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Welsh-based conductor trades Baton for Stratocaster

One of the UK’s most celebrated conductors will be turning his attention from Beethoven and Brahms to Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin on the 29th of November, as Ken Woods and the Old Blue Gang take the stage at Swansea’s Hangar 18 Music Venue for an evening of guitar-focused music. 

The American-born Kenneth Woods, who has called South Wales home since 2002, is best known to Welsh audiences through his long association with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, resulting in many broadcasts on BBC Radio 3 and several acclaimed recordings. On the other side of the Severn, Woods has served as Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra since 2013 and Artistic Director of the Elgar Festival since 2017. He’s also active as a cellist, having won the coveted Gramophone Editor’s Choice award twice for his cello recordings. 

However, perhaps unusual amongst classical conductors, Woods has had a lifelong love affair with the guitar, something that he’s keen to share with Swansea listeners. “For most of my youth, which some might indeed call a ‘misspent one’, the cello and the guitar had to fight one another for practice time, and I spent many years playing in bands, perhaps chasing the rock ‘n’ roll dream, before I narrowed my focus to classical music. But one can’t stay a grown up forever, and so this band and this project is a chance to play some music I really love with great players.”

His new band, Ken Woods and the Old Blue Gang, are a guitar-driven trio whose repertoire ranges from blues and rockabilly classics through vintage selections from Cream, Hendrix, Allman Brothers and ZZ Top to the best of today’s jam bands and blues outfits. Recent highlights include performances at the Elemental Festival and the Elgar Festival. Says Woods, “If you’ve ever wondered what it would sound like if Jimi Hendrix wrote the score for a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western, we’re the band for you.”

It’s also a vehicle for original new songs about the American experience of today and yesterday, about the dark corners of our history, and the moments that show the best of what we can be.

“We like to celebrate the best of rock and blues, western swing, bluegrass, roots music, rockabilly and psychedelia.”

Woods past credits include work in a jazz group with James’ Brown’s renowned original ‘funky drummer’, Clyde Stubblefield, as well as live and studio work in funk, blues and rock bands. Shortly before he packed up his guitar and turned his full energies towards cello and conducting, he was head-hunted by John Mellencamp’s band, a position that eventually went to legendary guitarist, Dave Grissom. “In retrospect,” admits Woods, “maybe I should have pursued the opportunity more vigorously and let the cello wait another couple of years. But they ended up with one of the best guitar players of the last 40 years, so I think probably my leaving the business just streamlined the process!”

The Old Blue Gang is rounded out by drummer Steve Roberts and bassist Joe Hoskin. Roberts is one of the UK’s busiest drummers, both in concert and studio, and is also a member of the much-loved progressive rock outfit, The Tangent (whose last album reached No. 8 on the UK Official Charts) and the David Cross Band. Hoskin came to prominence as the bassist of the Bare Knuckle Pickups Blues Band, sponsored by the renowned UK-based pickup company of the same name. He also plays with the Cardiff band Deadedz.

Hangar 18 is a 370-capacity live music venue in the heart of Swansea, equipped with state-of-the art sound, lighting and video capacity. They are one of the region’s most important live music venues, presenting both local and touring groups, weekly jam sessions and special events. On weekdays, Hangar 18 turns into The Hangout, with artisan coffee, cakes and drinks, and an-ever changing marketplace showcasing the work of local artists and artisans.

What’s up

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Music starts c. 8 PM

Ken Woods and the Old Blue Gang

Support band TBC

Promoted by SA51 Events

Hangar 18 Music Venue

50 Plymouth Street, Swansea, United Kingdom

Tickets £5