Don Gallardo and Stuart Bond opened What’s Cookin’ on July 9. It was my 50th birthday. A prime seat in the middle of a large room with a stage at one end and a bar at the other, what was there not to like? The stage was bathed in bordello pink and bedecked with what looked like old illuminated plastic Christmas trees. Polystyrene tiles topped off the ceiling. It was my kind of place.
The venue was upstairs at The Leytonstone Ex-Servicemen’s Club in East London. The gig was part of What’s Cookin’, a bi-weekly showcase of acts often labouring under the moniker “Americana”. It often means country, but not necessarily. At What’s Cookin’ it could equally mean swamp boogie or rock ‘n soul. To be fair, the organisers don’t call it Americana. It’s one of those annoying, catch-all, meaningless labels, just like “World Music”. (Have you ever heard a World Music dj play The Beatles or Bob Marley? Yet they were truly global acts whose songs reflected their (and others’) “roots”.)
Don, and his sidekick for this particular gig Stuart, were strong-voiced, emotionally engaging and played well. This was country straight out of Nashville, minus the western; although they were sporting 10 gallon hats. I was seriously impressed, with the music and the hats.
After a suitable break for more liquid refreshment - the birthday pints were piling up - a married Kansas-based duo, Truckstop Honeymoon, took to the stage. Originally from New Orleans, when Hurricane Katrina hit they relocated. At first the skinny, hippy-haired, dude on banjo and his bespectacled double bass-playing wife didn’t lift the audience like the previous act. But then, somehow, his spoken routine, and the quality of their performance, made me and assorted other revelers warm to them….a lot.
Perhaps these gigs are hard to judge objectively. They take place in a bar and there is no price of admittance (although a bucket is, rightly, passed around).
This though was my fourth outing to a What’s Cookin’ event. I have not yet been disappointed with the quality of the North American or North American-style acts that Stephen Ferguson, the organiser, attracts.
This Sunday (20 July) from midday he’ll be showcasing a whole day of it in Henry Reynolds Gardens as part of the Leytonstone Festival. I’ll be there.