Review: Warren James and his Skiffle Sessions Band – The Lowry, Salford
By Clive K Hammond
SalfordOnline.com rating: 4 out of 5
Kicking off his skiffle revival crusade on Sunday 26 Janurary, Warren James guided the Lowry audience through an engaging masterclass as he performed a string of contagious folk-driven numbers.
Originally born in Warrington, Warren grew up on a diet of crackling Lonnie Johnson records which his grandparents used to play him and as opposed to pretending to play the air guitar to Guns’n’Roses tracks like his class mates, he began playing the banjo.
And since his debut show on BBC Merseyside in 1994 it is a love affair which continues blossom.
Sparsely lit and the compact audience settled, Warren and his Skiffle Sessions Band picked up the battered instruments which scattered the stage and dived straight into a number of fast-paced pieces.
Backed by Tom Wright on lead guitar and Stevie Barr on double bass, the trio moved quickly in time whilst performing traditional American classics such as Buffalo Gals and John Henry with Tom’s quick fire acoustic melodies blending perfectly with Stevie’s playful bass lines and Warren’s unique vocal tones.
With Stevie’s jet black hair slicked back and his fingers plucking on his black double bass, the ensemble fittingly looked like they had just finished a stint performing in a Johnny Cash tribute band.
Warren’s ability to dynamically shift the atmosphere of the room was impeccable as he would waltz between upbeat acoustic numbers and sombre, heart wrenching ballads before regaling well planned anecdotes on the icons his grandparents brought him up on.
From skiffle king Lonnie Donegan to influential American blues artist Leadbelly, Warren’s clear passion for the often-maligned genre was as endearing as it was infectious and the audience’s knowledge of the movement was broader for it.
Although the group consisted of clearly talented musicians, the trio’s greatest strength lied within their capacity to deftly layer the music they were displaying.
Through reimagined covers of pieces like the Carter Family’s Keep on the Sunny Side, the group would stab their instruments simultaneously, giving Warren the perfect backdrop to powerfully pour the lyrics out on.
And with each song allowing Tom at least 16 bars to strikingly cut through a perfect solo, the easy-going nature of the genre filtered out to the audience who would regularly sing at Warren’s demand.
As the opening section of the performance consisted mainly of the roots of skiffle, the second centred itself around the more well-known numbers that cemented the genre’s influential status.
Stamping on the pedal of the sole bass drum, Warren began the final half with a grooving rendition of Lead Belly’s universal classic Black Betty.
This was followed by another Belly classic Cotton Fields and by this point the audience were visibly moving and shaking in their seats.
To be able to flood the music which was initially conceived by American slaves over 100 years ago with so much joy and genuine excitement is a testament to Warren and his companions.
Perhaps the commercial machine that dictates the broad musical tastes of the public isn’t ready for a fresh bout of skiffle music.
However, for people such as Warren who have sincere emotional ties to a genre that has been so influential in the development of popular music, perhaps it is better it stays that way.
And with Warren nestled at the front of the skiffle revival, it has to be said the movement is in safe hands.