The Thomas Tripp, Lymington

Rufus Black

I have seen one of the best cover bands I have cast my eyes on in a very long time, not once but twice over this Christmas period. I didn’t even go with the intention of writing a review, but was compelled by the musicianship on display, to put pen to paper and let everyone know there is a band in our midst that everyone should go out of their way to see. Most of us that have any interest in the local music scene, know about the achievements of our own local “axe god” Scott Mckeon, from precocious child prodigy to supporting Joe Bonamassa at the Royal Albert Hall and appearing at the Hollywood Bowl and O2 in London with Tom Jones and Van Morrison, he’s on an upward trajectory that has seen him mixing with rock royalty, but now he has another outlet in which to air his guitar heroics, Rufus Black. The band are made up of five exceptional talents, starting with Scott on his trademark, well-worn 1962 Stratocaster, Gavin Condor a singer with enough grit in his voice to conjure up memories of Paul Rogers and Joe Cocker, Ben Jones, a guitarist who is no slouch and can trade licks with the best of them when called upon and the tightest rhythm section you’re likely see around these parts, in bassist Leighton Allen and drummer Russ Parker. On Tuesday night at the Tripp in Lymington there was the added bonus of Steve Smith on keyboards, taking a break from his “Room With a View” studios, Paul Stacey (best known for his work with the Black Crowes and Oasis) guesting on guitar, his twin brother Jeremy (drummer with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and the latest line-up of Robert Fripp’s King Crimson) sitting in on two numbers and for one song, John Illsley original bassist with Dire Straits. With that amount of talent in the room it was destined to be a night to remember.

Rufus Black

The band kicked off proceedings at around 9.45, by which time the place was well and truly rammed with expectant punters, some of whom I recognised from the bands previous gig at the Tripp in Christchurch the week before. They opened with same two numbers, The Isley Brothers “It’s Your Thing” and one that I’m not familiar with, but whatever the song was, it did the trick and warmed up the crowd nicely before one of the nights highlights, Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” which presented Scott with an opportunity to stretch out. I can’t quite remember the exact running order from then on, but great versions of Ray La Montagne’s “Repo Man”, The Meters “Just Kissed my Baby” and Paul Weller’s “Changing Man” kept up the tempo, and at some point early on, Paul Stacey swelled the ranks of guitar pickers to a trio on Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to Me”, which granted all three a platform to show off their collective licks and tricks. The first half drew to an intense climax with a stonking “Cold Sweat” on the back of an incendiary McKeon solo, I’m sure James Brown was dancing in his grave.

Jeremy Stacey took over the drum stool for the first couple of songs of the second set, Free’s “Mr Big” and a moody “Jealous Guy”. “Mr Big” has always been a favourite of mine and this was a powerhouse performance, with Jeremy laying into the drums in true Simon Kirke style. From then on it was one great song after the other, Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”, another dip into the Free catalogue with “Fire and Water” and John Illsley taking over the bass and microphone to perform a spirited “Money for Nothing”, in my book Dire Straits best song along with “Sultans of Swing”. To close Gavin tortured his tonsils on a dramatic version of Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from My Friends”, a bravura performance and a fitting end to a brilliant gig. For an encore Scott invited a couple of friends up for a rousing finale of “All Right Now”.

Rufus Black

I’m assuming Rufus Black is Scott’s baby by the way the rest of the band watch him closely for cues, and if it is he’s onto a sure-fire winner. His muse these days is veering towards funk and although his playing is still grounded in the blues, the grooves that this band lay down and the wide variety of material they draw their inspiration from makes for a familiar sound, but one with a twist that makes it their own. If you only see one band in 2017, make sure it’s Rufus Black, you won’t be disappointed.

A selective incomplete setlist…
It’s Your Thing
Repo Man
Changing Man
Bring it On Home to Me
Take Me to the River
Just Kissed My Baby
Cold Sweat
Mr Big
Jealous Guy
Fire and Water
Sunshine of Your Love
Money for Nothing
With a Little Help from My Friends
All Right Now

Words by John Cherry.