Fairfield Halls, Croydon, Thursday 13th May 2004
Time can play funny tricks on you. After all wasn’t it only yesterday that Alvin Lee was the fastest guitarist in the west, and the Groundhogs were the best in Prog Rock Blues, while Edgar Winter had a voice that could demolish houses?
Well actually 33 years on, perhaps only the latter still comes close to the what the old memory banks offer. That said, Winter and his energetic band came closer to rock and roll cabaret than the subtleties to be found on their last impressive “Winter Blues “ album.
But first a brief opening set from Tony T.S. McPhee, who to all intents and purposes was and is The Groundhogs. Despite two strokes and a voice that frankly never was his strong point, Tony cleverly overcame the missing years by continuing his enduring affair with the most idiosyncratic blues progressions ever to be heard on a guitar.
Perhaps it is all due to his long time mentor, the late John Lee Hooker, who himself paid little regard to the standard blues format. Tony’s muscular approach and suitably caustic growl at least seemed to wake the crowd a little. And of course he climaxed his brief set with “Groundhog Blues”, a kind of an apt signature for a blueser who in his own way has remained consistent.
And so to MC / production manager Claude Taylor, who grandly announced that Edgar and co would “blow us all away”.
Let it be said that when it came down to energy levels the albino boy won hands down. Similarly when it came to fiery playing, gut busting solos and crowd participation, Edgar was ahead of the pack. But what was sadly lacking – in spite of two of his most splendid recent efforts, the Dixie feel of “Nu’Orlins” and the superlative shuffle that is “Texas” – was the necessary light and shade, and subtlety of a blues set.
In fact what we got was a 30 year career squashed into 60 minutes, minus “They Only Come Out At Night”. We got a rocker, a gospel, the FM friendly “Frankenstein”, some funk, countless solo’s, some scat singing and even added percussion from the man himself. And sure he won a portion of the crowd over, but only because they had probably guessed Alvin was going to be so laid back. Edgar’s voice is still in fine shape, his playing on keys and sax, superb, all that was lacking was a meaningful musical context.
And so to Alvin Lee. If Clapton is miserable for having given up his rock and roll lifestyle, then Alvin has seemingly taken solace in his early skiffle and rock and roll influences; Much of the set came from the all star “In Tennessee” album, but given that a good part of the show comprised only acoustic guitar, double bass and drums, this was a case of being short changed.
At best Alvin has a thin voice, which as ever he compensates for with some tasty playing. Only the instrumental ode to George Harrison, on which he showed real feel in his playing and the electric “Slow Blues In C” reminded fans of his 10 Years After heyday. Yet a lot of this set was a gentle stroll through in undemanding pastures, of which only “Why Did You Do It” added little more urgency to proceedings. For the rest it was more a case of the crowd paying homage to another 70’s rock blueser who seems unsure as to his current musical context, save for going back to his earliest roots.
File under passable.