|The Billy Banks Sessions, John Lewis Trio
Atomic Cowboy Records ACR 003
It may look and feel a million miles away from Sun Studios in Memphis, but the Billy Banks Housing Estate, Penarth, South Wales has proved to be an unorthodox yet ideal location for Welsh Rockabilly hero John Lewis to record a new album.
After drummer Billy Roberts became the last remaining tenant on the derelict (soon to be demolished) housing estate, the idea of recording an album in his front room with no concern for noise complaints from neighbours was just too good to resist. And while it's hard to imagine that the abandoned location could inspire anything other than disgruntled vitriol about social oppression and poverty John Lewis and his Trio turned those four walls into a 1950's juke joint of the mind, driven by toe tapping rockabilly, honky tonk country and good time rock'n'roll.
Accompanied by Stuart McIlroy on piano, Paul Woodmansey on doghouse slap bass and drummer Billy Roberts as well as other guests like the Clive Anns' Skittles Team who supply a 'highly spirited' chorus to the rousing drinking song 'Belgium Bars' the album was recorded live in the condemned building and has a sense of defiant celebration about it.
Songs like the self penned 'Not Quite The Not' positively lift a glass to the eccentric characters that once inhabited the estate while 'Rollin' is another original that really showcases the trademark twang and guitar virtuosity that Lewis has become renowned for. Alongside some energised interpretations of country classics like the Jimmy Work song 'Making Believe' (previously covered by everyone from Kitty Wells to Dylan and Cash) Lewis also delivers an unexpected yet highly inspired rockabilly version of the REM hit 'The One I Love' which provides one of many album highlights.
John Lewis' calibre is well established around the world, from his younger days with Welsh Rockabilly legends The Rimshots with whom he recorded several albums and even won a 'British Country Music Award - Album of the Year' for their' 'Tribute To Hank Williams'. He also fronted Johnny Bach and the Moonshine Boozers, alongside Imelda May guitarist Darrel Higham. Imelda May has championed Lewis for years regularly inviting him to open shows for her. Further endorsements come from even greater figures after working with many of his musical heroes including Hank Williams' Drifting Cowboys, Jerry Lee Lewis, Van Morrison and Bill Haley's Comets amongst others.
With his versatile guitar and distinctive vocal style Lewis gives American roots, rock'n'roll, country and rockabilly a unique Welsh twist while keeping that original spirit alive in his new material. The building in which these recordings were created may soon be demolished, but in the hands of John Lewis this music will never die. The Billy Banks Sessions is the diamond in the dirt of that old estate and proves that it's not where you're from that matters, but where you're at!
Backing vocals by: Steph McNicholas, Laura Bridgewater, Rob Michen, Essex Harvard, The Clive Arms Skittles Team
Press Release by Atomic Cowboy, 2011