Having been putting on Grapevine nights for over 10 years this incredible gig was the final one in this particular chapter for Steve and Jan – and of course soundman Dickie – at the historic Guildhall which Grapevine has called home for about two and half years (it was previously held at Bedfords). It sadly seems that, for whatever reasons, Grapevine nights do not figure in the future plans of the Guildhall and I find that decision extremely surprising, perhaps on reflection those decision-makers will question that too after the triumphant nature of this tremendous night. They may regret letting such an established, successful and much-respected music night slip through their fingers like this. Anyway, after a few weeks with barely any gig activity I was exhausted with a third in three days but with the excitement of looking forward to seeing a couple of favourites with a bill of Marty O’Reilly, plus Hot Raisin, who I also saw the previous night at Jurnet’s.
Being a former courtroom of course, it was not without its trials and tribulations. Mid afternoon Marty put out a distress call on social media as the transport had broken down in the east Midlands on the way from Durham to Norwich. There were real concerns about making it to Norwich in time for the gig but the legend that is James of Blue House Music sorted out a taxi at considerable expense to get Marty to the gig on time. I very much admire the sheer determination on their part to ensure the gig went ahead. As it turned out Marty walked through the door with his guitar just moments after I arrived just after 7:30pm.
During soundchecks for Marty and Hot Raisin it quickly became clear there was a technical issue with the PA too and for the Raisins it meant the set had to be played pretty much acoustically and unplugged with just a guitar amp or two but they didn’t care and if they didn’t why should we? In fact it gave an even greater insight into every subtle aspect each of them brings to Hot Raisin and they were all superb. What a great and positive attitude they have. No wonder I always feel better for seeing, it’s why I call them my anti-depressants. In fact it all worked out rather well and was a nice way to enjoy the tender side of the songs and the beautiful vocals from Tory with lovely harmonies and backing from Luke, not to mention Mary’s superb guitar and the gorgeous addition of Jess’ violin. As ever they played with smiles aplenty, drinking toasts, generous praise and ‘happy birthday’ renditions for Steve. Nobody cared about the PA gremlins and Hot Raisin delighted us all with the likes of Captain, Whiskey Ginger and their own gremlins, the Midnight Gremlins of insomnia. Hot Raisin clearly enjoyed themselves as much as I and everyone else did.
For the second night in a row the packed audience screamed out for an encore and on this occasion, happily, there was enough time for this to be granted. I love this band and I’m not alone, I was stood next to Marty who was clearly impressed. When I turned around again I had a tall surprise when I saw the giant figure and presence of Tony Brook also stood near me and offering his hand for a handshake with a big smile on his face. He’s on his annual visit from Alabama and Yve was positively beaming too. I look forward to seeing them play in Norwich soon.
By a stroke of great fortune another local legend and sound tech dynamo was in the audience and Chad Mason disappeared to get something to save the day with the PA, perhaps helped by an unexpected request from Steve for us all to switch our phones to airplane mode to free up some wifi bandwidth! It worked though and full PA power was restored for Marty’s set.
Marty has visited Norwich many times and is good friends with those other Californians we love so much, the Rainbow Girls. He told us stories of how some years ago they joked around using St. John’s Ambulence stretchers to carry Rainbow Girl Savannah around the Maverick Festival site during the strains of St. James’ Infirmary, which he also played here. Also playing Maverick that year were The Vagaband who spotting something special invited the Rainbow Girls up to Norwich afterwards to play the Bo Nanafana stage during Lord Mayor’s Weekend. Alas it was not possible to get here in time but the Ten Bells stepped in to save the day and hosted one of my favourite gigs of all time. The rest is history and the Girls have a fantastic rapport with the city. The following year they played a much bigger stage, the Norwich Arts Centre, along with The Vagaband and Blue House Music pals Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra. Marty and the boys played an astonishing set that included an amazing version of Smokestack Lightnin’ and spoke later of how he now totally understood why Rainbow Girls loved this city so much. He’s been back every year since to play equally incredible sets on the main stage but also some encores in the NAC bar that have gone down in Norwich musical folklore. His solo sets are just as intense and inclusive though as we learned when he played the intimate Bicycle Shop handlebar on his previous solo tour a couple of years back. This was to be about my 9th or 10th time seeing him which tells you how good these live shows always are.
Marty quickly gets in the zone playing with a striking passion and intensity, it’s almost like watching someone musically possessed for the duration of the songs and it is simply captivating as a gig experience. The style is of blues, gospel folk played with a lot of soul on that now familiar resonator guitar. Between songs he is engaging, witty, charming and down to earth. He had us all in the palm of his hands, telling us of the backgrounds of the songs, his tour challenges on the road, the music of Jolie Holland, and in spectacular style the Sister Rosetta Tharpe classic Up Above My Head, which we’ve seen him do in the Arts Centre but this time he invited Hot Raisin to join him in the middle of the Guildhall where they sat on the floor playing guitars and violin and he stood in the middle of us all, with everyone clapping and singing along. It was hearwarming and life-affirming stuff. The set closed with one of my favourites, Cold Canary Gaslight. Earlier, Marty invited requests and if I weren’t so shy I’d have called for this one!
Marty’s UK tour continues tonight in Coggeshall before dates in Brighton on Monday (The Greys), Southampton on Tuesday (Piecaramba), and concluding in London on Thursday 17th at Monto Water Rats Theatre before carrying on in the US and Canada.
What a show for Steve and Jan’s Grapevine to leave the Guildhall on, and on his 65th birthday too. A visibly moved Steve was given a rousing Happy Birthday by the whole of the sold out crowd. And it certainly did feel a sellout crowd, it was rammed and quite a challenge to get photos with the lens I’d brought with me. So busy was it that the Guildhall sold out of all its ales. I know we like our Ghost Ship but it’s incredible that they should have been so caught out by the demand on a gig that sold out well in advance of the night. Someone made a boo-boo there I think. That didn’t really matter though, it was all about the music and a birthday send off for Steve, it couldn’t have left in finer style and was all the sweeter for overcoming all the challenges of the day which must have been extremely stressful. Maybe everyone just needed more beers after that but the night was a great success. Music and togetherness wins and saves the day again.
Hopefully a venue will “get” what Grapevine is all about and perhaps offer to host Steve’s nights somewhere that sits right and he will get the deserved support for his unique nights of folk which sometimes delight with a few surprises too but always with Steve’s personal stamp of approval and quality control. Steve and Jan are music fans who have the utmost regard and respect for the musicians and the audience so aim to provide a setting where an attentive audience can enjoy the music in a respectful setting and atmosphere which obviously makes it all the more enjoyable for the artists too. Now he just needs to find somewhere where the owners understand and buy into all of that and who place the same value on music as well as the people these nights bring through the door. There’s a clear audience for nights like this, with carefully tailored line-ups and consideration for the performers and the audience, as evidenced by the packed crowd on the night, despite the usual Norwich gig-clashes. Even the friendly Guildhall bar staff, during quiet moments at the bar (when the beer had all been sold) were as rapt by the music as we were and applauded as much as did. It was lovely to see that. The amount of work Steve, Jan and Dickie put into these events is obvious, even down to the attention to detail with the lighting and musical items placed around the stage area. They are all, first and foremost, passionate music fans and they don’t do this for profit, all takings go to those taking part on the night. They deserve our respect and any venue that lands them will be very lucky indeed. This was a night of great music and also a celebration and acknowledgement for what Grapevine has given Norwich for over ten years, a fact reinforced by the number of local musicians in attendance too. As for the music, it was excellent. Hot Raisin delighted us as they always do, and Marty O’Reilly provided exactly the right kind of New Year blues. Happy birthday Steve. Enjoy a well-earned break.
” Just when you think American roots music should be relegated to the dusty confines of a purist’s museum it will surprise you with a paradigm shift. Take Marty O’Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra— passing through tradition, stumbling upon innovation, proving that old souls can be creatively fresh.
The Santa Cruz, California-based artist’s latest, Stereoscope, marks an evolutionary leap in a journey of artistic identity and song-writing maturity. Here, Marty homes in on his signature cosmic roots aesthetic, brimming with cinematic songcraft, impressionistic lyrics, clever arrangements, telepathic ensemble interplay, and soulfully world-weary vocals. Imagine the delta blues reprised by psychedelic indie rockers.
Stereoscope is no doubt a milestone entry for Marty O’Reilly, offering forth his most assured and mature release to date. “We put our heart and soul into this album,” shares Marty. “It’s the album I’ve always wanted to make— one that ten years later I can still be proud of. Making it has made me feel whole, and brought me a lot of joy.”
Marty O’Reilly first played solo as a young college kid back when he was starting at the University of Santa Cruz. He sat in on open mic nights, tipped pints at the bar and engaged his new community.
These days he’s normally the front man for Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra, but this is just the guy, his harmonica and guitar, playing songs he wrote or just songs he loves to play.
Sometimes it is hard to separate a band guy from his band and have the music translate on a similar level. Not with Marty O’Reilly.
Marty’s a powerhouse player and an even stronger singer. And while it is nearly impossible to classify the sound of The Old Soul Orchestra as a band, it is fair to say that a Marty solo show will find its legs rooted in Blues and Gospel, drawing heavily on the roots of what makes American music great.
O’Reilly plays with the conviction of a veteran Chicago blues man that belies his Sonoma County roots. He plays straight ahead and aggressively, weaving songs into medleys with such skill that the listener might not know when one song ends and the next begins. His guitar attack is fierce, he beats strings with rapid strums and furious note runs. He sways and convulses, throwing his whole body into the music, his head thrown back and mouth agape as he bridges verses. The song can swing wildly and he can end abruptly leaving sonic ellipses on the last line.
These solo nights beg exploration of every nook and cranny of the songs. This is not to say Marty goes down some jam band rabbit hole, he just . . . explores. The audience come to expect the departure; they are accepting of the journey and willing to go along lyrically and musically. This is what makes these gigs so special. www.martyoreilly.com “
Norwich: Music City, UK. A Norwich playlist of well over 30 hours of local music on Spotify: