Tuesday 16th August 2022
The Beaverwood, Chislehurst, Kent
So; a second school-night outing in less than a week to the twinkly canvas wonderland: after a scintillating set from the wonderful Chantel McGregor last Thursday, we’re back at The Beaverwood for the first visit to these shores in three years of pedigree Southern rockers Skinny Molly.
WRC last caught the band at this very venue in September 2019. Like everyone else their plans were somewhat Covid-scuppered, and as bandleader Mike Estes reported “I didn’t get ill……but I did get fat.” Only he didn’t. At least, not overly noticeably. Not as much as me.
Guitarist Jay Johnson was not present on that last tour for family reasons, but makes a welcome return to re-join Estes and bassist Luke Bradshaw, along with long time Estes-collaborator Kurt Pietro behind the kit, who re-joined the band after what turns out to have been a temporary leave of absence.
This is the first date of a European tour (the band only arrived in the UK late the preceding evening - in Birmingham of all places, given a London-ish gig the next day) which includes six or so dates here (including the New Day Festival on Sunday 21st August) before taking in France, Germany, The Netherlands and Spain.
With ex-Skynyrd guitarist Estes at the helm, the set included a handful (3, arguably 4…even 5 Skynyrd covers), and with three members having served a stint with them, 2 from Blackfoot, plus a couple of randoms - one somewhat expected, the other less so - but this still left plenty of room in the 18 song set for a raft of Skinny Molly originals from their 3 studio releases to date.
Skynyrd standard ‘Working for MCA’ opened proceedings, before rolling into a double from 2014’s ‘Here for a Good Time’ – the title track itself, and ‘Snakebit’, a (hopefully not autobiographical 😀) tale of a young chap dispensing with his late father’s rival and nemesis.
‘Too Much’, one of only two tracks in the set from the band’s debut album (2008’s ‘No Good Deed’) preceded a wonderful (if mildly expected) cover of Steve Earle’s ‘Copperhead Road’, with a band friend by the name of Stretch lending the mandolin (?) skills.
A double from 2012’s ‘Haywire Riot’ followed, ‘If You Don’t Care’ (surely one of the dirtiest riffs ever) and ‘Devil in the Bottle'. As well as appearing on Skinny Molly’s second album, ‘Devil in the Bottle’ is a song Estes gets a writing credit for on Skynyrd’s 1994 album ‘Endangered Species’ ...so, technically a Skynyrd song, I guess.
A drum-accompanied early band introduction, with Estes introducing his bandmates before Johnson returned the favour for him, led into the upbeat ‘When the Going Gets Tough the Tough go Fishing’ (from HFAGT). One of my SM favourites, not least for the barely noticeable loose-rhyming of ‘conviction’ and ‘lesson’ with ‘fishing’ 😀
The next track, a cover, took me a little by surprise… Free’s ‘Wishing Well’ with Jay taking a turn at the lead vocal mike. Shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise had I done my setlist research beforehand (this was far from the first time SM have played it - possibly a carry-over from Blackfoot days, as a studio cover of the same appeared on 1979’s ‘Strikes’), but as an old favourite I’ve not heard live before in any form by any band, it’s great delivery here was a welcome additional treat.
The Skynyrd-famed but JJ Cale-penned ‘Call me the Breeze’ was notable for an excellent audience ooooh—oooohh vocal at the end (if you know the Skynyrd version, you’ll know what I mean) ..so good, Estes felt the need to halt the song to get everyone to do it again 😀
‘Dodgin Bullets’ (from HR) followed, before Jay returned to the mic to deliver Blackfoot’s ‘On the Run’ (from 1980’s ‘Tomcattin’). There might be a few other Blackfoot tracks I’d have picked above this (one of which came later), but Jay’s delivery was great.
One of than bands paeans to freedom and simple living, the feelgood ‘Two Good Wheels’ (from HR) was as uplifting as ever… always makes me ponder why life is so complicated and stressy when apparently all you need is a motorbike, a dog and a guitar 😀
An aside: this is is apparently the SM track most accessed on Spotify, but Estes revealed (as did Chantel last week) that the band make literally pennies-per-thousand type thing from streaming platform access (my words, their sentiments)… I’ve therefore bought more CDs in the past week than I’ve bought in the past year, and have made a personal decision that whilst I will continue using it for convenience, if I like something and play it more than a few times, I’ll buy it, old-school style…. just because it’s the cheapest option doesn’t mean it’s the best.
I was very happy to hear the second Blackfoot song of the night (third if you count 'Wishing Well') come rattling around the bend, ‘Train Train’ (from 1979’s ‘Strikes’)…written by Rickey Medlocke’s grandad, Shorty (who also contributed harmonica on the album version). In checking the release date for this, I stumbled across the fact that this was covered by none other than Dolly Parton. Go figure. But don’t necessarily go check it out.
The first of two Skynyrd big hitters – 'Sweet Home Alabama' - delivered exactly what it says in the tin, before the opening track from NGD, ‘Better than I Should’ with its tale of recovering from an ended relationship was (lyrically) countered by the sheer life-affirming joy of ‘For Y’all’ (from HFAGT).
Crowd-pleasing set-closer ‘Freebird’ brought the totally enjoyable (though encoreless - they’d already overrun) evening to a close. I’ve seen them do this a couple of times, and it amazes me how with just 4 players the sound is so full (when you compare to Skynyrd having about 19 people on stage)…bit of a gap, obviously with no Peter Keys playing Billy Powell’s beautiful parts, but to be honest, it’s so joyous and involving and…well, complete - you kind of don’t notice.
Not sure when the last time they played together was or how much rehearsal time they had, but there wasn’t too much rust to dust off or kinks to iron out. To my ears, Bradshaw and Pietro had the rhythm section tied up tighter than my sphincter, were I walking through New Cross wearing a red and white scarf, Estes and Johnson seamlessly swapped faultless lead lines all night, each covering the other perfectly and, apart from one or two higher notes maybe being a little wobbly (which I’m prepared to accept were deliberate artistic interpretations), all vocals form the three frontmen were sound.
The band have what seems a genuine camaraderie which shines through both whilst they are playing and inbetween numbers. Mike Estes, as well as being a great guitarist/vocalist/writer, is also an excellent front man with an easy charm and quick wit ... from (justifiably, but gently) mocking the audience for our complete inability to cope with our recent warm spell (I think he got away with it as his gag was expressed in fahrenheit 😀 ) to playfully chiding Bradshaw for an initial amp fail (“He won’t get fined, or anything”). With a major lyrical theme being living your life doing what you love doing ('Here for a Good Time', 'Two Good Wheels') without compromise ('If You Don’t Care') and without regret ('For Y’All'), I think all the band drink their own kool-aid 😀
I also like the fact that SM pay respect to their past. I’m up there with Chris Squire (well….not ‘up there’, but ‘in agreement’) who stated before his untimely demise that he wanted Yes music to continue to be played, no matter what the personnel turns out to be. So…so what if SM weren’t founding members of those bands? So what if they had no hand in composing those songs (‘Devil…’ excepted)? For a while, they were the custodians of that music, and the fact that they enjoy playing them (as much as we enjoy listening) is both refreshing and a testament to the music itself. (I don’t know if any of them have an association with 'Copperhead Road' … but I’ll let that go as it’s a great song anyway).
There are enough young bucks around ensuring that the next generation of Southern Rock is alive and well, but in terms of the old (or intermediate 😀) guard, Skinny Molly are without a doubt at the forefront… and long may they continue.
Oh…and with last release ‘Here for a Good Time’ dating back to 2014, we’re surely due a new album, if they can stop touring long enough to lay it down. Just saying.
Working for MCA (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Here for a Good Time
Copperhead Road (Steve Earle)
If You Don’t Care
Devil in the Bottle
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Go Fishing
Wishing Well (Free)
Call me the Breeze (JJ Cale)
On the Run (Blackfoot)
Two Good Wheels
Train Train (Blackfoot)
Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Better Than I Should
Freebird (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
Photos by Kry10 and Mark C