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Supersonic Blues Machine + Rob Chapman Band + Davy Knowles

Wednesday 4th July 2018

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Our Guitarfest of an evening began with short sets, of little more than 25 minutes each, from Davy Knowles and the Rob Chapman Band.

Isle Of Man native Davy first came to prominence with the band Back Door Slam, but his UK appearances have become increasingly rare since he settled in Chicago. Raised on a diet of British Bluesrockers of the 60’s and 70’s (e.g. Clapton, Green, Gallagher etc.), Davy’s playing still happily displays many of those influences (he recently deputised on the USA tour by the Band Of Friends, which features Rory’s former rhythm section) and his quartet’s set flew by far too quickly.

I must confess that Rob Chapman was a new name to me, perhaps because he is better known as a guitar manufacturer than as a musician. Maybe it was in the hope of increasing the band’s profile that he renamed the quartet as River Thief halfway through their set! Theirs was a rather heavier Blues and perhaps insufficient to retain the attention of some of the photographers congregated in front of the second guitarist because they thought his ZZ Top style beard looked rather familiar (although the fact that he was playing left handed should have given them a clue!).

The Supersonic Blues Machine’s two albums, ‘West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco’ and ‘Californisoul’, feature a long list of guest guitarists, so we were keen to hear what they would sound like without them and also without former lead guitarist Lance Lopez, whose role for this tour has been taken by our own Kris Barras, whose reputation seems to be growing by the week. We needn’t have worried in the slightest.

Early in the set Kris announced that it was his first ever gig with the band and asked us to forgive any wrong notes, but if he was nervous, it didn’t show at all. Although well supported by Serge Simic (guitar) and Alex Alessandroni (keyboards), as well as co-leaders Fabrizio Grossi (bass) and Kenny Aronoff (drums) and two excellent female backing vocalists, Kris was front and centre throughout, taking all the lead vocals and guitar solos.

With the songs taken in pretty equal measure from the band’s two albums, Kris’ solos grew longer and more confident than when I’ve heard him with his own band. This was no mean achievement, given that those solos had been played in the studio by the likes of Warren Haynes (‘Remedy’), Walter Trout (‘Can’t Take It No More’), Eric Gales (‘Elevate’) and Steve Lukather (‘Hard Times’).

As the temperature began to rise in the surprisingly sparsely attended venue (only one balcony of seating had been sold and walking around downstairs in the stalls was not difficult), Kris gave us his best Hendrix touches, playing the guitar behind his head, then with his teeth, before welcoming Davy Knowles back to guest with him on ‘Let It Be’.

Then came the mini-set that most people had probably booked for, with ZZ Top veteran Billy F. Gibbons joining the band for half a dozen numbers. These began with Top’s ‘La Grange’ and continued with the two songs he had recorded with the band (‘Running Whiskey & Broken Heart’), a pair of Blues classics and a welcome romp through ‘Sharp Dressed Man’.

Billy seemed as relaxed on stage as he had when he kindly signed my copy of ‘Eliminator’ at the stage door earlier in the afternoon. He’s a true professional and he was having fun; it didn’t seem to worry him at all that the audience was significantly smaller than he is used to. He and Davy returned for the encore, which had the added bonus of former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden playing the instrument he affectionately calls The Beast (a ’59 Gibson Les Paul which was formerly owned by both Eric Clapton and Paul Kossoff).

It’s always a treat to hear Bernie, who is playing as well as ever, but it was a rare pleasure to see and hear Billy G. from only a few feet away!

Davy Knpwles – (unidentified); What Doesn’t Kill You; Coming Up For Air; Tear Down The Walls; Catch The Moon.

Rob Chapman Band – Sunshine; Flash Flood; Old For New; Breath; Part Of The Plan.

Supersonic Blues Machine – I’m Done Missing You; I Ain’t Fallin’ Again; Remedy; L.O.V.E.; Watchagonnado; The Stranger; Bad Boys; Can’t Take It No More; Elevate; Hard Times; Let It Be; La Grange; Broken Heart; Dust My
Broom; Running Whiskey; Sharp Dressed Man; Got My Mojo Working; Goin’ Down.

Gary Smith (photos courtesy of Bruce Biege)

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