The Flamin’ Groovies
London, The Scala
London, July 2nd 2013
Seminal sixties rockers The Flamin’ Groovies played a one off club show in London last week and Martin Haslam went along for Louder Than War.
Well, I wasn’t expecting this! After seeing Mott The Hoople’s last night at Hammersmith in 2009, here was a chance to witness another band that I never thought I’d get to see. When I was in my late ‘teens and trying to take on the world in my quest for rock stardom (no, you didn’t miss anything), The Flamin’ Groovies were one of our touchstones. A great, American rock ‘n’ roll band that no sod had heard of apart from our elite, snobby group, or so I thought. Sadly, as this was the mid-Eighties, The Groovies themselves were more or less disbanding, at the fag-end of their career.
Only through a little research did I come to realise that they were responsible for a pop-rock classic that one of my fave British bands of the time, Thee Gunslingers, covered in their set; ‘Shake Some Action’. If you’re none the wiser, you HAVE to listen to it; for me, it’s one of those simple songs that is brilliant for reasons that are hard to articulate. They were somewhere between the mid-Sixties Stones and The Byrds; melodic rock n’ roll, full of simple hooks. Simple, but not easy to do.
So, here we are. A one-off club show in London after supporting Bruce Springsteen at Hard Rock Calling a couple of days previously. I’m a little nervous for a few reasons; this could be terrible; I’ve come on my own, as the only two friends I know who’d want to be here can’t make it (shame; it would have been a very obscure band reunion)and I refused to look at recent live footage in case it broke the spell of my youth.
Special mention should go to the support band tonight, The Bermondsey Joyriders. A great way to kick off the evening, they were loud, catchy and sartorially part-Ted, part-Slade. With manic slide guitar. If I wasn’t so skint I’d have bought the album, ‘Noise And Revolution’. I will later.
Right, it’s just after 9pm, curfew by 11pm (rock n’ roll AND an early night, result!). The Groovies hit the stage and at first I’m a little unsure how it’s going to go; it sounds a bit weak and tentative. Then again, The Joyriders had snazzy Orange mega-loud amps. This isn’t meant to be ear-splitting; I want to hear the tunes in all their glory.
They start with ‘You Can’t Take My Rock n’ Roll’, which I’m unfamiliar with, so maybe that’s part of it. This line-up features three of the classic Mk2 Groovies who made the fabulous ‘Shake Some Action’ album of ’76; Chris Wilson on main vocals and guitar, George Alexander on bass and the legend that is Cyril Jordan on guitar and vocals. Chris admits from the off that his throat is rough, but he really gives it everything he’s got for the whole set. However, it’s the sweet harmony vocals of Cyril that make it so special. A winning combination.
Now that my ears are settling in, ‘You Tore Me Down’ is sounding great. This is swiftly followed by ‘I Want You Bad’ and ‘I Can’t Hide’. I should have known that I could trust The Groovies to pitch it just right. The band start to get into playing, feeding off an audience who clearly love these rarities like the hits they should have been. Cyril coaxes out those chiming Rickenbacker sounds, without the aid of a Rickenbacker. I guess by now it’s in his DNA. Lovely stuff.
Hell, even George Alexander gets to sing one. No, I can’t remember which one, but it doesn’t matter. He is a cool dude, wearing skater chic pants and yellow dayglo vest rather than the ‘Austin Powers On Dress-Down-Day’ threads of Chris and Cyril. He’s so hip, he clearly doesn’t care. Respect.
The band are more than ably assisted by Victor Penalosa on drums and ex-Procol Harum organmeister Matthew Fisher, which fleshes out the sound as the night progresses. Early song ‘First Plane Home’ gets a welcome airing (pun sadly intended) followed by Chuck’s ‘Don’t You Lie To Me’.
Chris is clearly having a ball, recounting their pre-gig restaurant fiasco with good humour. Cyril promises “We’ll be back here before the end of the year. Fuck knows how, but we will!”
‘Slow Death’, banned by Radio 1, “but John Peel played it anyway”, gets a great cheer, in part due to everyone’s love of Mr Peel. Then our time is almost up. Chris says “so, here is a song that needs no introduction…” Oh yes, it’s ‘Shake Some Action’, and the audience goes nuts. See, I told you; it’s a genuine classic. Everyone seems to be singing along.
Time slips by too quickly, but fret not, for there are THREE encores! Hog heaven; more Chuck and a vital sounding ‘Teenage Head’ closes the night. It’s almost balmy outside, the start of summer. I like to think The Flamin’ Groovies brought it with them. Thanks dudes, it was a blast.
All words by Martin Haslam. More work by Martin on Louder Than War can be found here.