Dee Rock - The Dublin Castle + Brian Downey's Alive & Dangerous
Thursday 7th November 2019
The Underworld, Camden
It's Thursday night in Camden, London's very own smorgasbord of great live music venues, and we're ready to devour the musical fayre on offer tonight. Although not before we have necked a few pints in the Rock Church of the World's End pub of course, across the road from Camden Station! Time to take in our starter of the night, as we pass the iconic Jazz Cafe to our left and continue up on the right hand side to the equally iconic Dublin Castle venue. Indeed, memories of previous Camden Rocks festivals start to flood back. Unbelievably, tonight, there are five bands in its famous back room, all for a fiver. Although we are there a tad early with sound checks still being completed. Fortunately enough, the band we have come to see are on first!
Following the release of his new album 'Backroad Symphony', back in May, Nashville artist Dee Rock was indeed playing the final night of his UK tour. Rock's Lone Star roots run deep, tracing his family from the time of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie at the Alamo, to today. Both of Dee's parents are music lovers and raised their children on a soundtrack ranging from Motown to Grand Ole Opry, with artists like BB King, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and The Allman Brothers. All of that great music has shaped Dee Rock's style and sent him down the road he's on. Rock has found success in both sides of the music industry - on stage and off - from producing artists and song writing for various record companies including Virgin, EMI and Capitol Records, to writing the soundtrack for the Warner Bros. film 'Divas'.
Sitting in the bar, patiently waiting for the sound checks to finish, the opening bars of Dee's 'Battle Scars' sees us dash to the venue door and pay our dues. The stand out track for mine from 'Backroad Symphony', and for me personally, it was worth paying the fiver to hear this on its own, even though we missed part of it. Even if it was good for us that Dee Rock was on first, the unfortunate flip side, I suppose, understandably, was the number of punters there to see them. Although those lucky enough to witness their set, immediately warmed to the USA/UK seven piece consisting of the cowboy hatted, dreadlocked and shades wearing Dee on guitar and vocals, more than ably supported by guitar, bass, keys, violin, drums and backing vocals/tambourine. The all too short set also included the Southern Rockin' 'Ripples On The Moon' from his 2010 album 'The Road Ain't Long' and the inspirational 'Southern Summer Night', the soulful 'Long Way Home' and the native American roots Rock of 'Wild Mustang', all from his latest album, plus also the heartfelt 'Other Side', which Dee poignantly dedicated to a dear friend of his. Talking to all-round nice guy Dee afterwards, the good news was that he would be returning to the UK next May. Do not miss him.
Despite, the temptation of no doubt four further fine bands, namely Subterranean Street Society + Michael Lukes + Pat And The Hats + Morning Tourist, the allure, just a stone's throw away, of legendary original Thin Lizzy drummer Brian Downey's Alive & Dangerous boys, who were back in town at The Underworld, was just too much, as we made our way back to whence we came. This seemingly annual convention in London, of which we had previously had the pleasure of attending all at Nell's Jazz & Blues, is it a bit like dusting down your favourite live LP and not only listening to it in all its glory but actually seeing it performed to perfection as well. Also featuring Brian Grace (best known as the guitarist for the Commitments Andrew Strong), former Low Rider members Matt Wilson (lead vocals, bass) and Phil Edgar (lead guitar), Alive & Dangerous effectively pay tribute to one of the greatest live Rock and Roll albums of all time: Thin Lizzy's 'Live and Dangerous' - plus a lot more.
The double album was actually released in June 1978, however, it was primarily recorded at London's Hammersmith Odeon in November 1976 as part of the Johnny The Fox tour plus Toronto's Seneca College Fieldhouse and Philadelphia's Tower Theatre Bad Reputation gigs in October 1977, with further production in Paris, which sort of averaged it out to '77 I suppose! It was also the last Thin Lizzy album to feature guitarist Brian Robertson, who left the band shortly after its release, the conspiracy theorists singling out Robertson's displeasure at how much of the album was overdubbed, which has always been a contentious topic since its release. It's perhaps no surprise to learn that Brian Downey's much missed compadre, Phil Lynott, with the exception of Bob Seger's 'Rosalie', had a clean sweep on writing all the songs featured on the iconic 'Live and Dangerous'. However, on the richter scale, it's a pretty mean feat for a drummer to have also co-written almost half of those classic songs.
The earlier ying of seeing Dee Rock was unfortunately offset by the yang of missing most of the excellent Rebecca Downes set, although as expected, the guitar wielding Rebecca received a rapturous reception from the ardent Lizzy faithful present, no doubt adding more fans to her much deserved following. As Grace, Edgar and Wilson, entered the stage, looking every bit as though they had time travelled from the ‘70’s, they were joined by the main man Downey. Authentically ‘70’s. True to the album they set the bar mighty high as they opened with the corker - 'Jailbreak' and continued with the pure embodiment of Thin Lizzy, 'Emerald'. Wilson duly paid homage to Downey before the magical riff of 'Rosalie', sandwiched effortlessly by slower tracks 'Southbound' and 'Dancing In The Moonlight (It's Caught Me In Its Spotlight)'. 'Massacre' brought back fond memories of their December 1977 Lewisham Odeon gig during their 'Bad Reputation' tour, before Wilson dedicated the slower and emotional 'Still In Love With You' (compared to the studio version on 'Nightlife') to Phil, considered by many critics to be Lynott's finest hour, Matt's soulful voice subsequently bringing the lyrics we all know and love to life, which also soared thanks to Grace and Edgar's guitar playing, feeding off each other in dual guitar harmonies with high octane solos a la Robertson and Gorham.
Once more it was an opening to make your hair stand up on end - if Brian had any - as they continued with 'She La La' plus an obligatory solo from Downey - the sorcerer behind his Natal drum kit. Although his three Irish amigos were certainly not challenged in the follicle stakes, with both the ever smiling duo of Grace and Edgar not only appearing to have been separated at birth, given their looks, but also with his big curly hair and engaging smile, Wilson certainly looks and plays the part, but he very much has his own powerful stage persona and completely owns the stage. A perfect recreation of one of Lizzy's iconic sequences, again true to the live album, saw the band segue immediately from 'Cowboy Song' into 'The Boys Are Back in Town', on the line "a cowboy's life is the life for me" - the last chord of the former was the first of the latter, although their studio versions were recorded as separate songs. Wilson then poignantly dedicated 'Waiting For An Alibi' to my hero Gary Moore, before they played the sleaze driven funky mood of 'Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed'.
Understandably, the crowd were lapping it up, screaming for more as they piled into classic after classic, like a machine gun to our ears! Rat a tat tat .... 'Don't Believe A Word', 'Warriors' and then the epic 'Are You Ready', seeing those assembled, Rocking out with their fists proudly in the air. They finished off their set with 'Suicide', although cries of "Lizzy!, Lizzy!, Lizzy!" saw them inevitably return to the stage with an encore of 'I Got To Figure It Out', 'Black Rose' plus a final singalong to 'Whiskey In The Jar'. ‘Live And Dangerous’ is an album of raw energy, freshness and passion, and indeed, it was another stunning set from Alive and Dangerous, well and truly matching it and thus keeping Lizzy’s music alive. We're all still definitely in love with you guys.