Concert review: The Shadows and some other guy, 13 February 2010, Melbourne

5 Mar

Last time I posted, I reviewed a gig by noise rockers A Place To Bury Strangers at Melbourne club The Corner. So, what do you think I saw the very next night?

Well?

Whatever you’re thinking, you’re wrong. Completely and utterly wrong. I saw Cliff Richard and The Shadows at Rod Laver Arena. That’s right, Cliff Richard and The Shadows. Why on earth would I subject myself to Cliff?

Two words: The Shadows. Two more specific words: Hank Marvin.

Hank Marvin is pretty much the reason I listen to music and play guitar. Some of my very first memories are of listening to Shadows songs and being entranced by Hank’s compelling leads. The man has a way with guitar, a touch that can’t be beaten, and back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, what he was doing was tremendously innovative. Hell, he reputedly owned the first Fender Stratocaster in the UK. If you ever want to hear one of the most distinctive, influential guitar tones ever, just listen to The Shadows’ Apache. That is why I was there.

I was not disappointed. The band had its classic sixties line-up: guitarists and founding members Hank Marvin (lead) and Bruce Welch (rhythm), and the band’s most enduring drummer, though not an original member, Bruce Bennett. No sign of any past Shadows bassist; bass was provided by a touring musician whose name I have already forgotten. Hank was, as always, bespectacled with his huge frames. I have to wonder if he actually wears such ludicrously large glasses in daily life, or if he now just trots them out as part of his “image” and has some far more practical frames or contact lenses for daily life.

The Shadows began their first set with Shadoogie, and as I suspected it would be, it was a very effective opener. Little could have pleased me more than this selection, as it is one of my very favourite Shadows tracks – almost my favourite. But as it happened, the next song did please me more. Wonderful Land. Without question, it is my favourite song that The Shadows ever did, and as it happens, their last UK #1 before The Beatles well and truly knocked them off and the days of instrumental music topping the charts came pretty much to a close.

In any case, Wonderful Land is the biggest nostalgia trip ever. It is the kind of song that takes me back to when I was four, to my fondest memories of childhood in semi-rural New Zealand, to a time when nothing much mattered except my trains and my music, and when I truly believed that I would one day play guitar with Hank Marvin. Well hey, if this performance is as close as I’m getting to those days and that dream, I’m pretty happy with that. It was engrossing. In the absence of an orchestra, the band’s touring keyboardist – I believe the son of Brian Bennett – replicated the orchestration, and Hank Marvin’s playing was simply sublime.

The band’s first set was rounded out with performances of The Savage and Sleepwalk, the former another favourite of mine and the latter a track I found enjoying more than I do in studio. This set, like the next would be, was punctuated by talk from the band. Mainly, that is, talk from Hank Marvin. You know, normally I hate it when musicians talk any more than briefly to their audience. I don’t think the four year old Hank Marvin fanboy that still lurks somewhere inside me really cared, though. If he wanted to talk to us, I wanted him to talk to us. It’s not as if he was boring, though I had to wonder if he made exactly the same comments and humorous quips every night. Judging by what I can gather of their setlists? He probably does.

Anyway! The second set, completely unsurprisingly, opened with Apache. As a testament to its popularity and longevity, it was the song that most enthused the audience. It was played very close to the studio version, though I suspect I caught a couple of bum notes. That was not going to change it from being exceptional, and damn am I envious of that guitar tone. It was followed by Foot Tapper, an inclusion I did not entirely except, but one that I was thoroughly delighted to hear.

Perhaps the surprise of The Shadows’ sets was Atlantis. It is not a song I have ever really appreciated much in studio. Live, the band brought out stronger, more engrossing qualities – I think it had something to do with the guitar tone Hank achieved, and the substance provided by the keyboards. Rounding out the second set, and completing The Shadows’ songs for the night, was FBI, one of the songs that had most influenced me in my younger days towards playing guitar. I was considerably surprised that the band did not play Kon-Tiki, and I was very much hoping for Quartermaster’s Stores, but nonetheless, I went home quite happy. The four year old within me was very proud to have seen The Shadows. A night well spent.

But what about Cliff!

Oh yes. Cliff. Some guy I wasn’t there to see at all. Cliff Richard. That other guy who kept coming back to sing over The Shadows. You know, once upon a time, he wasn’t totally shit. OK, the lyrics he sung were generally awful and the less said about his image, the better. But he had The Shadows as his backing band, hence this tour celebrating their 50th anniversary. The Shadows can save just about anything, and when you listen to Hank Marvin rip out some of his classic sounds, you barely even care what’s being sung or who by.

Some of Cliff’s material is junk. The lyrics are, by and large, complete dreck. No man 70 years old looks that young – can you say “botox”? His fashion sense was, uh, terrible. His comments between songs were dull and often almost insulted the audience’s intelligence by assuming they knew almost nothing about the music industry. But he worked the crowd effectively during the songs, and sung well all night – with more consistency than many men half his age.

Did I really need to hear Bachelor Boy? On The Beach? Lucky Lips? An acoustic set that included an Elvis cover? Any of the other 32 songs he did (actually 26, since I missed the start of the show)? No, of course I didn’t. I’ll imagine the show just had the eight Shadows tracks. But I would endure much worse than Cliff to see Hank Marvin play, and Hank successfully saved a few of Cliff’s songs through his skill on the guitar. Honestly, a few of those Cliff songs are mild nostalgia trips back to childhood too. So here’s a link to the full setlist.

And if you’d kindly buy me this Cliff bag next Christmas, I will show you my sincere appreciation by burning your house down and placing a curse upon your offspring right down to the seventh generation:

Godawful Cliff Richard bag

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