The Blue Highways + James Hodder + Jamie Freeman + Howard Rose, The Betsey Trotwood, London, 18th & 19th October 2019

Unusually for what is essentially a brand new band, The Blue Highways played two shows back to back at the Betsey Trotwood in London’s Clerkenwell to celebrate their debut EP which was released back in August. The band (Callum Lury – lead vocals, guitar and songwriter; Jack Lury – lead guitar; Peter Dixon – bass guitar; and Theo Lury – drums and vocals) were joined on both nights by a horn section and kept the same playlist for both events.

They started with a new song ‘December Night’ before moving seamlessly on to ‘Blood Off Your Hands’ from their debut EP, and then ‘Highway Tonight’. These started the show well, getting the crowd in the mood and introducing you to their talents. Whilst the horns took a break, they then featured their first single ‘Take Me Away’ and another new song, ‘Rio Grande’ – which included an awesome four-minute introduction showcasing Jack Lury’s great guitar playing – with the audience become more entranced. This was also the part of the night where I cursed having to take photos – there are parts during these songs, especially with the added instrumentation I just want to close my eyes and listen, so I don’t miss a note.

At this point the rest of the band took a break and Callum Lury performed one of the band’s first songs ‘What’s a Man to Do?’ and then another fairly new song, ‘Tonight’, with Theo Lury, a simple song combining two voices with beautiful harmonising and an acoustic guitar.

With the return of the band and the horns they increased the pace again with ‘He Worked’ and another seamless transition into ‘Berwick Street’ – a song that is definitely more than the sum of its parts. With ‘Tunnel of Love’ and the last track from the EP, ‘Have You Seen My Baby?’ they closed their set. If you haven’t heard the latter and like a good country-inspired electric guitar line and a solid bass guitar part, you should check it out.

Of course, this was not the end. For the obligatory encore they bought on Howard Rose on Friday and Michael Clancy on Saturday to join them for ‘Play Johnny, Play’ along with a cover of Southside Johnny’s ‘Can I Get A Witness’ featuring Theo on vocals. The band clearly had a great deal of fun, especially during the last song.

Both nights were great, but I think the band were more relaxed on the second, which showed in their performance in a positive way. It was great to see them headline a gig and be able to showcase their talents in a less constricted manner. If I had one complaint, it would be that the trumpet was too high in the mix and at times drowned out the other instruments and vocals. If you have heard any of The Blue Highways’ music and enjoyed it, they are just as good – if not better – live. With a debut album recorded and set for release next year, I am sure there will be many chances to see them in 2020.

Support on the Friday night was from James Hodder and Howard Rose. James Hodder was first up, providing an entertaining set with his self-written folk/Americana blend and good on-stage banter. His voice, though understated, sounded great on his songs, and his self-accompaniment on acoustic guitar worked beautifully. Although short at six songs, his set was a good introduction and left me wanting to hear more. The second support act, Howard Rose, was more poppy and less to my liking. Whilst he sounded good, and is clearly a talented musician, his music just did not hit the spot for me.

Saturday’s support came from Jamie Freeman. An Americana singer-songwriter based in West Sussex, there is something of Billy Bragg about his music. He does not sound like him but there is that “Englishness” you get with Billy’s music evident in Jamie’s. Playing acoustic guitar with a drum pedal, his performance was entertaining despite the rather depressing lean of his lyrics. Whilst I preferred James Hodder, Jamie is someone I would be happy to see play live again and will be checking out his recorded music.

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