Barely three months ago I might have been heard to elucidate that whilst there was still good music to be heard, entertaining bands to see, what I was missing were the truly great frontmen, those which strode the stages of the 60s and 70s, with awe inspiring presence to accompany their powerful vocal prowess.
The era I’m evoking included the likes of Jim Morrison, Robert Plant, Paul Rodgers, Ian Gillan, Steve Marriot, Phil Lynott, an era from which at the tail end perhaps Brian Johnson, Bono, and Ian Astbury keep an ever diminishing flame alive, and they are not going to be getting any younger, or better.
But that was three months ago….
In March of this year I was sufficiently intrigued by the promotional blurb to click on a Noisetrade link to some free music, which I had gratefully done many times before and unearthed some very fine music and artists to follow, mostly in the Americana genre, but this one, for a new band called Vintage Trouble, was different, this one made these old ears prick up with a tingle down the spine.
A few more clicks into YouTube and there was no turning back, I was devouring every video I could find, and there was more than I imagined for a band I had not heard of before; frustratingly for me they had been to UK in 2011, they had even appeared on Jools Holland’s Later, and I had missed them completely.
Now, though, I’m evangelising the Vintage Trouble cause like Billy Graham and recruiting disciples as if Reverend Moon.
Here was something almost unique, for want of a better description, here was a white rock ‘n roll band, with a black soul singer, here was The Stones fronted by Otis Redding, or at least something close in spirit, more importantly, here was Ty Taylor, a bona fide frontman of the kind so rarely seen these days, and it’s no longer a case of still haven’t found what I’m looking for…
…and then I noticed the upcoming UK tour dates.
23 June, Newbury, that’s the closest they come to me and it’s a 2.5 hour drive, and yet my evangelising had now managed to accrue a possie of eleven souls making the pilgrimage to see this self proclaimed new protocol of soul.
Arlington Arts Centre is certainly a different venue to the usual inner city grime associated with a rock ‘n roll show, we really are in ‘Middle England’, and the approach to the venue makes you wonder if you’ve got it wrong, it resembles a posh high school or private hospital grounds, but the parked tour bus and people enjoying the barbecue laid on for the occasion reassure that we may be in the right place after all.
It’s a peculiar scene, there’s a civilised middle class looking queue for the village hall style bar, there’s a midsummer theme and someone is creating laurel leaf garlands which many of the ladies are adopting to adorn their freshly coiffured barnets, and then there is a wicker man, for the wicked wicker man must be ceremoniously burned before the show. We are now in surreal territory, I’m here for a rock n’ roll show but everyone looks dressed for the opera whilst eating burgers, and there’s a rather sinister pagan ceremony taking place. Show this in B&W slow mo and it’s a weird art-house film scene.
A quick recce of the venue puts my mind at rest though, the stage is already set, there is a large standing area with raised seating behind, I’m told it holds 350 and it’s sold out, so it feels good, and as show time approaches, we are near the stage and you can sense the crackle of anticipation, then it’s lights down, voices raised, there’s Big Moma Thornton’s Hound Dog coming through the PA, and it feels like a rock ‘n roll show at last.
You can feel the presence of the band as they take the stage in near darkness, and it’s shiver down the spine time as they take up a slow rolling bluesy intro lifted from Blues Hand Me Down. ‘Papa was a blues man’, we believe you, we’re with you, and then boom, lights up and they launch into Total Strangers, a driving Stonesy piece of riff ‘n roll and there’s no turning back, we’re all in this together.
The band is oh so tight, all sartorial elegance, and smiles, they are enjoying this as much as we are.
Ty Taylor is a whirling dervish, feeding off the audience, call and response after call and response, soon the sweat is penetrating even the sharp cut suits of the band.
But this is not the Ty Taylor Band, it says a lot about the other members that they stand there as equals. Rick Bario Dill, a bouncy slenderman, is not the kind of bass player to stand in the shadows, he pumps out the groove and makes sure we know he is there. Richard Danielson keeps the most solid back beat you are ever likely to hear, he knows his job, and then some as he adds flourishes, standing, jumping, and occasionally sitting, ever visible in perpetual motion.
In Nalle Colt, they have the iceman axeman, a Sergio Leone character with a sunburst Gibson as his weapon, he could be hewn from a 70s legendary band. He plays as if the whammy bars and shredders of the 80s and 90s had never happened; this is the school of less is more, all about tone and feel, and that’s my kind of guitar player. Since the passing of Paul Kossoff in 1976 very few, if any, have been able to hit the emotional spot in me with a single sustained note quite like Nalle Colt.
So, it’s not just about the frontman, Vintage Trouble is the real deal, these are guys who have plenty of experience, who’ve been around their L.A. block a while, but who look as if they know they finally struck gold and that their time is now or never.
They are also elegant, handsome, and charismatic, in their prime, a man band, so now I know why this feels like a MILFs night out on the town!
So much so that one or two have clearly been on the juice well before the show. Now whilst I know the devotees of the band are known as Troublemakers, I’ve been in some lunatic, hairy, drunken mosh pits in my time, and this was not one of them, in fact the band describes their’s as a soul pit, so I was taken aback when Taylor twice called out someone near the front, and threatened to halt the show. I was nearby and couldn’t see what the fuss was about, but he had seen something unsavoury and wasn’t about to stand for it. Eventually he called for security and two offending lady troublemakers were escorted away. Well a cat fight wasn’t in the script, more surreality.
As a counterweight, a nice couple allowed my 12 year old son to stand in front of them at the rail. He is an aspiring singer/guitar player so the chance to witness and learn at the feet of the Gods at such a young age can only be inspirational.
The band powers through just about the entire debut album, The Bomb Shelter Sessions, and more. It’s hard to nominate stand out songs it’s all equally outstanding, yet my only disappointment is that they missed out their epic Run Outta You, where Colt rips through a blistering two minutes solo, but it wasn’t to be so hopefully I’ll see that another time around.
In Nancy Lee, Taylor pays homage to his parents, especially recently passed away Mom, and in Blues Hand Me Down celebrates the blue collar, man’s man that was his father.
Along with the opening Total Strangers, Jezebella is a rousing, sexed up tune that puts the Trouble into the Vintage, and in which the rhythm section is given space to strut their stuff centre stage.
Strike A Light, and Pelvis Pusher, cuts presumably from the apparently already in the can second album, are consummate audience participation numbers.
In Nobody Told Me, with its laid back seriousness, they remind of my ultimate music heroes Free at their very best, I was just too young to see Free so this is as good as it gets.
For Run Like The River, another tune not on the debut album but already a live standard, Colt swaps his trusty Gibson for a Gretsch Coutryman and blasts away some gritty slide showing his versatility and feel for the blues.
During the middle section of this number Taylor jumps into the standing section and whilst still singing, and with the band playing back on stage, he makes his way through to the rear and jumps up on to the seating area, where as sheer luck would have it he duets the chorus with my own 9 year old son who is on that front row with his Mom, it is a memory which will linger forever in my mind, and which no doubt will remain with the lad forever.
In between songs Taylor has great patter and at one point asks if we had seen the burning of the wicker man before the show, he then has us in stitches as he says ‘to be honest I was scared, I didn’t know if I should run’, which whilst hilarious as a one liner, also poignantly reminds what is so unique about this collaboration, the roots of the music, and how far we have come, but yes, that was funny Mr Taylor!
There are a couple of covers included, Ike & Tina’s Baby, Get It On, and an encore of A Little Help From My Friends, which is played in the style of the Joe Cocker version (mercifully!), which has Taylor blinking away tears as well as sweat, and which left me momentarily speechless and breathing hard, not only at this rendition but from the entire show which preceded it.
After the show the band, still sweat soaked, are patiently meeting and greeting everyone and posing for pictures, and it was good to be able to shake a hand or two and simply be able to say thank you, and I drift dreamily away into the Middle England drizzle knowing that after 30 odd years I have found what I was looking for.