Thursday 10th February 2022 and Tuesday 15th February 2022
The 100 Club London & The Beaverwood Chislehurst
"Even though it’s a Tuesday night, we're going to have some fun!" exclaimed Russ Ballard to a very full and expectant marquee at The Beaverwood in Chislehurst, the final night of the ex-Argent legend's now four-date "It's Good To Be Here" UK tour. Indeed, just five nights earlier, on the first gig of his tour, a packed 100 Club in London, were as equally expectant. Ballard’s songs are on permanent heavy rotation the world over, and has lived an extraordinary life and charted a course that has seen him rub shoulders with many of the key figures in the music world, enjoying fruitful collaborations with the likes of Santana, Roger Daltrey and many more.
It all began with him running in his local Rock ‘n’ Roll scene in Buster Meikle and the Daybreakers (with his brother Roy and drummer Bob Henrit). Scouted by Helen Shapiro’s producer Norrie Paramor, he got his first taste of the recording studio at Abbey Road where the band were invited to audition. Russ went pro with Adam Faith’s band The Roulettes at the peak of their Pop fame, before once again teaming up with Bob in Argent, enjoying success and touring extensively. In 1974 Russ left Argent, after they released their fifth album 'Nexus', and turned full time to songwriting and solo work. The thrill of creativity has never left him.
My one personal regret is that I never actually saw Russ play live with Argent. Believe it or not, the first Argent album I bought was 'Nexus', and on that basis I bought a ticket to see them at London's The Rainbow Theatre in December that year. By then, Ballard had left, although it was measure of the void that the band had to fill, that they replaced him with both vocalist/guitarist John Verity (who coincidentally on the night of this Beaverwood gig, was playing The Tuesday Night Music Club in Coulsdon) AND guitarist John Grimaldi, who sadly died in 1983 at the age of 28.
With Jos Henrit continuing to deputise for his self-isolating Dad (and ex-Argent drummer Bob), Russ was also joined by Roly Jones (guitar), Marc Rapson (keyboards) and PJ Phillips (bass). The twin guitar lead in on 'Rene Didn't Do It' immediately rekindled fond memories of 1980's 'Barnet Dogs', although the more recent, 'It's My Life (Stand In My Shoes)', with its Bowie/Hunter vibe, from 2006's 'Book Of Love', was also reminder, if you needed it, of what an outstanding guitarist Ballard is, with his first, and indeed, not his last, guitar solo of the evening. North London's finest was now literally 'Playing With Fire', taken from Russ's 1984 self-titled album, a new arrangement, aided by a smouldering keys solo from Rapson, before a sumptuous guitar and organ intro led us to 'Dream On', aptly taken from Ballard's 1985's, 'The Fire Still Burns'.
Even if the set lists were the same, the banter wasn't. Not a surprise really, given all the stories Ballard must have after all his years in the business. The 100 Club laughed as Russ modestly recalled his Michael Bolton LA hotel encounter, whilst, given The Beaverwood was the final night of his tour, we smiled as he recounted their truck trip down South from their Kinross gig. Wouldn't have at all been surprised if Ballard was driving! Another from his 1984 self-titled album, the fast dark rotary chords of 'In The Night', was not only covered by Ace Frehley as 'Into The Night', but was also featured in Miami Vice, no less, before we went all back to the future, with the rocky 'Time Machine', from his latest album ‘It’s Good To Be Here’, testament to the fact that Russ's new stuff more than stands up to the old.
Before his first big hitter of the night, Ballard proudly showed off his reconditioned Holey 'G' Stratocaster to The Beaverwood faithful, whilst five nights earlier he reminisced about his absent buddy Bob, plus their washboard Skiffle origins, before playing the Royal Festival Hall as Unit 4 +2 (apparently Bob + Russ were the 2!). Fair play to the young lady down the front of The 100 Club who asked Ballard to sign a 50 year-old single she was holding in her outstretched hand, and Russ, being Russ, duly obliged. Cue that very same 45, most probably, Argent's greatest ever hit, 'Hold Your Head Up', taken from 1972's 'All Together Now', with Marc doing Rod Argent proud on keys. As did also Henrit junior on drums, doing his Dad proud by stepping in at the eleventh hour with just one day of rehearsal under his kit. Take a well earned bow, Jos.
Time for a medley and a who's who of the artists who this legend has written hits for. 'So You Win Again' (Hot Chocolate), 'I Know There's Something Going On' (Anni-Frid Lyngstad of ABBA), 'You Can Do Magic' (America), 'I Surrender' (Rainbow - with a top vocal from Roly) and 'New York Groove' (Ace Frehley .. again), were all dispatched with aplomb, with the less well acquainted in the audience having that look of "I didn't know he wrote that one!" Indeed, speaking as a fan, Russ didn't and doesn't get the credit he deserves, as in the case of of their next song, 'Liar', a classic taken from Argent's 1970 eponymous and very much underrated debut LP, which you've guessed it, was a hit for American Rock band Three Dog Night! For me personally, this was one of the highlights of both gigs, with yet another awesome solo from Ballard. Pure 70's musical heaven by a band really on the 'argent'.
The irony of the title track from the aforementioned, 'The Fire Still Burns', a political message, written at the time about worldwide conflict, was not lost on the audience given current goings on in and around Ukraine, but despite its distinctive tolling bell opening, both Rapson's piano work and Ballard's Gary Moore-ish Bluesy intro/outro took our minds off the madness that is going on elsewhere. No better time for an Irish jig/Scottish reel intro then, as the band then launched into 'Since You Been Gone', with Rainbow trimmings, who I saw Russ perform the hit with at the Stone Free Festival in The O2 Arena in June 2017, that was originally a favourite of mine from his 1976 album, 'Winning', before Ritchie Blackmore's crew nabbed it in 1979.
The fabulous vibe of 'Voices' followed, with its pounding drums and keys, that culminated in a memorable singalong, not only another from his self-titled album, but was yet another soundtrack to Miami Vice. Despite the set lists lying on the stage, very amusingly throughout the 100 Club gig, Russ kept on turning around to the band asking "What's next?" However, by the time The Beaverwood gig came around, he knew it off by heart. Hence, the parting of the ways as far as the set lists were concerned, as we were then treated to two juxtapositioned big-hitters.
After Russ's 100 Club anecdote about NME's Charles Shaar Murray's (remember him?) review of 'Winning', Ballard positioned himself behind the keyboard for an exquisite, and I mean exquisite rendition of 'I Don't Believe In Miracles', a song made famous by (this is getting a bit tiresome now) of course ex-Zombie Colin Blunstone. On Tuesday night, after Russ jokingly ridiculed both PJ "Rapunzel" Phillips and Roly "d'Artagnan" Jones, the band launched into most possibly his most iconic song of all, and my highlight of the night, 'God Gave Rock And Roll to You' (from Argent's 1973 album 'In Deep', and turned into a global mega-hit by Kiss), with both PJ and Marc both giving the (much missed) Jim Rodford and Rod Argent, respectively, a run for their money, not forgetting Ballard's spellbinding guitar solo and vocal.
Ironically at The 100 Club, Russ proceeded to Chuck his Berry into the ring, with two absolutely corking covers of 'Little Queenie' and 'Reelin and Rockin' (on which he brilliantly dueted on keys with Marc), a massive nod to that very much revered pioneer of Rock and Roll, although at The Beaverwood, Ballard again went back to his Butlins roots replacing 'LQ' with a snippet of Unit 4+2's classic 'Concrete & Clay'. The 100 Club set was rounded off with 'It's Too Late', another from 'Barnet Dogs', although there was also time at The Beaverwood for another from his self-titled album, 'I Can't Hear You No More', plus a brief encore and a reprise of 'I Surrender' with a snippet of 'Two Silhouettes', again from his self-titled album.
I don't believe in miracles, but over two memorable nights, Ballard gave Rock and Roll to us with two exuberant, rocking master classes courtesy of this shades wearing, 76 years young, singer-songwriter. Indeed, it was good to be here. Do not miss him when he supports Rick Wakeman at London's Shepherd's Empire on Wednesday 30th March, or later in the year at Hull's Wrecking Ball Arts Centre on Saturday 8th October plus KK's Steel Mill in Wolverhampton on Wednesday 12th October.
Check out what's on at The Beaverwood at https://www.thebeaverwood.com