Hokie Joint, Emperors New Clothes – or Not?

The following review appears on the excellent Blues in the North West website.

Gig Review – Garston RBL, 10 June 2011

The unfortunate cloak of cynicism that envelops us with the passing of time, can become as much an effective weapon in the detection of hype as it is a hindrance to discovery. Keeping this in mind, there have been so many good things spoken about Hokie Joint over the last twelve months, it’s hard to know what to believe. For those still clinging to the last straws of new musical hope, the only logical course of action is to drop the veil of pessimism and go see what the fuss is all about.

If allowed only one word to describe Hokie Joint, it would have to be ‘quirky’. Being unlikely candidates for adoption by the British Blues scene, they seem unwilling bedfellows within a genre that has at least in England, become dominated by either guitar-slinging child prodigies, or slick, formulaic, middle-aged musos. Although having members of multiple age groups, this is a band who manage to avoid the usual clichés that currently reign on the circuit and set out their own agenda for playing ‘The Blues’ or as they put it, “Taking the Blues to the masses”.

Production wise, Hokie Joint offer the uninitiated punter a visual stage-theme, some left-field song compositions and a neat line in between-song anecdotes. In fact, it’s easy to forget that you’re actually attending a gig presented under the guise of ‘The Blues’; sure, there’s elements in there, but the bigger picture contains a lot more than a mono-genre flavour. Traditional Blues connections are maintained by the not too in-your-face harp of Giles King and the youthful but skilful slide-work of Clapton influenced guitarist, Joel Fisk. It’s fringe-Blues, but it works. Ask yourself if we really need another British Bonamassa/SRV teenage clone and the answer surely has to be, “No!” That’s where the likes of Hokie Joint inject their freshness, daring to drag the British Blues scene to a new platform, and not surprisingly, gathering a clan of followers in their wake.

There are no egocentric dominations at a Hokie Joint gig. Sure, people get to shine, but not in the usual tasteless limelight, generated by predictable guitar fuelled histrionics. No, these guys are a lot more subtle with their trade. Take the almost veteran rhythm section of Fergie Fulton and Stephen Cupsey Cutmore. Neither engages in futile soloing; they are completely comfortable in each others pockets, having forged a union together over many years, wiping out the need to make any personal musical statements. If these guys fell down the stairs whilst playing, they’d still sound like they were falling together.

Undoubtedly, what sells it for the Hokie’s comes from the way singer/vaudevillian frontman Jo Jo Burgess delivers their offerings. Tom Waits has been mentioned frequently as a connection point but if you listen closely, you can hear references to The Pogues, Folk music, the Stones, Polka music, The Doors, sea shanties, Ian Dury, Eddie Vedder, the Feelgood’s – in fact, traditional British Blues is the last place your brain cells will be tapping into for a familiarity check. When was the last time you saw a singer wear Guy-liner at a Blues gig? Exactly; this is a new breed for a tired scene, putting fresh coal onto a fire smoking on its last embers.

The icing on the cake has to be that the band have a healthy set of their own material. Yes folks; these boys don’t rely on regurgitating a back catalogue culled from the last thirty years of tired, unimaginative Blues/Rock favourites. Instead, they choose to showcase their own songs from two-CD’s worth of musings on life, the latest being, ‘The Music Starts to Play’. So here lies the challenge: Can other British bands rise to the mantle and dare to throw a spark into the works of a flagging engine? It’s certainly possible, and Hokie Joint may have just kick-started a long, overdue, revolution.