"Starlite Campbell Band Live! confirms that this husband-and-wife pairing are under-rated gems of the blues-rock firmament. Their musicianship is top-notch, they write really good, smart songs, and they’re great fun." | Iain Cameron - Blues Enthused
Suzy Starlite and her husband Simon Campbell aren’t averse to being a bit quirky, musically speaking, as some of the sounds on their last album The Language Of Curiosity demonstrated. But this live excursion makes clear that at heart they’re a throwback to an earlier time, and a brand of British blues-rock in which bands treated being on stage as an adventure, stretching and bending songs to get the most out of them.
This sensibility is underlined by the closing track here, a cover of ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’, included in this set on the basis that Hammond organ duties were undertaken by one-time Procul Harum keys man Josh Phillips. It’s a song that has a soulful vibe, but of course alsoreaches out beyond a blues framework by appropriating a bit of Bach. Campbell may be at the edge of his vocal capabilities here, but proves it’s worth the effort with a dandy delivery.
The Hammond focus is no accident either, as the rest of the album demonstrates that Campbell, a wing-ding guitarist who can put lots of young guns to shame, loves to have an organ to bounce off. So it is that the opening track, ‘Brother’, runs to eight and a half minutes as all concerned bounce around in pursuit of different angles. And bounce is the operational word for a rhythmic groove centred on Suzy Starlite’s bubbling bass line. Campbell adds stinging guitar, and on this occasion Jonny Henderson delivers the classic, surging Hammond sound. They take it down for a stuttering, Morse Code guitar solo, and do some smart call-and-response guitar and organ stuff before they’re done. Oh yeah, and it’s a good song to boot, with a nifty hook.
A couple of songs, ‘Cry Over You’ and ‘Said So’, show off different sides of Campbell’s guitar prowess. The first is a blues ballad, but not by the numbers. It’s a romantic affair, with clever lyrical phrasing, and Campbell reinforces the mood with a swooning, gentle solo reminiscent of Gary Moore at his most melodic. And again, there’s a marvellous organ solo that captures the requisite sensitivity and drama. ‘Said So’ is an altogether different animal. At first a crunching mash-up of a ‘You Really Got Me’-type riff and a melody that owes a few quid to the Temptations, it downshifts into some moody meandering, before some wailing and bleeping guitar wrangling that sounds like it’s being transmitted from Space Station No. 5 heralds a psychedelic instrumental storm, in the course of which Campbell lets rip – to the evident satisfaction of the crowd at its conclusion.
The quality of the songs is an important factor though, as the reflective and melodic ‘Take Time To Grow Old’ demonstrates, even if its “na-na-na” vocal bridge is a bit daffy. Campbell still comes up with a gripping guitar refrain though, controlled in both pace and tone before a more explorative solo that eventually resolves into a closing theme.
Meanwhile Suzy Starlite produces a steady, patient vocal on the contemplative ‘Guilty’, with a classy melody over a spare backing consisting of metronomic drums, locked in bass, and flurries of understated guitar and keys.
‘Misgivings’ shows just how well they swing, on a bright shuffle with a lightness of touch and another strong chorus, while the rhythm section and organ combine marvellously to underpin a Campbell solo that sizzles without burning itself to a crisp, and Jonny Henderson produces another classy Hammond excursion as they shift up a gear. Only ‘Preacher Of Love’ – taken like ‘Brother’ and ‘Misgivings’, from Campbell’s 2011 solo album ThirtySix – leaves me wanting more. Not that it’s a bad song – it’s got drive and an intriguing twitchiness – but to my mind they’ve got a heap of stronger options in their locker.
Be that as it may, Starlite Campbell Band Live! confirms that this husband-and-wife pairing are under-rated gems of the blues-rock firmament. Their musicianship is top notch, they write really good, smart songs, and they’re great fun. If you hanker after that classic British rock vibe of yesteryear, then . . . Live! will satisfy your appetite.
Iain Cameron - Blues Enthused