Shepherds Bush Empire, London

Saturday September 13, 1997

TicketSo, here we are then... this was a very special gig in an awful lot of ways, so there will be quite a lot of waffle before I get around to the actual review.

Firstly, it was something of a major comeback for Deke since his minor stroke last year. He has played a few smaller shows, but this was pretty much a high profile event, and a special occasion for Deke himself, probably more so than for anyone else.

The show itself would have been a highlight for the entire band even without considering the Deke situation - the publicity had suggested it was the band's biggest show for a decade, in a significant venue in London.

Plus... it saw the band back as a five piece, I suppose for the first time since The Welsh Connection, with the return to the fold of Phil Ryan on keyboards.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was behind the drum kit, where Terry Williams has been replaced by Bob Richards. It's not clear to me just how permanent this is, and it may be that the door may not be closed to Terry for good, should he manage to sort out his "substance abuse" situation. (Martin Ace's words, not mine).

And finally... pretty insignificant compared to the above, but it was the first time I've seen the Man band in London.

The venue has a fair sized stage, some decent lighting, and three bars, none of which served anything approaching decent beer. Had I really come 200 miles to drink Vittel ? Apparently.

Tim Rose was something of an unknown quantity for me before the show, and I must confess I missed some of the performance while chatting with the indefatigable Michael Heatley, and saying hello to Walter. What I can tell you is that he performed a number of relaxed, tuneful songs, accompanied by his own accoustic guitar, and helped out by a guy playing an electric. Among his back catalogue of compositions is Hey Joe, and his rendition certainly did the song justice. Perhaps the most amazing aspect was the striking resemblance Tim Rose has to one D.Leonard - they aren't distant relations in some way, are they ?

OK, on with the show...

Ride might seem like a strange choice to open the show, but bearing in mind it was pretty much a Deke comeback spectacular, it fitted perfectly. After some modest thank you's, Deke got straight into it, with no obvious signs that his medical history has affected his musical proficiency. The intro was considerably shorter than it has been in the past, but no less effective for that. At the end of the song, no one could possibly have had any doubts... He's back! Martin Ace, gracious as ever, strolled up to the microphone and gave a grudging "Not bad, Deke." Can't argue with that. Mr.Ace, incidentally, was immaculately turned out for the occasion, sporting a frilly white shirt and a pair of leather trousers. This, he informed us, was to match his new role as cult film star.

The more usual opener, C'mon was next up, and it was here that the addition of Phil Ryan's keyboards were very much in evidence, adding much to the texture of the song. At times it seemed like he was trying to fit in as many sounds as possible into the one song, but maybe he was just trying too hard. Anyway, this is a minor quibble, and there was nothing much wrong with the overall effect.

With no further ado, the band were straight into the first of two new songs. In neither case did the band share the title with us, so when I call it Why Am I So Lonely? I'm really just taking the line from the chorus and hoping for the best. It's clearly a Deke song, starting out with spacey keyboards before settling into a (gulp) funky groove with Leonard vocals, and included a beautifully languid Micky Jones solo. Overall, it was short, catchy and great - for those who know it, possibly a near relative of The Girl Is Trouble.

Tuba With the second new song, things took a slightly surreal turn, as Martin Ace set his Fender bass aside and took up a tuba. As in large wind instrument. Yes, that kind of tuba. There is truly no end to this man's talents. Anyway, the song, Something In My Heart (my guesswork again) featured both Deke and Phil on keyboards, and again Deke on lead vocal, though somehow his voice seemed weaker on this song, and indeed it was the weaker of the two debut pieces. Can't argue about its novelty appeal though.

Drivin' Around got off to something of a false start, with Deke's piano not been set up quite as it should have; after the opening chords he had to stop , reset it and start again. "That 's taken all the drama out of the moment... the story of my life". What a pro. It might be my imagination, but the song seemed to be taken at a slower pace than has been customary; Jones' extremely melancholic vocals were well matched and indeed helped by Phil's soulful organ backdrop. Again, it might be my memory playing tricks, but it seemed that the second part of the song, with Deke moving on to guitar, was shorter than in previous live performances.

From here onwards, it was a simple trawl of the back catalogue, perhaps to make it easier for Phil; in Many Are Called, it was again the background organ that really helped in adding extra texture to the overall sound. I'm always pleased to see the band perform Spunk Rock, since in my experience it's one they only seem to pull out of the bag of tricks on special occasions. This particular performance was especially welcome, with an elaborate instrumental intro, and at one point I had the distinct impression that Micky Jones was actually dancing. Wow.

There was no way I wasn't going to enjoy this show immensely, but as is usual, I'm going to be picky. I was disappointed to see Call Down The Moon, The Girl is Trouble and Man With X-Ray Eyes all dropped from the set, but this has to be set against the inclusion of two brand new numbers. I suspect that the main cause of this was the limited rehearsal time the band must have had with the drummer (brand new) and keyboards player (recycled). Bob Richards, incidentally, let no one down with his performance - his style may lack the subtleties of light and shade that Terry Williams excels at, and he may not quite have the sheer raw power of Pugwash, rather he seems to come some where in between; he certainly didn't lack confidence and was very demonstrative, playing parts of Bananas from a standing position. If he is a permanent fixture, Martin Ace can feel comfortable he has a reliable partner in the rhythm section. I still wince slightly at using Many-Bananas-Romain to close the set, but as I've already noted, there are doubtless very valid reasons for the choice of material on this night. Strange to note all the same, that only one song from Call Down the Moon made the set, and none at all from Twang Dynasty.

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