It takes a brave man to promote live gigs in the current climate with so many other demands on people’s time, and particularly so within commuting distance of the bright lights of London and its established scene. So hats off to Hatfield community activist and rock fanatic Dean Archer who has been putting on a series of classic and new bands at his club The Rock Den.
Somehow I had up until this point never managed to catch one of his gigs even though the venue is easily accessible being near a station where trains are only 20 minutes from London (though I would have killed for such a local venue when I briefly moved to the next town up the road several years back).
Similarly, as a long time fan of Mama’s Boys for most of the eighties and early nineties, I had been dying to see guitarist Pat McManus since he returned to the rock scene, but for some reason his London shows always seemed to clash with something, inevitably another gig in my crowded calendar. Fortunately this time I was able to kill two birds with one stone.
The ‘Rock Den’ takes place in a friendly community centre with a well-appointed and surprisingly large main room and it was a value bill with three acts, beginning with young Oxford band Invisible Vegas. With a sound owing more to indie rock, Oasis and Kings of Leon being two obvious influences, they were not particularly my scene but impressively tight and accomplished and destined for better things.
In contrast Shooter were a four piece somewhat at the more mature end of the spectrum. Indeed references to their age formed a big part not only of their songs like ‘Recycled Teenager’ but of singer Dominic O’Reilly’s stage act, together with corny jokes, although by the end they were milking that running joke very firmly dry.
Even if the set veered occasionally into pub rock, alongside covers such as ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Gloria’ and ‘Knocking On Heavens Door’ were a surprising number of enjoyable originals which apparently have been selling well on Amazon’s rock chart.
They could even also call on a special guest in former Bad Company guitarist Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell as they paid tribute to the recently departed Andy Fraser, finishing off with the Free classics ‘Wishing Well’ and ‘All Right Now’, the latter probably more suited to their style.
After Mama’s Boys split up following the sad death of drummer Tommy McManus in 1994, the remaining brothers Pat and John left the rock scene for a while and exploited their Gaelic roots with the band Celtus. However with his (now not so) new band Pat has returned firmly to the roots of Irish music in a very different way, with a blues rock power trio that call to mind the legendary Taste.
Indeed a cover of ‘What’s Going On’ was note perfect while another acoustic song, ‘The G Man’, overtly pays tribute to the late great Rory Gallagher. Gary Moore (in his rock form, not the dreary blueser of later life) is another pioneer Pat pays homage to, matching his idol with a cover of Roy Buchanan’s instrumental ‘The Messiah Will Come Again’ and another tribute in the celtic sounding ‘Belfast Boy’ (thankfully not the same song as the old sixties number that always accompanies archive footage of George Best).
Marty McDermott and Paul Faloon form a solid rhythm section and Pat’s guitar playing is fast but fluent, rooted in the blues but not constrained by it, and while he is not the most natural singer he approaches the task with gusto and his affable personality is infectious . I was reminded on several occasions of one of the other darlings of the blues rock scene (and fellow Rory Gallagher devotee) Larry Miller. It was also fascinating to hear Pat say he had played Hatfield nearly 35 years ago when a fledgling Mama’s Boys supported Wishbone Ash.
I had arrived not necessarily expecting to hear old Mama’s Boys material so was pleasantly surprised to be transported back to the time I was a regular at their Marquee shows with a mid set trio of their old songs- ‘Gentleman Rogues’, ‘Straight Forward No Looking Back’ with the obligatory audience singalong I never expected to hear again, and ‘Runaway Dreams’, still with his party piece of a great fiddle solo. Another old Mama’s Boys favourite in the insidious ‘Needle in the Groove’ wrapped up proceedings.
Yet his own material stood up in its own right with a couple of new songs for a forthcoming album, ‘Smoke And Whiskey’ and ‘Stepping Stone’ particularly impressive on first listen.
The gig was overrunning but I had no regrets on taking the chance on a late train back that might still catch the last London tubes so I could catch the encores in which the band explosively covered ‘Oh Well’ and ‘La Grange’ in their blistering style.
I left the night thinking that I should get to the Rock Den more often as a friendly and accessible venue, but also that Pat McManus is a truly underrated player who history should have been kinder to and can thoroughly recommend his show.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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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)
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