Stand Together Against Cancer – Benefit Concert for Matt Long at Thameside Brewery Staines, 19 May 2024

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Review by Tim Marcus with photos by Sam Conquest Photography

We’ve just returned from a wonderful day (and evening) at The Thameside Brewery in Staines, on the banks of the River Thames. We’ve been here to enjoy what I believe was the second in a series of shows being put on this month, and next, to help raise funds for Catfish vocalist and guitarist Matt Long, who as most people know by now, is battling a rare and severe form of bowel cancer. With all avenues of generally available traditional treatments in the U.K. now exhausted, Matt and his family have had to look across the pond at a form of treatment which looks at the specific make up of the cancerous cells so that a specific combination of drugs can be put together to try and combat them. Obviously this comes at vast expense with no specific timescale attached and therefore Matt requires all the help that people are able to give in this battle, which as he acknowledges, still gives no guarantee of recovery. However Matt has adopted a very philosophical and positive approach to this and is keen to explore any avenue that gives him hope of beating this thing.

It was without doubt an emotional roller coaster of a day, with many highs and also its fair share of poignant moments and tears. However to start things off on a positive, we were here for around nine hours of live music (give or take the odd stage turnaround) and we were in a brewery where the ale was brewed no more than 20 yards away from where it was served or from where we were sat to enjoy the show. The venue was new to us. The Brewery itself is well established however following the expiry of their previous lease, has only been on the current site for around 16 months. It’s a wonderful open, 150 capacity space, with brewery, bar, and music venue all very comfortably housed in the same room. As if just to emphasise the reason we were here though, within five minutes of arriving just after midday, we heard the news that unfortunately Matt himself wasn’t able to attend the day as he had hoped as he’d been taken into A&E at 6:00am that morning following a bad reaction to his latest round of treatment.

The show must go on however and after a brief intro by mine host from the brewery, Paul Long (Matt’s Dad) took to the stage to tell us how they hoped the day was going to pan out; a mixture of wonderful artists performing with some interesting collaborations along the way, to be compered throughout the day by the delightful Elles Bailey.

First up was an artist who until this year we hadn’t come across before however have now seen him perform twice in the last three months and that was Thomas Heppell. Thomas gives us a solo acoustic performance. It was a short set in which towards the end he was joined on stage by Elles Bailey for a wonderful rendition of the Bonnie Raitt song, “Love me Like a Man”.

One of the things I love about festivals and multi artist events like this is that you always get the opportunity to hear artists you’ve not seen before and end up coming away with a list of acts new to you that you want to see again. Today was no exception to that and next up was the first of several to fall into that category, the Martin Abrahams Band. As I understood from what Martin said when he was on stage, he’d been a little musically inactive in recent years however is now “back on the horse” with this band, a great power trio, hammering out half an hour of powerful blues rock, which to my ear at least, at times had the sound (perhaps it was Martin’s vocal) of the more bluesy side of The Doors. And being the sort of day it was, before they left the stage they were joined for their final number by both Elles Bailey and Paul Long.

Next up was another artist I’d not come across before and by the end of his set was wondering why. Alex Voysey and his band; a singer and great blues guitarist, very much in the style of Joe Bonamassa. Kicking things off with an almost Quo sounding riff, the set swiftly moved into something a lot more hard driving with Alex’s superb playing complimented by some great bass lines and wonderful keyboard sounds coming from the electric Hammond

The pace is taken down a notch or two with the next set which is performed by the wonderfully talented Demi Marriner. Over the past couple of years, Demi has probably been best known as being a backing singer and acoustic guitarist for Elles Bailey however Demi is a wonderful artist in her own right, singing and writing her own material which has recently led to the release of her first solo album as well as a solo tour and some dates supporting Dom Martin.

Demi was then followed on stage by an artist who although I’m familiar with (possibly through the some of the live streams he put out and was involved in during lockdown), had not seen performing live before and that was Mike Ross who gave us a great set of rocking blues and featuring his great trademark playing of the slide guitar.

True Strays followed next onto the stage, performing tonight as a duo (steel guitar and upright double bass) with Joe James and James Cameron providing us with some great harmonic vocals during a set of what has been described as rock n roll delta blues. Nice to see a double bass on stage too, not just being plucked, but on occasion played with a strumming motion you might expect to see on a guitar! The set included some more collaboration as Demi Marriner joined the duo midway through their set for a song and was then invited back on at the end along with guitarist Joe Wilkins to complete the band’s performance.

Before the next set, Paul Long returned to the stage to introduce a series of video messages from other singers and performers in support of Matt. As Paul explained however, they were unable to get the projector to work so what we ended up listening to (and probably more intently so given the lack of video) were the audio tracks from the videos submitted by Hollie Rogers, Dom Martin, Christone Kingfish Ingram, Walter Trout and Joe Bonamassa. It was to say the least a moving five minutes or so with many lumps in throats and watery eyes in the room, not only amongst the audience but the artists as well.

With the messages done it was time for Elles Bailey to take to the stage to perform herself and she was joined by two of her regular partners in crime, guitarist and longstanding songwriting collaborator Joe Wilkins and of course Demi Marriner. It was a short set from this threesome, comprising mainly songs from Elles’s last two albums, but also featured a song which Elles told us she’d written some time ago and was yet to make it to an album, “Walk on Water” and a new song “Truth Ain’t Gonna Save Us”.

Next up was another band I’d not seen or heard before, the Greg Coulson Band who entertained us with a an eclectic blues based set ranging from easy listening piano bar blues to upbeat soulful blues to jazz infused blues: it was a joy to listen to. Joining keyboard virtuoso Greg today, were his regular guitarist Mat Day, and standing in on drums and bass respectively, for what was going to be their first of five consecutive sets and a long night ahead for both of them, Kev Hickman and Adam Pyke.

Before Catfish took to the stage it was time for some more intent listening as Paul Long informed us that he had Matt on the phone who wanted to say a few words “live from his hospital bed”. I think the overriding emotion in the room at this time was one of relief as it appeared that if he was on the phone ready to talk, then Matt was “ok” and as well as might reasonably be expected under the circumstances and his early morning dash to A&E. With some technical support from Elles (“you need to put it on speaker”!) Paul was able to hold his phone up to his mic so that Matt could be heard. He was clearly tired and emotional however wasn’t going to miss out on the opportunity to thank everyone for the overwhelming support they’d given to him and his family, both financially and by putting on and supporting events such as the one we were at today, since the revelation of his prognosis and the launch by his parents, Fiona and Paul, of the GoFundMe campaign. He told us that initially he was anticipating it may raise a few hundred pounds. As I write this piece today, the campaign has raised just short of £82,000; a magnificent achievement and just a small indicator of the huge amount of respect and love out there amongst friends, family and the wider music community, for Matt Long.

Catfish were next to take to the stage, or as Paul referred to them given tonight’s line up Catfishish. With the talented Alex Voysey standing in for Matt on guitar, and Kev Hickman returning on drums (and

of course Adam Pyke on bass) we got a slightly different from normal Catfish set, with Paul fulfilling all of the vocal duties as we heard “Never Go Back”, “Ghosts”, “Big Picture”, “Don’t Turn Around” and “Broken Halo”.

Alice Armstrong was next and playing alongside her she had Kev Hickman, now the regular drummer in her band, Adam Pyke on bass (who’s been standing in recently while Josh Riegel has been attending to new parent duties) and playing guitar tonight, Mike Ross making his second appearance of the day. Alice is a powerful and talented vocalist who for me comes across as Maria Callas, Janice Joplin and Aretha Franklin all rolled into one. Amongst the songs she played for us tonight were “Your Guess”, “Life I Chose” her last single, playlisted by Cerys Matthews on BBC Radio 2, a song she tells us is the next single, “Crystals and Pearls” and “Upbeat Baby”. She was then joined on stage by Jess Hayes (Jess Hayes Band and Connolly Hayes) for a great cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” before she concluded her set with a song that was her very first single, and co-written with Matt Long, “Speed Dial”.

Before the night’s headline act, if that’s the right word for it at an event such as this, we were treated to a short unscheduled additional song, as Elles introduced onto the stage, Bad Influence singer and guitarist Val Cowell. Val was joined by her daughter Jess Hayes, Mike Ross, and for their fourth appearance of the night, Kev Hickman and Adam Pyke, as Val belted out a powerful version of “Standing on Shaky Ground”.

After that short burst from Val Cowell it was time for the final act of the day’s event to take to the stage, multi award winning blues guitarist Laurence Jones. He didn’t have his band with him tonight so instead played as a power trio with you guessed it; Kev Hickman on drums and Adam Pyke on bass. Amongst the songs that this amicable young guitar shredding maestro played for us were “Before You Accuse Me”, “Thunder in the Sky” (the first song he ever wrote) and his wonderful regular set closer and tribute to his guitar hero, “Voodoo Chile”. Paul Long was then invited up to join them for their final song, bringing his trademark keyboard sounds to the mix.

After the briefest of preparation and change around, Laurence, Paul, Kev and Adam were then joined on the stage by Thomas Heppell, Alex Voysey, Martin Abrahams, Mat Day and Jess Hayes for a finale jam to bring the curtain down on what had been a wonderful day. In fact a wonderful day, put on, performed and supported by wonderful people, at a wonderful venue and all in a wonderful cause. To donate to Matt Long’s fundraiser, should you wish to, please open the link below. There are also three further events like this planned as follows:

1st June at The Bear Club in Luton

28th June at The Forum Music Studios in Darlington

30th June at The Stables in Milton Keynes

I’m not sure what the position is with regards to ticket availability for any of these remaining events however if you are interested in attending would suggest that you contact the venues direct.

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