Review by Paul H Birch, photos by Mark Lloyd
Smiling as she straps on her guitar, Joanne Shaw Taylor leans into her stage right microphone and declares “It’s good to be home”, although a fair amount of the audience aren’t yet sure who she is, not least because her rhythm section look like they belong in an indie rock band. Looks are deceiving, sounds are for believing, and sometimes the two make a winning combination: as the blonde leans back, her locks falling down photogenically, she grips her guitar in a stranglehold and it’s flashback time with classic rock guitar hero pose #1 as she pulls off the signature riff to ‘Mud, Honey’ from her latest album The Dirty Truth. There’s fire in her voice and her first brief solo has her throwing impressive shapes but it’s with the second where she grabs the audience by the scruff of their necks with a harder sound than its studio production, causing much applause upon its conclusion.
Next up is the bass funk driven calypso blues groove ‘Just Another Word’, followed by a change of guitars that offers a dirty take on Kossoff’s harmonic sustain striking high notes while adding trills and impressive pulls-offs during the Free like blues rock stomp of ‘Watch ‘Em Burn’, again extending the second solo as she works the stage and audience into a lather. Silence, however, fills the hall as she takes things down for a breathtaking vocal rendition of Frankie Miller’s ‘Jealousy’. Expecting a solo to be superfluous I’m proved wrong, though it’s marred slightly by an infrequent feedback buzz. The up tempo rolling blues of ‘Jump That Train’ has the rhythm section adding backing vocals while she herself mimics Iommi playing Hendrix.
Alternating back to slower material she hooks into ‘Tried, Tested & True’ from The Dirty Truth, her voice ranging from country and western to soul on a song that could have been a hit single back in the day.
There’s also a little country backbone and some southern flavour but an overall meaty blues rock crunch to her final song tonight, ‘Tied & Bound’. A well paced set, that’s won the lady some new fans and has her still wearing a beaming smile across her face.
Between sets two older gents pace the stage methodically, testing leads knowingly, passing each other assorted implements without looking at each other. This is old school road management; they heard the buzz picked up during Taylor’s set and will have none have it here. Feedback potential distances are instinctively calculated, instrument vibration accounted for and the boss will not have to worry one iota because they’ve dealt with the matter. God, don’t you just love such nonchalant British professionalism.
Then, as the lights go down and introduction music plays out, one of the roadies stands to the side of the stage, a Fender Stratocaster held in reversed position; two spikey-haired youths barely in their 20s bounce past him to take up rhythm section positions while a recently-turned septuagenarian slips the waiting Stratocaster into his loving arms and walks on stage to loud applause.
Terse notes ring out over the extended instrumental opening of ‘Somebody’s Calling’. Far more rocked up than its original studio recording on In City Dreams where its laid back Sly & The Family Stone meets Barry White feel pointed an alternative more credible direction for where disco could have gone. Bass player Richard Watts handles vocals, as he will the lion’s share tonight, and while he’s no Jimmy Dewar he’s got a decent enough voice and anchors the sound throughout tonight with drummer Chris Taggart. Robin Trower himself looks trim and delivers the most incredible tone from his guitar then suddenly his fingers move so fast and create such fluid heavy funk notes that good as Shaw Taylor was, you know we’re playing in a completely different league now.
Thrashing blues shouting rock comes next with ‘Rise Up Like The Sun’ and I’m wondering how many wah-wah pedals he gets through on a tour, ‘See My Life’ find Trower taking vocals for some pulsing part-psychedilic hard riff rock, and the crowd let out a large round of applause as he plays the opening notes to ‘Daydream’ with Watts back on vocals. As Trower goes into his second, more extended solo during this song the youth in front of me leans over his dad desperate to work out what Trower is doing with his hands; it begins with a series of sustained notes before Trower’s hand moves three quarters of the way along the fretboard and his third finger repeats a controlled hammer-on vibrato before a series of fluid musical statements subside as he holds another single note that feeds back with sonic eloquence before repeating the whole sequence in variation with some sensitive tremolo arm playing to boot.
‘Lady Love’ rocks speedily with Trower pulling in a gunslinger solo to end it on. This back catalogue settled in they deliver the title track of the guitarist’s latest album, a looser hard strutting punky funk take on ‘Something’s About To Change’ with Trower on vocals, wrangling the neck on its first brief solo, the second screeching and wailing one minute, a cluster of quicksilvered molten notes falling loose the next. Very different from the recorded version. On its conclusion, Trower sighs exhausted. I’m not surprised. But he’s back, beaming a smile out to those up in the Gods as he pulls out the big guns as the riff to ‘Day Of The Eagle’ hurls out round this venerable hall the way it did those US stadiums back in the 70s and ensured him a career to this day. Trower smiles gurnishly, while his left shoulder shrugs in time as he infiltrates lines that duck and weave between the main riff. From where I’m seated I can see the old fellow is having a blast, trilling away as the lights fade to black until in the darkness the prog soul rock of ‘Bridge Of Sighs’ begins to ooze forth with phased elegiac grace as the lights return and Trower stands transfixed centre stage.
New track ‘Confession Midnight’ again turns from its straighter blues recorded version to become an incendiary – and yeah, bloody clever – extended soloing work without any audience yawning, ‘The Turning’ is an upbeat bass and drum roll knocking rocker and ‘Not Inside – Outside’ bounces briskly cool with a speedy fingered solo then an extended slower arrangement with some, believe it or not, sensual drumming underneath. Then it all gets noisy, Watts thundering down on some solid funky bass and nailing it vocally, Taggart rim shot snapping around his kit while Trower showers fluid sexy riffage throughout ‘Little Bit Of Sympathy.’ As it ends people stand and applaud – it’s the least we middle-aged gits can do to show our appreciation, and its genuine, loud and positive; the lady three seats down on the row in front of me was meek and mild when she came in, now she’s having a moment close to orgasmic, maybe she is. I’m surprised at how many women actually are here, guitar heroes aren’t usually their thing, but then I’m reminded that Trower was nearly always about the song. I’m also intrigued by rows of much younger folk of both sexes taking up the back rows downstairs. Shaw Taylor’s fans? Certainly most folk leaving here tonight are going to go home fans of both. Either way, there’s not long to wait for an encore as Trower scratches out some funky chords in the verses before going into that simple but powerful triplet riff for ‘Too Rolling Stoned’. The soloing is cheeky with its slower stoner blues ending given a more upfront vibe here. Trower and his band then offer the slow burn of ‘For Earth Below’ as a gentle elegant release of shimmering fusion-arced blues that draws the night to its end with the mellowest of controlled feedbacks.
Tonight could have been somewhat mournful; my impression is that Robin Trower’s Something’s About To Change finds him reflecting on his late wife’s passing. In fact, tonight has been a celebration of life today while honouring the past. It has also featured some incredible music.
1. Somebody’s Calling
2. Rise Up Like The Sun
3. See My Life
5. Lady Love
6. Something’s About To Change
7. Day Of The Eagle
8. Bridge Of Sighs
9. Confessin’ Midnight
10. The Turning
11. Not Inside – Outside
12. Little Bit Of Sympathy
1. Too Rolling Stoned
2. For Earth Below