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  • Miles Hedley

SAINTS & SINNERS at Mycenae House

Music from the Cross to the crossroads, promised guitarist Ben Tyzack as Saints & Sinners took to the stage at Mycenae House. And he wasn’t kidding – what followed were 21 great songs that swung seamlessly and brilliantly between gospel and blues.

The band is a merger of longstanding and much-loved outfits Fran McGillivray/Mike Burke and Spikedrivers’ trio Tyzack, Constance Redgrave and Maurice McElroy. And the array of instruments they play between them – guitars, banjo, bass, harmonica, flute, drums, washboard and other assorted percussion – makes for a sensational sound.

The five of them set the mood at the outset, opening with their stonking version of the traditional Keep Your Hand On The Plow which featured a dazzling guitar duel between Burke and Tyzack against the driving rhythms of McGillivray’s bass and McElroy’s drums and a ringing throb created by Redgrave using only a triangle. It was magnificent.

And the artistry never waned. The century-old hymn Jesus Is Getting Us Ready For That Great Day started Staples Singers-style before evolving into 1970s’ funk, Up Above My Head centred on a delicate Burke solo and I Got My Mojo Working would have had Muddy Waters marvelling at Tyzack’s slide-playing.

St James Infirmary Blues may have its roots in old Bristol but Saints & Sinners reinterpreted as a laidback anthem that would not have been out of place in Haight-Ashbury circa 1965. By contrast, the next song was a moving spiritual in memory of the legendary abolitionist and former slave Harriet Tubman.

No blues artist is more iconic than Robert Johnson and the band gave us three contrasting songs credited to him. The seductive Come On In My Kitchen featured a terrific bass duet by McGillivray and Redgrave, Red Hot showed Johnson was capable of being joyful as well as gloomy and Crossroads – well, it’s where it all started and stands alone in the blues canon.

The first half of the gig ended with a fabulous rendition of Jesus On The Mainline which for me was up there with Ry Cooder’s Paradise And Lunch recording.

The second set continued where the first had left off, with great versions of Train Done Gone, Down To The River To Pray, I’ll Fly Away and Stuff Smith’s glorious 1930s song about substance abuse, If You’se A Viper.

Most bands might have been happy to close with such a showstopper – but not this one. They launched straight into storming versions of Born Under A Bad Sign and Johnny Winter’s The Mojo Boogie before switching gear once again with a stunning take on the spiritual Wade In The Water which in turn segued into pulsating renditions of Take Me To The River and They Call Me The Voodoo Woman.

By contrast, the final song before the encore was a lovely, deeply emotional gospel version of the 1907 hymn Will The Circle Be Unbroken.

This was yet another great gig put on by Sonic Promotions. Their next Mycenae House offering, on 26 November, is an unmissable evening with acoustic guitarist master Tristan Seume.


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