FUNKIEST JUKE IN ENGLAND
(Show 6: Bluefunk club, Poynton, UK, 29.7.17)
A 15-minute cab ride south from Stockport, UK, will transport a visitor to an amazing blues oasis where it is least expected.
Poynton is small — a one-church town where the latest excitement is the new roundabout leading in from the quiet English countryside.
Down a side street in this little hamlet is a sign for the Poynton Legion, a nondescript building tucked behind a line of bushes.
Inside is the funkiest little country juke joint in the Queen’s England.
The Bluefunk Rhythm and Blues Club is a mobile shangri-la masquerading as a legion hall. Rows of empty chairs and tables, starting at the edge of the small stage and working back, looks optimistic — are there even 130 citizens in Poynton? But an hour and a half later, the club will be packed, beers will be poured, and new friends made.
The master of ceremonies is Garry White, a blues lover, booker and promoter who is bringing the best of blues to this unexpected spot, and several others, for 11 years. He seems to have that “it” factor — if Garry tells you the show is worth your time and money, the audience comes. If he tells you to get up and dance, get in line for a beer or buy some band merchandise, you do it. Garry knows best.
The audience skews a bit older — on this evening including four ladies drinking wine who seemed dressed for Sunday morning, not Saturday night — but are open to anything Garry says they should pay attention to.
In coming weeks, that includes harp great Billy Branch, Hamilton Loomis and Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat. At its Dec. 16 Christmas show, the Bluefunk will welcome favorite Robin Davey of The Hoax, DVL and Beaux Gris Gris.
But on this Saturday night, the people of Poynton experience the return of The Red Devils.
The blue curtain, buzzy PA and intimate crowd told the band they weren’t in Dublin anymore. Just 25 hours earlier, the Devils were opening their last show with ZZ Top to an audience of about 9,000 or so.
Free from the pressure of the Tonnage tour, and in a roomful of friendly music lovers, the Devils let loose with a relaxed and eclectic show — even when they did wrong they could do no wrong. It was triumphant, exhilarating.
No one embodied that spirit more than Bill Bateman. Unleashed from the formality of the opener’s spot, Bateman played aggressively, in a musical way he hasn’t during the tour stops we have seen.
With sweat flying from his forearms and wrists, soaked to the bone through a red shirt (Mike Flanigin said if the other guys looked like they jumped in a pool, Bill looked like he jumped in two pools) he pushed the music ever forward. At times his playing was lyrical, like on “Wish You Would,” seemingly carrying the melody and the rhythm simultaneously.
Instrumentals such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” allowed guitarists Paul Size and Mike Flanigin to show their chops — especially on the Freddie-King-in-the-pipeline frenzy of “Sen Sa Shun.” On an insistent “No Fightin’,” Flanigin demonstrated the importance that Les Paul rhythm to The Red Devils sound.
The looseness was orchestrated by Big Pete and Jonny Ray Bartel, who joked and laughed with the crowd between songs, mugging for cameras and making the joint one big party.
Whether it was planned or not, Big Pete doing the false-endings of “Cut That Out” at the finale of “Taildragger” was just another moment of levity and spontaneity that made this gig special.
Thank you to Garry and the whole staff, crew and audience at the Bluefunk for making our visit so memorable. Cheers!
(JJ Perry is editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus in Western Minnesota, part of the Forum Communication Company.)