Although I have followed Robin Trower since the early 1970s, my first live experience was not until 1995. This and the subsequent three concerts I had previously attended had all been in relatively intimate and modest settings, with audiences of no more than two to three hundred – certainly a far cry from the stadium settings Robin played in his heyday. Tonight was somewhat different. The well-appointed Grade 1 Listed Birmingham Town Hall was almost full to its 1,000 seat capacity.
In Joanne Shaw Taylor, who is more than forty years younger and sharing the bill for the whole of the UK tour, Robin has found the ideal foil to help attract a wider audience, all obviously with a common appreciation of a similar genre of blues rock. It did no harm either that Birmingham is Joanne’s home town. Her upbeat 45 minute set got the evening off to an ideal start, including, interestingly, a Frankie Miller song, Jealousy.
Robin has this month celebrated his seventieth birthday – like Gary Brooker his musical career goes back for more than 50 years. Like Gary he remains in fine form.
Since Robin left Procol Harum in 1971 he has completed an incredible 24 studio albums, his latest Something’s About to Change having been issued in the UK this month.
Although on his latest album Robin has done most of the vocals and played all the guitar parts, he is still sticking with his traditional trio format for his live gigs. He is accompanied on this tour by Richard Watts (bass), who is handling most of the vocals and Christopher Taggart (drums); a line-up which dates back to 2011, although both have intermittently been involved on Robin’s albums going as far back as 1999.
Richard and Christopher, both much nearer to Joanne than Robin in age, provided a solid and energetic base for Robin to launch his guitar excursions. In terms of vocals, Richard generally lived up to the impressive legacy of James Dewar on the older material. He managed to cover the full range of moods, from the relative rough Confessin’ Midnight to the more idyllic Daydream. Actually the sound balance was not quite right this evening; so the vocals were insufficiently to the fore. Christopher showed both power and precision on the drums throughout.
The evening started with a thundering version of Somebody Calling from the In City Dreams album and a soulful Rise Up Like the Sun from one of my favourite albums, 20th Century Blues.
Over the evening we heard from eight of the twenty-four albums. However, eight of the fourteen songs in the ninety-minute set were from the first three albums, five being from Bridge of Sighs. I have mixed views on this. To be sure, it was great to be transported back 40 years; and most would have been disappointed not to hear two or three tracks from the classic Bridge of Sighs album. Indeed the extended Bridge of Sighs was outstanding and the powerful encore of Too Rolling Stoned was as good a version as I have heard.
A particular surprise and disappointment was to hear only the title track from the new album. In my opinion, Something’s About to Change, which I had been listening to extensively in the lead-up to this gig, is one of the most impressive RT studio albums since Bridge of Sighs. Robin himself is on the record as agreeing with a similar assessment when it was recently put to him.
That there is so much else in the massive catalogue that we could have heard but did not, was illustrated by the two tracks we did hear from The Playful Heart album of 2010, Not Inside - Out and The Turning. Certainly Robin’s best guitar work of the evening came in the entrancing coda to The Turning.
For me, none of the minor carps detracted significantly from an evening that was undoubtedly a major triumph. Experience and (relative) youth combined to great effect, producing an intoxicating blend of soul, blues and rock, delivered with great verve, passion and skill; rapturously received by an appreciative audience.
1. Somebody Calling
2. Rise Up Like the Sun
3. See My Life
5. Lady Love
6. Something’s About to Change
7. Day of the Eagle
8. Bridge of Sighs
9. Confessin’ Midnight
10. The Turning
11. Not Inside – Out
12. Little Bit of Sympathy
13. Too Rolling Stoned
14. For Earth Below
Procol dates in 2015