Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve seen the future, and it’s a small but perfectly formed Aussie who has travelled all around the world only to end up singing the blues in her adopted hometown of Glasgow.
The mighty Charlotte Marshall And The 45s have won The Future Of The Blues competition following a hard-fought live final in London, which saw five acts battle it out for a recording contract with the Mascot Label Group, home to Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart and Kenny Wayne Shepherd.
The competition was organised by The Blues Magazine, Mascot Label Group and The Big Easy BarBQ And Lobstershack restaurant chain, and hundreds of acts applied to take part when the search was first announced in January./o:p
The crème de la crème were invited to take part in a live final at the Big Easy restaurant in Chelsea at the end of April, where they each had to perform two songs in front of three judges – The Blues editor Ed Mitchell, Mascot boss Ed Van Zijl and Big Easy founder and chairman Paul Corrett.
From all four corners of the UK they came, and the final five also included Henry’s Funeral Shoe, Kaz Hawkins, Matthew Douglas and The Black Circles.
“We got a phone call from my guitarist’s grandmother, saying, ‘I heard there’s a competition and I know you play blues, so maybe you should call them and see if they like you,’” recalls Charlotte Marshall.
“I clicked on the link and it turned out it was my favourite restaurant, which I always make a point of going to whenever I’m in London, the Big Easy. To make it even more coincidental, we had just finished recording our new single, which is called Big Easy Blues./o:p
“The single itself is about New Orleans and driving south through the States and finding yourself. There was this strange synchronicity in it all, going down from Glasgow to London for the final. It all came together,” adds Marshall, who was born in Australia.
“To be brutally honest, we forgot we entered,” admits Henry’s Funeral Shoe guitarist Aled Clifford. “It sounds bad saying that. We just saw it, applied and didn’t think anything of it.”
For some of the bands, this was their first taste of a live music competition. For others, it would just be their latest.
“I’ve done them all,” says Kaz Hawkins with a laugh. “I was on Opportunity Knocks when I was 12 years old. Bob Monkhouse had taken over from [original host] Hughie Green. I sang Doris Day’s Secret Love and my granny dressed me in this green ballgown. It was crazy.”/o:p
On the day itself, all five acts gathered at the Big Easy for an afternoon of soundchecks, interviews and networking. “I was thrown a little bit, because the organiser said there was a full backline provided,” says The Black Circles’ Sam Bratley. “I felt a bit outside my comfort zone. But it was good fun. You could sense a little bit of tension in the air, but we just had fun with it and treated it as a regular gig.”
“We got quite close to Henry’s Funeral Shoe,” adds Kaz Hawkins. “We were winding each other up. Charlotte was outlandish. She’s a little pocket rocket. It was just great craic. It was probably one of the most relaxed competitions I’ve ever entered, because everyone was rooting for each other.”
“There was a real family vibe and everyone was there to play the blues,” says Charlotte Marshall. “You could see at the forefront of some people’s minds that it was a competition. For me, it was enjoyable just to forget that and be part of a community. I was so proud to be on a line-up with these other artists. There were of such a high calibre. It was great being able to do that in that venue, because it was tight and sweaty. It was such a representation of the new generation of blues. We are calling it the future of the blues, but we’re coming from an enormous past. It’s as alive as it always was.”
Before the show, the finalists were all treated to some of the food on the Big Easy’s mouth-watering menu of southern grub.
“We ate like kings,” says Marshall. “I think my boys were pretty happy about that. That’s why the vibe was so good. We normally write songs in the kitchen, so we might as well play them in a restaurant.”
“It was almost like a last supper before we had to perform,” adds Kaz Hawkins. “I don’t eat before I sing, so my boys were like three Neanderthals, sniffing over a rack of meat. They thought it was their birthday, because we had been on the road for two days and they were starving.”
First up to play was Matthew ‘Mafro’ Douglas. “My sound is rooted in the blues, whether it’s soul, R&B and funk,” he explains. “I throw a bit of blues in there.”
The competition was then turned up to 11 with Henry’s Funeral Shoe./o:p
“We always see ourselves as a rock’n’roll band, and not a blues band,” explains Aled Clifford. “We thought our material might offend some people. It was hard to pick two songs which wouldn’t offend people.”
They were then followed by blues rockers The Black Circles, before the ladies took centre stage with Kaz Hawkins and finally Charlotte Marshall And The 45s rounding off an incredible night, reflecting the vibrancy and diversity of the modern blues scene.
“We watched all the other bands and that was as scary as hell, because they were amazing,” adds Marshall. “But being on last is always enjoyable, because everyone was ready to have a good time. My boys really nailed it. We just partied and hit it home. But the pressure was pretty intense.
“I got my Southern Comfort afterwards and we chilled out. It was important for me to let it go and not be concerned about the results. We just did the best we could.”
Originally, the plan was that the three judges would deliver their verdict within five minutes, but there was a good half hour of deliberations before the host of Team Rock Radio’s The Blues Magazine Show and master of ceremonies, Big Boy Bloater, announced the winner.
“I’m pretty small and I was right at the back of the room, and couldn’t see anything,” recalls Charlotte Marshall. “I was stood next to my driver, who is an incredible guy. Big Boy Bloater eventually blurted it out and my driver was so excited, he picked me up. The dress I was wearing was pretty skimpy. I don’t know who was behind me, but they got more than they bargained for. I managed to unhook my dress from his suit and get on stage. My driver was more excited than I was. It was a funny little moment, but my guys were over the moon.”/o:p
Minor wardrobe malfunctions aside, all the contestants agreed The Future Of The Blues live final had been a night to remember.
“There are a lot of good bands out there, who need a step up,” reckons Sam Bratley of The Black Circles. “It doesn’t matter if we didn’t win it. To have the opportunity to play in front of Mascot, you can’t really put a price on that.
“As I said on the night, it’s nice to see the blues coming back into fashion. It’s nice to see the younger generation come back and give it a shove in the right direction,” he adds.
And Kaz Hawkins was full of praise for the winner, Charlotte Marshall. “She’s the same age as my son. To be competing with the next generation is an honour in itself. Afterwards I said to myself, ‘Kaz, it wasn’t meant to be and there’s the next generation, who have youth on their side.’”
The judges were all equally impressed with the eventual winner. Mascot Label Group owner Ed Van Zijl remarks, “What a fun night and what a great talent. I am genuinely thrilled with the winner. Charlotte Marshall And The 45s, mark that name!”
The Blues Magazine editor Ed Mitchell adds he “was blown away by the talent and diversity of the five finalists.”
“There’s so much more to the blues than three chords, 12 bars and ‘woke up this morning’; and the finalists proved that the future of the music we love is in safe hands,” he says./o:p
Big Easy owner Paul Corrett was also impressed by the level of talent on display at The Future Of The Blues final.
“I was totally blown away by each act,” he says. “It was a really difficult decision to make as I think that they were all deserving of a record deal. We very much look forward to further partnerships with The Blues Magazine and Mascot Label Group in the future.”
And don’t think this is the last time you will hear about the other finalists of the competition either. Henry’s Funeral Shoe will be hitting the road hard throughout August for a European tour, before heading off to the hallowed ground of Clarksdale, Mississippi in October, when they will be playing the 2015 Deep Blues Festival. The Black Circles, meanwhile, will be supporting Laurence Jones at various dates around the country and will also be playing a date with Jon Amor (The Hoax, Boom Band) in August.
Kaz Hawkins is also working on new material and has plenty of live dates coming soon.
“I’m ready to rock and be the artist I want to be,” adds Hawkins.
The competition winners have also been extremely busy, as you would expect.
“It’s all very exciting and daunting,” says Charlotte Marshall. “We’re all still in the early stages. Ed Van Zijl is an incredible man and we’ve been talking to him. We just went into the studio and laid down a couple of new tracks. We’re very excited for the label to hear them. I’m looking forward to seeing how things will pan out.
“The guys on that label are incredible. Being lumped in with artists like Joe Bonamassa and Bootsy Collins is a huge honour. And Walter Trout! My guitarist and I played at a benefit for him in Glasgow last year.
“I was talking to Big Boy Bloater when we were down at the Big Easy. I told him I think the blues will never die and it’s always exciting to see new directions. With the likes of Percy Sledge, Ben E King and BB King passing away, it’s a strange time.
“If you want to talk about pressure, try being labelled the future of the blues. That’s big pressure! We got in the bus afterwards and I said to the boys ‘right, we’re the future of the blues, we’d better get to work!’”
She’ll go far, that Charlotte Marshall. You mark our words. /o:p