Dom Pipkin: Smokin’ Boogie

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It seemed like ages since I had managed to catch a gig at The Inchyra Arts Club. It’s a stunning venue in a refurbished cattle byre near St. Madoes, which since it opened in June 2014 has hosted an impressive combination of music, comedy, poetry and theatre, attracting big names like Jake Bugg, K.T. Tunstall and Dr. John Cooper Clarke.  Last summer I was lucky enough to check out some great acts including amazing hard rockers Hunter and The Bear and comedian and jazz musician Earl Okin

When I mentioned that I was thinking about doing a review at Inchyra I had plenty of offers to accompany me as both my girlfriend Jo and my mum Norma where itching to check out the venue and more than happy to be my gig buddies.  So, with mum acting as designated driver, we hit the road, arriving in plenty time for a couple of cheeky ciders while Norma wolfed down a delicious vegetable curry.  Suitable fed and watered, we couldn't wait to check out boogie-woogie pianist and singer Dom Pipkin who's been described as “the UK’s best-kept piano secret”.  He is a musician who has a deep affinity for New Orleans music and has performed there extensively, meeting and sharing the stage with some of his musical heroes such as Allen Toussaint and Dr. John.

It’s amazing how Pipkin can play convincingly in the style of so many musicians while not sounding like he’s just doing a 'by the numbers' cover version.

This year the city of New Orleans is going to be 300 years and tonight Pipkin was going to act as our guide through it’s musical history with his show ‘Smokin’ Boogie’.  We start with a little bit of a potted history, including how much of the city’s musical development took place in its many houses of ill-repute in the segregated district known as ‘Storyville’ which was a hub for prostitution, liquor and music. We hear about some of the area’s musical pioneers such as Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, who as Jelly Roll Morton, may not quite have single-handedly invented jazz, but as Pipkin remarks “he was definitely there”.  It was possible to receive Cuban radio signals in New Orleans and Morton began to incorporate Latin rhythm’s into his playing, particularly the habenera, which with its syncopated pulse was almost like the hip-hop beat of its time.

Now, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a song's got to be worth at least twice that. So Pipkin treats us to an amazing rendition of one of Jelly Roll’s signature tunes, the aptly named ‘Crave’. Turns out Storyville’s and Jelly Roll’s reigns were both relatively short-lived, the former was deemed too much of a distraction to troops in the run-up to WWI, so was shut down by the Navy, Dom illustrates this moment in history beautifully with his performance of Louis Armstrong’s ‘Farewell to Storyville’.

DOM PIPKIN REVIEW- Yes Sir, I can boogie!Meanwhile, Jelly Roll's popularity waned so much that he began to think he was the victim of a voodoo curse and he ended up dead at the age of 50 from stab wounds.  After a wee bit of Professor Longhair and Percy Mayfield, the first half closes with one of Dom’s original compositions. ‘Love Affair With New Orleans’ is an evocative, sadness tinged, but melodically pretty ballad that has a sort of bleary-eyed closing time vibe.  Mum is particularly impressed, ‘That’s the best one yet!’, she remarks.

Things start to really get going in the second half with a host of great performances in the style of some The Big Easy’s piano greats.  It’s amazing how Pipkin can play convincingly in the style of so many musicians while not sounding like he’s just doing a 'by the numbers' cover version.  Everybody loves a bit of Fat Dominos and the audience really gets into a rousing rendition of ‘Blue Monday’. 

The real highlight, however, are the history and songs of James Booker.  I didn’t really know much about the pianist Dr. John referred to as “the best black, gay, one-eyed, junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced”.  Dom is clearly very passionate about Booker and when he starts to channel him in a Booker style rendition of 'Junko Partner’ a blues song that has been covered by everyone from Dr. John and Bob Dylan, to Warren Zevon and The Clash, you can see why.  I’ve never heard a version quite like this though and can’t wait to check out James Bookers original recording.

One of the reasons I wanted to go along to the show, was that I was sure that a New Orleans piano gig would feature at least one song by one of my favourite musicians, Dr. John.  I’ve loved the Doctor ever since I saw him sing ‘Such a Night’ on Martin Scorcese’s famous concert film ‘The Last Waltz’ and tonight I get to see Dom do his version of the tune.  It’s such a great song, with a really amazing right-hand melody and Pipkin’s vocal is spot on. 

It’s only fitting that the last song should be another number in the style of James Booker, the man who aspired to be the black Liberace.  So in a slightly meta twist, we get Dom Pipkin playing piano in the style of James Booker playing piano in the style of Liberace!  It’s electric stuff!

After the show, mum queues up to buy a CD and we get to have a little chat and photo opportunity with the man himself.  Jo and I get some tips for our trip to New Orleans later in the year, ‘don’t stay too long on Bourbon St. head to Frenchmen St. instead’ and mum has a bit of banter about Ray Charles (wasn’t a very nice person apparently).  It was a great night and we all pile into mums car, stick Dom’s live cd ‘Smokin’ Boogie’ on the stereo and head back to Perth singing along.

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