Nazareth – The Duchess, 17/03/12

OK, in hindsight, twenty quid may have been just slightly beyond justification for tonight’s gig. Originally, I would have had no problem paying it as the support band being advertised was Deborah Bonham, sister of the late, great John. I had bought her debut album (on vinyl…) back in 1985 and was looking forward to the opportunity of seeing her live. However, almost immediately, the support band was changed to Juall (who I’ve never heard of) and then, nearer the date to…

The Bowden And Williamson Band, named after Mike and John respectively, with Brian Marston (bass) and Big Vern (drums) completing the line-up. Introducing Four Penny Rope, the third song of their set, Mike said they were going to slow it down some, do something a bit more “bluesy”, which was kind of strange as, the first thing I noted down for this review was that very word. Admittedly, the un-introduced first song and Jump Up On The Line were more blues-rock than out and out blues, but there was no denying the influence. Vocals were shared between the two main men, while John also sent forth some rather impressive guitar solos which brought to mind early Dire Straits. There was an air of the tongue-in-cheek through a portion of the set, with The AM/PM Blues (there’s that word again) highlighting how Williamson isn’t exactly a morning person and the wonderfully titled Jesus Walks On Water But I Crawl On The Wine being an example of a new musical genre – that of “Perverted Gospel”. The too-short set was rounded off with the superb Rock And Roll Dream, featuring a near- rap, spoken mid-section and the equally excellent Outlaw Romance during which Williamson showed just how easy guitar playing can be made to look.

Nazareth are another band whose name I remember from when I first got into music back in school, but whose music seems somehow to have bypassed me completely. If you’d asked me before tonight’s gig, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to name one track by them. In fact, I only recognised one track that they played and even then I would have got its name wrong – Hair Of The Dog is the title track of their 1975 album, but I thought it was called Now You’re Messing With (A Son Of A Bitch), due to the repeated lyrics, which tonight’s large audience sang along to with gusto.

As with most groups with such longevity, you aren’t seeing the original line-up any more. In the case of Nazareth founders and constant members Dan McCafferty (vocals) and Pete Agnew (bass) are joined by Lee Agnew (Pete’s son) on drums and the mean and moody (and, to be frank, quiet scary looking) Jimmy Murrison on guitar. With the latter two being members since 1999 and 1994 respectively, Nazareth are one of the most stable long-time bands around.

Unfortunately, for me at least, tonight’s performance wasn’t quite as good as those of two other similar bands (Uriah Heep and Tygers of Pan Tang) that I have seen in York recently. It might be that Uriah Heep come out on top because their use of keyboards gives them a slightly more proggy sound, in which case it would have been interesting to hear one of the keyboard-enhanced Nazareth eras (1980 – 82 or 1995 – 2002) to compare the two. That doesn’t really explain why I enjoyed Tygers more, though. Just to be clear, there was nothing actually wrong with tonight’s performance (not that I could put my finger on, anyway) except that it seemed to lack something. I still enjoyed it overall, though, as did the rest of the crowd and, it seemed, the band themselves.

McCafferty’s vocals were heavily reverbed in places (which may have hidden a multitude of sins) but had a power that belied his age. Strangely, though, despite being reasonably close to the front, I struggled to hear his between songs banter with the audience, which in turn led to the impression that his vocals were getting electronic aid. There were times towards the end of the evening when he looked tired between songs or during instrumental sections, but that look melted away when he returned to the microphone. Agnew (senior) played with a more or less constant grin, until somebody pointed a camera his way – then he just pulled faces – while Murrison’s guitar solos impressed, especially his work with the twelve-string, and Agnew junior’s drums laid a solid foundation for the songs. I’m guessing that the seventeen song, nearly two hour, set spanned a large portion of the band’s back catalogue, but there were a few songs from the latest album – Big Dogz – of which the atmospheric When Jesus Comes To Save The World Again was my favourite.

Favourite song, that is. My favourite part of the set came when McCafferty looked as though he was about to play the bagpipes during Hair Of The Dog. In fact, the pipes turned out to be a talk box (and, therefore, perhaps more pleasing to the ear than actual bagpipes…)

Overall, as I say, enjoyable if not quite up there with some others. I would see them again, but perhaps not for twenty quid.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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