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"Trafficker’s blues/rock blitzkrieg"
Penrith Live Blues – Saturday 17th May 2003
After Trafficker had finished their storming set at the Playhouse on Saturday 17th May, mercurial drummer Sam Kelly, the oldest member of the band by more years than he would care to remember, stepped up to the mike to deliver judgement on his youthful fellow musicians. He said, "The future of British Blues must be healthy if it is in such good young hands." Such an unprecedented public endorsement from a fellow band member must have pleased "the young lads", and it certainly rang true with the Live Blues crowd, who were on the ropes, but still standing, after a knockout evening.
On a cold and wet May night, the audience were warmed, not only by the scorching intensity of Trafficker’s blues/rock blitzkrieg, but also by the genuine rapport that the band built up over the course of the evening. Swaying with involuntary movement like the football terraces of old, the Live Blues crowd contributed, as always, to the "feel good vibe" that makes this venue a special place for bands. Forewarned by pre-gig literature to expect a prize winning drummer, and the best young blues guitarist in the country, the crowd were relatively unprepared for the mighty musical contributions of bass player Grant (Cheeky) Tunbridge and 20 year old keyboardist Paul Jopson.
Kicking off with an easy rolling "Down the road I go", guitarist and leader Tommy Allen, soon demonstrated his consummate guitar skills. The band then crossed into Doors territory, as Jopson sampled tinkling "Riders on the Storm" style electric piano, before cataclysmic blues riffs kicked in to disturb the Playhouse mortar. On subsequent numbers, old timers recalled Free and Wishbone Ash, and nodded their heads sagely. Highlights of the first set included "Texas Love", with a wild neo-primitive guitar solo, followed by a soulful strut, Crusaders style, through a blues ballad. They then launched into a standard blues shuffle which was lifted out of the ordinary by some tremendous snare drum playing. Hit four-square on the backbeat, the rim-shot crack drove the band mightily forward. The break loomed large, the grateful audience, warmed up and running well, edged towards the bar as if to a feeding station at a marathon, but not before Tommy’s battered Fender Sunburst conjured up the tones of Hendrix and the style of Carlos Santana in the band’s pre-interval number.
Trafficker’s second set started with "48 hours", an after-hours, smoky, jazz-inflected blues that Tony Bennett could have tackled without batting an eyelid. A couple of songs further into the set, and things couldn’t have been more different. "Black Cat Bone" was a prime slice of New Orleans funk, while the band’s next work out, a slow-burning Chicago style blues, brought the house down. Here Tommy interspersed reflective guitar explorations, with towering passages, Clapton-like in their spiralling swathes of string-bending blue notes. Fingers flying to the top register of his fret-board, he wrung every last drop of emotion from his guitar, as he was driven onwards by his band’s inspired playing. A towering performance and the audience responded appropriately, roaring their approval for the raw, emotional music to which they had just been witness. How do you follow that? Well you don’t, but the "shout and response" good times blues of "Listen to me baby", which constituted the band’s first encore, was engaging. Their second encore, a loping boogie, "The Blues is alright", featured an amazing woozy off-kilter keyboard solo where Rick Wakeman and Stan Tracey met for a brief musical affair. The audience bayed for more, the drummer said his piece, and Tommy, somewhat misguidedly, gave everyone two extra solo songs that would have best been left to an intimate circle of friends. Nevertheless, a tremendous set from a wonderful young band, driven along by the timeless drumming of a jazz and blues master.