Darrell of fun: Darrell Bath live at the 12 Bar Club, London, 12 August 2001
Well, he did it again. Darrell Bath’s ability to pop up in my favourite places never fails to amaze. Ian Hunter, Dan Baird, Dogs D’Amour, Quireboys - he’s cranked it out with 'em all down the years, each new collaboration adding weight both to my enjoyment of these artists, and to my theory that Mr Bath is sneaking round my flat when I’m tucked up in bed, rifling through my fave records, and systematically hooking up with the people who made 'em. Either that or he just has impeccable taste in music.
Get this: a few days ago, I was standing downstairs in the Mean Fiddler watching Big Star (a great gig, by the way), when, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a guy wearing a groovy cap, looking, from that angle at least, like a young John Lennon. My interest piqued, I turned round and had a proper gawp. And, yep, you’ve guessed it, it was Darrell, can of Red Stripe in one hand, cigarette in the other. More proof that the guy knows a good band when he hears one. Oh, and he dances just like he plays guitar (a good thing, obviously).
Tonight, Darrell’s headlining the tiny 12 Bar Club just off London’s Denmark Street. I’m amazed at the size of the place. I’d heard it was small, but I had no idea that the dancefloor was only marginally bigger than the living room in my flat (and I live in a small flat). I inspect the walls, half expecting to see the splattered remains of moggies - after all, swinging one in this place must have caused a good few problems down the years - but the only cats I see tonight are of the hip, rock ‘n’ roll variety.
The stage is high, but not really designed to house a full band set-up. With a drum kit squeezed into the far corner, there’s really only room for another two people up there. And if they stand up, their heads are almost level with the balcony. Yes, you heard that right - there’s an upper level. It provides a great view of the top of the band’s heads (toupé’d troubadours beware - you can run but you can’t hide).
Thankfully, Darrell and the boys decide to play the gig sitting down, which means that the view from downstairs is as perfect as a cold bottle of Newky Brown on a warm day. It also gives the gig a relaxed air, as if the band are playing at a private party for friends. Cigarettes are ponced, drinks are bought, and one couple who have to leave early even get their own goodbye from Darrell: “Are you off? God bless. Safe journey home.”
Billed as himself, rather than Sabre Jet - a move that makes perfect sense as it pulls in more punters (a quick head count reveals 30-odd) - Darrell whips up a six-string storm for the best part of an hour, ditching his usual guitar in favour of a smart-looking Hofner, and throwing himself into his instrument with as much gusto as ever, despite the handicap of having his bum glued to a chair.
Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of three-piece bands - live, I’ve seen too many come unstuck. For starters, you need a very good sound mix, otherwise it can be Bass City. I’ve also seen guitarists overcompensate for the lack of back-up by filling every inch of dead air with choppy riffing, resulting in a mush of sound with zero dynamic. Unsurprisingly, there’s no such trouble with Darrell. He’s a natural at this game, and his from-the-hip style suits the format perfectly. Like an old bluesman, he treats his instrument like an extension of himself. It’s a sound that’s alive - somehow angular and smooth at the same time.
It’s no great secret that I think that Darrell is one of the finest players around today. I don’t know how good he is technically as I’m not a muso - the only thing I know about pull-offs is that they’re ripe for making rude jokes about. But I do know soul when I hear it, and the guy has it in buckets. He’s one of the only guitarists that I’d go and see whatever band he was with, just for the kick of hearing him play.
Darrell’s joined tonight by drummer Ice and regular Sabre Jet bassman Paul Francis, who provide solid support, even winging it when Darrell decides to have a go at Take Out Some Insurance - well, you’ve gotta play a blues in the 12 Bar, haven’t you?
Eleven of the 12 tracks from the current album are aired (only All Your Lovin’ is missing), with instrumental E2G leading the charge, and a neat one-two punch of No Justice and Rats providing plenty of bottom-kicking thrills before some of the record’s more reflective songs - Pawn Shop and Something I Can’t Give Away - are bought on for a bow.
Surprises? As well as the aforementioned Take Out Some Insurance (a cool version of which you can hear on the cassette-only album of the same name that Darrell recorded with Spike about six years ago), there’s a fab romp through the Crybabys’ Baby Mystery, a sweet version of Ramona - the first time I’ve heard this played live - and a parting shot of Vaya Con Dios, which Darrell helpfully translates as “God be with you”.
Cheers, mate, I could do with His help. I’ve missed the last tube home.
• Some more of my photos from this gig can be seen in the booklet for the 2010 expanded reissue of Darrell’s Love And Hurt album.