David Randall surveys a near-20 year period, reflecting on what constitutes a great gig…
What makes a good gig? It can often be the events surrounding it – a pre-gig meal or drink for example - your fellow gig-goer(s), the location or the venue, the setlist, the band line-up. An audience with your hero by the merch stall. In trawling back through nearly 20 years of gig reviews for GRTR! I have taken the liberty of pulling out several which tick some of these boxes and often remain memorable for their sheer surprise and novelty.
Steve Tilston is a hardened folkie, very well respected on the circuit and often mentioned in the same breath as artists like Richard Thompson and Ralph McTell, a storyteller par excellence.
In 2003 he deviated from tradition and released the album ‘Such And Such’ which combined his superb song craftsmanship in an essentially “electric” format. It was a wonderful, if short-lived departure.
He played a village hall gig in the obscure Appleton Thorn, just a fol-de-rol from the M56 Chester to Manchester motorway and in the shadow of Runcorn chemical works.
With Clive Bunker and the late Maart Alcock on drums and bass respectively he even furnished a sometime Jethro Tull rhythm section.
A similar vibe surrounds several gigs performed by Scottish singer songwriter James Grant who is at home in a backwater venue like a pub in Biddulph, Staffordshire (September 2007) or an arts facility in Liverpool and always delivers a superbly engaging and entertaining evening.
Ditto Irish singer songwriter Eleanor McEvoy, whilst the intimacy of Judie Tzuke’s gig at the Bury Met in November 2015 was interrupted by a broad Lancashire lass who wanted to hear ‘Sleep With Me Tonight’ (aka ‘Stay With Me Till Dawn’) before the last bus and so could she play it immediately.
And we saw Larkin Poe (headlining big UK venues in early 2021) take tentative steps at a small folky venue in Oswestry, Shropshire in March 2011.
Many of these low-key gigs are organised by fans for fans, and some reflect a period when “house” gigs became a useful source of regular income for some performers. Celebrate a birthday, get your mates around and open a few bottles in front of one of your musical heroes (or heroines).
Often times, a great gig is punctuated by the realisation that a reformed band sounds better than it did “back in the day”. This happened with Argent. In the seventies they had several hit singles and toured regularly, before pretty much imploding in 1974, precipitated by the departure of Russ Ballard.
They got together for the 2010 High Voltage festival in London and played several dates in 2012. We also caught them at a charity gig in Aylesbury a year later.
I wrote “Having been a fan of the band since the early seventies I always admired their eclectic blend of melody, hard rock, funky rock, and frequently tinged with prog. I had never seen them back in the day when – in Rod Argent’s words – they could blow Rainbow off stage. But for some reason I’ve still got my ‘Sounds’ poster of Russ with his guitar that looks like it’s hewn out of some off-coloured Emmental.”
Of course the major diversion for Argent’s constituents in recent years has been The Zombies (Rod Argent), a stop-start solo career revival and new album (Russ Ballard), and – sadly – the death of Jim Rodford.
Another great revival of recent times (i.e. the millennium) is Camel. Their first appearance in the GRTR! gig reviews was 2003 when they were supposed to be bowing out on a farewell tour. The band’s encore was the appropriately entitled ‘Never Let Go’.
Well, thankfully they took this on board and reconstituted – ten years later – in October 2013. This was closely followed by further dates in March 2014.
If push came to shove I’d probably choose the Warrington (Parr Hall) gig in 2014. I was feeling a little emotional and sore at the time as a couple of days earlier I’d lost a favourite auntie and for some reason Andy Latimer’s guitar playing brought a tear to the eye. This was to some extent lightened by the bizarre sighting of a cake on the merch stall, evidently baked for the band by an icing-funnel wielding punter, but seemingly chomped into by the crowd.
Another revelation in recent years – i.e. the realisation that a band is back better than ever – was witnessing The Tubes in early December 2004 and subsequent jaunts in 2015 and 2016. In the earliest gig review I wrote: “With Waybill going through as many costume changes as he could stuff into the back of a transit van, this may have been a pared-down show compared to the glory days, but it was nevertheless hugely enjoyable entertainment.”
That same revelation came with the reformation of Dan Reed Network and their small venue tour in October 2015 .
Other highlights for me, reviewing over a near-20 year period, David Gilmour (Manchester, May 2006) , for both visuals and the visceral and Europe (Liverpool, February 2007) before they enlisted Kevin Shirley as producer and re-entered the classic rock mainstream.
I would have to say a “big” artist in a small venue is frequently conducive to a great gig. Step up Winger (March 2010), Steve Lukather (March 2011) both rammed in to the smallest of the Manchester ‘Academies’ and – at the Tivoli in Buckley, North Wales – Uriah Heep AND Saxon (February 2014) plus Jeff Scott Soto (June 2014).
Of course there are also the old faithfuls that I’ve seen many times and who always turn in an excellent show, the likes of Focus, Magnum , Jethro Tull, Marillion and Steve Hackett. And there’s those bands who, for whatever reason, have escaped my grasp live such as Toto. Seeing them would certainly complete the bucket list.
And then there are the regrets that you didn’t make the effort to see a band before life got in the way and certain members passed or faded from view.
Giants Of Rock provides this sort of historic time capsule and although I only belatedly latched on to the idea of an indoor event stretched over several days, I’ve enjoyed this gathering since 2017. And not least the “premium” dining…
I’ve never been a great Festival goer, even back in the 1970s heyday, but have also been impressed with events such as Cambridge Rock (where GRTR! ran a stage in 2007) and more recently the free Upton Blues Festival.
And in truth I’ve tended to steer clear of arena gigs, usually a soul-less experience rubbing shoulders with the pints-high punters who seem to value the “experience” more than the actual entertainment.
Here’s hoping that current constraints are lifted soonest.
Love & Money (James Grant, feature)
(iv) and (vii) Simon Dunkerley
(v), (vi) and (ix) David Randall
The latest Facebook Live session from Canadian singer-songwriter Josh Taerk Sunday 24 January, 16:00 EST, 21:00 GMT
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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 December 2020 and announces the results of the Popular Poll for Best of 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 20 December 2020 and includes Pete’s best of the year selections
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