Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
Highly vaunted American blues-rock artiste Samantha Fish continues her UK tour zigzagging up and down through England and Scotland before landing in the Welsh capital, this evening, for her sole Welsh date.
A packed Tramshed, gently steams, having defied the blustery autumnal weather to join Fish and her band in one of Cardiff’s premier mid-sized venues. This tour, in support of her 2021 long-player ‘Faster’ has been re-arranged a couple of times. This particular incarnation is definitely a case of third time lucky.
Fortuitous, however, is not a word spoken in Fish’s vocabulary. This is one mean, six-string slinging daughter of a gun performer. Over the course of a career midway into its second decade and stretching across seven solo albums Fish has racked up accolades and awards aplenty through her resolute and adroit application of the blues-craft. This evening threatens to hit the very top of the scale and burst through the roof itself!
First up, in support, are Cornish funkalicious blues-rockers Wille And The Bandits, an absolute standout act in the British blues scene that is an astute addition to this tour. Bringing the essence of the airs from the surfing coastline of the far south-west sagely accomplished guitarist Wille Edwards and his expanded ranks set about spreading their particular brand in typical chilled fashion.
With the strains of The Stones’ ‘19th Nervous Breakdown’ strutting forth from the PA so the band enter stage left on to an atramentous stage. With absolutely no fuss and seemingly effortless precision The Bandits get stuck right into opening track ‘Caught In The Middle.’ Defying pigeon-holing this number rocks, funks with bluesy affections. Continuing with a peek into the hallowed realms of latest release ‘When the World Stood Still’ a Cream-infused variant of ‘Refuge’ soars high above the cliffs, waves crashing on the rocky coastal platforms.
Wille announces “We’re gonna get a bit funky for ya!” before enquiring “We got any Cornish in tonight?” As a fellow Cornishman a sense of patriotism swells inside. Santana meets Cream as the funk is brought forth as promised in ‘Keep It On The Down-Low, with Wille jazzing up a freshly barbequed solo as swirling Hammond keys abound. Chilled blues rocker ‘Still Go Marching In,’ with its anti-war message, is dedicated to “the people of Ukraine, thinking of them hoping the war ends soon.”
With the approving of the ethereal spirits of wreckers and knockers the heartfelt ‘Four Million Days’ emotes with Wille’s granitic vocals born of the Cornish moors; craggy, igneous yet simultaneously sensitive. Dunking Hendrix in the bayou the upbeat ‘Good Stuff’ gets the Tramshed gathering bouncing along.
With Wille grinning broadly between verses The Bandits thunderously deliver the love and peace of live favourite ‘1970’ before winding up a well-received set with a stonkingly blistering V8 rendition of vigilante rocker ‘Bad News.’ The expanded ranks of The Bandits, now including a second guitarist and keys, has presented an expanded sound without losing any sense of connection of the past. Wille And The Bandits return to Cardiff in 2023 for a headline date at Clwb Ifor Bach in March.
The shadows deepen on stage as the lighting dims. The raucous rock n’ roll intro tape booms and we’re instructed “We gotta dance muthafuckers!” The choice of proto-punk MC5’s 1969 classic is a portentous one; this isn’t going to be a straightforward affair! Samantha Fish is, to put it concisely, not your regular blues performer.
Drums pound, lights flare and somewhere in the dark a guitar wails before the band emerge onstage with Fish greeting the Tramshed crowd “How we doing Cardiff?” Her sultry vocals layer benevolently upon the tubthumping intro of the nitrous southern blues rocking of ‘Bulletproof’ – one of four tracks to be shipped in from 2019’s ‘Kill Or Be Kind.’ The sumptuous slide from upon Fish’s four string cigar box guitar bring a touch of Creedance Clearwater Revival into these early moments. The languid bayou alligators become restless, stirring in the afternoon heat.
The Tramshed is comfortably packed by the time Fish rips into the suave howling blues of ‘Better Be Lonely.’ Infectious to the very core with a barroom haze touch its funky bassline and ever-so crisp vocals are a veritable delight.
Without drawing a breath Fish and her band dip into latest release ‘Faster’ once again and roll right into the raw riffage of the gutsy ‘Twisted Ambition.’ Fish’s gleaming white Gibson SG howls at the full moon, paying reverence to Hendrix, and there’s an undercurrent of the late, great Aretha Franklin in those vocals. Bewitchingly melded with an urban edge of Amy Winehouse generates a 21st century feel which gives Fish a clear identity of her own.
A brief pause, ‘tween tracks, and Fish takes the opportunity to ask Cardiff “Are you with this party?” before introducing ‘Chills And Fever’ as “The sexiest number of the night.” A funky drum and bass combine to herald this slick, velveteen bluesy track. Adding proud jangly jazzy keys into the inebriating mix produces a touch of prohibition-era Chicago right here in the heart of the Welsh capital.
‘Forever Together’ has a lust for life with an underpinning of 80s new wave post-punk that sparkles brightly. Fish and her band certainly enjoy mixing up things. An Aphrodite high on amphetamine ‘No Angels’ prowls along the levee. The predatory blues marauds with Fish’s slide entwining with keys consummately.
Fish takes inspiration from Texan legends ZZ Top in the title track of her latest release ‘Faster’ and with a rocket launch brings that riffage right into the modern-day with a pop-punky vibrancy that curiously blends mellifluously with the core blues.
Hearts do, indeed, beat faster. Tempestuous blues soaked ‘Kill Or Be Kind’ tips a foxy cap towards the jazzy inclinations of Amy Winehouse with its searing notes burrowing right into the soul. A seamless transition into ‘Watch It Die’ notches up the gears as the Fish juggernaut, all gleaming chrome and highly polished paintwork, punches through The Tramshed. A drop in tempo, mid-song, permits Fish her ‘Great Gig In The Sky’ styled moment with vocals to die for before she enquires “Ya’ll feel me now?” as the track rebuilds upwards once more.
Reflecting upon the enforced break from live performances that the lockdown produced Fish states “We sure missed you guys” before rolling at full tilt, teeth bared into ‘Bitch On The Run.’ Right now we’re feeling it, squarely between the eyes.
Fish punches with a heavyweight force for sure. Smiling she observes “That’s what I’m talking about!”; the atmosphere is being ramped right up with the band circumrotating with the ease of the tyre upon the black-top of the freeway. The main set is brought to a southern-fried Cajun seasoned finale with the Cream-fueled ‘Black Wind Howling’ foxily rattling the rafters.
The Tramshed crowd are not going to allow Fish depart quietly as they roar, in unison, for “One more song.” We’re not disappointed as Fish and her band return, in her words, to “Play something old school for ya.” Shouldering her cigar box guitar, once more, Fish raises the roof with a rattlesnaking near ten-minute version of delta blues standard ‘Shake ‘Em On Down’ to ensure complete structural demolition.
This has been 90 minutes journey in the 21st century company of an extremely accomplished performer and her equally talented sidekicks. This isn’t purely reformulating of what has gone before; this lady isn’t the next version of whomever but purely the first Samantha Fish!
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM