Not being familiar with Read Southall Band before this show, I read the bio on their website. A line caught my eye. “This started as kind of a solo venture, but once I released some music, it really opened my eyes on what could really be done,” reasons Read himself. Watching them here you can only marvel at their potential. No image to speak of, is to their credit, given that indicates a band that only wants to let the music speak for them, but this collection of friends has some chemistry, that’s for sure. New song “Scared Money” is a pointer to the fact they are getting better too, but the slower “Why?” with its country flavour and its piano is indicative of what they do in more ways than one, expertly played, relaxed rock n roll, but Braxton Curliss on keys, used to be the bands merch -guy. “Runnin’” has some mighty guitar work from Ryan Wellman, as does “Beautiful Eyes”. “High-speed Freak” does the dustbowl Americana thing as well as anyone does it, and again the organ is to the fore. As if to underline how much of a band this is, “Damn” features lengthy introductions, and “DLTGYD” is a message of hope to end with. A band with clear talent, The Read Southall Band have demonstrated in this 45 minutes that there is much to come as well.
“We’ve been Blackberry Smoke for 22 years, can you believe that?” Charlie Starr asks the packed crowd before Georgia’s finest play “Ain’t Gonna Wait” about halfway through this two hour set. Time flies, when you’re having fun so the saying goes and Blackberry Smoke look like they’re having the time of their lives every time they hit the stage.
A band with no gimmicks, no tricks, just a shedload of brilliant songs, they are also one of the few to change their set every night, as if they play whatever suits them at the particular time. Tonight, in Birmingham – a city that has been good to them in the decade or so they’ve been coming – they begin with “Leave A Scar”, one of a clutch they play from their breakthrough “The Whippoorwill” record.
They go back even further for the next, the lovely “Got A Good One Coming On” and its not until 20 minutes in that anything from their most recent “You Hear Georgia” album, released in 2021, they’ve not been across since it saw the light. Both its title cut and “Live It Down” are welcome additions, too.
“Pretty Little Lie” is an old favourite (“for the ladies” reckons Starr. The song is about an affair, but we’ll move on) but they turn “Hey Delilah” into the first singalong of the night and “Sleeping Dogs” into the first jam, taking in a little Tom Petty along the way.
They sound so content, and never do they appear more so than on “Everybody Knows She’s Mine”, and even on their heavier ones like the brilliant “Waiting For The Thunder”, they underline the communal nature by instigating a singalong. “What Comes Naturally” dials up the lust, it had been featured on the megahit “Yellowstone” or “sexy Bonanza” as Starr refers to it, and after doing “Livin’ Hell” at request of the audience, it’s a few laps to the end.
What is interesting here is that there’s no bombast, really, no pyrotechnics, just music. And in that respect Blackberry Smoke are a throwback. Maybe they are just confident in their songs? Certainly, its impossible not to listen to “Ain’t Got The Blues” or the magnificent study of middle America “One Horse Town” and not come to that conclusion.
“Old Scarecrow” – dedicated to recovering drummer Britt Turner – is worthy to close the set, not least because it’s very last line is “I ain’t ever gonna change my ways.” And its not too much of a stretch to think they are discussing the lineage of music to which they belong.
The encore begins with “Shakin’ Hands With The Holy Ghost”. I’m probably not alone in here in having that as my entry point into the band all those years back, before the superb “Ain’t Much Left Of Me” ends it. “Oh my fall from grace was a site to see,” goes its first line. Ironic, given the very opposite is true.
There’s two t-shirts being sold upstairs on the balcony. One with all the tour dates on, and the other that says “too country for rock, too rock for country” on the back. Another irony, given that by never fitting in, Blackberry Smoke make some of the most authentic music around. Their records are excellent. Their live shows, though, are where they truly seem to be themselves.
ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF RICH WARD