For the past 20 years or so the Eel Pie Club have been keeping alive the spirit of the sixties music scene that was so influential in this part of South-West London.
As that decade gave way to the seventies, Atomic Rooster were one of the bands who bridged the psychedelic and progressive scene and the emerging world of heavy rock. In a way they were just as much pioneers as their fellow Hammond organ lovers, the more enduring Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, and even had a couple of major hit singles, yet are rarely talked about or the subject of lavish retrospectives.
Thankfully, two members from their ever changing early seventies line ups, singer Pete French and guitarist Steve ‘Bolts’ Bolton, revived the band with the blessing of the widow of founder member Vincent Crane, and have been gigging fairly regularly since 2016.
Both have a strong stage presence- the guitarist with the spectacular teddy boy’s silver quiff and the singer the charismatic rock frontman, leather trousers included, with more importantly his voice still in excellent shape.
All us live music fans have had to sustain us during the pandemic were a small number of socially distanced and usually unplugged shows from enterprising promoters- indeed I attended those the Eel Pie Club staged. The same applies to bands: this was Atomic Rooster’s first gig for 18 months and a few cobwebs had to be shaken off, but you would never have guessed.
They opened with ‘Death Walks Behind You’ with a gargantuan riff, just as proto metal as some of Sabbath’s. The only downside during much of the first of two sets was that Pete’s voice was buried down in the mix and it was difficult to pick out the lyrics.
Keyboards play a central role in the Atomic Rooster sound, a task more than ably filled by Adrian Gautrey, a relative youngster but sporting a suitably retro look of flowing hair and paisley shirt. However all four musicians were virtuosos in their own right: the menacing, funky ‘Black Snake’ had the space in the arrangements to show this to best effect, while during some of the heavier numbers- notably the instrumentals ‘Vug’ and ‘A Spoonful of Bromide…’ they combined to create an impressively heavy wall of sound.
However they showed they could play with equal subtlety on the gentler numbers ‘Nobody Else’ and ‘Decision/Indecision’ – one of a number of their songs to have been used on ‘Life on Mars’.
Things were already looking up as we headed into the interval with ‘Break the Ice’ with its catchy repeated ‘I’m the One’ refrain and the keyboards cutting through almost like chiming church bells, and a sprightly version of their biggest hit ‘Devils Answer’, but with the band jamming out and creating a satisfyingly rich sound.
The second set kicked off with some classic early seventies heavy rock riffery in ‘Sleeping for Years’. Not all the songs made quite the same impact, but ‘Tomorrow Night’ was another where the original single was beefed up as guitar and organ jammed off each other in extended fashion, and a closing highlight was the epic ‘Breakthrough’, well known to those of us who have followed Pete fronting the resurrected Leafhound for many years, but this time with the massive Hammond sound giving it a fresh dimension. Indeed I found myself unable to resist a bit of air keyboarding.
There was a solitary encore of ‘Fire’, recognising Vincent Crane’s pre-Rooster origins with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. It was more musically straightforward than what had gone before but again they gave it a fresh dimension, notably Paul Everett’s relentless military-style drumming.
This night was always going to be a memorable occasion, watching a full band show again after so long. However it also succeeded on a musical level, with the current line up so successfully reinvigorating the sound of one of early heavy rock’s lost pearls and doing the legacy of Atomic Rooster proud.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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Power Plays w/c 24 January (Mon-Fri)
UNTIL 9 Headstone (indie)
MARSHALL POTTS The Storm (indie)
WAKING THE ANGELS Stand Back From The Redline (CD Baby)
BLACKTOP MOJO Strike Me (indie)
THE KARMA EFFECT Steal Your Heart (indie)
REVIVAL BLACK Believe (indie)
KUBRICK Devastate (indie)
Featured Albums w/c 24 January (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 GIANT Shifting Time (Frontiers)
12:00-13:00 THE FERRYMEN One More River To Cross (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 PEGGY JAMES The Parade (indie)
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