Ben Waters (solo) and Miles Winter Roberts
Stormy Monday Club, Barnes

9th December 2002

On one of the coldest nights of the year, if not the bleakest, Ben Waters made his way from The Scilly Isles to play one of the most memorable gigs of the year.

But first up was the incomparable Miles Winter Roberts, a pleasant surprise on a night of many musical highs. If the double-barrelled name sounds pompous, Miles's lugubrious stage persona, subtle songs, and fine acoustic guitar style quickly triumphed over any doubts.

The unnerved Miles started his set in front of 20 doubting die-hards, five minutes after the doors opened. 45 minutes later he had earned a deserved rousing reception by an enthusiastic audience, now respectable in terms of numbers. Miles has an acerbic wit, a smoky cool voice, somewhere between Terry Reid, Colin Blunstone, Robert Palmer and Kevin Ayres, and has the songs to hold his own.

Sometimes a passionate balladeer, other times a white boy soul singer, Miles wrung ever nuance, angle and laugh from his own thoughtful song writing cannon. The smouldering "Waiting For Your Face", the biting "Cosmetic Beach" - a savaging of the San Tropez cool - and a compelling love song "Head In Your Cloud" were all mightily impressive highlights from a fine talent, who will hopefully soon find an altogether bigger stage.

Up stepped Ben Waters, or rather as it turned out, he sat down and promptly spilt his pint over the grand piano. Making light of the sticky situation, Ben adopted his Flanders and Swann routine, slowly looked up at the enquiring crowd, and asked the first of a recurring question on the night, "Any requests"?

What followed was a latter day Victor Borge routine - a mixture of dazzling piano, and musical and visual jokes that kept the audience both spell bound and in stitches by turns. Ben slipped into Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, and Jerry Lee Lewis as well as blending in the closer to home talents of Geraint Watkins, and some of his own New Orleans style piano.

Ben is a limited singer, but he make up for this minor disadvantage by a huge stage presence, mixing funny anecdotes with some brilliant musical moments. Both hands explored the keys with speed, dexterity and at times the subtlest of touches, as he explored everything from jocular single note themes to busy clusters, and of course lots of blues, boogie and rock & roll. It's debatable whether any other contemporary pianist, Jools Holland included, could hold an audience in such awe.

By the end of a mesmerising two set show, Ben called up Miles to sing a brace of improvised standards, including "Georgia" and an earthy rendering of "Dock of the Bay", complete with Jumping George McFall on congas.

What started out as a cold bleak beginning to a pre Christmas week, ended up as an inspirational musical event with plenty of good humour. Blues boogie and great songs never sounded better matched. Watch out for Ben Waters' new album in the first quarter of the New Year, and check out Miles's "Shoo-Lallelujah". Both deserve a place in your collection.

Pete Feenstra - Soundcheck magazine