Alfred James Band ~ Cello-driven acoustic rock twists classical pop.
by Louise Uznanski; photography by Richard Uznanski and Louise Uznanski
Alfred James Band at the Kimmel Center
Needing a photo op like a chocolate addict needs a bag of M & M’s, I scoured the internet and newspapers for something new to fill the memory cards. It was a cool March night in 2010, and this photographer/music fan had been assigned to find a venue within a short car ride from home. ‘Hmmm. This sounds like it could be interesting.’ I’d found a new name and a different kind of entertainment on the internet. The Alfred James Band seemed just the ticket for a unique night of music and possible photo ops. Classically trained, the Band boasted the only live performance use of a 5 string carbon fiber electric cello in the world.
The Alfred James Band was scheduled to play at the Home Grown Cafe that evening. Located along the main commercial drag on the University of Delaware campus in Newark, the venue was within easy striking distance. A telephone reservation also yielded a pass to photograph the Band’s set. The campus was on spring break, but plenty of students and locals were familiar with the Home Grown and the Band; Alfred had been playing there consistently for years.
Set on a postage stamp sized stage, the band’s backpacks, drinks, drums, didgeridoo, carbon fiber cello, guitars, amps and assorted clothing filled every square inch. The wall behind the stage was painted red and filled by artwork. There were no functioning lights to showcase the Band with the exception of a single neon sign in the window that extolled the virtues of Michelob Light. Photography would be a challenge.
The Band’s manager and sound technician, Hilary Ward, rigged the soundboard and taped the cords to the floor. After a short soundcheck and a quick dinner, the Band took the stage around 10 pm. The first notes played to a nearly full room and an attentive crowd. At first listen, the Dave Matthews Band came immediately to mind, or maybe Dave Matthews crossed with a string quartet. The Band used instruments that were unfamiliar. The didgeridoo is an ancient Australian wind instrument that, despite many years and many concerts, I’d not seen played before. The 5 string carbon fiber electric cello was a revelation. The two instruments played together was a mind bending experience.
The didgeridoo with the band’s name sticker
Bandleader Alfred James Goodrich has led a music focused life. A member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir in his youth, Alfred then joined the Men’s Chorale and now sits on the Choir’s Board. At live Band performances, Alfred sings lead vocals. He also plays the electric cello like he was born with it attached to his chest. He writes and produces the Band’s music with Chris Despo, acoustic guitarist and vocalist for the band.
Lead guitarist Avery Coffee is the Philadelphia version of ‘slow hand’. Just amazing. And funny. Newly added violinist extraordinaire Brian Fitzgerald beautifully blends his stringed instrument’s emotional sounds with those of the carbon fiber cello. Bassist Pat Brennan skillfully lays down percussive lines while Alfred, Chris and Avery blend their voices and instruments like a well-oiled machine. On that March 2010 evening, a song written by Alfred for his then girlfriend and now wife, Hilary Ward, was the highlight of the night. “Better Days” was written as a gift to Hilary; it demonstrates the earthiness and compassion embodied by the music of the Band.
After their first set, we introduced ourselves and exchanged cards with the manager, Hilary. As the years have moved on, so too has the band. From Burlap and Bean in Newtown, PA, to coffeehouses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and back to Home Grown, to the PSALM salon and recently the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, the Alfred James Band has given us not only a new musical direction to follow, but good friends who are generous, funny and all about the music and family. Their journey in the last two years has become our journey. Learning new music, new instruments and inventing ways to shoot photographs in the dark has brought us all to the point where we are on the threshold of new musical directions.
The last two concerts at the PSALM Salon and The Kimmel Center have been the absolute best music we have heard from the Alfred James Band. We look forward to their upcoming new album, and to finding new ways to enjoy the music and find the light. Seeing this band play is like eating those M & M’s: you cannot stop at just one.
Please enjoy the following live performance photographs of the Alfred James Band and the concert video that follows the photo gallery. In Part 2 of this blog (coming soon!), we’ll share a brief interview and updated news from the Band.
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Pat Brennan and Alfred James at Burlap and Bean
Avery Coffee, Pat Brennan, Alfred James, Chris Despo
Chris Despo, Brian Fitzgerald
Avery Coffee at the Kimmel Center
Alfred James at the Kimmel Center
Alfred James Band before the Kimmel Center show in Philadelphia
Afred James at the PSALM Salon, Ardmore, PA
Chris Despo at the Kimmel Center
Above: Alfred James at the PSALM. Below: Avery Coffee at the PSALM
Pat Brennan at Burlap and Bean
Pat Brennan, Alfred James, Chris Despo at Burlap and Bean
Brian Fitzgerald at the Kimmel CenterAlfred James plays the didgeridoo along with the carbon fiber cello at the PSALM Salon
Brian Fitzgerald at the Kimmel Center
The Bride (Hilary Ward) and Groom (Alfred James Goodrich) photographed at their January 7, 2012 wedding with the Philadelphia Boys Choir. The Choir performed after the wedding ceremony in the Ballroom of the Merion Tribute House.
The following video was recorded at the PSALM Salon on February 4, 2012. The music begins at approximately the 2:15 minute mark.