We were in attendance for a double header from two of Lunaria Records’ finest proponents of the blues; Mark Pontin Group and Five Points Gang.
Retro Bar in Manchester is a venue off the beaten path but with a strong pedigree of putting on great shows in their basement venue. It was a great choice for the double header of the Mark Pontin Group and Five Points Gang; both of whom have had strong years musically.
First up was Five Points Gang; and by God did they bring the fire! The trio released their debut album, Wanted (our review here), earlier this year. It’s one that we really loved and the trio were red hot in Manchester. A cosmopolitan trio, they consist of Welshman, Joe Pearce, on guitar and vocals, relocated Brazilian, Dinho Barral, on bass and, now, French newcomer, Gaet Allard on drums.
Throughout the fiery set in Manchester they radiated energy from the stage through tight rhythms, impeccable solo spots and impassioned vocals. All In All opens the set in prime Stevie Ray Vaughan fashion. Swashbuckling guitar and rolling bass help signal intent. Five Points Gang did not relent for the entirety of their set. Upbeat tunes like Made Man mix perfectly with slower numbers like All She Said.
With a unique style, Joe Pearce is a huge talent on guitar. His solos move between pure shredding and deft melody seamlessly. His tone and style perfectly befitting of the mood of each track. A huge highlight of the set comes in the form of a cover of Stevie Wonder’s monster hit, Superstition. Slowed down in tempo, the band absolutely nail the track with their own spin firmly emblazoned on the track. A huge success.
Keep your eye on Five Points Gang; they are only going to get bigger and better as their star rises further.
In contrast, the Mark Pontin Group, also a trio, were markedly mellower but still delivered some dynamic rocky blues. According to Mark Pontin, they ‘can’t do that with their backs,’ in reference to the shapes being pulled during Five Star Gang’s set. His echoing fuzzy guitar, (clearly bearing the well worn strains of age) almost Hawaiian in quality, opened the first number of the set but it developed strongly into more solid rock.
With pure Welsh water oiling his vocal chords, Mark gave a strong vocal performance despite his complaints of croakiness following a previous gig, an over exuberant smoke machine, four hours driving and five hours sleep taking its toll. Nevertheless the funkier Chasing Blood showed he was not holding anything back. His workmanship on the jazzy upbeat tune showed his ability to play a variety of styles.
A stunning rendition of Hendrix’ Crosstown Traffic, then an instrumental reminiscent of Robben Ford’s jazzy blues walloped along with pulsating bass runs from Joe Hoskin. For Howlin’ Wolf followers his rendition was vocally gritty and musically powerful. Altogether, his range of sounds, punctuated at times by some extremely dextrous wide fingering positions, was phenomenal.
As well as revealing his homage to inspirational artists openly throughout the evening there are elements of Cream too; higher praise cannot be given!
Their final number; Three Wishes; was the longest and most impressive and full of Asian psychedelic tones. Its ringing anthemic opening reminiscent of The Star Spangled Banner picked up in pace with chunkier rhythms reaching a whirling crescendo which suddenly slurred to an end.
Nobody left disappointed and it was thrilling to hear this trio, including virtuoso drummer Rowan Griffiths (who has an international reputation as a percussionist in an Abba tribute band) and lifelong companion on bass Joe Hoskin. Along with Five Point Gang, both may return to Manchester next year.
The contrasting package of blues music from talented, approachable artists showed that the future of live blues music in Britain is promising from a live point of view. Keep an eye out for any future gigs with this duo of bands. Dig deep and support live music; artists like this make it wholly worthwhile.