Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Legend that is Stan Webb

Perhaps the greatest of all historic London venues was the famed club on Eel Pie Island in the western, riverside-suburb of Twickenham. The bands that graced its tiny stage though the 60s read like a rock'n'roll hall of fame. The Stones, Who, Yardbirds, Genesis, Pink Floyd, are just a few of the greats who learned their craft at the Eel Pie.

Alas, the original club burned down, amidst the usual rumours that accompany such events. In 2002, a group of fans, headed by Gina Way and Warren Walters, decided that the name was just too iconic to lose; the Eel Pie Club was reborn. It is still in Twickenham,now upstairs in the Cabbage Patch pub, and dedicated to preserving those great musical traditions. It’s a marvellous place to see some half-forgotten legends, and even the odd celebrity slumming it!

Stan Webb, and version 567 of Chicken Shack, graced its stage this week. And one has to say that he, as expected, did not let the history down. I suspect that for many readers this is a name that will simply evoke a response of 'who'? Well, Stan Webb is not only a legend in his own lifetime, but his early recorded output deserves the accolade of 'hidden nuggets'. He's also a true rock'n'roll survivor.

Way back in the mid 60s, when British bands were first discovering the blues and riding the electric rhythm and blues wave, two very similar bands competed in friendly rivalry. Aspiring amongst those to be the top blues band were Fleetwood Mac and Stan Webb's Chicken Shack (version 1, with a certain Christine Perfect on vocals. Ms Perfect was to defect from the latter to the former, and to become Mrs John McVie). Mac, boasting the fabled Peter Green, turned away from the pure R&B sound and produced a number of classic hits like 'Albatross' and 'Man of the World'. As everyone knows, the ensuing soap opera that marked 45 years or so of Mac history included a move to LA, new band members, madness, religious cult conversions, splits, band changes, marriages, divorces, drug abuse and multi-million selling classics.

Meanwhile, on another planet... Stan Webb soldiered on, and on, and on. Mostly with ever-changing line-ups of Chicken Shack, but also having a spell with Savoy Brown. Thought by many to be at least as good a guitarist as Eric Clapton, real success (in terms of record sales) has eluded him. And stadium-sized performances have been few. But Stan’s fans are lucky; catching Webb at a small venue like the Eel Pie Club can be a real pleasure. Small enough to allow you to get up close and personal, I watched his fingers (and thumb!) dance at impossible speeds up and own the fret. He still retains a great voice and sustains high notes from the back of his throat like someone 40 years his junior. Delivering a couple of numbers in Elvis and Johnny Cash toning reminded me of an interview I once did with Stan where he ran through a range of vocal impersonation he could do. He did a great impression of the comedian Kenneth Williams from the ‘Carry on’ films! What’s nice too is the rapport he develops with the audience, helped by his unpretentious manner and dress.

So why didn’t he crack it? The only song he’s really remembered for is ‘I’d rather Go Blind’ which Chicken Shack (with Christine Perfect) took to No. 14 in the 1969 UK charts. Unlike the Fleetwoods, Stan and band didn’t really move on. They were one of the many excellently rocking progressive bands that got overtaken by punk and new wave. Pity really as Stan Webb could have been a contender for top-dog. Still, if you’re into R&B played stunningly well then you’ll go a long way before hearing anyone better.

And if you're in London, or thinking of visiting, you could do worse than get on the Eel Pie Club mail list; you never know who you might catch there.

Hidden Nuggets
Forty Blue Fingers Freshly Packed And Ready To Serve/ Blue Horizon 1969
OK Ken / Blue Horizon 1969

Chicken Shack’s I’d rather go blind’
Eel Pie Club

1 comment:

  1. Bruce , this review brings back some beer soaked memories from my days as a member of the legendary JB's club in Dudley. I saw various earlier incarnations of Chicken Shack there over the years and we always used to look forward to Stan's frenetic solos where he would spring from the stage and go walkabout amongst the audience on the end of an incredibly long guitar lead he had obviously acquired for just that purpose.

    This never failed to provoke some of the less star struck observers to surround him on the dance floor and thrust pint glasses at him with a cry of " Ay Stan if yow'm gooin up the bar gerrus a pint of banks's will ya mate goo on!" I guess his sense of humour must have come in handy then as he always obliged with a nod and a wink before embarking on the next 10 minutes of frantic fretwork and head banging action. By the time he got anywhere near the bar there was usually a cold pint of something waiting for him..

    Some acts were not received quite so warmly. I fondly recall a support band called Trapeze whose singer embarked upon a very ill advised odyssey of his own attempting to get a stadium style sing along going to the chorus of one of their songs. This involved a repetion of the line " Take me to the Circus " followed by a theatrical cupping of the ear waiting for a response from the clearly unmoved denizens of the JBs dance floor .. The singer became more frantic as the silent audience grew more oppressive until the void was filled with a booming voice " Tek Im to the F*&kin circus fer Chrisake and get the next cowin Band on!"

    Ah Happy days ... Thanks for the memories