Dani Wilde and Todd Sharpville @ the New Crawdaddy Blues Club 20/06/14

(Photography by Beckie Howes)


Dani Wilde began her career age 17, opening for Steeleye Span star Maddy Prior. Since achieving a 1st class BA Honours degree in Music, she has recorded with top Blues producer Mike Vernon, and released three solo albums on Ruf Records. Dani's opened for Jools Holland, Robben Ford and Johnny Winter, and she is currently working on her 4th album, bringing together her Blues, Gospel, Soul & Country influences, while continuing to fundraise for her on-going charity work in the slums of Embu, Kenya.

Todd Sharpville was born The Hon. Roland Augusto Jestyn Estanislao Philipps, giving him claim to be "the world's first blue-blooded Bluesman." A protegé of American Bluesman Joe Louis Walker, he won the British Blues Connection "Best Album" award in 1994 and “Best UK Guitarist" award in 1995, beating Eric Clapton & Gary Moore. Todd has backed Hubert Sumlin, Ike Turner, and Chuck Berry, and played support to BB King. He has recorded four albums, though one, "Diary of a Drowning Man," remains currently unreleased.

The New Crawdaddy Club, now in its fifteenth year and its third incarnation, currently shares the premises of Billericay Town Football Club with regular Mod & Ska event The Blue Beat Room, after having worn out its welcome with Travelodge customers at The Halfway House. Organised by affable and overworked Paul Dean, keyboard man of resident support band The Heaters, the Crawdaddy boasts that it presents “the best local and international Blues acts to be heard in the UK,” and easily lived up to its claim this week by hosting Dani Wilde & Todd Sharpville's “Two Guitars and a One-Eyed Dog Tour.”

The one-eyed dog is Todd's constant companion Ghengis, an appealing little Shih Tzu I first met two years ago, back when he still had both eyes, and I interviewed his master for the British Blues Archive. He's quietened down quite a bit since then, but I guess losing an eye can do that to a puppy. Now a sadder and wiser canine, he cannily divides his time between the stage and the audience, and is no doubt building up a fan-base of his own in readiness for his first solo venture.

The staff at the BTFC bar passed our cordiality test by producing two large bottles of Diet Coke for my partner. (Did you know that Diet Coke “from the tap” picks up sugars from other drinks in the line, making it unsuitable for diabetics? No, neither do a lot of pub managers, nor do they much care.) The steward gave me the finger, but since it was a Bishop's Finger, I didn't complain. We were early enough to catch the end of Todd & Dani's sound-check, and to hear them congratulating the Crawdaddy crew on getting the best monitor sound of their tour so far– a pity, since it was the last date!  We were also early enough to witness new Heaters guitarist Dave Milligan bandaging the jack-socket of a shiny new Thinline Tele with huge swathes of gaffa tape, a sight to give any average axe-man nightmares.

The Heaters took the stage at 8.30pm, while daylight still shone in through the Club's overhead windows, impairing the ambience somewhat. Beginning with an “unplugged” set, they worked their way efficiently through some standards, “Ain't Nobody's Business,” “Walking By Myself,” and “Mess Of Blues,” before going electric and displaying their versatility on Eric Bibb's more sophisticated “Hope In A Hopeless World.” Then they gave us a taste of Chicago with Muddy's “Young Fashioned Ways” and The Wolf's “Who's Been Talking?” before announcing Raffle Time – for it is thus that the Club is funded, the Heaters and sound crew providing their talents and services free.

More Bibb followed with “World War Blues,” then a heavy-riffed original with a triplet backbeat called “I Miss You,” though I suspect that what lead guitarist Paul Milligan missed most was the ability to hear his own solo clearly. His younger brother Dave fared no better, having waited through five numbers to get a lead break of his own, only to discover that his Tele had gone massively out of tune, perhaps the title, “You Better Watch Yourself,” had been a warning, or maybe the gaffa had got to it! Still, these were very minor inconsistencies in an otherwise slick and varied set, and more power to The Heaters for keeping the Blues rolling on in TOWIE-influenced Billericay.

After a brief changeover, where bassist Chris Patching announced that it was Todd Sharpville's first appearance at the Crawdaddy since 2002 – why the long wait, guys?- Todd and Dani took the stage with “Blues Music,” a rousing, Soul-flavoured shuffle about the music we love, where they traded verses and joined voices on the chorus. Todd took an impressive, extended solo, and they name-checked all their (and our) favourite Bluesmen on the outro before bringing it home.

In the excitement, Dani's top button had worked undone, which sparked a brief diversion about accidental indecent exposure, as Todd revealed that he'd once split his jeans at a gig where he was “going commando,” with the obvious embarrassing results. Don't worry Todd, P J Proby was doing that before you were born! (You people all remember P J Proby, right?) Dani wisely then changed the subject, and the mood, with a moving ballad from her new album, appropriately titled “Change,” displaying her stunning vocal range to great effect.

After talking about their “dubious pasts,” Todd presented one of his songs from the “Porchlight” album, the compelling and brutally honest “Used,” which he sang with great passion, and enhanced with a “scat” solo. Then he swapped his guitar for keyboard, to accompany Dani on her recent download single “Loving You,” which smoothly blends Country and Soul influences. After a call to the road crew to replace a malfunctioning mic, they continued with another song from Dani, “Open Road,” before Todd switched back to guitar and vocals for a spirited cover of Bruce Springsteen's “Red Headed Woman,” throwing in a hot guitar solo that drew spontaneous applause from the large crowd.

Dani replied with “Change Your Mind” from her soon-to-be-released fourth album, and followed it by joining voices with Todd again on “Ghengis's Song.” Calling the pooch to the stage for a round of applause certainly increases the “Aah” factor, but doesn't disguise the fact that this C&W-styled ditty is elegant in its simplicity, and very appealing, too. Dani said she was surprised that her cover of the Everly Brothers' “Love Hurts,” made its way into Europe's Country charts, but while she's no Dolly Parton, her clear, high voice and earnest delivery make her Country influences ring through loud and clear on this sort of material.

Intriguingly, the last time I went on Todd's Reverbnation site, I found him covering exactly the same number, and I was rather hoping he'd be prompted to join in, but it didn't happen. Instead, when it ended, he simply suggested “Let's play some Blues!” which got my vote, and the crowd's too. Dani started off with John Lee Hooker's “I'm In The Mood,” and played a neat solo, then they segued into Jimmy Reed's “Baby What You Want Me To Do,” before Todd shifted into Junior Wells' “Early In The Morning” and took another supercharged guitar break. Dani's solid rhythm provides the perfect foil for Todd's mercurial lead, and he was plainly in his element, grinning like a cheeky schoolboy.

Despite their obvious differences, Wilde & Sharpville seem very comfortable with one another, and when they discussed their shared love for the music of the fifties, Todd darkened the mood and wrung every ounce of emotion out of Matt Dennis & Earl Brent's “Angel Eyes.” His dynamic and heartfelt performance turned out to be quite a showstopper, garnering great audience approval, and he followed it with an equally affecting original from his as-yet-unreleased album, “Diary Of A Drowning Man,” recorded with Sam (son of Joe) Brown. Here Dani took the distaff part before inviting the crowd to join in the chorus, which they did enthusiastically, bringing the set to an anthemic end.

Such a terrific performance naturally warranted an encore, and Todd & Dani returned with a beautiful duet on Van Morrison's “Crazy Love,” stamping their own identities on the song while losing none of the rich warmth of the original. These two stars are a well-matched pair who work smoothly together, projecting both intimacy and enthusiasm. Their show covers all the stops from relaxed to intense, and between their considerable composing talents and inspired choice of covers they fuse Country, Soul and Blues into an inspiring and entertaining package. I hear they're taking the tour to the States now, so I sincerely hope that Dani, Todd & Ghengis receive all the appreciation there that they did here at the New Crawdaddy tonight.


Stevie King 20/06/14