Kezia Gill / Brian Collins - The Water Rats London
Before reviewing tonights show it is well worth reflecting on what an achievement this tour has been, a UK Americana artist playing a 13 date tour, with an Independent record label w21Records, where each date has been accompanied by the words SOLD OUT. It is one of the few tours in recent memory that has generated its own momentum of publicity and good will, not only for Kezia but for her support Brian Collins - it is a total package tour!
Plans to bring Brian Collins to the UK have been many years in the making, but for the pandemic he would have been gracing the stage at a nearby venue some years earlier. He came armed with a rich catalogue of songs which we will barely dip into tonight, years of stagecraft that would come out during the performance and a secret weapon in Rockwell Jacobs whose inventive embelishments took the perfomance to another level, to the point you could begin to imagine just what it might be like with a full band playing behind Brian.
From the very off with "Old Demons New Friends" it was clear to see the effect that Brian had been having on UK audiences, the earthy realism of the lyrics matched to the sweet soulful harmonies were being mouthed back at him from the opening rows of the audience who had arrived early to pick ther spot. Despite only playing as a duo, when Brian and Rockwell built up a head of steam like on "Never Really Left" it had the power of a small band and was highly impressive. The stage craft came very much to the fore during "Enjoy The Ride" teasing the audience with a possible early return to the UK and at one point towards the end playing back to back. He even managed to successfully divide the audience to perform a section of backing vocals that somehow seemed to melt away the London crowds notorious reticence to join in such things.
Donning a harmonica, there was a clever bit of stage craft from Brian as he introduced "Harder I Run" telling us about his roots, highlighting images that would later appear in lines in the song - it then subliminally clicks in the listeners mind when they hear it later in the song. Right on cue - a couple of whiskeys arrived from the audience in time for "You Wear That Whiskey Well", with its bluesy harmonica intro , this was a little more rootsy and saw Rockwell provide seem sweet backing harmonies as well as a suitable guitar solo.
The party already in full swing, was enlivened further by the Celtic vibe of "Bottom Of The Glass" even finding time to end with a touch of "Danny Boy" on this good time anthem. The current single "When The Sun Gets In Your Eyes" saw the assembled mass gleefully join in on the irresistable chorus. There was time for effortless easy groove of "Shine A Little Love", turning into something of a soulful affair with Brians, voice, Rockwell's backing vocals and the assembled Water Rats choir singing along. A set which made you feel that you had known these songs all your life completed with "You Only Got One" with its salutory message - worked up into an atmospheric sound with some great effects pedal work from Rockwell and rich vocal perfection from Brian, at times really giving everything on this final song of the night, in fact finishing his UK tour with the one song to feature on his new album forthcoming in 2023 - Keep tuned for further details!!!
Last time we saw Kezia Gill, she was playing the Main Stage at The Long Road Festival, singing "These Boots Are Made For Walking" as special guest of Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, and not looking at all out of place. In fact she owned the stage for those five minutes, and the assembled crowd accepted her as much as they did the other American based guests. Like all overnight successes her seemingly sudden rise to fame has been built on the back of years of hard work - an early Sunday morning slot at Buckle & Boots or a punishing drive down to Portsmouth for a 30 minute solo set at Country On The Coast - all that and much more has led to a 2nd sold out night in Kings Cross. Kezia has somehow managed to fill a gap in the UK Americana market that I'm not sure anyone realised was there - her rootsy rocking and homespun tales definitely seem to have hit a chord and as the evening progresses it will become evident that she not so much has fans but a large army of friends, such is the way her personality and life story seeps through into her songs. Making the most of her entrance Kezia launched into "The Adventures Of A Travelling Mind", a rootsy bluesy opener that saw her beaming out a smile that would hardly leave her face the whole evening. Her solid band with producer Ben Haynes on bass and the twin Lukes ( Barratt on drums and Thomas on guitar ) would provide a solid unfussy backing the whole evening, stepping out for the odd solo as required but leaving Kezia to take most of the plaudits. The blues would continue with Kezia firing out a fiery a capella intro into "The Mess I Made" - later as the band hushed for a moment, the sound of the audience singing along on the line "Seek and you shall find" unsolicited was palpably loud.
The traditional sound of rocking country continued into "Country Song" a combo of searing guitar matched to a fearsome vocal performance.
It was not to be all about looking back though and a new tune due for release in January "Whiskey Over Ice" came with a punchy chorus laden with various drinks. We mentioned in the intro that special bond between fan and artist that exists between Kezia and her admirers and never was that clearer than on "Thirties" with it seems the life story of number of the audience being sung not just Kezia's!.
It was over to the piano for "Dead Ends and Detours", and the next section of the show with a song that would gradually rise in intensity before finishing in a pulsating blitz of noise and flashing lights. At this point the band left and in a strange way the essence of what makes Kezia so compelling was easier to see. The song "Girl Of Your Dreams" is essentially a collection of mundane vignettes from her home life that encapsulate her love for her husband but the observations although pertinent to Kezia so readily chimes with the lives of the audience that it makes a powerful connection. There was room for a special guest and Kaity Rae came out to play the piano part she played on Kezia's most recent single "Like I Did Before" which allowed Kezia to concentrate on giving something of a vocal tour de force. This section of the show packed in the emotionally powerful songs, none more so than "I'm Here" tackling mental illness in a most straight forward and honest way - again the passion in the unsolicited audience singalong showing the impact that the song had made. The band would return midway through in a seamless transition that would signal the start of the next section of the show.
The link between Kezia and audience was once again was highlighted with "Local Man's Star" - it was another example of Kezia opening up a door into her life and the audience happily walking through it because although the song is about her Dad - in some strange way it becomes that she is singing about everyones Dad and that is a powerful ability to possess. Kezia performed the song on the 12 string guitar mentioned in the song and kept it on for a Bob Dylan cover, a fine version of "Forever Young" - with Kezia really letting rip on the chorus and Luke Thomas throwing in a fine solo.
Proving that some good things did come out of Lockdown - "We've Only Got Tonight" was a joyful rocker composed in the darkest of times, while "House Of Cards" was another song that saw artist and audience bond as one. Starting to a sub "We WIll Rock You" drum beat was "Easy Come Easy Go" which returned us to the rootsier sound of the opening of the show. When fans turn up to a show with a pre prepared sheet covered in tributes to you then you know you are getting through to people on a dofferent level and just such an event happened prior to "Whiskey Drinkin' Woman" which would close the show and see Kezia leave the stage wrapped up in the aformentioned sheet!
A final end of tour finale would see the return of Brian Collins and Rockwell to the stage for a run through "With A Little Help From My Friends", Brian providing some harmonica, Rockwell some addiotional guitar and both prviding some soulful backing vocals. It was a suitable way to close out a highly successful tour and the best thing is there is much more to come from both artists in 2023