Review by Paul H Birch with photos by Lisa Billingham
I’m in Wolverhampton, trying to hook up with a group of people, many I’ve known since we looked old-enough to drink underage. Lads you could arrange to meet on a whim several days later in somewhere like Stratford and know they’d be there. Now, uncountable decades later, with mobile phones et al, scattered across the city, in various restaurants or pubs we fail to hook up. We may manage to meet up at the concert later, but I doubt it.
There have been queues outside KK’s Steel Mill since 6pm. People are eager to get a good space, because as we’ll find out soon enough; it’s ram-packed to the rafters. I’m with Lee Payne, the bass player from Cloven Hoof (let’s name drop) and discussing an interview I did with him when lockdown took its first break, but is now greenlit again for a DVD. As Jefferson Airplane’s ‘White Rabbit’ comes on over the PA we shut up, and look at the stage’s screen now bearing The Damn Truth’s logo across I – The band themselves bounding on stage earlier than scheduled. Briefly I text my lost tribe to tell them they’re running late even as the opening bars of ‘This Is Who We Are Now’ pipe up.
It’s a risky business having Grace Slick belt it out before you yourself utter your first rhythming couplet, but Lee-la Baum sings confidently over a wave of flowing chords. “She’s good!” exudes Mr Payne. The band, as on previous occasions are full-of-life from start to finish running around, jumping up and down, facing off-each-other and striking applicable poses for the photographers we can but presume are buried upfront among the masses.
Removing her guitar, we can see Baum is decked out in a sparkly black outfit and as she roams the stage during ‘Full On You’ she now slightly reminds me of Babe Ruth’s Jenny Haan (as seen on video). But The Truth are their own band, mixing classic rock with a modern fuzz-boxed take on psychedelic San Franciscan rock, as on the next number. Alas the sound ain’t great, not as distinctive as we’d like and will continue to play up a bit during the early part of Hughes’ later set, it’s possibly the difference between a filled room vs empty sound check one, and while I hear a few voices complaining, most are on board with making the most of a great night out. A while later we get the first of two drum solos tonight, and you ever love them or go the toilet’ here it leads into the heavy rocking earworm of ‘Only Love’, followed by the hard blues tear-jerking ‘Look Innocent’ after which, still jumping about the stage like they’re on steroids, we’re told they’ve two numbers left. Retro-beat rocking ‘Get With You’ pumps hard and another guitar solo leads the way in for ‘Tomorrow’ with its nu-Paisley anthemic taught stylisations, all having left a pretty satisfied audience.
During these last two numbers various individuals have tapped me on the shoulder or waved from afar and during the break tell me how long into the set they got here, only for their partners to state otherwise. Excuses aside, the throng is gathered and when I’ve glimpsed behind me during The Damn Truth’s set there’s been no end of ever more people flocking in. It’d be easy to say they’ve come to see the prodigal son return home, but Hughes has been playing this neck of the woods solidly for a good decade now, despite which this is in the heart of the city so accessible for those near and far, and by the look of it not just the old soaks who have now surrounded me. But, with the late Jon Lord, god-like, speaking senatorially over the PA everyone turns, disperses and in their own minds years fly by, as keyboard player Bob Fridzema, drummer Ash Sheehan and mainstay guitarist Soren Andersen move across a darkened stage.
Lights up, Fender in hand, shades covering the spotlight’s glare, with long hair flowing on charges Mr Hughes and the cry of “It’s good to be home!”– The sparkly black jacket he’s wearing is a kissing cousin to Ms Baum’s earlier but possibly a subtle reminder that it’s the opposite of his famed white suit that used to infer he was all coked-up back-in-the day, and he comes armed with a voice that remains impeccable where it should be ravaged.
There’s a crash and burn blast of noise that possessors of Deep Purple’s Made In Europe live album will know well – It also signals what to expect tonight, because while we’re here celebrating the 50th anniversary of the classic Burn album, if you didn’t get the memo that Hughes slipped into an interview, we’re due Made In Europe style performances tonight – More that’s not going to mean rehearsals for Rainbow during the guitar solos but it is going to mean the songs are extended, twisted and interpolated with snippets of other songs in between. As it is, once the unholy devastation of noise has settled, we get ‘Stormbringer’ with Hughes not only hitting the high notes with ease but also issuing a broader deeper tone than he’s applied in absolutely ages, an aspect missed between his more obvious vocal gymnastics.
The band graft hard making the song count, Fridzema takes organ solos that are sublime, stirring, modern and beefy, Andersen applies Blackmore’s recorded solo as springboard for his own starting point but there’s a big cheesy grin stretched across this guitarist’s face as he pulls out the stops at the front of the stage, alongside soulful screaming delivered into the microphone as they continue to pummel the number to its conclusion.
Respite, if you will, is offered with ‘Might Just Take Your Life,’ and its less frantic pace with heavy thumping drums billowing over the bluesy funked-up riffs. Apart from the fact that Hughes’ voice sounds so positively robust for a man his age, he looks in incredibly good nick too; thinner, possibly older in the face but from back here that’s hard to tell, but that great mane of hair is no wig, and shames the balding masses gathered around me, despite which there’s also a more than healthy contingent of females too, younger ones too.
“Oh, wow!” he calls out, pushing back the hair tumbling over his face, “As you know, I was born eight miles from Wolverhampton – A West Midlands lad… And after all this time you’re still here for me!” Oddly, despite being in these Black Country hinterlands, tonight his speaking voice will not slowly return to its native dialect, a shame it’s something I used to love about my late grandfather when he met relatives from our ancestral homeland. But then Hughes has a good excuse, some 50 years or so ago he went to live in the USA, and as timely reminder we get ‘Sail Away’ – Andersen draws us in with tortured blues guitar strangling up and down his fretboard, neo-classical rock are pulled in and then the heavy duty blues rock riff is given a swamp rock psych feel by the band. Anderson’s guitar accented with his own nuances, synthesisers slithering like some cyberpunk lizard all while Hughes strides the stages, bopping down on one knee plucking his bass as we note those hip operations worked out just fine.
The R ‘n B metal of ‘You Fool No One’ is next out the box and boy does this one take its detours. From familiar drums and chunky riff run-in to echoed power-funked chords, Hughes tracking Anderson’s guitar with a dirty gnarling bass. Fridzema and Hughes share the main vocal lines, Anderson joining in intermittently. There is a beefy and aggressive extended keyboard solo, guitar joins in then takes over, before keyboards re-enter with a more film score inspired approach as Hughes and Anderson pitched on either side of the front of stage give it some. As Andersen steps back bluesy funk power chords are once cascaded in abundance, a plectrum scours up his strings with sonic aplomb, before a left hand tremolo that takes us into a slower section wherein Hughes sings the old blues standard ‘Going Down.’ I swear I heard a snatch of ‘Can’t Do It Right’ in the music that follows but Hughes is singing out the chorus line to ‘High Ball Shooter’ then we’re back into ‘You Fool No One’ properly, before then tonight’s second drum solo ensues, before the band jump back in to finish the song.
Introducing the band, Hughes tells us Sheehan was born in Ireland but brought up here locally, Fridzema became a father for the second time so had to sit out their recent US tour, and Anderson’s no longer the new boy among his band. “I may be the last man standing to do these songs,” Hughes contemplates regarding the Mark III and IV Purple line-ups’ survivors chance of performing such, and says he’ll honour the songs as long as he can.
Thus, we reach what was once-upon-a-time, Lord Coverdale’s vocal calling-card but quite possibly now been sung live more by Hughes, and with effects-driven guitar weaving into the simple but monumental riff of ‘Mistreated’ I watch grown-men wear the memory of first-love’s loss across their face even as they sing heartily along, if not quite in tune. Fortunately, Hughes has no problem exuding his larynx to its fullest gymnastics capacity. Now, some might say, his Stevie Wonder-soulisms are what lost Purple a good contingent of their core fans but such biases aren’t apparent among this gathering. However, I must say, it’s the instrumental section that impresses me most on this one – Hughes digs deep into his four string, rumbling away and pulling off licks over which Anderson gathers up a whirlwind of histrionic sound, and there’s this oh so brief moment where it seems to go into a trip hop section, but we’re soon “Whoa-whoahing” back with the main song, before it then goes from double to practically triple time, Hughes’ voice getting impossibly louder and more sustained as he tells us how he’s “been losing my mind!” ending in a mass of unbridled guitar feedback betwixt squealing solo and eventual climax.
A few folk, unfamiliar with Mr H’s live performances aren’t so sure about some of his stage banter. I note he’s not doing his higher-power spiel tonight but have learned to accept it all with good grace. Once more, the region is praised for his roots being here and how important Trapeze were in developing him, but we’re then reminded that his leaving led to him becoming a stranger for too long as substances took hold of his life, even as we’re given the Mark IV super-funk rock of ‘Getting’ Tighter’ though I have to say, this is an unusually rawked-up version tonight, with an instrumental section that sounds like Al Green gone heavy man. Even so, it still interpolates his familiar live section of “You’ve gotta dance to the rock and roll” until sustained notes bled out on guitar and the audience invited to sing along to “Oh-oh” as he extemporises over the chant. It then gets momentarily grungy before Hughes makes out like Bootsy Collins with heavy spaced-out effects belting out in his bass solo, stopping suddenly to be asked, “How you feeling?” before returning into the main song where it finishes with a great flurry of organ punctuated by power chords .
He talks about “the wicked old days” once more, thanks The Damn Truth and tells the now familiar adventures-in-Redcar story of co-writing ‘You Keep On Moving’ with Coverdale. Oddly the patented bass line isn’t as profound on tonight’s rendition, the overall approach being slinky and sensual, regardless a large contingent gather are as happy as Larry. It proves a grand epic rendition crunching down heavily crunching in its climax.
“I love you – I will see you again! Thank you so much!” Hughes exclaims, bidding us goodbye. But no-one’s budging.
Some five minutes later, drums kick in, there’s a member of the road crew on bass as we’re steering our collective way through ‘Highway Star’ only there’s this underlying feel that Andersen’s also integrating aspects of Junior Walker’s ‘I’m A Roadrunner’ into the licks as Hughes grabs the mic in hand and shout out “Are you ready!” it’s not a question but the throng reply in the affirmative. “Let me hear your voices!” he commands and he begins to holler out Gillan’s hot-rod love song with appropriate interjections by, ahem, us.
“We got time for one more?” he ask to those off stage and armed once more with bass the heavens are awash with the furious downpour sound apocalyptic sound that is ‘Burn.’ Stoically I watch hundreds of bodies come to manic life – alcohol-fuelled and otherwise – all writhing about dancing. In front of me and a little off the right are young ladies who must’ve raided their grannies’ vinyl collection to hear this and I smile, for the flaming torch that are these songs will live on to be discovered for future generations. The smile continues as I chaperone aging friends safely towards trams and homewards. Age is just a number, Glenn Hughes and his band proved that in the performance they put on celebrating the 50th anniversary of Burn.