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).
“I get the feeling that most of ya here have seen the Big Three-O. If you haven’t, what the fuck are you doing watching some old man on a Friday night?”
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.
When I have a spare year or two (cough), I’m going to write the secret history of 1990s rock ‘n’ roll, giving credit to those musicians who, despite playing in some cracking bands, have never got their critical dues. Darrell Bath’s going to have his own chapter. Over the past 10 years, this guy has been a part of so many of my favourite records and bands, turning up in places that have both delighted and surprised me, that I stopped worrying about him disappearing into the ‘where’s he gone?’ file a long time ago.
While I was waiting for a new Crybabys record, he turned up in the Dogs D’Amour, injecting fresh energy into the band’s performance and helping them get back on track after the burnout of the Straight tour (from which Tyla still bears the physical scars). When the Dogs split, he bounced back by joining Ian Hunter’s band, lending his distinctive style to two superb albums, and slowly but surely becoming Keef to the ex-Mott man’s Mick. And then there was the unannounced, but very welcome, return of the Crybabys.
Tommy Hale surveys the situation from the bar: “I think this is amateur band night or somethin’.”
It certainly looks like it. The band currently doing their thing on stage are somewhat less than inspiring. The crowd seem more suited to a karaoke night in a wine bar. Rock ‘n’ Roll Central this is not.
“The King’s Head was the same kind of thing,” says the Swank Deluxe frontman, leaning in towards me to make himself heard above the sub-Jamiroquai funk-lite lounge muzak. A few days before tonight’s second-on-the-bill Mean Fiddler bash, Tommy led his troops through a 40-minute set at the King’s Head in Fulham, where they found themselves sandwiched uneasily between two bands who, by the sound of things, probably think that Chuck Berry is a renowned US undertaker and Keith Richards used to front a popular ’60s group called The Shadows.