After the brilliant Courtney Barnett on Thursday, a journey back in time…
One of the first concerts I ever went to, in 1975, was a Robin Trower gig at Hammersmith Odeon. We came down to London, from Oakham, in the East Midlands, on a school trip. I think we were meant to be doing something cultural in the afternoon, but went to see “The Exorcist” in Leicester Square and then headed off to Hammersmith for the mighty Trower. A big adventure for a few provincial 16 year olds!
Trower was amazing that night. At the time he was one of my favourite artists. His Hendrix-like guitar, married to the soulful vibes of bassist James Dewar’s singing, was perfect for my rock-loving, but sentimental self. He was up there with Bad Company, Free and Led Zep. The very best, until Dr Feelgood and then the punks came along and blew everything away. I never stopped liking Robin Trower though; his guitar-playing was an amazing thing: so expressive, so atmospheric; sometimes wild, sometimes incredibly tender. The spirit of Hendrix was undoubtedly there; and of course, as a youth, I thought he was better than Hendrix! Later I learned that no-one, before or since, has been better than Jimi Hendrix on the electric guitar.
And so, 40 years on – oh my God, forty years! – Dave (DC to blog comment viewers), Tony and I set out to Shepherd’s Bush Empire to see if the dream lived on. In the seats, so we could take in the spectacle in comfort, with beer in hand. Surrounded by lots of other people from our generation and older. Returning to remember…
Supporting Robin was Joanne Shaw-Taylor. We caught the last two songs of her set – and immediately wished we’d seen more. She played the rocking blues, accompanied by drums and bass. And she was superb! A raspingly soulful voice, which sounded quite like Joss Stone, and great guitar. Classic Les Paul rocking solos. Really impressive. Set us up nicely for Robin Trower and his band.
Robin Trower is 70 now. He’s backed by two young guys, Christopher Taggart on drums and Richard Watts on bass and vocals. It could be James Dewar! If you saw Robin in the street you wouldn’t know he was one of the great rock guitarists. He was always quite unassuming, preferring to let his guitar do the talking. And man, did it still talk!
I was just bowled over really. He obviously didn’t leap about, but when he got that white Fender Stratocaster going, I was was transported back in time. It wasn’t just the memories of youth: it was the awesome power and grace of his playing. As good as I ever remembered it. I knew most of the songs; but really, it wouldn’t have mattered if I didn’t. It was that playing, those sounds. As magisterial as a guitar can be. Those echoes of Hendrix as clear and true as ever, especially in the faster numbers.
Inevitably, the highlights for me came in some of the slower pieces, when Trower let his guitar sing. The loveliness of “Daydream” from his first album; a wonderful “For Earth Below”, which ended the performance; but best of all, “Bridge of Sighs”. It sprung slowly from the preceding “Day Of The Eagle”: those swirling patterns as evocative as they were to me as a misty-eyed sixteen year old. Played with such grace and ease, but also passion. You could see it in his eyes, the facial expressions. Still lost in the sound.
It was an inspiration. Still going at 70, still plucking those impossible sounds from the Fender Strat. The same guitar all evening (unlike so many, these days); no endless tunings in between songs. Just a man and his guitar and a few pedals. A master.