Whatever kind of ‘Apocalypse’ you anticipate happening,
an environmental meltdown, a social-economic collapse,
a Zombie Apocalypse, make no mistake about it, 2023 is
time for a band called Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse …
Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse are a band who put the fun in funk, and the boom-boom in the boogie-woogie.
For their album ‘Good Times End Times’ (2022, Grow Vision GVBGG102) every picture tells not only a story, but a complete anthology. From the manic David Harris cover-art of flower-heads and snake-chairs separated by a river of screaming skulls, it’s a jukebox movie of an album. ‘Fill Me Up’ is done as a straight band studio performance, for all thrill-hungry humanoids. With dirty thumping smack-in-the-face rhythms, driving slaps and four-to-the-floor flop-house boogie piano. If Greta Valenti is the right hand, Robin Davey is the left hand. And it adds up to Ten – with a bullet!
Spin-off single ‘Watching The World Fall Down’ has all the push and speed of Indie energies, perfect Punk-Pop song-construction, with an inspired video thought-stream of hovering UFOs, satellites, a nice bra, pale blue hair, marching troops, protesters with placards that go ‘PEACE’, ‘GOD’, ‘LOVE’, ‘FIGHT’, ‘KILL’, a black-&-white sweet divine insert that resembles Veronica Lake, plummeting aircraft, then nukes fall and detonate, until it all ends with the perfect stillness of a nebula. Greta’s expression betrays her touch of humour, she’s ‘drinking magic, like old times.’ Because she’s the one who winds the key to the band’s motor as its carnival Carousel merry-go-round spins faster and faster. There’s a circuit-frying message on her cellphone screen bringing her ‘face to face with the human race’… ‘don’t leave me hanging on the end of this line’ she protests, like the ghost of an old Debbie Harry hit single. I love the ‘Watching The World Fall Down’ video, but where the hell do they start conjuring up visions as powerful as this? How do they set about storyboarding it? And where do the UFOs come from?
From its Classic Rock play-in, the track ‘Gris Gris’ itself is a boogie, with robots and animatronic creatures, urging ‘raise your glass, take a pill, it’s time for the apocalypse, roll it up, take a hit’… with Alex Jefferis on trumpet and Patrick Leith’s tenor sax, while Stephen stays locked in the toilet. But when she sings ‘everybody want a little gris-gris’ it’s impossible not to join in. They play electricity that bites your ears off. I haven’t stopped dancing yet. Once heard, always preferred.
Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse is the musical creation of Greta Valenti with Robin Davey, although each band member plays a prominent part, everyone solos, no-one’s allowed to nod out. Hello Greta, Hello Robin. Robin had previously spent time as an artist on Atlantic and Interscope Records, where he recorded with a spectrum of artists running from Mick Jagger to Katy Perry. While Louisiana-born-and-bred guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Greta sings like she’s on fire, over steam-train drumming. Having already established themselves as performers and musicians in their own right, the two met when their respective bands crossed paths on YouTube. Their first Rock venture together, Well-Hung Heart, toured the USA opening for the likes of Fitz & The Tantrums, Twenty-One Pilots, Foreigner, and Offspring. The Well-Hung Heart albums ‘Young Enough To Know It All’ (2013) and ‘Go Forth And Multiply’ (2014) laid groundwork for what followed.
When I was staying over in New Orleans I was intoxicated that on every street-corner and in every Bar there were incredible musicians. In the UK there are players who study the albums and learn the techniques and are pretty good, but on Bourbon Street the fluency just seems so natural, so ‘in the blood’, that it flows as sweet as black syrup. As though this music is ingrained in the culture. Is that the way they see it? ‘Growing up in Louisiana there’s a lot of different types of music and cultures, all in one melting pot, and you just grow up with it’ explains Greta. ‘It’s just part of the soundtrack of your life, y’know. It’s just part of the fun of growing up there, but you also grow up with Jazz – Louis Armstrong and Doctor John and the Meters, you grow up with Country, you grow up with Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop is huge in the South.’ Which British musicians are capable of achieving that ‘sound’? The Rolling Stones around their ‘Sticky Fingers’ album period? Or more recent, current artists?
But Greta has her own agenda, ‘growing up in this world, and especially in the south of the United States, I’ve faced constant barriers based on my gender, how I look, etc. And that has been no different in the music industry. I don’t behave like some would prefer a woman to behave. I don’t see my gender or my physical being as some others do. As I get older, I’m sure some will think my age is another potential barrier, but I/we are making our own path. These prejudices – and the many other around race, sexuality, etc, go deep, as they are ingrained in our societies, and to be honest I’ve never understood why some people fall prey to such baloney. These prejudices only exist out of fear and to turn us against each other.’
Personally, I’d have considered that kind of anti-female prejudice was long since dead, with so many powerful gender-diverse activist artists working within music. Do people still think in that old weary stereotyped way…? Maybe in some backwards areas they still do? ‘Uh yes’ says Greta. ‘Not more than a couple years ago a booker in Hartlepool said they don’t book women as headliners. Racism, sexism, and the like is still alive and well. Less than before, but it’s systematic. The system is set and has to be broken.’
Most people would associate ‘Gris Gris’ with the 1968 Mac Rebennack ‘Dr John’ album. Does it have any other meaning or significance that I’m not aware of…? ‘When we started this band, I’d already become very familiar with the music industry’ she resumes. ‘So I wanted a masculine name to play with the gender barriers and also something that spoke of my family’s deep history in the south as my diverse pool of French/Arcadian white and black relatives have been there since pre-Louisiana purchase days. Had I been born male, my name would have been Beaux Gregory. Which is also a fish in the Gulf of Mexico! Beaux Gregory also directly translates to Beaux Gris Gris (or Beautiful Grey Grey). Gris Gris itself – where Dr John got it from, is a voodoo protection amulet. This originated from Africa and obviously became a big part of New Orleans/ Creole culture when African people were enslaved and brought to the United States. So the point of this explanation, is that this name was not chosen frivolously. It was chosen to educate others as I see so many wonderful people around the world loving and celebrating Blues, and all these beautiful pieces of what is now known as American culture, but I also want people to understand where those things come from. I know everyone knows the great Dr John’s album, but I was surprised that so many still had no idea what ‘Gris Gris’ was or where it came from. Hence Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse was formed.’
On their launch EP ‘The Appetizer’ (2017) they perform ‘Crazy’, and yes, it’s the Willie Nelson song, crazier than Patsy Cline, crazier than even a whiskey sour can drown, focussed purely on the nicotine strength of Greta’s voice. And where does Roy Orbison fit into this scenario? Because they record his ‘Blue Bayou’ on the same EP? Did she have pin-ups of the Big ‘O’ on her bedroom wall when she was in her teens? Are there other covers that they enjoy playing? Or other songs that they’d like to cover? Instead, from debut album ‘Love And Murder’ (2019), there’s a slow pleading Soul groove to ‘Don’t Let The Bastards Drag You Down’, with a hint of Muscle Shoals as Greta testifies and the guitar solo melts like molasses. Lead track from the same album, ‘Heartbreaker’ is sleazy motel Blues with necessary violence, headed straight for hell, with guitar lines that bleed like open wounds chasing brothel-red demons.
Now, the broad tonal palette of ‘Good Times End Times’ is expansive enough to draw in the slow skanking lovers rock of ‘Bungalow Paradise’ where they’re ‘wasting our lives away… smoking weed and drinking beer.’ To the relentless gunshot drum-ticks counting-out the passing time of ‘Alone’, with back-up vocals by Ali Coyle, building into a stately keyboard break. Seldom has immobility moved so enticingly. ‘Trouble Is Coming’ – the album’s longest track at six-minutes, walks like a shadow through the desert storm. Electronic loops and quivers conspire with crazed keyboards as Greta’s voice rips and shatters, teetering on the delicious brink of chaos.
The low bass of ‘Is This The Blues?’ leads into the story of a poor girl who had it all but wants more, everyone has a hard-luck tale to tell, was there ever blood on the soles of your feet? – ‘let’s blame the immigrants’ Greta asides with a sharp ironic bite. ‘Tell me what kind of music do you like?’ she talk-sings, yelps and yells. It’s likely that to fully appreciate their blistering mix of soulful energies and intense musicianship it helps to experience the band live. To feel the extra adrenalin walloping through the heart valves, the centipede track of prickles over the skin, the starry void that whirls in the lesser intestine. What ‘Rockshot Magazine’ calls this ‘collective of New Orleans-inspired, American Blues-Folk-Soul band, who refuse to be pigeon-holed.’ But the album winds down with the walking bass and late-night piano of ‘Lucid’, a slippery singalong kind of infection with Greta emoting a smouldering torch-song with stinging blues guitar solo. Dreams are fragile, she chooses to dream of him, howling against the coming of the dawn.
Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse have headlined festivals across Europe. You might have caught them at the UK ‘Upton Festival’ or ‘The Great British R&B Festival’, but there’s also been the Moulin (Netherlands) and ‘Blues Alive’ (Czech Republic). Inevitably, there’s more. While Beaux Gris Gris is their music manifestation, the pair also coordinate a vision-mixing creative agency called ‘Grow Vision’, offering multimedia content and development. Davey’s one-hour three-minute docu-movie ‘The Canary Effect’ (2006), examining the devastating mistreatment of Native Americans, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. Then Daryl Hall – yes, the Hall & Oates guy, asked them to take over, direct and produce his Palladia-MTV show ‘Live From Daryl’s House’ for Viacom, elevating the show into an hour-long Dolby-surround premium mainstay on VH1 and MTV Live. Is Daryl Hall one of the good guys? Which of his hits do they most enjoy?
Their visual work on the Taco Bell Fiftieth Anniversary celebrations secured them a prestigious W3 Award. The latest ‘Grow Vision’ feature documentary ‘The Unbelievable Plight Of Mrs Wright’ has won multiple festival awards and secured distribution through Gravitas Ventures. And the duo are currently producing a documentary on Blues veteran Larry McCray for Joe Bonamassa’s ‘Keeping The Blues Alive Records’ label.
Credit is due for their patient indulgence in consenting to hear my intrusive and prurient probings. Of course, this was not an examination, there being no legal requirement to answer in full, or, indeed, at all! If there’s more that I’ve not covered, they’re free to add whatever they consider it needs. But my intention was nothing more than to create a feature to playfully turn on some new ears to Beaux Gris Gris & The Apocalypse. For example, what kind of Four Horsemen Of The ‘Apocalypse’ do they anticipate happening? An environmental meltdown? A social-economic collapse? A Zombie Apocalypse? This is the frivolous wind-down question… unless there are serious overtones too? ‘If you were standing there watching the sun implode in its last days it would probably be the most amazing sight’ suggests Robin sprightly, ‘there’s going to be nothing after this, but – WOW! – look at it. So you might as well make the most of it!’
Make no mistake about it, it’s time for the apocalypse…
BY ANDREW DARLINGTON
2017 – ‘The Appetizer’ EP (2017), with (1) ‘Crazy’, (2) ‘Blue Bayou’, (3) ‘Jambalaya’, (4) ‘Don’t Let Me Die In Florida’
2019 – ‘Love And Murder’ (Grow Vision 8-59725-72915-0) with (1) ‘Heartbreaker’, (2) ‘Cyclone’, (3) ‘Louisiana Good Ride’, (4) ‘Thrill Me’, (5) ‘Baby Baby’, (6) ‘Don’t Let The Bastards Drag You Down’, (7) ‘What’s My Name’, (8) ‘When My Baby Was Rich’, (9) ‘Let Your Groove Work’, (10) ‘Have Mercy’.
Their debut album spawned Top 10 hits in genre charts across Europe, including a no.13 place in the ‘Classic Rock Magazine’ ‘Top 50 Albums Of The Year’, who described it as ‘a sensual, vibrant cocktail’.
2022 – ‘Good Times End Times’ (Grow Vision GVBGG102), eight songs across 33-minutes playing time, with (1) ‘Fill Me Up’ 2:47, (2) ‘Bungalow Paradise’ 3:39, (3) ‘Alone’ 3:50, (4) ‘Trouble Is Coming’ 6:00, (5) ‘Is This The Blues’ 3:41, (6) ‘Gris Gris’ 3:11, (7) ‘Watching The World Fall Down’ 3:42, (8) ‘Lucid’ 5:54. Greta Valenti: lead vocal, percussion, melodies and lyrics @GRETAVALENTI
Robin Davey: lead guitar, bass, additional melodies and lyrics @THEROBINDAVEY
Emma Jonson: piano, keyboards, vocals @emmajonsonmusic
Mark Barrett: drums, percussion @markadrianbarrett
Stephen Mildwater: bass, keyboards, acoustic guitar, vocals @STEPHENMILDWATER
Steve Maggiora: keyboards
Ali Coyle: bass (on ‘Love & Murder’)
Bob Fridzema: keyboards (on ‘Love & Murder’)
Phrases from Neil Mach interview with Raw Ramp https://rawramp.me/2022/04/01/interview-with-beauxgrisgris-goodtimesendtimes-neworleansblues-gretavalenti-robindavey/