Blues with Attitude

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Diary of a Band

The Early Days of The Booze Brothers

In the late 1980s, at what was then Wolverhampton Polytechnic, Phil Millard, Charlie Lodge, Andy Light and John Thornton became The Booze Brothers and won second prize in the Student Union talent contest. In doing so, they had unwittingly (and probably, on their own admission, less than soberly) set wheels turning which would eventually lead to the formation of what has now become the Bricklin Delta Blues Band.

In those days fun was what it was all about, and the Student Union bars provided appreciative (if not always completely sober!) audiences who raved away to the Brothers’ combination of rock, blues and soul standards. They began to include some of their own material, which proved equally popular, and their soulful and poignant “Exam Time Blues” remains a favourite in the Bricklin set today. And then just when the fun was at its height, they suffered a major set back when John decided to hang up his drumsticks. In a parallel universe, however, this was followed by a rather weird coincidence.

Charlie’s father – Ian –and Alan Crowther met quite by chance at a seminar on Time Management in Birmingham. They shared a table at lunchtime, and discovered enough in common to prompt an invitation to a “pint with the lads” in Wolverhampton after work. At this point (amazingly) the fact that Alan played drums had not surfaced. They were well into several of their well-earned pints before the subject of music in general, and of the absence of their drummer in particular surfaced. Fuelled by the enthusiasm of the moment, Alan agreed to give it a go, and suddenly the back seat behind the Booze Brothers was again occupied. The world was their lobster, or at least that’s how it felt as they gigged at the Poly and local pubs. For a while their world was a wonderful place, but as so often happens, pressures of day jobs and family intervened, and the Band drifted apart.

Andy turned his energies to running the family business, and Alan returned to working in a covers band, playing at functions like weddings and dinner dances, with Colin Field as the other half of the rhythm section on bass. Phil and Charlie became frustrated with not performing, and after a respectful interval, started another band - The Feel Factor - with Dave Butler on bass and Ian Hart on drums. This was also a fairly short lived project, and after it folded Charlie turned to electric folk with Union Mill, to Jazz with Ellis Willis, and to a variety of other styles, including Country Rock and Solo work. Phil carried on singing and playing harmonica in the shower whilst establishing a successful freelance computer consultancy.

The Booze Brothers’ Renaissance

And so ten long years quietly passed, punctuated with only minor birthday celebrations and anniversaries. And then came a birthday with a zero at the end of it for Phil’s wife Angela. It seemed only proper for him to book Alan’s covers band for the celebration party.

And then: “As Charlie and Andy will be there, how about if the four of us get together to play a few numbers for old times’ sake?” Phil asked.

“No Problem, we’ll get together a week or so before and have a rehearsal” came the enthusiastic reply.

Even though this rehearsal never actually took place, the performance certainly did. They’d not even met each other for a decade, yet time seemed to melt away as they rocked like they always had. “We/You ought to get together do this more often” was the sentiment everyone shared.

But sadly, as often happens, such euphoric ambitions never became reality. Until 2012, that is. This time it was Phil's birthday party (also with a zero at the end). Again with Alan and Colin bringing along their covers band as an anchor, The Booze Brothers were back in action, still unrehearsed. This time it rocked even more! Phil had also invited his nephew’s band to do a few numbers, and buoyed by their appreciative and supportive comments, it finally happened. They put The Band back together! Well almost. Despite wanting to, Andy felt it wasn’t fair that he couldn’t be fully available because of his day job, and withdrew. Charlie saw no need to look further than Colin as a replacement, and nor did anyone else. It was a magical fit, and a new band was born from four seasoned musicians with a mutual respect for each others’ ability, coupled with a shared love of the blues and jazz forms.

The Bricklin Delta Blues Band

Intending to become a bit more than a band playing together once every ten years, and as a slightly more mature and experienced outfit, it seemed the right time for a new name. As anyone who has gone through the process will understand, democratically choosing and agreeing a name for a band can be a frustrating experience. This time, however, the pieces simply fell into place.

Wolverhampton’s Brickkiln (pronounced locally as “Bricklin”) Community Centre was their first regular venue for rehearsals, and their music is inspired by the Blues generally, with Elmore James and Robert Johnson numbers featuring in their earliest set lists. Dr Feelgood’s pub rock R’n’B and The Blues Brothers classics also provided early source material. One of their core values was quickly established that although they would largely be playing covers, they would not be playing copies. Their own personalities and styles would be allowed to blend to produce unique arrangements.

Tragically, Charlie became ill and was to eventually lose the fight against cancer in the earliest moments of January 2014. This was a monumental loss to not only the band, but to the local music community as a whole. Phil’s nephew’s band featured a talented and gifted lead guitarist, Ben Scott. During the second half of 2013, Ben became a fifth member of the Band, initially as support as Charlie became weaker, and ultimately in his own right as lead guitarist. He had enormous shoes to fill, but with his outstanding ability and his own BB King and Carlos Santana inspired styles, he brought a new dimension to the Blues classics. And then sadly, as had happened with Andy, Ben’s day job duties changed and made him unavailable to the point where he no longer felt it fair to continue with the band. A crisis meeting ensued. Colin, Phil and Alan decided that if, as they had promised Charlie, they really are going to keep playing until the beer runs out, they had to find yet another lead guitarist.

Steve Crozier quit playing in bands way back in the 1990s, but recently picked up his guitar to play – just like yesterday – prompted by his son who started to take lessons. His son’s tutor also runs the rehearsal rooms currently used by the Band, and, being aware of their plight, put them in touch with Steve. Steve’s natural style has brought yet another layer of complexity to the Band’s arrangements, with Jazz chords and Rock licks. This has sparked latent creativity, and more original material to be included in the set.

And on they go. There is a myth, created in part during the great 1960s Blues revival that all Blues were born from work songs and have to tell of hardship and pain. Though that is certainly part of the story, it is not the whole of it. In the 1920s and 30s, Blues was part of the pop music of its day, alongside hits from Broadway and Tin Pan Alley. Although their recorded material might not fully reflect it, in live performances the Blues Musicians back then were all-round entertainers, playing a variety of music to please their audiences. The Bricklin Delta Blues Band remain true to that tradition. Although they largely play the Blues, they play to have a good time - and to give their audiences one, too. That can’t help rubbing off, and dancing around handbags is not an uncommon sight!