Oh, I just don’t know where to begin…Accidents Will Happen. In late 2018, this venue played host to the early dates of an Elvis Costello tour which didn’t get much further. He was diagnosed with a form of prostate cancer and despite some lurid headlines, he recovered and here he is back treading the boards many, many years after angry young manhood.

So it seems a little impolite to, well…I dunno.

The support act kind of underlined the problem here. Singer/songwriter Ian Prowse was very hale, hearty, full of verve, vigour and twinkle, a combination of scouse/Irish wit and charm and poppiness. Clearly thrilled to be playing such a big venue with such a ‘name’ he claimed his eight-year-old daughter came out to see him in Liverpool on the first night of the tour; and that was ‘the first time she’d seen him’ which I don’t think is quite what he meant. He also offered to buy everybody a drink if they met him at the merch stand after his set…careful, Ian. Last time one of our lot made a similar claim it cost me thousands. Seriously though he was very listenable as were his fellow troubadours but the lack of a bass guitar can very rarely be compensated for by a keyboard, I reckon. The final song in the set, “Does This Train Stop on Merseyside” is a bit of a stonker as well. Keep eyes and ears open for Ian Prowse. A good listen.

Elvis, on the other hand…the tour is called Just Trust 2020, and we kick off with a ‘sighter’ from the ’81 ‘Trust’ album, “Strict Time”. I usually allow bands one or two to get settled and to let any gremlins work their way out so we won’t dwell on this one much, followed by “Clubland” and “Greenshirt” which, although intense seemed to be pretty much all over the place mix-wise. I know the venue has a bit of a reputation for wayward sound but this was a really wild ride, a sort of rumbling, grumbling mess. It seemed to these ears that the opposite of what should have been the case was the truth; they were playing like they’d only just met. And with former Attractions Steve Naïve on keyboards (lots of them) and Pete Thomas on drums and with a settled line-up in the Imposters, this took me rather by surprise.

And come the first of the ‘Hits’, the towering majesty of “Accidents Will Happen”, another problem seems to emerge. Occasionally in later life, singers will not be able to hit particular notes. But this doesn’t seem to be the problem here…his vocal range still seems to be there…but the timing is all over the place and sometimes he just seems to be ‘chasing after’ the song; which is a problem for the sharp, angular, quick-fire demands of many of his older hits. His singers/dancers throw themselves about all over the place to give the impression of concerted, rhythmic responses to the music, but they can’t throw me off the scent. I dig in for an evening of irregular but profound wincing. Great, great song, though.

And then “Better Watch Your Step” and a clutch of others…but I’m SO distracted by now. It isn’t just the timing…he’s Very Flat on occasion…then he’ll throw in one of those soooo Elvis vocal trills and you’ll forgive him…and then for the next 30 seconds he sounds like he’s in the wrong key…the mix is beyond muddy and…I’m not sure he can actually hear himself. Can he hear himself?

“I Don’t Want To Go To Chelsea”. Love the song. She’s last year’s model. It’s a killer. Band layer it intensely but he’s chasing the song again…why? I can’t sing but I could probably read the lyrics so they’d actually ‘fit’ the song… all over the place…

…into one for the 2018 album “Suspect My Tears” and possibly because it was written when he was an older man, he does actually get this one to ‘fit’ and glory be, the mix slowly starts to get a bit tighter and more ‘approachable’. After which I’m treated to Elvis telling me he hates me in “Radio Radio” complete with bonkers ‘Farfisa’-style organ and intense and angst-filled playlist envy. Sorry Elvis. Just not radio-friendly, that one.

“Watching the Detectives” is, though. Backlit in eerie green, Costello as ‘spook’ comes to the fore and, at this juncture, it is important I mention the guitar playing. His various ancient and weird-looking guitars and barrage of foot pedals are no doubt very necessary for despite the barrage of keyboards Steve Nieve bounces around behind, there is only one guitarist and it is EC. And the guitar sound is universally excellent, very subtle and supple where required, very sharp and incisive in ways which the interesting but wayward voice now seems less than.

Sitting down at the piano we get the ‘country’ section of the show, including a quite rambling and off-key “Good Year for the Roses”. Always a broken heart/broken voice job, this seriously pushes the boundaries on that particular concept.

From that to another from the 2018 album “Look Now”, “Burnt Sugar is so Bitter” a song co-written by Carole King and this is a right old work-out on a song which tells one of the oldest stories in songwriting in a typically direct way. This worked really well, Steve Nieve’s rattling, empty ‘ice rink’ organ sound giving a hollow, almost ‘Northern Soul’ feel. And speaking of which…”High Fidelity”, a hit from the ‘soul’ album “Get Happy”, which once again, seems to leave his voice behind. Otherwise, just great. But…

“A Whisper to a Scream” jerks us back again to “Trust” and it is an intense delivery, which then melts in to the sublime “Alison” from the first album recorded for about six quid in 1976/7 depending on who you talk to. This is gorgeous and even though the voice does that wandering thing again there are moments within this when all is forgiven, just to hear it ‘live’ again; especially when that folds seamlessly into a marriage with Motown beauty “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”. Every tune is working to a crescendo now and it would be spectacularly unfair to point out that despite the compromising of songs by a meandering voice, the audience are really warming to this and 80’s FM radio A-lister “Every Day I Write The Book” arrives right on cue and as described in the brochure.

And then “Pump it Up” nearly blows the roof off the place. At the end of it, this guy is a showman. Nobody is going to leave this venue feeling like they’ve been short-changed, I will say that much. And as is the current vogue for encore avoidance, the band stay on the stage and soak up well-deserved applause for a strong and professionally-delivered set. Not their fault the old lad’s struggling to hold a tune on occasion now.

And our final tunes for the night are the “Give Peace a Chance” section of the show and who can blame him? Certainly not I when this commences with “Shipbuilding”. Written by Costello and long-time Madness producer Clive Langer, I have to say I FAR prefer Robert Wyatt’s tremulous, fragile version but I’m here tonight and I’ll take this….but he’s off wandering again and he can’t point at not being able to live with the pace of the song here…and it’s all a bit so-so until he finishes the song on a shimmering, jazzy ‘When we could be diving for pearls’ which just seems to hang in the air and really does force listeners to face the compromises we make with the world in order to be ‘of’ the world.

Which, of course, rumbles straight into a spirited, very ‘dashing’ rock ‘n’ roll version of “Oliver’s Army” which ‘only’ got to Number 2, combining fairly ‘confrontational’ lyrics with the sort of piano that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an Abba single. Part of our ‘Should have got to number 1; God, where were you?’ club repertoire, anyone would have been excused for thinking that was that, as it could well have been, but pacifist’s corner ended very appropriately and rather touchingly with Brinsley Schwarz’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” and that was indeed it, standing ovations all round the crowd no doubt shuffling off into a cold night warmed to the cockles by the memory of familiar tunes played stirringly….and how many of them would recall great acres of vocal creakiness the following morning?

Absolutely well worth going to see but an increasingly flawed masterpiece as the vocals struggle to live with the songs he’s created, I’d like to think he was throwing stuff about when he got off stage because he couldn’t hear what was going on or he’d just had an ‘off night’. But. Maybe it is Twilight Time.


To paraphrase rock snapper Allan McKay, ‘in the unfortunate event of Armageddon, the only survivors will be rats, ants and the Technics 1200 record turntable. And Dr. Feelgood.’

Starting out from Canvey Island in 1971, much has been made of the ‘no original members’ thing over the years. But you can trace the ‘blood line’ through this band going Way Back. As members have left or died, they’ve been replaced. Nothing ‘tributey’ about that. That’s reality. That, in part, is why I published “Rock ‘n’ Roll Twilight” in the first place. Bass man Phil Mitchell and drummer Kevin Morris have been with them since 1983, and so both recorded and toured extensively with main man Lee Brilleaux. Guitarist extraordinaire Steve Walwyn has been with the band since 1989; and even relative ‘newbie’, vocalist and harp player Robert Kane has fronted the Feelgoods for over 20 years, celebrating his 1000th Dr. Feelgood gig as long ago as 2007.

So let’s have none of that ridiculous sniffiness. As George Michael once said, ‘listen without prejudice’ (though admittedly that didn’t turn out well).

First though, a bit of a larff.

John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett first entered my flat by stealth when in 1977 Polydor Records sent me a copy of a single called “Really Free”. Like many record labels they were desperately casting around for ‘punk’ acts to sign in ’76/77 and picked this lot up from Pete Townsend’s Track Records label as they were basically taking what amounted to a scattergun approach but amongst the dreck this decidedly odd little single stood out. We gave it some plays, radio picked up on it and within what seemed like five minutes the duo were ‘On Top Of The Pops’ in time-honoured fashion and it became a ‘proper’ top 40 hit in the days when that meant Selling Stuff. The only problem being that as far as his musical partner is concerned, John Otway is a Complete Prat. A most unlikely ‘pop star’, he took the fast route back to obscurity by winning an international gurning award on Top of the Pops, and famously making a complete ass of himself by unsuccessfully attempting to hurdle a PA stack on BBC 2’s ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ TV show and ending up with his knackers in a splint. It could have been A Lot Worse.

He then proceeded to pay for the rest of his ticket back to nowhere by releasing a full-on, big-production ballad, “Geneve”, which completely stiffed despite the record company spending eye-watering amounts of money on promoting it (and record companies don’t forget that sort of error of judgment in a hurry) and, to further compound spectacular failure, not telling his musical partner WWB that he had neglected to give him a ‘name check’ and it was in effect a solo record for no other reason than that he did SO want to be a ‘proper’ ‘pop star’. Mr. Barrett was on his way to a gig at the time with Mr. Otway when he heard it introduced on the radio. Strangely enough, he didn’t turn up to play the gig that night and the duo had the first of about 27 ‘splits’ thus far.

Back on stage together and both now either 70 or pushing it, on first appearances it is difficult to resist the conclusion that for some strange reason the ghost of author Roald Dahl has dyed his hair black and decided to tour with a grumpy version of half of Chas and Dave. And a Wheelie Bin. More later.

However, be that as it may, we are treated to a spirited gallop through ‘Louisa on a Horse”, their second single, sort of accompanied by a scraping, raking fiddle contribution by Barrett. This is followed by ‘The Hit’, which they make a monument out of, informing the assembled ‘this is as good as it gets – the bar is over there!’ and stopping part way through in order to drag five minutes out of the thing. By which time, half the audience are in hysterics and the other half are wide-mouthed and not necessarily in admiration.

“Beware of the Flowers” features Barrett on Wheelie Bin. When he wishes to make a contribution to proceedings he opens a brown wheelie bin which is strategically placed by his side which contains an FX machine from which emanates ‘rock guitar’ noises and other things, brilliantly timed with deceptively well-rehearsed comedy in the opening and closing of the bin (no, really! Very funny indeed. I will take the recyc out with some trepidation after this.)

They then make a spirited but ill-judged attempt to pay tribute to Rolf Harris’s “Two Little Boys”. I always thought seeing as Rolf had done a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, Robert Plant and his mates might have at least returned the compliment by having a shot at said tune, but no. It is left to Otway and Barrett to right a historical wrong. Which isn’t a good thing, necessarily…

Otway then explains the reasons for the 27th split being Barrett’s refusal to play encores so the audience are encouraged to go for the compromise which is that they’d stay onstage whilst the audience make a whole load of noise and then they’d do “Geneve” as a ‘not’ encore. During which shenanigans Barrett takes a tenon saw and tries to cut the acoustic he’s playing in half (whilst playing it), then assaulting it with a hammer before stomping all over it for no apparent reason. Then and once again inexplicably a set of bagpipes disguised as Bagpuss come into play. Otway then sweeps off like the ‘star’ he ‘is’ and Barrett is left onstage to offer the mangled cheapo acoustic, which cost him £30, to the first member of the audience to stump up £33 (inc artistic ‘tax’) as a charitable donation at the merch. Ermm…….I was only massively entertained. Never left a show which has Otway in it anything other than grinning like an idiot. And this was no exception. Folk meets pop meets rock meets country, somewhere around the crossroads marked English Eccentricity.

But let us not delay too long here as this is all about the Feelgoods. On the band march at the allotted time, to a Friday night ‘full house’ welcome and straight away you can see they’ve clocked this could be Very Good Indeed. There is already a sense that we’re Having It.

We start with a whole bunch of ‘oldies’; “Drives Me Wild” as a ‘sighter’ whilst they bring Robert Kane’s mike forward a bit in the mix, “No Mo Do Yakomo”, I Can Tell” where Steve Walwyn lets that flamethrower Telecaster loose for the first time tonight, “Been Down So Long” and “Down by the Jetty” which once again reminds the assembled what a wealth of great R and B songs this band have in their locker which very rarely troubled the UK singles chart (but goodness me, they shifted some albums).

The next segment of the evening’s proceedings features Steve Walwyn on slide guitar with some great blues vocals and harp stabs by Robert Kane. This guy is a great rock singer by any measure but can he sing the blues….it is no surprise he was with The Animals 2 before he joined the Feelgoods. Anyone who at any point found himself in Eric Burdon’s shoes is, we can perhaps agree, none too dusty, but the band reel off a vinegar version of Elmore James “Dust my Broom”, “Rollin’ and Tumblin” and of course whilst you’ve got the correct weapon to hand, “Back In The Night”, their mid-seventies jukebox shaker which introduced a whole bunch of Brit rock fans to the Joy of Slide, if Rory Gallagher hadn’t already done so.

This, then, is the first of the ‘juke box hits’ section of the show as we gallop in rapid sequence through a jumping, pulsating “Roxette”, taking a few minutes out for a slow blues band showcase in “Shotgun Blues” where all the band members show what they can do. Steve Walwyn makes a claim to be the best guitarist Dr Feelgood ever had (and not only the longest-serving) at this point (controversial, I know; when you’re talking Gypie Mayo and Wilko Johnson as the primary contenders) and Phil Mitchell’s rumbling, sinuous bass is absolutely killer here, and then we’re off to shake that jukebox again as we blast through a rabble-rousing if slightly misfiring version of “Milk and Alcohol”, and a spirited rip through the thoroughly ‘wired’ “She’s A Wind Up” followed by the sharp, ‘all elbows and knees’ jerkiness of “She Does It Right”.

Everything they do has that precision of the heavily-gigged professional rock act. This is no occasional run out, or a 20-date travelling circus. This is what they do and what this band has done, in venues of this size and bigger and smaller, since 1971. That’s nearly 50 years. And I shudder to think how many gigs the band has done in that time.

After that and in a perfectly-judged set there’s a mélange of what should have been a massive radio drivetime hit “Going Back Home”, “Down At The Doctors” (Got to number 48 on the UK singles chart…….hellowwww…..!) “Gimme One More Shot” and they’re off.

And of course they’re not going to get off that lightly. We do indeed get one more shot and it’s a spectacularly dense and intense “Mad Man Blues” followed by the flip side of Roxette back in 1974, the ultimate encore machine, “Route 66” and then they ARE gone.

Never mind all the sniping about who’s who. These lads are rapidly becoming a national treasure in a world of phonies and one-trick-ponies. From the greasy sleaze of the ‘sneaking out the back door with a grin’ stories to the workaday, careworn, bluesy lyrics, from the red hot and rocking juke-box smashes to the smouldering, powerful blues workouts, this is the way to celebrate the end of the working week alright. Need a shot of Rhythm and Blues? Go see the Doctor. He might be considering retiring. Or he might, in some incarnation, just go on for another hundred years. Because Dr. Feelgood is a sort of collective; a sort of ‘idea’, born largely out of the energy and vision and drive of one Lee Brilleaux. But despite the fact that Lee isn’t around to see how well his insistence the band carried on after his death worked out……why stop now?

Postscript: And in the pub across from the venue afterwards, the esteemed and venerable Nook, we fell across the lucky man who is now the proud possessor of a sawn – off acoustic guitar. They didn’t event throw in the tenon saw for his £33. 

Reckons it is going straight on e Bay. 

And I say – ‘Cor Baby, that’s Nearly Free.’
 

The first proper gig; it should be memorable, shouldn’t it? For some of us it’s the start of a lifetime of queuing in the rain twenty minutes after doors while the drummer gets his floor tom sound right, of missing the last train home and paying £60 for a cab and of explaining that you just spoke to the band’s manager twenty minutes ago and you are definitely on the guest list, besides the singer’s a mate of yours. All of those frustrations are forgotten when the sticks click and the band hits their groove (sorry anyone that doesn’t have a drummer, but you know what I mean).

Do you remember the first time?

I certainly do, and I made a reference to it on this very website nearly eight years as part of an appreciation of the wonderful Nick Lowe. Here’s the unedited album version.

It was the East Midlands in the mid-seventies: a time of industrial unrest and political instability. The UK had been in the Common Market for a year and in the US, Nixon was living on stolen time (he resigned almost six months later). On Monday 25th February 1974, none of that mattered; I was going to my first proper gig, to see a proper band that I’d seen on the Whistle Test and had already released five albums. And they were playing at The Civic Theatre in Mansfield of all places. I’m pretty certain the sixth forms from all of Mansfield’s grammar schools were in the audience, after visiting the pubs with the most lenient bar staff. Fair to say there was a sense of expectation.

With hindsight, I can see that there wasn’t a huge budget for the tour and that support bands were picked up locally. It makes financial sense, and a local support will bring along some of their fans to swell the audience and that’s a good thing, yeah? The support band this time was a local rock covers band called Care, whose singer lived on the same estate as I did and who were popular with the local biker gang. Any alarm bells ringing yet? They played their set, got a great response from their own fans and were actually pretty convincing. So, after a quick break to top up the alcohol levels it was on to the night’s headliners.

By this stage, following the 1970 Fillmore hype and the bad feeling it generated with the rock press, Brinsley Schwarz as a band were back on creative form but commercially pretty much finished. They had some great tunes were a superb live band on their night. What they weren’t, crucially on this night, was a heavy rock band; you would colour them moody blue rather than deep purple. The majority of the audience had paid to see Brinsley Schwarz and were perfectly happy to hear their well-crafted and crisply-performed soul-inflected pop/rock. Not the leather-jacketed fans of the support band; from the opening of the set they bayed menacingly about the lack of red meat and thud and blunder. The natives were restless and hammered; not the best combination.

The inevitable happened a couple of songs in when Mansfield’s finest mild boys took advantage of the lack of security to invade the stage in protest at the lack of power chords and screaming vocals. Everything happened surprising quickly and suddenly the stage was engulfed in greasy leather. It looked like a fairly even match between rockers and roadies until one deluded delinquent took a lunge at Nick Lowe, who was sporting his Gibson EB bass; and then he wasn’t. The rocker was wearing the headstock of the bass in his mouth and nose and spitting blood and teeth. Game over; Brinsleys 1, Mofos 0, shortly followed by the ignominy of the rockers’ retreat and vaguely threatening noises.

The roadies went back to the day job, got the stage reset for the band and the gig went ahead as if nothing had happened. The band were on good form and did the business for the rest of the set and then everyone went home happy, apart from a few broken bikers. As first gigs go it was memorable; a bit of underage drinking, a support band with a lead singer that I knew, a full-scale stage invasion and a great set from a band that I really wanted to see. And it happened in Mansfield of all places; I didn’t think for a second that forty years later I would be watching Brinsley Schwarz (with Graham Parker) and Nick Lowe (with his band and Geraint Watkins) at gigs in London, but that’s the way it panned out. That first gig showed me a way out of a small provincial town and the events of that night still influence my life now.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I wrote briefly about that gig eight years ago and a couple of interesting things happened. Someone else who was at the gig contacted me via a website comment and we’ve met up for a couple of beers in London, then Ian Gomm, who was the guitar player in Brinsley Schwarz, contacted me to say that the band never actually knew why the stage invasion had happened and were a bit concerned about getting a kicking outside. Unlikely; the rockers had probably retreated to their base in the Midland Hotel to compare war stories and intimidate the under-age drinkers that hadn’t gone to the gig.

 

 

It’s a streaming wet and murky day in the Moorlands – and it pretty much doesn’t matter which set of Moorlands you’re in, it is giving way to a horrible ‘don’t bother’ kind of night.

Graham Parker doesn’t need telling this. He’s just played the first date on a solo UK tour celebrating the release of an acoustic version of his best-selling UK hit album, ‘Squeezing out Sparks’, in Exeter and has spent six hours swapping one set of Moorlands scenery for the Staffordshire Moorlands. For tonight he’s set to play The Foxlowe Centre in Leek. And despite a nasty ‘tour cold’ and having to survive recording a near-on half-hour podcast and radio interview with Mr. McKay and I following the sound check, this sprightly, twinkly 60-plusser is in fine voice when he hits the stage.

He follows a short and perfectly fine set by Stephen Wilson Jnr and once he takes the stage, always a slight and quite unassuming figure, you’re once again reminded of the ‘nakedness’ of the solo acoustic performer. No ‘The Rumour’-style brass section to ‘lean on’ here. The songs either do the job, and the performer can ‘sell’ them, or they can’t.

It kind of helps, though if you’ve got a body of work spanning decades which includes 3 UK top 40 single hits, and 4 top 40 UK hit albums. “Squeezing out Sparks” got to number 22 on the UK album chart and went Gold in a number of territories and is the most ‘stripped down’ of the albums which troubled the UK chart, so that kind of helps as well, as does the knowledge and experience which comes from touring, incessantly, for more years than seems possible and guesting recently on tour with the likes of vinyl single chart-toppers Stone Foundation.

He kicks off with “Fool’s Gold” from 1976 and the album “Heat Treatment”. It was a great song then and is a great song now and Parker’s nasal rasp is the ideal vehicle. His voice does indeed sound needle sharp and his acerbic and self-deprecating wit between songs is an object lesson in how to entertain when you ain’t singing. He follows this with “Chloroform” from 2005 and the album “Songs of no Consequence” and we’re off and running. He already has the near-sell-out crowd eating out of his hand.

He candidly admits “Waiting for the UFOs” is probably the weakest song on “…..Sparks” but plays it anyway (Why, Graham? This has, in fairness, dated a bit) before a triple of “Every Saturday Nite” from recent album “Cloud Symbols”, “Stick to the Plan” and “Black Honey” all of which are played with humour, verve and panache by someone who knows how the tread the boards. He’s nobody’s idea of a world-beating guitar picker, but he’s perfected the art of using alternately a large acoustic and a Telecaster (not to mention a kazoo!!) to accompany himself to a perfectly appropriate effect, especially the acoustic, which he plays with a choppy, rhythmic style which ‘drives’ songs along. Another recent song in “Bathtub Gin” leads into the album opener on “….Sparks”, “Discovering Japan”. Often used a set opener when playing ‘full band’ gigs, this once again proves what an unusually-structured but striking piece this is in a live setting. Well into the ‘back nine’ now, he helter-skelters through to a paint stripping version of album title track “Howlin’ Wind”, which heralded the start of Parker’s recording career back in ’76, “Back to School Days” and a positively desperate-sounding ‘Stick To Me’. This was always a great song which all but disappeared under the ‘kitchen sink’ production which was thrown at it when the album was recorded and indeed it didn’t ‘do’ anything like as well as it should have done due to alleged cack-handed record company shenanigans (“Mercury Poisoning”, anyone?) and then a celebratory bundle of “White Honey” a top 40 UK hit on ‘The Pink Parker’ EP, “Is The Sun Out” and a blisteringly angry version of the new red vinyl single, “Nixon’s Rules”, which is ripping up a few trees as a searing critique of Britain’s failed and increasingly discredited drug policy.

He leaves the stage to rapturous applause to head off in to the next night on his UK tour, nursing a heavy cold but in the secure knowledge that man flu is temporary, class is permanent. He remains one of the few artists to emerge from the era of the ‘new wave’ with an ever-increasing appreciation of his qualities as a song writer and a performer; a reputation which, at the time, was probably ‘disguised’ and certainly under-appreciated by the demands of a very strange time. Bizarrely enough, as an artist, his time is probably Right Now. And it appears to me, watching him onstage in Leek tonight, that he’s clocked this. Go GP.

The things we do for love?

Almost, but not quite.

Mrs. J is extremely partial to the velvet vocals of the Lighthouses and even though I cannot pretend to be a diehard fan I know an airplay tune when I hear one. My musings at the end of my recent review of an Al Stewart gig where I briefly allowed myself to consider how much brass the aforementioned’s “Year of the Cat” has made me, personally, over the years shrinks into complete insignificance compared to the recorded output of these guys.

I’ll have made more out of these than The Beatles, The Stones and The Who put together, and then some, and it is, of course, mutual. The Lighthouses have, or had, that uncanny knack. You could programme them anywhere, anytime, as often as you like and nobody is ‘tuning out’.

And therein lies the reason for my disquiet and sense of apprehension upfront of tonight’s gig. I really WANT to like them. And in this sort of circumstance you either get affirmation or very real disappointment. I am very worried that the crystal recorded quality of these songs as finished productions won’t cut it, live, in a largish, seated and rather soul-less theatre.

Well, let’s see…..a very pleasant curry upfront certainly meant I was very much ‘in the mood’ as support act Georgie wandered onto the stage. She’s a local lass, apparently, and this is the first night on the tour she can sleep in her own bed, she tells us. A solo singer/songwriter and tidy guitar/keyboard player, she does her stuff to an audience who are somewhere between polite and appreciative. She’s got a couple of decent songs, as well, which she wisely saves for late on in her set. Vocally, a bit like Sandy Thom meets k.d. lang in Nottingham. Excellent pitch, but there’s a lot of her about. Needs a ‘killer’ tune to break out and so far I don’t hear one, pleasant enough a listen though she is.

To The Lighthouse. Well, not exactly, yet and we’re given a time-consuming photograph backdrop ‘scene set’ to a sort of audio ‘drone’ which for me outstays a welcome by some considerable time. On they come, finally and serve up “Salvation”, a new one, as a set opener and it is your classic set opener, nothing more, nothing less, but the sound is muddy and Tunde Baiyewu’s vocals are struggling to be heard. This is followed by a mid-paced chugger with tidy Stevie Wonderesque keyboard tricks from Paul Tucker on “Blue Sky In Your Head”.

An early pearl is the gorgeous “Loving Every Minute” which is severely compromised by the backing singer just seeming ‘off’ somehow, Didn’t sound right to me, but let’s stay with the programme……

I’m sure the Lighthouses mean to be sincere on the inter-song raps, but they do really overcook it at times, with stories of raising kids and all that. So much so that the lead up to ”Put My Heart on You” doesn’t exactly have the desired effect on me.

By now, I will admit to feeling mildly irritated rather than entertained so when they kick into “Lifted” with the instantly recognisable Spanish guitar figure at the start, it is something of a relief. ‘I know what you’ve come for’, says the singer and he’s right, because as the night passes it becomes clear to me that these guys had excellent A and R and record company support. They absolutely picked the best songs as singles. Sadly, though, the hits do scream ‘HHIIIIITTTT!!’ at you extremely loudly so I don’t think it was a difficult job for the A and R bod to go ‘That’s the single’. And it isn’t just familiarity.

“Lifted” is a full-on radio singalong tune any day of the week. Nobody switches this off, ever. It does, indeed, ‘Lift’, and, to be fair, the audience are up on their feet for the first time. BUT – and unfortunately…….it doesn’t seem to ‘work’ live. I mean yes, everybody is up etc etc. but……in the cruel lights of the Concert Hall, the song is exposed for the one-line hook it pretty much is. The ‘trucker’s gear change’, the little ‘breakdowns’ in the song, all beautifully locked in by the studio with all the trickery a decent producer can bring to bear, are laid bare by the live performance. It’s just a bloke walking around the stage bleating one word, pretty much repeatedly. And “Run”, which follows, is breathtakingly ordinary.

“Raincloud” is a great song, though, and always was a bit of a fave of mine for coming out of an ad break with. You don’t have to say anything, the powerful piano shapes along with slightly eccentric percussion tricks, a bit off the beat, just draw you in and the chorus, combined with the Gil Scott-Heron style instrumental break are a delight.

Which is a shame, really as we lose the piano figure and the subtlety in percussion in the swirling, slightly mad, pseudo-Gothicky mix the whole thing seems to be wrapped in.

“Ocean Drive” is a really transcendental summer radio tune. About as close to a British Brian Wilson moment as you’re going to get, this one is pure escapist fantasy. We all know life isn’t like this but for two and a half minutes or so, most of us are prepared to suspend disbelief; and they do pretty much nail this. And “Lost In Space” is similarly such a plaintive radio-friendly tune; but tonight there just isn’t enough ‘Space’ for Tundi Baiyewu’s voice to touch and warm the listener; it is just squeezed too much by everything else that’s going on. And despite the warm accolades for the rhythm section from the two main Lighthouses, I thought they were that unforgiveable sin for a rhythm section; they were obtrusive, often as a deep, vibrating rumble, all sound and fury, signifying nothing. And completely at odds with the delicacy and lightness of the songs themselves.

“Who Gonna Save Me Now… by now, I am starting to feel uncomfortable. Another ‘ordinary’ tune, as is “Clouds”, but of course they have a set saver in “High”, which has graced many a person’s wedding/funeral/fave playlist, etc, etc and really you can’t go wrong with it…but once again, in a live format, those ‘trucker’s gear changes’ really do grate.

They encore with “Street Lights in the Rain” and “Free” and “One” but by now I have lost all patience with them. They are falling over themselves to congratulate the audience on their good taste, especially Paul Tucker, who is nobody’s idea of Mr. Showbiz and really, is best just not saying anything.

So, by the time we stream out onto the pavement, I am at serious odds with most of the audience. They feel ‘Lifted’, I feel like I’ve been resprayed magnolia. And my worst fears are confirmed. Clever though some of the songs are as studio confections, they do not translate that well into a live setting. The songs that were hits were hits for a reason. And their medium is FM (and, no doubt, digital) radio. They are best heard once every six hours or so…..or you do start to feel slightly….magnolia.

But the audience loved them, and the body of work is there, and we have done each other a lot of good over the years, so I’m going as far as 3 stars. But I don’t feel good about it.

Well, I’ll say this for him, he’s in good nick for 74. Then again, he has looked after himself.

Al Stewart played the first Glastonbury. He knew Yoko Ono before John Lennon. Paul Simon was his next door neighbour and he’s exchanged songwriting notes with Leonard Cohen. Born in Glasgow, raised in Dorset, went to London to seek his fortune and settled in LA when it all ‘worked out.’

He’s a strange hybrid, really. A product of the BritFolk boom of the late sixties following the obligatory dalliance with British Beat groups in the early sixties, he, almost accidentally, once he’d come out of contract with his first major record company, morphed into a ‘staple’ of American FM radio, a classic of the ‘yacht rock’ genre. His vocals lend quite a lot to the Graham Nash ‘razorthroat’ school of glass-shattering clarity and he wrote songs. Lots of them. And one of them, finally and irrevocably, cracked America – and indeed the world – wide open for him.

This tour is with Chicago’s Empty Pockets, acting as opener for the man himself and also as his ‘Band’. As an act in themselves they’re a pleasant listen, a bit soppy maybe for a cynical old BritBloke and despite some excellent electric piano and some guitar to relish, not entirely convinced about the male/female harmonies which seemed a little harsh at times.

However, as the ‘Al Stewart Band’, in effect, they proved to be just the ticket, a perfect compliment and support to one of Britain’s greatest living ‘Heritage’ songwriters.

An unmemorable first tune – disarmingly ‘fessed up’ to as such by Stewart who claimed nobody’s interested in the first tune anyway; they’re too busy seeing if you’ve got any hair left etc – soon gave way to a sumptuous “Flying Sorcery” which is a beautifully fresh, naïve-sounding song which just picks the listener up and sweeps them off. And straight away it’s pretty clear this won’t be a hair shirt fest – it’ll be a celebration of those radio-friendly specials which were beautifully produced and are just sumptuous.

This kicked straight into “Time Passages”; album title track and Billboard top ten hit single. Refreshing as an upland winter walk it was a gorgeous listen live with fabulous sax solos – which this song MUST have to work – and thick layers of wrap – around keyboards, this brought the house down, even this early in the set.

It isn’t all good news, though. This is the 20th gig of a 21-date UK tour. A big ask for a bloke in his mid-seventies and a band from Chicago who by their own admission were feeling seriously homesick. Not sure if this was the reason – or if age had just caught up with the vocal chords and squashed his range so he can’t quite reach those stratospheric upper octaves, I don’t know – but, and to an extent to his credit, he didn’t rely on the younger harmonies to cut in to sustain and ‘replace’ his voice, he just put his own voice out there and although on occasion this meant slightly strange harmonic arrangements to get through some songs, I didn’t spend the night cringing for him.

An early high point was “On The Border”, reached number 42 on Billboard and the ‘breakers’ in the UK (I’ve still got the demo 45 vinyl) with the spine-rattling bass intro and fiery Spanish guitar and as a listener you’re reminded of how timeless and relevant many of these songs still are. Somehow a song about the Spanish civil war throws light on Brexit (‘in the islands where I grew up nothing seems the same’, anyone?) Or Syria. Pick and mix your own analogy. A rich and fulfilling listen, by now he has the audience eating out of his hand, a relationship which he then cemented by responding to a holler from the audience for “Brooklyn”, an ‘old one’ from more folky times, which could only be played by himself and one band member as no-one else knew the song! Now there’s spontaneity…..

“Broadway Hotel” was the B-side of the UK “Year of the Cat” single and here the keyboards ‘roll’ beautifully. It’s just a great song about a sort of ‘accidental’ seduction.

“Almost Lucy” follows, another irresistible song from “Time Passages” which references in terms of content if not style, the early folk club days. By now I am truly in awe at how well this stuff is translating onto stage; but why should this be? He’s just played over 100 US and 20 UK gigs with this band, this body of work (with variations!) – you’d expect an experienced trouper like Stewart to nail this – and he does just that. Otherwise, and at the age of 74, why do this to yourself?

I always think it is asking for trouble, playing human jukebox to audience shouts, but he seems quite at home with this form of Russian Roulette, even when some Muppet yells out “Year of the Cat” (like, he’s really not going to play THAT one, right?) and settles on “Clifton in the Rain” which really is folky, whimsical stuff going back to the sixties. Bit twee for me, but, if that’s what floats your boat…..which segues into the vignette poem “Small Fruit Song” for a few seconds prior to the audience applauding warmly, as they had more or less all night. He really is Going Down Well.

The track before “Year of the Cat” on said album is “One Stage Before” and that’s the order they are dealt tonight. The latter is a troubadour song; the way an audience is seen by an artist – and it isn’t always as a bunch of woolly sweater wearers eating ice cream tubs, as it turns out. And it’s another great song, spiced up by some great guitar and keyboard work by the Empty Pockets.

Prior to the captivating keyboard intro to the main event, (otherwise known as the greatest FM airplay tune of all time and no, I am not exaggerating) Stewart tells us the story of “Year of the Cat”. Along with various English folkies and ex-folkies who had some success, (Steeleye Span, Incredible String Band, Insert Name Here), he’d been shipped out to the US and hadn’t gotten very far, as tended to be the way. And then he found himself opening for Linda Ronstadt, which was a great opportunity. It worked fine in the more liberal North and West, but they hated him with a vengeance in the southern states, where an eight-minute song about the Russians, introduced as a ‘Country and Eastern song’ very nearly got him killed. So he went off to invent something which might have a broader appeal…and found one of the band members messing about with a particular progression….which they then chucked just one note into, and then he wrote some enigmatic, seductive, shape-shifting lyrics…and after a whole lot of work by producer Alan Parsons, he came up with and again I say it the single best FM radio playlister, ever. Got to number five on Billboard, even got to number 31 in tone-deaf Britain where we were still transitioning from glam to punk, and it wasn’t a good look…and it eventually drove the album, and the follow-up album, platinum. Slow burner, but now almost every UK radio station playing AOR love songs will now feature this as a staple alongside Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs Jones” and Fat Larry’s Band and “Zoom”. Serving Suggestion. His conclusion (elsewhere) that he’d decided once he’d heard the final mix that if this wasn’t a hit, he couldn’t write a hit, proved very astute and possessed of an understanding of self which most musicians don’t seem to value.

Any slight misgivings about the slight lack of flexibility and range in the vocals are quickly disarmed by the ferocity and style of the guitar solo, the fluidity and drama of the main sax break, and the percussive but wandering piano fills and frills. It isn’t perfect, you’d need a whole bunch of strings for that and a voice that hadn’t been lived-in for quite so long but on balance this was one of my favourite five musical minutes of the year so far.

Difficult to know how you’d ‘ace’ that for an encore but “If It Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It” (also from “Year of the Cat”) sounded like a fair call – described by Stewart as a ‘sort of Bruce Springsteen pastiche’ and being played like that tonight, it did the job well, especially when followed as a parting shot by a newish tune about growing old; ‘Getting out of the box that you made of your life….you’re young again!’ I’ll drink to that.

It’s fair to say the lad’s come a long way from Bournemouth. Soon after “Year of the Cat” broke out, he moved to LA to live – and stayed there. Cue the sneers? Well, you would, wouldn’t you? Al Stewart; well-travelled, intelligent, articulate and with a great sense of historical and artistic perspective, this elderly troubadour reaches parts other singer-songwriters can’t reach.

And thanks for “Year of the Cat”. You made me a lot of money playing a beautiful song to a lot of people a lot of times. And the wonder is, it never felt like it.

It’s fair to say that this isn’t really my manor. Yeah, I love The Railway Hotel in Southend for many reasons, the first being the wonderful bunch of people who choose to drink there. It’s an old-fashioned boozer that has successfully resisted any vogueish makeovers and remains a pub for people that like pubs (oh, and music, definitely music). It’s the kind of place where musicians, artists and poets (and the occasional photographer) meet up to drink, politely and non-judgementally discuss each other’s work and the work of others and drink and then drink some more. I may have fabricated a piece of that last sentence; you decide which bit.

The reason for this trek out to Southend-on-Sea was the launch of books by Ralph Dartford and Phil Burdett and live performances by each of the authors. The last time I saw a live poetry event was nearly four years ago when Dr John Cooper Clarke supported Squeeze in Greenwich, which sets the bar fairly high. No worries on that score; Phil Burdett and Ralph Dartford had the goods and were ready to deliver.

Ralph Dartford

It’s no secret that both of these artists have had their demons and maybe still do; that’s where the authenticity shone out in both sets. Ralph Dartford opened reading selections from his current volume “Recovery Songs” packed with pathos, humour and stark social realism (“Addict” set the tone for Ralph’s performance) joined up by a seamless narrative which demonstrated some superb comic timing. The audience was Phil’s home crowd, but they were attentive and hugely appreciative during Ralph’s set. I recommend the book and you can get it here .

Phil Burdett

And the it was time for Phil Burdett, on a long and unpredictable journey from some very dark places indeed, to premiere his book of prose and poetry “Rhyming Vodka with Kafka”. Never one for convention, Phil delivered a mixture of readings from the book punctuated by songs old and new with support from fellow Southend legend Steve Stott on mandolin and fiddle (I’m not going to ask what happened to the banjo). For a first attempt at this format Phil nailed it, with the audience enthralled by the material and the delivery, pin-drop silent during the readings and wildly appreciative at the conclusions, particularly “The Bad Pub Guide” and “Dogs Accustomed to Loud Music”. Maybe a prophet can have honour in his own country.

Steve Stott

Bottom line – I loved both performances; the audience loved both performances. I bought both books; a lot of the audience bought both books. It’s a long time since I’ve seen an entire audience so totally immersed in a performance. Thank you Ralph Dartford and Phil Burdett for making me realise that I need more poetry in my life.

 

Well, here’s an odd one. This weekend my daughter is working at the Splendour Festival in Nottingham where The Specials are set to play; and here I am in Holmfirth for the Summer Ska Splash, largely featuring music made by the band and their contemporaries, a number of whom are here in Holmfirth today.

Funny old world, the world of the ‘bitza’ band. So The Specials and their spinoffs and satellites tour in a variety of configurations, none of which, at the present time include Jerry Dammers.

Very strange.

Anyway, we are to convene early as it is a half-six kick off courtesy of The Beat Goes Bang, a mash-up of former members of The Beat (namely drummer Everett Morton and guitarist Neil Dethridge;) and a former Dexy (Keyboard player Mickey Billingham) along with Jason Ensa, Sean Williams and Theo Hockley. Once through the preliminaries, the band is already blowing up a storm when we get the first one in and boy, are they a good listen! “Too Nice To Talk To” was always a top-drawer tune and it still sounds fresh today, played with affection and enthusiasm. For me, though, and I guess many of the assembled, “Mirror in the Bathroom” is the highlight, the sax break truly evoking the spirit of Saxa. And that Everett Morton; whack. For any reggae-rooted music to hold water, the drummer seriously has to know what he or she is doing and this guy is quality. His performance underpinned a sharp and well-received set. These lads play with a refreshing enthusiasm and spring in their step and it looks and is infectious fun – and I’m bopping away and it isn’t even half seven yet. Can’t help feeling we’re getting our money’s worth here tonight!

Next up after an ugly and gratuitously foul-mouthed DJ set by one Fat Piggy from Sheffield, Roddy Radiation and the Skabilly Rebels. Monsieur Radiation was the guitarist for The Specials on and off through until 2014; but you can tell his heart was only partly ‘in it’. The Specials were always a sort of punk-ska outfit and the punk influence was always an important part of their appeal; and this guitarist was always at the ‘punkier’ edge of the spectrum. And just to underline this, the first thing they do when they come on is gob in the air. It could have been worse.

Roddy Radiation cuts a dapper figure in blue drapes and crepes and full marks to him, the seemingly unbridgeable gap between punk, ska and rockabilly he seems to cross with ease. The two guitar attack is one beautiful noise especially on “Bonedigging”, “Blues Attack” and “Keep on Learning”; but boy, is he grumpy. ‘I’m Roddy Radiation, apparently,’ he grudgingly concedes and it seems the massed ranks of Ben Shermans, pork pie hats and 2 Tone T shirts have drawn his ire for so many people doing the ‘follower’ thing in terms of dressing up.

Oh, come on.

The gig has been billed as a ‘Summer Ska Splash’. It is Saturday night. Most people are here tonight for a bit of a party. Lighten up, for goodness sake. And anyway, since we seem so keen on upholding the ‘revolt into style’ critique, could I perhaps be permitted to point out that the drapes and crepes thing is also A Style, a similarly mass-produced youth style thing. Once upon a time. You don’t see Elton John spitting out the dummy because half the audience insist on wearing big glasses, do you? Enough, already.

That said, they chop through their set with conviction and yes, there are a few in the audience who can’t quite get to it, find it a bit too ‘rock’. And in the interests of journalistic balance I think I ought to say that some should perhaps be a bit more willing to open minds and ears.

I have to say I absolutely loved it and I probably wasn’t in the majority. He’s some player and his band certainly blow some as well. It is self-evident that this guy and his associates have toured the States extensively and they don’t need anyone to show them how to do the deed. He includes an aggressive and pointy “Rat Race” early in the set and does what for me was the musical highpoint of the entire proceedings in a killer version of “Do Nothing”, for me one of the most underrated Specials songs ever; musically a sort of distorted and creepy version of Keith West’s “Excerpt From a Teenage Opera”, their version has a sort of gothic despair to it.

Absolute tops for entertainment and please don’t stop playing this all night award goes to their fruity and joyful version of Frankie Ford’s “Sea Cruise”, though. Oooohwee, Baby.

Great, but Grumpy.

Which you can’t say about The Neville Staple Band. Departing from The Specials in 2013 allegedly due to ill health, he’s toured his show ever since, mixing The Specials classic repertoire of songs with a few ska faves and hits from the Funboy Three days. From the second they hit the gaffa tape crosses with a joyous, energetic “Gangsters”, the audience singalong of “A Message To You Rudy” through “Swan Lake”, the only duplicate of the entire evening in their version of “Do Nothing”, and the doomy and extremely pertinent “The Lunatics have Taken Over the Asylum”, they were really saying something. Oh – and there’s another one. It was a joyous and happy celebration of a music which still has the power to energize, to uplift, to lively everybody up. And “Ghost Town”. If ever a song hit the nail on the very epicentre of the head at the time, it’s that one. And the onstage rapport between yer main man and his good lady, who acts as chief cheerleader and voice for the notes he isn’t quite equipped to hit, is charming and life-affirming in itself, especially in the context of their terribly sad, grievous and still recent loss.

So would I have preferred to be with daughter at Splendour in Nottingham to see ‘the real thing’ or Holmfirth to see a different spin on ‘the real thing’? Do you want to go and see Brian Wilson or The Beach Boys?

Not really a legitimate or fair question, is it? Holmfirth’s Summer Ska Splash was great fun; and in a way, very ‘real’. You pays your money, you takes your pick.

Well, that was all a bit intense; four nights of gigs spread across North and West London (and those are just the ones I opted for – there were plenty of other great gigs across the capital, but you can only be in one place at a time). With so much on offer, the choices weren’t easy, but I witnessed four cracking gigs, all headlined by bona fide legends and with some astonishing up-and-coming support acts. And it’s the only festival I’ve done where I could get a decent shower and sleep in a comfortable bed. 

 

Mavis Staples & Stone Foundation @Roundhouse 04/07/19 

This was all about the songs (and Mavis Staples’ incredible voice). No long solos; just deliver the song and the message and move on to the next one. Stone Foundation delivered a powerful support set for Mavis, for the second time in three days and demonstrated why the are the new soul vision. All the elements fit, the songs are strong and the horns and Hammond are the perfect icing on the cake. The finale of “Tear Your Playhouse Down” leaves the crowd elated and ready for the main event. 

Mavis Staples is almost the same age as my mum (Happy Birthday for Wednesday, Mavis). The passion for the music is undimmed and the voice is still a force of nature. The audience would happily listen to the classics (who wouldn’t want to hear “Slippery People”, “For What It’s Worth” and “Respect Yourself”), but Mavis also has a new album out at the moment and the title song “We Get By” fits seamlessly in as the set draws to a close. By the end you’re left in no doubt; you have been in the presence of a legend. You have been Mavised.

Mavis Staples

 

Maceo Parker, Down to the Bone and Jen Kearney @Roundhouse 05/07/19 

If Thursday was all about the songs and the singers, Friday at Roundhouse was about two things; virtuoso playing and, most importantly, the FUNK. All three sets combined jazz and funk in various proportions with a few other elements thrown in. Jen Kearney opened with a short but powerful set with Latin overtones and hints of Steely Dan at times. Superb instrumental performances from the whole band and powerful vocals from Jen herself. Definitely one to watch. And then Down to the Bone ramped up the atmosphere before the headliner with a set of jazz-funk instrumentals with hints of New York and Cuba and nods towards the Average White Band, Nuyorican Soul and maybe very early Chicago. Great fun and fabulous musicianship. 

Then came Maceo. Coming onstage to “1999”, it was obvious that this wasn’t just about musicianship; this was a show. The playing was superb, but Maceo likes to perform as a bandleader, and why not? There was plenty of humour, with a little piano/alto jazz duet on “Satin Doll” to establish whether it was a jazz or funk audience (resoundingly funk, if you needed to know) and a trombone/keys duet on “My One and Only Love”, but it was the funk that was well and truly slam-dunked with a glorious cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get it On” featuring a cameo Maceo vocal towards the end. And that was the sound of another legend winning over the Innervisions crowd. 

Maceo Parker

 

Janet Kay & Carroll Thompson with Hannah Francis @Under the Bridge 06/07/19 

Hannah Francis has a fabulous voice, no doubt about it, but, as a showcase for new talent, you have to wonder why she only had two songs with backing tracks and no live musicians. Whose decision, I don’t know, but I don’t think it did anyone any favours. And that’s the negativity out of the way.  Lovers Rock is by definition a nostalgia thing and the people who get nostalgic about it are really enthusiastic and knowledgeable. And friendly. It was the most relaxed and amiable of all the audiences over the weekend; everyone was there to have a good time. 

Janet Kay and Carroll Thompson are known as the two queens of Lovers Rock; they’ve been doing this for years and they’re incredibly good at what they do. They duet and then they alternate short three/four song sets of their classic songs. The difference this time is that they both have covers albums out at the moment so we’re treated to Carroll covering “Make it With You”, “Where Do Broken Hearts Go?” and “Take Another Little Piece of my Heart”, while Janet covers “Betcha By Golly Wow” and “Wishing On a Star”. The audience is young and old, male and female and multi-ethnic and everyone’s just vibing on the tunes. It’s a perfect demonstration in West London of how we can all live together. 

Carroll Thompson

 

Gilberto Gil & Caravela @Shepherd’s Bush Empire 07/07/19 

The final night of Innervisions has me visiting what used to be the BBC Television Theatre in The Bush. Apart from a strange domestic at the bar, this is the most laid-back of all the gigs. It must be a Latin American thing. The music has never been my field of expertise, but it’s always had the feelgood factor and interesting rhythms and, like all of the headliners, Gilberto Gil is a legend in the spheres of music and politics. 

The night opened with Caravela, fronted by singer Ines Loubet and with a lineup of guitar, keys, bass, drums and percussion. They wowed the Empire crowd (it may have been a bit partisan) with their superb musicianship and Latin polyrhythms topped off by Ines’ powerhouse vocals. Even a non-dancer like me found the rhythms irresistible. And then it was Gilberto Gil time. 

The semi-circular backline looked like a set-up for a cast of thousands (or eight or nine multi-instrumentalists and backing vocalists) with Gilberto seated front and centre with an acoustic guitar for the opening three songs, which were all new and ebbed and flowed through stylistic and personnel changes as Gilberto worked solo, played duets and did full band arrangements, before changing up to electric and getting to his feet. However deficient your dancing feet may be, you can’t resist the seductive rhythms that will have you tapping your feet and your fingers and singing along to the wonderful melodies. Another legend whose reputation is well-earned. 

Gilberto Gil

 

And that was it for Innervisions 2019. Can’t wait for 2020. 

Getting to Birmingham by boat is a bit of a struggle. You have to cover a lot of water the day you set out, as you have quite a few miles of ‘badlands’ to get through before you reach the ‘safety’ of the city centre and Gas Street Basin, which is extremely lovely. Not to mention a steep watery climb up to the summit almost underneath the city itself, which in heavy rain, constitutes something of a challenge. But it is extremely lovely in the way the BBC think ‘heritage’ is really lovely and consequently it is worthwhile getting slightly off the beaten track once safely moored up and in possession of your weekly spending money.

About 600 yards off said ‘beaten track’ stands The Prince Of Wales, an old-school city boozer selling pies, pints and on occasion, there’s a ‘turn’, often at slightly odd times of day and it is with some surprise we stumbled upon a spirited, reggaefied version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” pouring out of the door. Intrigued, in we went, to be confronted by a pretty much full house of late Sunday afternoon drinkers all giving it plenty and a six piece band (on average) grooving away in a most delightful way. Pete Hyde and The Vieillards may be past the first flush of youth – indeed ‘Vieillards’ are old folks, rather than some strange mythical wossname born on the bayou, but they are warm, sinuous and very much ‘alive’ live musicians. I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching the living embodiment of the lyrics to Dire Strait’s “Sultans Of Swing” as this bunch weaved effortlessly through reggae to blues standards such as “The Thrill Is Gone”, classics like “Summertime” and some rock n roll standards, many illuminated with fine, fruity saxophone fills provided whilst said musician wandered off to the bar, almost as an afterthought whilst ordering a round. Indeed, at one point he was interrupted mid-noodle by someone who had just walked in off the street to enquire where the bogs were (note to person; if you’re going to creep into a pub to enquire the whereabouts of the rest room without purchasing a beverage, perhaps best not to broadcast this by interrupting a band member whilst about their business, even though your business may appear equally pressing) and evocative, rich keyboard work reeking of Booker T Jones at times, Dr John at others, shades of Georgie Fame also.

And not just the flipping obvious in the repertoire. As well as Van Morrison’s “Bright Side of the Road” which is very easily played badly but in this case wasn’t, we are treated to his lesser known but equally lovely “Cleaning Windows”. And the crowning glory for me, Ry Cooder’s magnificent “Little Sister”, complete with that wonderfully ‘aged’ and rubbery guitar sound and fabulously complimentary harmonies.

One of those marvellously ‘accidental’ Sunday gigs where you really didn’t need a drink to appreciate what was going on – but it was very thoughtful of the management to provide some. Bit more Ry Cooder and perhaps some more Toussaint, and maybe some Lee Dorsey perhaps, would have been nice but they’re musicians, not a human jukebox. And between sets, how wonderful to hear Smokey, The Crusaders, The Temptations, etc., underlining the importance of the stuff played in and around a live band’s set to maintaining a groove. And they played for a couple of hours or more. Sultans of Swing, in very deed.

4 Stars and a bit.