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Issue 1088

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Robin Trower + Joanne Shaw Taylor: Birmingham Town Hall 28/15/15

Robin Trower Photo Copyright: Simon Redley
Robin Trower Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Robin Trower Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Joanne Shaw Taylor Photo copyright: Simon Redley Joanne Shaw Taylor Photo copyright: Simon Redley Robin Trower Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Robin Trower Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Robin Trower Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Robin Trower Photo Copyright: Simon Redley Joanne Shaw Taylor Photo copyright: Simon Redley

The last time I was at this venue, was to review/shoot pics of Robert Cray last year. All seated, balcony and stalls virtually sold out, predominantly a mature audience. A cracking night too. Similar deal tonight; 99.5% full for this all-seated affair in the 1,086 capacity venue for the mainly male, 55+ age range audience.

Spot the guitarists among them, wearing the obligatory Hendrix/Gary Moore/Led Zep/Joe Bonamassa tee shirts and miniature enamel replica lapel guitar badge. Quite a few in attendance, even if only back bedroom heroes. But all here for the same reason; to pay homage to legendary British guitarist Robin Trower. It has been a good while since Robin last toured here; his last scheduled tour was cancelled when his wife was very ill and sadly passed away. But he is back, with a full UK, European and US tour to promote his fabulous new album, âSomethingâs About To Change.â Released on Robinâs 70th birthday on 9th March, his 20th studio album along with nine live albums and a compilation.

Tonight is show three on his 17 date UK tour, kicking off in Lincoln on Thursday and Bury St Edmunds last night, before heading along the M6 for this gig. Itâs home turf for the support act, or maybe more deservedly and polite to call her âVery special guest,â Ms Joanne Shaw Taylor. Born and bred a stoneâs throw from the venue in Solihull, the posher end of Birmingham, where a crèche is a car accident and they have Perrier in the bird baths!

The last time I shot pictures of Joanne and saw her play guitar, she was 14 or 15 years old, in 2001 at the ill fated Bishopstock Festival in Devon, when she took part in a battle of the young blues artists and blew me/everyone away with her way-beyond-her-years talents. An obvious affection for SRV. Joanne and a guitarist kid called Andy Cortes were astounding, and for me both should have won! But a Janis Joplin imitator, since disappeared without trace, won it. But I said back then; watch out for Joanne, sheâll go far. She has tooâ¦â¦Most of her time spent on the road in the USA these days, but back on home soil tonight though and in very fine form indeed. Not an easy task to step on stage with a Telecaster and a Les Paul strapped to your chest, an hour or so before a guitar giant claims his crown, but Joanne took it all in her stride and got down to business without any messing. Stamping her authority on her slot from the off.

Her fiery licks and rust gargling vocals ably supported by her powerhouse drummer Oliver Perry and rock steady bassist Tom Godlington. Sheâs nobodyâs imitator as her latest album, âThe Dirty Truth,â confirms. She tore that geetar a new one tonight, in a commanding 45 minute set that won her many new fans - but probably most of this audience knew exactly who she was in the first place.

I have said before that her vocal on record can sometimes lack diction and clarity, which affects the lyrical delivery. But that was never an issue tonight. I felt her voice was as strong as her guitar licks. The long blonde locks cover her face for a lot of the set, getting flicked back on autopilot every now and again, to reveal a broad smile on her face - that is when she is not subconsciously dropping her jaw and opening her gob as wide as the Mersey tunnel, like she was scoffing a big bag full of hot chips! The headliner also went in for some serious face pulling too; he was showing us what it looks like to suck a whole lemon! Both JST & RT completely lost in the moment, probably unaware they were starting the very first ever West MidIands heat of the national blues gurning championships! I think Robin just edged it, personally!

A few months ago, Joanne headlined this same venue on her own tour. Tonight she gets second billing, but gives a performance as fiery and incendiary as if she were the main attraction. She kicks off in blistering fashion with âMud, Honeyâ from âThe Dirty Truth,â her current album. Her acclaimed cover of Frankie Millerâs âJealousyâ changes the pace to allow her to create an ethereal atmosphere with her guitar, before a groove-laden âJump That Train.â She did not put a foot wrong, kept most punters out of the bar for her whole set and proved beyond doubt, that this slick chick with a pick has come a long, long way since she started out playing the local pubs and clubs doing blues covers as a kid, obsessed with the guitar and with the blues. No change there then?

But the night belonged to a veteran of the blues rock scene, Mr Robin Trower. He may be into his seventh decade on the planet, but he give us a rip roaring, 15 song, 90 minute set, that won him such an overwhelming response, he told the band theyâd do one more song, over and above the scheduled two song encore.

Guitar nerds bang on about tone and gear. Well, I cannot comment much on his gear, apart from saying he plays Fender Strat's and has two Marshall amps behind him,. But I can most definitely mention tone. Often they get it spot on in the recording studio, then the guitar can sound like a burning pet shop on stage, with lots of noise bleed from other instruments, distortion, too much volume and the acoustics of the venue screwing it all up. But tonight, his tone really was to die for. Add to that his incredible control, and I cannot speak for anyone else; but I can admit that for me it was quite emotional at times. That connection he makes with just two hands and a plank of wood with some metal strings on it. It reminded me of something Robin said about his new album, which I used in my review of that CD. He said, âThere is some sort of feeling of emotional release, when you play a note that rings out right." Amen to that. We all feel it when he does just that. Thatâs the key with this gig tonight: FEEL. The emotion. The connection between Robin and us. He does it just for us.

Elvisâ guitarist Scotty Moore was Robinâs first main influence, then BB and Albert King. Labelled the white Hendrix, Jimi was a big influence of course. When Robin heard the track âMachine Gun,â and all of Jimiâs atmospheric stuff, it lit a fuse in him. That fuse still burning brightly today. He loved Jimiâs wildness, soulfulness and his inventiveness.

Just like Jimi's Experience, the power trio format of guitar, drums and bass allows Robin the freedom and the space to let the song and performance take him anywhere he feels like going; and his two partners in crime stick to him like musical glue.

He is very, very comfortable up there with Christopher Taggart on drums and Richard Watts on bass and much of the lead vocals. On the current album, Robin plays the bass himself, with Christopher on drums. For the tour, bass and vocals are in very safe hands. The guys have joined Robin on two European and a US tour before, so he knows they have got his back.

Butâ¦â¦â¦â¦there was a major issue tonight with the sound for the headline set. There were some people who left early, complaining they could not hear any vocals and the drums were over-powering everything else. People I spoke to described the sound as âmuzzyâ, but where we sat in the stalls 12 rows back from the stage, I agree you could barely hear the vocals - but for Joanne Shaw Taylor, it was fine (Those gremlins were busy little buggers.) But Robinâs guitar cut through like a hot knife in butter, sounding awesome all night. For many, thatâs probably all that really mattered.

The set list treated fans to two cuts from his second and most famous album, âBridge of Sighs.â âDay Of The Eagle,â seven into the set, followed by the title track. He beautifully delivered, âConfessing Midnightâ and âLady Love,â from his third album âFor Earth Below.â

The set kicked off with âSomebodyâs Calling,â sung by Richard Watts, and immediately we are in the presence of greatness when RT gets stuck in to that fret-board. Robin takes the lead vocal on the third song, âSee My Life.â He looks and sounds at ease and genuinely pleased to be back on British soil doing what he does best. A hell of a lot of love in the room â apart from one disrespectful bellend on the balcony who chooses to yell out âBoring,â towards the end of Robinâs extended soloing on song three. A balcony neighbour loudly tells him to âShut up.â The two words that sprang to my mind were "Please" and âjump.â

One thingâ¦â¦â¦..Robin never over-plays, instead using brush strokes to create feeling and beauty. His playing stimulates my imagination in the same way listening to my Dadâs old valve wireless when I was a boy, when we either did not own a TV or it was on the blink, yet again. Jimmy Clitheroe, The Navy Lark, The Goons, Tony Hancock and Charlie Drake were all shows I loved to listen to, conjuring up mental images; moving pictures to go with the audio. Same tonight, when listening to this true artist expressing himself, literally making that guitar of his almost speak. Especially on the cracking version of, âNot Inside - Outside.â Thereâs an art to proper use of a wah wah pedal for me, and of course Mr Hendrix and SRV had first class honours degrees in it. Your man Trower knows his way around one too, for sure.

âLittle Bit Of Sympathyâ closes the main set, before an entire audience on their feet roaring for more, get what they asked for. âToo Rolling Stonedâ packs a real punch before he slows it all down with âFor Earth Below.â Robin seems very relaxed tonight, genuinely delighted at the response he is getting. So we get an extra encore song.

He doesnât need a slick designer suit â he was the man in black tonight with plain shirt, jeans and shoes, but nothing dark or sombre about his performance, which had a real spirit and verve to it. RT may have reached an age beyond retirement, but tonight he could well have been back in the 70s. No fancy stage set, big band or pyrotechnics; just a plain black backdrop, minimal lighting and the minimum of equipment on stage. He let the music and his guitar playing speak for itself.
We often see the title ânational treasureâ attached to has-beens and mediocre talents. It can be a polite way of saying âpast itâ or bloody old! Robin Trower IS a national treasure. Fact. But while he has many loyal fans who have stood by him since the glory days of the 1970s, while he still fills venues and sells records on his own label, a man with this much talent having trodden his own path unwaveringly, ignoring trends and gimmicks, he should be playing big arenas and denting the upper reaches of the charts with his sublime talent.

Just about at the same time Robin Trower took to the stage in front of circa 1,000 people here tonight, on TVâs The Voice, a special guest Australian female pop singer stood motionless at a microphone during the Semi Final, with her face deliberately obscured for the entire song by a blonde wig hanging down from her hat like a tasselled pelmet.

An instantly forgettable song from a mediocre singer looking like a 1950s sitting room standard lamp, being watched by maybe 10 million people, many of whom will grab their mobiles to download the tedious damn song and make it a hit. There's no justice, is there?

All Photos copyright: Simon Redley
Words SIMON REDLEY

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