The Coal Porters / The Henry Brothers / Dan Raza

Half Moon, Herne Hill, London on Friday 5 December 2008

Dan Raza was a last minute replacement for Trevor Moss and Hannah Lou who had to pull out due to illness; and a fine replacement he was too. A London based singer/songwriter playing guitar and harmonica, Raza has a voice reminiscent of John Prine especially apparent on the wonderful "Bad Luck". Wearing a high crown hat and a billowing white shirt he looked like the Witchfinder General after just finishing work: apt considering the next act.

"We are going to start off with an old Appalacian folk tune before we get into the carnage". Norwich's The Henry Brothers give ample warning that the majority of their set is going to be about death and generally violent death at that. Brother Mark on a steel resonator guitar and Brother Graham on upright bass harmonize on "Knoxville Girl", "Down In The Willow Garden" and "Banks Of The Ohio", always with a smile, and often with a grin on their faces. The playing and singing of the Henry Brothers is quite wonderful and by the end of their set I counted seven bodies: including beatings, drownings, stabbings, and poisonings as well as a couple of "unknowns" plus a murder-suicide in their last song "a little glass of wine".

Any murderous tendencies anyone may have had were tempered by the warning that these were all "cautionary tales". If you like sweet songs about nice, fluffy things avoid these boys like the plague but, if you like a good killing, look no further.

"Come forward, come forward, everybody come forward" chanted The Coal Porters before kicking into "Fair Play, Virgina". Tables and chairs were dragged (or pushed) and the crowd moved closer to the stage. Led by the writer, broadcaster, journalist, singer, songwriter, producer and mandolin player, Sid Griffin The Coal Porters play their bluegrass with an edge. Guitarist Neil Robert Herd alternates with Griffin on lead vocals, banjo picker Dick Smith and fiddler player Hanah Loftus provide backing vocals when needed, Paul Sandy on doghouse bass completes the line-up.

On the songs "Final Wild Son" (Jerry Lee Lewis) and "Mr Guthrie" (Woody Guthrie) we are taken to the beginnings of rock and roll and then further back to the great depression. This was the second Coal Porters gig of the day and GriffinÂ’s vocal chords are in need of some help and he calls for (and receives) whisky and hot water. Smith shines on "The Sound of Life", the cover of Gene Clarks's "Silver Raven" is sublime and the set closes with a raucous version Guy Clarks' "New Cut Road" (with Herd singing the part of Ma Bonner worryingly well).

They return for a two song encore; firstly "a traditional sing-along number from Ireland" - The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks". If there were ever a song to get people to sing to, this was it. The last song of the night was worth the admission fee on its own. The Faces' "Ooh, La La" was played with no amplification at all. They all climbed off the stage, stood in with the audience or, in GriffinÂ’s case, stood on a table and played "the way your grandparents, or great grandparents at your age, heard music". This was perfect, absolutely perfect.

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article by: John Hawes

published: 08/12/2008 10:44

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