Rock ‘n’ roll, someone once said, is a young man’s game. Absolute rubbish, of course. But it’s led to all kinds of nonsense down the years, such as the predictable “Strolling Bones” quips that tabloid newspapers wheel out every time the Stones – still one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands out there – hit the road (if anything should be pensioned off, it’s jokes that were rubbish the first time around). It’s probably also responsible for the self-deprecating humour of the Ian Hunters and Dan Bairds of this world.
As it happens, Mr Hunter is playing the Astoria next door tonight. No doubt he’s got a house full – he usually has. There’s a sizeable crowd for Dan here in the Mean Fiddler, too. What does this tell us about rock ‘n’ roll in the 21st century? Possibly that there’s room for everyone, young, old and every age inbetween; that’s it’s not just the youth who want to let their hair down and feel the power of The Riff; that this kind of music is just as relevant, exciting and inspired as it was all those years ago when Mr Chuck Berry first strapped on a guitar and duck-walked his way to Memphis, Tennessee.
This might seem obvious but it’s always worth saying – particularly in times like these, when unless you’re on MTV every 20 minutes, or lauded by the hipsters of the music press, your worth as a musician seems to be measured in peanuts.
I’m not sure whether it was by accident or design, but the quote at the top of this review is spoken by Dan at the Mean Fiddler just before his new band kick into a steamin’ version of Younger Face, in my opinion one of the best rock ‘n’ roll songs of the last 25 years. It never fails to give me a good hard punch in the gut, and tonight’s performance is no exception. More proof of the obvious? You bet. The younger face can only come to take your place if you let them, though, either by throwing in the towel or by turning into a cabaret act. And Dan Baird is as true to the rock ‘n’ roll cause now as he’s ever been – in fact, he seems so into his own music that I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw him watching one of his own gigs. I can’t ever see this changing, either. And God bless him for that. And anyway, Dan, man, you’re really not that old!
Okay, that’s the lecture over with. You wanna know what songs were played and all that kind of stuff, yeah? Well, then, let’s rev her up and take her for a spin.
My first port of call on this tour, on 6 June, is Changes One, a cool, not to mention legendary, independent record store in South Shields, where Dan and Darrell drop by to play a few tunes and sign some goodies, including copies of the new live album.
Recorded in Switzerland on last summer’s euro-tour, Redneck Savant is the record that DB fans have been dreaming about for quite some time. Not only does it perfectly capture the flavour of the 2000 gigs (which saw Dan hooking up with the Sofa Kings); it also features some great covers (Sin City, Daydream Believer, The Twist, Dancing Queen), superb sleeve artwork (by Rob Fletcher, the guy responsible for the Sats’ Let It Rock art), sleeve notes from Jerkin’ Crocus’s Mick Brown and Sofa King Ken McMahan, and loads of pics from the tour (you can even see me in the shot from the LA2 – wahey!). Basically, it’s a lesson in how to put together the perfect live record.
The in-store set in the afternoon is about 30 minutes long. Dan and Darrell both play electric guitars, but there’s no bass or percussion, and there’s definitely no set list. They kick off with Younger Face, before running through Who Were You Thinking Of? (an old, old song – I know it from a version that Darrell’s old band, The Crybabys, released as a single in 1992), Long Black Veil, Something I Can’t Give Away (from Darrell’s Sabre Jet LP) and Sheila. And then someone from the back shouts for Battleship Chains, and store owner Ian drags Ginger from The Wildhearts up on stage. Ginger sings a rather rude version of it (“to fuck nobody but you” – ooh, matron!), with all three singers, and most of the audience, taking on the chorus. They finish up with the Everlys’ Bye Bye Love – Dan requests a CD from the racks, claiming to have forgotten the name of it – and then it’s time to do a bit more chatting and signing. Now, that’s what I call an afternoon off work.
And so to Trillians, the venue for the gig proper. The sign outside says “Rock Bar”, but there’s not much rockin’ going on inside before Dan and the boys take to the stage. There’s no support tonight. Instead, we’re ‘treated’ to an international football match (I’ve no interest in football). It plays for two hours on a large screen. The sound is deafening. I sit in the corner with my friends and watch the clock. At about 9.20 pm, the band walk out, obviously expecting to start playing. They survey the scene – 200 cheering footy fans – and decide to wait until the match is over. The main set is cut by one song (Who Were You Thinking Of?), and there’s no encore. No sports fixture is worth this, surely?
The band that Dan’s playing with on this tour appear to be the same one that I saw Darrell playing with as Sabre Jet at the Camden Underworld the week before (I’m not sure about the drummer, Mick, though – curse my greying memory). To fly over to the UK, hook up with a band and put together a 90-minute set in just a couple of days is an amazing feat. To do it and sound like you’ve been rehearsing for weeks is something else altogether, but that’s exactly what happens. When your jaw hits the floor during the first song, you know you’re in for a good night.
There are some welcome additions to the set list – songs I don’t recall from the last tour, such as Nights Of Mystery and Mon Cheri, plus a clutch of Darrell’s songs – Just Be True, Getting By, Same Old Brand New and Never Trust A Blonde – which he takes the lead vocal on (Dan: “‘Cos I’m old and he’s good!”). Darrell’s vocals seem a little low in the mix, but his guitar playing is as passionate as ever, and he brings some neat Stonesy touches to Dan’s songs. Younger Face, in particular, seems less Neil Young and more Keith Richards this time round.
Oh, and in the “hey, let’s give this thing a go!” tradition of Dancing Queen and Daydream Believer, they play a great version of Prince’s I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man. Aw, that riff! It’s interesting to note that Dan Takes 5 still follows All Over But The Cryin’. These songs really do belong together. They’re different sides of the same coin, and it’s one we’ve all spent at one time or another.
The London show, two days later on 8 June, is a little longer. There’s time for a full encore, so we get Who Were You Thinking Of?, Bye Bye Love, a fantastic version of the Stones’ Lets Spend The Night Together, and a rollickin’ Shake, Rattle And Roll. Darrell’s vocals are perfectly placed in the mix, too. It’s a close call, but this, coupled with the extra songs and the fact that the band don’t have to give way to a football match, just about tips the scales and makes this show the ultimate winner. Unless, of course, they manage to better it next time…
I’ll leave you to make up your own ending – something about Another Chance, perhaps? Normal service will be resumed just as soon as I’ve wiped all this damned drool off of my chin.