I can’t remember the last time I’d been to see live music at London’s Scala – maybe never. Apparently it was the venue for the original Iggy & The Stooges one and only UK show in 1972. That turns out to be a pivotal year for tonight’s headliners, garage rock’n’roll legends The Flamin’ Groovies.
But first up, at an unfeasibly early hour, we have The Bermondsey Joyriders. Gary Lamin, Martin Steacy and Chris Musto are a trio with significant punk rock heritage – but there’s more than just the sound of ’77 to them. There’s a big old dab of Slade in their visual and a large helping of raw slide and blues in their sound. It’s a compelling, “in yer face” combination that only a few bands get right. They take the stage right on the dot at 8pm, and without wasting any time Mr Lamin hits the first of many rocking slide chords. The opening instrumental The Bermondsey Joyrider ends in a chirpy “Aw-right” from Gary and then they’re straight into a revved up 'All That Darkness'. There’s a hard core of the Joyriders’ faithful here tonight, but it must have been pleasing for the band to see that there’s also a whole bunch of new faces getting into their sound. Everything’s kept short and snappy. We’re reminded that Martin “Gentlemen James” Steacy is still living on the Old Kent Road (so he’s near as dammit a bona fide resident of Bermondsey) and then it’s straight into a rollicking versions of 'Again And Again'. That’s swiftly followed by their only slow country and western tune, 'Genuine', powered along by Mr Musto’s rolling drums (Happy Birthday Chris!). You can see the Joyriders are on a tight deadline but they’re having fun as they romp through the New York Dolls referencing 'Part Of My Problem'.
A short breather and then it’s time for one of only two selections from last year’s award winning album 'Noise and Revolution'. 'Proper English' is a neat Kinks / Small Faces stomp underpinned by a thumpy descending bass-line from the dapper Mr Steacy and his hand built Bo Diddly-esque “Revolution” bass. That’s followed by a furious “Who R Ya” by which time the gathering crowd are warming nicely to the band and playing along with the false ending. It’s a shame because they’ve only got one more tune 'Rock Star' left to enjoy. 27 minutes and 30 seconds later and the Joyriders are done. It’s fair to say we could all have had a fair bit more! - Set list: The Bermondsey Joyrider, All That Darkness, Again and Again, Genuine, Part of my Problem, Proper English, Who R Ya?, Rock Star.
Next up are The Flamin’ Groovies. Pop-historians will tell you that there were two classic line-ups of the band. The 50’s influenced Roy Loney fronted outfit and the 60’s / power pop version fronted by original guitarist Cyril Jordan and Roy’s replacement Chris Wilson. They’re joined by original bass man George Alexander, Procol Harlem’s Matt Fisher on keys and the baby of the band, Victor Penalosa on drums. Personally, the power pop tag never really sat right with me. Sure, there are plenty of 60’s influences from the early Beatles to the Byrds, but at the heart of both line ups (for me) was a cracking rock’n’roll band. Chuck Berry and the Stones were as important to the Groovies sound as anything else.
It’s been a while since they last played these shores (all of two days, after supporting Bruce Springsteen in the new Olympic Park at the weekend). Pleasingly, the house is full as the band kick off with 1973’s 'Let Me Rock' from the Groovies “in-between” period. Musically it is fine if a little wrinkly around the edges, but it’s clear that Chris Wilson’s struggling a wee bit with a bad throat. There’s the first of many hoarse Scouse / Scots interludes with a request for a shot of whiskey before Chris apologises for the ruff-ruff-ruff-ness of his vocals. Just in case his vocal chords weren’t hurting before, a raucous version of Freddy Cannon’s 'Tallahassee Lassie' from the classic 'Shake Some Action' album makes sure they’re hurting now. Next up is 'You Tore Me Down' – again from 'Shake Some Action', but written earlier in 1972 at the legendary Rockfield Studios whilst working with Dave Edmunds. Victor’s drums sound especially fine on this version, and Chris sticks manfully to the task even though he’s quite clearly struggling to hit the harmonies. A cover of The Byrds’ 'Feel A Whole Lot Better' is followed by a rocking 'Yes I Am' from 'Jumpin’ In The Night'. There’s a brief story about a “contretemps with the foreign local restaurateurs” and we’re off into a cover of NRBQs 'I Want You Bad'. I couldn’t place it for a while, but it turn out I’ve got versions by Dan Baird as well as The Long Ryders. We get more songs from their trio of classic mid-70s albums including a stirring 'I Can’t Hide', one of Cyril’s favourites 'First Plane Home', a bouncy 'Please Please Girl' and a great version of 'Don’t You Lie To Me'. George Alexander then steps up to take the lead vocal on 1972’s single 'Married Woman' – and a fine gritty vocal it is too. This all shows that they’ve got a damn fine repertoire of originals and covers, but the 1-2 set closing crunch of 1972’s (it’s that year again) 'Slow Death', and a sublime 'Shake Some Action' show that amongst all the good songs, they were also responsible for some absolute solid gold classics. 'Slow Death' is particularly rocking and 'Shake Some Action' has the whole house punching the air on the choruses.
After a short break to recover back stage, the band returns to take us through 'Yeah My Bab'y and a monster version of 'Teenage Head' (another classic tune). You can see Chris Wilson’s having fun as he introduces it with a boisterous “kick out the jams…. people….” There’s just time for a final encore of 'Roll Over Beethoven' and the crowd go home happy. Sure, it’s a little ragged in places, and Chris has a few problems with his voice, but it’s not bad for a bunch of chaps who all qualify for a free bus pass! Final words go to colleague and Bermondsey Joyrider fan, Mr David Williams. When asked what he thought, his reply was “They were surprisingly good!” High praise indeed!
Let Me Rock
You Tore Me Down
Feel A Whole Lot Better
Yes I Am
I Want You Bad
I Can’t Hide
First Plane Home
Please Please Girl, Don’t You Lie To Me
Between The Lines
Shake Some Action
Yeah My Baby
Roll Over Beethoven
Review by Zig Criscuolo
Photos by Svenja Block