Wednesday, March 23
Billed as The USA – UK Connection (featuring The Rodger Fox Big Band) we essentially had 2-for-1, a double-bill that started with The UK’s Roy Phillips. He’s been living in New Zealand since the early 1980s but in the 1960s Phillips was the voice and keyboardist for British jazz-pop band, The Peddlers. Before that he played guitar in The Saints and since living in New Zealand he has continued to perform and record, recontextualising his Peddlers hits as well as creating new material.
Phillips started the show on his own, the Fox Band’s rhythm section joining in before the horns adding their particular brand of pep.
Phillips’s voice is so soothing to hear, so easy on the ear, it finds a middle ground between Michael McDonald and Ray Charles, it rests, most often, somewhere near the great sound of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ David Clayton-Thomas. And as Phillips served up nostalgia via his versions of The Monkees’ Last Train to Clarksville and Georgia on My Mind as well as self-penned Peddlers hits, including One Clear Day (given a new lease of life via inclusion in the TV series, Breaking Bad) the band played spritely and spirited renditions, a slow-funk soul groove simmering beneath.
It was the perfect first set, a way to warm into the evening – as well as to celebrate Phillips’ proud contribution to The Peddlers.
Set two featured the American component, blues guitarist Chris Cain. And though Cain hasn’t taken up full-time residence in New Zealand he has, over the last decade, been a frequent visitor.
Last year he recorded the album King of the Blues with the Fox Big Band. So his set was drawn largely from those recordings. The band in fine form as Cain’s warm vocals and show-stealing guitar solos drew everyone in. Between songs Cain was seen, often, kissing and caressing his guitar, the love he feels for the instrument pours out in his playing. Never more so than when channelling his all-time hero, B.B. King. His version of So Excited an early highlight.
But Cain’s own tunes are strong too, set opener Helping Hand had the audience instantly on his side.
A wonderful concert from two great voices and a strong supporting band. Great value.