When I grow up I want to be in the Solway Deltas.
This was not a post I was expecting to be writing I have to say. Having popped over to the UK from Bangladesh for a Masters course, I expected to be doing nothing other than studying, writing essays and working on completing the manuscript for the book I’m trying to get finished (and largely ignoring). I had a weekend free and so decided to visit family and friends in my beloved Whitehaven and get well fed while I wrote.
I was surprised and delighted then, when a friend contacted me on Facebook and said “come down to the Waterfront Sunday night. There’s a band on”. She promised me a pint and a night I’d remember. Well, how can I refuse an offer like that?
So I took a well needed break from the laptop (to be honest I was looking for a way to avoid doing some writing) and made my way down to Whitehaven’s beautiful harbour where the Waterfront pub and restaurant is to be found. I’ve eaten there before – they do wonderful food there by the way – but was trying to figure out how they were going to squeeze a band into the place. It’s not that big.
I stepped in and the Blues hit me.
This was odd because I’d just met my friend and her daughter (and old student of mine) and she immediately proved good to her word by buying me a pint so I was far from feeling blue. But the music blasting out from the Solway Deltas was unashamedly blues. They had been squeezed into a corner and a few tables removed to give space. The five piece band knew how to make use of the space and the equipment was well organised around them. The Waterfront continued to serve food for one or two who seemed very hungry, but mostly everyone there were there for the band.
I joined my friends and sat down with my pint and began an evening of pure joy.
The band have clearly been playing for a long time. They knew their songs and every chord, every note and every beat were in place. The Solway Deltas are well experienced at not just at playing the music but playing the audience too. Steve Smith – the lead vocalist and nifty harmonica player – bantered with the audience and even sometime, during a long solo break by one of the other members, leapt out into the audience with pint in hand to watch the performance.
“We don’t normally do requests” he said to one audience member. “Unless we’re asked” he added.
This sense of fun pervaded throughout the night with a lot of good old Rock n Roll mixed with the blues. With numbers like the classic “Mustang Sally” (which the band ‘lowered themselves’ to agree to play) and Free’s “Alright Now” the audience were up on their feet and turned the cramped area around the tables into an impromptu dance floor. Some danced magically and were great fun to watch. Others made me clutch my pint for fear of life and wonder who was going to be propelled into my lap.
But it didn’t matter. I’ve never seen a pub audience have so much fun that didn’t involve smashing bottles and shaking your brain to bits. This was good old fashioned fun and I couldn’t help but wish my two kids were there to see it. My son would have died to get his hands on the band’s equipment – especially Guitarist Alan Stubbs effects pedalboard. My daughter would just have loved the dancing.
For me, the highlight was watching John Dugan – who I prefer to think of as B B King – sat in the corner with his ‘empire’ around him of guitar and keyboard both of which he played skilfully and with true artistry. Numbers such as Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” became alive under his fingers and I just chilled out to them.
Their drummer, John Branch, is unusual in that he actually listens to the band and it is clear he understands the pieces rather than just bashing out a beat until persuaded to stop. He played with light and shade throughout the gig and knew instinctively when to play and when not. This band knows their numbers perfectly – essential if you are going to pull off songs by Muddy Waters, Cream, T Bone Walker and Little Walter as they did that night.
They clearly love music and this came out in their own composed pieces which were interspersed with the classic numbers. “Solway Blues”, “Sins of the Father” and “White Boy Standing” were great numbers by the band that stood up with the greats easily probably because of Bass guitarist Gary Simpson’s ability to play a strong bassline that didn’t dominate the sound but drove the band on and got everyone bopping away.
In short, a great night, great band and nice people enjoying the great band. A near perfect night out (which just lacked my own family being around to enjoy it too) – and not just because I got a free pint out of it. If the Solway Deltas are playing a gig near you, I strongly recommend going to see them. If you have any taste in live music at all and want a night out that doesn’t require you to be arrested or have a trip to Casualty at the end to say you enjoyed it, this is the band for you.
For me, as a musician who plays all same the instruments to some extent (though my drumming would be a bit dodgy these days) I had to resist the voices in my head that screamed at me to leap into the band and start joining in. Thankfully, for all involved, I restrained myself and stayed content to just tap away on the table and scream like a girl at the end of each number.
But one day, when I’m back, I’ll find a way in. They could do with someone to play the spoons. I could do that…