What a melting pot of genres CC Smugglers are. Bubbling over during their red-hot set at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen were sounds as diverse as jazz, country, funk, swing, soul, folk, and blues. It was like a hoedown one minute, a jazz club the next. There really is something for everyone with this band. And you’d be hard pressed to leave their gig without a smile on your face. A highly entertaining evening.
Supporting the guys on this leg of their How High tour was Sam Jefferson, a blues musician from Manchester. He set the mood beautifully with a mixture of original songs and nice covers from the likes of Woody Guthrie and Muddy Waters. He has clearly spent much time soaking up the music of these early pioneers; his guitar playing in particular is wonderfully evocative of their era. Standout tracks from his half hour set included Mademoiselle From Armentieres (with some lovely fingerpicking going on) and Guthrie’s Hard Travellin’.
The headliners seemed incredibly relaxed pre-show, lead singer Richie Prynne wandering through the audience some ten minutes before curtain up as casual as you like. But when he came out on stage after a drum-busting intro, the unassuming hooded gentleman had transformed into an effervescent and energetic entertainer. Kicking off with the upbeat, Gospel-inspired Good Day and the funky, disco-tinged Rhythm, Prynne then strapped on his acoustic guitar and Sam Barrett brought out his fiddle to perform the lively Country & Western number Lydia. They then took things down a notch or two with the sensuous blues of Baker St 205, Barrett’s guitar playing being particularly worthy of note here.
After such a high-spirited start, Prynne paused for a proper introduction, in which he not only welcomed the audience but his parents too. Their presence gave him the perfect lead in to Well Well Well, which was written, Prynne explained, following a conversation with his father before he went in for major heart surgery. It gave this indie/folk song an added poignancy that slightly deceived its toe-tapping nature. Whisky made sure the toe-tapping continued, with Barrett even walking through the audience, fiddle in hand, to encourage some bolder dance moves. This, before some of the band left the stage as Prynne gave the most moving performance of the evening.
Accompanied by only fiddle and keys, he gave a beautiful rendition of Life is a Wave, a song dedicated to his uncle. Family appears to be at the heart of Richie Prynne’s life. He doesn’t seem to mind including them in his set. But it is a different kettle of fish when it comes to himself. Only with encouragement from his band has he recorded his more personal songs. And it was clear both before and after One More Night that he is uncomfortable performing them. Not dwelling on this song too much, the band very quickly went into the title song of their brand new album How High. Prynne then shared their painful experience with Pledge Music, the crowdfunding platform having effectively robbed them of £17000. Clearly still raw – evidenced in their song Jog On – they are nevertheless determined not to let it eat them up, Grumpy and Smiling looking on the positive side.
Ryan Thomas brought a delightful touch of pedal steel to the laid back Sweetheart before it was Prynne’s turn to go into the audience, dancing enthusiastically with several crowd members as the band pulled out all the swinging, rocking and boogying stops. Dirty Money was an excuse to have another swipe at Pledge before their main set ended with the country-fuelled All Night Long.
The Smugglers effectively ended with three encores. The first, Working Man, really got the crowd going with its Irish folk sound. Gone So Long then brought a whole load of Motown onto the scene. Finally, the whole band clambered off the stage and came and stood in the middle of the audience to play Standing on the Street. It was fabulous to witness this seemingly impromptu performance, off mic; to be immersed in the moment and see so much joy on the faces of those huddled around the six of them; and strangely odd to see some audience members on stage, looking down on them as they finished off in style.
One of the most unique and satisfying endings to a show I think I’ve ever seen.
Review by Gaz Williams