Louder Than War writer Soph Lord recently stumbled upon a show by Vince Lee & his band The Wildcards & was so impressed by his skillful mastery of the blues sound of turn of the century deep South America that she’s written this piece for us.
It was a cold and, in typically west-country fashion, a cider fuelled night in September 2011 when I first caught sight of Vince Lee and his band \’The Wildcards’. Upon staggering through the door I was nearly blown back out again after being greeted by a thundering rhythm section and Vince’s glass-shattering hollering and howling. I found that I had to immediately sit down, not o much due to a slight over-indulgence on the cider front, but more so due to the knee-knocking astonishment at the musical brilliance unfolding in front of me in this small, student-swamped pub in Plymouth.
Whilst the abundance of slightly pirate-esque Devonshire accents around me confirmed that we were in the South-west of England, Vince and The Wildcards served as means of transportation back to the bluesy sounds of the \’Deep South’ of the United States in the early 20th Century, where the blues originally came to prominence. For me, it was an instantly sobering incident.
I watched the rest of the gig in awe, complete with an embarrassingly wide-open gob as the group effortlessly nailed number after number of danceable blues tunes, all with the energy and zeal of a group twenty years their junior ââ something that manifest itself quite apparently when lead guitarist, Vince, clambered on top of the busy bar surface to deliver one of many blistering guitar solos.
Such is the overwhelming power of Vince’s musical output that I felt it simply irresponsible and frankly cruel of me to deny music lovers everywhere the same enlightening and inspirational experience I had, hence this feature. (As well as the fact that writing this has given me a much needed excuse to sift through his albums again under the guise of doing \’work’.)
Vince is hardly a newcomer to the music world or the blues circuit, with more years under his belt as a virtuoso in his field than years I have been alive (20), and having toured extensively around Europe as well as featuring on a BBC Radio 2 session back in the 90s. Of course the man does not do all this alone, currently he can be found working in 3 equally impressive ensembles: \’Vince Lee and The Big Combo’, his first outing, formed in 1996, his other, more recent ensemble \’The Wildcards’ and the \’Becca Langsford Band’, featuring the stunning vocal talents of Becca Langsford, another artist well worth checking out ââ though, be warned, her explosively powerful voice may well leave your eardrums perforated. As well being kept busy by these aforementioned exploits, Vince regularly performs live around the South-West with his self-professed \’right hand man’ and top blues bassist Al Wallis and talented local drummer Sebastian Boleslawski.
All three outfits have produced some stonking and well-recognised work, exploring a wide scope of musical genre, from rockabilly fused blues and roots music to jazz-inspired numbers; all executed with technical superiority from all involved whilst still remaining emotionally affecting. \’The Wildcards’ most recent release \’When the Moon Shines Bright’ proves a stand-out record not only for myself personally, but also for BBC Radio 2 DJ Mark Lamaar who featured Vince’s self-penned seedy epic \’Welcome to the Snakepit’ on his show \’God’s Jukebox’ earlier in the year. The entire record oozes sleaze and depicts a scene of rampant sin and wickedness that the listener will inevitably find themselves wishing they could join in. The opening track \’When The Moon Shines Bright’ serves as a sign of what is to come with this record, a batch of menacing and eerily haunting tunes, delivered by a powerhouse of a band, that are guaranteed to haunt the listener in the aftermath of their first listen.
Amidst his notable original material in various groups, Vince and his band have been known for reworking classic blues and traditional roots numbers in their own retro blues style, including, amongst others, legendary American Folksong \’St. James Infirmary Blues’ with staggeringly impressive results. So impressive in fact, some claim their version to be \’the best’ of the many incarnations of the song (though then again, I wouldn’t say the comments section of \’youtube’ videos was ever anything to be trusted ââ except on this occasion of course).
As I have said already, the man has a plethora of work that, whilst I cannot mention all of it ret assured it’s all equally worth checking out for the display of top level musicianship from all involved and for Vince’s spine-tingling vocals throughout. This includes The Big Combo’s debut record \’Call it what you wanna!’, an album of various reworkings ââ including a superb version of Tom Waits‘ \’Jockey full of Bourbon’ ââ that was highly acclaimed by both \’Blues Matters!’ and \’Blues in Britain’ magazines upon its release in 2003.
So there you have it, a brief summary of the eclectic work of Vince Lee – a man who serves as to dispel the myth that the only good thing to come out of the South-West of England is the humble Cornish Pasty. Oh, and my own personal favourite, lethal brews of Cider.
All words by Soph Lord. More Louder Than War articles by Soph can be found here.