The Kate Gee Band. Keeping music – and beer – live.
No, you probably don’t know the name, unless you are from Brum, and you probably still won’t. Stalwarts of the local gig circuit for, well, let’s just say, a while or two, first as Prussian Blue and latterly, this last year or five, the KGB, they have relentlessly and resolutely plugged in and played on, providing enjoyment to their discerning fans the whole of that time. And to me. In their lifetime I have seen them as a folk duo and a six piece blues-rock monster, sometimes with two guitars, sometimes with keyboards, sometimes fiddle and always with the crystalline vocals of frontwoman, Kate, and her hubby, Dave, on bass. Of late they have developed a secret weapon. Or another secret weapon, given the first has been integral for some decades now, the fluidly melodic guitar of Bob Wilson, of Idle Race and the Steve Gibbons Band. (Yes, he did play on Tulane!) The new secret weapon has equivalently fine a pedigree, being John “Poli” Palmer. I’ll run that past you one more time, Poli Palmer. That one. The fella from Family, and one of the few men in rock able to make vibraphone cool. And, I can tell you, it still is, impossibly so.
Rock & Roll Brewhouse is new to me, and is everything it says on the tin. One of a cluster of new Birmingham Craft Breweries, they brew solely for this, their sole outlet, an upstairs bar in an industrial warehouse, based in the hip Jewellery Quarter. The decor is all old posters for gigs, with artfully arranged piles of old Mojos, Uncuts and similar, for the casual quaffer to peruse. Live music has joined their roster of entertainment, mainly Saturday afternoons, from what I can see, playing the Gaffer’s extensive record collection the rest of the time. It is a glory hole for what used to be called £50 men, those men of indeterminate age who used to frequent record shops when such things were commonplace. There were also quite a few women, too, the atmosphere, at 4pm on a Saturday, akin to many hours later at the Marquee club.
A brief soundcheck and I found my position, directly behind Mr Palmer, best able to see him, a pair of mallets in each hand, attacking his beautiful bit of kit, his deftness of touch skimming across the notes, at times sounding like a hammond organ, steel pans at another, as well as the more orthodox jingle. For such a bijou space, the sound balance was exquisite, as the rumble of bass emerged clearly apart from the singing guitar of Wilson. Thunderous drums from Rob Mason, himself no slouch, having sat in for Messrs Plant and Winwood on occasion, added to the melee. You might consider all this instrumental prowess daunting, and it would, I guess, be for lesser souls, but Kate Gee has done her requisite hours and is well versed and well placed to just effortlessly let them be her band; she is in charge, she is at the front, with a voice that commands respect, soaring and sinuous about her expressive range. Most of the material her own, written with husband Dave.
Two sets, each of around an hour, with many of the songs coming from 2017’s album, Legacy, which is a good starting point for those unfamiliar with the band. But, stripped back from the palette of additional players then available to them, the songs all sounded more vibrant and positive. Kicking off with You Never Have To Be Alone, that set the mood for the show, Kate’s vocals and acoustic 12 string strum embedded in the bedrock provided by her core team, Palmer and Wilson trading glorious solos, jousting with each other from the start. With moods that touched into jazzier tints and, even, the odd country hue, most would fit into the sometimes derided AOR label. ’75 to ’87 Fleetwood Mac might be a reasonable reference point, and there’s little derision I can see in that. As the first set progressed, so they loosened, with Don’t Look Back a then highlight, between the livelier songs.
A brief refuelling, in Kate’s case we learnt, of the parking meter, and they were back. Noticeably relaxing into the warm reception of the fairly rammed room, the soloing became both more extended and inspired, the grins between the players, as they laid down their gauntlets, a true sign of the enjoyment extending onto the stage. A charming dedication of an old song, from 1987, Stones, to one member of the audience, thanks Kate, certainly enlightened this scribe’s evening. It was, of course a cracker, benefitting from the new revision they have given it. The 6 o’clock end clearly breached, it was closer to half past before the day was called, one of the better afternoons of music I have had in a long time.
With the band staying to chat afterwards, as they rebadged and packed their instruments, I nervously asked for a guide around Mr Palmer’s gear, ending up with a swift tutorial from the eminently affable and approachable virtuoso. Kate also explained their dilemma, as to, when their earlier producer has died unexpectedly, how they had chanced upon Palmer to take over the making of Legacy. On completion, he asked shyly whether he might join the band. Well, you wouldn’t say no and they didn’t.
Live music is so much more than headline tours and arena concerts. Do yourself a favour: look out the local listings of smaller venues and halls, look for local grassroots talent, playing for pleasure, theirs and yours. Especially with covid so nearly killing off live performance, support the bands who have always been stuck in there, as we are lucky for their dedication . The Kate Gee Band fulfil a vital and integral part of the business. They don’t play that often; catch them when you can.