band, aka RRBB (though I think R2B2 would be snappier) made an Edinburgh appearance on Tuesday at the end of a week-long tour of England (London, Harrogate, Stockton, Newcastle) promoting their new album. I have to confess a personal interest here, as my son Ruairidh is their drummer. I hadn't seen the band live for a few months, and it was obvious that the tour had sharpened their performances, both in terms of how they played together and in the individual contributions. Tuesday was also my first time at the Voodoo Rooms, which impressed me as a venue: small and intimate without being cramped, and with the performance area and the bar separated just enough to avoid noisy distractions without requiring major planning every time you wanted a drink.
The support were local band Wah Wah. Like RRBB, WW are led by a staff member at Edinburgh College. Taj Wyzgowski has more guitars than Robin Robertson, onstage at least, and his playing has more raw bluesiness, but whether doing their own material or covers such as "All Along the Watchtower" or Steely Dan's "Barrytown", the band showed huge potential and I shall be following their progress with interest. It was refreshing to see a blues guitar/bass/drums trio which not only didn't sound like the obvious exemplars such as Cream or Beck/Bogert/Appice but which clearly had no intention of sounding like them, or indeed like anyone but themselves. Oh, and they have a female drummer, which shouldn't be worth mentioning but still is, such is the male domination of rhythm sections even now (I know, White Stripes, Magic Numbers, blah blah: but it's still true that a female bassist or drummer is a rare bird, so to speak).
And so to RRBB. What can I say about Annette Chapman, their singer, except that her voice didn't sound as though she was at the end of a tour: still all the usual punch and volume, like a Scottish Janis Joplin (I'd love to hear Annette doing "Ball and Chain"). She has sweetness as well as wellie, as shown on numbers like "God Bless The Child" and "Woman Be Wise". Brian Branford must be one of the most self-effacing bass players since Ashley Hutchings: "Mr Cellophane", you hardly notice him, except that his playing holds everything together. Brian is the only band member who doesn't take a solo at any time during the set, which is a shame though presumably his choice. Ruairidh Saunders on drums was giving hos new touring kit its first serious outing on this tour. It's one of Jalapeno's Russian Doll kits where the whole thing packs into a single bass drum case, but the sound has in no way been compromised by the stackable design. My wife and I were agreeing that it sounds even better than his conventional touring kit (R's primary instrument is a mighty electronic kit which has taken over our music room at home). Ruairidh's playing has improved over the tour, mainly I think in terms of his listening which has been uprated from "sensitive" to "acute", so plugged-in is he to what everyone else is doing. Dot Allan has matured incredibly as a soloist over the past few months. Once upon a time Dot was a classical pianist (I've heard her playing a Rachmaninoff concerto) who played in pick-up bands for some big names in Reggae and other genres. But now she's right in the Georgie Fame/Alan Price/Gary Brooker zone as a solid blues keyboardist with the ability to knock out great solos on either piano or organ. And finally, Robin Robertson, the eminence grise (or eminence chauve) of the band. His own soloing abilities have never been in doubt, whether he's using a bottleneck (as on "New Orleans") or not. It's hard to say whether RRBB reflects Robin's personality more than Annette's or the other way round: I suspect Annette "rules the school" when she's singing, and the rest of the time it's Robin's show. But it's a very democratic band, and I'm not referring to their debates about material or their rehearsal technique but their organisation on stage. There's no "I" in "team", and there's only one in "Robin Robertson Blues Band", tucked away quietly inside Robin.
You need to buy the album (plug? moi?) to get a feel for what the band are like. (Oh all right, watch this instead then.) They do a mixture of Chapman and Chapman originals (Annette and her husband), traditional blues numbers, and the odd cover from the likes of Katy Webster. And they sound like a professional touring band, which is impressive when you consider that they comprise three lecturers, one student, and whatever Brian does when he isn't playing bass. I understand there are plans for a festival in Romania, and a possible US tour: I think the RRBB are easily capable of succeeding at both.
To sum up: a great evening, as expected. Venue, support, RRBB: all even better than anticipated.