Larry Garner at the Spitz, London, 3rd December 2002
Back in the days (the good old days to many) when Steve Beggs ran his Speakeasy nights at London’s 100 Club, a guaranteed regular in that slot would have been the gentleman I had the pleasure of seeing at the Spitz, a venue situated in East London’s Commercial Street (about 25 minutes stroll from Liverpool Street station), his name is Larry Garner, born in New Orleans in 1952 but spent much of his childhood in Baton Rouge. Actually garner resided in London (Lancaster Gate) through much of the Nineties and, following his breakthrough at the 1992 Burnley Bluesfest, he worked many of the major London venues including the aforementioned 100; more recently he relocated back to the States so, as this was his first British gig in a while, I wasn’t gonna let this one go by, oh no.
As a venue I was quite impressed by the Spitz, quite roomy, a few tables scattered around, a far cry from Ain’t Nothing But, Cramped, London W1. Support act was a UK alt-country singer, Warren Malone, who performed a reasonably pleasant acoustic set including a folky take on the Wolf’s ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’. At half past nine the Larry Garner band ambled on stage, a three-piece that consisted of an Austrian keyboard man and an American bassist and drummer, that turned out to be a tight, disciplined unit. They did a couple of warm ups, ‘Poor Boy Blues’ and a slower New Orleans-like piece ‘Perfect Day’ (not the Lewis Reed song).
Then it was Showtime, ladies ‘n’ gemmun! The greysuited, grey-hatted Garner took the stage to deliver what I can only describe as a “welcoming” blues, an up-tempo ditty in which Larry expressed how glad he was to be back in London again. This done, he slowed down the tempo to deliver what I can only describe as a “Talkin’ Voodoo Mama” blues, a superb rap, where he described in vivid detail an encounter with a 42-22-97 who dabbled in the occult. A great storyteller is our Larry, with a likeable personality. Time to boogie some more with ‘Juke Joint Women’ followed by the philosophical ‘Road Of Life’. The rocking ‘Don’t Buy Me No Whiskey’ was prefaced by an amusing story of some people from Pennsylvania who stumbled upon and enjoyed Larry’s show in a Baton Rouge Club, then Garner paid tribute to an early influence, Arthur Lee ‘Guitar’ Kelly, with Kelly’s song ‘Jealous Man’, and nice a French harp solo from the piano man on this.
It was then time to get down and get funky with ‘That’s When Your Blues Turn Black’ and this, as well as the following boogie, ‘Big Legged Woman Blues’, saw ol’ Bunter start to move and groove on the spot. As with many coloured blues singers, Garner expressed an early love for country music and then treated us to what I suppose could be called “country-funk” with a song called (I think) ‘If It Wasn’t For The Have-Nots’. Back to the blues for the Elmore James-ish ‘Hey Little Girl’ and then to the last scheduled song ‘Gotta Keep On Singin’ The Blues’ preceded by Larry’s comment to “Keep supporting live music, ‘cos if you don’t you’ll find you’re standing in a karaoke bar!” Damn right!
Obviously a friendly fellow, Garner must have shaken the hand of every man and woman in the house that night (including self – great show Larry!) but with top flight music from top-flight musicians, there just had to be encores, and there were; three songs in a 15 minute period making it an almost two hour performance. At £8 admission that’s VFM Kats and Kittens!! First up was the self-explanatory ‘Funk It Up’ with plenty of dancers out on the floor, then a fine tribute to Luther Allison with ‘I’m Watchin’ You All The Time’ and adios with Tabby Thomas’ ‘Brand New Broom’. A spectacular gig then, one of my top five of 2002. Come back soon Mr G!!
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