Little Willie Littlefield at Caster Village Hall, Lincolnshire, 18th May 2006
How many times have we enjoyed a gig, but to remark that it would have been so much better somewhere smaller and informal? Well there were no such words uttered at the Castor Village Hall, Lincs on May 18th because this was the dream gig.
John Howard motored us north up the A1 on the Thursday afternoon to meet promoter Gerard Homan, and his guest for the night – Little Willie Littlefield, two legends in their own time! Soon other guests arrived including reps. from Juke Blues and Blues & Rhythm, and very soon Willie was providing the data that you will be reading in the afore-mentioned magazines. One interesting comment from Willie however, was that he was inspired by a certain piano playing country singer; we assumed this to be Moon Mullican, but apparently not.
Volunteering our Mr. Shifter services to Gerard, we soon found ourselves at the famous Castor Village Hall setting up the table and chairs in the L shaped municipality. As the drinks and eats were delivered in, the sound guys were placing four mics around the wonderfully battered wooden piano set on a tiny corner stage about 12 inches from the floor. During his warm up Willie did “I Can’t Help It”, and dismissing the vocals, if you could not see the performer you could have been forgiven in thinking that the piano player was Jerry Lee Lewis! Afterwards I asked Willie if Jerry had inspired him (or maybe the other way around)? Willie said, a little tersely “I never said that” There was to be no other accompaniment that night apart from the joanna and Willie’s feet, so the positioning of the mics was critical. Shifter Services took advantage of pushing a table next to the stage whereupon Willie referred to us several times as “the journalists!” Soon the hall was full with standing room only, and I guess more than 80% were local villagers but probably well primed in advance by Gerard to what they were going to witness.
Willie, dressed smartly in a silver grey silk suit, opened up with “Every Day I Have The Blues” then “Sweet Home Chicago” by which time he had his right shoe off and placed on top of the piano and was pounding the floor with his foot as strongly as he was the piano. With his right hand hitting that top E then running the chords down the keyboard this was ivory heaven. Then “You Can Be Sad You Can Be Good”. Willie then paid homage to the boogie woogie greats with “a slow boogie” although his style is no way a typical ‘30s boogie woogie piano. “Slow Boogie !,” my posterior, it might have started slow but this was a frantic pounding performance that had us and the villagers screamin’.
Somewhere in all this he managed to get in “Pop Goes The Weasel,” “Well Alreet” and the “Wedding March”. And how about “Stormy Weather” for a slowie, can’t do much with that eh? Oh yes he can! With a very Charles Brown vocal Willie then did something I have never seen a piano-man do before, finish the piece by melodically plucking the strings above the ivories; have you ever plucked a piano?
I like Fat’s “Fat Man” and Willie got this perfect as an intro. for “Good Rockin’ Tonight” another belter. If jazz is your bag “Long Time Blues” with some Satchmo scat thrown in would have entertained you, however Willie was in a rockin’ mood and he finished that by breaking into yet another pounding boogie woogie piece. Was that enough? No way. Do you like Amos Milburn? “Chicken Shack Boogie” maybe, well come on out Amos Milburn, complete with mumbling this was the real thing, this was Amos. Crikey, if the audience was 50 years younger there would have been a riot.
Next was “It’s Over” from a CD to be released in June (was it?) then a wonderful oriental “Chinatown Boogie” complete with mock slanty eyes. I believe Mark Lamarr appreciates Chinese Rock’n’Roll, look out for this one Mr. DJ. The performance so far had been predominately rolling powerhouse left hand and thumping top note crescendo. Surely “Going Down Slow” will suggest a drop in pace? Yes, well briefly before Mr. Dixon’s classic went hell bent for leather. Then “I Love You Because” and a request from the “journalists” for “Happy Pay Day”. Then as soon as we heard the opening notes to “Summertime” there were squeals from the ladies, and Willie paid and played a wonderful vocal compliment to the voices of Charles Brown and Nat King Cole.
Willie’s claim to fame is his original recording of Leiber/Stoller’s “Kansas City,” and, picking his shoe up from the piano top, used it to run down the keyboard, roll over Freddy Fingers! Number 16 was the Charles Brown “Drifting Blues” classic, and it is really on the few slow songs that Willie’s voice comes to the fore, another beautiful tribute to Charles. Then the penultimate, probably only the 2nd or 3rd song that most of the hall would have recognised – “Blueberry Hill” and perhaps the weakest.
I believe I remember five songs in his encore, Willie did not want to leave the stage, nor did we, but Gerard smartly took over the limelight to announce Robert Penn, Lou Pride and Joey Gilmour as future artists to appear at the hall or Stamford Arts Centre. (Joey’s cancelled, replaced by Robert Belfour 15th December) Plus also female American Gospel singers Ethel Caffie- Austin and Delnora Roberts, who will be playing at a local Caster church on August 10th, can’t miss that.
Must also mention that Gerard advised us that it was only when he saw Willie stand up at the piano for the first time that he realised why he was called “Little Willie,” Willie nodded to acknowledge that it was not for any other reason! Gigs at the Stamford Arts Centre and Caster Village Hall are wonderful magnetic opposites, however the Hall for atmosphere is as close as you will get for something authentic “down home.” Select your gig, you may need B&B but don’t miss! Also don’t miss Little Willie Littlefield at November’s Rhythm Riot this time complete with the Riot’s rockin’ R’n’B band, beggars belief!
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