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Sunday 10th April 2005
Barbican 'It Came From Memphis Festival'
Delta Blues - Bobby Rush, Little Milton, Kenny Brown, T-Model Ford
Barbican Centre

Hats off to The Barbican for his fantastic month long festival celebrating the musical influence of Memphis. The programme is based on the book of the same name by by Robert Gordon and themed around the key recording studios - Sun, Stax, Hi, Muscle Shoals and Ardent.

Tonight's show was billed as 'Delta Blues' and the programme represented a fairly broad definition of what that might mean.

T-Model Ford opened the show... Looking frail as he was walked on, once seated and having introduced his drummer Spam (outstanding) he launched into a trance-like version of Mystery Train and entreated us all to 'shake what you got' with a fair bit of verve.

There followed a selection Fords trademark trancy groove based riffing on the 13-and-a-half-bar-blues and rounded off with less than precise but affecting all the same versions of Hoochie Coochie Man and Smokestack Lightning.

Kennny Brown opened with Rollin' and Tumblin' - jangly and uptempo, to my ears he was suffering from the sound quality of the Barbican being not really suitable for his style of guitar boogie. I suspect if you saw him in a bar he'd sound great but in the sleek concert hall setting it all seemed a bit lost. Full marks to his bass (Terence Bishop) and drums (John F Bonds) backup however. Echoes of the White Stripes and The Black Keys in the punky attitude, and low slung stance!

Any allowance for the setting suddenly seemed redundant as Little Milton came on and just OWNED the stage. Taking control with an awe inspiring display of old school, real deal charisma and dedication to his craft, it's immediately apparent why he's a legend.

Classic soul story telling balladry on 'Just One Moment' had us all hooked. Here's a man who can sing for real, with a voice comparable to any of the other soul greats, and he hadn't even touched his guitar yet. Eventually though the guitar comes out and off we go with a brilliant display of subtle, emotionally charged soloing blended perfectly with each song.

You can see technically competent guitar players almost everywhere you go, but Milton here reminded us that there's far more to it than that. Avoiding showy pyrotechnics he plays to tell the story and pass the feeling in a way that all to few guitar players seems to be able to manage these days.

We don't get 'Grits 'Aint Groceries' but he does round things off with 'Hey Hey, The Blues is Alright' - getting us all on our feet and shouting along with yet another masterful display of soul showmanship. Genuinely a class act.

For Bobby Rush it was tough act to follow, but he appeared un phased and let rip with a massively energetic performance, complete with comedy prop big knickers and booty girl dancer.

Billed as 'singer/harmonica player/tireless entertainer' we got the lot. Miltons band, who'd stayed on to do backup duties, occasionally looked panic stricken as Rush's not so clear stage directions lurched them all off down some other road but everything seemed to fall into place eventually due to the sheer charisma of the man.

Singing, rapping with the audience, playing great harmonica and even a few numbers sat at the guitar, it was another old school performance reminding us that 'Entertainment' need not be a dirty word.

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