Punk Blues

Johnny Dowd and Park Doing

It has been a great couple of months for fans of Americana and Blues in Leek, as the Foxlowe has recently staged amazing performances from some of the top exponents of the genres.

Hot on the heels of Kris Barras and the Jack J Hutchinson Band, Gemma Ray and Thomas Truax, and the mighty Bob Log III and Husky Tones, the legendary Johnny Dowd brought his trademark Twisted Americana Country Blues to the Foxlowe on Friday the 12th of March, 2019, ably supported by Park Doing and Michael Edmondson.

Park Doing and Johnny Dowd both use drum samples, loops and pedals, in the vein of fellow US guitar mavericks Thomas Truax and Bob Log III, and Johnny and his band also inhabit the same twisted David Lynchian Americana universe as the aforementioned Truax and Gemma Ray. However, each individual’s sounds and stagecraft set them apart from their contemporaries. A fantasy future Leek Blues and Americana festival lineup of Gemma Ray, Thomas Truax, Bob Log III, Park Doing, Mike Edmondson and Johnny Dowd on the same day would be awesome, but who would go onstage last? Hmmm…

Anyway, back to Friday night’s gig…

So, first up onstage was Park Doing, who describes his music as “Psychedelic Disco Blues”. Sporting a corduroy jacket, and a hat that looked to have been styled upon the one worn by Brad Dourif in Wise Blood, Park plugs in and attends to his bank of effects pedals and sampler before introducing his first song.

With “These machines kill cashists” emblazoned on his road-worn electric guitar – a clever twist on the message immortalised on radical folk singer Woody Guthrie’s acoustic guitar (“This machine kills fascists”) – Park and his sonic armoury of effects pedals, samplers and loopers, and beat box crank out such idiosyncratic songs as Punk Rockers Don’t Need To Wear Watches; If You Don’t Say It Right, Don’t Say It At All; and You Know What To Do, So Do It – words of homespun wisdom set to an accompaniment of live guitar, loops and lo-fi trip hop beats.

After ably setting the tone for the evening’s entertainment, Park leaves the stage, changes into his blue velvet jacket, and loses the hat.

Talking about this latest tour together, Park said:

“I got a call from my good friend Johnny Dowd who asked me to tour with him again, this time in the Netherlands and England. He also asked me to sing with him during his sets, so I am doing double duty (the hardest working man in show business!). It’s an honor to perform with him — he has taught me so much over the years.  He has taken to calling me and his guitar player Mike Edmondson “The Hummingbird Singers.””

Park then joins Johnny onstage for his set as part of backing band with Mike Edmondson. This backing band may or may not be called The Bluebells or The Humingbirds (it may even change from gig to gig). I could have sworn that the band are introduced as the Bluebells, possibly or probably because of their natty blue velvet patterned jackets.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, and hailing from Ithaca, New York, Johnny Dowd’s sonic brand of dark and ramshackle alternative country-blues noir, with boom box beats, calls to my mind the recorded spoken word output of William S Burroughs (especially The “Priest” They Called Him, by Kurt Cobain and William S. Burroughs), early lo-fi Beck, and white blues guitarists such as Johnny Winter and Peter Green. Typical of Johnny’s style are the experimental, noisy breaks in his songs and strong gothic elements in the lyrics as well as in the music. There is also a strong undercurrent of black humor and the absurd in his work too.

The use of samples and technology mixed with good old fashioned stagecraft places the performance firmly in the 21st Century, although the music of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s is paid homage to, including a Bo Diddley medley, and referencing James Brown and Blaxploitatation (the song White Dolomite). Johnny cites James Brown’s Live at the Apollo as his lifelong favorite album, and Live at Paris Olympia 1971 “has got to be high on the list”, according to Johnny’s interview with Americana UK. Avant garde jazz musician and cosmic visionary Sun Ra, and godfathers of grunge Blue Cheer, are also big favourites too. Johnny and his sidemen put on an entertaining show, which includes incendiary guitar playing from all three musicians, sweet harmonized backing vocals, spoken introductions to the songs, poetry and even some coordinated choreography with audience participation!

Johnny Dowd’s songs, stories and poetry are about the perennial topics – love, sex, death, religion, life on the road, and (dysfunctional) relationships (both familial and romantic) and break-ups and their aftermath – but delivered with enough self-awareness, self-deprecation and tongue in cheek humour to stop it from all becoming too maudlin and depressing. This ain’t no country music- or blues-style “born-under-a-bad-sign-my-woman-left-me-my-dog-just-died-I’m-so-lonesome-I-lost-my-job-and-the-man’s-repossessed-my-car-and-the-bank-has-foreclosed-on-my-mortgage-it’s-raining-hard-the-leevee-has-broken-and-the-water’s-three-feet-high-and-rising-and-I’ve-finished-my-last-bottle-of-whiskey” cry-fest! No, siree, Bob. There are laughs a-plenty, both in terms of the interactions between the musicians and the audience, and in the songs themselves (the humour is dark, but it’s there). There’s even a goofy dance routine to lighten the mood!

Johnny stands up (he stays sat down for the set up to that point), places his guitar on his chair, and exhorts the seated audience to get up on their feet and mimic the band’s choreographed dance moves. The band are doing the Butterman Dance – whilst shouting, “Butterman, oh yeah!” – and Johnny joins in and we all do too: a surreal but funny couple of minutes during the set. Park cleverly and expediently dedicates the song and dance to Leek’s very own Butter Market. Nice one. Good local knowledge.

When the song and dance is over, Johnny compliments the crowd for their audience participation and enthuisiasm, saying “There’s no fear in Leek”. There may be no fear in Leek, Johnny, but there is very definitely an “eek” in Leek! Sorry, I’ll get my coat…

Other highlights include a rocking Bo Diddley medley of Hey, Bo Diddley and Who Do You Love, How Much Emptiness Can you Swallow?, a coruscating but poignant grunged-up version of Frank Sinatra’s It Was a Very Good Year, Jesus Loves Me by Joey + Rory, and Country legend Conway Twitty gets a surreal namecheck too!

A love for late 50s and early 60s Death Discs is also evident. A cover of the ‘splatter platter’ paean to twisted metal and mangled bodies, Teen Angel by Mark Dinning, is played in a respectful homage to the original, and as a rendition it would be wholly in keeping as a Twin Peaks: The Return end of episode performance at The Roadhouse tavern.

The Death Disc, also known as a ‘splatter platter’, ‘car crash song’ or quite simply a ‘teenage tragedy song’, is a style of ballad popularised in the 50s and 60s sung from the point of view of either a dying (or dead) teenager or the dying (or dead) or surviving teenager’s sweetheart, as is the case in Teen Angel.

Teen angel, teen angel, teen angel, ooh
That fateful night the car was stalled upon the railroad track
I pulled you out and we were safe, but you went running back…”

David Lynch and the clientele at the Roadhouse would approve, I think.

All-in-all another memorable night at the Foxlowe, in front of a select crowd of appreciative and knowledgable Americana fans. Thank you to everyone who came out to support the venue and the artists. We hope to see you again soon.

Any milage in that fantasy festival lineup suggestion…?

Park Doing at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

Park Doing at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

Park Doing at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

Johnny Dowd at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

Johnny Dowd at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

Johnny Dowd at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

Johnny Dowd at the Foxlowe Arts Centre, Leek

All photos by Giles Metcalfe.


Bob Log III and Husky Tones

The mighty Bob Log III returned to the Foxlowe Arts Centre on Sunday the 24th of March, 2019. With support from Husky Tones – the perfect girl/boy, punk-blues alchemy combo, a blistering Bristol-based punk blues duo who hit with the force of a much bigger unit – the Foxlowe audience was treated to a unique gig experience that will stick in the memories of all those present for a long time (assuming that they were sober enough to remember the events of the night!).

First up onstage were Husky Tones, who are Victoria Bourne on drums and vocals, and Chris Harper on guitar and vocals. Both Husky Tones and Bog Log III make a mighty fine racket, using a single guitar and drums/percussion attack strategy that hits you in the gut (and other areas) and gets the audience up and moving. Victoria comes from the Maureen Ann “Moe” Tucker (stand-up drummer of the legendary The Velvet Underground) and Meg White (sit-down drummer of the also legendary The White Stripes) school of hard-hitting, primal drumming. Victoria bounces up and down in her Dr Martens AirWear soled boots and punishes the drum skins like they’ve been very naughty indeed!

Victoria states:

When playing live I want our gigs it to feel like a special party that Chris and I have invited you to. Performing is one of those extraordinary experiences where some gigs I feel like jumping around and screaming in a bright red PVC dress and fishnets and others where I feel exposed, intimate, vulnerable. Just like our songs, sometimes wild and full of punk attitude whilst others are stories of beauty and love. Keeping you engaged without knowing where we might take you next. I want you to sweat with me, dance to me, cry with me, to make you feel alive…”

We did, Victoria, we did, and you did. Thank you. Sunday night was definitely a “jumping around and screaming in a bright red PVC dress and fishnets” night!

Chris also attacks his guitars hard, in a crunchy, dexterous, raging style. At times his right arm is a blur of motion as he hunches over and chops and slashes at his black Fender Strat, or switches to a battered Fender Telecaster, leans back and plays with a slide.

Chris states:

“I’ve played guitar for many years, wandering in and out of many styles but I always come back to the blues, a smashy, trashy, crashy version of it that is. Husky Tones gives me the chance to be a riff machine and to jump around on stage making a big, fat noise. I like riffs, I like grooves and I like good lyrics, the lyrics have to have something individual about them. I like songs to be about something not just relationships, I like songs about the world, about politics, about living a better life and of course, about love in all it’s forms. But it has to make me tap my feet or sway in time.”

Chris has an impressive array of effects pedals, including Fuzz and Wah-Wah, but, as any quality guitarist will tell you, its not about the effects pedals, its what you do with them. Right? You got it.

I’m sure we’ll see Husky Tones at the Foxlowe again in future, and look forward to welcoming them back.

Next up was the one-man force of nature that is Bob Log III! Robert Logan Reynolds III, to use his full Sunday name, and the one his ever-loving Mom calls him by, is an All-American slide guitar one-man band, based in Tucson, Arizona, and Melbourne, Australia. During performances, he plays his old Silvertone archtop guitars, wears a full body human cannonball glitter suit, boots made for stomping, and a helmet wired to a telephone receiver. This allows him to devote his hands and feet to guitar and kick drums.

The crown prince of punk blues, and a Fat Possum recording artist, witnessing Bob Log III live is an unmissable and unforgettable experience. Bob unleashes a torrent of hardcore Mississippi Delta blues, hip hop beats and punk rock. The crash helmet telephone distorts the vocals and his hands, arms, legs and feet become a blur of jump suit clad limbs as he plays slide, triggers drum machines and drums with his feet simultaneously. Bob then adds extra ingredients to this punk blues bouillabaisse with his unique version of audience participation. More often them not he’ll bounce a couple of audience members on his knees while playing (this certainly happened, see below), and then brings on the infamous Boob Scotch. The audience are invited to literally stick their boob in his scotch which he then drinks. If Bob feels satisfied he will then launch into his anthem Boob Scotch!

Bob wasn’t drinking (much) on Sunday night, and there was a distinct lack of drinks bought for him on stage (sorry, Bob, that was very remiss of us!) but he still wanted to toast the audience. Luckily, he had the foresight to bring a toaster, a loaf of sliced bread, and paper plates onto the stage, and the bread duly got toasted throughout the set, assisted by a couple of impromptu Toast Techs (Andy and JR), before being distributed to the hungry audience. Apparently, that was the onstage debut of the toaster, but no doubt it will become a feature of his stagecraft going forwards.

Gigs at the Foxlowe can be quite genteel and civilised affairs, but a polite, sedate, seated gig this was not!

Balloons – blown up and then burst; Prosecco, an inflatable duck, me ducks!, and a dog bowl; bread and the aforementioned toaster all featured; along with a few technical hitches; audience participation (not all of it solicited); and wild dancing all contributing to the pervading vibe of chaos and good-natured anarchy! Victoria and Chris also contributed to the performance during Bob’s set, with Victoria drinking Prosecco from the dog bowl, and both Chris and Victoria taking turns to sit on Bob’s knee when he invited the audience up on stage to get selfies and a little knee bounce action! The Prosecco filled inflatable duck was passed around the audience and quaffed from until it was empty, before finding it’s way back to the stage.

No inflatable dinghy crowd surfing on this occasion, unfortunately, as both the stage and the ceiling are too low for that. Bob did venture out into the crowd to high five his appreciative audience and get up close and personal though, despite “not being able to see shit!” through his visor.

In this current world of homogenised and mass marketed music, we need true mavericks like Bob Log III more than ever. Missing you already, Bob. Come back soon.

Husky Tones at Foxlowe Arts Centre

Husky Tones at Foxlowe Arts Centre

Husky Tones at Foxlowe Arts Centre

Bob Log III at Foxlowe Arts Centre

Bob Log III at Foxlowe Arts Centre

Bob Log III at Foxlowe Arts Centre

Bob Log III at Foxlowe Arts Centre

Bob Log III at Foxlowe Arts Centre

Bob Log III at Foxlowe Arts Centre

Bob Log III at the Foxlowe Arts Centre

Bob Log III at the Foxlowe Arts Centre

Bob Log III at the Foxlowe Arts Centre

Photos 1 to 10 by Giles Metcalfe, Photos 11 and 12 by Mark Brammar.