For those of you unfamiliar with the prestigious talents of Sari Schorr, then let me just say that so impressed was he upon hearing her, esteemed Producer Mike Vernon (Bowie, Clapton, Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Level 42) was tempted out of retirement to man the controls on her 2016 debut A Force of Nature. Since then, 2018’s more rounded sophomore Never Say Never was complemented by a barnstorming Live In Europe pre-Lockdown release.
The Robin 2, Bilston – 6 April 2023
Words and Photography: Sophie James
And so to the present day, the eve of the Easter Holiday Weekend saw Sari return to The Robin 2 in Bilston, which is a popular port of call on the blues rock circuit. Even before a note had been struck, Sari observed the front few rows of the expectant audience and remarked, “It is so good to see all these familiar faces here. I do really feel at home”.
With that, the band launched into Freedom, a cutting commentary on an increasing section of her homeland’s populace. “Common sense is out, ignorance will shout.” Within a few bars, it was immediately apparent just how tight, slick and expressive this band is. Long-term collaborator, guitarist Ash Wilson – whose own progression has been nothing shy of remarkable – is now joined by little brother Phil on drums, the nomadic but ever genial Roger Inniss on what else but the bass and the vibrant Adrian Gautrey on all things ‘Hammond’.
Next is the grinding Demolition Man, lowdown dirty blues as it should be. Virtually an impossibility not to sway to this one. The chemistry between Sari and Ash is blindingly obvious as Adrian lets rip on the ‘Hammond’. Previous set opener Ain’t Got No Money continued that debut album’s pure blues feel, but the soaring bridge takes it somewhere exceptional.
Where Have You Been My Friend? was the first of a trio of new compositions. Stylistically, this represented another step up with a sound that would not be out of place in a theatre or even an arena-sized venue. The second new tune, Coal River, as Sari explained, was drafted while staying in the Appalachian Mountains and certainly possesses that Tennessee Blues feel. This segued into the funkier Cat And Mouse.
Explaining that “Some people may only briefly enter our lives, but the effect they have upon us is profound and unforgettable” was her way of introducing Back To L.A. “Now I’m standing on the wreckage of these wasted days, it’s time to say goodbye to love.” This song, more than any other, IMHO exemplifies the stylistic change between the first and second albums.
The reflective Ordinary Life was introduced as a song which has taken on a more profound meaning over the continuing challenging times. The performance reinforced that bond between artist and audience. It’s instants or evenings like this whereby that connection transcends the usual dynamic, leaving your heart glowing and a mind full of moments to be cherished for years to come.
The gentle funk of Oklahoma precluded an even more substantial offering. If you are going to cover a song, and a classic at that, then you have to make it your own. The set’s first was a super funked version of Willie Dixon/Muddy Waters’ I Just Wanna Make Love To You that left you breathless just observing. It would be no exaggeration to say that this rendition would stand alongside comparable material from the Godfather of Soul or even the great Purple One. An 8-minute funkalicious stomp, exemplifying the virtuosity of each musician. Take a bow, everyone.
The mood was then taken down to a much deeper and darker place. Adrian, Roger, and Phil exited temporarily, leaving Sari and Ash to perform a stark and haunting version of Damn The Reason. A tale about the duplicity of domestic abusers, Sari’s body language mimicked her defence against the sonic attack of Ash’s six-string aggressor. A dramatic and utterly mesmerising performance.
Introducing another cover given The Full Sari, “I’d like to do Black Betty, if that’s alright with you,” she politely enquires. Ash maintained that haunting sound and set the scene before Sari’s equally poignant yet dynamic vocal compounds the air of desolation and desperation generated. Preceded by a dramatic pause which serves to increase the intensity, when the ‘step-up’ finally happens and all the other instrumentation comes crashing in, it unfailingly makes you go ‘WOW!’ A consummate display on how to rework another’s song.
The mood was then elevated with the allegorical search for Robert Johnson in the form of The King Of Rock n Roll’ before the rollicking Valentina brought the main set to a close. “We all know a girl like that,” she quipped.
Throughout the evening, Sari would regularly remark that this song took X or Y years to write. Her return saw the evening’s final new composition, in the shape of Suicidal Nation, five years in the making. With its marching beat and accordant guitar, I’m sure you can imagine the themes raised when such terms as “Freedom” and ‘Evil Minds at work,” are included.
“At times like these, we should appreciate the value of beauty. If you could only see yourselves through my eyes” was just the most impeccable way of announcing the fitting finale Beautiful. Her voice soared as the song climaxed, maintaining its clarity while expressing the most heart-wrenching emotion, unaffected by the previous hour or so’s exertions. “Broken but beautiful in somebody’s eyes. There’s enough love for each and everyone.”
This was an incredibly special performance by a collective of consummate musicians capable of injecting vivacity into a whole range of material. Delivering breath-taking reworkings of original and classic songs and from what was ‘debuted’, an evolving, increasingly sophisticated style that attains an even higher plane.
Already looking forward to her autumn co-headlining tour with Matt Pearce & The Mutiny. What a scorching prospect that promises to be.
You can read about special guests Dirty Ruby, here.