Review by Paul H Birch and photos by Rich Ward
Twelve months is a long time in rock and roll. A year down the road, Brother have grown hair over their ears, lost their puppy fat but none of their confidence, and are now sidestepping towards a rockier sound than their blues rock origins. They’re also eschewing covers for the most part tonight, offering beefy-riffs and guitar histrionics, plus a couple of highly effective slower tunes, notably ‘Her Eyes’. Underpinned by siblings Owen and Aidan Blythe on drums and bass respectively, vocalist/guitarist Ali Clinton gets to play his first set of the evening with them.
After a lengthy delay a jack plug feeds back and those of us chatting at the rear of The Robin go to man our stations stage-front as Uli Jon Roth and his band nonchalantly tune up before wailing straight into the all-out attack of ‘All Night Long’, the opening track off Roth’s swansong with The Scorpions on their Toyko Tapes double live album.
This year the Germanic guitar maestro is revisiting his time with that band, celebrating 40 years since he first began recording, and playing certain songs that he’s not done in almost as many moons. It’s a story that pretty much began around a year back too, when he got up and jammed with Midlands’ band Soul-Mover, started developing a new touring band from that nucleus then slowly added more of those old tunes that leads us to where we are tonight. Thus, we will be entreated to such obscure tracks as ‘They Need a Million’ from Fly to the Rainbow, an epic and somewhat experimental version of Taken by Force’s ‘Sails of Charon’, and counterpoint the frenzied onslaught of the politically incorrect Virgin Killer’s title track with philosophical post-beatnik balladry via In Trance’s ‘Life’s like a River’.
We will also be subject to gremlins: it will be three songs in before Owen Davidson’s soul-drenched vocals can cut through the PA (fortunately his counterpoint bass playing under Roth’s own vibrant solo during the earlier ‘Longing for Fire’ is a delight), later ex-Sahara vocalist Liz Vandall will have monitor problems when she guests on a couple of numbers, whereas poor Ali Clinton (yes, the young whippersnapper is also Roth’s rhythm/second guitarist/protégé) has to suffer the embarrassment of his whole rig packing up. Improvisation being the name of the game in Uli Jon Roth’s band (he’ll fly off into solo excursions and change key half way through a song as much to express himself as to test those alongside him, me thinks) the keyboard player swiftly reroutes his own amps and goes direct through the PA.
Though apologetic, Roth doesn’t let things hinder the evening, keeping a fluid informative dialogue going with the audience in between numbers, but it’s his playing that people have come here to see, and boy can he deliver; there’s rarely a song where his left hand’s not skipping across the fretboard infilling neo-classical melodies before dive-bombing into a solo that squeals in pitched glory or takes off into some improvisational journey of musical self-discovery. He does this for pretty much three hours solid.
Scorpions songs aside, there’s a rollicking rendition of ‘A Day Late & A Dollar Short’ the Gillan track he guested on, and the obligatory Hendrix numbers to bring the show to a close, but the night’s highlights have to be both ‘We’ll Burn the Sky’ and ‘Pictured Life’ where Liz Vandall joins them to add a whole other dimension vocally, the band thundering along underneath or chopping out intricate time signatures with finesse, and Clinton gets to duet with Roth working the sound up to a fever pitch. They are moments of both grace and danger. They are moments worth thwarting long distances for. And I’m glad I did.
Set List: All Night Long, Longing for Fire, Living & Dying, A Day Late & A Dollar Short, Sails of Charon, They Need A Million, Life’s like a River, Sun in My Hand, Drifting Sun, Yellow Raven, Speedy’s Coming, Virgin Killer, We’ll Burn the Sky, In Trance, Fly to the Rainbow, I’ve Got to Be Free, Polar Nights, Steamrock Fever/Baby Drives Me Crazy.
Encores: Pictured Life, Catch Your Train, Hell Cat, All Along the Watchtower, Little Wing.