Lichield Garrick Theatre
Quietly re-forming in 2011, it may come as a surprise this venerable warhorse of a band is still in existence. Arising out of the mighty ‘Rise Up Like the Sun’ incarnation of the Albion Band, notable mainly for having a full brass section, their peak period was near 40 years ago, a full on fusion between a pit band, folk rock and broadsheet ballads, often penned by then front man, John Tams. Tams retired in 2015 and was replaced by John Kirkpatrick, a masterful choice, given many of the band had been in his own eponymous group at one time. This year they decided to do a series of gigs entitled the Grand Reunion, with Tams back in the fold. This was the second of such, prompted by Tams being patron of Lichfield Festival of Folk, and served as the opening concert of a series of events in the city.
Bang on 7.30(!!), down came the lights and the band strolled on. Now decidedly mature in years, they looked more a collection of elderly teachers on a night out, even down to the once trendy teacher defiantly maintaining his 1970s haircut, this being Graeme Taylor, last seen a year ago in the return of even more ancient group, Gryphon. No Tams yet, the eight-piece launched into a complex instrumental, strident trumpet, trombone and two saxes, buoyed along by swirling accordion of Kirkpatrick and the wailing guitar of Taylor, steadied by bass and drums, the latter provided by the redoubtable Michael Gregory. As it finished, so appeared the Tam, resplendent in the full Wyatt Earp, frock coat, waistcoat and tie, as dapper as ever, if a little frailer. Alright, Jack prove the ideal ice-breaker, the title track from their second record, his voice a little faltering, the brass resplendent. And so it went for this first short half, Tams dipping in and out as Kirkpatrick took over a vocal or two, and further instrumentals were played. A slightly ‘new direction’ is having the brass less as a textural backdrop, more as a frontline, with more individual soloing, and more complex juxtapositions around more complex songs: a version of Arthur McBride being one such, Kirkpatrick gleefully recounting it as originally a song from Suffolk. I confess to enjoying these less than the more pastoral mood within the Tams led songs, his voice now strengthened to full power, especially on a particularly poignant Scarecrow.
A short break and they were back. Apart from a brief interlude with just Tams and Kirkpatrick reprising a song from their shared time in long forgotten Umps and Dumps, replete with audience participation, mainly all nine now remained on stage. Gradually the rock in folk-rock came to the fore, Taylor soloing earnestly with abandon, the two front men grinning away. A memorable Lewk Up, Lewk Up, Kirkpatrick singing the usual Tams vocal, Tams content to provide a spoken speech from the stage play of the Mysteries, in broad derbyshire. There were a lot of anecdotes around the various plays the band had contributed to, being at one time almost the house band for the National Theatre. All too quickly they were closing up the show, it barely gone nine, the audience thankfully old enough to remember the routine, clamouring for encore, this coming in the form of Snow Falls, the beautiful song from Lark Rise to Candleford that reprised in the Mysteries. A wave from Tams, exiting, and the band finaled with an epic Battle of the Somme. Brief applause; I felt they could have come back again but the audience too polite, and it was homeward fifteen minutes shy of ten.
Old and polite, in their going out finery for the theatre. I felt their sterility affected the stage performance. Lichfield usually use the Cathedral for showpiece gigs like this, and I have to say, it has better atmosphere and better beer.
It made me think..
They are playing a festival or two next summer; that’s be a better place to catch them, I’m sure. I never caught them in their prime and I would have loved to. Time has hewn away at the original line-up, with the loss of Bill Caddick getting a mention as they played his song, Old Man, as well as, however good the brass players are, and they are, the signature military band trumpet style of Howard Evans was sorely missed.