Walking before the stage of the grungy Cavern we all know and love (or claim to love in a bid to look “really alternative”), I watched Adam Sweet, Devon-based blues player, pouring soul into his guitar and holding the focused gaze of his swaying audience.
Wille And The Bandits, the main act of the night, stepped on after Sweet’s mesmerising, roots-deep songs. Having reached Number 2 in the UK Blues Chart and having toured with the likes of Deep Purple and Joe Bonamassa, the band showcased songs from their new album, Roots, plus a few hallowed tracks and a heartfelt dedication to Wille Edwards’ baby son.
Wille and the Bandits are, in their own words, “without any label backing or injected hype” and it showed - their raw infusion of genres was enough to get a solid, smiling line of dancers in front of them for their entire set. “Any blues fans in here?” Wille asked before diving into their own version of Robert Johnson’s sold-my-soul-to-the-devil Crossroads. Also blues-inspired was Gypsy Woman, the kind of hard-hitting rock that gets hips moving. Wille’s gritty words - “Oh, she got me in pieces / Oh, she’s over my mind” - were sung over Andrew Naumann’s cymbal smashing and Matthew Brooks’ heavy bass.
Showing off Naumann’s and Brooks’ jaw-dropping talents was Angel – a twelve-or-so minute song. A Latin-scented beginnings with quick drums and finger-picking guitar was followed by flying head-first into electric-driven rock rhythms, reminiscent of early Santana. Thick bass riffs and groove-driven drums cast the song – and crowd – into blissful trance.
Try To Be Yourself, starting with softly-uttered words from Wille about individuality and society, was backed by the rolling, tribal drums of Naumann. With a harmonised chorus and Weissenborn slide-guitar a-plenty, Wille’s vocals melted into the background, making way for a beautifully performed instrumental.
Chillout – one of my favourite tracks, consisting of Wille belting out a long “Chill ouuuut” (and much more, obviously) – grabbed the dancing crowd by their collars and their non-pint-holding hands. Wille’s own hands ran up and down the slide guitar, accompanied by the six-stringed solos of Brooks, and Naumann’s mix of rock and world drumming.
Although slightly gutted that they didn’t play one of my other favourites, Keep Your Head Up (from 2010 album, New Breed), the night was one of both self-reflection - thanks to thoughtful lyrics- down-right grinding, dirty blues, and the tribal rhythms that pull you into the primitive places in the back of your mind.