Gig review: Ultimate Rhythm & Blues, Glasgow

With the teenage likes of Jake Bugg and The Strypes resurrecting the sounds of the 1960s for an audience of their peers, it seems that vintage rhythm’n’blues is still sounding good for its age.

The Zombies were on a different level. Picture: Contributed
The Zombies were on a different level. Picture: Contributed
The Zombies were on a different level. Picture: Contributed

Ultimate Rhythm & Blues - Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

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However, there were no teenagers in the audience for this package tour, marking the 50th anniversary of the British R&B boom in the company of some of the bands who sold the blues back across the Atlantic with a fiery group dynamic, long hair and leather trousers.

Half a century on, most of these groups are a shadow of their former selves, plugging unashamed nostalgia in line-ups which bear scant relation to their original trailblazing incarnations. The Animals & Friends featured founding member John Steel and one of his 60s cohorts, keyboard player Mick Gallagher, alongside later additions to create a decent though hardly electrifying facsimile of hits including Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place and The House of The Rising Sun.

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Their friends turned out to be the hammy Dave Berry, stepping in for a poorly Spencer Davis, and local heroine Maggie Bell, who had the crowd onside instantly with her gallus and gutsy renditions of Etta James songs and her recollections of Glasgow’s gigging scene in the 60s and 70s.

The Yardbirds had youth and experience – if none of the superstar ex-guitarists – on their side. A trio of young bucks joined original drummer Jim McCarty and pre-Clapton guitarist Top Topham for a short but efficient set showcasing their altogether more lysergic take on rhythm’n’blues from Heart Full of Soul through to a heady Dazed And Confused.

The irony was that tour headliners The Zombies could hardly be considered a rhythm’n’blues band – in fact, it is their distinctive baroque pop sound, drawing on jazz and classical influences, which has ensured their cult reputation over the years.

Unlike the rest of the acts on the bill, the group has retained its frontmen, and their set was on a different level thanks in large part to Colin Blunstone’s sublime voice, still hitting those soaring high notes, and Rod Argent’s never knowingly underplayed virtuosity on keyboards, which took in the scenic solo on Time of the Season, an improvisation on I Belong To Glasgow and ended quite some way from rhythm’n’blues, ultimate or otherwise, with prog rock anthem God Gave Rock and Roll To You.