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Corn Potato String Band

The Greystones, Sheffield
Saturday 25 June 2016

Sometimes, when you're sitting in the audience at a show, the distinct feeling of being at the perfect gig comes across you. Granted, it may just be a mood thing, or the alignment of the stars or any of the other dippy possibilities, but halfway through the Corn Potato String Band's first set tonight, I was thanking my own lucky stars that I'd come along to The Greystones and that Maria Wallace of True North Music had invited me.

Things looked promising from the start when the four-piece country band Murston Bapchild and the Braxton Hicks leapt up on stage and began to crank up their homage to Hank Williams/Bob Wills in true Grand Ole Opry fashion. The Greystones in Sheffield might not necessarily be equipped with the stained glass windows and sainted pews of the Ryman Auditorium, but that's no obstacle for a band's Nudie-suited players to make us feel a similar Saturday night Nashville vibe. Starting with Hey Good Looking' the band soon settled into their set, which also included such delights as Moanin' the Blues, Brain Cloudy Blues, I Won’t Be Home No More and the lilting classic Things.

The three musicians that make up the Corn Potato String Band were pretty visible tonight before they went on stage, milling about the Backroom and chatting to folks as well as sticking around to watch the support band. This is another contributing factor to knowing that you're in the right place at the right time. The stage was stripped bare after the Hicks' set, except for a single microphone stand that occupied the centre stage with three fiddles attached. For anyone with even the slightest understanding of old time American music, the single microphone is always a good sign that things are going to be fine.

The three bandmates, fiddler extraordinaire Aaron Jonah Lewis, full beard and nimble fingers intact, multi-instrumentalist/singer/clog dancer and 'crankie' operator Lindsay McCaw and last but certainly not least, banjo maestro Ben Belcher took to the stage tonight with each musician determined to give it all they'd got. The two sets were packed with traditional and contemporary songs and tunes such as Hot Lick Fiddlin' Man, Chesapeake Bay and the title song from the band's latest release Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet, interspersed with some down home wit and humour from their own neck of the woods.

Waiting patiently at the back of the stage for its big moment, the 'crankie' featured in just the one song, Rattlesnake Mountain, which not only told an engaging story in both words and rolling pictures, but also the song gave Lindsay and Aaron the opportunity to do a bit of role reversal, with the former's fine tenor and the latter's falsetto. With plenty of swapping around of instruments, each performance made it difficult to ascertain which instrument each of the musician's chose as their speciality. There's little doubt though as to which instrument was Aaron's speciality, a virtuoso player of the highest order, he could virtually make the fiddle talk, or in the case of tonight's finisher Listen to the Mockingbird, sing like a bird, or several for that matter, together with the odd swarm of bumble bees.

Joining the trio for the final encore, the four members of the Hicks returned to the stage for an impromptu version of Bob Wills' Take Me Back to Tulsa, which brought the night to a close. A hugely entertaining and memorable night.

Allan Wilkinson
Northern Sky