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Billy Walker reports from Manchester and Newcastle as Hurricane Robin sweeps Britain. ‘Sounds’ 22 February 1975


Famous feet have been treading the almost indecently plush pile of Manchester’s Midland Hotel for many years now and tonight’s no exception. Sir Matt Busby wanders through the lobby beaming at the receptionists and surrounded by fawning eager to please one of the city’s most respected men.

In and out of the bars scurry not-so-famous TV faces who’ve recently graced the box in ‘Sam’, a serial recalling the North in tough times around the turn of the century, and of course there’s Robin Trower (and band), a man not too well known by the hotel staff but who’s got over a million album sales to his credit. A famous pair of feet indeed.

Trower’s in town to play the Free Trade Hall, the fourth date on his British tour, a tour that’s so far seen packed houses, fun and games in Edinburgh and a few stretcher cases the night before in Liverpool.

All of a sudden the Trower band have taken off, this is the tour that’s cracked the country wide open for him and the heavy to medium calibre guns that have made the trip from the Chrysalis office in London couldn’t have picked a more opportune time to come to watch their boy.

In most of their cases it’s been a matter of seeing their established acts like Jethro, TYA, Procol, Steeleye and so on do what’s expected and get the usual good reactions. Here they’re watching a band in the early stages of making British soil their very own, winning over the own people after leaving a trail of success that stretches right across the States and up to the American album charts.

From the evidence so far, Trower has finally captured the imagination of the British punter. For some time now there’s been a distinct lack of heroes in the business the guitar hero in particular has had a lean time, but Trower looks well and truly set in that mould. It may be a case of in the right place at the right time but Robin looks ready to take over from the latter day front liners and those that have moved into a category of their own.

This tour is the tip of the iceberg for the band and the adulation they enjoy in the States can’t be too far away. But the band don’t seem too worried by the importance of this headliner through the country, a 14-venue jaunt that will take in two sell out concerts at London’s Lyceum Ballroom. They could have sold out a third night the story goes but there’s time enough the second round.

In the Midlands’ vast lounge the band sit around with manager Wilf Wright before the gig, draped in white afghans and sheepskins waiting for the hired Rolls Royce to ferry them the few hundred yards to the gig. It’s dark, damp and drizzling cold rain outside and who wants their stars to come on stage looking like half-drowned scarecrows? That’s not what you pay your money for.

Backstage everyone’s cheerfully tense and the sound of local boys the Mandala Band (a strange mixture of Genesis, Gentle Giant, capes, beards, long boots and curled toes and a singer with more than a dash of Edmund Hockeridge), drifts back towards the bar. Their sets complete and inside the hall it’s hot and smokey, the narrow Free Trade Hall making packed house look even more impressively full.

Down in the trenches a few rows back from the stage excitement is already running through the crowd. They chatter noisily amongst themselves and the odd shout goes up for Trower, our hero obliges and in a few seconds the band blasts into ‘Day Of The Eagle’.

So close to the stage the noise is almost deafening, the thick wall of sound doesn’t make picking up Jimmy Dewar’s vocals too easy either. But this is rock and roll and a bit of bad separation or muddy vocals isn’t going to stop this audience from getting into the music. There’s Trower, white satin trousers tucked into high suede boots and new boy Bill Lordan looking lean and mean in an all in black leather suit encrusted with sparkle. Dewar’s settled for more conventional stagewear (velvet pants for the fashion conscious) and looks a little nervous, the bad sound cluttering a lot of his vocals.

‘Bridge of Sighs’ follows, drummer Lordan right up the others’ bums, not allowing them a second to relax. He works his way strongly around the kit, using some impressive cymbal technique to recreate the album sound well. Already the best part of the audience is fully committed, the sheer driving energy of Lordan’s playing making ‘Gonna Be More Suspicious’ on hell of a number to follow. 

A guy in the next row is head shaking himself into a frenzy and later follows Lordan’s every move, thrashing away at his thighs and the seat in front. The excitement’s infectious, on stage Trower mouths every each note, head thrown back like a wolf baying at the moon.

The sound spoils ‘Fine Day’ (despite an excellent straight run in from ‘Suspicious’), ‘Lady Love’ is next a perfectly placed ‘Daydream’ lets the audience down again just as fever pitch is in sight.

A beautifully executed number ‘Daydream’ allows Lordan to show he can play it clear and clean as well as the tough rock and roll approach. The notes fair dripped from Trower’s guitar, the solo could have been longer but the band were well pleased with this one, Dewar smiling confidently across at Trower as he weaved through the tune, its notes wailing and drifting through the hall.

The rest period over it’s change up for ‘Too Rolling Stoned’. Trower blows a speaker but ‘I Can’t Wait Much Longer’ follows without any delay, the aisles and front stage packed tight with straining bodies all trying to inch nearer. The first ten rows or so in the Free Trade Hall sway forward with the combined weight of people up on their feet and rocking.

‘Alethea’ only works the audience up further and after a breathtaking 55 minutes there’s ‘A Little Bit Of Sympathy’. The pace and excitements rather than the sound but no one’s demanded their ticket money back or left the hall and they’re not to shattered to yell for encores.

They come without too long a delay but two’s the limit. The blown amp hasn’t made things easier but the audience appreciation and response is rewarded by ‘Confessin’ Midnight’ and an old favourite ‘Rock Me Baby’.

The show’s over it’s dinner with the band and the assembled Chrysalis hordes. A grand affair of fine foods and wine only to be spoilt by three very insistent Spanish guitarists. There they sit – Trower, Lordan and Dewar – sipping at their glasses of milk or lager painfully having to listen to the daredevil trio’s whooping and wailing booming out from a speaker close by. Poetic justice the Spaniards might have thought.

Manchester being famous for its footballers and one in particular, it’s down to George Best’s club Slack Alice. Not for the band. They’re heading back to the hotel with manager Wright, not a coke spoon, groupie or bottle of whisky in sight, so it must be a personal hygiene problem. One of us in the party had better look towards the bathroom when we arrive back.

Now you’d expect anything that our George had a hand would be pretty racy, right? Well, you’d be wrong on this count. OK, so it was a rainy Monday night in Manchester but the club didn’t have a great deal of Alice about and things were certainly Slack. People huddled around a few bars while some action was taking place on the floor, all very tame though. There’s been more fun had a local vicarage romps.

There were a few faces though, Hollie Allan Clarke swooping sidelong glances and crossing stack heels with moderately famous Mancunian starlets and United striker Ron Davies, certainly more graceful on the park at Old Trafford than Slack Alice’s dance floor.

Back at the hotel the band are all in Lordan’s room listening to playbacks of the night’s work, it’s a ritual they go through after each gig, but tonight the Revox has been packed away and they have to make do with a twin speakered cassette machine Bill always keeps by his kit on stage. It was a lively set and even with the warts its sounds pretty good. Everyone looks happy.

Tuesday and it’s time to hit the road for the next leg of the tour, Newcastle. The day’s bright, just right for the long drive across to Teeside, but there’s fog warnings on the motorway and manager Wright (looking tired from his drive. Back in the hotel, Lordan’s grumbling about breakfast but time waits for no one and the Rolls is soon underway with two thirds of the band (Dewar sharing a following limo) and heading for the M62.

Alongside Wright up front Trower thumbs through a car magazine while Lordan talks about his past. Bill’s mainly known for his work with Sly Stone. He’s played with a hell of a lot of people outside the Sly set of course – Willie Weeks, Bobby Womack and down at Bollock Studio with Ike Turner being just a few of his resting places.

A white guy that gets the call to play with the likes of Sly (whom he still talks about with a great deal of respect and pride) and Ike Turner, has got to know his stuff, Lordan does, of course.

Trower comes to life now. ‘Getting Bill to tell you all about Sly?’ he asks, grinning broadly. But Bill’s not about to do Sly any dirt and talk gets round to my review of the album. Robin thinks that ‘Fine Day’ is the best track but they’d all expected, he admits, ‘A Tale Untold’ to get noticed over here. ‘It’s the most British track on the album,’ Robin says.

The night before Trower was still a little hesitant about projecting the success of the album over here but before leaving for Newcastle word had arrived that ‘For Earth Below’ was Island Records’ (the distributor) fastest moving record. It had shifted around 10,000 since Friday. News that pleased Trower all right but he is still not convinced yet.

Trower hates the comparisons with Hendrix, the club that the detractors use endlessly to beat him over the fingers with and when someone mentioned ‘Daydream’ was really a dedication to ‘the man’ Robin agreed: ‘Yeah, I was trying to get a BB King feel there.’ He was joking, of course.

But Trower is an unlikely guitar hero for whether he likes to admit it or not he is fast becoming just that. The tour here could easily bring him the same following he has in the States. Here he is looking like a perfectly normal guy from Southend who drinks orange juice on stage. A longer lasting commodity you’ve got to agree.

Nevertheless even guitar heroes have to eat and the next stop is a motorway Little Chef. Everyone piles out confidently only to return none the better for the experience. Lordan’s gone to stretch his long legs out in the back of the other limo and Jimmy Dewar’s now comfortably ensconced in the back of the Rolls Royce.

Talk with Jimmy ranges over some pretty wide subjects, kicking off fairly obviously with the band he formed straight from the Glasgow shipyards, Stone The Crows. He recalled how he badly wanted to get the later Les Harvey into the band – ‘he was the only guitarist doing anything up there at the time’ – and that Harvey would only join if he could bring his girlfriend. Jimmy begrudgingly agreed and the lady turned out to be Maggie Bell.

Trower starts to drop off to sleep in the front as the conversation stops and moves on intermittently, calling in on America, what was happening with Kossoff and Andy Fraser, old friend Frankie Miller, dope (‘some of these guys think they can fly’) and Cocker. Dewar admitting that Solomon Burke had been one of his big influences early on.

Soon we’ve all nodded off and before you know it we’re outside the Royal Station Hotel. The band aren’t booked in overnight, it’s gig, eat and back on the sleeper to London for them … is the day of the rock and roll looner dead?

At dinner Trower’s being interviewed as he eats at an adjoining table while a group of us including Lordan and Wright work our way through some modestly prepared but no doubt expensive hotel nosh. Upstairs Dewar is in promoter Adrian Hopkins’ room washing his hair.

The City Hall has a great reputation and it’s certainly better suited to the band’s sound and for the audience than the Free Trade Hall. The hall is much wider and cleaner in construction and allows the sound to really fit together on this gig. The seating arrangements are less cramped too and control of the audience is effective without being heavy handed.

Same order as before but this time the sound’s excellent, they’ll find it hard to better this performance anywhere on the rest of the tour. ‘Eagle’ sees the crowd hooked already and ‘Bridge Of Sighs’ brings the peace signs flying up as Lordan explodes around his kit, well controlled and nicely held back.

At Manchester he seemed to be pushing so hard that some of the numbers were too fast but this time he’s much more restrained but none the less impressive. Sadly, ‘Suspicious’ doesn’t slip as neatly into ‘Fine Day’ tonight but it’s well made up for by the clarity of Dewar’s vocals. Grinning, Trower says ‘We’d appreciate all the noise you can make’ and the heat of ‘Lady Love’ starts to burn the audience. A Geordie accent in my right ear blurts ‘this good, this is greeeeat’.

It was good too but ‘Daydream’ is again classically performed and makes the show stand still. Trower taking more time and care over his solo. The good sound balance picks up every one of those early lush, velvety notes as they fall like droplets behind the soulful Dewar voice. If only Manchester could have heard this.

The first real chance to catch the fine skills of Trower on guitar and the audience are quietly appreciative and if anyone felt the way I did during ‘Daydream’ they would have left the hall then and there in case anything the followed would spoil the memory. What a pity Trower didn’t use more of these moving slowish numbers in the act. He feels they would unbalance the current set … so play a longer set.

‘Here’s a little bit of nonsense to get your rocks off to’ says Trower, shaking everyone from the spell by introducing ‘Stoned’ and Lordan is immediately alight and burning again, the audience following as Trower pumps out the tempo steadily with his left leg. ‘Alethea’ gets Lordan the best drummer in rock today compliment from Trower and he doesn’t keep his solo break remarkably short and tight.

The closing shot is ‘Sympathy’ steam rolling across the stage and out in the audience until it’s enveloped everyone. Encores are a formality but this time Trower hits it with ‘Rock Me Baby’ playing some of his best guitar that’s been witnessed on these two gigs.

Manchester and Newcastle are left gasping, tattered and ready to hail the new guitar boss (that’s the way I saw it anyway). It tool Trower a long time to concentrate on the British scene and anyone who thought that the Trower Band were purely a dollar market outfit had better get their sums right the next time round. It could be costly.

  

robintrowerlive.co.uk homepage   News archive   Meet the band
Fans photo gallery Spring 2006 UK Tour   Autumn 2005 UK Tour
   Spring 2005 UK Tour   Albums   Songs   Press / Interview archive
What the fans say Useful links   Steve Shail’s Trower Site
 

This site is a howardtowers.com production realised in the UK, March 2005.
Published by Alan Howard. Contributions and comments welcome by email