"Well Here we go.
I really should have known what to expect from the title of the event. Doesn't really leave much to the imagination does it? (Duh!) But firstly, I really did wake up to find a forwarded message from Torb in my inbox and I was out of the door without thinking. Secondly, it made the surprise of Graham's set all the more wonderful.
There was no start time suggested in the mail and having been to a few of these sleepy country village do's I assumed it would be a summer afternoon bash with a respectable finishing time. Not so. No need to worry about keeping the neighbours awake when the entire 700 strong population of Great Gransden is packed into the marquee. A burglar's paradise. Driving into the village was a treat in itself. Thatched roofs, Tudor beams, well kept greens and properties listed in the Doomsday Book, that's not a joke. I don't know the equivalents in your own countries, but this is real English countryside. Village life, where everyone knows your name and your business. I worked in one of these places for a few months over Christmas, on my second day there the Landlord of the pub next to the theatre greeted me by name walking on the opposite side of the road. Put's the shits up you when you live as an anonymous drone in the London hive. This is the kind of place that American tourists flock to and compete with each other to see how many times they can fit the word 'quaint' into an hours stroll. Quaint it is, but quaint and carrying a big stick since you would need an average of six 0's in your bank to gain a property out here. There are famous people all over the country who have adopted these little villages and I think I understand why. It brings you down to earth. You can't be a star in these places because you have to be part of the community and it was lovely to watch Don during the day as husband, father and villager.
I arrived in the village at midday and made straight for the pub. Probably sounds bad to our American friends ;-) I've never been to a country that's so afraid of public houses. I've walked for hours around Sunset and Broadway trying to find a beer. When you do find them they are tucked away down an alley somewhere with no windows so that no-one can look in and see your shame. Pubs are an essential part of British society and the community. It's where you meet, play, do business and most importantly in this case, find information, although I did force a few pints to aid retention of said information. They are also big, easy to spot buildings with outdoor beer gardens and pub food for the family (yes we even take the little ones). And of course - a f**k off big, hinged sign outside displaying the name of the pub - in this case, the Crown & Cushion.
The landlord nervously took me to one side and whispered "You ain't from around these 'ere parts are y' stranger?"........... That is a joke, jeez you can be so gullible sometimes! He did however know where I could buy a ticket and promptly produced one from his shirt pocket, it being one of the last tickets to be had so I'm glad I got there early as it was to be a complete sell out with no 'pay on the door' tickets. I ended up sitting in there for a few hours and whilst I was there some others came in looking for tickets. "Got none left" said the landlord. "You'll have to pop over the road to that house there and ask Don if he's got any left." Great isn't it? The old guy behind the bar would never have been in to Don's music, the teens who came into the pub later knew who he used to be but didn't really care because he is musically ancient. He's just Don who lives in the village and if you want a ticket then just bloody well go and knock on his door. Love it.
Don obviously has a corner of the bar, when you walk in there is an old keyboard in the corner with signed posters of Don's village hall gig's with 'Snakes', Bernie Marsden etc. And a gold disc to commemorate god knows how many sales of 'Still Got The Blues'. Chatting to the landlord's wife Barbara I discovered that they have weekly live music which Don regularly attends and jams at. It will be no surprise to learn that I secured a gig there with my own band later in the year ;-)
A group of youngsters arrived and I was eventually introduced to Mike Airey, one of Don's sons. We talked about his dad and he was quite funny when talking about walking down the street with his dad and strangers stopping him in the street for an autograph and a picture. "Why the hell would you want a picture?" he says feigning embarrassment, "That's my old man for god's sake!"
It wasn't hard to spot Don's house, there was a huge poster of the event plastered to the side of his barn with a big picture of Graham. When the time came I walked up to the sportsfield which was heaving by the time I got there and already The Gwyn Ashton Band were into their set. I'd met Gwyn before at one of our gigs. He was a big inspiration to Tom our slide guitarist, they eventually became friends and Gwyn played at Tom's wedding. Real power blues going on here although I listened from outside in the hope of catching Graham when he arrived. Plus I wanted to muster my nastiest scowl to throw at the Hells Angel security just to piss them off. The little things in life amuse me greatly. Graham did turn up a short while later in Neil Murray's car but went straight into the Artists area, I was buying a burger at the time so missed the opportunity, sods law.
I went into the tent and did my usual trick of worming my way to the front of the stage. I had two choices this evening. Defend my place with my life so as to be right there when the man sang or hang around outside during the other sets in the hope that Graham would pop outside for a chat. I opted for the first. I certainly wasn't disappointed as there was some good music to be heard for a good few hours before Grahams arrival.
Don came on with a little blues/soul combo calling themselves The Ratbags. And Don, favouring the Hammond all the way shouts "Ladies and gentlemen - Les Ognions Vertes!" and launches into Green Onions. I've got to say he is a superb showman and really enjoys being up there, he doesn't just play, he performs arms a'flailing. A solid 45 min set of his own arrangements including a seriously charged and ever so camp version of America from West Side Story.
Once they wind down and after a fifteen minute break Don introduces "one of the greatest guitarists in the world - Uli Jon Roth!" Not too sure about that one but enjoyable. He explained that when Don rang to invite him to play he said yeah, we can do this and that and that. Then Don said no you don't understand. It's a blues and soul festival. So he dusted off his old Bluesbreakers albums and revamped some old Clapton. Long version of Hideaway followed and another song "written by an old friend of mine" - Sunshine of your Love. Long, outrageously loud solos and he was off by 10.30. It's at this point I'm starting to think; hold on, if Uli has to break out the old blues then what the hell is Graham going to do? The e-mail torb posted suggested a Rainbow set had been rehearsed and that's hardly Ray Charles.
Then Don came back on to call the raffle!! So funny watching him, he had to auction off a few donations from the artists as well. Wish I had brought some spare cash with me tonight boys. Graham donated an original signed official Down To Earth tour programme AND the tour t-shirt and even Don pointed out "these are as rare as dodo shit, take it from me". ?50, they went for a mere fifty quid. Would have snapped them up if they would have taken a card.
It's getting on for 11pm and I'm still clinging to my spot. A group of 13-14 year old girls congregated next to me... don't go there, all of a sudden they all start singing Since You've Been Gone word for word in unison. Warmed my heart to see the torch being passed on to today's youth I can tell you. I later found out that one of the girls was Don's daughter. I'm thinking 'GB must be on next, surely'. But then they started setting up a horn section stage right and I'm trying to remember how many tenor solo's were in Lost In Hollywood. On came the Ratbags again and They start hammering out the theme from Peter Gunn? I think that's right, the one that the Blues Brothers used. Big finish and straight into the intro for Do You Like Good Music. The intro that sounds like one of those famous Western themes - Magnificent Seven or Big Country or something. It's jamming out loud and heavy then Don shouts over the mike; "Ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome to the stage, direct from Los Angeles... Mr Graham Bonnet!" Tent goes wild. They loved Uli but there's no doubt that Graham was the main draw and the finale here tonight. And on he bounded. "WELL DO YOU LIKE GOOD MUSIC? (yeah, yeah) SWEET SWEET MUSIC (yeah yeah)...
The smile on my face must have finished past my ears somewhere. I realised I was going to get a night of bonnet that was just as rare as dodo shit. There was a great moment after about three or four lines of the first verse. Graham just let rip with the high stuff way above top C as he tends to do to get the voice moving. The young guitarist, (well know by the youngsters but his name escapes me, he is in Jamiroqui) looks over to Don and you know they've obviously had one of those conversations that went something like; "So can he sing this Bonnet feller?" "Oh yes, just wait till you hear him and decide for yourself". Well he looks over to Don with that look on his face that says "Is this guy f**kin' serious!?" and Don just smiles with that 'what did I tell you' smugness written all over it. Great moment. The song segues straight into Soul Man and again into Midnight Hour as an Airey arranged medley. Graham is jumping around and sends his lyrics flying as they are precariously placed on a flimsy music stand. So he just starts making up the words to Soul Man and having a laugh. The medley winds down to a huge applause and Graham says hello. He explains that he has literally just stepped off the plain and "I haven't got a f**king clue what I'm doing, I haven't sung these songs since I left school!" The pace comes down and he treats us to My Girl, he clocks the fact that the whole tent is singing the chorus so comes to the edge of the stage, offers us the mike and we all sang every chorus. Two more stompers to follow in the form of Hold On, I'm Comin & Knock On Wood and then a severe lesson in vocal control. There have been complaints that every note Graham sings sounds like his last but I say listen to Michael Bolton singing When A Man Loves A Woman and then complain. You would think GB would rip this in a similar fashion but the difference is, this key sits more comfortably in Bonnet's range than in Bolton's and whilst passionate, it was also controlled and easy on the ears. Once again the crowd wanted to sing along and Graham asked for a quiet extra verse from the band so that we could all hear ourselves. Well appreciated by the crowd.
The next intro made my night. Don gently plays some slow lounge jazz and Graham starts to tell a story of a band he used to play in called Rainbow (uproar... then calm) and what a great man his friend Don was. They were in the band together in about hmmm? 19... 05. But they had a great time together and... "I get the same old dreams..." Fantastic, if you've ever listened to Oscar Peterson, he can play an intro into the most famous songs but you'll never know what it is until the main theme kicks in. This is what Don did and the pair of them did a lounge version up until "...thoughts slide back to the break up". Then the famous intro erupted and the whole band along with Great Gransden joined in. I'll tell you what I really loved hearing. Don's beautifully played arpeggios in the half time middle 8. You don't hear them in any other version.
The marquee must have been losing it's tethers at this point but the band launched straight into All Night Long. At the end Graham, sweating with shirt undone as usual took his applause and left the stage. He was collared by Don on the way past who reminded him that they had an encore. "Oh f**k of course" he said and he came back on and treated us to the finale of my favourite Beatles album - Abbey Road. I was in seventh heaven at this point. So was the audience who sang along to Golden Slumbers with full force. Carry That Weight and The End followed as a gentle ending to the evening and you kind of wanted to kiss the person standing next to you. The crowd demanded more and this time Graham had to be retrieved from the dressing room to be reminded by Don that they had a second encore. "Oh f**k of course" he said again poking his head around the corner. And out came old faithful. Twist and Shout. Uli had joined them on stage and 10 minutes later it was all over. I really wanted to wait around in the hope that Graham might remember me but I had a long journey back and a longer journey to my gig the next day so I 'bought the t-shirt' and made for the car. I was confident I would see him again before he leaves and that turned out to be well founded since I have just booked two tickets for the Rainbow set at the Rock Cafe in Stourbridge. It was a wonderful night and testimony to the fact that this country still remembers him and misses him. I just wish some of you could have been there to share it with me."
"Last night three of us from the UFO2000 list saw Uli Jon Roth and an amazing team of musicians playing to about 700 people in a marquee. Uli was up there along with Graham Bonnet, Neil Murray, Don Airey and Clive Bunker - also Harry James and Chris Childs from Thunder, Rob Harris from Jamiroquai (yeh!) and a whole stageful of other professional and exciting musicians.
Don Airey had arranged the Blues and Soul show, which is an annual charity event he organises to raise funds for Addenbrooks Hospital in Cambridge. He got together all these musicians to play in the marquee, many of them playing together for the first time. Neil Murray was on bass (his first ever meeting with Uli) and Graham had also never worked with Uli before. Uli's setlist comprised of 3 songs... and then was open to improvisation .... which is where Uli excels, of course!
I'll tell you more later, and upload some photos, but Uli was really at ease playing the blues. He started with some Eric Clapton, and halfway into Sunshine of Your Love his expression seemed to change and he and his guitar did the 'one-ness' thing.
You've seen him, when his hair is wisping all over his face and in his eyes, and he doesn't even notice cos he's so engrossed. Well, that happened during Sunshine, and he went on to do Little Wing, Voodoo Chile, All Along the Watchtower etc. 'No reason to get excited....', well I'm sorry darlin, but I did get excited. We all did! The crowd (mainly people from Don's village and supporters of the hospital - due to limited capacity in the marquee) were all getting the same 100 percent-ness that Uli and his band always give.
Too many names on stage to single anyone out, but I will say this.....you have got to stop everything you're doing, re-arrange your holidays, and get down to Swansea next weekend - not only to experience Uli and his band, but also to see Graham Bonnet doing that thing he's famous for. No ! Not that ! I mean singing !
Last night was a sneak preview of what he and Uli are going to sound like, and I tell ya, if bits of Wales start dropping off and falling into the sea it will be from the vibrations of what's happening on stage and the reaction in the audience. They're hoping to do Stargazer and Sails of Charon among others, and I hope Graham also does his Since You've Been Gone tribute to Cozy Powell, as he did last night. I get told off for saying this over in the UFO2000, but....It rawwwwwwwwkkkkkkkked !
The Swansea show will also feature Debbie Bonham and Tim Rose, and there is talk of a Since I've Been Loving You tribute to the Zeps, so get down to www.gwyl.org and tell them the Old Bat sent you and that you want to be in the front row.
Thanks again to Don Airey and his team, for the chance to be part of last night's uplifting show. They raised loads of money for the hospital and had a great time, and gave all of us a great time too. I'll upload some photos later, ok, but I'm trying to type quietly so I don't wake Sue up (we never got to sleep till about 4am and it's only about 7am now - but that just shows you how dedicated I am to you lot here)."