MORE than 40 years have elapsed since Average White Band swept all before them – including America – with Pick Up The Pieces. How time flies.
Although the pieces that comprised AWB in the early years have since splintered, Average White Band lives on with Onnie McIntyre and Alan Gorrie – original band members – still performing with zest, supported by the brilliant lead vocals of Brent Carter.
As for the splinters, they have carved out splendid careers for themselves. None more so than rhythm guitarist and vocalist Hamish Stewart who has gone on to enjoy rich success with the likes of Paul McCartney and with The 360 Band where he teamed up with former AWB soulmates Malcolm (Molly) Duncan and Steve Ferrone. Albums – and successful ones at that – have followed.
Stewart remains the master of the live act. Performing at the 606 Club in London’s Chelsea as part of its 30th anniversary celebrations (at the cavern that is Lots Road), he had the audience eating out of his hand as he played a mix of the music that made AWB famous – and some of his more recent songs taken from The 360 Band album. He even managed to get some of the largely middle aged audience out of their seats and dancing – no mean feat for a Thursday night in conservative Chelsea.
Assisted in big dollops by a mercurial Adam Phillips on guitar, the ever genial Steve Pearce on bass, Ian Thomas on drums, Jim Watson on keyboards, plus a four-strong horn section led by Duncan (the Duke of Montrose), Stewart confirmed that age has done little to wane his powers. His voice, all soul and falsetto, can still rip through the heart like a razor. Haunting on occasion, spine tingling at other times. Funky when needs must.
Although the set contained many of the AWB songs Stewart aficionados came to hear – Work To Do, Whatcha’ Gonna Do For Me, Person To Person and Let’s Go Round Again – his recent music is equally compelling. How The Mighty Fall – a mighty tribute to Muhammad Ali full of rumbles in the jungle and thrillers in Manila – Cherry Blossom Time and the emotional Wordsworth all demonstrate that Stewart has lost none of his zest for writing good lyrics and music.
While Stewart is very much the focal point, his band sparkle brightly – sometimes fiercely. Adam Phillips on guitar shines on opener Midnight Rush, How The Mighty Fall and Cherry Blossom Time. Of the vibrant horn section, trombonist Patrick Hayes is given his moment in the spotlight on Person To Person and does not disappoint. Duncan and Jim Hunt (both saxophone) glitter throughout. Duncan none more so than when he frames A Love Of Your Own. Hunt excels on Wordsworth, Love And Learn and Stewart’s interpretation of Al Green’s Love And Happiness – a song Stewart remembers buying back in the early 1970s from Soul Jazz Records (a shop still standing) just off London’s Oxford Street. Watson’s keyboard skills come to the fore on Whatcha’ Gonna Do For Me.
With Phillips and Pearce providing sensitive backing vocals, the dancing breaks out on Pick Up The Pieces and is revived with Let’s Go Round Again.
Stewart is a regular fixture on the 606 calendar – and always plays to a full house. For 20 of the 30 years that 606 has been at Lots Road, he has pitched up and delivered in style.
Let’s Go Around Again? Yes please Hamish Stewart. Many times more.
How appropriate that he finished with a sensitive – melancholic and soulful – version of (We’ll Catch Up) Some Other Time. Soonest please. ‘Keep coming,’ he said as he stepped down from the stage. We will.
The 30 Years At Lots Road Festival runs until May 27. Performers include Liane Carroll, Ian Shaw, Tony O’Malley, Clare Martin, Imaani and Jamie Cullen. A pot pourri of musical talent. Worth checking out.