Pictures and review by John Hayhurst

A Harpoonist, an Axe Murderer and some Broken Bones. It’s a standard cold wet Tuesday night out at Leeds Irish Centre, but a much needed shot in the arm is administered by Saint Paul Janeway.  Alabama’s St Paul & The Broken Bones are on UK soil this week for a handful of dates and Gig Junkies caught all the action.

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Queuing up outside a venue in the pouring rain is not where you want to be on a cold Tuesday night in Leeds, and inside whilst it is dry, resembles a large working mens club with two levels and a handful of seats spread along the walls. It probably hasn’t changed much in 30 years and tonight it will play host to some slick blues and funky soul, some of the best and authentic southern American soul you will see this side of Otis Redding.

First though, the slightly worryingly titled support  The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer are about to take to the stage and after you get over the name, and realise that Harp = Harmonica and Axe = Guitar, then it all folds into place and the two musicians blend some of the dirtiest and stripped back blues tunes that Seasick Steve would envy.

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With drumsticks attached to pedals both Shawn Hall and Matthew Rogers are stretching the boundaries of a one-man band approach, telling everyone that “This is the only way the band can tour – we can’t afford a drummer”. They do afford though, to bring along a lady with a big stature and a big voice to match, Dawn Pemberton provides the soulful female vocal to compliment the rough harps and axes from the boys, blending together to make an authentic strange brew of tunes that could have been straight out of the Mississippi delta or perhaps ‘Black Keys’ demos from five years ago. Check out ‘A Real Fine Mess’ their latest album although we were told a new one is on its way in March.

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On to the main act and the age demographics inside this venue are decidedly 35 plus, with a handful of students curious to see what the fuss is about. I witnessed St Paul & The Broken Bones pull in around five to ten thousand people at Glastonbury last year, they were on a usually quiet Saturday lunchtime slot, and all those passing through to other stages or food stalls stopped what they were doing to witness this proper soul band from the southern states. Paul Janeway is a master of ceremonies, the band are sublimely talented and the almost reverend Paul walks out on to the Leeds stage like a preacher about to deliver a sermon of great magnitude, he throws off his cape to reveal a slightly camp leopard print two-piece suit that he has been ‘snuggly’ fitted into. What proceeds is an example of sheer entertainment and some superb soul/blues vocals, bizarrely delivered by someone looking like chatty man Alan Carr having a night out on the pull.

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Opening with ‘Crumbling Light Posts’ and then steering us through some key tracks from their latest album ‘Sea of Noise’, the band launch into ‘Like a Mighty River’ and Janeway erupts into one of the best dad dancers ever, a shimmy to the left, then right, a hand in the air as if to shade his eyes from some divine light, and then this voice that really should not be coming out of that face.

There is a funky 3-piece brass section, occasionally punctuated by some peaceful flute introductions, before turning into a dirty soul brass pump outfit, worthy of a James Brown backing band. Hammond organ and some rocking guitar breaks. Personal favourite ‘All I Ever Wonder’ seems to have new meaning considering the recent Trump direction “I can’t tell what side I’m on, I can’t tell what’s right or wrong, we ain’t ever going to sing one song” and the emotion quite clear on Paul’s face.

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On ‘Broken Bones and Pocket Change’ Janeway walks all the way through the crowd to the back of the hall, taking his shoe off and throwing it back stagewards, stepping in spilt beer and screaming at the audience whilst climbing on to tables or the balcony rail to get a better full view of the crowd. It’s a move, perhaps rehearsed in many concert halls over the last 12 months, but brings him closer to his congregation and signals a move to get things going and bodies dancing.

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‘Call Me’ follows and then a finale and the slow build-up of ‘Sanctify’ which is an incredible combo of guitar, organ and brass with the now trademark Paul Janeway outpouring of his soul on the grateful audience.

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This is about as authentic as southern soul gets, almost gospel but thankfully without the hallelujahs and diva vocal scales. All delivered with a tongue in cheek grin and some dance moves from a character that Matt Lucas could probably mimic. A much-needed tonic for everyone in Leeds tonight, and if you get the chance to go to one of their gigs then don’t hesitate, they really don’t play these shores often enough.

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