Much has been written about “the power of three.” Apparently it’s something to do with the evolution of the brain and how much easier it is for humans to grasp the concept of ‘threes.’ This notion certainly endures in storytelling, whether it’s in The Three Musketeers, The Three Amigos, or The Three Stooges. Whilst there’s nothing slapstick about the Americana supergroup, Bennett Wilson Poole, there’s still plenty of between song humour and bonhomie with this trio, who are debuting their eponymous album over three nights (coincidence?) at the Betsey Trotwood. Indeed, there are times during the evening when the band appear to be having the time of their lives, riffing off each in humorous as well as musical ways. This magical collaboration have all made significant individual contributions to the UK Americana scene for a long time now – Danny Wilson in Grand Drive and the Champions of the World, Robin Bennett in the Dreaming Spires, Goldrush, and St. Etienne, while Tony Poole, producer supremo, used to play in the critically acclaimed but short-lived band, Starry Eyed & Laughing.
Performing the album in its entirety, this is the second in a three night run in Clerkenwell. The debt they owe to Crosby, Stills and Nash is clearly apparent – first in the naming of the band, then in the album cover which imitates CSN’s first album – and of course in the influence of Laurel Canyon on their sound. When they take their final bows at the end of the evening, though, it’s Tony Poole’s contribution which leaves the most lasting impression. Poole’s former band, named after Bob Dylan’s composition, ‘Chimes of Freedom,’ and recorded by the Byrds on their 1965 debut, couldn’t be more apposite tonight, as it’s the sound of his chiming Rickenbacker that’s the centrepiece of this performance, and evidence were it needed again, of how a 12 string can transform the simplest riff into something magical. Boasting a resounding breadth of sound, the natural rich guitar tone echoing in this basement room is truly awe-inspiring throughout their set.
Right from the whip crack of the opening drum salvo on the first tune, ‘Soon Enough,’ it’s the sound of those 12-string arpeggios rippling out which evokes the heyday of folk rock. The song positively thunders along, while it’s also as sunny a piece of jangle pop as you could hope to hear, reminiscent of the Travelling Wilburys ‘End of the Line’ – the trio each taking a turn at singing a verse each, while the song lyrics set the tone for the night – a celebration of the power of positive thought: “Life is a mystery train/ Never know when it’s arrived/ The journey is all we have/ To let us know that we’re alive.” On the album the song fades out with Poole’s Rickenbacker echoing Roger McGuinn’s sitary sounding guitar solo on ‘Eight Miles High,’ but tonight he playfully throws in the riff to Roy Orbison’s ‘Pretty Woman’ at the end for good measure.
Playing the songs through in the order of the album, it’s an effort to identify any weak or middling material, although ‘Hate Won’t Win,’ written in the immediate aftermath of Jo Cox’s senseless murder, stands out as a passionately political rallying cry for tolerance and understanding in an increasingly polarised world – and it’s one that bears a strong resemblance to the Neil Young penned ‘Ohio’ for CSNY.
There’s an honesty and integrity at the heart of all these songs that’s uplifting as well as being easy on the ear. Bennett Wilson Poole also do the personal alongside the political, the soul-tinged ‘Hide Behind A Smile’ addressing the sensitive issue of how to deal with anxiety and depression. There’s a touching moment too in recounting the circumstances which led to the writing of ‘Wilson General Store,’ the song resulting from an idea Robin Bennett had on waking one morning, the inspiration for which was based on Danny Wilson’s grandparents who met and fell in love in Melbourne – leading them to establish a shop called Wilson’s Emporium – the band joking that the song needed to be more prosaically titled, seeing as nothing rhymes with the word ‘emporium.’
‘Lifeboat (Take A Picture of Yourself),’ the final song on the album, proves to be the pre-encore finalé of tonight’s performance. It’s another socially aware number, inspired by Tony Poole seeing a newspaper article about an overcrowded refugee boat in the Mediterranean, the news item adjacent to a piece on selfies – the juxtaposition of these two subjects – one serious, the other ludicrous – leading him to reflect on how we’re two distinct sets of humans on the same planet who appear to live in entirely worlds – but in a wider sense are all literally in the same boat. Pitching in at a fairly lengthy eight minutes, it’s destined to be a sure fire classic, the song affording Poole an opportunity to indulge in some extended guitar histrionics at the finish, resembling something Crazy Horse might have cooked up on the album ‘Ragged Glory.’
The band return to play the folksy sounding Danny Wilson penned number, ‘Old Soul’ which is followed by a rousing rendition of ‘Searching for the Supertruth’ by the Dreaming Spires, with Poole joking that it’s Robin Bennett who provides the philosophical spirit of enquiry behind the band. With Poole having played the famous Amazing Zigzag concert at the Roundhouse with the likes of Michael Nesmith, it’s maybe no surprise that one of the chosen encores tonight is Nesmith’s own ‘Different Drum,’ while the Starry Eyed & Laughing number, ‘Flames in the Rain’ also get an airing. The heat of the basement leads Poole to joke that he “needs the James Brown nurses at this point.” The final encore is a truly inspired rendition of ‘One Hundred Years from Now’ by the Byrds, causing Poole to ponder somewhat melancholically that perhaps in a hundred years’ time the world might be a better place.
Describing themselves comically at one point as the Everly Brothers mixed with Norman Collier, there’s wit, humour and fun to be had here in abundance – but it’s the spirit and dynamic of the band that most endures in the memory: equal partners enjoying the ride and totally committed to the project, while recognising the slender thread by which all our lives hang.
Three really is a magic number. However, to merely describe Bennett Wilson Poole as a trio is to underplay the fact they’re actually more a proper quintet tonight – and it would be remiss not to recognise the excellent contributions made by Fin Kenny on drums and Joe Bennett on guitar and vocals. A big shout out too to The Raving Beauties who earlier on paid tribute to the late, great Bap Kennedy, playing a number of songs from Bap’s early project – Energy Orchard – alongside their own material and some of Bap’s solo work. Their tribute album, raising money for the Marie Curie charity, is well worth supporting.
All pictures by John Morgan