I was recently chided by promoter Mr H for not going to a series of punk gigs hosted by Fibbers over the Summer, in particular an appearance by John Lydon and Public Image Ltd. “There are some gigs you have to go to just to say you were there,” he told me. The thing is, I’ve never “got” punk in any way shape or form (apart from, maybe, a handful of the more well-known and, to my mind, less punk-y tracks). Your more generic “rock” however, is what drew me to music in a serious way. So, when a well-known proponent of that genre rocks up at Fibbers, you can bet anything that I will be there, even if my knowledge of whoever it is isn’t what it could be. I think I would have bought my first Deep Purple album – Stormbringer, if I recall correctly, although it could have been the Deepest Purple compilation – over thirty years ago and, while they have never really been a band that I have actively sought out, I have slowly increased the number of their albums in my collection over the years. I don’t think I could have told you before tonight, but that means Glenn Hughes was the vocalist on the first Deep Purple studio album I owned.
Support came in the form of James Jared Nichols. As usual I hadn’t done any research before the gig and was expecting a solo artist, probably with acoustic guitar and possibly somebody local that I hadn’t come across before. What we got, was a blues-rock trio based out of Los Angeles (by way of East Troy, Wisconsin). Some in the audience seemed to have come across Nichols before, shouting his name as he walked on stage – commenting on how many pubs York has – and during the set, which he kicked off with the screaming guitar of Blackfoot, whose pounding drum line was provided by Dennis Holm. Crazy had more of a Southern blues sound and by the time the band got to Haywire heads in the crowd were nodding and at least one fist was pumping the air near the stage. On stage there was plenty of hair flying, from Nichols and bass player Erik Sandin, as the former continually ventured to the front of stage for his instrumental sections. After a version of Johnny Winter’s Rock And Roll Hootchie Koo, introduced as “an oldie but a goodie”, Nichols asked whether there were any blues lovers in the house, entertaining the crowd with a version of Robert Johnson’s Come On In My Kitchen, whose bottle-neck guitar and slower pace was a distinct change from the set so far. The track grew in volume and power, yet still gave Holm a rest after his earlier exertions and the end was greeted with a huge cheer. Can You Feel It changed the style again, with a fast paced rock and roll sound and audience sing-along. Playing For Keeps was memorable for Sandin’s only venture to the front of stage, for a lengthy guitar/bass duet opening, and its ever-changing extended instrumental section. As the track ended Nichols asked, off mic, whether we wanted one more. The crowd did and the set was brought to an end by another cover, this time Mountain’s Mississippi Queen.
As the support band’s kit was removed from the stage, an impressive pair of speaker and amplifier stacks were revealed, Marshall on one side of the drum kit, Orange on the other. A voice over that I couldn’t make out over the crowd noise signalled the beginning of the headline set and Glenn Hughes walked on stage, grinning and flashing a peace sign at the crowd and opening with Stormbringer, instantly recognisable to me. Hughes, now in his sixties, was energetic and brought forth some impressive vocals. Those vocals, weren’t to me, quite as impressive during Orion, but that was probably because I didn’t know the song. He still, however, managed to provide some imposing screams. “I’m gonna take you back a bit,” he announced before playing Way Back To The Bone, a track from his first band, Trapeze. The bass Hughes played throughout the set looked so old and battered that it might also have begun its career with Trapeze. Hughes, along with guitarist Doug Aldrich, another LA native, faced each other for a duet, while the drums crashed behind them. Taking a brief break from the music, Hughes explained that this tour’s set would be a, “History of where I’ve been for the last four years,” and that Yorkshire was a special place for him because he went to school with somebody from York. First Step Of Love, written with Pat Thrall in 1982, “When I was seven years old…” opened with an unusual bass riff and cymbals and included more of those screams and ended with Hughes fist-bumping fans in the front row.
“I haven’t toured enough,” said Hughes before telling us that this tour would go right through 2016 and that he would be back, something that was greeted with a big cheer from one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen in Fibbers. “The music is no longer mine, it’s yours,” he said before Touch My Life, another Trapeze song. Drummer Pontus Engborg led an audience clap-along while Hughes provided almost Gospel-like vocals over Aldrich’s quiet guitar line. Back to Deep Purple for Sail Away and a story about recording Burn (an album not in my collection) in the dungeon of a haunted medieval castle. Aldrich’s guitar opened the track but, for the most part, he was out of the spotlight, quietly and with little fuss and extravagance providing guitar lines that varied between screaming and subtle or, in this case, bottle-neck. For Good To Be Bad, however, a Whitesnake track from the 2008 album of the same name on which Aldrich played guitar, he seemed to come alive, coming to the front of stage after prowling around before being acknowledged by Hughes, who described him as one of the best guitarists in the world today. Hughes then left the stage, leaving Aldrich fully in the spotlight for a fleet-fingered, whammy bar wobbling, guitar shaking solo which led into I’ve Been Mistreated, featuring another brilliant instrumental section. “Sing with us York. Sing the melody,” entreated Hughes before the track ended, almost twenty minutes later, in almost a capella style, with soulful vocals from Hughes.
A bit of a rant about how Earth is a dangerous planet – I clearly heard one woman exclaim, “On no!” in apparent exasperation during it – ended in Hughes telling us that only music can save us led into the three part set ender which included hard rocker Can’t Stop The Flood, One Last Soul (a Black Country Communion song) and Soul Mover, back to back but interspersed with a small jam session between Hughes and Aldrich and a drum solo from Engborg.
After the usual short break, the trio returned to stage for the almost inevitable and instantly recognisable riff of Burn, during which Aldrich, dancing around the stage, was the liveliest he had been all evening. Cheers rang out from the audience as the track ended and, as Aldrich and Engborg left the stage Hughes said, “Let me do this to you,” as he stood and applauded the crowd and once again told us he would be back next year.
Hughes might well be one of those, “living breathing personifications of British rock” whose career outside Deep Purple has almost completely bypassed me and I might have only recognised three tracks from tonight’s set but, you know, I was there when he played York in 2015 and I’ll probably be back, hopefully more knowledgeable about his music, if he does come back.