Saturday 7th March 2015
Words: Trevor Locke. Photos RhinoFeroSs © photography
The bar in Rutland Street – Manhattan34 – hosted an evening with one of Leicester’s most celebrated funk and blues band Smokestacks. The trio led by singer and guitarist Rajiv Mohanlal performed a set of songs that delighted the audience, gathered in the small basement room of the bar. Many of Leicester’s muserati were there, including musicians and singers from other bands.
Tonight the musicians of Smokestacks were on top form; but then they always are. The crowded room was filled with atmosphere and as is often the case where such music is being played, people were applauding and cheering during the performances, as well as at the end of each song.
The Smokestacks is a band that I have been following for a long time. Take for example my review from Sunday 18th April 2010 at The Shed. I wrote
I was delighted to see this band again. From the word go, they launched into a set of jazzy rock songs that fired up the room. These are three of the most accomplished musicians in Leicester. Raj showed off his virtuoso guitar technique. Their slow number was full of style and character. This is a band that stands out from the rest, even though they are still quite young. They bring something special to our local music scene. Raj is an ace guitarist and Joel (Hanson) is one of the best bass players in the county. Their set included a mixture of original, own songs and covers, including one by Ray Charles. It was a musical tour de force. [History of Music in Leicester, forthcoming]
On Thursday 23rd April 2009, I saw the band at The Donkey:
The night was launched by blues rock band The Smokestacks. They started their set with a vigorous song which got the ample crowd enthused. The trio produced an excellent line-up of numbers, blending blues/jazz sounds with rock, led by Raj on guitar and vocals and backed by the clever basing of Joel and the tight drumming of Dan. Three musicians who work harmoniously together, feeding off each other musically and creating some deliciously pleasing music which has some scintillating passages.
Going back even further, to Friday 17th October 2008, The Pavilion, I said:
The blues rock trio features vocals and scintillating guitar work from front man Raj Mohanlal, tightly woven with the drums of Dan Drage and the quality basing of Joel Hanson. The band played a set of bluesy rock songs with fire and commitment, providing classic sounds with conviction and marvelous interaction and co-ordination between the musicians. Masterful guitar work and virtuoso drumming brought forth deserved adulation from fans and other musicians alike. It’s a shame however that Joel and Dan didn’t contribute to the vocals. [Arts in Leicester magazine]
Last year Smokestacks was at Sumo supporting Smokin’ The Profit’s album launch. This was a notable show that included support appearances from Paddywax, Blunderbuster and of course Smokestacks. I remember asking them, after their set, how their music worked on stage. Raj told me that they improvise their music within a framework that the members of the band work out before the gig. Their musical chemistry comes from having played together for so many years. This makes them sound really old but in fact they are all still comparatively young men. However, it was a revelation to me because the way they perform live makes you think they have been rehearsing the songs together for a long time, the results being so polished and accomplished. In fact, no two performances of any song by Smokestacks are event the same. Joel Hanson also plays with Strangler Figs, another band where music is generated by the chemistry between and among the musicians. [Music in Leicester magazine]
Appearances by The Smokestacks are sadly somewhat rare and tonight’s gig came after a long period of absence from the stages of Leicester. So, being able to see them tonight was an unmissable experience and left one feeling that, no matter what else is going on, any appearance by this band is a ‘must see’ event.
Greendate at The Shed