On Stage (Bonus): Savoy Brown, 50 years and still rocking

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By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

Savoy Brown

A band with a history that dates back more than a half-century will be performing in the area this weekend.

On November 18, Kim Simmonds and Savoy Brown will have a concert at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com).

Savoy Brown is still rocking the blues after more than 50 years and in 2017 is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the band’s first album release with a tour featuring songs from the first album, their five-decade history and songs from their new release later this year.

Savoy Brown is an English blues rock band formed in Battersea in the southwest part of London in 1965. The band was formed by guitarist Kim Simmonds and harmonica player John O’Leary.

Since then, the band’s line-up has featured more than 60 talented musicians with Simmonds as the only constant. The current line-up, which features Pat DeSalvo on bass, Garnet Grimm on drums and Simmonds on guitars, keyboards, harmonica and vocals, has been together since 2009.

Originally called the Savoy Brown Blues Band, this group can rightly take credit for cutting the farewell anthem of the 1960s British blues boom, in the form of a modern blues aptly titled “Train to Nowhere.”

Historically as well as musically, this song remains a sad reminder that by the time of its 1969 release as a single, most original blues were no longer commercially viable in Britain, as more and more blues clubs closed their doors for good.

Within four years of the band’s formation, however, it had become a top-tier live act in America. At home in Britain, it was a different story. The band never really broke out of the club scene until much later in its career.

Savoy Brown has released more than 40 albums — the most recent of which is “Witchy Feelin’,” which is hot off the presses.

“The new album just came out in September,” said Simmonds, during a phone interview Wednesday morning from his home in Oswego, New York. “It’s doing well. It’s been received great and that makes us feel really good.

“The album is our first Number One album on the Billboard Blues Chart. In the 60s and 70s, we were regulars on the Billboard pop charts. With the new LP, it’s been reassuring to get good reviews.”

Fans and critics have been steadfast in their support of Savoy Brown over the last five decades.

“It’s amazing that it’s been 50 years since our first album came out,” said Simmonds, whose ties to the U.K. still include support of the Fulham soccer team.

“Albums capture a moment in time — where you’re at during that time. We’re at the stage where I demo the albums at home and then send the demos to the other two guys. I have my own studio out back and it’s been my retreat away from the reality of life. I write the material and send it to my friends.

“Taking it from a demo to a band project is a different process. At sound checks is where we really rehearse as a band. Sometimes, it only takes five minutes to figure out a song. It’s pretty good that way because you’re already in an environment for a show. You’re in a real head space.

“When a song is ready, we play it for audiences and see their reactions. It’s the way I’ve done it many times in the past. It’s very important that the vibe you play is fresh and interesting. Previewing it live is a great way to judge the vibe.”

Simmonds, who has released 15 Savoy Brown albums in the last 19 years, has never been content to rest on his laurels.

“I started testing the new material during our last European tour,” said Simmonds. “This album has been in the planning for more than two years. I started with 100 songs – maybe 150 – and honed it down to get 11 or 12 that are really good. The songs always start with the lyrics.

“Every morning, I’d start writing lyrics – all from scratch. Maybe I should have been a writer. I was always a string writer when I was in school writing stories.

“With songs – for me, it’s all about the writing. The riffs are the easy part. If I can’t write the riff by now, I’m done.

“We road-tested a lot of the songs. Once we got the kinks out, we went in the studio. We recorded the album back in February. Most of what you hear was recorded on the first take.”

On this tour, Savoy Brown’s selection of songs to play stretches from the beginning to the present.

“Making the set list for the live show is a lot easier than it sounds,” said Simmonds. “You play what you know. We still play ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ but the new material is so strong it carries the show.”

The show on Saturday night, which has Dustin Arbuckle & The Damnations as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $29.50 and $45.

Other upcoming acts at the Sellersville Theater are Boy Named Banjo and Maybe April on November 19 and Brother Joscephus and the Love Revolution on November 22.

On November 18, Kung Fu Necktie (1248 North Front Street, Philadelphia, 215-291-4919, kungfunecktie.com) will host a twin-bill featuring Eyelids and Jay Gonzalez.

Eyelids

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Eyelids is a talented and diverse band featuring Chris Slusarenko (vocals, guitar), John Moen (vocals, guitar), Jonathan Drews (vocals, guitar), Jim Talstra (bass) and Paul Pulvirenti (drums).

Eyelids have a collective history of creating music for some of the most legendary indie songwriters. They were not only the principal instrumentalists for Robert Pollard’s post-Guided By Voices band Boston Spaceships for over eight releases, but they have also worked with Stephen Malkmus, The Decemberists, Elliott Smith, Sam Coomes of Quasi, Black Prairie, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, Loch Lomond, Damien Jurado and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck (who produced their new EP).

“A lot of us have known each other since we were around 19,” said Slusarenko, during a recent phone interview from his home in the Beaver State.

“We played in different bands in the Portland area. John and Jim were in the Dharma Bums. In Portland, there were so few bands that we were all friends. We’ve all been in different bands together such as Guided By Voices.

“At one point, John Moen and I decided that we wanted to work together. We did a couple demos bu thtn that project got swallowed up by other commitments.”

That was the point that Eyelids started their gestation period.

“It started as a project,” said Slusarenko. “Jonathan, myself and John put out a single and asked Jim and Pauley to p;lay with us. We went back and re-recorded the song from the original demos. Our first single was a map of where we had eben.

“In three years, we’ve released five 7-inch singles, an EP and two full-lengths. And, we’ve toured quite a bit. We really toured a lot when the foirst album came out. Charlatans UK put the album out in the U.K. and we toured with them. Earlier this year, we toured Europe with Drive By Truckers.”

Eyelids are now touring in support of their new album “or.”

“In the U.K., the album is titled ‘Eyelids or’ but in the U.S. it’s just ‘or’,” said Slusarenko. “It came out over here in June and it’s been very well-received.

“We cut it in Portland at Destination Universe. Peter Buck produced it and also played on the record. It has a nice casual feel. We recorded it in December during an ice storm. It was fun.

“Jonathan and I do most of the songwriting and then bring it to the others. We have three guitarists and we’re all pretty different – Jonathan is folk, John is ethereal and I’m very guttural and rooted. We make a different space that doesn’t get messy. The songs come together pretty quickly when we bring things together.”

The show at Kung Fu Necktie will be special for Eyelids.

“We’ve all played in Philadelphia with our different bands before,” said Slusarenko. “But, this is our first show in Philly as Eyelids so we’re really looking forward to it.”

Video link for Eyelids – https://youtu.be/eklFSRY0_5w.

The show at Kung Fu Necktie, which also features Hurry and Jay Gonzalez, will start at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $10.

When the Voltage Lounge (421 North Seventh Street, Philadelphia, 215- 964-9602, www.voltagelounge.com) hosts a matinee show on November 18, the focus will be on “SwingStyle” music.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is swing music from the Big Band era or country swing from Texas dancehalls. And, don’t expect the dance floor to have anyone doing the jitterbug.

Downswing

This is “Albany SwingStyle” music – the music made by Downswing, an in-your-face hard-core band from Albany, New York. And, the floor in front of the stage will be filled by body-smashing, arm-flailing fans creating havoc in the mosh pit.

Downswing’s line-up features Brett Colvin (vocals), Anthony Salvaggio (guitar), Chris Arnold (guitar), Brandon Jared (bass) and Nick Manzella (drums).

“This is our first real tour in general,” said Colvin, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon form a tour stop in Panama City, Florida.
“We’ve been trying to hit Philly since we’ve been a band.

“Our debut was September 23 last year and our first real show was October 29 in Poughkeepsie (NY). We dropped our first track ‘Contain’ not long after that.”

Now, the quintet is on the road in support of its new EP “Dark Side of the Mind,” which was released on November 10 on Rise Records.

“Our first record was a three-song demo called ‘SwingStyle’ with the songs ‘Contain,’ ‘Blame’ and ‘Cut the Brakes,’” said Colvin. “The new EP has five songs – ‘Hell,’ ‘Disease,’ ‘Enough,’ ‘Immolate’ and ‘Bitter.’ We started recording it last winter and finished it in January.

“All eight songs we’ve recorded have been with our friend Jon Folino as the producer. He’s from the Albany band Animal.

“Downswing is a phoenix risen from the ashes of many failed bands in Albany,” said Colvin. “Chris and I come from the pop-rock scene in Albany. Now, I’ve found my niche by stepping outside my comfort zone. This is the first band where I can write what I want.

“It’s exciting. We’re just here to have fun. That’s what SwingStyle is about. It’s also called ‘East Coast Trash.’ Bands out of Albany sound a certain way – Albany-style.

“In our live shows, we’re more of a punk-hardcore band than a straight hardcore band. It’s very energetic – explosive non-stop energy.”

Video link for Downswing — https://youtu.be/o2ujwrUnmgY.

The show at the Voltage Lounge, which also features Traitors and Sabella, will start at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Other upcoming shows at The Voltage Lounge are The Emo Band on November 18, In Hearts Wake, Like Moths To Flames, Phinehas and Fit For A King on November 21, and Bitsky, Mirkos, Average Joe and NO SIR E on November 22.

There will be another matinee show this weekend in Philadelphia.

herMajesty

On November 19, herMajesty is playing an afternoon show at The Pharmacy Coffee Shop (1300 South 18th Street, Philadelphia, https://thepharmacyphilly.org).

Based in New York, herMajesty features JP (vocals, rhythm guitars, programming), David Leatherwood (guitars, backup vocals), Joan Chew (bass, backup vocals), and Konrad Meissner (drums, percussion). Additional percussion is provided by Josh Shusterman.

“It was originated by me,” said JP, during a phone interview Thursday. “Then, I reached ouit to musicians in the New York scene who I thought were kindred spirits. I brought them into the band to elaborate on the sound I had in mind – a complex sound with different layers – a sound that was lyrical and magical.

“I started the original idea in 2009. Then, in 2010, I connected with producer Nic Hard. Since then, I’ve made one full album, two EPs and a slew of singles. I’m currently working on another single that will be released in the new year. After a whiloe, I’ll compile the singles into an EP.”

herMajesty’s new single, “I Saw the Dog,” was released on vinyl through Midday Records on November 2 and digital stores on November 8. It features Chris McQueen (lead guitar) and Henry Hey (keys), both musicians in Bowie’s play, Lazarus, and his recording ensemble on “The Next Day.” It was produced by Hard, a Grammy Award winner.

“The band line-up we have now is a stable line-uip,” said JP, a Greek native whose full name is John Pasagiannis. “It has been together for four years. And, I’ve been working with David since 2009.

“I’m influenced by David Bowie, Lou Reed and Peter Gabriel. Other bands I listen to a lot are Apparat, Jon Hopkins, Moderat, Brian Eno, Joy Division, Wire, New Order and the punk rock of The Clash.

“I like to create songs with interesting, complex characters. I occupy the space of that character and sing out of that space. My relationship to the songs has morphed. I have more emotional connection to the characters. Generally, I do the songwriting and then we flesh it out as a band.”

The band’s music has been described as New Wave, indie, art rock, glam, pop, punk and rock. It is all that – and more.

Despite having a rather limited recorded output over the last eight years, herMajesty has a full plate of songs for its live shows.

“We actually have a lot of material,” said JP. “The pace we record is a lot slower than the pace we write. When it comes to sound, I’m a perfectionist and it can take up to a year to make a song. I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to that.”

By the way – herMajesty should not be confused with Her Majesty, a pop-rock/folk band from Norway, that was founded in 2014 in Oslo.

Video link for herMajesty – https://www.facebook.com/hermajestyny/videos/10151207977816537/.

The show at The Pharmacy, which also features The Goodnight, will start at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $7.

There is another upcoming show at the same venue that also features a band trying to establish a name for itself.

In this digital age, many young bands rely on the internet – especially Google searches – to get themselves recognized. There is a new band from Brooklyn for which that strategy just isn’t working.

BIRDS

The name of the band is BIRDS and finding internet links directly to the band is difficult to say the least. Search for BIRDS and you get the early British rock band The Birds (which featured future Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood), the venerable L.A. band The Byrds or links to a variety of the avian types associated with the name.

On November 20, BIRDS will visit the area for a show at The Pharmacy Coffee Shop (1300 South 18th Street, Philadelphia, https://thepharmacyphilly.org).
BIRDS is a psych rock band from Brooklyn, NY. Started as a recording project by Lauginiger, the band first featured a looser circle of musicians and friends, finally settling into a permanent line-up that features Timothy John Plunkett (drums), Jess Rees (guitar), Jessica Reynoza (bass, vocals) and Lauginiger (guitar, vocals).

“I started writing songs in my basement studio,” said Lauginiger, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon as the band was on its way to a gig in Detroit.

“I was recording demos. I started meeting people to fill in here and there. Jess Rees and I had been playing together the whole time. We had a drummer and we used different bass players. Then, I got Jessica to play bass and Tim to play drums.

“It was just a recording session. But, the rhythm section kicked it. The songs were already there. Once we got in the same room, it just worked. That was one-and-a-half years ago. Our first gig was at a record store in Philly – Beautiful World Syndicate. That was in spring 2016.”

From there, BIRDS took flight.

“I had done a couple EPs with different musicians,” said Lauginiger, a Virginia native who lived in South Philly for a while a few years ago before relocating to Brooklyn.

“The first band effort was ‘Everything all at Once.’ I wrote all the songs. They were a build-up. We tracked it at our friend Paul Kostabi’s studio – Thunderdome Studio in Piermont, New York. Then, I took it back to my studio and mixed it.

“The sound got fuller. I was hearing what I wanted to hear. For the next album, we’ll be writing together a lot more.”

“Everything All At Once” was released in August by Greenway Records. The album is eight tracks of mangled, fuzzy pop about feeling disconnected. Written at Time Castle (a basement studio run by Lauginiger), the songs meld the hooks of 60s pop with the distorted, blown-out sounds of the 90s.

“I don’t know how to describe our music,” said Lauginiger. “People are calling it psych-rock. To me, they just sound like pop songs.”
Video link for Birds — https://youtu.be/sZ106le46y8.

The show at Pharmacy, which also features Stuyedeyed, will start at 2 p.m. Tickets are $78.

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