Ian McLagan–The Duchess, 12/07/14

A tad over the bare minimum line-up for a Boss Caine gig opened proceedings tonight. The duo of Daniel Lucas and Jennifer Chubb provide an odd juxtaposition on stage, both visually and musically – his rumpled, lived-in look versus her everyday elegance, his whisky and tobacco vocals counterpointed by her honeyed tones. But, as with any line-up beyond the solo, the addition adds an extra layer to the music. At times a bass-line was added by Jennifer plucking the cello strings while, at others, an extra degree of sombreness was added by her bow and the lighter songs seemed to be livened up even more with the addition of her backing vocals. For the most part, this was a familiar set – the standard opener of Ghosts And Drunks was followed by Smoking In My Back Yard and then Man Overboard, introduced as a song “about running out of excuses” and now making more sense to me. A Kind Of Loving, arguably Boss Caine’s happiest song, apparently needs no extra layers and was performed as a solo. These days it almost feels as though Dan is trying to catch me out and, for the second gig in a row, he included a song I didn’t know, meaning not only can I not sing (well, mime) along but I have to make an effort to listen to something unfamiliar. Unfortunately, while chatting to Mr Lucas after the gig, I forgot to ask the title of this “very new” song that the pair were “trying out, to see how it goes” but what might have been called Set Your Heart Free seemed to be about being alone and missing, or perhaps trying to get back, a loved one. It seemed to go well and could well end up being another great addition to an ever-expanding oeuvre. It was back to singing along as Truckstop Jukebox benefitted more from Ms Chubb’s backing vocals than mine before the set was drawn to a close with “a song about my ridiculous life”. Leaving Victoria, which is, as the quote suggests, an autobiographical song that manages to convey both despair and joy, is another of my favourites and a great song to end on.

Neither The Small Faces nor The Faces ever registered on my musical radar. I was too young to know about them first time round and, as far as I can remember, they were never de rigueur when my peers started getting into music in secondary school. That doesn’t prevent me from knowing a little about the bands’ places in musical history, though and the chance to see Ian McLagan, keyboard player for both versions, meant that I could both add another legend to my must-see list and tick him off at more or less the same time. Worryingly for me, the growing audience seemed to feature a fair degree of Mod stylings – haircuts, clothes or just symbols. I’ve never really got into Mod culture and wondered what I had let myself in for tonight.

It turns out that I needn’t have worried. The Small Faces might have been an acknowledged part of Mod culture but Ian McLagan’s performance tonight, while probably rooted in the band’s output, didn’t convey it (to my ears anyway…)

Introduced onto the stage by bass-player Jon Notarthomas, who then disappeared, McLagan arrived showing no sign of his sixty-nine years. “Good to see you,” he enthused before starting Hello Old Friend, a song written for fellow band member Ronnie Lane. “He never recorded it, but he liked it,” he laughed. The good humour continued when, halfway through, he lost his way, explaining that he can’t play with his shirt sleeves down. “Blame your tailor,” came a quip from the audience, setting the tone for much of the gig. A second attempt at the song also failed (“F*ck that song”) and a call for Jon to come on stage for the next one drew no response, so McLagan played Little Girl (this one written with the other Ronnie) and seemed genuinely pleased to get through it. With Notarthomas now in position we were treated to Sha La La, a song from the new album which started out quiet but soon got livelier, and then It’s Been A Long Time, McLagan’s love song to his adopted home of Austin, Texas. I’m not going to list the whole set – few songs were introduced by title and those that McLagan thought the audience might know, if in a different form, I didn’t. This was a performance packed with vitality and humour – even a long, ultimately sad story about long-ago holidays in Ireland with extended family members (a story which could easily have matched one of Ronnie Corbett’s rambles) managed to conjure up more than a couple of smiles, despite a mistiness seemingly appearing in McLagan’s eyes. With just a keyboard and bass on stage, the music should have been simple. However, with a brief venture into ragtime piano and other times where there seemed to be little structure to the piano-playing, with McLagan dropping in sections that shouldn’t fit but, somehow, did. Outside, after the gig, Dan suggested that it was like being in a London pub in the early hours when the good music just happens. I wish I’d come up with that… Basically, it was just good, honest music, performed with little fanfare and never overblown. Mistakes were acknowledged, more stories told (and names dropped) and the set-list fiddled with – Hello Old Friend was successfully re-attempted halfway through – and, after the fifteenth of a seventeen song set, we were given advance notice of the encore, “just in case you don’t want one.” There was little chance of that and a smiling McLagan returned to the stage declaring, “You know this one.” I didn’t, but the rest of the audience only too happily joined in with A Nod Is As Good As A Wink.

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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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