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Jeff Martin (left) and Stuart Chatwood (right) of the Tea Party. All photos by Terry Steeves

Bluesfest: The Tea Party take us on a magic carpet ride

By Terry Steeves on July 21, 2015

The combination of the setting sun amidst the ambient sounds of Middle Eastern music cast a spell over the growing audience that quickly assembled in front of the Canadian stage on this final night of Bluesfest. Canadian headliners, The Tea Party, would take us on a magic carpet ride through their vast repertoire, dating all the way back to their debut, self-titled album of 1991.

Their signature sound is derived from influences of psychedelic and Middle Eastern flavours, using a multitude of old world stringed and percussive instruments, but also blended with the heavier rock elements of guitar/bass/drums, and fronted with the dark and foreboding vocals of singer/multi-stringed instrumentalist, Jeff Martin. Bassist/keyboardist, Stuart Chatwood, and drummer/percussionist, Jeff Burrows, round out this threesome of amazing musicians. The Tea Party have made a name for themselves, in Canada and abroad. In Australia, their albums have gone multi-platinum and they are perceived there as an international act.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of their third, and Juno award-winning album, Edges of Twilight. Both Burrows and Chatwood filled me in on what they have planned for this celebration:

The “Edges of Twilight really defined our sound…we still perform a few from that album. It’s been remastered and will also be available in a double vinyl format. The CD will also have a bonus disc featuring demos that show how some of the songs came to fruition. It comes out Sep. 4th, which coincides with our tour take-off. It’ll be the biggest tour since the late ’90’s, where we’ll also be heading back to Australia.”

Jeff Burrows of the Tea Party

Jeff Burrows of the Tea Party

They began with their straight out rocker, “Writing’s On The Wall”, off their 2004 effort, Seven Circles. A decade would go by before they would record another studio album, due to the band’s 7-year hiatus. Martin went on to elaborate:

“After we’d separated for those years, it was about rebuilding and restoring the friendship and respect. Until that was solid, there was no point. When we found it again, we knew it was the right time.”

Since their reunion in 2011, the band’s newest album, The Ocean at the End (2014) is a return to their exotic hard rock sound, but harnesses a new maturity and organic flavour:

“The title track came together in about 20 minutes… it was like the cogs in the gearing lined up for us. We’ve strived to get away from too much layering and back to the guitar/bass/drums basics… it’s what the three of us do best.”

“Lullaby” (The Interzone Mantras – 2001), an incredibly textured piece, started in its slow lull, then exploded with ferocity during the chorus. I was impressed by Burrows’ constant changing syncopations, and Martin’s echoing vocal sustains, which added a wash of mystique. His controlled use of the theremin later in the song, sounded almost like a human voice, and brought another interesting dimension to the music.

“Psychopomp” (Transmission – 1997) took us on a journey with its dark lyrics and psychedelic array of sound. Chatwood moved to the keyboard and churned out a sinister little melody as the song built into dramatic hugeness.

More texturous bliss came with “The Ocean at the End”, the title track from their current release that featured a hypnotic bass drone, sampled “Floyd-like” embellishments, and a fiery blues solo by Martin, that sparked a roar of cheering from the crowd.

Throughout the show, Martin would encourage the crowd into several mantras of chanting and singing. He conducted them Freddie Mercury-style during the chorus in “Water’s On Fire” (The Ocean at the End), during which he slipped on his Les Paul and went into another blistering solo.

The audience’s warmed-up vocals excitedly came in again on their biggest Canadian chart-topper, “Heaven Coming Down” (TRIPtych – 1999). I loved its mesmerizing 12-string electric jangle and exotic flowing melody.

More instrumental changes came with the completely sensual and Middle Eastern tone of “Save Me” (The Tea Party – 1991). Martin took the bow to both the sitar and the Les Paul, in between which the three soared into a beefed up segment of “Kashmir” that was absolutely riveting. Martin finished by tossing the bow out to the crowd.

The band heeded to the crowd’s relentless cheering as they returned to the stage for an epic medley which began with the 12-string acoustic goodness of “Winter Solstice” (The Tea Party), followed by the rich erotic heaviness of “Sister Awake” (Alhambra – 1996), and ended with their charged up version of “Paint It Black”. Martin’s stage presence was captivating to watch as he knelt down before the audience to finish off the final bars of the night. The men moved to the front of the stage and stood side by side to take their final bows. The Tea Party displayed a chemistry that was heard in their music, and seen in their stage interaction. They are clearly back with a musical vengeance and continue to enjoy a strong connection with their legions of fans, who have never left their side.