Given who tonight’s headliners were, I expected Fibbers to be a bit fuller when I arrived. Despite realising halfway to the venue that I had left my ticket at home, the later starts for mid-week gigs (again, no clue on the ticket) meant that I still had time to take in a quick pint and there were plenty of people with the same idea wearing t-shirts related to the main band. Sadly, they seemed to have been more interested in beer than the support act.
It seems that Hobo Joe And The Dead Cats is the go-to band when support is needed for a Blues-based headline act these days and they generally go down well with the crowd. Tonight, though, at least to start with it seemed as though the crowd were going to need a bit of encouragement. Rich Tull’s first, “Evening Fibbers,” got a muted response, so he followed it up with a louder, “I said ‘evening Fibbers’. We’re going to warm you up a bit. I hope you don’t mind…” before opening with Cream’s Sunshine Of Your Love. I had been pre-warned that new drummer, Chris Chidlow, gives the band a more funky sound and it was especially obvious from both him and Ben Darwin on bass during an instrumental section that also included some nice guitar work from Tull. The funkiness continued into Who Do You Love, which saw Paul Winn taking on the dual role of vocals and “Blues harp”, then Tull’s guitar intro signalled, appropriately enough, a more Bluesy number which turned out to be a deliciously slow and dirty interpretation of Hendrix’s Red House, with Tull back on vocals and Winn seeming to change “harp” almost every second note, his cheeks puffing and head shaking before he finally gave way to a scorching guitar section, Tull’s near-pained look reflecting its intensity. This one always seems to be a crowd-pleaser and tonight was no exception as I heard one punter behind me exclaim, “Brilliant!” The Cats are branching out from just cover versions and it is, perhaps, a mark of how well-written their own Keep On Keepin’ On is that I simply thought it was a cover that I wasn’t familiar with and noted down a few lyrics to research later. Then it was back to covers and there was something about the atmospheric opening to Bill Wither’s Ain’t No Sunshine that I didn’t like. I don’t think I can explain why, especially given that their version got increasing louder, more powerful and, in my opinion, better. By this time, a few more people had arrived and the bar area was filling up but, except for a few people standing around the edges, the floor in front of the stage was still empty – the curse of the support group. “We’ve got one more song,” announced Tull before (inadvertently, I’m sure) sniffing down the microphone in a manner more suited to a punk band that a Blues one. I can’t remember what that final song was but I do remember that, the crowd now well and truly warmed up, gave The Cats a healthy round of applause as they left the stage after another short but very entertaining set which not only showcased their new funkiness but a much more subdued Tull. I don’t think I saw him jump once…
My most overriding memory of Dr Feelgood is one of my aunties getting exasperated with me when, for the umpteenth time while completing a Smash Hits crossword, I had to be reminded that they sang Milk And Alcohol. That would have been back around 1980 and was probably my last exposure to the band before tonight (excluding seeing Wilko Johnson earlier this year). I’ve thought about seeing them when they have played Fibbers before but have never got around to it. Tonight’s gig came the day after the death of John “Gypie” Mayo, guitarist with the band between 1977 and 1981 and, current frontman Robert Kane announced at the beginning of the set that the evening was dedicated to him, something that went down well with the now much larger crowd. The sombre moment over with, the band started with Take A Tip and the first obvious impression was how much of an energetic and expressive frontman Kane was. The speed increased for Best In The World and the audience was already dancing along. This was followed by I Can Tell, with the audience now shouting out the chorus. There was a slickness to the performance and some especially nice guitar work from Steve Walwyn. Kevin Wallis’ familiar fast and furious drum intro led into the second performance of the night of Who Do You Love. Four songs in and bass-player Phil Mitchell still looked calm and collected, slightly brooding, and was the only band member yet to break a sweat. “This one was written by Nick Lowe and Gypie,” announced Kane. “It’s called.. well, you know what it’s called.” Even a Feelgood-novice like me did as the opening to Milk And Alcohol was greeted warmly by the crowd. All Through The City, about Canvey Island, the band’s spiritual home was followed by Walwyn switching to slide guitar and vocals, to shouts of “Steve-o” from the audience, for a song I neither recognised nor heard introduced. Mitchell was still putting on an air of disinterest before raising and eyebrow and flashing a somewhat cheeky smile at the audience. The longest song so far, thanks to brilliant instrumental sections, led straight into Back In The Night, Kane holding the mic stand out over the audience for them to join in the audience. Most seemed only too happy to oblige, including one big bloke next to me who seemed to think that leaning forward to get a foot closer to the mic meant that he would be heard more clearly, despite being a good twenty feet away from the stage.
Milk And Alcohol may be the only Dr Feelgood I thought I knew, but Roxette was at least familiar from hearing Wilko Johnson play it during his set. There was a second visit to Canvey Island with Down By The Jetty, a slower Blues track with its lovely extended instrumental section leading into a full Blues guitar solo whose delicate section was spoiled by a talker next to me before its much more raucous section drowned him out. By the end of it, patches of Walwyn’s shirt had turned noticeably darker. Two songs about a woman, She’s A Wind Up and She Does It Right, were followed by Punch Drunk, a song whose first verse is about being left by a woman. Then Down To The Doctor and the more rock ‘n’ roll sound of Gimme One More Shot drew the set to a close with the band leaving the stage to a chant of “Feelgood” from the audience.
Soon back on, Kane joked that they were making it up from that point before proving that I knew another of their songs without realising it as the band played Riot In Cell Block No. 9 and ended the set with another more rock ‘n’ roll number in Bonie Moronie. The current line-up may contain no original members but two of the four, Morris and Mitchell, have formed the backbone of what could be seen as the second incarnation of the band since 1983, with Walwyn joining in 1989 and Kane ten years later. It was obvious tonight that there was still a lot of love and admiration for the band and there music. Certain sections of the crowd barely stopped dancing all night and there was little reluctance to song along. For me, I had gone to the gig with the feeling that I was simply going to “tick off” a band from the list of one I should see. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the music quite as much as I did and, while I initially saw this as probably a one-off experience, I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself seeing the band again next time they play York.
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Review of The Dead Cats support slot with Dr Feelgood.
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