Arts events in Fulbourn Cambridgeshire
by Alex Weinle
Not an empty seat in the house – or even a spare standing slot at the bar – as Brooks Williams and Dave Olney saunter to the front, all grins and good humour. Brooks has a striking similarity to a slightly shorter James Taylor and Dave, he of the 14ft tall double bass sculpture fame, plays straight man to Brooks’ quick getting-to-know-you with the audience. Yes he wasn’t born around here – as the round caramel sounds of his American accent tell – but he definitely lives here now, ‘next-village-turn-left’.
As a musical illustration of the story, they open with Statesboro Blues, a song about Brooks’ home town and made famous by the Allman Brothers who had picked it up from Blind Willie McTell – doesn’t it seem you can’t do anything in blues without having weather or a disability in your name? Check out Willie’s as-known-as section if you don’t believe me. It’s also a bonfire of a start-up song. Like a syncopated steam train it rides around and around the room forcing feet to tap, heads to bob and eventually hands to clap. It feels like an unspoken credentials-check has been passed between the guys with the instruments and the people in the seats.
I make notes from the back of the room, a strategy that allows me to see the crowd as well as the players and is in no way related to the proximity of the bar. The first set whips along: with Dave and Brooks sandwiching a lashing of sardonic wit in between the songs. Olney steps in for some wonderful bass solos and Brooke shows that he didn’t only get Statesboro from McTell, he’s a mean hand with the slide too, cutting back and forth with it in Weeping Willow Blues and giving it the big guns in Amazing Grace with the National Estralita. That rendition of Grace puts the crowd into a state of excited suspension as the duo take a break. If the credential check was passed in the first song – Brooks now has permission to remain indefinitely. And Olney? Well he’s shown that he’s not just the wise-cracking rhythm backing to The Famous Four Plus One and a host of other enterprises: if they didn’t already know it the crowd has seen that you can do more than just drive a beat with a bass in the hands of a master.
The second half is a journey up through blues and its influences. Sometimes we are in the states with Duke Ellington and Son House, sometimes jumping across the pond to London with the Kinks and Waterloo Sunset. These tracks revolve around about consolation, empathy and the hard things folk, pronounced fohwk like a proper Georgian, have to deal with: as in Don’t You Mind People Grinnin’ or I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good. It may not be a conscious choice by the musicians. Brooks would probably just say that it was the kind of music he’s liked since his days in Statesboro, listening to Willie Nelson play standards like Stardust and any other record his father might disapprove of.
They finish up with the classic You Don’t Know Me by Ray Charles. That’s odd because the crowd didn’t just seem to like the music but also the men they’ve gotten to know so well. There’s certainly plenty of applause. Perhaps the pun is even more subtle though – because after the show the émigré and the Zen master of the bass tell me that they have only played together once before and only met a short while ago. I retreat to the inner sanctum of the Six Bells with my bruised preconceptions and a lively discussion on whether Frank Sinatra is really jazz with Linda.
Around 3pm the next afternoon I realise I am still humming Amazing Grace.
(P.S. If you put Brooks Williams into Jango.com (the online guided radio service) you can hear some wonderful music. If you type ‘people like Dave Olney’ into Google you just get a picture of Jesus.)