Kate Westbrook and The Granite Band
Granite – A SoliloquyKate Westbrook and The Granite Band(Kings Place Hall Two, 16 May 2019. Review by Richard Lee)
I’d given the Granite album a few listens and (because all the puns have already been done) was really taken by the sheer rockiness of it… I first saw Mike way back in the ’70s, with a quartet that eventually became Solid Gold Cadillac, and that model is back in production with The Granite Band. It really is like an old favourite coming back, with all the design delights (think Fiat 500) but with the built-in efficiency that comes with maturity. If anything, I was put in mind of those highly adept prog bands like Caravan, Henry Cow and Hatfield and the North.
I’m most taken with the theatricality of the Westbrook’s work: it’s almost always about something. If it’s not artists (Blake, Turner, Rossini) then it’s places or ways of life (Chicago, Catania, Uri). Here, in a work that sits with their best, the text celebrates Kate & Mike’s home patch, the ambience and wildlife of Dartmoor. Again I felt lucky to have familiarised myself with the album as I found quite a bit of the text deep in the sound-mix (which was instrumentally excellent). It might have been helpful to have the text in the programme. It’s a poetic painting, much in keeping with Kate’s powerful canvases, using blunt Hughes-ian adjectives like verbal impasto, and creating edgy surrealist rhymes (“…Fiscal Analysts will lose…burn out the Blues.”) Kate’s cabaret voice swoops and slinks with the poetry but also purrs and palpitates as she breaks words into constituent parts and fires them at us like percussive riffs. I was impressed with the lighting too which, after a shaky start on the spots, was sensitive to and evocative of both text and music.
As ever, Mike provides some great riffs for the band, as in Helpless, Helpless, and some recurring yearning themes, in Sun & Moon, My Barricade and Reckless, Reckless. His own blues-inflected solo moments, such as the wonderful Curlew Cry, are treasurable miniatures.
I’ve written before about the awesome Roz Harding and her contributions tonight only raise the praise index. Outside of the big band context of the Uncommon Orchestra she is aided and abetted by the guitars of Matthew North and Jessie Molins, the latter often play in unison with her. That seemed to me a new incarnation of Westbrook’s powerful reeds and brass front lines, with Jesse’s muscular fretting playing the tenor foil to Roz’s alto and soprano. The same could be said for Billie Bottle’s bass, not just a powerful underpinning but an equally important melodic voice in the band. The south-west supergroup is completed by Coach York’s powerhouse kit work. Like the whole evening, very hard, granular, crystalline, and totally rock solid…
The album finishes with a whistled, wistful coda, Irving Berlin’s Let’s Face The Music; tonight, after this terrifically rousing London premiere, the encore was appropriately upbeat and optimistic – I just wish I knew what the number was!
Kate Westbrook – voice, whistling
Mike Westbrook – piano/keyboards
Roz Harding – saxophone
Jesse Molins – guitar
Matthew North – guitar
Billie Bottle – electric bass
Coach York – drums