A TALE OF FOUR SHORTLISTS – Part Two
The journey from the hotel in Bensheim to the gig in Hachenburg was cold, foggy and beset with navigational problems due to poorly signposted minor roads and a navigator with a thicker than usual head. I spent most of the journey pondering what the other band members thought about losing their sax player and how certain numbers would have to be reworked to allow for the loss of the instrument.
HACHENBURG, (D), RUNDSPORTHALLE 07.12.01
Set Slow Down/Cat Called Kokomo , Kiss My Soul, Downbound Train,
Moth To A Flame, Prisoner, Weavers Answer, Habits Of A Lifetime,
18 Wheels And A Crowbar, X-Town.
Encore Oh Brother, Shank/Toenail Draggin’, Shortlist.
Encore Jesus And The Devil, Bye Bye Love, Midnite Child.
Hachenburg itself was in the grip of freezing weather, which had also permeated the back of the van, and the exposed metallic surfaces of the equipment were uncomfortable to the touch. Local crew had been promised but were absent so it was left to Simon and myself to hump the gear into this sports arena. Thankfully there were ramps provided and the equipment was easily wheeled onto the large stage. PA and Monitor sound was provided by Angi and Michael (long time Chappo sound crew) and all concerned generated a real air of professionalism.
The band arrived early to soundcheck and I assumed that they would run through a few changes to some song arrangements, however they didn’t really seem to be that bothered and it mainly consisted of “who’s going to do that, you OK! what’s next”. For quite some considerable time Henry’s bass drum sounded like a cricket bat hitting a wet blanket and despite constant twiddling and head scratching by both Angi and Michael the sound failed to improve. The problem was eventually traced to the microphone being wrongly placed inside the bass drum with the beater actually striking the microphone, ribald comments from Chappo about “not being able to get the staff” were endured by the crew who were thankful that the problem had arisen now and not during the gig. With the soundcheck completed the band retired to the hotel for the afternoon and I grabbed a bite to eat whilst the Matchbox Blues Band set up their gear. Now, being the support band is often a bum deal as far as space on the stage is concerned, you have to take what the headline act leaves you, and you could tell by the look on these guys faces that they weren’t that happy and I did feel a bit sorry for them as they no doubt wanted a decent amount of space in which to perform. Various mutterings where made in German and I did my best ‘me no speeky German routine’, however when you saw their gear you had to wonder just what they were moaning about. The drum kit consisted of a bass drum, snare and one cymbal, the bass player played a stand up bass (DI’d straight into the PA) and the guitar player had a very small amp. Matchbox Blues Band – they could have played in a matchbox!
In music as in most things size isn’t important and what the Matchbox Blues Band lacked in equipment they made up for in musical skill, their repertoire was almost entirely obscure blues covers with a few rock ‘n’ roll classics. They were the ideal support band, they got the crowd moving, they played music that people wanted to hear and more importantly for Simon and myself they vacated the stage at the agreed time. It should also be added that all the members of the Shortlist (except Roger) were standing by the side of the stage applauding as they completed their set. Roger thanked them for a great set later in the evening. Nice one chaps.
So what did some 750 folks get for their soon to be replaced Deutchmarks, well they got an excellent front of house sound and a band who despite the fact that they were a man down were determined to give them a good time. They opened with a chuggalong version of ‘Slow Down/Cat Called Kokomo’ and despite a few monitor problems a rolling version of ‘Kiss My Soul’ with a slide solo from Steve which he developed into a more rhythmic passage which strangely picked up pace without a lead instrument. ‘Downbound Train’ was a glorious collage of sounds, a pulsating bass and drum beat kept the song on track whilst Ian and Steve laid riff on top of riff, Rogers vocal line cut through like a knife, slicing a hole in the rhythm and pulling back just long enough to allow Steve to patch up the gaping hole.
The band were on a roll, perhaps they were being driven by a sense of relief, maybe it was expectation, who knows but it was riveting stuff. ‘Moth’ was a roller coaster ride, Henry and Gary building the tempo and then letting it drop like a stone, right into Roger’s vocal line, time and time again Roger delivers the perfect “bringing it to ya’’ only for the rhythm section steal the line from him and lift it again and then throw it back with an almost casual disdain. The number ends to huge applause and Gary and Henry get well deserved name checks from their boss. ‘Prisoner’ is equally well received.
There is in my opinion only one keyboard player who can really play ‘Weavers Answer’ and that’s Ian Gibbons, tonight with the added challenge of yet another solo in place of the vacant sax he positively excels, his playing draws a fine riff from Steve and an equally fine vocal from Roger although he does refrain from trying for the high notes in the dying embers of the number.
‘18 Wheels’ at it’s new tempo increased by 4 BPM positively lurched along, the riff quickly following on from the verse, not hurried, but not lagging behind, to my ears it sounded the perfect pace and as far as I could tell Steve managed to get his vocal and riff in without the two clashing. Confident that bollocking number three was not coming my way tonight I went round the other side of the stage to watch Ian and Steve. Whilst walking round the back I spotted Detlef, as usual he was eating but tonight he was on a roll, he was eating, drinking and dancing all at the same time! After a couple of hokey cokey’s I made it round to the other side of the stage for the remainder of the number, at the end of which I caught Henry’s eye and he gave me the thumbs up – so four beats per minute did make all the difference.
The more I listen to ‘X’-Town the more things I hear it’s one of those numbers that the band play every night, the crowd listen, they move, they dance, but more importantly they miss! Yes they miss the delicacies of Steve’s mandolin, sometimes I hear Irish folk music, sometimes bluegrass, perhaps if I am on the way to a grade one hangover I hear George Formby, the playing is never the same. They may miss Ian’s best imitation squeezebox keyboards or Gary and Henry shuffling and alternating the beat between bass and drums sometimes Henry leads sometimes Gary you never can tell. Finally Steve ends the number with a piece of pure Riffburgling, never the same always imaginative. No folks this number doesn’t just close the set; it prepares the listener for the encore.
Failing to play it safe has always been one of Roger’s musical traits and tonight is no exception, you would perhaps expect him to close the show with some real rocking music but tonight with a big rowdy crowd musically eating out of the palm of his hand he encores with ‘Oh Brother’, ‘Shank/Toenail Draggin’, ‘Shortlist’, ‘Jesus And The Devil’, ‘Bye Bye Love’ and ‘Midnite Child’. A real eclectic mixture of styles and tempos, with ‘Bye Bye Love’ being surprisingly well received. All in all not a bad gig for a make do and mend Shortlist.
ISERNHAGEN, (D), BLUES GARAGE 08.12.01
Set Slow Down/Cat Called Kokomo , Kiss My Soul, Downbound Train,
Moth To A Flame, Prisoner, My Friend The Sun, Weavers Answer,
Habits Of A Lifetime, 18 Wheels And A Crowbar, X-Town,
Oh Brother, Shank/Toenail Draggin’.
Encore Jesus And The Devil, Midnite Child, Shortlist.
Henry’s Blues Garage, what can be said about this place that hasn’t been said in previous articles, to a music loving, beer drinking loafer like myself this place is heaven. Yet again Detlef parked the camper van about 10 feet from the entrance and Henry, ever willing to please sorted out some electricity for us and we put the internal fan on high and thoroughly warmed the van through, intrigued that we were going to spend the night in the van Henry ensured that the supply would be available all night, this was most welcome as the temperature was below freezing all day and about -8 degrees at night.
The get in was quick and the band, minus Roger who was suffering with yet another throat infection had a relatively easy soundcheck although it did take a little longer than planned and by the time the band had finished there were a few hardy souls outside waiting to get in although this was probably due to the fact the German lads and lasses like to start their Saturday evening entertainment early and grab one of the few downstairs tables that were available.
Henry was expecting a big crowd, even more than for Chappo’s show at this venue in April and he wasn’t disappointed as the place was jammed to the rafters, with every available vantage point claimed from about 7:30 . As the dressing room was at the opposite end of the hall to the stage and the only way to the stage was through the audience it was obvious that there would be no trips from stage to dressing room during the show, so I went upstairs and sat in the mixing booth with Henry for the best view in the house. From the opening bars of ‘Kokomo’ you could tell that Roger was again suffering with his throat, but during this number and ‘Kiss’ he really gave it all he had. ‘Downbound Train’ featured excellent country picking from Steve with real fire and passion in his playing.
For some reason, that I still can’t quite put my finger on, Roger’s throat affected vocals perfectly suited ‘Moth’, it was as though we had gone back some fourteen odd years to the ‘Chappo’ album, the vocal tonight was so far removed from previous nights in terms of delivery, pace and passion. But what had made ‘Moth’ such a success failed to ignite on ‘Prisoner’ and the number was only saved by some excellent backing vocals, which are after all an integral part of this number and some fine keyboards from Ian.
By now Roger had grown tired of trying to belt out a vocal line that he couldn’t hope to sustain so he changed the running order of the set and played ‘My Friend The Sun’ which was more suitable than ‘Weaver’, the song itself had a jaunty tempo that got the crowd moving. Roger took the opportunity to let Steve build the riff into an extended solo and engage in some banter with the crowd.
Perhaps five minutes is a long time in the life of a performers throat, perhaps not, anyway Roger attempts ‘Weaver’ and pulls it off. The reason why is not immediately apparent, it is only when listening to the tape a day or so later that the answer is revealed. Roger changes his vocal style to suit the situation, instead of using his voice as the solo instrument and dominating the band he uses it as more of a band instrument within the context of the song, it appears lazy, but as usual laziness should not be confused with subtlety, and it accentuates the playing of the other members whilst still being the recognized focal point of the group. ‘Hobbits’ wobbles along and it’s fine mandolin playing that draws the applause at the end of this number and it’s recognized by Roger who asks for another round of applause “for Steve Simpson on anything that’s hanging or whatever”.
For some reason ’18 Wheels’ lacks direction, it’s all honky tonk piano and pulsating bass, quite what Henry and Steve are doing is a mystery, a bit of a shame really after the great version the night before I thought the band had it cracked – still another one to rehearse at the next soundcheck. ‘X’-Town is tight and punchy again it’s that laid back vocal, different, but very interesting. ‘Oh Brother’ is ragged and without the sax seems disjointed. ‘Shank/Toenail Draggin’ is light and airy, with spaces throughout the number, which are filled by laconic vocals, if Roger can beat Steve to them.
The band surprisingly retreat to the dressing room, pushing through the crowd and accepting the plaudits as they go. They reappear after a short while and encore with ‘J&D’, ‘Midnite Child’, and ‘Shortlist’. After some banter with the crowd Roger thanked them all for coming, made the customary drinking gesture and left the crowd bawling for more.
As the Blues Garage closes when the last customer leaves (or is ejected from) the premises and, as there was no show the following day the hardworking crew got down to some serious socializing and boy do Henry, his staff and friends know how to socialize? No sooner was your glass empty it was full, you must try this! You must try that! Well if you insist Henry! Just when we slumped down in our camper van I can’t remember, but the electric fan had warmed it up to sleeping heat and the next thing I knew it was Sunday afternoon, Detlef was still doing his impersonation of a wounded buffalo so I left him to it and went back to sleep when I awoke it was dark, we had managed to miss most of Sunday. When Detlef awoke he informed me that as he was now fully refreshed we were going to hit the road and head for Bonn , “just how far is it Detlef’’? “Not far, about five hours”. Boy do I love rock ‘n’ roll, it’s just the hangovers that get me down.