Music Saturday, May 23rd Words by: Gavin Brown, pictures by: Mark Bowen

Review: Groundhogs, The Booth Hall, Hereford

Music Saturday, May 23rd

Review: Groundhogs, The Booth Hall, Hereford

Hereford Blues Club have been putting on great nights at The Booth Hall since the beginning of the year and with the much revered Groundhogs they definitely hit the jackpot. 

We arrive at the venue just as openers As Mamas are approaching the end of their set and although the glimpse we saw of the band was all too brief, they made us want to investigate their music further and catch them in full when they next play.

Up next were Raptor, fresh from supporting Deborah Bonham at the Left Bank at the end of April, they enthralled the crowd with their bluesy rock, ripping through a series of numbers that had heads nodding and hands clapping.

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The band's mix of energetic rock mixed with blues grit is a tried and tested formula but it is one that never fails to impress when done correctly as Raptor definitely do. The passion and playing is infectious throughout with the band having as much fun onstage as the audience and as they wind up there is not one person in the room who is not enthused with what they have just witnessed.

After finishing their set, the band thankfully come back for one last song and it was with great delight that it was a cover of Black Sabbath's 'Fairies Wear Boots' that saw the crowds heads banging one last time and saw frontman Kurt Fletcher channel both his inner Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi at the same time and that is no mean feat!

A great performance from a band that never fails to deliver the goods and makes for a great run up to the headliners.

With a storied history, that would make the majority of bands green with envy and this is one that includes backing up Blues royalty John Lee Hooker, supporting the Rolling Stones, and playing the Isle Of Wight festival in 1970, Groundhogs are rightly looked upon in a legendary light.

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As they strike the first chord in their set, it is easy to see why, when the band's trademark tight psych tinged blues jams explode they are a joy to behold and the band have the audience transfixed from the get go. This continues for the next (almost) two hours and I'm sure they could have easily played that amount of time again such was their passion for playing.

With a set that took in songs from the band's entire career, drawing heavily from 'Thank Christ For The Bomb' in particular, they certainly wowed the Hereford crowd and for a band that formed over 50 years ago they certainly let their experience shine through.

This was a masterclass in musicianship, from sprawling jams to tight rockers, Groundhogs gave us everything and the band's set flew by in a maelstrom of blues rock goodness and was so tight that it would shame bands half their age.

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Songs like 'Ship On The Ocean', 'Soldier' and 'Garden' are played with a fervour that borders on infectious and the assembled throng are enraptured by the band and rightly so. Their focussed jams are so inspiring with the band performing as a tight musical unit and as with their support band they are are having as much fun onstage as the audience and when these jams morph into frenzied blues and back again, it's like manna from heaven for the assembled blues fans.

As Groundhogs ignite 'Eccentric Man', there is some enthusiastic dancing down the front that continues until the gig's end and it gets even more lively as their riff heavy up-tempo blues belts out from the stage and just gets more infectious as they go on.

The band reach the end of their set with 'Groundhog Blues', a fitting song that sees drummer Ken Pustelnik "playing harmonica for the first time since 1969" before concluding with 'Grey Maze' and leaving the stage to well deserved rapturous applause having well and truly blown the roof off!

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With a series of upcoming live dates approaching (including a show at Temples Festival in Bristol, where they may seem out of place initially amongst all the metal and hardcore bands but will definitely go down a storm as their tight playing and sprawling jams will be loved by the assembled throng), Groundhogs should not be missed at any cost.

It was a privilege to see them in such close proximity and a great night was had at a well run and fun night.

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