Live : The Goat Roper Rodeo Band Country Club26.05.17 : 3rd Space, Llandudno
On the hottest day of the year so far people spilt out of bars onto sun baked pavements, and groups of over animated teenagers flitted and darted all along Mostyn Avenue, Llandudno. A short walk away from this scene The 3rd Space could be found on Builder Street, next to an MOT centre and facing the railway station across a sketch of wasteland; a bar and back room with a small stage area co-habiting a squat, industrial Victorian abattoir building with The Great Orme Brewery. So far, so prosaic - but after arriving the rest of the evening sped past in a musical blur.
The Goat Ropers are an established live act, playing original blues, country and Americana with verve and humour, appearing all over the country to dense stacks of dedicated followers. They were at The 3rd Space, a dash from their home ground of Rhuddlan, to run the third in a series of monthly residencies; in the process turning the artfully scuffed, intimate surroundings of the venue into a modern take on an early sixties Greenwich Village basement. Their own musical range takes in that decade (especially in their Everly drenched harmonies) and stretches to this; but this gig seemed more deeply country, with their sets and guest Ash Gray's subtly settling somewhere between The Basement Tapes and Nashville Skyline era Dylan in mood.
For your ticket money there was enormous entertainment value, starting with a short, suitably honky tonk set from The Goat Ropers themselves. As they came to its close they were joined on stage by Ash Gray and Johnny Griff (playing a markedly fluid bass) for a song, Open Road, that had the open-hearted ache of The Band. Ash Gray then stood alone with his bass player for twenty minutes and delivered a succession of rolling Americana framed sketches - the jaunty, scratchy guitar of Born a Lion especially effective.
After a break Ash Gray reasserted his slightly bruised stage charisma and style - a Texan who now lives in Sheffield, he has a fine array of songs; a longer second set demonstrated both ambition and achievement. There is a hard worn and won fragility to his voice, so he can almost effortlessly evoke a deep trace of blues sentiment in each of his country forged story-songs.
All the musicians then reassembled for a rousing duo: Gray's own The Creek Don't Rise, and a somehow simultaneously mournful and joyous cover of Dylan's You Ain't Going Nowhere, before The Goat Ropers, their country blues music often played at a harem scarem dodgem busting pace, finished the evening with forty five minutes both gleeful and frenetic. When they paused the tempo it was evident that the soul in Sam Roberts' vocal was made to fill a much, much bigger room with heart.
The Goat Ropers intend to bring people they have met playing across the UK to their monthly club; Ash Gray proves they have the knack of making very talented friends. The evening had warmth and authenticity, and an audience rightfully lost in music; as a snapshot at the end of it next to me a middle aged man in a Kasabian T Shirt was nodding furiously along, whilst in front of him a pair of young women danced and gyrated rhythmically, and to their left two actual pirates (they must have been, why else dress like that to go out) sat next to the stage entranced whilst the sound of High Heel Blues swirled and stomped alive around them. The room was hazily rocking, and everyone there had casually misplaced hours in delight.
A sparky new venture - a country club that has the mellow mood you'd expect, jolted with an edge of cool electricity; not to be missed.
THE GOAT ROPER RODEO BAND I Old Heartache
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