George Shovlin And The Radars - 'Nothing To Lose'
Release Date: 1st March 2018
This is the first self-penned album from George Shovlin And The Radars, but, from the first notes you hear on track one, it’s glaringly obvious that these guys are no novices!
The first incarnation of the band, as The George Shovlin Blues Band, ended after 10 years in 2005, but in those days they played classic blues numbers in their own style. It had proved to be a pretty successful path to follow, with a support slot on John Mayall’s 2004 tour evidence that their popularity was spreading beyond their native north-east.
Strange then that they went their separate ways the following year. “The band had just run its course,” lead guitarist George Lamb told me. “We all stayed friends, but decided we wanted to try new things.” Fast forward to 2014, and when George Shovlin got in touch with ideas of getting back together, Lamb surprised himself by saying ‘OK’ straight away.
Not long before Shovlin had contacted him, Stu Burlison, the band’s bass player, had suggested that maybe they should give it another go, but Lamb had been reluctant. “It seemed like it would be a backward step, so I wasn’t that keen, but not long after talking to Stu, when George got in touch, I just decided...why not!”
So, after persuading Kev Scott to join on drums, the band returned as ‘George Shovlin And The Radars’ in 2014. Before joining Shovlin in 1995, Lamb had written songs and done session work for the likes of Keith Emerson, Kiki Dee and Jimmy Nail, amongst others. He had never given up on song writing, and the band has gradually introduced some of the compositions that he and Shovlin have written themselves over the last year or so into their live performances.
The opening track on ‘Nothing To Lose’ is one of them. ‘Don’t You Just Love The Blues’ kicks off and with a short guitar solo from Lamb, before George Shovlin starts telling us how he and his friends love the blues, imploring us to come join them, and why the heck not when it sounds as this good! George travels down the ‘Blues Line’ from Chicago to New Orleans telling us about friends he called in to see, or at least listen to, on the way. A mid-tempo rhythm gets the feet tapping from the off, and the two further guitar solos from Lamb get the album off to a cracking start.
A notable feature of the album is the inclusion of some top quality keyboards from Paul Wilson on around half of the tracks. His fingers warm up with a jog along the ivories during a lovely little solo in the middle of ‘Don’t You Just Love The Blues’, but really get running in a longer solo in the up tempo ‘Cruisin’ Come Sundown’. The piano brings an added dimension to the sound of the band, which takes the already high quality sound up another notch.
However, the two main features of this album for me are the top quality guitar playing of George Lamb and the sumptuous gravelly tones of George Shovlin. This voice was born to sing the blues, and has got better and better over the years. It’s one that the uninitiated may think was born in the deep south across the pond, rather than by the ‘Wear Delta’, as George likes to call home, on the north-east coast of these islands of ours.
On the slow blues number ‘I Don’t Mind’, Shovlin really does go to work! It’s a beautiful slow blues number that opens quietly with slight echo on Kev Scott’s drums, and, after 12 seconds, George Lamb gets the song moving with a short solo, teeing up Shovlin to begin a sad lament to his maker. “Whatever may be Lord, I don’t mind,” he sings with so much sadness in his voice, you just want to give him a hug, and tell him everything’s going to be alright. The feeling in the voice and the touch on the guitar, combine so well with the slow rhythm to make this possibly my favourite song on the album.
So after throughly both impressing and depressing us at the same time, a pick-me-up is required, and George seems to realise this. The next track - ‘Just Wanna Have A Good Time’ - is much more upbeat. It happily bounces along with Shovlin reflecting on how he’s been lucky to reach where he is in life. He had a health scare recently, and the song seems to be George thanking not only ‘his lucky stars’, but his family and friends for helping him through these hard times. A guest appearance from Mick Cantwell from another top quality north-east blues band, ‘The Groove-a-Matics’, helps to make this track a bit special. A good sax solo always does the trick for me, and this one is sandwiched between George Lamb’s loud repetitive few bars that he plays at the end of each chorus. It’s a sound that is very different to anything else on the album - tremendous stuff!
On track one, Shovlin sang about how he and his friends Johnson, Leadbelly et al ‘just love the blues’. One of his ‘real-life’ friends makes the first of two welcome appearances on the album, with a wonderful harmonica solo forming the intro to ‘Lord Hear My Prayer’. Jim Bullock is one of the best harmonica players around, and for nearly ten years from the early 1980’s, was half of a formidable blues duo called ‘The Biscuit Kings’ - the other half being George Shovlin. The harmonica is synonymous with the blues, and Bullock again has the ability to raise the quality level up even more on this crackin’ track. It is yet another song on which Shovlin growls and barks his way through the lyrics, emphatically getting his message across.
If you ask someone to name their favourite song on an album, they will rarely have just one or two options, if they really like the album. I nailed my colours to mast and went for ‘Lord Hear My Prayer’, but the reality is that virtually all the other ten run it very close. In my opinion, there isn’t a weak track amongst them.
If a better blues album is released in this country during 2018, I will be very very surprised, so if you only buy one album this year, make it ‘Nothing To Lose’ by George Shovlin And The Radars - I guarantee that if you love the blues, you’re going to love this!
Nine Below Zero
at The Cluny, Newcastle
Friday 24th March 2017
I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t name you a song by Nine Below Zero, so this was one of those nights when I wasn't not sure how it was going to turn out. But, when my mate had asked back in December if I fancied going to see them, I’d had no hesitation.
I'd seen Nine Below Zero live once before, several years ago in Kendal when we were staying with friends. I wasn't a big fan, but they were quite impressive on the night. So, three months ago, when Mick Firth asked if I fancied going to see them at the Cluny, I gave my standard response of "why not!".....and thank goodness I did - they were treeeemendous!
The night got under way with a set from Charlie Austen playing acoustic guitar and singing some of her own numbers. "She's one to keep an eye out for," I thought - she's got a great voice. Well, I didn't have long to wait to see her after she finished a promising set - she shares lead vocals in NBZ with Dennis Greaves!
The Cluny is hardly a big venue, but I have to say the 8 members of Nine Below Zero surprisingly didn't seem too crowded on the almost matchbox-like stage. The band has been around for 40 years now, and whilst founder members Dennis Greaves on lead guitar and vocals and harmonica player Mark Feltham are still there, there’s been several changes in personnel. I don't know how long they’ve included a brass section, but however many it is, it's not enough! The sax and trumpet really brought the performance of the band up a notch or two, and that's some feat when you are sharing the stage with one of the country's best harmonica players.
Mark Feltham was voted Best Harmonica Player in the British Blues Awards 2016, so it was brilliant to see this master of the harp at work. But to be honest, the whole band were pretty damn good at what they do - a tighter unit you couldn't possibly wish to see. Even Dennis' Cockney wit and repartee went down well with the Geordies!
The whole set kept the toes tapping and I’d challenge anyone present if they said otherwise. While still not sure of any of the song names - I’m pretty rubbish at remembering track names for my favourite bands, never mind any others - but there were one or two that I think I got, and which stood out for me. ‘Crawling Up a Hill’ was vaguely familiar, and a quick glimpse at Google reminded me that I’d heard the original by John Mayall a while back; and ‘Once, Twice, Three Times Is Enough’.
But this wasn’t an evening for examining your naval and noting down every track name - it was all about enjoying the moment, and keeping those toes tapping. It reassured me that going to see live music can be very therapeutic - I hadn't been feeling 100% for a few hours before the gig, and had contemplated staying at home. But not long after arriving at this great little venue in Newcastle, and listening to the first few numbers I perked up no end, and by the time came to wend a weary way back to Wearside, all was well with the world!