The Welsh Convention 4
Astoria 2, Charing Cross Road, London
Sunday 15 November 1998
For those who don't know, a bit of background : The Welsh Convention is a kind of Man gig Deluxe. There have been four of them so far, and guess what, I've attended every one. All have taken place in London, which is not really my favourite place in the known universe. Previous venues have been the Feltham Assembly Rooms (twice) and Fairfield Halls, Croydon, so the Astoria was a move into central London (the West End, as the locals have it). As well as the Man band, there have been a variety of Man offshoots who have played, bands who have had a vague connection with Man in the past, and now and again, bands with sod all to do with the Man band. It's pretty much an all day affair, with maybe the odd stall selling Man merchandise or related memorabilia, and the indefatiguable Michael Heatley selling back issues of the fanzine at bargain prices. Various band members can be spotted wandering about the auditorium at times, gladhanding the ticket buying masses, and accepting offers of drinks with only the slightest hesitation. In summary, it's a good time, and it's had by all. The only exception is that the beer in all these venues has been, without exception, crap.
It was with this latter in mind that I relaxed in the pub across the road in Oxford Street for an hour before the start, and enjoyed a very pleasant couple of pints of Adnams. The Christmas lights were due to be turned on later that afternoon, and the area was busier than I might have expected. I wandered over to the venue just a few minutes after 3pm (struggling to resist the temptation of a third pint) and was mildly surprised to see a few crash barriers outside the Astoria entrance. A tad optimistic, surely ? Those of us who queued were a law abiding bunch, and no riot ensued. Once we got in, we found a medium sized venue, a small balcony area upstairs, and nothing but canned dross for sale at the bar. I really should have stopped for that third pint.
As there are quite a few acts to get through, and the stage wasn't vast, there is always a flurry of roadie activity between sets, marshalled by the hyperactive Roger Hoodless. It almost didn't happen this time though, as I noticed Roger arguing with a bouncer who refused to let him backstage since he didn't have the right pass. Identification was eventually verified, and once the kit was set up, the opening act was the Channel Hoppers, a band fronted by Micky Jones' son on, what else, lead guitar. A three piece guitar / bass / drums sometimes augmented to a four piece, they were certainly more than technically able. They play straight forward rock, sometime veering towards metal, but were never unlistenable. Jones Junior has inherited his father's fondness for the wahwah and other effects - the boy should go far.
Next up were Mecha Godzilla, a band I have never heard of, but apparently the connection is that they are based in Swansea. An unabashed, up front, in your face heavy metal four piece, they didn't lack for enthusiasm, but to be honest, it must be tough doing this sort of thing at 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon. A version of Paranoid was one of their more understated tunes.
We then had the first of the reunion bands of the day, as Martin Ace, his ex-wife and sundry others, The Flying Aces landed on stage. Martin played bass, George played accoustic and sang: plus a drummer, keyboard player, a guitarist and guitar/sax player, so a very broad sound was delivered. (Apologies for not having all the names available - there's going to be a lot more of this as the review progresses. Many names were announced, but I was enjoying myself too much to write them all down). It was the first time in 22 years that The Flying Aces had performed live, but hell, you would never have guessed it. This really was a very tight performance, full of quality playing, and when needed some expertly executed soloing. The songs were equally impressive. The emphasis was towards the tuneful and melodic, with sometimes the merest hint of a country swing to it. I have no doubt that this outfit could still be successful today, despite the passing of the years - the drummer was seen stretching his hamstrings between songs. Especially memorable was one Martin introduced as "A song we recorded at Rockfield with Deke on piano... but he's forgotten it". Now that's a crying shame, as it had a real Beatlesesque sound to me. I actually saw The Flying Aces some time at the back end of the seventies (at St. Martins College, Lancaster, if you must know), but tragically I can't remember much about it; the one thing I do remember is that Southern Comfort was half price at the bar that night. Coincidentally, this explains why I can't remember anything else.
Green Ray have appeared at previous TWC's, and to be frank, I've always been disappointed. The lineups have been varied, but they have never really had a consistent sound. To be fair, I've put that down to a lack of regular rehearsal opportunity; this time though, they were much better, and produced a mored focussed performance. Richard Treece started off cross legged on the floor, while Ken Whaley was incapable of standing still for more than five seconds. I can't recall any specific song titles, but the sound was very much tinged by a West Coast / Quicksilver influence. Whereas previous performances had left me unimpressed, this showed much more promise. There's no denying the talent is there, but I still reckon it needs channeling in the right direction.
We now reach the point in the proceedings where unrestrained nepotism came to the fore, in the shape (!) of Crystal Blue Persuasion. For those who don't know, this is a girl vocal trio fronted by Katy Leonard, Jo Ace and Sadie Williams, daughter, daughter and niece respectively of Deke, Martin and Terry. Musical backing was helped along by Deke on guitar and Martin on bass (Fender and double). The crowd enjoyed every minute, and CBP enjoyed it even more. The songlist was all pretty much culled from the sixties, featuring those obvious to the genre, such as Da Do Ron Ron and Leader Of The Pack, and other classics of the era like California Dreaming and Dancing In the Streets. My favourite was River Deep Mountain High, but that's always been a great song as far as I'm concerned. Katy Leonard performed solo at TWC3 and looked a little more comfortable than Jo and Sadie, but the audience lapped them up - in fact some couples were even dancing at one point! Jo Ace made a poignant reference to the previous performance of The Flying Aces - "Wasn't mum brilliant ? I was crying my eyes out... It's Dad who's fucking crap." Clearly, the wit has been passed down in the genes.
I think it's fair to say that the most eagerly awaited appearence of the day was Alkatraz, a band with Man offshoot connections from the seventies, most prominently Will Youatt. I had known that Michael Heatley had been trying to get them together at previous Conventions, but it had never quite happened. But it was only while chatting with Michael that I realized how keen he really is - in fact he had brought the sleeve from the only vinyl album they released to show off to any interested parties. Such is his enthusiasm, he had lobbied the powers that be and got Alkatraz a longer set than originally scheduled. To be honest, the Alkatraz path off the Man highway is one I've never really travelled, (though I have a sneaking suspicion that in my youth I may have seen them playing support at a UFO gig I was unwillingly dragged along to), but I could tell from the way the crowd was behaving that there was a true sense of anticipation around; this was really the first time during the day that the crowd were pushed up against the front of the stage.
Given the above, it's no surprise that Michael himself ambled onstage to introduce Alkatraz himself, (still clutching the album sleeve, I noticed), and the reaction was rapturous just for appearing... Again forgive the lack of names - but Will Youatt was there, plus Jimmy Davies on guitar and Stuart Holliday on drums, along with another guitarist and a keyboard player who Michael assured me had carved himself a successful career doing session work, and had given up a night playing with Celine Dion (who?) to be here tonight. Again, excuse the lack of song titles, but with three cutting guitars, a solid rhythm section and said keyboard player adding some sax, the sound was kind of like Be Good To Yourself era Man, only with a whole lot more breadth and depth. So even if I'm not providing much in the way of documentary detail here, just trust me when I say that Alkatraz were brilliant. They played well, they were together, they traded solos, they altogether knew what they were doing and were loving it. I hope Michael didn't get mugged on the way home, just for the sake of that sleeve.
After that tour de force, Man were almost an anti-climax. Their set was pretty much as I had seen a couple of times in the preceeding weeks, namely -
- Ride and the View
- Do It
- Man with X-Ray Eyes
- Brother Arnold's Red and White Striped Tent
- Wings of Mercury
- Many Are Called But Few Get Up
- Spunk Rock
As with past TWC's, I've felt that, being objective, the Man performances aren't actually amongst their best. Rather than the usual preparation for a gig (and I dread to think what that might entail), they have been variously hanging around, playing with other bands, chatting with old friends and been pestered for autographs. They take it all in good spirit, but it doesn't mean it readies them to give the best performance of their lives. Not that it's a bad performance, of course, just not one of their best. Which still makes it pretty good. So I'll not dwell overmuch on the bulk of their show, except to note the instance where Roger Hoodless tried to get Micky to swap his SG back to his Fender when the SG was actually used in the next song; I hadn't seen RH on previous nights of this tour, so I can only assume he wasn't familiar with the set. However, I can't not mention the first encore, where the band were joined by Micky's son George ("Man - The Next Generation" as his father refered to him) for a storming version of Spunk Rock; and to close, Roger joined the band to help out on Bananas.
Phew. A long day, but immensely enjoyable. Loads of great music, loads of fun, not enough good beer. Hard to deny that Alkatraz were the hit of the show, and in my book at least, The Flying Aces were great. It's a crime that bands like this don't get together more often. If we don't see the like again, at least those who were there on this day will remember it for a long time.
There are pics from this gig in the Gallery.
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