Morganway / CC Smugglers

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Morganway / CC Smugglers - Village Hall, King's Somborne (UK) - 26 October 2019

I will admit it's extremely rare that I attend a gig (be it for personal enjoyment or review purposes) solely to see/support the opening act, and even on the very odd occasion when I have done that in the past, I usually at least know the headliner in some capacity. However, tonight I knew absolutely nothing about CC Smugglers prior to the show and decided to keep it that way so as to allow the uncommon opportunity to be surprised by what I saw, which rarely happens these days due to the number of submissions from various groups or artists I demo during the course of a Fireworks issue. I have also been to a multitude of different and less usual venues for a concert – the overtly posh Route Of The Kings at Hyde Park for Bryan Adams, the Royal Hospital Chelsea to see Toto, The Rose Bowl (Hampshire Cricket Club ground) again for Bryan Adams and even a local pub in my hometown of Andover to see Newman play a warm-up gig – but I have never been to one at a village Hall. In fairness, the village hall in King's Somborne is vastly more impressive, modern and bigger than any others I have known. However, on the off-chance you're wondering why I reviewed this particular date from a multitude of others where these two bands have played together, the simple reason is that King's Somborne is just fifteen minutes down the road from where I live; given the majority of concerts I go to require a journey to London or Southampton, it made a nice change to have one so local and thus it was a no-brainer.

For the benefit of those reading this review who do not also read Fireworks, I am a huge fan of Morganway. When I demoed their self-titled debut for potential review in our Sept 2019 issue, it totally blew me away and I not only did the review myself but also an interview as well. I was so impressed by the release that it is presently in the running for my 2019 Album Of The Year. I also read some online posts that stated they were even better in the live environment than on the recorded album so it was certainly a gig of total opposites with high expectations for Morganway and no expectations for CC Smugglers.

The six-piece opened their set with 'Devil's Canyon' and 'My Love Ain't Gonna Save You', and it was quickly apparent that the aforementioned live reputation was entirely deserved. The musicianship was not only fantastic but also crisp and clear (with Nicole J. Terry's fiddle playing even more prominent), while the vocal harmonies were every bit as rich as those found on the record. However, as was the case with my album review, the aspect that impressed me the most was the vocals of SJ Mortimer. She deployed her full range from quiet and hushed through extended/held high notes to her raspy growl. 'Let Me Go' was up next and it was every bit as good as hoped it would be with some great vocals, fine fiddle playing and some glorious fret-work from guitarist Kieran Morgan. They took the pace down a notch for the "slightly Psychedelic" ballad 'Frozen In Our Time' which was rather beautifully performed by all the members of the group. Morganway closed out their opening slot with two ripping renditions of what are (by a whisker) my two favourites on the album. Bassist/guitarist Callum Morgan swapped not only his bass for his twin brother's guitar, but he also took over from Mortimer on lead vocals and proved he too is a fine vocalist. The whole band looked like they were having a blast during this track with lots of movement on stage and some huge smiles; it was pretty obvious the band enjoy playing this one live as much as any other track. Their short opening set came to a close with another of my favourites in 'Hurricane' and it was quite amusing during this song when Callum Morgan and Terry swapped places stage right for Terry to have to stand on almost tip-toe to reach the mic where the bassist had been singing, given the huge difference in their heights; suffice to say you could see the smirks on stage. As she was through the whole set, Mortimer really let rip at the end with some fine, throaty singing in the choruses. Sadly, their all too brief performance had then reached its end and although I would say the audience were not your typical gig-going crowd, they did get a decent applause. I had a chance to talk to most of the band during the interval, and they were all extremely down to earth, welcoming and happy to take the time to talk to everyone.

As I mentioned above, I had no idea at all of what to expect from CC Smugglers, but they turned out to be quite a revelation and extremely entertaining. Musically, their sound was a rocking mix of fifties/sixties Rock 'n' Roll (complete with Dan Edwards on a proper double bass) with some Folk embellishments from Sam Barrett on fiddle/ukulele and Ryan Thomas on banjo and dobro. Much like Morganway, their ace in the hole was enigmatic and charismatic front-man Richie Prynne, who was a showman from start to finish. Admittedly, their style was more suited to those with a wide taste range in music rather than music lovers who steadfastly seek out a diet of pure Rock and Metal, but regardless of personal preferences, you couldn't help but be impressed by their performance. I didn't catch many of the song titles, but their high-pace set saw them fire out track after track with plenty of energy, musical ability and enthusiasm. The various band members play a variety of instruments and it was fascinating to watch how they would swap from guitar to something like a ukulele or banjo to add a different sound. 'Dirty Money' was one particularly memorable track that saw several in the audience bopping away. Around half the tracks came from their debut album 'How High' with a further couple coming from the 'Write What You Know' EP. I will be honest and state that I am not sure whether the remaining tracks (from the fifteen or so played) were original compositions or a few covers of tracks I simply don't know; either way, they were all rather enjoyable. During their set, Prynne announced that sadly CC Smugglers would be calling it a day following the tour, and the reason for this hit home with me. The band are another casualty of the PledgeMusic implosion. From what I understand from what he said on stage, they did indeed raise the money for the album but lost the funding and ended up deeply in debt personally (or more specifically to his father) from the whole experience... to such an extent that it was no longer viable. Recent readers of Fireworks will know we have covered over this through an interview with Danny Vaughn from Tyketto who also found himself losing out due to the operating practices and eventual ending of PledgeMusic. Having seen how this has caused immense distress and difficulties for other acts I have spoken to (some who recovered and some who didn't), I truly felt for CC Smugglers. However, they didn't let this bring the whole show down, and it almost seemed that having mentioned this during their show provided some extra impetus to really go for it. It was a joy to see Prynne wander through the audience as he sang one particular song and it was the sort of event where little special moments like that could take place. Having started out as street performers, CC Smugglers ended their show much like they started their career. The whole band came out to the middle of the audience in a circle – where they were joined by some of Morganway as well – and proceeded to blast out a rollicking rendition of 'Stand In The Street'. It was a really nice way to close out a rather fine and (considering I knew nothing about the group) surprising show.

Morganway were everything I hoped they would be live, and whilst the audience were not the most riotous I've ever witnessed, they certainly gave it all on stage which in turn the live reputation. I certainly can't wait to see them do a headline show when they next play one somewhere near me. For a band I previously knew nothing about, CC Smugglers were an absolute delight, which only makes the fact they are calling it a day all the more sad. I purchased a CD based purely on their performance tonight, and though it is only a drop in the ocean of what they need to recoup... as Prynne himself said, every little helps. If you like that style of music, I strongly suggest you check them out online and if you also like what you hear, then why not pick up a CD. Who knows, if enough people do that, then maybe the band could yet continue. It may not have been at Wembley Arena or The Underworld in Camden, but tonight King's Somborne Village Hall proved a fine evening of entertainment and I take my hat off to the organisers of the Somborne Sessions.

Review by Dave Scott, photos by Michelle Compton

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