Rocktober

Tuesday 18th October 2022

Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

This evening turned out to be a strange affair and, ultimately, less satisfying than I’d hoped for. Perhaps I should have guessed that much from the moment I picked up my ticket, which advertised “WILKO JOHNSON plus other bands TBA”; Wilko was the only artist not originally booked for the event, stepping in only when Kenny Wayne Shepherd cancelled his UK visit.

I had been looking forward to a first live encounter with When Rivers Meet, as a couple of friends had been bending my ear about them since their lockdown live streams started developing a loyal following. Fronted by the husband and wife team of Aaron (guitar and vocals) and Grace (lead vocals, plus occasional mandolin and violin) Bond, the band’s enthusiasm was clearly shared by the few dozen fans at the front of the stalls area.

My familiarity with their music was limited to a recent purchase of the ‘Flying Free Tour – Live’ CD, but their setlist ran through 10 of that disc’s 13 songs and in pretty much the same running order as the CD. The band had also retained the services of the recording’s rhythm section, with the ubiquitous Roger Inniss on bass and James Fox on drums.

Grace certainly has a voice and a stage presence (not to mention a growing fan club of men of a certain age!) and her occasional forays on electric mandolin managed to successfully cut through the rhythm section and heavy guitar (including the cigar box variety) riffs.

‘Don’t Tell Me Goodbye’, which featured both Bonds on vocals, provided a welcome acoustic interlude in a 40 minute set, which was otherwise a little one paced for me. The band managed to cram more songs into their allotted time than the others did in an hour and that might be because there were no solos; I couldn’t help wondering what they might sound like with the addition of a lead guitarist or perhaps a keyboard player to their ranks.

I’ll be interested to hear how the band develops, but, for now, it hasn’t yet fully lured me in.

The same cannot be said of King King (or indeed the Nimmo Brothers before them), a band which hit the ground running about a decade ago and, despite a few personnel changes, hasn’t let up since. The most significant change has been the arrival of Stevie Nimmo as a second guitarist, which has filled out the band’s sound even more.

With Alan Nimmo in fine solo form, as always, it required only seven songs to fill the hour long set; these were drawn from four different albums and I’m sure that many of the audience already owned all of them. Despite the poor ticket sales, this was clearly the band with the biggest support on the night.

Taking the stage to a recording of AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’, the band roared into ‘She Don’t Gimme No Lovin’ (from ‘Exile & Grace’, 2017), then ‘Fire In My Soul’ (from ‘Maverick’, 2020), before giving us a trio of their best loved songs. Johnny Dyke provided tasteful keyboard intros to both ‘Rush Hour’ (from ‘Reaching For The Light’, 2015) and ‘A Long History Of Love’ (from ‘Standing In The Shadows’, 2013), the latter of which featured Alan’s finest guitar solo of the night.

To the obvious delight of many of those present, Stevie stepped forward to share the solo spotlight with his brother on both ‘You Stopped The Rain’ (2015) and ‘I Will Not Fall’ (2020). Even after so many years, it’s hard to decide which of them is the more impressive guitarist; honours very much even, I’d say.

‘Stranger To Love’ (2015) closed things out and an hour had fairly flown by; I think most of us would have happily have kept the band on stage for another half hour or so, but we’ll have to remain patient until their freshly announced headline tour next March.

Returning inside after a breath of air, I was shocked to see quite how many fans must have left at the end of King King’s set; when Wilko appeared on stage 35 minutes later, the stalls area was less than half full. Sadly, those numbers reduced further during the final set.

I’d read that Wilko had been unable to finish a gig due to illness a few weeks previously, so I was hoping that he’d have fully recovered, but perhaps “Rocktober” came around too soon. There was little of his usual manic prowling of the stage and he conceded a fair amount of solo space to bassist Norman Watt-Roy towards the end of the hour long set.

Only a couple of Dr Feelgood classics momentarily ignited the set and, given how widely loved Wilko is, I can only hope that he wasn’t aware of the number of fans who drifted away early. His band has just been added to the list for the 100 Club’s January Blues week, so we must hope that he’s in good health and back to his lively best by then.

(A word of caution to those who stand at the bar in this venue: don’t turn your back on your drinks, as the bar staff poured a few “live” ones down the sink during Wilko’s closing number! Perhaps they just wanted to help the security staff to set a new speed record for ushering us all out on to the street well before curfew?)

Setlists:

WRM – Did I Break The Law?; Walking On A Wire; My Babe Says That He
Loves Me; Battleground; Don’t Tell Me Goodbye; Free Man; Never
Coming Home; Lost And Found; Innocence Of Youth; Want Your
Love.

KK – She Don’t Give Me No Lovin’; Fire In My Soul; Rush Hour; A Long
History Of Love; You Stopped The Rain; I Will Not Fall; Stranger To
Love.

WJ – (Setlist unavailable, but included: I Love The Way You Do; Going Back
Home; Roxette; Back In The Night.)

Gary Smith