While not professing to be expert on the blues or bluegrass by any means, this correspondent left John Crampton’s support slot at a very sparsely populated Concorde convinced this was a guy of national or even international repute, such was his skill. Prior to writing, an internet search revealed that John is playing gigs at local pubs The Exchange, Sidewinder, Bees Mouth, The Eddy and The Mesmerist in the next couple of months. A man more steeped in this kind of thing said on hearing us mention his name, “I am always surprised he hasn’t become more recognised. Superb player.” So there.
A one man act, he uses a pedal simulating a kick drum to keep time. His quick finger picking skills on steel guitar and latterly banjo are amazing. The guitar is all over the place in a good way, close your eyes and imagine two or three of them. Handclaps and harmonicas are well in the mix as well as the throaty singing well associated with the style. The penultimate track, “Who Do You Love”, was a fantastic diversion, starting with a rhythmic bashing of the steel guitar and those petrol gargling vocals, before the instrument is turned around and played the hell out of. His devilish energy means can’t divert your eyes for a second from this breathtakingly raw act.
Sometimes on a night where the crowd lacks in numbers, they make up for it in enthusiasm, and so it proved for Tamikrest’s magnificent turn. Just prior to the final track a lone voice shouts “Fucking brilliant mate!”, directed at Tamikrest’s guitar wielding, borderline genius, master of ceremonies Ousmane Ag Mossa. Given the frontman had addressed the crowd all night in French, we’re not sure he understood, but the gathered devotees did; spontaneously bursting into another round of applause. It summed up a common feeling.
The North African, Tuareg Blues band opened as their most recent and best album Chatma does with ‘Tisnant A Chatma’. It’s the little things that impress, backing vocals and handclaps, perfect secondary percussion – so often superfluous in this sort of affair – essential. This all lays the perfect foundation for Ousmane Ag Mossa to show his outrageous guitar skills, playing winding leads all night while maintaining a superb connection with the rhythm guitar of his French bandmate Paul Salvagnac. The two men indulging in a mutual appreciation society for the majority of the evening.
There were a beautiful variety of moods throughout the show. ‘Achaka Achail Aynaian daghchilan’, with it’s skeletal percussion and hushed guitar lines feels like a distant cousin of Black Sabbath’s ‘Planet Caravan’. ‘Itous’ feels like a commercial reggae number – Ag Mossa is clearly a Marley devotee – informed by both afrobeat and Middle Eastern sounds. The most memorable track and set closer ‘Imanin bas Zihoun’ is a fantastic melange of cultures, with ululations, call and response vocals supporting a tune that is right out of the Western blues-rock template.
What Tamikrest get so right is the balance. Not so alien as to be off-putting but weird enough to be mysterious. Infinitely danceable but with slow moments. Politically motivated but clearly having a good time. A constantly enthusiastic crowd spends the majority of the evening performing the ‘Tamikrest Shuffle: feet moving left to right, right to left, head shaking, look of joy on the face. If anyone could bottle that feeling they’d be very rich indeed.