I have got a bit of an apology to make to Tom Robinson. I bumped into him, literally, in the foyer of the Empire early doors and the best I could manage at short notice was ‘Hi Tom. Blimey! Haven’t seen you in years!’

A statement to which there is truly no adequate response beyond vague mumbles about a better optician, etc etc.

No – what I really meant was me and the McKay bloke with the camera here were once doing a DJ / compere gig at the University of Dundee in 1977 in support of a brand new EMI signing called the Tom Robinson Band, whose first single “2-4-6-8 Motorway” had just shot up the charts to number 5 that very week.

The Band were nervously assembling in the wings when we returned to the backstage area having done our ‘bit’ and Tom asked us if we could get a Uni scarf for him to wear as he went out. We quickly procured one and out he went with the rest of the Band to produce one of the most barnstorming sets I’ve ever heard at a British college gig.

Kids wanna rock.

But that was a while ago and you could hardly blame him for not being overly déjà vu’d.

It’s been a while treading the boards for Moston Manc Lee Forsyth Griffiths as well, and by all accounts the last few years have required a degree of fortitude; and this is evidenced by some extremely introspective songs of love and of loss. Lee cuts a small, pained, but defiant presence on stage and his voice, a well-worn piece of kit bearing the scars but capable of quite alarming tenderness at times, weaves through a selection from his latest album; starting with “Crazy Times” and the surprisingly homey “Nowhere Like Home”, the everything-left-bare of “Love Is” and a couple more before the extremely arresting title track “Silence = Death”. He’s probably a bit of a ‘Marmite’ artist – but I must admit I found his songs certainly stood a listen and the pain of loss in his voice at times was sometimes very, very, stark. Have a listen to the album and/or go see him live and make your own mind up about this one.

Tom Robinson is by his own admission 68 years old now and cuts a solid, rather scholarly, professorial figure as he comperes his own show (well, that’s me out of a gig there, then!) and tells a few stories before strapping that old bass on and as soon as he does, he becomes transformed as the band, who, it is immediately clear, are extremely handy, whip through “Up Against The Wall” and the exhilarating youthful capitalist celebration of the joy of property ownership which is “Grey Cortina”. Alright, yes, I am only kidding. But there’s not a good socialist alive who hasn’t coveted his neighbour’s Cortina, I’ll tell thee.

For this is a celebration of “Power In The Darkness”, the album which followed the aforementioned single up the charts and went gold in both the UK and Japan; which for a ‘new wave’ band was indeed none too dusty. EMI must have been rubbing their hands, albeit in a slightly uncomfortable way given the edginess of some of the subject matter for the time. For a young man in his twenties, some of the writing seems very far-sighted; “Too Good to be True”, assisted in the live context by extremely authentic keyboards and a guitar break which did indeed evoke the spirit of original guitarist Danny Kustow, has aged very well. TR showed with his comments during the show that he knew damn well that some of these songs had stood the tick-tock test; and others had ‘yellowed’ a bit – and so he did what could have been awful but actually worked brilliantly; he changed/added some new lyrics at various points.

“Ain’t Gonna Take It” had an anthemic quality then and indeed it has lost none of this with the passing of the years. It is strident and is delivered in 2018 with venom and attack. Similarly, Robinson contextualises “Long Hot Summer” for an audience who might or might not have known it was written about the NYPD’s regular habit in the late 60’s of kicking three shades out of various members of the gay community in order to bump up their ‘figures’. Until the Drag Queens fought back…and from that into the “Winter of ’79.”. At the time, it really did feel like the next couple of years were going to be a paranoiafest – and for good reasons. He might have got the year slightly off but he wasn’t far out with the violent outcomes described in the song; and this one still sounds utterly convincing told by a bloke in his 60’s. He was there, with the rest of us, peering over the abyss.

“The Man You Never Saw” is played with power and considerable pace and, once again, is a paranoia song. It’s pretty clear when he wrote this stuff, he was used to feeling he was being Watched. And he probably was.  

“Better Decide Which Side You’re On” always struck me as a bit of a slogan masquerading as a song and this performance didn’t really convince me otherwise but “You Gotta Survive” is a quite graphic post-apocalyptic vision for the generation which did expect to wake up with eyeballs fried to the back of heads which gives TR the chance to show, once again, that his voice is a fabulous weapon, capable of a surprising range. And finally for the album, the title track “Power in the Darkness”, delivered with funky suppleness which the keyboards certainly gave a real boost to and a strikingly effective reworking of the ‘spoken’ section; where Robinson’s original Home-Counties ‘Colonel Blimp’ character is replaced with a different kind of ‘old git’; the ageing socialist who looks around him and sees the accelerating lack of kindness, decency, understanding, tolerance, generosity….and in these the decline of ‘traditional British values’. It is, put simply, a brilliant turning of the tables; it seems less strident and clumsy than the ‘original’ mock-hectoring tone; and the audience buy into it because it is warmer, more humane – and therefore more accessible – without cynicism.

Throughout, we are treated to anecdotes and stories, involving subjects as diverse as Alex Harvey, Robinson’s own sexuality, Eddy Grant, second album syndrome, and the perils of audience participation. What marks the difference that the years have made is not so much ‘the message’, for the song pretty much remains the same; but the tone. It is less dictatorial, more rueful; less furious, more appalled; less angry, more amused; less an immediate call to action, more a call to think, to consider and then yes, if you feel so moved, to act.

This slightly less ‘megaphone’ approach works sooo well during the encore as we leave the scripted tracks from the album and finish the set with a cluster of TRB classics. “Martin” always was a great ‘brother’ song, even if and even at the time I remember being moved to wonder how I’d feel if it was my car that was being nicked, my brother who was the ‘copper’. And what a singalong vibe it generates, and at the Empire, it briefly returns to being a Music Hall. Those Were The Days.

And speaking of singalongs, “Glad to be Gay”. Even fully paid up members of the hetero club, then and now, can’t and couldn’t resist this one; and Robinson does give us a welcome opportunity to actually look back and see how much has been achieved in terms of tolerance, understanding and the right to celebrate who we REALLY are; but also to remind us that nothing is ever Safe in this respect, nothing can be assumed, no state of affairs is a permanent and foregone conclusion which doesn’t need protecting and nurturing. 

It has always struck me as weird, then, that a bloke who wrote so many protest songs should come up with arguably the nearest-to-perfect British drivetime tune ever written (possible exception “Road to Hell”, Chris Rea.) In retrospect it is a very good thing “2-4-6-8 Motorway” didn’t turn up on “Power in the Darkness”. It would have had all the contextual integrity of putting “The Birdie Song” on “Deep Purple in Rock”. And the band plays it, if you don’t mind me using the word here, straight. If you’ve got a stadium anthem, play it as a stadium anthem and let it happen as it should. And that’s what they do. And it brings the house down, in my experience for the second time in 41 years and as it has undoubtedly done a few times in the intervening period as well.

TR then tells us a little story about his journey through big initial success, flop second album, losing his record deal, bad business, losing the plot, losing the lot…and starting over, as an independent. And hitting the centre of the target again in the eighties, as the band treated us to an extra encore of the ‘comeback hit’ ‘War Baby’. Me? I would have liked to hear “Atmospherics” but I’m just a radio geek and appreciate I’m probably in a minority and to be fair I can’t see how he’d have worked that into the set, so I won’t gripe. And a real, hard-earned and sincerely felt standing ovation for a quite terrific performance. I really hadn’t expected it to be THIS good.

No, I emerged into the damp and chilly night air and headed for the tube feeling I owed Tom Robinson a bit of an apology. I bought into the whole radical socialist thing and railed against the stuff he railed against back in the day. It was all about personal politics as well as ‘macro politics’. And it was a fairly easy time to be an ‘angry young man’ in 1977. There was plenty to be angry about. But as the seventies gave way to the eighties, and Thatcher, and the pits closed and my home town had the heart ripped out of it…..I began to feel like I’d been ‘had’. I began to feel like for a short while, a ‘middle – class kiddie’ had briefly had me ‘manning the barricades’. Won’t Get Fooled Again. Meet The New Boss. Same as The Old Boss.

However, I can now see that he was – and still is – sincere. With a few tweaks and a spirited live performance to ‘sell’ them all over again, the songs have stood the test of time. Despite the clear advances which have been made, the old dragons are by no means dead. And the “Power in the Darkness” tour is a timely reminder of this from a man who is, I predict, on his way to National Treasure status.

Maybe you already know that Allan’s a bit of a Southside Johnny fan. Ok, a lot of a Southside Johnny fan. So, we decided to invite Johnny to contribute to the 2017 High Fives. And he did, with not one but four sets of High Fives chosen by our random category generator. That’s the kind of value you get at a Jukes gig. Take it away, Southside…

 

Steven Van Zandt

5 songwriting heroes

Cole Porter

Tom Waits

Steven Van Zandt

Bob Dylan

Smokey Robinson

 

5 places he’d play every night 

Paradiso Amsterdam

Paradiso, Amsterdam

Shepherd’s Bush, London

Birchmere, Alexandria, Virginia

Stone Pony Summer Stage, Asbury Park, NJ

Anywhere in Cleveland, Ohio

 

5 people he’d like to meet 

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Big Bill Shakespeare

Barack Obama

Willie Dixon

My mother’s father

 

5 favourite harmonica solos

Little Walter

Big Walter, “Walking By Myself”,

Sonny Boy Williamson “Don’t Start Me Talking”,

Little Walter, “Tell me Mama” and “Lights Out”,

Paul Butterfield, “Born in Chicago” and a thousand others.

 

5 covers he hasn’t done yet

Way too many to list.  Happy New Year!

 

In his usual desperate attempt to get as many photos as possible crammed into this feature, Allan has split his photos into male and female artists. The photographer’s ego knows no bounds. Anyway, in no particular order, here are the photos and his helpful comments:

Glenn Alexander – If you’ve been following closely, you might have heard about one of my favourite nights of the year watching Southside Johnny in Kentish Town. I’ve been photographing various incarnations of The Jukes for about 10 years now and this was probably the best opportunity I’ve had. You have to be on the ball to photograph these guys because you have no idea what’s coming next; trust me, I’ve seen them dozens of times. What you can predict is that there will be plenty of photo opportunities. Glenn Alexander is a stunningly good guitar player (and a lovely guy) who has been known to throw a few guitar hero shapes. During the three songs I had (before the Gilson Lavis guest appearance), I managed to catch this during a solo.

Andy Teece – You might not have heard of HVMM (pronounced ‘hum’) yet; I’m pretty certain you will. They’re a bunch of very good musicians who have gone down the loud route but don’t just produce noise; the rhythm section’s one of the best I’ve heard in a long time and guitar player Ebony and singer Andy Teece constantly compete for attention musically and visually. The first time I saw them, the lighting was so bad that I only managed to get one good shot of Ebony, but promised myself (and the band) that I would be back for more. So I found myself at The Sebright Arms on a Wednesday with heavy duty earplugs at the ready. Every member of the band is eye-catching, but Andy struts and prowls around the stage like a pinball hitting invisible bumpers. He’s difficult to capture but the rewards when you do are exceptional. This was my favourite shot.

 

Graham Parker – I first photographed Graham Parker nearly forty years ago at Dundee University Students’ Association. This year, Stone Foundation gave me another opportunity when Graham guested at their Shepherds Bush Empire gig in October (thanks for the pass guys) and I was determined to make the most of it. I knew he was guesting during the band’s set, but I wanted to get a good shot during the solo set that capture the passion of his delivery. It was a surprisingly upbeat set, but still delivered with blood and thunder. The white lighting from behind just made the shot perfect.

Dean Owens – If you ever read anything on MusicRiot or my Facebook page, you’ll know that I’m a fan of Dean Owens; his songwriting combines lovely melodies and lyrics that focus on contemporary Scotland with some excursions into history and more remote locations. Did I mention his voice? Oh, he can sing and then some; you should really go and see him. I have, quite a few times, but I’ve never been able to get the killer shot that really did him justice. So you keep trying and when he announced that he was supporting Grant-Lee Phillips at The Borderline, I was there (with the Riot Squad of course, they’re huge fans as well). After a bit of experimentation with angles, I managed to grab this; I think I finally got that killer shot.

Grant-Lee Phillips – And how about this? It’s a bit like buses; you wait months for one and then two come along almost side by side. After Dean had done his set, Grant-Lee Phillips took the stage for his set. After the work I’d put in on getting ideal angles for Dean, it was a lot easier with Grant-Lee. The completely uncluttered stage helped as well because there were no unwelcome visual distractions. After seeing this one on the screen, I decided that it couldn’t get better and the best thing to do would be to go and drink tequila with Dean, his manager Morag and my gig buddy Paul. You can guess how that ended.

Bob Malone TitleWe’re big fans of Bob Malone here at MusicRiot so when I got the chance to meet up for a chat on the final night of his UK tour it was a bit of a no-brainer. Bob’s been in the UK for three weeks touring in support of his “Mojo Deluxe” album and the “Mojo Live” DVD and The 100 Club gig was the climax of a hectic tour schedule. So a very noisy 100 Club dressing room is where we got the chance to talk about old pianos, New Orleans and Southside Johnny, among other things:

 

Allan – So it’s approaching the end of the tour and we met on the first night in Southend. How has it been since then?

Bob – It’s been great; a few funky gigs, a few spectacular gigs and we’ve worked hard. We had a couple of nights where we didn’t have gigs but we still had a radio show or a long drive; we’re a hard-working group.

Allan –Have you had any particularly good gigs?

Bob – This one’s definitely gonna be a good one and Keighley Blues Club, that was a really great crowd and Scotland as well, and we also played on the Isle of Wight.

Allan – I remember when we met in Southend you were talking about Italian audiences.

Bob – They’re full on, right out of the box, from the first song.

Allan –Do you notice any differences in the audiences around the UK?

Bob – Well it sometimes takes three or four songs here. The north is different from the south, as you know. I didn’t until I did these long tours here; England was just England like people think America is just America but here it’s five different countries with completely different cultures.

Allan – Have you played The 100 Club before?

Bob – No, but its reputation precedes…

Allan – How does that feel?

Bob – It feels good. I was soundchecking with the grand piano earlier and the sound engineer had footage of Paul McCartney playing that same piano.

Allan – I think it’s great to see it with the lights up and look at all those great photos around the walls of the people that have played here in the past.

Bob – I love places with history like this; you feel like you’re part of a continuum.

Allan – You’re promoting the Mojo Deluxe album at the moment. What kind of a reception has the album had?

Bob – I think it’s the most press and radio I’ve had on anything I’ve done and it’s my twentieth year of making records, so I’m happy with that.

Allan – After doing what I think of as the day job with John Fogerty, how does this compare? It must be a huge culture change.

Bob – It’s different. I’ve been doing this for twenty-five years; this is what I do, and I’ve been playing with John for almost five years now. With this, so long as the sound man is competent I’m happy. Everyone thinks it must be weird to go from small crowds to big crowds, but it really isn’t. As long as it’s a good musical experience and you’re connecting with an audience; that’s why we play. You can’t really control the size of the crowd and also when I do this it’s a mission; when I play with John it’s his gig. I’m lucky to be there but it’s his gig. I get my solo but other than that, it’s all about him and I’m just in the background.

Allan – Trying to avoid the pyrotechnics…

Bob – Trying not to burst into flames during “Fortunate Son”, exactly.

Allan – So when you’re out doing your own stuff, here and in the States, what would be your ideal band line-up?

Bob – The ultimate, when I’m not touring; when I’m LA, and I don’t have to put people in hotel rooms would be a nine-piece band. I just did a DVD, which I did the way I would like to do it and I had three female background singers, percussionist, drums, bass and guitar. I do a lot of stuff with horns as well, for years I had a horn section, so it would be a nine to eleven piece band and a second keyboard player would be great, to play the organ parts. (If you’re really paying attention, you’ll notice that the total number of musicians is only eight, but there’s a slide guitar player on there as well. I hope your heart isn’t broken by that omission Marty Rifkin.)

Allan – On your own tours, particularly in the UK, you rely on the venue providing the piano. Have you had any horror stories with that in the past?

Bob – Well, usually I carry a digital piano for when there’s no real alternative, but most of the places I play now, if there is a real piano, it’s usually in good shape, but I’ve been to places that had a hundred year old upright and some of the keys didn’t work but I kind of like to play those anyway, just for the challenge. It’s like going in the ring with this old piano and fighting it to see who wins. I love real pianos because they all have personality; the digital ones are handy and they’re light and they don’t go out of tune, but they don’t have much of a personality. They get the job done.

The one in Southend, that’s got some issues. It’s got some broken strings; it’s one that I fight to the death but I like playing it because it’s an old Bösendorfer.

Allan – I did notice a few problems at the soundcheck that night…

Bob – It needs a rebuild, but still I’m glad to see it.

Allan – You’re classically and jazz trained; was there any one thing that turned you into a rock/blues pianist?

Bob – The rock thing came first. One of those things was hearing “Sergeant Pepper” for the first time, so it’s you guys, it’s your fault. Then I heard Billy Joel and Elton John and not very long after that the New Orleans thing, which blew me away, and then Ray Charles and I became a huge student of that stuff but the rock stuff was always there.

Allan – Were you singing right from the start?

Bob – I started singing when I was fifteen probably. I started singing because I wanted to impress a girl I had a crush on. I just played classical piano but “Your Song” by Elton John was the first thing I ever sang in public; I thought ‘She’ll love me if I sing this song’. I was a terrible singer, some people still say I am, but I learned to work with what I have.

You write songs and there are obviously lots of people with better voices than me but when you write songs you have a story to tell and people always respond to the story and sometimes you’re the only person that can tell it.

Allan – We’ve had “Mojo Deluxe” this year, so what’s next on the agenda.

Bob – Well, I’ve got this DVD coming out and the audio from that was so good, we’re thinking of putting that out as a live record next year and I’ll make another new record, so I’ll probably get the live one out next year and in 2017 I’ll have a new studio album. I’ve got to get realistic about this; I’ve got about half the songs I need for another record.

Allan – I interviewed Southside Johnny in July 2014 in London…

Bob – Southside Johnny was also one of the big things in my youth and I should mention this because growing up in New Jersey, we all knew Southside Johnny. This was the 80s and you couldn’t hear that kind of music on the radio at all and so my first real exposure to r’n’b, blues, horn section kinda music was Southside and I learned from that and went back and figured out all the other stuff. He was huge for me.

Allan – When I interviewed him at Shepherds Bush Empire last July, we spoke about his new album “Soultime!” and he said they were aiming to get it out for Christmas 2014 and that finally came out in August this year.

Bob – Yeah, that’s about right. I toured here last year and I had half of “Mojo Deluxe” out as “Mojo EP”. We had finished recording and it was half-mixed and there were some problems and we couldn’t get the other half mixed in time and the promoter said ‘The whole thing is you have a record out for this tour; we can’t get any press without a record’ so we had half a record out as an EP, just in the UK for the tour.

Allan – And that worked really well as a sampler for the album.

Bob – And by the end of last year the whole thing was done but then we needed a three month ramp for the release date to get it publicised and I was touring through the spring, so we just put the whole thing off and it came out almost a year later. That’s how it works. There are so many factors; if you have a lot of money involved, you can get things done a lot quicker. On a limited budget, you still need time to publicise, so you often end up delaying.

Allan – One final question; do you have one song that tears you up and gets you really emotional?

Bob – Yeah, “One for my Baby”, the Sinatra song; that one kills me every time. It depends on the day; it could be something else on another day.

Allan – Thanks very much, Bob.

And there you go; a private audience with the great Bob Malone, who was as entertaining offstage as on. Since we spoke, I’ve had a chance to watch the “Mojo Live” DVD and it’s superb, capturing the magic of a one-off performance absolutely perfectly. It has great performances from all of the musicians and it’s a whole load of fun; keep an eye out for it.

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.