Photo of Martin Harley

Martin Harley Solo Show
Thursday, November 24th 2023 – The Kitchen Garden Cafe, Birmingham

I hadn’t seen Martin for quite some time and missed him at Upton Blues. So, when the opportunity arose to catch him performing at The Kitchen Garden, a small, intimate venue tucked opposite its more renowned neighbour, The Hare and Hounds, I seized it. Needless to say, it was a sold-out show with the venue packed to capacity. Martin, with his Weissenborn, acoustic, and steel resonators neatly arranged, his signature hat in place, set the stage for an evening filled with music, starting with the soulful strains of “Trouble.”

I’m all for a bit of Trouble, especially when played so beautifully on his acoustic guitar. Warm applause followed, and Martin shared tales of his travels in India, setting the stage for the exotic opening of “Cardboard King.” The cozy atmosphere of the venue suited Martin’s persona like an old winter coat, and we seamlessly slipped into the evening.

The melodic flow of “Dancing On The Rocks” washed through the room, clearing the way for a personal favourite, the enchanting “Blues At My Window.” This song was the one that initially drew me into Martin’s music, experienced years ago in the now-unmentionable slavers’ hall in Bristol. Martin delivered the vocals with a slight slur, the fat-necked Weissenborn bearing the weight of his slide, creating a glorious and intoxicating sound.

Returning to the acoustic, we transitioned to a break with the lovely “Putting Down Roots.” I couldn’t help but sense that an album awaited me.

As we entered the second set, I stowed my vinyl in its bag and made my way back to my seat, preparing for “Automatic Life,” a song that resonated in my ears and diverted my attention from the uncomfortable seat – just had to keep “Rolling With The Punches”! Quips and good humour filled the air as guitars were swapped and tunings adjusted.

Martin treated us to an old Rev. Gary Davis song, the superb “Death Has No Mercy,” where the fat-necked Weissenborn delivered thick bass notes while the slide rode the neck. The polished chrome National Resonator took the stage to spar with Martin’s recent album, “Roll With The Punches,” followed by the fervently finger-picked “The Time Is Now.”

Time flew by as Martin conjured up the dreamscape of “Cowboys In Hawaii,” an escapist journey as sweet as a honey bee. To top off the evening, we unwrapped a “Chocolate Jesus,” a delightful homage to Tom Waits, melted down and ripple-wrapped on the resonator.

Ready for the journey home, warmly wrapped in that familiar “Winter Coat” – though it may have been around for a while, its warmth was undeniable. Buttoning up after a wonderful evening of Martin’s magic, I realized it had been far too long – nobody’s fault but mine, or just maybe, the result of that lockdown period.

Words & Photography by Graham Munn

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