The long overdue and exceedingly welcome return of the Long Ryders to the Fleece was preceded by a rather tasty support slot from Neil Bob Herd, solo for his first numbers and then accompanied by Gemma White on backing vox and violin. Herd opened with I Smoke (So You Don’t Have To) an entertaining list of vices that Herd indulges in to save the rest of us from their inevitable consequences. That song set the tone for the set – nimble jazz-tinged acoustic guitar, wry and amusing lyrics, all delivered in a pleasingly Scottish brogue: a refreshing change from all the transatlantic Brummies and redneck Geordies who feel the need to go all Yankee on us. Light a Single Candle was an upbeat side (Herd instructing us to imagine he was fronting Van Morrison’s band for the tune, as that’s how he always sees it); Farmers’ Hands a poignant family tale and Save Me from the Storm a powerful cut. White’s vocals fleshed out the choruses and often the verses too, and her violin playing complemented the jazzy picking – a pleasing blend that was neither yee-haw fiddle nor hey-nonny folk but an entrancing mix of both styles. Closing Time Genius clearly hit a spot with the crowd (the title says it all) and the coming of age tale 17 Pounds closed the set with a wash of nostalgia.
Early in the set Sid Griffin (guitar n vox) made two confessions: Firstly the band was supposed to walk out to Glenn Miller’s Lost Patrol but he forgot to set the music running as he was intimidated by the sight of a packed Fleece. Secondly he told the crowd that the Fleece gig on their previous reunion tour was the best gig of the tour, and that the highlight of the set was the crowd’s raucous vocals during Prairie Fire. He then admitted that the number wasn’t included in the set, resulting in much hilarity and, to be frank, some piss taking banter from the crowd. Fortunately the band have a wealth of good tunes, all the match of the missing tune and the majority of them led to plenty of crowd participation.
Whilst they may be a little older in the tooth and a little more static on stage – stately shape throwing from Stephen McCarthy (lead guitar n vox) and the odd Elvis shimmy and pelvis shake & knee drop from Griffin – the band have lost nothing in terms of musical ability and passion, and if anything they’re playing better than ever. Greg Sowders (drums) was resplendent in a Casey Jones hat and his choice of tifter was entirely appropriate as he drove the set like a freight train. Powerful, relentless and entirely free from any hint of showboating, his beats beautifully economic and the ideal foundation for the band’s rowdy rock n roll. Tom Stevens on bass was subdued, only taking one lead vocal (A Stitch in Time) but his bass was excellent throughout, like his rhythm partner a fat-free lean and muscular performance. A sterling performance given that he was under the weather and had made the stage on despite illness.
The set list was immaculately chosen, cuts from each of the three LPs, well-paced and giving plenty of opportunity for the band to show their chops; the songs had plenty of nods to their influences but no shameless rip offs or pastiches. Gunslinger Man hefty (and one couldn’t help but think of the idiot Trump for the duration of the tune); Ivory Tower – dedicated to Gene Clark – full of jangle and eliciting a huge audience singalong whilst Looking for Lewis and Clark was loud, leery and raucous and (Sweet) Mental Revenge hit that country sweet spot. Good Times Tomorrow, Hard Times Today found Griffin asking band and crowd whether or not he’d sung the second verse as the band just about managed to salvage the song as we all roared with laughter at Griffin’s honest admittance of memory loss. But it was that kind of night – band and crowd totally in sync and grooving on music that was both laden with nostalgia and yet totally contemporary (where would any of the alt-country / Americana bands be without the trail blazed by the Long Ryders and Jason & the Scorchers?).
As if there wasn’t enough joyful nostalgia in the room, the sight of a Coal Not Dole sticker on Griffin’s Rickenbacker 12-string brought back some bittersweet memories of the band’s early UK jaunts. Back then of course we were being “governed” by a Tory government hell bent on proving there was no such thing as society and demonstrating that point by destroying our manufacturing industries, privatising the NHS, cutting essential services and scapegoating all sorts of minorities and immigrants at the merest hint of complaint. My how things have changed.
The band gave us a breakneck ninety minute set in total, Griffin an amiable and amusing front man (“…we can’t afford roadies so all of this chat is to distract you from the fact that the band are tuning up while you look at me…”); fighting technical difficulties – his effects board went south early in the set but brute force and ignorance brought it back into play and the pleasure he & the band took in the show was palpable. Admitting his voice was shredded Griffin concluded the set and the band (with the exception of Stevens) hit the merch for a lengthy chat (or whisper in Griffin’s case) with the audience. With the band on this form it would be a crime if they were to miss an opportunity to get back in the studio, crank out some new material and claim some of the success they richly deserve.
All pix by John Morgan