Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra at Norwich Arts Centre, with Andrew Duhon, plus Norwich Evenings “Head Out Not Home”, and Blues at The Murderers with Dana Gillespie, 9 July 2015
I’ve been blessed with some incredible gigs this year a great many of them at Norwich Arts Centre, and this is another to add to that long and ever growing list. Just one day shy of being exactly a year since their first visit to Norwich. A gig they stated was one of their absolute favourites, at the same venue with Rainbow Girls and The Vagaband.
Ahead of this however, I spent a few hours outside The Birdcage catching some very fine music indeed for the “Norwich Evenings – Head Out Not Home” weekly session. Today featuring Jose, Tris and Joe from The Vagaband, Noel and Gareth from Feral Mouth, with Steve Arlene from The Shooting Stars. We also had a gorgeous set from the Jess Morgan Trio. For the second time this week St Gregory’s Green was filled with music and dancing. It was great fun and featured guitar, upright bass, mandolin, dobro, banjo, acoustic bass and violin. Great bluegrass and vibe. I think I saw Jose play guitar, mandolin, and bass, he and the boys (and girl, as Jess played her set with Jose and Noel) were all in fine form. I loved it. I really want to hear Jess again and if this bluegrass supergroup continue I definitely want to catch that again.
Heading straight from there to the Arts Centre I only caught a little of Andrew Duhon’s set but did see Marty O’Reilly for a quick chat, he remembered Norwich very fondly indeed and was pleased to be back.
There were many in the audience who were at that gig last year plus quite a few new ones who’d heard how special that night was. It was about three quarters full and Marty and the boys soon had everyone eating from the palm of their hand not just from their stunning opener but through their humility and respect. Now with a drummer (and the drum kit placed at the front of the stage – I like when bands do this) by the time they played a hugely atmospheric and haunting “Letters” and followed that with a new number from their EP, I think called Preach ’em Now, inspired by a Robert Johnson lyric everyone in the room was totally transfixed. We had favourites old and new including some of the highlights from last year, Captain’s Daughter, Liza Jane, and the incredible cover of Smokestack Lightning, the video of which from Norwich was also referenced. As the main set finished, some two hours later I bumped into a friend who arrived late and said how noticeable it was that everyone seemed to be in a musical trance. This is a good observation, the songs and the playing are incredibly mesmerising, performed with great intensity. It’s powerful and impressive stuff.
At the end Marty said they were conferring as to whether to play a number to close the night down with the audience or to finish up at the bar. They chose the bar, to great approval. This took an already extraordinary gig to another level altogether. Playing in the centre of a packed NAC bar they played gospel spirituals, unplugged for a good twenty minutes or so. I’m not sure what it is about these Northern California folk but like the Rainbow Girls they certainly know how to create a good atmosphere. St James’ Infirmary had a fine vibe in the room but for Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head” as the closer for the night was just the icing on the cake, with the very apt line of “All around this town I hear music in the air” with everyone downstairs and up singing along. The cheering at the end was rapturous as the band were handed drinks from the audience. That was absolutely glorious. I overheard several people saying it was the best gig they’d seen this year … one even correcting their friend and saying it was the best ever!
As if that wasn’t enough there was also some late night blues going on at The Murderers to wind down for a musical nightcap with Dave Thomas and special guest, Dana Gillespie who caused gasps when she sang her first few lines. Incredible voice and the perfect way to end a night … there was even an Anna Karina lookalike dancing alone to the last song shortly before 1:30am which closed my full eight hours of live music in Norwich. On a Thursday. That’s why we call Norwich “Music City UK”.
words and photos (c) richard shashamane 2015