Monday, April 19, 2010

Paul Rodgers goes home to Middleborough

It's really heart-warming when a 'star' remembers their roots, and what's more, plays homage to them. Last Saturday night, the great Paul Rodgers (in case you need reminding; Free, Bad Company, The Firm, The Law, most recently, Queen) turned out to do a guest spot at the very humble Marton Hotel, Middlesborough, in honour of John McCoy and the 50 years he's been promoting rock'n'roll on Teeside, England.

John McCoy is himself one of rock's legends (albeit somewhat unsung). He was a stalwart of the Ealing Blues Club, Flamingo and Marquee thru the '60s. He was the man who stepped down at the Cromwellian Club to allow North-Eastern mate, Chas Chandler, to launch a certain Jimi Hendrix on an unexpecting London. He was the man behind the famed Middlebrough 'Kirk Club' which, amongst many others, gave the Stones their first out-of-London gig. And he was the man who helped dozens of musicians find a home on Chris Blakwell's Island label. That's where Rodgers comes in and why he's doing this gig. Local boy makes good, and comes back to thank those who made it possible.

Repaying his acknowledged debt to the 'Kirk', and celebrating his recently awarded honorary Doctorate of Letters (Teesdide University), Rodgers took to what could just about be called 'the stage' to treat an adoring and select Middlesborough in-the-know crowd to a selection of half-a-dozen blues standards and, sending the crowd into orbit, 'The Hunter' and 'All Right Now'.

It must have all seemed a bit incongrous to Mr.Rodgers. I mean his last gig was at Wembley; last night of the Bad Company reunion tour. In front of 12,500 people. And here, in the Marton Hall function room, I'll bet there's no more than 400. At Wembley he was with fellow-heavyweights Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke. At the Marton Hotel and Country Club he's in front of a scratch band of local musicians(complemented admirably though by 'Nottinghillbilly' Stephen Phillips). Paul didn't look too happy with the man on the skins at times, but the rest of the band did him proud. They'll be boring the grandkids for years with tales of their night!

The incongruity doesn't stop there; in the room next door, young local hairdressing students are oblivious to his presence and are concentrating on preparing for a Sunday morning, hair-styling competition. Pity Paul doesn't still have that mane he could once shake with such style. The hairdressers would have crimped for free, I'm sure, even if they didn't know how famous the head was.

Age might have seen an inevitable thinning of the hair, but it cannot wither the voice. Man, he was friggin' good! 'It's great to be back at the 'boro', he announced before launching into a short but satisfying set that had the Teesiders baying for an encore. That wasn't to be, despite the demands. Momentarily, I thought he'd got the locals wound up a tad too much. A riot looked on the cards if he didn't return! It took all John McCoy's 50 years of experience to cool the crowd (though I have to say that any crowd who will queue, uncomplaining for 30 minutes at a time, to get a beer probably aren't rioting material).

Crammed in between the night's house band and Rodgers, the angelic-voiced Claire Hammill tried to deliver a few acoustic numbers. She did her best but couldn't really compete against the noise an excited, beer-swilling, North-Eastern blues crowd makes. Shame. Claire was another of John McCoy's 'Island' protogees who illuminated the London scene briefly but memorably during the 70s.


I have to thank fellow London Rock Tour guide Ian 'Lucky' Luck for insiding me on this one, especially since he made sure I arrived in time to make the pre-show, warm-up, 'Paul meets his band' session. Remarkable experience watching a great pro preparing the local semi-pros for one of the biggest nights of their lives. He treated them as equals, with not a second of 'prima-donna' to be seen. Jeez, Paul even stayed the night at the Marton!

Great night all round, though. Whey aye. I wonder who won the hairdressing competion...

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