Alan West / Steve Black, Shaky Ground Live at Jagz Ascot
Ascot on race day, after the last nag has cantered home is something of a spectacle. The sight of office workers once dressed to the nines, now one over the eight, looking distinctly at sixes and sevens as a shoe is discarded here, a tie there and a fascinator somewhat askew from its original fixing. Many have staggered to Jagz and are enjoying their post race drinks with some gusto, as they throw shapes on the dance floor, with every embarrassing bit of dad dancing captured for posterity in a multitude of selfies, all to a thumping BPM that blurs everything into one never ending blur of mediocrity.
The door opening for entrance into the Americana night was like travelling through the Looking Glass and the welcoming sound of the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack indicated that we had transported ourselves to a better place. It was time for Alan West and Steve Black to resume their residency, in front of a respectable crowd to give the room a little atmosphere. As ever the show was in 3 halves with Alan & Steve bookending a guest artist this month in the shape of Maidenhead based Shaky Ground.
It had taken our hosts over 4 hours to get to Ascot, so could be forgiven if not feeling in the mood for a show but ever the professional they were to put in a most entertaining shift. Ever revamping their set, there were some outings for some songs that have not graced Jagz before such as “I’m Not Over You” as well as the Alsaka section including a welcome return for the song “Mana Atunee” last heard at Midwinterfest 2017 with Steve in fine voice on the chorus which Alan loudly echoed, making it a very powerful song. In a spectacular piece of linkage, a fresh as ever “Maria Dolores” with its origins in Beer, was linked via breakfast tv about the resort, to a raft that Alan used to swim out to as a kid, that then led to the first song he ever saw live “Catfish John” that he then played. The first half had to end with another reference to the tortuous journey and a song that opened Steve’s latest album born from such delays, the excellent “Drivin”.
We don’t normally report on cover bands however Shaky Ground present a bit of a quandary in that they choose to cover artists that generally no-one else even knows. In fact, had they chosen not to announce the original artist of many of the songs, many may have thought that they had stumbled across a hot new band. I’m not sure if Mike Henderson, Delbert McClinton or Chris Knight pitched up in the UK whether they’d draw much of an audience but these people were huge influences on people such as Chris Stapleton through to Elvis Costello, and it is around these sort of artists, that Shaky Ground base their set. A tight four piece band, they managed to unearth some ‘forgotten’ gems like “If The Jukebox Took Teardrops”, Chris Scruggs’s “Country Star” and even a bit of Mexicana with Delbert’s “When Rita Leaves”. The nagging thought about them being a cover band only came back into mind when they covered better known songs such as the Bands “The Weight” or indeed Chris Knights “Framed”, the latter being a song that has been covered by both artistes on tonight’s bill. Shaky’s version remained pretty faithful to the original, whereas for the 3 minutes or so that Alan and Steve sing the song I’m willing to suspend belief and think that Alan has gunned down someone, such is the intensity of their reinterpretation! So minor quibbles aside this was entertaining stuff and well done for helping to keep these songs alive.
The third half opened with some requests from the boisterous audience who obviously knew the back catalogue of our dynamic duo if not necessarily the actual titles, so it was a welcome outing for “The Big Freeze” which Alan had only recently had cause to relearn. Another audience request was for “Streets Of London” which personally is the one cover they do I’m not sure works as well the original, but it created a Jagz first in that there was a large audience singalong on the chorus. In fact, this section of the show contained a selection of covers, Paul Anka’s “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” synonymous with Buddy Holly sounded reinvigorated for being slowed down and I never cease to marvel at Steve singing “Piano Man” while playing guitar, it somehow works. Peppered between the covers, a new song from Steve, with a working title of “One More Web To Weave” which sounded a worthy addition to the catalogue.
The requests from the audience by now were coming as thick and fast as they were incomprehensible, “Hillbilly Woodbines” saw an ambitious attempt at some additional clapping from the audience who by now were so well oiled they were not able to keep in time with each other let alone whatever Alan and Steve were playing. As ever the evening came to a close with “Way Of The World” and another eventful night at Jagz came to a close. Hopefully their journey home proved to be smoother and next time round will undoubtedly be peppered with tales of their forthcoming European jaunt to Holland.