Let me make myself abundantly clear: matinee gigs are not, have never been, and never will be, one of my favourite pastimes. Especially at Christmas, after two days spent reviewing other shows (at night as per usual), with all the attendant seasonal drink-imbibing via others’ generosity that one might expect.
Certain mitigating circumstances, however, will drag me from the duvet , if the artist in question means that much to me. Would I do it for the Ducks? Yes, as they are (make that were, for this was their last ever live performance) hugely important in my scheme of things. Just don’t expect me to turn up bang on time for the start.
So, thank God, then, for intervals: at least I get to see the second set in full. And I do mean ‘full’: it’s absolutely rammed to the point of oxygen starvation in here, sold out to capacity, with every Ducks fan in the UK coming out from far and wide (at least those who were able to make it) to pay respect to the band that, for them, provided the missing link between blues, R’n’B, rock and roll, country and even glam, and galvanised a few thousand odd record decks.They even gave it a name: pub rock.
Only fitting, then, that they should choose to end their career here, in one of the most seminal venues on the London pub circuit (and my personal favourite), home to almost every true rock and roller from 1955 onwards, although, being their farewell bash, one wonders if they might, had they chanced their arm, been able to fill the 100 Club or even the Underworld with this show. My instincts say they would. But seeing as I welcome any excuse to be here, it suits me. I just wish I could breathe…
Being personally a huge fan of prog rock- a genre not one single Duck has ever been able to abide, a few gigs with Man during their ‘boogie’ period and some of Brinsley Schwarz’ longer compositions with his own band notwithstanding- I shan’t deliver the usual clichéd sermon, which I don’t believe anyway, about how bands like the Ducks came to save us from such things, and led to the onset of punk.
That’s not how I see things and I never will. All I know is that they play rock and roll in a way so few other bands ever did or understood, and today, finally assembled in front of the audience they deserve, the tension and the atmosphere is palpable, tangible.
There is sweat and dust here, even in late December among an older crowd, in a way not experienced since the heady days of 73-74: they feed off it, and when Sean Tyla leans into the mike and bellows the words to ‘Red Dust Highway’, it’s with twice the force, power and passion of last year’s gig (same song, same venue, same month, but a lot less people) and the whole band respond accordingly.
Ex Doll By Doll/Hank Wangford bassist Kevin Foster grinds his four strings, drummer Jim Russell thrashes his traps, Schwarz’ slide guitar neeyangs and flurries, and Martin Belmont, the tall, Gascoigne-like professor of country bluegrass garage picking, holds court. It’s inspiring to see – and saddening to think we won’t see it again.
Truly, as he himself intones on taking lead vocals, ‘Something’s Going On’ The state of the country? The state of the live music industry? Possibly- even this fine boozer was threatened with closure a few years ago, but is thankfully still with us.
And with he and Schwarz now reaping a lot more reward again as members of Britain’s very own (and marginally superior) equivalent to the E-Street Band, aka Graham Parker and The Rumour, you can’t blame them for ceasing operations here- even though ironically, they play today adjacent to a huge backdrop of Elvis Costello, the ‘one man publicity campaign’, in Parker’s words, that besmirched his career.
Nor can you blame Sean Tyla – one of the more sensible and pragmatic of his generation – for choosing, once again, to make the Tyla Gang (watch this space, folks) his prime priority.
Nevertheless, there’s not a sad face on one single Duck: they’re going out as they came in, in a haze of twanging joy that encompasses everything from Bo Diddley to the chucking dub of ‘Johnny Too Bad’ down to their own, defiant compositions, and recognises the lineage between them all. It may be odd to hear ‘Don’t Mind Rockin’ Tonite’ in the middle of the afternoon, but the truth is, they never have minded- in fact, they’ve revelled in it. If only more people had shared in the occasion, maybe there would be a different story to tell.
After the era-defining crunch of ‘Coast To Coast’ ends the set proper, what better way to end than with the tunes that inspired them first, 50 years ago as nascent teens, to pick up guitars? (And by the way, Facebook morons, dropping standards into one’s set is NOT the same as playing in a ‘covers band’…)
‘Apache’ may well be overplayed everywhere from Penzance Acorn to Inverness Ironworks, but it makes perfect sense in this context, in the back room where most people probably first heard it.
As for the other tune, well, as Tyla states quite emphatically, it not only could be, but is, ‘the last time’ There is a definite sadness on my own face at this point, but this is as much about the end of the past as it is to the start of the future, and I couldn’t think of a better environment than here, with this band, in ‘proper’ London (ie on the banks of the wintry Thames) to encompass both. In short, a ducking excellent way to wrap things up- and now I’m orff to get well mallard.
Review by Darius Drewe
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
Power Plays w/c 11 November (Mon-Fri)
MILES NIELSEN AND THE RUSTED HEARTS Hands Up (indie)
THE FARGO RAILROAD COMPANY Something In The Water (indie)
THE DARK ELEMENT If I Had A Heart (Frontiers)
LIBERTY LIES A Thousand People (indie)
DIRTY SHIRLEY Here Comes The King (Frontiers)
CARRY THE CROWN Runaway (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 11 November (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 WORK OF ART Exhibits (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 SIGN X Like A Fire (Pride & Joy Music)
14:00-16:00 JACK BROADBENT Moonshine Blue (Creature Records)
Albums That Time Forgot (Mon-Fri)
MAGNUM Sleepwalking (1992)
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