A LOT OF water has passed under the Average White Band bridge since they hit the big time with Pick Up The Pieces more than 40 years ago.
Along the way, breakups, makeups, deaths and skirmishes with frowned upon substances have all threatened to submerge the band or derail it. But AWB is made of stern stuff. It has survived and is now thriving, judging by its two-weeks of sell-out performances at the marvellous Ronnie Scott’s in London (a mecca for brilliant live music). The band is sizzling.
Although founding members Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre remain the band’s rock solid foundations and its heartbeat, it is the remoulding work that makes AWB 2018 fizz like bottled Highland water. The pairing of Cliff Lyons and Fred ‘Freddy V’ Vigdor on alto and tenor saxophone is a masterstroke – a musical marriage made in heaven, indeed a musical act in their own right, joined at the hip as they are.
Meanwhile Rocky Bryant on drums gives the band’s music an irresistible energetic and thumping beat.
But the piece de resistance is Brent Carter on lead vocals. His falsetto voice, a counterpoint to Gorrie’s vocals, makes spines tingle, hairs stand on end, groins to grind and women’s pulses to race that little bit quicker.
With the accomplished Rob Aries on keyboards completing the numbers, AWB 2018 is in great shape.
While some may argue that Ronnie Scott’s is somewhat milking the band’s popularity with two shows a night on a Thursday (admittedly, not on other nights), audiences are not complaining. Far from it. They are lapping it all up and not surprisingly so judging by the band’s performance on Thursday night (first show, July 19).
There was not a weak link to be found in the 13-strong play list. Indeed, by the seventh song (Work To Do), the audience were up off their seats (quite a feat given the lack of space in between the sardine-packed tables). By the time the final encore (a magnificent elongated version of Pick Up The Pieces) was played, Ronnie Scott’s resembled a throbbing, heaving mass of middle-class, middle-aged music lovers clinging on to the crumbs of their youth.
Indeed, one woman who swung her creaking hips so violently all night I genuinely feared for their safety, spilt out onto London’s Frith Street afterwards proclaiming that she had jettisoned a boyfriend in the 1970s for refusing to dance to AWB. I am not sure if her current beau had been dancing with her but I fear for him if he wasn’t.
Among many standout songs, Walk on By showcased Carter’s extraordinary mind-blowing voice (it brought tears to my eyes) as did A Love Of Your Own, Atlantic Avenue, Cloudy and Let’s Go Around Again. A funky version of I Can’t Stand The Rain (on album Inside Out) demonstrated that the band is still prepared to try new things. To experiment. On A Love Of Your Own, Lyons thrilled as did Bryant on The Jugglers. When Will You Be Mine, Cut The Cake and Put It Where You Want It completed the set.
With Gorrie still dictating and directing from the front (on guitar, bass and vocals) with his somewhat steely demeanour, AWB remains one of Scotland’s finest exports. Better for you than a can of Irn-Bru or a fine bottle of Glenfiddich. Catch them if you can (I got a return ticket) and remember to dance just in case your partner is looking for an excuse to get rid of you. AWB rock. As does Ronnie Scott’s.
AWB is at Ronnie Scott’s until July 26