Christchurch Folk Music Club

‘Pulling the Ton’: The Muddy Mama Blues Band

22 March 2015

At 9:30pm the satiated audience rose to its feet as the encore of St Louis Blues faded away. The somewhat staid interior walls of the Irish Society Hall had rocked all evening to, at times, a 10-piece band intent on remaining loyal both to Mama Judi Smitheram and to the eras and genres it had explored.

Such energy and output would have challenged most bands over the course of an evening, however, so Mama Judi devised a first half in which band members were introduced individually song by song. In this way we witnessed them take flight and add colour in a way not possible within the spectrum of the entire ensemble. This was Judi the Blues Mama, leaning into God Bless the Child, caressing Can’t Help Lovin’ that Man, belting out Blues in the Night, gems and rarities one and all by Maria Muldaur, my old favourite the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and Billy Holiday.

Mama Judi was on fire from the opening bars, occupying centre stage in terms of delivering vocals and patter, but also the dominant force in energy, enthusiasm and presence. We gladly went along with her for this delightful evening’s entertainment.

There was a second Mama this night, this one ostensibly on keyboards but whose reach extended far beyond. Showing decades of working concerts, shows and television, and effortlessly leaping from her beloved chamber music to the challenges of modern electronica, Mama Mary Rushton was the one who set up the flow for this concert, scoring all the arrangements, setting the beat, and embellishing the back-up singing and brass with all manner of engaging rhythmic and melodic motifs. Her playing was totally sympathetic and such a joy to listen to.

The middle section represented by These Boots are made for Walkin’ was a bit too commercial and ho hum for me but for the final stanza, the band raced into toe-tapping 1960s Motown: Walk, If it hadn’t been for Love and Change Gonna Come – music ripe for the horn section and which pressed the audience’s nostalgic buttons. This was show time for Motown’s White Mama. And did they Pull the Ton? 100 hours of rehearsal for nearly 100 minutes of concertising (27 songs), advertised by possibly 100 publicity emails were rewarded by my count with just over 100 pairs of ears, many new to the Folk Club, who were happy to pay just over 10x$100 at the door. The answer was a resounding Yes.

Judi is to be complimented on her vision, networking and organisational ability.

More, please.

by Tony Hale 

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