Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee at Grateful Freds, The Atkinson, Southport - REVIEW

4 Jun 2015

Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee at Grateful Freds, The Atkinson, Southport - REVIEW

Well I figured that I couldn't let ukulele greats Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee pass me by again before they leave the UK following their tour. Having seen them again at the Grand Northern Ukulele Festival, I was therefore delighted to learn that Grateful Fred (organiser of some top music nights in the Liverpool / Formby / Southport area) was putting them on as headliners at one of his revered Roots and Acoustic nights. Time for a road trip to Southport!

Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee at the Atkinson

So picking up one half of Chonkinfeckle on the way up we arrive at a smashing Studio Theatre at the Atkinson in Southport - what a great venue! We take Sarah and Craig by surprise as I had kept it a secret that I was going up (hugs and hellos), then see that one half of the Mersey Belles had also come along for the show. Hang on half of the Mersey Belles and half of Chonkinfeckle? So that's Either a 'Merseyfeckle' or 'Chonkinbelles' then?. Great to see them and some other ukulele faces in the crowd too. Well I guess it's not every day you get two of the most in demand performers on the ukulele circuit in your backyard.

The nights starts, not with ukulele, but with support from a cracking bunch of guys in the form of the Liverpool outfit the 'Cottonmouth Cajun Band'. They really did deliver a set of real toe tapping stuff. You see, that's really the point of this style of music from Louisiana - it's made for dancing to! Performed on fiddle, accordion, guitar and the Cajun triangle (known as the Tee Fer), it's always great to see a band who play together so naturally and clearly enjoy what they are doing. Great entertainment.

Cottonmouth Cajun Band

Then a move into the ukulele with the Grateful Fred Trio, all on ukulele and U-Bass. My kind of band this one, performing a set of covers that you sit noting in your head thinking 'yeah, that's a great song choice, and that one, and that one'. Songs from the likes of Tom Waits, Brinsley Schwarz and Cat Stevens.. maybe they had scanned my record collection before I went. Another great performance.

Grateful Freds Ukulele Trio

And with a full audience, the main event as Sarah and Craig take to the stage. I said the same about them at GNUF, but this is a pair with a really obvious musical connection on stage as well as a loving one. On the latter, that's a good job considering they are getting married in September, but it really does show in their performance. Swapping instruments, giggling to each other and many smiles. I think many people miss the importance of having a good relationship on stage with your fellow players (whether you are marrying them or not!).

Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee having fun

This was a mix of the dreamy to the blistering, and a blend of Hawaiian Standards, dreamy jazz and much of their self penned stuff that appears on their previous album together and their soon to be released new one (June 10 folks!). As a pairing, it works so well and there were some serious whoops of appreciation from the audience, blown away by Sarahs jazzy voice and style and Craigs serious chops on the uke. They play two ukes, in different tunings to compliment each other (one in G tuning, one in C) and it works a treat.

Sarah Maisel and Craig Chee - a real connection together

The other thing I like about Sarah and Craig is their stagecraft and the way they engage with their audience. Warm and funny, and Craigs laughter on stage is just damn infectious.

The night ends with a all the musical artists on stage together in a blues jam that brings the house down. All in all a top night out.

Grateful Freds all start jam to close the night

Then some final goodbyes, hugs and wishing all the best for their safe onward travel and before we know it we are hitting the Lancashire motorways. Somehow I think we will be seeing Sarah and Craig perform again.


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