Robin Trower + Sari Schorr
Tuesday 27th February
Islington Assembly Hall, London
After releasing perhaps his best solo album since his 40's 'Time and Emotion' last year, legendary Blues Rock guitarist and singer-songwriter, Robin Trower returned to play an exclusive UK concert at the Islington Assembly Hall in London on Tuesday night - his first UK gig since he graced the very same venue on Venues Day in October 2016. The set list was pretty much the same as sixteen months ago, but all the same, warming his fans up in style on a bitterly cold evening. Best known for his 1974 milestone album 'Bridge of Sighs', the 72 year-old was supported by the New York based Blues vocalist Sari Schorr featuring guitarist Ash Wilson and keyboardist Bob Fridzema (ex-King King). We last saw Sari, on another cold evening, also in London, at Putney's Half Moon just over a month ago when she showcased her new band plus a few of her new songs ahead of her all-important sophomore album due to be released this September. Tonight though it was Sari unplugged, without bass or drums, but more than made up for by the talented trio of Schorr, Ash and Fridzema. Wilson's familiar clunky opening riff to 'Aunt Hazel' from her critically acclaimed debut album 'A Force Of Nature' - based on urban slang for heroin - complemented by outstanding keys from Fridzema - saw Schorr unleash her strong piercing vocals on an unsuspecting crowd - "she's a bit like Beth Hart" commented the Schorr virgin next to me, before the trio followed it up with Wilson's rockin' solo and Fridzema's keys on 'Demolition Man', again from 'AFON', forcefully sung and written by Schorr.
'Ready For Love' from the aforementioned new album, was testament to the expected quality of the new material, albeit a Mott The Hoople cover which smacked of Zeppelin's 'No Quarter' - brilliantly sung by Sari. Schorr danced around the front of stage with the smiles of a woman at one with her music and her voice. It’s sometimes quiet and beautiful, sometimes powerful and strong, but always enthralling. You can imagine her conquering any music genre that she might choose – Rock, Blues, Opera, Soul. She admits lately to have worked even harder on her songwriting, digging deeper and deeper into lyrics and melodies. The result is what she believe's is some of her best work to date and that was borne out on another track from the new album 'Maybe I'm Fooling' - again with great work from Wilson. Sari's exceptional vocal on the penultimate and beautifully crafted 'Damn The Reason', featuring Fridzema's keyboards and another Wilson guitar solo - all about domestic abuse, saw them close their short set with Lead Belly's 'Black Betty' - with its unique arrangement and Wilson's cajun guitar opening and Schorr's vocal delivery - ultimately resulting in a very powerful version of this classic. Given
the strength of her musicians working on the album which includes drummer Neal Wilkinson, whose work credits include Van Morrison, James Morrison, Paul McCartney, Ray Charles and Annie Lennox, plus the talent of the Manhattan Records production team, featuring executive producer Mike Vernon again, plus an expanded team of producer Wayne (King King) Proctor and Steve Wright, September can't come soon enough!
Unlike sixteen months ago when we were up in the Gods to see Robin Trower - this time we were actually positioned down towards the front, standing to the left hand side of the stage - something which in the end actually added an up front and personal dimension to Trower's performance at this particular gig. Indeed, as per last time, Richard Watts' bass intro on 'Too Rolling Stoned' from 'Bridge Of Sighs' kickstarted their set, unleashing the smiling Trower on his first (and not his last) wah guitar solo, with its subtle hint of Hendrix, weaving around drummer Christopher Taggart's beat and Watts' vocals. This was followed by another classic from 'BOS' 'Lady Love' - although this was a first for me live with another great vocal from Watts, leaving everyone scratching their heads on how on earth does Trower get those amazing sounds out of his guitar? Step forward Robin with some cool vocals, complementing his slower awesome guitar, on 'Returned In Kind' from 'Time And Emotions' followed by more Trower vocals on 'Not Inside - Outside' from 2010's 'The Playful Heart', fleetingly punctuating another trademark guitar solo. It was then back to the very old - nearly 41 years ago to be precise - and 'Somebody Calling' from 'In City Dreams' - which still had that great groovy late '70's feel about it - think Average White Band, before it was back to the future and the fine fine Blues of 'Make Up Your Mind' from the latest album 'T&E', epitomised by Trower's enduring fish face facial expression, both songs validating the wide age range in the audience, totally lapping up the Catford legend.
Once again the spine of the set understandably returned to 'BOS', with the up-tempo slide and chops of 'Day Of The Eagle' metamorphosing into the classic opening of the title track with its unmistakeable riff - still an iconic tipping point for me - a bit like seeing Skynyrd doing 'Free Bird' live - this track is still very much Rock history. Indeed, as someone pointed out, the worst part of 'Bridge Of Sighs' is when it finishes! That very same wag also added during "Can't Turn Back The Clock' - another stand out track from 'T&E' - that he loved Trower more than his wife - and even drummer Taggart was getting excited - frequently jumping up off his stool! Robin then duly dipped into the studio follow up to 'BOS' with 'For Earth Below' and 'Confessin' Midnight' with Watts' earthy vocals and another groovy instrumental riff outro before he broke into my personal stand out of the night 'Daydream'. Taken from Trower's very first solo album post Procol Harum - 'Twice Removed From Yesterday' - I've seen Chantel McGregor cover this brilliantly many times - but to see the master in action - well yes, as we sang along - we were spellbound. And as for that Trower guitar solo - awesome.
"Thank you" said Rockin' Robin as he rounded off his set with the blistering rocker 'Little Bit Of Sympathy' complete with audience hand clapping - again from 'BOS', and despite his "Thank you very much - goodnight" - he returned to do the same two encores as he did last time out - the short but punchy guitar of 'Rise Up Like The Sun' from his 15th studio album '20th Century Blues', contrasted by slowhand Trower's delightful psychedelic Blues title track from 'For Earth Below'. Yet another night of quality not quantity. Trower's smooth-as-butter guitar licks and screaming solos have to be seen to be believed. He plays from the soul and has a vibe and a presence that is unique. This guy can play. It really is that simple. Once again an honour and a privilege Mr. Trower.