Anybody who pays regular attention to the pages of RockShot Mag should be aware of Buck & Evans. The Welsh band have attracted our attention a number of times with their ‘rock ‘n’ soul’ sound, their brilliant live gigs and their debut album Write A Better Day. Although not on general release, a few select ears (including ours) first got to hear it last year and as a result it became one of our albums of 2018.
The full release is expected in the latter half of 2019 and Buck & Evans have embarked on an eight date UK tour to help spread the message. We were lucky enough to be along for the first night at Birmingham’s Castle & Falcon to remind ourselves what the fuss is all about.
The support tonight were Rainbreakers, a band hitherto unknown to me. Given their sizeable social media following, this says much more about my own ignorance rather than a generic failure of the Shrewsbury four-piece to get noticed. Upon seeing Rainbreakers’ name announced for this gig, their debut album Face To Face made its way into my phone and doesn’t seem to want to find a way out. They cite Gary Clark Jr and The Black Keys as influences. I get that, but I’m also reminded of Hamilton Loomis, without the horns and the standing on the tables.
In frontman Ben Edwards, Rainbreakers have a rhythm guitarist with a great voice. He has an understated and relaxed vibe with the crowd – a crowd which was swelling all the time. In Charlie Richards they have an excellent lead guitarist – the sort of musician who it turns out can be brilliant without ever feeling the need to show off. The kind I like.
Rainbreakers have all the tunes. Riffy tunes (Heavy Soul), funky tunes (Lay It On Me), soulful reflective lovey tunes (Lost With You), bluesy rocky tunes (Got Me Where She Wants), and (as I can attest), make you drive too fasty tunes (Ain’t Nothin’ Going On). This last one closed the set and is a barnstormer of which Jimi would be proud.
They went off to significant applause and made a lot of friends in the process. Rainbreakers are also on the tour for Cardiff and London and are well worth making a date for.
In the time it took for a keyboard to be set up and a few cymbals to be swapped, Buck & Evans were out. A few shimmering notes from the guitar of Chris Buck signalled the beginning of recent single Slow Train. The piano and velvety vocal textures of Sally Ann Evans followed.
It closed with all four members of the band (Dominic Hill on bass and Bob Richards on drums) rocking out an instrumental ending under a classy Chris Buck guitar solo. Closing a song with all four members of the band rocking out an instrumental ending under a classy Chris Buck guitar solo is a bit of a thing for Buck & Evans – but as things for Buck & Evans go, it’s a bloody good one.
Fact is, when you’ve got a guy whose name appears on the front of guitar magazines alongside Brian May (Guitar World, June 2019) you’re probably going to sit up and take notice and indeed, it’s hard not to be transfixed watching Buck at work. On an emotional level, he has a touch and feel that can’t just be learned.
On a technical level, the way in which he ‘hides’ his plectrum in his right hand when he switches from finger to picking styles multiple times in a solo is a sleight of hand that Domino might struggle to pull off. If you’re a guitar player, Buck & Evans are worth the price of admission just to watch this alone.
But we’re not all guitar players and therefore it’s quite handy that the rest of the band and the quality of the songs are also absolutely brilliant. Last time I saw B&E, Sally Ann Evans was hampered by illness and sadly not able to deliver some of the most striking notes.
With what was clearly an understandable level of frustration, she was still suffering tonight and again had to occasionally throttle back. There are places on the record where the voice is so powerful it sounds like Sally Ann could have left her vocal chords on the floor of Rockfield Studio. I hope she didn’t.
At 100%, she is something to behold and I look forward to hearing her at that level again soon. That said, at 95%, she remains something to behold, so don’t be put off going. We get to hear her at her peak tonight during the more reflective parts of the show – a fabulous cover of Otis Redding’s I Got Dreams To Remember (which is also a Buck highlight, but I digress) is sung with such feeling it brings out ducky bumps and the stripped back Change (a wonderful song from the album) is a delight.
Before it starts, Chris explains how by a curious sequence of events he came to sing backing vocals on the record instead of Bob Richards. Bob gives him a mock stare down from behind the kit.
In fact, there were a lot of explanations tonight – I suspect partly to give Sally Ann some recovery time between songs. We hear about the hazards of travelling in a van which spews carbon monoxide into the cabin and which can’t do more than 60mph without the malevolent glow of an oil warning light.
They’re not wildly looking forward to driving to Glasgow tomorrow. “I’m flying home from Glasgow!” says Richards from the back. I assumed it was a joke. Turned out it wasn’t. The banter is great fun and it’s enjoyable to hear about the trials and tribulations of life on the road. Then we get to hear about something that’s not so much fun.
In order to retain full control of the production of their debut album, Buck & Evans eschewed the overtures of record companies and financed the record via the crowd funding website PledgeMusic. Fans of the band pledged money for advance copies of the album and other perks: a day in the studio, a gig at home, a signed guitar.
The trouble is, PledgeMusic have run out of money; not only their own, but cash pledged to artists on the platform, which it seems was outrageously used to prop up the business before it finally ceased to function. So, considerable sums were pledged that the band never got to see. Meanwhile, Buck & Evans still had to cover the production costs and honour pledges which effectively meant that advance copies of the album were being given away for free.
Whilst this situation has been ongoing for months, the band have remained commendably silent – breaking cover only now, talking about it on tour and releasing a statement via Social Media earlier this week. Buck seemed remarkably stoic about it all – I don’t think I could have been.
B&E have a very loyal fanbase and it’s gutting to hear how they’ve been screwed. I can feel a frisson of anger in the room; I know I’ve got it. There’s two ways out of this mess. One is to support the band. Go see them live, they’re amazing. When the gig is over, buy the merch. It’s currently the only way you’ll get to hear the album.
I’m pleased to report the Birmingham faithful were doing just that in droves. The other is for Buck & Evans to continue to play great music. They do this by closing the show with probably my three favourite tunes: Sinking, Sunrise and Ain’t No Moonlight. They’re prime examples of the ‘all four members of the band rocking out an instrumental ending under a classy Chris Buck guitar solo’ schtick. It works. Everyone is smiling again.
It turns out Bob Richards had the right idea. The van broke down on the way back from Glasgow. Oil pressure warning lights notwithstanding, the tour continues through May, June and July with limited tickets remaining for the following dates:
MAY 11th – THE GLOBE, CARDIFF GET TICKETS
MAY 18th – THE LOUISIANA, BRISTOL GET TICKETS
MAY 26th – JIMMY’S, MANCHESTER GET TICKETS
MAY 27th – THE 100 CLUB, LONDON GET TICKETS
JUNE 29th – THE PRINCE ALBERT, BRIGHTON GET TICKETS
JULY 13th – THE CLUNY 2, NEWCASTLE GET TICKETS
Buck & Evans live at The Castle & Falcon, Birmingham, 4th May 2019. Review and photography by Simon Reed. Simon has his own music photography site: Musical Pictures.