Words: Helen May / Photos (C) Mark Lear, and (C) Graeme Wright
It was a chilly night for Bywater Call fans to come out to the North-West coast but the Toronto-based band managed to raise the temperature to boiling point by the end of the show.
The immediacy of their opening song ‘Bring it back’ provided a thumping heartbeat that announced they had arrived at The Waterloo Music Bar in Blackpool. The medium-sized venue was perfect for the audience to get up close and personal with the 7-piece band which has been touring the UK with their blend of soul, roots, rock and New Orleans’ funk.
There is no doubt that Megan Parnell’s vocals are nothing short of arresting – she is a musical powerhouse and delivered a commanding performance throughout, supported ably by a locked-in band, completed by a two-piece horn section, keys, 5 string bass, guitar and drums.
‘Ties that bind’ followed their opening song, coloured by a sweet Hammond organ sound and Dave Barnes’ slide guitar. The Tedeschi Trucks influence became apparent, and it is remarkable that Dave Barnes’ not only manages to get that Derek Trucks sound – but looks a bit like him too. Despite this comparison though, Dave Barnes’ is his own man and the numerous solos he performed said two things very loudly – this man knows his way around a fret board and his playing does more than enough to meet the needs and eclectic nature of the songs.
‘Ties that Bind’ had an upbeat jumping tempo and the floor was bouncing as people’s feet moved to the ‘praise be’ gospel groove with one audience member even feeling the need to lift her palm to the sky to be blessed by the musical baptism.
‘Sweet Maria’ followed, punctuated by a piecing brass section that was clearly having a ball and electric piano provided by keys player John Kervin. Megan Parnell fanned the flames saying: “I wanna hear those beautiful voices!” A highlight of the night came next with a surprise addition to the set – Stephen Stills’ ‘Love the one you’re with’ – a version like you have never heard.
A country roots wagon train ride of a groove went into a sax solo and was then reborn into a mid-section jazz opus, a sax solo and then a soundscape so epic and electric, it ignited – causing hairs to prickle on the backs of people’s necks. The mid-section made the song so unrecognisable as it departed from the original track into a rocket-fueled epic with the drums keeping the groove together throughout. There was no sense of time or place – just the dream that is good music. The slower-paced heartfelt ‘Bring me down’ followed. Megan Parnell’s velvet-gritty vocal ripped through the lines as Dave Barnes’ guitar and John Kervin’s keys echoed the soulful sentiment. The audience was still digesting the beauty of the song when it ended.
There was a pause and the room went completely quiet only for the sound of someone shaking their head and involuntarily letting out an audible ‘wow!’ before thunderous applause. ‘Talking Backwards’ – a funky soul track quickly changed the mood and then ‘Sign of Peace’ – another gospel infused track with a definitive New Orleans’ sound with a double time ending providing excitement and fun and some cowbell dynamics provided by the horn section. ‘Falls away’ was a good showcase for John Kervin on keys – his eyes fused shut, hands hovering over his keys, cruising on a Hammond high he wasn’t coming down from anytime soon. Something special happened next with the horn section interplaying and painting a picture of a New York alleyway at night with sax and trumpet blaring subtly for broken-hearted night-time city dwellers with traces reminiscent of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. It was an impressive segue into fan favourite ‘Silver lining’.
The band maintained energy levels throughout and ended their Blackpool visit with two of their latest releases: ‘For all we know’ and the punchy attitude-driven ‘As if’. ‘For all we know’ is a beautiful song that suits their stable of tunes and evokes thoughts of loss and hope. The lyrics being ‘You’ll be just fine. All we know is all we ever need’. It was a moment that lifted people before the band hunkered down and delivered ‘As if’ with force and grace. ‘Left behind’ was an epic finish to an enjoyable night with some tasty slide work by Dave Barnes and Meghan Parnell killing it.
They exited the stage but the crowd refused them the opportunity of leaving, stomping and hollering loudly, until they came out for an encore. Meghan Parnell said the tour was the Canadian band’s first time in Blackpool and first time in the UK.
There is everything to like about this band – clearly talented throughout, masters of mood and moving audiences and a female with an amazing vocal makes them stand out in their genre. Bywater Call is not a band you should pass by.
Meghan Parnell – vocals,
Dave Barnes – guitar,
Mike Meusel – bass,
John Kervin – keys,
Julian Nalli – tenor sax,
Stephen Dyte – trumpet,
Bruce McCarthy – drums,