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. 

As if it’s not enough to stage a festival across some of London’s most iconic venues over five nights at the beginning of July (Wednesday 3rd to Sunday 7th), Innervisions has placed a large dollop of icing on the top of this particular cake. We told you earlier about the festival but since that time there have been, as they say, developments. In addition to the superb and varied line-up of headliners announced earlier, we also now have confirmed supports across the festival.

And not just any old supports. A competition jointly organised by Innervisions Festival and The Arts Council has given twenty unsigned artists the opportunity to appear on the big stage to packed houses across the festival. Just to give you a flavour of how this pans out over the five days, Sans Soucis and Chloe Bodur support Joel Culpepper at Under the Bridge on July 3rd, Belle Benham supports Gentleman’s Dub Club and Submotion Orchestra at Shepherd’s Bush Empire on July 5th and Hannah Francis supports Janet Kay and Carroll Thompson at Under the Bridge on July 6th. And obviously many more that you can discover at www.innervisionsfestival.com. Not only do you get to see some r’n’b legends, you also get a quick shuftie at the next generation. Double bubble.

And don’t forget some of the more established support acts that are appearing; Van Morrison will be supported by James Hunter, while Mavis Staples has the UK’s most happening soul band, Stone Foundation opening for her at The Roundhouse in the middle of their woodlands Paul Weller support tour. Try to catch as many as you can, these gigs will be phenomenal.

Here’s a sample of the supports for you:

So what makes the perfect festival? A line-up of artists that you really want to see, obviously, but maybe I’m approaching this from the wrong direction. There are many, many aspects of festivals that fill me with dread, including sanitation (or lack of), over-priced food and drink, the great British weather and big one; camping, glamping or whatever you favour in the area of al fresco sleeping. Now if there was a festival where I had the choice of loads of interesting gigs and the option of curling up in your own bed after a nice shower, that’s the one I’d be going for. Now, as it happens, there’s something closely resembling that happening in London this year, for the second time, going by the name of Innervisions Festival promoted by the APMG group.

The line-up features an impressively varied list of artists including Van Morrison, Mavis Staples (supported by the wonderful Stone Foundation), Maceo Parker, Fela Kuti, Gilberto Gil, Gentleman’s Dub Club, Janet Kay and Carroll Thompson playing at a range of venues including Under the Bridge, The Roundhouse, Islington Assembly Hall, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Indigo at the O2 and Earth between Wednesday July 3rd and Sunday July 7th.

You can see the full updated line-up and links to ticket sales on the Festival website. Here’s how it’s looking at the moment:

So if you’re a fan of any of the artists on this line-up grab yourself a ticket or two for any of the gigs, arrive at a reasonable time, leave the wellies at home, enjoy the gig and then get the tube home to a nice comfortable bed and wake up the next day feeling refreshed and without the prospect of a mile-long cue for a tepid shower. Just sayin’.

 

This is an opportunity that doesn’t come along too often these days – an interview with one of my favourite singers and someone who happens to front one of the best bands I’ve ever seen; a bunch of superb individuals who make a formidable team. Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes were on a lightning tour of Europe that included a night at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. Too good to miss, really, so I took a little trip out to Wild West London. Here’s how it went…

 Allan

It’s great to see you again, what are you up to these days?

Southside

Well, we have a lot of work this year. I mentioned the word retirement and they immediately booked a thousand gigs. We’re trying to write another Jukes album but it’s been going slowly, so really it’s just been touring and trying to write the album and that’s about it. There’s not much else going on.

Allan

On this tour you had a free day in London yesterday. Did you manage to have a look around?

Southside

I walked all round Shepherd’s Bush and around the mall and I wanted to go to the British Museum but I didn’t get it together to do that, but this is a great walking area. I like this place; it’s a little funky in some areas but that’s good for me. I just love walking around London, all the different areas. It still feels like I’m somewhere other New Jersey. Even after all these years and all these times, I still feel glad to be here.

Allan

I’ve lived here fifteen years now and the city’s changed so much in that time.

Southside

It’s impossibly expensive to rent here. Occasionally I think, maybe I’ll go over there for a while, but you’ve got all the Russians and Saudi Arabians that are buying up all the properties. There are people who have lived here for a long time and they’re all right, but if you’re trying to buy a house, you’re out of luck.

Allan

You’ve done Wales and Scotland on this tour as well.

Southside

Yes, we played Cardiff and we played Glasgow. I always like playing Glasgow because the audiences are down-home, very New Jersey, if you know what I mean. They’re very enthusiastic and it matters to them. There’s no pretence about loving the music, it’s just really honest ‘get out and have a good time’ people.

Allan

I think South Wales is a lot like that as well.

Southside

We’ve played a few places in Wales, but not enough for me to really know it. I’ve played a lot of places in Scotland many, many times and I’ve got to know a number of people up there and they’re very authentic people. I really like that.

Allan

I think Jukes fans are like that generally.

Southside

That’s true. We play New York and people drop in to slum it with The Jukes and I don’t really care for that kind of thing. Our audience is like us; there’s no pretension about it.

Allan

And at Holmfirth, you actually had to add a second show this year.

Southside

Yep, Holmfirth is one of our favourite places to play. When we first played there, we got lost. We were driving through fields; the GPS on the bus was completely screwed up and we ended up going through a farmer’s field and thinking ‘Where the hell are we?’

Then we got there and it’s a small town, very picturesque and I thought ‘This is going to be terrible’ and it was great.

The people were just so over-the-top and the place sounded good and there was a snooker table in the dressing room. It was just one of our really fantastic nights and we had a great show, so we always look forward to coming back because they’re always good shows, so everybody’s excited about it.

Allan

And I think this year’s the twenty-first of the venue re-opening as a cinema and music venue, so they may be commemorating that.

Southside

Twenty-one years, huh? I wonder how many times have we’ve played there?

Allan

I saw you there in 2010, I think.

Southside

I think that’s when we started playing it, maybe a little earlier.

Allan

The last time I was in Holmfirth was in October last year to see Graham Parker with his new band The Goldtops, featuring some of the horn players from The Rumour and it felt like a throwback to that period in the late seventies when there was so much great music, and it was strange to see that Steve Gibbons, also from that era, had been added to tonight’s bill.

Southside

(Laughs) I didn’t know that. I just saw now that he was on the bill – that’s great.

Allan

And seeing Graham Parker made me think about the legendary tour that you did together in 1977.

Southside

That was great. What fun that was. Both bands were in the same bus; a lot of poker playing, a lot of talking, a lot of beer-drinking. And it was a competition every night; who’s gonna kick whose ass on that night. We really made some long-time friends on that tour. To us it was great because we saw all these towns you wouldn’t usually see. We played everywhere and all the nice theatres like this place. So for us, a bar band, it was an amazing tour. It really felt as though we were getting somewhere.

Allan

And also, going back to that era, Squeeze are just about to do another tour of the States.

Southside

That’s great, love them too. That was a great time for music. When you think about it, I liked all the punk stuff too. The Sex Pistols came to one gig with Ronnie Spector and the guys from The Damned were at The Nashville Club. Rat Scabies and I almost got in to a fight. It was one of those wonderful times.

Allan

I can remember in a history of punk I was reading (“’77 Sulphate Strip” by Barry Cain), I saw a photo of you and Graham at The Nashvillle.

Southside

Yeah, we were part of that era, but we weren’t ever punk. They welcomed us and we met the Stranglers, Eddie and the Hot Rods and all those other guys. We knew Thin Lizzy, those guys came to our gigs; we used to go out drinking and there were nights you couldn’t remember coming home to the hotel.

Allan

Is there any new music that you’re listening these days?

Southside

I’m still listening to a lot older stuff too, but there’s such a lot out there.

Allan

The reason I ask that is that I hear a lot of new Americana, people like Ed Dupas and Gerry Spehar. Some of it isn’t well-known and might never be, but what I really notice is the political stuff that’s coming to the fore now as the election of Trump seems to have politicised everyone.

Southside

Yeah, you can’t get away from it and you’re almost forced to take sides because the egregiousness just overwhelms you; the stupidity and the greed and the complete lack of compassion for anyone except for rich people. And even then, the people that are in the White House now don’t have feelings for anyone but themselves, from top to bottom, and it’s frightening, you know.

It’s going to swing back the other way now, once Trump has gone, whenever and however that’s gonna happen. I saw Jason Isbell at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and he was just fantastic, but he’s become more political too. The album that I really like, “Something More than Free” is very personal and human and real-life oriented, but I know that his latest stuff is becoming more and more political because you’re forced into it. You’ve got to speak up about it.

Allan

Getting back to the music, this incarnation of The Jukes is probably the most stable ever.

Southside

Yes, it’s been solid for a long time; I don’t count the years. It’s also the best band I think I’ve ever had because they’re all just all just great soloists but the ensemble work, there’s no selfishness if you know what I mean. I don’t know, I‘m just really enjoying this band; I can throw any kind of curve ball at them and they hit it, so I can do whatever I want on stage, we do some strange stuff, and they seem to follow very well and it’s not just ‘ok, now what you gonna do dummy?’.

Allan

Well that’s the question that I deliberately wasn’t asking…

Southside

Well, I think they are. With Tommy (Seguso) on drums now and John’s the best bass player I think we’ve ever had. Jeff’s an incredible keyboard player. All of the guys, the horn section, they carry a lot of weight and they handle it very well. It’s got so that I can relax and not worry about what’s going on behind me. I always like that feeling of being free on stage to do and say whatever I want and with this band, I’m very comfortable with that.

Allan

I always thought the danger was, with a band that good, there’s a chance that it can be like eight quarterbacks on stage.

Southside

(Laughs) No, they’re very good that way, there’s a certain ethos in being a Juke in that you’re working hard to please the audience, but you’re also trying to find new ways to play things and different ways to express yourself and, with this quality of musicianship, you can do that and you can let people go wherever they want to go and they let me go wherever I want to go. When it becomes rote, when it becomes just going through the songs, I’m out. That’s like working in a cubicle for an insurance company, I just don’t want that.

Allan

And the Jukes fans love that attitude as well, don’t they?

Southside

They like it when we take chances, and if we fall on our face, they laugh. And we do too.

Allan

How does the music business, or what’s left of it feel to you these days? Do you find it easier to work the way you’re working now?

Southside

Oh yeah, I’m not part of the music business. I own my own label. It’s all organic for me; I don’t have to worry about pleasing anybody other than the audience and so if I want to put out an album, I’ll put out an album, like we did the Billie Holiday thing or The Poor Fools. I can do whatever I want, I don’t have to please anybody but myself as far as the organisation’s concerned. So I don’t even think about record companies. To me they’re manufacturing artists. Some of them are good, some of them are terrible and phoney and awful but it’s all down to one or two acts; you don’t have record companies with fifty acts that they’re trying to make a career with; it’s either blockbusters or ignore it.

Allan

I’ve noticed that at Jukes gigs and with other bands doing similar things, younger fans are appearing.

Southside

Yeah, the fans are bringing their kids and their grand-kids, but that’s all right. We’re fun on stage, I think everybody gets that even when it’s not the kind of music a younger person is used to, but with rhythm ‘n’ blues and soul being so popular again these last five or six years, it’s interesting to see them coming and they understand what we’re doing, and there were a few years where I don’t think young people would have got what we were doing.

Allan

And you can see it coming through in bands like Hardwicke Circus, who supported you two years ago. They’re kind of modelled on that Jukes ethos, aren’t they?

Southside

Well, there’s a lot of bands like that out there. There’s a lot of soul singers out there and it’s great to see. The only thing I don’t like is manufactured music and I never have really enjoyed that. But if that’s what people like, that’s fine; I don’t judge people that way.

Allan

Well, thanks for your time and I’m looking forward to the show tonight.

The Southside Johnny gig Commandments; they’re important, and you should always abide by them.

1st Commandment – Watch the support band. In my experience of, ahem, one or two Southside gigs, the support is always worth watching and Curse of Lono had been on my radar for a few years. Most of the audience followed the 1st Commandment and made the early start to catch Curse of Lono doing their second Southside support tour.

2nd Commandment – To reinforce the 1st Commandment, the support band(s) always get the same level of sound and lighting support as the Jukes.

3rd Commandment – Get to the venue early. You have been paying attention, haven’t you? The support band(s) are going to look and sound great. Trust me. Curse of Lono played at a ridiculously early time but a bunch of powerful songs (“Valentine” was a standout) delivered by a locked-in rhythm section (Neil Findlay and Charis Anderson) while Felix Bechtolsheimer’s vocals were underlined by Joe Hazell’s creative guitar lines and the keys of Dani Ruiz Hernandez. It’s a big sound it’s hugely appreciated by the gathering crowd. That’s another band on my ‘to watch’ list. Which leads me to…

4th Commandment – Show your appreciation for the support band(s). Jukes followers are fiercely loyal, but they’re music fans and if a band is good and gives it a bit of wellie, they’ll get right behind them. Which meant a great reception for Curse of Lono.

5th Commandment – Expect the unexpected. Bear with me while I digress. 42 years ago I saw the first incarnation of the Steve Gibbons Band touring on the back of their Top 10 hit “Tulane”. I was a fan. I got the band to autograph the lyric sheet of my copy of “Any Road Up”. I discovered Steve Gibbons at about the same time I discovered Southside Johnny. And the unexpected bit? Two days before the gig I discovered that the latest incarnation of SGB had been added to the bill for the Empire show. Which, added to the fact that ‘Our Man Oop North’, Steve Jenner, had reviewed a Steve Gibbons gig in Leek for us a few weeks ago, added an extra layer of weirdness.

The band played in the way that you would expect professional musicians with a few miles on the clock to play. They were tight and assured, allowing Steve Gibbons to get on with what he does best. And he’s still got the voice; the man is his seventies and he can still do it on the big stage. It was a relatively short set featuring original material, covers of rock ‘n’ roll classics and, of course, some Bob Dylan. It was a bit of a strange experience hearing “Watching the River Flow” covered in the same style I’d heard it covered 42 years earlier. And then it’s time for Jukesville.

6th Commandment – Ignore the setlist. It’s a standing joke with band and fans. The only reason it’s there is to give the fans at the front a chance to gamble on how far the band get down the list before taking the scenic route (usually two or three songs, if you ever want to place that particular bet).

7th Commandment – Prepare to be entertained. This is a phenomenal bunch of musicians. They deserve to be namechecked individually. The Asbury Jukes are: Tom Seguso (drums), John Conte (bass), Jeff Kazee (keys), Glenn Alexander (guitar), Chris Anderson (trumpet), Neal Pawley (trombone), John Isley (sax) and Southside Johnny. And let’s not forget Joe Prinzo and Hood who hold it all together. I haven’t mentioned vocals because they all can, and do, sing. Check out the harmonies on “Walk Away Renee”.

8th Commandment – Show your appreciation. These guys are seriously good players. As an ensemble they build a solid platform for Southside to deliver his honey-over-gravel vocal, but everyone gets at least one solo during the set and Jukes fans show their appreciation of the solos in the same way the audience in a jazz club would. And it’s always well-deserved.

9th Commandment – Expect the unexpected (I know, but it’s worth repeating). The band doesn’t know what’s coming next, so why would the audience? There are some songs that you would expect to hear every time (“The Fever”, “I Don’t Want to Go Home” and probably “Walk Away Renee”) but the rest of the set’s up for grabs. Southside has a huge back catalogue to choose from and the band has a phenomenal repertoire of covers to call on, so the set includes seventies classics like “Love on the Wrong Side of Town”, “This Time Baby’s Gone for Good” and “Without Love”, “Cadillac Jack” and “Woke Up This Morning” from the blues album and “Spinning” from “Soultime”. Throw in the covers; “Ride the Night Away” (J Geils Band) and the Willy DeVille song “Mixed-Up, Shook-Up Girl” and you’ve got a great night.

10th Commandment – It’s all about the band. In Johnny’s opinion, this is the best incarnation of The Jukes (watch out for the interview in a few days) and the partnership with Jeff Kazee is a huge part of that. Both have superb voices and the combination of Jeff’s high tenor and Johnny’s rich baritone is a thing of rare beauty. And that’s before we even get to the quality of the playing.

And that was Friday night at Shepherd’s Bush Empire; I can’t think of a better way to spend a Friday.

There was a fleeting reference in the interview I did before the soundcheck to retirement. You never know if any given Jukes gig is going to be the last you’ll see, so make the most of it. Next time they’re in the UK, I’ll see you down the front.

Ok, a couple of little stories for ya from Shepherd’s Bush Empire. First one’s from 2010.

Backstage at a Jukes soundcheck, I was loitering waiting for Southside Johnny to arrive for an interview and trying pretty unsuccessfully to pretend I wasn’t nervous. I mean why would I be, this guy had only been a hero of mine for over thirty years and this was my first interview with him. Think about something else, listen to what’s happening down on the stage at the end of the soundcheck. So I did and it was unusual; it was Jeff Kazee singing something I had never heard at a Jukes show. Jeff had missed the European mainland leg of the tour because of a family bereavement and was doing his first gig in London. Fast forward about four hours and that little bit of distraction comes back to hit me like a sledgehammer as Jeff lets out his feelings in the most public way with a heart-rending, tear-jerking version of “Many Rivers to Cross”. If you wanted a definition of catharsis, this was it; it would have melted a heart of stone. Did I cry? And then some, and I wasn’t on my own. It was the most moving thing I’ve ever experienced at a gig, and that’s a lot of gigs.

Skip forward just a year to October 21 2011. The Reverend Harold Camping had predicted (for the second time) that the world would end on that day. On stage at the Empire, it was beginning to look like he might be right. From the start of the set, there were complaints from the band about the monitor mix and just as the crew got that sorted out, another gremlin raised its head in the shape of Glenn Alexander’s guitar amp; it wasn’t amplifying. You’re on stage, the set’s just catching fire and suddenly your equipment blindsides you. Take losing your wi-fi for an hour and multiply it by a hundred; you’re getting close to the level of frustration on stage left that night. Long story short, it took three amps before the glitch was solved; the only problem now was to get the gig back on track, so what would the mainman do. The mainman called a Sonny Boy Williamson tune, “Help Me”, throwing the spotlight back at Glenn to harness his frustration and kickstart the show; which it did, with a vengeance. That’s a great band and bandleader in action right there.

And, honestly, it’s not for everyone. If your thing is a setlist that’s been rehearsed to within an inch of its life, absolutely note-perfect and with a synched lighting plot (and I’m honestly not knocking that) this isn’t the gig for you. However, if you want a set that’s unpredictable, packed with powerful vocal and instrumental performances and great tunes, this definitely is for you. And I haven’t even mentioned my favourite combination yet. Cheese and onion, sweet and sour, trouble and strife don’t even come close – it’s horns and Hammond, Hammond and horns (see, it’s even alliterative). The recipe’s pretty simple; get seven of the best live musicians you can find, make sure they know all of (ok, most of) the songs and give them plenty of opportunities to express themselves. When those guys are Jeff Kazee (keys), Glenn Alexander (guitar), John Conte (bass), Tom Seguso (drums), John Isley (sax), Chris Anderson (trumpet) and Neal Pawley (trombone) each performance will be special and different. Now, that I will go see and hear any time.

So why am I telling you all of this now? Easy, there’s a couple of those increasingly rare opportunities to see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes in the UK on a mini tour in March 2019. The band’s playing Glasgow (St Luke’s) on March 19th, London (Shepherd’s Bush Empire) on March 22nd and Holmfirth (Picturedrome) on March 23rd and 24th. Why two gigs at The Picturedrome? Because the first one sold out – obviously the North of England knows about good music. These UK gigs are precious because it ain’t cheap to bring an eight-piece across the Atlantic and you never know how long it is until the next tour.

So get yourself some tickets for one of the remaining shows and treat yourself to one of the best live bands in the business. What will they play? I don’t know and, most likely they don’t know, but it will be special and it won’t be anything like the set they played the previous night. See you at The Bush.

 

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.