Live review by Ngaire Ruth
A vocalist for Alabama 3 (the band who wrote the intro song ‘Woke Up This Morning’ for The Sopranos), Londoner Ese Okodoro is an established singer, songwriter, and lead guitarist in her own right.
Okodoro won’t play ‘Kawai’. Her Fender Stratocaster hasn’t got a name. And in her song ‘Fairytale’, I recognise the home truths; the blues in that almost perfect rock song single. The pub crowd cheer for the music – something familiar but slightly different.
The world has gone mad, and grassroots venues – like the pub right on the street, which has to squeeze the most excellently intense rhythm section into the arc of the bay window – may be one of the last few true grit experiences left.
The Vooduu People, a The Guardian top tip, play rock music flavoured with R&B, pop, and soul; like the songs she has to play that people know, which makes up half the setlist. It’s the nature of the occasion, a great band waiting to slip in their own songs: ‘The Grenfell Blues’, ‘I Don’t Mind’ (she fucking does). Back to basics. There’s a whole album, Mercury in Retrograde, countless live recordings, EPs, and singles to the band’s name from which to choose.
The support vocalist arrives late in a shiny cupcake of a full-length skirt, and a broad smile. You would never put any of these people in the same room if you were sorting by type, but each member is worth watching. Now it’s a party. Sheena Ross wants to give the whole world a great big hug and has a diva sound to match the songs’ ambitions.
I’m sure a little piece of Ese dies when someone asks the band to sing happy birthday but you’d never know it – “we’re here to entertain you”. But thankfully she delivers the Stevie Wonder version. Okodoro knows that soon she will be rocking out, whispering to the monitor, wishing us away, because the moment of her own song has finally come around again, no one’s looking.
There’s real love for those FX pedals and a chugga-chugga guitar intro rhythm that let go of a melody that swaggers on, giving in to the swing of it (‘Up in Smoke’, ‘Silver Spoon’).
Sometimes the men nod to each other and say, in-between swigging pints, “Jimi Hendrix”. I’m thinking Ellen McIlwaine, a fiery slide-guitarist and singer who played with Jimi Hendrix once. Or Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who Hendrix cited as his influence, saying that he wanted to play just like her (of her unique guitar distortion)
I pick a fight. Sorry viewers. I got in front of him for the psychedelic soul song, with a name I don’t know.
“You may as well just sit on my lap, you’re so close,” he said.
“Girls to the Front!” I shout, with a raised fist.
It was the Rock’n’Roll music that made me so brave. Thank you kindly.
Every Monday through November the band will broadcast a live track on their YouTube channel
20th November: The Railway, Tulse Hill SE27
19th December: The Modern Arms, Greenwich SE10
19th January 2022: Rich Mix, Shoreditch E1 (part of the London Short Film Festival – details soon)