Petunia and the Vipers The Jumping Hot Club at Cluny II, Newcastle
24th January 2013
This was the third time I’ve seen the Honey Bop Trio and you’d never know that this is just a fun sideline for the three musicians who are all much in demand in recording studios across the Region.
As a man of a certain age it would be too easy to concentrate on the fabulous singer, guitarist and fiddle player Miss Hannah Rickard; who is stunningly pretty and has a voice that brings Patsy Cline to mind; but with John Cavanagh strumming his Double bass like a harp and guitar slinger Davy Patton giving a new definition to the word Twang – a music fan can easily have his head turned.
As I say, the quality of each member’s playing is extraordinary but their choice of songs is exceptional, with a couple of Rock and Roll standards interspersed with songs from the long forgotten ‘Female Elvis’, Janice Martin and a few of their own slipped in for good measure.
It was actually two of their own songs that were the highlights of their wonderful set – She’s My Ex and Held Me To Ransom (which could and should be a huge hit if ever released).
That performance set the scene for Petunia and the Vipers; who had drawn a much larger than anticipated audience to the cramped and cold basement venue and by their third song all thoughts of the low temperature had long gone as the crowd tapped their toes and exchanged knowing glances as the band thrilled and impressed in equal measures
It’s always a pleasure to watch a band actually enjoying themselves on stage and when that’s coupled with quality musicianship it can become an evening that stays in the memory for a lifetime; and that’s what we had here.
It’s no surprise that everything revolves around the charismatic singer, Petunia, but the other four Vipers are all excellent players too; and all get their moment in the spotlight, especially Marc L’Esperance who provided the template for all other Alt-Country and Rockabilly drummers with his restrained use of brushes and soft-sticks and trickery on the cymbals.
I think just about every song on the band’s self-titled debut platter got an airing and I was really surprised to hear the yodelling Cricket so early in the set as, it’s probably their best known song but was a pleasure to hear and won over any new fans in a heartbeat.
Yes Baby Yes had more than a few seat-dancing and was the first tune that veteran lap steel player Jimmy Roy got to shine; and shine he did and carried on stealing the show for the rest of the evening, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end with every magic sweep along the strings. The guy makes playing look so easy when it’s patently not; and his inclusion in the Vipers probably goes a long way to creating their definitive sound.
The band’s rock is obviously Stand-up bass player Patrick Metzger who hardly moved a muscle all night but provided the beat for the band to bounce off.
During the introduction to Jitterbug Petunia expressed his surprise that no one was actually up dancing, and he assured us that no one would get thrown out if they did; but for his information the audience was 90% male and 70% over 50 which isn’t conducive to fast dancing.
As the night sailed by legendary guitarist Stephen Nikleva alternated between a blood red semi-acoustic and something that looked like it was out of a space comic, but turned out to be a 1960’s Japanese guitar called a Teisco that he found in a thrift store in South Oregon and; boy, what a sound he got out of it.
For the uninitiated Petunia and the Vipers glide effortlessly between every Country niche with the greatest of ease, leaving you unable to see the joins; one minute they are playing 4/4 time; and then following it with a pared down version of Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust and even a Romany Gipsy Waltz without missing a beat.
The surprise of the evening was the inclusion of Marty Robbins’ Big Iron which went down a treat with the traditionalists in the hall.
What a night! If it hadn’t been freezing inside and outside the Cluny in down-town Newcastle; you would have sworn that you’d stumbled into a time-warp Saloon somewhere between Austin and Bakersfield and witnessing two brilliant bands that had been beamed down from a parallel universe that is 40 years behind our own.