There ‘s something indefinable about the true spirit of rock and rock. And whatever it is, Vincent Flatts Final Drive front man Steve “Bertie” Burton has it in buckets.
It’s not just the spontaneous humour, the belligerent phrasing, the way he teases the nuance of a song, or indeed the large swigs of his mini Jack Daniels. Nor is it the resulting extravagant shapes that make the stage seem three times bigger than it really is.
No, the real spirit of rock and roll is in he sharing of the moment, the grand gesture and the sheer exhilaration of chasing the musical spark.
So here we are in the heart of Islington in the packed front bar of the trendy Kings Head theatre. People float in and out, but there’s about three front rows of mesmerised fans and another 7 or 8 rows at the back dancing their socks off.
But it’s the passing trade in the night that catches Bertie’s attention , as he fires off a booming “Good evening London”, or “welcome to the cruise” and several other off-the-cuff remarks in the direction of an embarrassed individual, which has the magical effect of tapping into the palpable vibe that fills the venue tonight.
Welcome to the world of Vincent Flatts Final Drive, a bad as boogie band from Birmingham, England, who tonight sound like the best Texas boogie band you ever heard!
They rejoice under the strap line of being: “A whisky swiggin’, bad ass kickin’, go anywhere giggin’ boogie band.”
And once the crowd has got over the initial shock of being faced by the animated, shit kicking vocalist with a baritone voice that can demolish buildings, and a stage presence that makes Noddy Holder seem like a shrinking violet, you just know that sparks are going to fly.
A Flatts gig is a glorious step back in time to an era when bands had personality and the musical chops to back it up. They indulge themselves with rip-tight boogie, funk, blues, southern rock and rock and roll. They take no prisoners and despite Bertie’s rambling intros, his occasional subtle nod or Zappa style lifted finger powers the band into the next number.
Burton’s voice dominates a mix of rock and roll bluster, as he phrases like Beefheart meeting Edgar Broughton at a late night shebeen.
Everything about him is larger than life, from the Stetson to the big cowboy belt buckle, all part of a deep southern persona that is actually honed in Birmingham.
His band back him superbly, with sudden ascending riffs from guitarist Gary Harper, who soars over the drum tight rhythm section of drummer Rich Shelton and bassist Russ Cook.
The multi-national Islington crowd are a mix of amazed late night groovers, drinkers, yuppies and a raft of Japanese who judging by their response are seeing the greatest rock and roll band in the world. And on the evidence of the first set who are we to argue?
They shuffle, the boogie, funk it up and redefine southern rock. The crowd response drowns out the song titles, but who cares, this is rock and roll at its best.
They limber up with a raucous version of ‘Statesboro Blues’ and hammer out some drum tight boogie on the stop-time ‘Chills ‘n’ Thrills’.
Guitarist Gary Harper comes to the fore with some spiky wah wah on ‘Man On Your Mind’ on which Bertie adds a trademark caustic vocal to emphasize lyrical meaning.
The band get funky and then low down in the alley on an extended ‘When The Blues Catch Up With You’ on which Harper explores a variety of tone and cool dynamics. Bertie inevitably takes centre stage on an imperious vocal. He growls, he extends a note, he grates and delivers his lines with such conviction that every person in the room thinks he’s singing directly to them.
Everything comes together on a brilliant cover of Joe Louis Walker’s ‘Too Drunk To Drive Drunk’ which naturally makes a connection with the late night crowd.
And its Flatts ability to mould, shape and interpret well chosen covers to their own end that makes them special.
Somebody shouts out for Michael Katon’s Boogie man’, to which Bertie fires off a knowing smiles, feigns a boogie intro and growls:” later.”
Later never really arrives, but they exceeded expectations with a raucous ‘Boogie Whip’ in which Burton’s voice shakes the glasses behind the bar on the evening’s highlight.
Such is his connection with the crowd that you would find it hard to believe that there’s a set list at all. He works the crowd with a brilliant stage presence that draws on mime, cut-glass dynamics and in one memorable moment, he simply bellows at them, while adding “If Noddy Holder could see this!”
You always know you are having a good time when time flies by in a flash and they round off an explosive first set with ‘Back In A Cadillac’.
Nights like this are the stuff of legend and sundry anecdotes. Vincent Flatts Final Drive are what rock and roll used to be about, an in-your-face, kick in the guts band with plenty of good humour, surreal moments, plenty of spontaneity, audience interaction, far too much alcohol and everyone having a great time. Bring it on!
Review & pics 2/3/4 by Pete Feenstra
Photos 1 & 5 by by Cath’s Kool Kat Kustom Photography
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Each week David Randall presents ‘New to GRTR!’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, with the emphasis on independent artists and labels. During December he replays favourite tracks including power plays featured during the year. This show covers the period January-March and was first broadcast on 1 December 2019.
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