It was the night that the Tales From The Woods band
came of age. They've provided excellent backing to numerous artists at TFTW shows over the years, but last night, at the Charlie Gracie show in Soho's Spice of Life bar, they got to perform their own set. And a fine set it was too.
Lead guitarist John Spencely showed that as well as being an excellent plucker he can sing as well, and his gritty and powerful vocals were well suited to this exciting rock and roll set. The rest of the band - Claire Hamlin on keyboards, Alex Bland on saxophone, Rob Davis on bass and Jeff Tuck on drums - were well up to the task and together the band put on a set to remember. They began with Maybelline, as a tribute to Chuck Berry, who died the previous day, before launching into Johnny and the Hurricanes' Crossfire, which gave Alex a chance to shine. John's vocals were really quite wild on Flying Saucers Rock and Roll and equally good on David Ray's rockabilly number Jitterbugging Baby. John joked about the band's name and said they had considered changing it to the Top Rankers, until they remembered promoter Keith Woods' inability to pronounce the letter R. Claire's keyboard dexterity was well to the fore on Huey Smith's Rockin' Pneumonia and Boogie Woogie Flu, as it was on the instrumental Swanee River, and the band's imaginative choice of material was illustrated well by the Crickets' Love's Made A Fool Of You, Conway Twitty's I'll Try, California Sun (a cross between Joe Jones's original and the Rivieras' cover, John said,) and Amos Milburn's Chicken Shack Boogie, again featuring Claire. Other numbers included a great version of Big Al Downing's Yes I'm Loving You and Gene Vincent's perennial favourite Say Mama. As an encore the band did Big Fat Mama, an original by Roy Young, who is one of the stars of the next Tales From The Woods show in the summer. Altogether this was an exciting set and it would be great to see the band do their own thing again.
The star of the show was Charlie Gracie
, a man who made his name at much the same time as Chuck Berry was making waves back in the fifties. Now 80, Charlie is still an excellent guitarist and has an easy stage manner. His first number, Caldonia, showed off his guitar playing to good effect, and he ran through many of his best known numbers included Just Lookin', Wandering Eyes, Butterfly, Ninety Nine Ways, Cool Baby, Heart Like A Rock and, of course, his biggest hit Fabulous. He's been to London many times over the years and has picked up a Dick Van Dyke type accent, which he put to use on snippets of Maybe It's Because I'm A Londoner and even I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts. Other numbers included Rock A Beating Boogie, Don't Worry About Me (a tribute to his friend Eddie Cochran), I Love You So Much It Hurts, Tootsie, What'd I Say, Cottonfields and, as an encore, Shake Rattle and Roll. All of them were two minute master classes and much enjoyed by the packed crowd in this tiny venue. Charlie is welcome back any time. Well done Keith on another enjoyable show.