Billy Jenkins’ new CD I Am A Man From Lewisham got a hot reception when Jenkins was recently introduced by Libby Purves as a “Blues man from Lewisham whose latest and most significant gigs have been humanist funerals”!!! Is it enough to wake the dead?
So when he said on BBC Radio 4′s Midweek, “I don’t do stereotypes, this is our blues not Afro-American Blues” you certainly can expect something different. He comes over as a man who respects his environment, local culture, music ideals and much more in the bargain.
With this is mind, guitarist and vocalist Billy has produced an album that’s more of a musical conversation with friends and family; not that I know that he’s related to any of the band but they have an impressive heritage. In particular there’s Nathaniel Facey who Billy taught at the Royal Academy of Music and who we last saw as part of the Jerry Dammers’ Spatial AKA Orchestra (see review HERE) and Empirical. Not only that, there’s Oren Marshall who’s the world’s leading experimental tuba player and I last saw playing a superb solo set at the Big Chill and before that as part as the F-IRE Collective (see review HERE). Not only that, amongst many more, you can occasionally hear the vocals of Carol ‘Wild Woman’ Grimes that’s a bit of a bonus.
The opener sets the light hearted tone with the title track ‘I Am A Man From Lewisham’; not that he thinks the ‘suburb’ of London that’s Lewisham is funny, but with his gritty vocal, in this blues from the Thames Bayou, there’s the big brass sound of Marshall, a South Central impersonation of a ‘copter on patrol, birdsong, Hendrix-esque violin solo and the rhyming couplet of Lewisham and “sugar jam”! That’s a lot to cram into the one track and its fantastic stuff; and all this coming from the former captain of the local Bowls Club (hence the cover).
He gets to play his guitar and blow his harp on ‘Francis Drake Bowls Club’ but it’s not all about him as it’s a proper band ensemble. I hear no Spanish influence on this one which isn’t too surprising in the circumstances as there’s quite a bit of musical ‘local sourcing’ about this album and other projects (see ‘Dalson Songs’ at the Royal Opera House or ‘Songs In The Key Of London’ at the Barbican). That said, you’re only going to find improvised jazz blues march of the quality of ‘Francis Drake Bowls Club’ and ‘On (Catford) Broadway’ on this album.
‘Clock Tower Power’ is a bit too much of a cross of ‘She’ll Be Coming ‘Round The Mountain and the Benny Hill theme for me as I’m happier with the serious one, the minimal calypso gypsy free jazz improv of ‘Terraced Fast Food’ and even then, there’s a smile inside when you listen to this.
If you hanker for the days of the Bonzo Dog Doh Dah Band, this album is for you. And if your memory goes back that far, you may remember Billy as a youngster with art rock band Burlesque (1972-77) and when they broke up, with the other main writer from the band, Ian Trimmer, they formed the musical comedy duo, Trimmer & Jenkins (1979-82). With that pub-rock background and his irreverence for high and low church, ‘Church Of The Ford Transit Mini Bus’ is another country folk-blues romp.
In addition to playing wih Kidsamonium, Billy also founded the Voice Of God Collective and the VOGC Junior League Choir turn up on the last track as they ‘Throw Them Blues In The Recycling Bin’.
It’s a shame we only get to hear his Big Band vocals on the opening and closing tracks but all in all, John Fordham sums the album up superbly as a “surreal, chaotic and disarmingly charming result”. In these difficult times, the world need Billy Jenkins and all like him, expect gigs in the SE post-code so check out his web site where you can also get the album (see links below).
As an aside, as a brummie born and bred, it also works as ‘I Am A Man From Birmingham’ [West Midlands, not Alabama].
Reviewed: Billy Jenkins – I Am A Man From Lewisham (VOTP) Cat. No: VOCD 105 Release date: 12th April 2010
1 I Am A Man From Lewisham(5:53)
2 On (Catford) Broadway (4:00)
3 Francis Drake Bowls Club (3:33)
4 Deptford Market (6:46)
5 Church Of The Ford Transit Mini Bus (5:47)
6 Terraced Fast Food (6:23)
7 Clock Tower Power (4:29)
8 Throw Them Blues In The Recycling Bin feat. The VOGC Junior League Choir (6:47)
Billy Jenkins – guitar, vocals, harmonica
Nathaniel Facey – alto saxophone
Dylan Bates – violin & pocket cornet
Gail Brand – trombone
Oren Marshall – tuba
Charles Hayward – drum kit, percussion, melodica
Carol Grimes – backing vocals
Ayanna Witter-Johnson – backing vocals
Merlin Hayward – backing vocals
Dave Ramm – organ
Jim Howard – trumpet
Charlie Hart – violin
The VOGC Junior League Choir: Nathaniel Facey, Carol Grimes, Lesley Hayward, Merlin Hayward, Caitlin Howard, Ella Howard, Jim Howard, Phoebe Howard, David Marshall, Oren Marshall, Ralina Marshall, Rachel Marshall, Angela Menezes, Joe Wilkes, Ayanna Witter-Johnson.
April 12th: ‘I Am A Man From Lewisham’ album release & reissue of: Sounds Like Bromley (1981) and Greenwich (1985) digitally reissued for the first time
Videos of Billy being ace:
Dalston Songs www.roh.org.uk
Royal Opera House (Linbury Studio, Ballet Studio, Clore Studio,Floral Hall), West End, Greater London http://www.dalstonpeople.co.uk Synopsis: A powerful, funny and touching piece of song theatre, Dalston Songs is a unique blend of music and choreography about memories of home and what ‘home’ means. Performance creator and self-taught composer Helen Chadwick was inspired by the stories and memories of people in her local community in Dalston, East London, where many different cultures co-exist. Stories emerged through interviews with her neighbours and Dalston residents. For some ‘home’ meant life in a new country, escape from a war zone or arrival from a destroyed homeland, for others the tales were more domestic. These stories became the basis for lyrics used alongside powerful texts by Serbian, Argentinean, Palestinian, and Turkish poets. Linbury Studio
Midweek: 24/02/2010 24/02/2010 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00qvmps#synopsis
Last broadcast on Wednesday, 21:30 on BBC Radio 4 (see all broadcasts).
Synopsis: Lively and diverse conversation with Libby Purves and guests Billy Jenkins, Sir John Lister Kaye, Caroline Charles and Thomasina Miers.
“Billy Jenkins is the British blues singer, guitarist, band leader and Humanist funeral Celebrant. Leader of the cult bands Burlesque and Trimmer and Jenkins, he also led the Voice of God Collective producing the seminal “Sounds Like Bromley”.