Event review: Giles Hedley and the Aviators play at Bourbon and Blues, Matthews Yard, Saturday 30th May

By - Wednesday 10th June, 2015

Katie Rose travels to the hot, steamy heart of the blues via Croydon

Photo by Fluid4sight, used with permission.

I’m ordering my favourite coconut truffle tea, an unusual Saturday night out beverage, at Matthews Yard. Next to me blues legend Giles Hedley is ordering a very modest selection of drinks for the band, which he says always surprises those who expect them to be drinking bourbon. He tells me that he conducted scientific experiments into drinking and performing in his youth. On one occasion, thinking that he was playing brilliantly after drinking a large amount of tequila, he looked down to find that his fingers weren’t moving at all. The result of the experiment is clear – two songs in, he is singing: “Ain’t touched no whisky since the blues made me drunk”.

They may not be hitting the hard stuff, but Giles promises us that “we’re going to get tropical in here tonight, we’ll find a way”.  It’s evident from the laid back confidence of the Aviators – Sam Kelly on drums, Andy Hodge on bass and Christophe Pélissié on guitar – that we are on course for a wild ride into the hot, steamy heart of the blues.

Giles started singing the songs on the records that his brother brought home in the ’50s, not realising that they were blues songs, including Bessie Smith numbers, until his voice broke. Over time he would continually return to the blues, finding eventually that he just couldn’t sing anything else. Described by Clyde Stubblefield, James Brown’s drummer as ‘the funkiest man I’ve heard in Europe’, he has played clubs, bars and festivals internationally and supported many artists including Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Juke Boy Bonner.

A natural storyteller, Giles has mined the heights and depths of his voice to give full expression to the soul-rending lyrics of the blues – he impersonates the feline tones of Samson’s ‘Delilah’, hollers gospel classic ‘Jesus On The Mainline’ and truly howls Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Commit A Crime’. His original songs are peppered with a touring musician’s tall tales, yet at no point does he take himself seriously – saying of the temptations of being on the road that he’s still looking for them.

Photo by Fluid4sight, used with permission.

Whilst the instrumental innovation that emerges throughout the night is dazzling – playing two harmonicas simultaneously, extraordinary solos on his self-made lap steel and the guitar behind the head trick – it’s clear that everything is done in service of giving us an authentic experience of the blues. My neighbour for the evening, David, an archaeologist whose guitar teacher father introduced him to the blues, says “it’s like being inside the head of someone in the 1930s”.

How to win back your woman by showing her a better time in bed

“Nobody does it quite like the Aviators do it”, declares Giles, who has been playing with Sam Kelly (whose gamut of facial expressions matches every perfectly-timed hit of his kit) and super-chilled bass player Andy Hodge, since the ’80s. Christophe Pélissié has been adding his extraordinary guitar skills more recently – when he first sat in on a rehearsal and played a solo, Giles says he forgot to come back in with the lyrics. They play with a contagious trust and relish of each other’s musicianship, Christophe stopping to take a photo of Sam Kelly during yet another ingenious solo.

The second half takes us deeper into the shadows of the blues, with songs about winning back your woman by showing her a better time in bed and Willie Dixon’s classic about being a ‘Back Door Man’ to the wives of various upstanding members of the community. Giles is clearly not afraid to excavate the dark corners of the psyche. He communicates the raw emotion of the blues with a powerful honesty that makes every lyric hit home. He discloses that as a vicar’s stepson, the result of a stolen night in the Cardogen Hotel in 1946, he has the right to sing the blues.

We leave feeling we’ve shared some real deep lovin’

Leoni Descartes, director of Matthews Yard, standing amidst an array of candle-lit Bourbon bottles, tells me what she loves most about the Aviators is the amazing relationship that they create with the audience. Indeed – by the end of the night, we are all howling like proper blues wolves whilst Giles is saying “we’ve made them very happy” and improvising lyrics about it being a ‘Two Way Thing’.  They play two encores to wild applause and we all go out feeling we’ve shared a deep lovin’ thing.

The next Bourbon and Blues night takes place at Matthews Yard on 25th July as part of the Ambition Festival and features special guests from the USA, Debbie Bond and the Tru Dats, plus bourbons, delicious food and more.

Both Giles Hedley and the Aviators’ latest album, So Glad I’m Living, and Giles Hedley’s new solo album, Rain Is Such A Lonesome Sound, are available for order via his website – www.gileshedley.com

Read articles like this – and many more – in our monthly print magazine

Politics, reviews, photography, #Croydon #TechCity, sports and plenty more besides: Our monthly print newsmagazine brings all the most relevant, features, news, opinion and analysis together into a single publication. Written entirely by citizens, it’s the perfect way to catch up on what really matters to Croydon over a drink or a coffee, or on the way to work.

You can find the magazine in venues all over the London Borough of Croydon.

Get your copy today. Write for the Citizen and you may well see your own article next time you pick it up.

Katie Rose

Katie Rose

Katie Rose - Singer, Composer, Conductor, Writer - Katie loves singing and helping people sing. Described by the Guardian as a 'fine singer' and by fRoots magazine as an 'eye (and ear) opener,' she has released three albums. Committed to creating uplifting, inclusive experiences of singing, Katie has led singing sessions in hospitals, hospices, festivals and community choirs across London. Convinced of the power of music to make waves in the world she has conducted mass choral events for Sing for Water and is directing Croydon's first Festival of Peace 2018. For more information visit www.therosewindow.org

More Posts - Website - Facebook