Just let me be completely serious here, the whole idea of reviewing albums and gigs and doing live music photography is something I wouldn’t have dreamt of ten years ago. Whatever gods you believe in, I will thank them for this opportunity. Every album I hear or gig I go to is another bonus and I truly appreciate it; I’ve made many friends as a result of doing this and had some wonderful times. Every year for the last five years or so, I’ve had few moments that stop me in my tracks and they’re still coming. Here are a few from 2019, in no particular order.

 

Mavis Staples @The Roundhouse

It wasn’t the first time I’ve had the opportunity to photograph Mavis; that was Cornbury Festival last year. This was different; it was the full-on show, the proper gig experience. Proper soundchecks, full-length sets and not having to dash off to shoot another band after the first three songs. And it didn’t hurt that the support for Mavis’s two gigs in England was Stone Foundation, my favourite current UK soul band; they rose to the occasion, powering through a tight set and grabbing the attention of an audience that had mainly come to see Mavis as part of the Innervisions Festival. I’d managed a couple of decent shots of her at Cornbury, but you never pass up an opportunity to photograph a legend again. Three songs from the pit, including a few that I’m still happy with, and then what? Get to the mixing desk, stand in front of it and enjoy the force of nature that is Mavis Staples and her band. The songs always had power, the band are totally on it and Mavis’s voice is undimmed by age. What a night.

Interviewing Graham Parker

Bit of context here. As a student in the late seventies (I know, you work it out), I had access to a lot of gigs and I was just getting into gig photography (Olympus OM-1, if you’re interested). I spent a fair amount of time as a DJ with current MusicRiot contributor Steve Jenner. As a DJ at that time in Students’ Unions, you got a lot of freebies. One of the freebies that grabbed my attention was an EP by Graham Parker called The Pink Parker EP (the original limited edition was on pink vinyl) and it ignited a life-long love of this guy’s music. He’s now one of several musicians that I’ve photographed at an interval of four decades; you get the picture, I’m a fan.

Cutting to the chase, in February of 2019, a Graham Parker tour celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the album “Squeezing Out Sparks” was announced and one of the dates was The Foxlowe Theatre in Leek, one of my favourite small theatres in one of my favourite small towns, coincidentally the current hometown of Mr Jenner. Tickets were bought and as the year went on, I thought it might be a good idea to collaborate with Steve on an interview with GP if we could swing it. Turns out (with the intervention of Neil Sheasby from Stone Foundation), we could. So, on Friday October 22nd in Leek, I found myself sitting with my oldest mate Steve Jenner opposite Graham Parker with a microphone between us. If you’ve got half an hour to spare, you can listen to it here:

It’s the first time I’ve been happy to use an interview as a podcast, rather than transcribing the whole thing. It was a bit of moment.

Sam Tanner album launch @The Half Moon

Heard of Sam Tanner? You really should have, he’s the man. Sam sings, writes songs and plays keyboards, but that really doesn’t do him justice. He’s the funkiest keyboard player I’ve heard, his songs are incredibly powerful and then there’s the voice. As a keyboard player and soul singer in the UK, the obvious comparison is Paul Carrack. I’ve seen both several times and I have to say my money’s on Sam. I first got to hear of him as a member of Mollie Marriott’s band, then as member of Brother Strut (check out this Ed Sheeran cover) before bumping into him at various gigs around town. All of that talent and it turns out he’s a really nice guy as well.

For the launch gig for his solo album he pulled out all the stops (thinly-disguised organ player gag) with a full band, horn section and backing vocalists (Mollie Marriott and Izzy Chase). This was a quality line-up with the kind of players that could follow any changes and sounded incredible. Sam was on top form vocally and even dealt with audience members talking in his trademark gentle way: “If you’re going talk along, can you do it in B flat because that’s the key the next song’s in…”. Superb band, superb vocals and lovely atmosphere; I floated back to Putney station.

Dana Immanuel & the Stolen Band @The Forum

While I’m ‘fessing up to all the bands I love, I can’t miss out Dana Immanuel and the Stolen Band. I love these people as artists and as people. In October, I saw the band three times. Each gig was special in its own way, but a support set at The Forum with a full house was a huge opportunity. The band supported Polish eighties punk band Kult who still have a huge following in the UK. It can be difficult playing support to a band with a hugely partisan following, but Dana had a secret weapon (besides having a great band). Fiddle player Basia is Polish and did various links and introductions in her home tongue, which the audience loved. It’s a fabulous feeling to see one of your favourite bands get a rapturous reception at a big gig on their own manor. I suspect I’ll be at a few more Stolen Band gigs in 2020.

Poetry

I know it seems unlikely, but I got back into poetry. Over the last few years, I’ve become a fan and friend of the songwriting colossus that is Phil Burdett. It’s been no secret that Phil’s had some issues over the last few years and working on his poetry is something that’s been therapeutic. This year, Phil published a volume of poetry and prose (it’s very good and you can buy it here) and launched it at The Railway Hotel in Southend-on Sea with a performance featuring spoken word and songs aided and abetted by his long-time collaborator Steve Stott, playing the usual mandolin and fiddle. I’d forgotten how good it is to hear poetry performed live and wasn’t remotely surprised at the way Phil aced his first live recital. And the songs with Mr Stott sounded bloody good as well. As if this wasn’t enough, Ralph Dartford supported Phil with the launch of his latest volume, “Recovery Songs” and also went down a storm. The audience was perfect; totally silent during the performances and noisily appreciative at the end of each piece

And there’s still more. A few weeks later, Ralph launched (no pun intended) his volume, “Recovery Songs” from a floating bookshop on the Regent’s Canal in King’s Cross, supported by Phil and Steve. Not quite such a captive audience, but great to see people walking along the towpath stop to listen. Those two volumes are probably the first new poetry I’ve bought since “The Mersey Sound”. Another bonus was that I had the chance to have beer with some very interesting musicians, which is a theme that crops up elsewhere in these High Fives. There might be a good idea buried somewhere in that.

Nostalgia and a record

I can’t resist a bonus ball this time, inspired by the Graham Parker interview. In the same year that I first saw Graham Parker, I also saw a band from Birmingham that I’d heard a lot about, The Steve Gibbons Band. Imagine my surprise when I turned up to interview Southside Johnny at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in March to discover that Steve Gibbons had been added to the bill at short notice. Forty-two years isn’t my personal record for length of time between gigs I’ve seen an artist at; it ties with Brinsley Schwarz as a member of his band and as a duo with Graham Parker, but it’s quite impressive. My options for beating that record are pretty limited now; I think it might come down to seeing Ian Gomm or Billy Rankin again – just sayin’ guys, there’s a record to be broken here… To make everything perfect on the day, the interview went really well and the gig was absolutely storming. I love this job.

All images except Phil’s book cover courtesy of yours truly.

 

As you may have read in my review of Steve’s most recent book “Loud, Proud and Illegal”, he’s sold the commercial stations he part-owned to another company and found himself more ‘retired’ than he was earlier in the year. Didn’t last, though and he now finds himself presenting ‘Lovetown’, a selection of love songs, for a couple of hours between 11PM and 1AM five nights a week on Staffordshire Moorlands FM community station Moorlands Radio before flipping over to the digital-only service on Moorlands Xtra for the  next two hours. Not only that but another couple of nascent stations have offered him the same slot on their stations, provisional upon them being awarded licenses next year, in effect syndicating his show in different parts of the country and others are showing an interest. 

In order to celebrate this he’s listed fifty of his fave FM-friendly love songs on his ‘Broadcast Brothers’ Facebook page. Not being one overburdened with the work ethic these days, he’s sent the top five from this list in as his ‘Lovetown’ High Five this year.

 

5.Brenda Russell: “Piano in the Dark”

Very, very spooky this. This was the tune that was playing as I left the car headed for the Clifton tower block flat where I came within minutes of being Done for pirate broadcasting. (See Broadcast Brothers: On the Radio). It was also the scene of a weird one. The Clifton flats studio was draped in copious amounts of white material to deaden the sound a bit; and they only moved when the doors opened to let in the next presenter. So if those drapes moved significantly, you knew someone had just been admitted to the premises – and if this was unannounced, it was scarper time. I was playing this late one night coming towards the end of a show long forgotten now, with the legendary Josh in the studio with me feeding me the ad tapes. Suddenly, the drapes billowed, and we looked at each other…there was no-one to let anyone in, and neither of us had. ‘Funny,’ said the sadly now-departed Josh. ‘That happened the other night when we played this as well……’ Atmospheric, beautifully recorded (is that Michael McDonald I can hear in back?) and boy does she ‘sell’ this song. And with the tinkling of those ghostly ivories, every time I hear this I can’t help but think of all the pirate presenters and ‘staff’ who are no longer with us. And they are legion.

4.The Beach Boys: “God Only Knows”

The first line of the lyrics is the most complete statement I’ve ever heard about the Lurv Thang in a song. You’ve got the strength balanced against the vulnerability; you’ve got the conviction versus the doubt. And you’ve also got the greatest production genius ever to draw breath, Brian Wilson, dragging all sorts of kit in through the studio door to deliver something where the marriage between killer tune, bullseye lyrics and sympathetic production has never, ever, seemed closer. It is perfect.

 

3.Linda Jones: “(For) Your Precious Love”

This was recorded by Jerry Butler of The Impressions in his usual controlled and dignified fashion. It was a decent sized US hit and their version is well worth a listen. But oh my my, approach this version with asbestos gloves. This is anything but dignified and in control. This is THE ‘torch song’ incarnate. This woman sounds absolutely driven beyond the normal compass of human emotion. The scream approaching the end is just brutal and she nearly loses control of the whole thing in the last few bars. Again I say DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS if you are doing break-up numbers. And do not listen if you’ve had a drink. It is quite rare now as a vinyl and you will have all on to find it in this country but it is all over t’internet. Biographical detail; she died at the age of 27 whilst sleeping between shows at the Harlem Apollo at her mum’s house. A long-time diabetic, she may well have slipped into a diabetic coma.

2.The Righteous Brothers: “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”

This is the most played record on American radio, ever. Let me say that again. Most. Played. US Radio. Can you even begin to imagine how much this has grossed? But you can see why within the first few bars. It is all there. The sullen accusation, the descending scale on the brass and strings, the doom – laden ‘wall of sound’ courtesy of Phil Spector and company, the despairing admission to himself that no matter what he does, It Is Over. The interplay between the near – hysterical falsetto of the late Bobby Hatfield – chalk another one off due to the Peruvian Marching Powder – and the deep, aching heartbreak of Bill Medley playing off against each other and the final ‘breakdown’ of the orchestra arrangement before the end you’ve got an immortal three minutes or so; even though you know the final plea ‘Bring Back – That Lovin’ Feelin’ has and will fall upon ears that have already gone deaf.

1.Billy Paul: Me and Mrs. Jones.

‘We gotta thiiiiing going on’. Billy Paul pulls off the impossible here. On the face of it here, this is a seedy little tale about some furtive and probably sordid mutual extra – marital. And yet. The problem here is that you can’t help but be dragged into the tension, the yearning, the hurt and the difficult decisions. So much so that you find yourself identifying with and sympathising with the protagonists, against your better nature. Without Billy Paul’s stella vocal performance, which would have been reduced to the very ordinary by the classic ‘Barry White’-style delivery, this would have been just so-so and you be excused for walking away from it saying ‘serves ‘em right’. But the jazz tones in his staccato, top-end delivery mesh so beautifully with the near-glissando string arrangements, which meld with the horn section and just drift effortlessly with little sprinkles of audio angel dust here and there. And then there are the backing vocals to consider. How can anyone imbue the word ‘Thiiiiing….’ with so much soul power. Part jazz, part soul, all Philly dreamboat, this, for me, is the best FM radio love song of all time. Released in 1972, it got to number 12 in the UK top 40 and number 1 on Billboard in the US. Billy Paul died about three years ago, aged 80. But, I suspect for many years to come, he will still have a thiiing going on.

Quick footnote: Our guess is that you’ll know four of these songs really well. If you haven’t heard the Linda Jones song you really should listen to it; it has the power of Millie Jackson at her very best. Obviously, as Steve says, don’t listen if you’re feeling fragile.

 

 

Our most regular contributor Steve Jenner, did a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll pilgrimage in late 2019 to get back to the roots of the music he loves, both as a listener and a radio presenter. Here’s his take on his favourite destinations on the tour taking in the rhythm ‘n’ blues and rock ‘n’ roll landmarks of America’s South.

 

 

STAX, Memphis

The heavyweight champion as far as I’m concerned. The range of exhibits is just breathtaking, the stunning range of photographs, the specific instruments which grace the museum, the fact that they’ve got a restored version of the jukebox I have in my house…and the fact that the building itself just reeks of the opportunity it represented as an oasis of creativity and inter-racial harmony, the unifying factor being music, makes this place a pilgrimage, an education and a re-affirmation of the love which brings you here in the first place. Flight cases stamped ‘Isaac Hayes Movement’. Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn’s bass, Steve Cropper’s Telecaster. The pride with which WattStax is celebrated tells you all you need to know. This is the label where uncompromising soul music finally ‘gotten over’. Sell your goods and chattels and GO. The facility continues to do sterling work in the community changing lives for the better; but get selfish here. You WILL enrich your own life.

 

Sun Studios, Memphis

It would be sooooeasy for this to disappoint….but it doesn’t. Still a working studio, it actually feels like it. Not sure why they feel the need to play a Van Halen track as you ascend the stairs to the studio and small exhibition but once you’re up there…oh man. Where else are you likely to be within touching distance of a white-label demo of the first rock ‘n’ roll 78 RPM record, ever (Jackie Brenston, “Rocket 88” and I’ll brook no argument on this one.) The kit, the instruments…the room itself…and THAT microphone. The one the originators lit the blue touch paper to the cultural revolution with. Go, wait until the guide leaves the room, grasp the mic that launched a million hits and sing, as badly as you will, at least one line of a lyric that was recorded there. For me it was the first line from Billy Lee Riley’s “Red Hot”. Choose your weapon. And you will never feel the same again. I feel like some gold dust came off that mic and it hasn’t worn off yet and I don’t think it ever will.

Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, Memphis

It takes the breath away. The range and depth of artefacts alone would reduce a grown man to tears if they were piled up in the corner under an old tarpaulin but the presentation, sequencing and ‘staging’ of the exhibits means you can hardly tear your eyes away from anything, anywhere. From huge chunks of ancient radio station to detailed explanations of how key artists ‘became’, you just can’t afford to miss this one and it makes a Transatlantic trip worth the ticket price alone. And then you step outside and you’re a couple of hundred yards from Beale Street. And you are walking with your feet ten feet off.

Gracelands, Memphis

I expected this to be much, much more tacky and a lot less interesting but still felt I just had to go. ‘I have reason to believe we all will be received in Gracelands’, right? Well, yes but it just shows what I know. Gracelands, the house, was actually a monument to a remarkably ‘normal’ life and if we disregard the loads of cars and a couple of planes, otherwise what might seem a reasonable wish list of toys for a top-end lawyer. And it seems quite small, ridiculous although that statement may appear, but very homely in a ‘seventies’ sort of way. Absolutely fascinating; and the garden of rest, where his mother, father and other family members are committed along with Presley’s remains is a real place of peace and reflection. The museum needs more energy than you’ve got in the Memphis heat to get through it all; and the range of costumes, cars, toys and paraphernalia is mind-boggling. House might be relatively modest…but he liked his transportation toys, did Elvis. And the costumes tell the story of the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll icon…who eventually went more ‘showbiz’ than showbiz itself. The true price of fame on an unprecedented scale, displayed alongside the attendant rewards; a parable for our times which sadly, many STILL don’t seem to have understood.

RCA Studio B, Nashville

Despite not being the greatest devotee of Jim Reeves, it cannot be denied that RCA Studio ‘B’ in Nashville has seen the recording of more hits than most big labels see in a lifetime from all sources. Most of Elvis’s biggest sellers were recorded here. Dolly Parton, Bobby Goldsboro, Charley Pride…on and on it goes. And once again you can cut the ‘atmosphere’ with a knife. I DID hear, and sense, the ghost of Elvis here. It was a throwback to 4AM, April 4th, 1960 when Elvis was recording “Are You Lonesome Tonight” here…in the dark. Ask her nicely and the studio guide will throw the light switch off and play you the original reel-to-reel of the original recording. ‘Saw the ghost of Elvis…then I watched him walk right through…’

All photos courtesy of Sue Jenner.

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.

Here’s something new for you. Allan and Steve had the pleasure of interviewing the initimable Graham Parker this weekend for various radio stations in the north of England.We also had the option of using the unedited version for MusicRiot. Instead of spending hours transcribing the audio recording, we decided to cut out the intermediary and let you have twenty-five and a half minutes of Graham Parker talking about the 40th anniversary of “Squeezing Out Sparks” and a whole load of other things, including his new single “Nixon’s Rules”, which we’ve also included below. You people just don’t know how lucky you are. Anyway, have a listen to some very interesting insights into the music business and other things. Just a word of warning; there’s a very, very mild swear word at around 9:15.

 

 

You can also see the video for the new single here:

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.

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.

Saturday night in downtown Norwich is a pretty wild affair down by the river. According to a local JP (sez our taxi driver), 75% of plod in Norfolk is gathered in this 200 yard stretch on a Saturday night into the wee hours.

So it was a quite lovely thing to tie the boat up and leave it to whatever fate had in store for it whilst we headed for the opposite side of town. The Arts Centre is one of those old, ecclesiastical buildings which, although wonderful, begs the question ‘what do we do with it?’ So ‘turn it into a multi-purpose performance space’ seems an excellent solution all round.

First up on an ‘all mod cons’ card, Squire. A tidy little three piece who have worked hard to earn that most unwanted of tags – ‘nearly men’.

As the 70’s tipped over into the 80’s, there was a collective sense of ‘what the hell do we do now?’ for the trad guitar drums and vocal set-up. Punk – the ‘commercial’ bits of it anyway – had morphed into power pop, amongst many diverse other things, ska was busily rejoicing in a second coming and electro and new romantics were just starting to make waves.

Glen Matlock, newly fired from the Sex Pistols, formed The Rich Kids with Midge Ure and had a couple of hits. The Undertones headed in a ‘poppier’ direction than was suggested by the crunching guitar on ‘Teenage Kicks’ and one of the weirder abominations of a very confused time, The Pleasers, a bunch of pretend Beatles in preposterous 60’s suits and shoes signed to Arista records, if memory serves me right, for stupendous amounts of money, none of which would be coming back once the punters had seen through the trick. And in the States, The Knack was pulling off a similar trick with the admittedly irresistible ‘My Sharona’.

And as Ska dragged Trojan-style reggae back through the door for a welcome reprise, The Jam’s massive success, fronted by the massively influential ‘modfather’, Paul Weller, meant that all and sundry record company A and R types were running around like headless chickens looking for bands who could straddle the 60’s retro, mod, power pop, post punk power vacuum. And as The Knack had shown, taking “Sharona” to Number 1 and staying there for the best part of a couple of months in the USA, if you got it right, the rewards were beyond human comprehension.

With me so far?

Right. So…

Squire so very nearly ‘made it’ to the top table, they really did. Two singles, “My Mind Goes Round In Circles” and particularly “Walking Down the King’s Road”, became big airplay hits and so very nearly delivered that elusive hit that opens all the doors. Recorded for the same label which pressed Secret Affair’s cuts and indeed produced by Ian Page and Dave Cairns, the two main men from the above mentioned, they were in the right place at the right time for teenage music fans looking for that smartly-dressed retro thing. However, much though their sound chimed in with the mod’s second coming, they were actually more a cross between power pop and that paisley-shirted Californian sunshine pop sound. Anthony Meynell’s jingle-jangle Rickenbacker is solidly backed by a really crisp rhythm section, especially enhanced by the fab harmonies from the bass player and the onstage sound is really ‘clean’; and all the tunes, be they from singles, album tracks or recent stuff, fit together in a coherent and very listenable way.

But the problem now was the problem then; there’s no ‘killer’ track to provide the hit which then opens the floodgates for less memorable tunes to do the heavy lifting to sustain the ‘career’ and get the airplay to sell more albums. So, they will probably always live in that unenviable box marked ‘nearly men’; but for all that, they were a really pleasant listen, and you could see why the Secret Affair lads felt they were worth the time, back in the day and indeed now.

Anyway, Time for Action.

On troop Secret Affair and once again on the occasion of a celebration of 40 years of their hit album ‘Glory Boys’, we are reminded 1979 is a very long time ago. In their sharp mohair suits and stylish shirts, they look like a bunch of retired London gangsters fronted by a grumpy deputy headmaster. But you can’t help that, that’s what happens.

But the sound. It is AWFUL. Off we go with “Dance Master” and “Walk Away” and it’s just a muddy mess with Ian Page frantically gesticulating to the backstage (or as frantically as super-cool mods gesticulate) to give him more volume. Dave Cairns repeatedly peels off into the wings to fiddle with various bits of kit and the keyboard player just seems to be swamping everything with great doomy chunks of Procol Harum. Things hit something of a stride when Page lets rip on Smokey Robinson’s mod anthem “Going To a Go-Go” but even then the phrasing seems a bit odd and he sings like a man who can’t quite hear himself and to be honest, stir in a three piece horn section blowing up a somewhat unbalanced storm and, well….

The horn section finally got working on “All the Rage” and from this point on, things started looking up. A quicksilver solo from Dave Cairns, a proverbial master of the Telecaster, dovetailed neatly into a tidy faux-Hammond solo with distinctly jazzy overtones and you could be forgiven to thinking these lads have definitely ‘grown’ in terms of musical ambition and accomplishment. The band’s cover of Junior Walker’s “Roadrunner” is another interesting one. As a very young man, as he was when the hits happened, Ian Page’s top-end foghorn of a voice was strident to a fault and could catch the attention of the terminally hard of hearing on the worst radio in the world but at the best part of sixty, his voice still has that hard, steely edge which means that, on songs like this, he sounds in part like an old style blues and soul ‘shouter’, but with slightly strange phrasing, which means you either like or actively dislike their cover of this song. I will admit I liked it but not as much as the crackling, stomping ‘dance hall’ version of arguably the greatest gem in the Northern Soul vault, Frank Wilson’s “Do I Love You” which was famously condemned to the Detroit dustbin having ‘sold’ about 3 copies ‘back in the day’. Now TV commercials fight over the rights. You just never know.

‘No Doctor’ sees the band getting seriously warmed up for the sprint to the finish and then indeed comes the four – card trick to guarantee the encore.

First of all it’s a gripping version of their hit “Sound Of Confusion”, which seems, in the strange way that this sometimes happens, as fresh and as relevant now as it did then. The church-style keyboards at the beginning give the whole thing a sort of gothic shadowing, which works well on stage. And then – straight into the anthemic and authentic mod call-to-arms, “Time For Action”. Page can’t help but laugh as the crowd, who by now are moshing away merrily in significant numbers in this standing-only venue, sing all the difficult bits for him in a time-honoured call and response stylee. And at the end it’s all ‘Oi! Oi! Oi!’ and gloriously messy, as the original single. What a joy it is to have a genuine ANTHEM in your locker.

This morphs into a personal fave of mine, “Let Your Heart Dance”, the hit follow-up which I got as a picture-sleeved demo. During the thunderous tom-tom breaks on this one, Page leads the crowd on bits of “Land Of A Thousand Dances” and, inexplicably, “Let’s Twist Again” (Let’s not!) before blasting towards the finish line.

The band knows they’re on the home stretch now and the show starts to glow with that sort of joy in performance which has been conspicuous by absence so far. And at that point they pull a rabbit out of the hat. The main man from the Purple Hearts, another ‘nearly but not quite’ band if ever there was one, leapt onto the stage and led the band in a spirited and stirring blast through their two mod nearly-hits, “Jimmy” and “Millions Like Us” before Page takes back the reins and drives it breathlessly home for their probably most remembered ‘pop’ hit, “My World”, which once again and in fairness has aged very well. In a ‘retro’ sort of way.

Off they go and back for a rather forgettable encore of title track “Glory Boys” and “I’m Not Free (But I’m Cheap)”. But by that time they’d delivered the goods in a well-judged half hour which had punters smiling on their way out into the rain and in many cases I suspect to a big Northern Soul DJ mash-up at Carrow Road as part-celebration of Norwich’s return to the Premiership.

Sound of Conclusions? It was pretty good, but the messy, uncoordinated early section of the gig compromised things for me more that a bit. And Squire? Well, yes, all very lovely but they needed that ‘killer tune’ in the set for the rest to coalesce around and in the fatal words of the A and R man for many a band’s career, ‘I don’t hear a single’. Which you can’t say for Secret Affair. And the Mods still love them. And why shouldn’t they? And if for no other reason, Secret Affair should be congratulated on surviving ‘King’s new clothes syndrome’ back in 1979 to still be in a position to celebrate 40 years of “Glory Boys” in 2019 with such aplomb. And that, in itself, is no mean feat.

Steve Jenner, (with Quiz Of The Week – live from Norwich!)

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.