Since the original incarnation of Whitesnake fell apart in the early 80s, it’s easy to believe that Bernie Marsden had fallen off the radar somewhat. There was a decent band called Alaska, a couple of attempts to recapture the Whitesnake glory days in M3 and Company of Snakes with a variety of singers, even a couple of Rory Gallagher tribute shows. But despite the solo CDs available on the Merchandise table, there doesn’t seem to have been anything that’s made a lasting impression, and so it was hard to know what to expect from this show, even with the very promising sounding band he’d put together for this series of dates.
The opening section of the show was acoustic, with Marsden joined by fellow guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick, also currently with FM. Bernie promised something from every phase of his career, and even in this opening set he was true to his word. The pair opened up with an old blues tune, Jimmy Ray’s Baby, What You Want Me To Do, and that set the tone for the next 45 minutes or so, both familiar and unfamiliar songs, beautifully played and sung. Having worked with some fine singers in the past, it’s too easy to forget that Bernie has a pretty good set if pipes himself, not unlike the late great Jimmy Dewar of the Robin Trower Band, and he was on pretty good form tonight. Naturally there were a couple of Whitesnake songs, Would I Lie To You and Trouble both sounding pretty good in this format, but the highlight of the opening set was a two-song tribute to Rory Gallagher. Tattoo’d Lady was slowed down just enough to give it some extra poignancy and melancholy, with Kirkpatrick doing a fine job on the choruses, then he took the lead on a great reading of Out On The Western Plain.
This part of the show was also enlivened by Bernie taking questions from the audience, answering queries about his time in UFO, his relationship with David Coverdale, about his heroes and influences and about meeting Tom Cruise at the ‘Rock of Ages’ premiere. There were a couple of barbed references to his time with Whitesnake, both in the past and more recently, but it was all good-natured and a very entertaining variation to a normal gig.
After a brief break, it was time to bring out the full electric band, including Jim Kirkpatrick and Magnum’s Mark Stanway on keys. As with the acoustic set, they began with some blues, B.B.King’s Reconsider Baby, then it was one of Bernie’s own songs, the very Santana-like Strictly Latino. We also heard one of his songs that Joe Bonamassa has covered on his new album, the slow burning gem that is Place In My Heart, with some superb playing. After that, though, it was Whitesnake almost all the way, with ex-Bad Company vocalist Robert Hart being introduced to take care of vocals.
While it was really good to hear some songs that are sadly neglected by the recent Whitesnake line-ups, I was a bit wary of it sounding a bit like a tribute band, but I really needn’t have worried. Walking in The Shadow of The Blues, Youngblood, Fool For Your Loving and a very bluesy Is This Love were as good as anything Whitesnake have done in the last few years, and Here I Go Again became a somewhat emotional, but very enthusiastic singalong, although we could have done without Robert Hart trying to emulate Coverdale’s screaming. In amongst all the ‘Snake nostalgia, there was an almost throwaway Can’t Get Enough, as a nod to Hart’s past.
A ‘fake’ encore, with Bernie emphatically stating he couldn’t be bothered to go off stage and come back on again led to more community singing for Ain’t No love In the Heart of The City, along with a touching anecdote about Bobby Bland, a breakneck sprint through I Want To Hold Your Hand (“This, for me, is where it all began” as Bernie put it) and we were done. A pretty good gig, all in all, and if Bernie ever wants to bring this band back to the Robin, that will be just fine by me.
See the rest of Rich’s pics from the show below;