Saints & Sinners
"Going Over Home"
Mycenae House – November 2021
Music from the Cross to the crossroads, promised guitarist Ben Tyzack as Saints & Sinners took to the stage at Mycenae House. And he wasn’t kidding – what followed were 21 great songs that swung seamlessly and brilliantly between gospel and blues.
The band is a merger of longstanding and much-loved outfits Fran McGillivray/Mike Burke and Spikedrivers’ trio Tyzack, Constance Redgrave and Maurice McElroy. And the array of instruments they play between them – guitars, banjo, bass, harmonica, flute, drums, washboard and other assorted percussion – makes for a sensational sound.
The five of them set the mood at the outset, opening with their stonking version of the traditional Keep Your Hand On The Plow which featured a dazzling guitar duel between Burke and Tyzack against the driving rhythms of McGillivray’s bass and McElroy’s drums and a ringing throb created by Redgrave using only a triangle. It was magnificent.
And the artistry never waned. The century-old hymn Jesus Is Getting Us Ready For That Great Day started Staples Singers-style before evolving into 1970s’ funk, Up Above My Head centred on a delicate Burke solo and I Got My Mojo Working would have had Muddy Waters marvelling at Tyzack’s slide-playing.
St James Infirmary Blues may have its roots in old Bristol but Saints & Sinners reinterpreted as a laidback anthem that would not have been out of place in Haight-Ashbury circa 1965. By contrast, the next song was a moving spiritual in memory of the legendary abolitionist and former slave Harriet Tubman.
No blues artist is more iconic than Robert Johnson and the band gave us three contrasting songs credited to him. The seductive Come On In My Kitchen featured a terrific bass duet by McGillivray and Redgrave, Red Hot showed Johnson was capable of being joyful as well as gloomy and Crossroads – well, it’s where it all started and stands alone in the blues canon.
The first half of the gig ended with a fabulous rendition of Jesus On The Mainline which for me was up there with Ry Cooder’s Paradise And Lunch recording.
The second set continued where the first had left off, with great versions of Train Done Gone, Down To The River To Pray, I’ll Fly Away and Stuff Smith’s glorious 1930s song about substance abuse, If You’se A Viper.
Most bands might have been happy to close with such a showstopper – but not this one. They launched straight into storming versions of Born Under A Bad Sign and Johnny Winter’s The Mojo Boogie before switching gear once again with a stunning take on the spiritual Wade In The Water which in turn segued into pulsating renditions of Take Me To The River and They Call Me The Voodoo Woman.
By contrast, the final song before the encore was a lovely, deeply emotional gospel version of the 1907 hymn Will The Circle Be Unbroken.
This was yet another great gig put on by Sonic Promotions. Their next Mycenae House offering, on 26 November, is an unmissable evening with acoustic guitarist master Tristan Seume.
The Greenwich visitor November 2021
Blues Matters Magazine – February/March 2021 Issue 118
The great thing about blues and gospel is, you do not need to be sad or religious to really enjoy either or both, and in this case, a clever amalgamation. This, paradoxically, is a genuinely joyous collection of songs, the musicianship is understated but perfect for the underpinning of the songs, which is what the musicians wanted to highlight in making the album.
The voices are completely individual and each singer highlights the vocal strengths with their choice of lead vocal. Fran McGillivray’s voice on Here Me Talkin’ To Ya is careworn but feisty, and the light touch with the guitar solo is the proverbial icing. Tackling a genuine diamond-hard classic like Crossroads is never easy, but Ben Tyzack has the blues chops in his voice and guitar to create another arresting version here. It has elements of the Cream interpretation, and the band are right on the money behind him.
The aching vocal from Constance Redgrave on St. James Infirmary Blues underlines the way these songs are played and sung – everyone on here has a deep and heartfelt understanding of the medium they are working in – and hopefully they will join up together next year to tour this album. The blues (and gospel) community needs to hear these wonderful interpretations live on stage. The additional words have been added with taste and care, adding to the magic already in place.
The individuality of the re-workings of some well-known pieces is an absolute joy to hear, this is one of the finest albums I have heard all year. I urge everyone to obtain this album, you will be really pleased you did. Do not thank me, just send money. - ANDY HUGHES
Blues In Britain – November 2020
For those who enjoyed the tour, then this release will be very welcome to now have the joy of an album by them. If you didn’t catch the tour no need to wait any more just get a copy of this wonderful album to enjoy again and again.
Saints & Sinners are Ben Tyzack, Constance Redgrave and Maurice McElroy, far better known to everyone as The Spikedrivers, and joined by blues duo Mike Burke and Fran McGillivray. Even before the tour they had worked together before on tour, but this is their first recording together, and it has been more than well worth the wait to have such a superb album by them. Other than one song by Ben Tyzack that first appeared in The Spikes Blues Trash album, all the rest of the chosen songs are a mix of both classic gospel songs and The Devil’s music the blues, hence the title of the combined band. Songs from Robert Johnson, Mahalia Jackson, Ma Rainey, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bessie Smith and Blind Willie Johnson among others, fill the set.
Things begin with Keep Your Hand On The Plough, opening with just a bell ringing before the rhythm section comes in with that sort of shuffle you associate with J J Cale, and featuring Ben on vocals. One thing that’s ideal from the band line up is that everyone takes vocals on songs, and most have backing vocals as well. Fran takes the vocals, on a song from 1941 Up Above My Head, often recorded but like all the songs on this release has a full fresh feel that draws all things up to date without ever losing respect towards the original versions. This larger line up gives them all they need for a fuller use of instruments. The twin guitar work of both Ben Tyzack and Mike Burke, often fills both speakers, and as Ben is such a superb slide player Mike more concentrates on chords or neat little lead lines.
Some of the songs although original now see added lyrics which adds just a little something to these new versions. The sound of both Fran and Constance sharing lead vocals on songs like I’ll Fly Away is more than worth the buying of the album alone, a pretty perfect match. The styles of music though make such an interesting mix from shuffling blues, to ragtime in the wonderfully titled If You’se A Viper an old Stuff Smith song sung here by Maurice McElroy, a jolly little number, and one he has added some of his own lyrics to by the end.
You almost surely know Crossroads Robert Johnson’s song brought to further fame via Cream and many others. Well, here we have a version full of freshness and ideas from Ben Tyzack, that opens with just voice and slide, but just when you feel your sitting comfortably, the band crack in with another shuffling beat that really lifts the song up as Ben says “It’s hard to improve on so many classic versions, but I think we’ve added something to the pot”, you have this is one version of this well recorded song that’s up there with the very best, a great track.
Then we have the very jazzy St James Infirmary opens with banjo and a very 20’s feel all about it. A song also known as Gamblers Blues, and with added flute as well, and you’d think it was Constance’s song it fits her voice so well, and her sense of joy and fun in singing. One Ry Cooder song that most slide guitarists have a crack at is Jesus On The Mainline, so it’s no wonder Ben brings his version to the party. With Ben’s guitar sliding as smooth as silk and those background voices again this amounts to a stunning new version of the song. As good as the original.
We get one chance to have regular duo of Fran and Mike dueting together on Death Came A Knocking from 1939, but it was originally titled Travelling Shoes, but it’s not a morbid song. This is a nicely paced gospel blues, and again Fran’s vocals are just wonderful. Things draw to a close with Fran back on lead vocals and everyone else joining in on a rousing version of Ain’t Nobody’s Business way back from 1922 then by Anna Meyers and the Memphis Five. Well, there’s five great musicians and singers on this album, not the Memphis Five but whatever the UK equivalent to that is.
This really is a superb album, and surely among the best by anyone anywhere this year, deserves to be Traditional Album of the Year. Each song here feels like it was written for and by those involved. It’s one of those albums you just can’t praise highly enough, and after the Summer we’ve had it’s an absolute must for lifting your spirits high, and maybe joining in yourself on the choruses. The Spikedrivers and Fran McGillivray and Mike Burke are the perfect line up for an album, and do hope once things are back to normal they tour it again. In the meantime this is simply unmissable blues at its very best.
Reviewer: Pete Clack
Blues In Britain Review – Blues Bar Tring 20th August 2020
Another fabulous outdoor gig operating under Covid restrictions, the third put on at Pendley Court Theatre by Tring Blues Bar. It was clear that the band were enjoying themselves as much as the audience and that came across in their music. The concept was clear; giving everything authenticity as well as a theme: blues is the devil’s music, but with roots in gospel and American slavery. Ben Tyzack guitars and harmonica, Fran McGillivray bass, guitar and percussion, Mike Burke guitars, Constance Redgrave bass and percussion and Maurice McElroy drums and percussion (and everyone taking on vocals!) gave great texture to the music. The harmonies at times five-part, were wonderful and gave a real gospel vibe to proceedings. They finished with Take Me to the River, Voodoo Woman and Will the Circle Be Unbroken which gives you a good idea how they mixed it all up. Their arrangements were imaginative and far from predictable.
Telling stories of slavery and the coded messages in many songs, and the role of Harriet Tubman (look her up) in civil rights, these guys are serious about their music and it showed. Their Robert Johnson trilogy was powerful but, as always, with enough of themselves in each song to give a nice little twist. The two ladies on bass was a great example of how they work: doing a phrase and response duet in one number. They were rarely on bass at the same time: Fran playing guitar, Constance on percussion (often a washboard, which also added a flavour of the Deep South!) Hip Shake was a great crowd pleaser; Death Came A Knocking a spiritual The sun set, the evening got a little cooler, the music rocked on, the audience partied…everyone went home happy! If you don’t live too far away check us out, we haven’t sold out yet – but we’re getting mighty close. A huge thank you to the Court Theatre for helping us out during these strange times.
Click the image above to read the live review by Neil Mach of the Staines show in December 2019.
The live review of the Staines Riverside Club gig was also printed in the February 2020 issue of Blues in Britain Magazine.
Dusty's Holmer Green 12th December 2018 for Blues In Britain
On a cold winter's evening in the deepest, darkest recesses of Holmer Green, there were many weary travellers gathered who can "testify" that they"witnessed" the musical miracle that is Saints and Sinners. Glorious harmonies, imaginative arrangements of a superb selection of songs, delivered to perfection.
Saints and Sinners are a collaboration between The Spikedrivers (Ben Tyzack, Constance Redgrave, and Maurice McElroy), and Fran McGillivray and Mike Burke. They play the blues from the heart, from Down in the River to Pray, through a fabulous arrangement of Born Under A Bad Sign, pausing at the Crossroads to Wade in The Water and many other fine songs. Between the songs, some great banter and introductions: I really enjoyed Maurice with his history lesson on the significance of water in many of the songs.
The evening ended with a standing ovation from the "converted". One overheard remark summed it all up rather nicely, "THIS" is what live music is all about!"
Do not miss the chance to go and see Saints and Sinners if they are in your area. They really are too good to miss.