Sunday, 16 February 2020

Spaghetti Review - Steve Gibbons at The Tower of Song, Cotteridge

Picture by Pete Millington
circa. 2007
In spite of the lashing rain and and howling wind last night, as Hurricane Dennis swept through the West Midlands, I decided to brave the elements to go see the local legend that is Mr Steve Gibbons at The Tower of Song in Cotteridge. And I am very pleased I did.

have seen Steve Gibbons many times since the late seventies when the Steve Gibbons Band (SGB) were probably at their peak following successful albums and of course performing the Chuck Berry classic Tulane on TOTP. 

In spite of SGB member and ex-The Move blues man Trevor Burton once remarking "we had just made it when along came punk like a huge wave and wiped everyone aside", the band remained stalwarts and ambassadors of Brummie rock n roll playing throughout the UK and Europe. 

Anyone who has studied the Brum Rock family tree, detailed in two books titled Brum Rocked and Brum Rocked-On by Laurie Hornsby will be aware of the complex links across groups like ELO, The Move, The Uglies, Idle Race, Denny Laine, Moody Blues, Dave Pegg, Roy Wood, Bev Bevan, Jeff Lynne, Trevor Burton, etc., with Steve Gibbons being very central to this rich musical heritage from the late 1950s onwards, though without getting or even seeking the international fame and plaudits which many of his contemporaries achieved. He has just been a constant, sometimes spotted sitting at the back of the audiences of other people's gigs in pubs, sometimes giving it the full blown Johnny Cool rock n roll outlaw with his powerful band, other times performing these great little unplugged or acoustic solo sets in more intimate surroundings.

The first time I saw Steve doing one of these more refined sets of poetry, narrative and song - one man, his guitar and a box of tricks (harmonicas in half a dozen keys) was at Rowheath Roots more than a decade ago and on yet another occasion Steve was in the audience, in his customary shadowy corner, when the performer that night, one Herbie Armstrong (ex Fox, Yellow Dog, Van Morrison and Britain's Got Talent no less - remember the jovial pub landlord who struck a chord with Mr Cowell some years back?) beckoned Steve and other musicians such as Tom Martin to the stage and the night culminated with a 20 minute version of Jackie Wilson's Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher which was like a religious experience. I have been in Pentecostal churches which didn't reach that level of spontaneous zeal!

The Lion and Albert
Seeing Steve in the cozy, even intimate surroundings of Tom Martin's chilled Wall of Sound music venue (close to the railway station in Cotteridge if you're planning a visit - just saying like), was just another great listening experience that one feels lucky to have witnessed live and up-close. Tribute songs to Jack Kerouac and Buddy Holly, some Bob Dylan covers with Tom on keyboard reflecting their mutual Dylan love, some SGB stuff like 'Bunker' alongside narratives and poems including the late Stanley Holloway's poetic monologue Brahn Boots to a Funeral and also The Lion and Albert by Marriott Edgar, the tragic tale of a boy who is swallowed alive by the lion at Blackpool Zoo - a gem which Steve explained he first heard literally listening with his mother on the Family Favourites radio show in 1953. 

Just so good. Gibbons delivers so much more than vintage rock n roll and if we can call him a veteran, he is a veteran of working class modern culture and poetic curiosity as well as musicology as studied at the University of Life. If you ever thought Gibbo can be pigeon-holed somewhere between Chuck Berry and Bob Seger, think again. 

I did note last night something I've seen before in Steve's performances, when he often precedes or accompanies a meaningful line or a burst of energetic song with a wry smile, almost a smile to himself but as an audience member you feel invited to share, and you realise that this is a man who enjoys music and enjoys performing. 

A better way of being sheltered from the storm, than spending an hour or two entertained by the great Mr Gibbons, I can not think of.  

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