Ian Hunter & Federal Charm live @The Empire

5 stars (out of 5)

2

Ian Hunter Title

Nick Bowden

So when I was offered the chance to see Federal Charm (who I’ve already seen a couple of times) and Ian Hunter (who I’ve never seen) at Shepherds Bush Empire, I jumped at it. Not literally; obviously I caught the Central Line, and I could write a whole article about that experience alone. It’s instantly obvious that Ian Hunter’s playing tonight; there’s an incredible variety of t-shirts on audience members, starting from his Mott the Hoople days and going all the way to his latest album, “When I’m President” (2012).

As I sidle into the photo pit, I’m surprised by the size of the crowd pushing up against the barrier. Actually I’m worried because if they’re staking out a place for Ian Hunter, then their bladders won’t hold out till the end of his set (two hours, in the end). So I’m pleasantly surprised (and relieved) when Federal Charm stroll onstage and the crowd behind me erupt; it feels like a significant moment in the band’s history.

It’s hard to believe that Federal Charm have been together for less than two years, they have the confidence and swagger of a band that has been together for a lifetime. And it’s obvious that they really enjoy what they do. From the opening Page-like riff of “I’m Not Gonna Beg” Paul Bowe, Nick Bowden, L.D. and Danny Rigg hit the ground running and the crowd, their own fans and Ian Hunter’s, are with them all the way. It’s a short set, featuring songs from their first album so after about thirty minutes we’ve had “Too Blind to See”, “No Money Down”, “Somebody Help Me”, “Tell Your Friends”, the show-stopping “Reconsider”, “Reaction” and “Come on Down” and the crowd is nicely warmed up for Ian Hunter. The band pulls together some traditional rock elements (the big riffs, two lead guitars and strong songs) to create a powerful sound completed by a voice that has no right to come from someone with Nick Bowden’s physique. They’re working hard and it’s paying off.

Ian Hunter has surrounded himself with a bunch of great musicians (Andy York, Steve Holley, Paul Page, Jack Petruzzelli, James Mastro and Andy Burton) giving him the freedom to play a bit of acoustic, bit of piano and a bit of harmonica with a solid band to back him up. After watching him play a two-hour set, it suddenly occurs to me that he’s only five years younger than my mum; incredible really.

As there’s no album to promote on this tour, it’s pretty much a greatest hits set running through the Mott the Hoople hits and solo material from a career spanning almost forty years. The only Mott hit in the main set is “All the Way from Memphis”, but I think we all know what’s coming at the end. Second song in is one of my favourites, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”, his first solo hit and from here on every song is a Hunter classic including “Now is the Time”, “When I’m President”, “All American Alien Boy”, Irene Wilde”, “Wash Us Away”, “Girl from the Office”, “Bastard”, “Ta Shunka Witco” and the Velvets cover, “Sweet Jane”. I don’t think any Ian Hunter fan is going to complain about that set list.

And then comes the encore and the band seems to have expanded; yep, that’s Mick Ralphs up there as well for a rollicking run through “Roll Away the Stone”. The next song, “Life”, shifts seamlessly into the crowd-scene anthem, “All the Young Dudes” with all of the backing vocalists and Federal Charm onstage to help out with the choruses and then, with one quick chorus of Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene”, it’s all over. I really didn’t know what to expect from Ian Hunter but he’s obviously still got it and deserves his rock legend status and his faithful fans. As for Federal Charm, they’re still on the way up and I don’t think the peak is even close yet. Keep your eyes and ears open for them.