The Cheese and Grain is a cavernous venue in a Somersetshire market town, a gruelling four hours' post-gig drive home to Southend for tonight's guitarist and bass-player. The local – largely male – crowd seemed well-acquainted with the Trower catalogue, able to sing along with words from the (mostly short) songs from the latest album. Inevitably, though, it was Bridge of Sighs, Too Rolling Stoned and other such signature songs from Trower's stadium years that drew the most lavish applause.
Earthy, passionate singer Davey Pattison was in very good voice (ceding the lead mic to Trower for just one number) and played some vigorous tambourine, but also retired sidestage for Trower's most extended solos. His name was irritatingly printed as 'Pattisson' on the tour poster; worse still, the venue's 'What's On' leaflet referred to Robin Trower as 'a founder member of Procul Harem': just three mistakes there!
Except when the stage was abruptly doused in inexplicably full white light toward the end of the set it was hard to see much of drummer Pete Thompson, but he was in inventive and fiery form and his purple Premier kit looked a good deal less ready to collapse than that shared by support-acts The Chris Goulstone Band and The Worried Men.
Master-bassist Dave Bronze often went and stood right beside Thompson, but they were a phenomenally symbiotic rhythm-section even without such overt collusion. Bronzie evidently enjoyed the 95-minute set: he sang back-up vocals and played with his usual exemplary combination of solid restraint and exciting fills – there was some great work up at what less-comprehensive bassists refer to as 'the dusty end'.
As for Maestro Trower himself, he was in very good humour and traded appreciative comments with the coterie of specialist fans at the front (except perhaps with the person who spent most of the evening with his head resting on the guitarist's monitor – an extreme gesture, given that the band was so loud that the wearing of earplugs was mandatory).
Although one or two uptempo funky numbers, on which Trower strummed a lot of chordal rhythms, seemed a tad generic, he mostly played the howling, expressive guitar for which he is renowned, and there were many long, exploratory passages in which he would ride the repeating rhythms of a short chord sequence, extracting marvellous sounds and melodic breaks from his Strat, using occasional touches of whammy-bar and a generous selection of pedals. Much of the music was sweeping and spacious: strangely-extended chords and odd sonorities added a lot of variety to the set. Living every note with the contortions of his body, mouthing wordless accompaniments like some latter-day bebop pianist, the sixty-year-old looked fit and lean: some of the anguished freezes he adopts when exploiting his superb feedback sustain might look a trifle arthritic, but the pictorial record shows that he has been holding the same postures since the 70s!
Your BtP correspondent (probably the only person in the hall wearing a Procol tee-shirt) was not sufficiently familiar with the repertoire to write down a full set-list, and the attentive guitar technician – who had stood in the wings all evening with bottled water for the star's occasional refreshment – declared himself unable to give away a printed setlist from the floor at the end of the evening. Pretty certainly, though, no Trower / Reid songs were played, despite much hollering from one Fromesman for Victims of the Fury (a songs whose words are currently being toured by Procol Harum, in Gary Brooker's markedly unTrowerish churchy setting, which confers a poignant post-twin-towers flavour on Reid's libretto). So Trower fans who want to know what he's playing must catch this tour for themselves: the show is strongly recommended!
Characteristic postures as Trower wrings emotion from his instrument
Dave Bronze, tonight with his four-string bass
Bluesman, Fender, Marshall
Davey Pattison had a book of words on the floor but was not often seen referring to it: to hear him singing Whisky Train, click here
Just one song saw Robin Trower taking the lead vocal, though he spoke quite frequently to the audience
Two more shots of Dave Bronze. Often all the visible musicians were performing with their eyes shut
And finally, a glimpse of the battery of Marshallware that contributes to Trower's signature sustain sound