Vanguard Roulette Part 2: Darren Jack and Ray Beadle Live – October 14, 2011

This was the second shot of my game of Vanguard Roulette, where I pick a number of acts I know nothing about and go along for the ride.

The night after discovering Boy Outside, I was back at the Vanguard for Australian bluesmen Darren Jack and Ray Beadle.

Beadle was supposedly the support, but as I tweeted when he left the stage, he left Jack with a lot of work to do.

Looking for all the world as if he were fresh out of Chicago (all natty hat, sharp outfit and smooth styling), Beadle is astonishing. And a little research shows why. He’s been around the traps, playing with BB King’s house band for a time for starters. I believe his list of credits and associations is pretty illustrious. So I guess that gives a sense of the quality we’re referring to here. There would be loads of people who know a lot more about him than I. He’s been a regular on the festival circuit and has his own touring band from what I can gather. But on the night I saw him, it was just him and his guitar. My favourite kind. Although there were backing tracks to help create a fuller sound when needed.

Listening to him now, it’s clear he comfortably straddles all kinds of blues but for this show he tended more toward soul blues, with funk and jazz in the mix. He did his own stuff as well as a little George Benson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. And what a vocalist. His voice is perfectly suited to those sorts of songs – a higher register that also set me in mind of Harry Connick Jr. It’s a smooth, clear and rich sound and he has lovely control.

I’m not qualified to critique his guitar work, but it’s well above your average player in terms of technical skill and the use of the woodwork for rhythms and other effects. I’ve known other guitarists like that and I love what they can create out of what is essentially a wooden box. It’s exquisite to watch.

And he’s one of those genuinely likeable guys. Slick, confident, a smile at the ready and that true showman’s style.

He also knows when to stop. I admire great musicians who love what they do and can pick up a riff and run with it. But I get incredibly annoyed when a solo becomes a marathon of selfishness. It bores me rigid. Thankfully, Ray Beadle gets it. He’ll chase a riff in a couple of directions, which are usually incredible adventures and most rewarding, but he doesn’t sacrifice the structure of the song. He gets back to the job at hand and keeps his audiences engaged. And credit to both he and Jack – and Boy Outside for that matter – they also know when to end the song.

With an ending.

Don’t get me started (but I’m looking at you, Ben Harper)…

Darren Jack is out and about promoting his new album Better Place and he’s close to the whole package. He’s got the looks, and he’s a very talented player. The write-ups refer to his voice as powerful. That’s not a word I would have used. But it’s good.

Like Beadle, Jack also has that genuineness and self-confidence of a seasoned showman. It’s a pleasure listening to guys like him who get that they’re good and are truly glad you’ve come to see them without being self-deprecating about it. Whilst modesty can be very endearing, those who accept their talent and make no apologies for it are quite a refreshing change in a self-conscious world.

By any standards, Jack is a great player. I understand he does do some acoustic but this set was entirely electric, with the traditional setup of drums, electric bass and keyboards in back. The style starts with classic electric blues, but also melds into blues rock. It’s the popular side of the genre and it’s excellent. Although there were a few moments where I thought Stevie Ray Vaughan was being channelled, so there’s some bite and edge as well. He’s undoubtedly accomplished.

And I love those little moments that show how into the music they are: a couple of times, the drummer had to pull them back so they could fit some lyrics in after Jack had gone out too hard from the gates. They’re nice moments – real and raw.

I mentioned earlier that I would not have called his voice powerful. From what I can tell, it emanates from his head and throat, so it lacks depth and hence power. But it’s a perfectly serviceable blues voice and bottom line is you forgive him for it – just like you forgive someone like Eric Clapton or Mark Knopfler for not being the greatest vocalists of their time. I’m currently listening back to ‘You Choose’ and ‘Ways of a Man’ and I’ve just realised he reminds me a little of Shane Pacey from the Bondi Cigars.

Meanwhile, Jack’s band was tight and very talented. All seasoned, all disciplined and they ran like a well-oiled machine. Unusual setup with them entirely on Jack’s left and him off to his stage right. Not used to seeing a frontman not at the front. Overall, it was an excellent blues show – and those who love it got what they came for. I really enjoyed it.

I’m afraid my photos were entirely rubbish – grainy at best, so here are a couple of links to learn more about Darren Jack and Ray Beadle.