Gig review: THE ZOMBIES, THE YARDBIRDS, THE ANIMALS and Friends – The Waterside, Aylesbury, 23 January 2014

Colin Blunstone - The Zombies

Something about the billing of this tour as a ‘celebration of 50 years of Rhythm and Blues with the artists that shaped a musical revolution’ gave off a slight whiff of cabaret. It was a feeling the gig seemed to be fighting all night.

Perhaps the venue contributed to the mood. The Waterside is a newly opened theatre with plush seats and enough leg room to make a budget airline seethe. The place is a riot of layered walnut and teak, brushed steel and recessed lighting.

Very nice too. But it ain’t very rock n roll. It’s a far cry from the Geordie pubs and clubs that The Animals, who kicked off this event, would have frequented back in 1964.

In truth, only John Steel on drums dates from those days anyway. Mickey Gallagher on keyboards briefly joined the band in 1965 but is better known for his contributions to Ian Dury and Clash albums. The remainder joined in 2001.

That didn’t stop them slamming in a fine set though. Pete Barton on vocals and bass has a fantastic rock-blues voice shown to full effect on the likes of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ ‘I Put A Spell On You’. Gallagher’s Hammond organ spiraled and twirled, bouncing off the guitar to deliver that classic, rich Animals sound.

The hits flowed. ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ had everyone yelling “Wooaaoohh Lord…” back at the stage early in the set. ‘Bring It On Home To Me’ saw Pete shaking his feather cut mane to such an extent that it was hard to see where his hair stopped and the tassels on his leather jacket started.

‘We Gotta Get Out Of This Place’ was excellent with its glorious key change in the chorus and massive hook delivered like a knockout punch. And then ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ to bring the house down.

The only trouble was a mid-set appearance by the ‘and Friends’ bit of the bill.  Dave Berry camped it up for a few tunes, bringing back that vague cabaret atmosphere. He ran through a country-tinged ‘Mystery Train (nice bit of lap slide guitar though) and an understated JJ Cale track ‘Cajun Moon’.

He may have sacrificed the energy of the gig, but credit to Berry for still serving it up way in to his 70’s. And he still has a mind like a steel trap. “I bet you’re wondering how old we all are?” he said. “Well earlier we had 1000 quid’s worth of winter fuel allowances up here on stage!” Maggie Bell followed with a few insipid efforts such as ‘Tulsa Time’ and a run-out of her hit with BA Roberston, ‘Hold Me’.

They joined The Animals for an encore of ‘Boom Boom’ and were largely bystanders. Guitarist Danny Handly, on the other hand, and Mickey Gallagher indulged in some stunning keys/guitar lick-trading and solos. Shame there wasn’t time for more of this instead of the guest appearances.

But we were on a tight schedule and The Yardbirds were up next. They were given only a very brief set of half a dozen songs or so. Yet the band smacked down a tasty, energetic, groove-laden set. They span through a chunky ‘Drinking Muddy Water’ and a vibrant, spiky ‘Shapes Of Things’ before drawing breath.

Jim McCarty on drums and Top Topham on rhythm guitar represent to original band. The new blood has injected a real dose of vitality. Ben King joined in 2005 on lead guitar and enjoyed the odd flash moment not unkmown amongst previous occupiers of this position. He dished out a proper metal-influenced solo on ‘For Your Love’ where the vocal harmonies were imperious and spine-tingling.

‘Dazed and Confused’ was introduced by McCarty as one  “From Page’s other band, but he played it with us first!” This track was a wonderful moment. An epic blues-fused, descending riff, tight solo deliveries and power-packed vocals by Andy Mitchell. The highlight of the whole night. ‘I’m A Man’ closed the set with some proper guitar mayhem from King again and they were gone barely before they had started. Always leave ‘em wanting more.

The Zombies shuffled on to stage after a painful interview with Maggie Bell had been conducted stage right to fill the changeover time. The first few moments were a little hesitant where ‘Breath In, Breath Out’ sounded muddled. Perhaps the keys were a touch high in the mix and the guitar a fraction too low. But the band then stepped up with a gorgeous ‘Time of the Season’ and a confident, jazz influenced ‘I Want You Back Again’.

Colin Blunstone’s vocal range remains absolutely intact and he does not hold back from the top-end. He retains his serene, slightly detached persona on stage, calmly surveying the scene during Rod Argent’s frequent, frenzied, whole-body-experience keyboard breaks. Even Blunstone’s interactions with the crowd are charming and graceful.

The set list was a good mix of Zombies material augmented by Blunstone’s solo outings and some Argent hits. ‘I Don’t Believe In Miracles’ went down well, and ‘What Becomes of the Broken Hearted’ powered by a beefier guitar sound, really hit the spot.

Jim Redford on bass, despite now looking like William Hartnell’s Dr Who regenerated as a Zombie, was a joy to watch. The exchanges with his son Steve on drums were particularly sublime. A passage during Argent’s glorious ‘Hold Your Head Up’ instrumental section was stunning.

‘She’s Not There’ was a given the full works, with Rodford again excelling on the track’s enormous bassline groove and Argent’s ‘God Gave Rock and Roll To You’ was an appropriate show stopper.

All in all, a solid night of good music with some riveting, standout moments, albeit counterbalanced by a few tame and forgettable contributions too. The format leaves questions to answer – a longer set from The Yardbirds is surely a must – but this was the first night of the tour and some of the little glitches will be ironed out. Well worth checking out.

Review by Dave Atkinson
Photo by Noel Buckley

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