GA-20 (plus Big River) – live at Beaverwood Club, Chislehurst, 02 February 2024

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Review by Tim Marcus with photos from Sam Conquest Photography

Tonight we’re in the large marquee venue at Chislehurst’s Beaverwood Club. Whilst this is our first visit here of the year it’s a venue we’ve become very familiar with and one we visit on a regular basis. The main reason for our presence here this evening is to take in Boston-based blues revival band GA-20 however we’re delighted to have the added bonus of the show openers tonight being one of our favourite upcoming blues rock bands currently on the UK circuit, Medway-based, Big River.

A quick glance at the Big River setlists that have been conveniently placed on the stage ahead of time suggests that they’ve been given a 30-minute slot to warm up the crowd, which I have to say is as large as I’ve seen for a long time here at the Beaverwood Club. At 8:15 pm they take to the stage and kick things off with a rocky number in the shape of “Hometown Hustler” before moving on to a single release from a couple of years ago, “The Long Way”. Frontman and vocalist Adam Barron then reaches down for his instrument of choice, a ukulele, as the band give us the wonderful, “Don’t Hold Out”, now a regular on their setlist and a song that is far more “rock n roll” than you might imagine from a something that features a uke throughout. The further added bonus for the Big River fans in the room (and those appreciating them for the first time) is that it appears that they actually have ten minutes or so longer set than they first thought as an extra couple of songs are slotted seamlessly into the pre-planned running order.

The first of these two additional songs is a track from their debut album, and probably one of the “heavier” tracks they have, “Devil’s Whiskey” before they then slow the pace down with a beautiful cover of the modern blues classic, “Tennessee Whiskey” which allows Adam to demonstrate the versatility of his vocal. We’re then back to the pre-planned setlist with a new song, this one penned by drummer Joe Martin, “Why Should I?” The title track from their 2022 “Beautiful Trauma” EP release follows before they launch into what’s one of my favourite “sing-along” Big River tracks, “Dancing With The Devil”. They bring their forty-five minutes to a close with another new song, and their latest single, this one written by bass player Simon Gardiner, the beautifully soulful and melodic, “Wings”. A great way to warm the crowd up. Job done and we’re now ready for the main event.

After a short break, GA-20 inconspicuously make their way onto the stage. The band which was first got together by guitarist Matt Stubbs was founded back in 2018. Matt had previously played for a number of years with modern blues legend, Charlie Musselwhite however when it was time for Matt to go it alone he recruited guitarist Pat Faherty to form a Chicago Blues band. Drummer Tim Carman was also brought into the fold and GA-20 was formed.

The first thing that I notice as this trio takes to the stage is that there is no bass guitar. Maybe a bass guitar is not required for this type of music, I don’t know. By “this type of music” I’m referring to Revival Blues, “where traditional blues, country and rock n roll intersect”, or that’s how the band’s own website describes it anyway. But believe me, once you hear GA-20 perform you’ll realise that it’s all of that and so much more. And for the record, I don’t think I or any of the packed crowd at the Beaverwood tonight are missing there is a bass guitar as what “low” notes are required seem to be being dealt with perfectly adequately by Matt on the top strings of his guitar and Tim with his bass drum (or I imagine as he refers to it, his kick drum).

For anyone who isn’t clear on what Revival Blues is about they’re soon enlightened as this Boston trio launches into their set which is hi tempo right from the start. The length of the setlist which the band have in front of them, which is just short of twenty songs, suggests that it’s going to be a very long evening but it’s not. Most of the tracks we hear from them tonight are fairly short and hit you straight between the eyes from the off. Yes, they’re blues and yes you can hear the influences of country in there too, particularly with Pat’s great frequent use of a slide on his guitar and there are certainly some heavier rock riffs coming through too. Not only heavier rock riffs but also some much older rock riffs that seem to have the sound of late 50s/early 60s rock n roll at their core. But as I alluded to earlier, there’s so much more. Pat has a great voice for singing the blues however he also has a tremendously soulful vocal as well and that’s most definitely coming across too, not just in his vocals but the music that accompanies it.

Amongst the many tracks we hear from GA-20 tonight is one called “Double Gettin’”. This one stood out for me amongst other reasons because for the entirety of the song, drummer Tim Carman, plays with a drum stick in his left hand and a maraca in his right and whilst the maraca was mainly shaken, he also used it from time to time to strike his symbols. At this point, it’s worth mentioning what a good drummer Tim is and he’s proving the old adage that size doesn’t matter. He’s playing tonight with what I might describe rather ungenerously as a minimalist kit; the type of drum kit I had as a teenager when I was sitting in my bedroom playing along to my albums imagining myself as the next Cozy Powell or Ian Paice! Aside from the snare, bass and hi-hat which are a given, the only additional equipment at Tim’s disposal was a small tom-tom, a floor-standing tom and two cymbals. Give that to most drummers today and they’d think that half of their kit had been left in the van! What an excellent player he is!

Following that we then hear a track, which again shows off Pat’s wonderful use of the slide, the amusingly titled “Dry Run” which he tells us was written about a girl he thought was really into him however it turned out that she was practising her flirting! Matt and Tim then temporarily leave the stage as Pat gives us a solo performance of RL Burnside’s “Come On In” before Matt and Tim return and they launch straight into another upbeat fast tempo track, “Lonely Soul”.

The remainder of the set flies by as we’re all mesmerised by the playing of this trio with the highlight of the middle to latter part of the set for me being “Fairweather Friend”, the opening track from their most recent studio album “Crackdown”. Perhaps the visual highlight of the show however comes towards the end of their performance. As has been the case on a number of songs this evening, Pat breaks into a solo whilst Matt maintains the structure of the tune, holding everything together however on this occasion the solo is a slightly extended one which sees Pat take advantage of the wireless technology and leave the stage to start a walk around in amongst the packed crowd. Having moved off in the direction of the exit and then circled back around across the centre of the room, I expected him to then return to the stage, but no. Pat continues his walk to the far end of the room and much to the surprise of those at the bar refilling their drinks at the time, he leaps up onto the bar and continues to play while walking the length of it, and back again, and only then, finally returning to rejoin his colleagues up on the stage.

It’s been a great and thoroughly enjoyable evening from start to finish but sadly it’s come to an end. We knew what to expect with Big River and they did not fail to deliver and meet our expectations. With GA-20 on the other hand we felt a different type of excitable anticipation; one of not knowing what to expect however tonight I think there can be no doubt whatsoever that they acquired a whole bunch of new fans and admirers (us included) with their refreshing take on the blues. And if you needed any evidence of that then you only needed to look at the length of the queue at their merch table at the end of their evening.

GA-20 were a brand new band to me but I am, as a result of this evening, totally hooked. They have that rare ability to deliver traditional music in a way that makes it sound new and fresh and are one of a handful of bands I’ve seen over the past couple of years (The Cinelli Brothers and Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse are two others that spring to mind) that stand out from the crowd as they are not afraid to be just that little bit different from everyone else. If you get the chance to see GA-20 then you really should; they’re an experience you won’t regret.

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