Ten Years After

Monday 24th January 2022

The 100 Club, London

Renowned British Blues Rockers Ten Years After played a rare UK live gig at the legendary 100 Club in central London as part of the 100 Club’s annual January Blues festival. The band have only performed a handful of gigs in the UK in the last twenty or so years. In fact the last time I saw them was in 2003 at The Underworld, Camden, London, where original members Leo Lyons, Ric Lee and Chick Churchill were joined by guitarist/vocalist Joe Gooch. Their main market these days being almost solely mainland Europe, particularly Germany. The current lineup consists of only two original members, drummer Ric Lee and keyboardist Chick Churchill. New recruits since 2014 include esteemed bass player Colin Hodgkinson (Alexis Korner/The Spencer Davis Group/Whitesnake/British Blues Quintet/Jon Lord) and guitarist and vocalist Marcus Bonfanti (The Ronnie Scott's Blues Explosion/Saint Jude/Ginger Baker). Tragically, Hodgkinson was unable to make The 100 Club gig due to sustaining an arm injury. Taking up bass duties for the evening was Jonathon Noyce (Jethro Tull/Martin Barre Band/Gary Moore).

Ten Years After formed in 1967 in Nottinghamshire by guitarist/vocalist Alvin Lee, bassist Leo Lyons, drummer Ric Lee and keyboardist Chick Churchill. They released eight studio albums and two live albums during their first and most successful tenure from 1968 - 1974 including ‘Ten Years After’ (1967), ‘Undead’ (1968), ‘Stonedhenge’ (1969), ‘Ssssh’ (1969), ‘Cricklewood Green’ (1970), ‘Watt’ (1970), ‘A Space in Time’ (1971), ‘Rock & Roll Music to the World’ (1972), ‘Recorded Live’ (1973) and ‘Positive Vibrations’ (1974). It was their ‘I’m Going Home’ performance at The Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in August 1969 that elevated them to worldwide success and cemented their place in Rock history. When Alvin Lee went solo in 1975 the band broke up. Over the next twenty years there were three attempts at a reformation and one new studio record resulted in 1989, aptly named ‘About Time’. The reunions didn’t last long though and on each occasion Alvin quit to return to his solo career. Sadly, Alvin Lee passed away in 2013 from complications following a routine surgical procedure for atrial arrhythmia.

In 2002 the three founder members Leo Lyons, Chick Churchill and Ric Lee got together with a relatively unknown guitarist called Joe Gooch and hit the road, mainly in Europe. They recorded two original albums ‘Now’ in 2004 and ‘Evolution’ in 2008, also releasing two live albums, ‘One Night Jammed’ in 2003 and ‘Roadworks’ in 2005. Original bassist Leo Lyons left the band in 2014 along with Joe Gooch to form their new band ‘Hundred Seventy Split’. The current line-up of Ric Lee, Chick Churchill, Colin Hodgkinson and Marcus Bonfanti went on to release the live album ‘The Name Remains the Same’ in 2015, the studio album 'Sting in the Tail' in 2017, and yet another live album ‘Naturally Live’ in 2018.

The 100 Club was only half to three quarters full for this Monday night gig which was made up mostly of diehard Ten Years After/Marcus Bonfanti fans, Blues enthusiasts and a few curious punters wondering what all the fuss is about! The band’s set got off to a storming start with the groove laden ‘Land of the Vandals’ from the excellent 2017 album ‘A Sting in the Tale’. A brilliant high energy heavy Blues song with an infectious groove. Bonfanti owned the stage with his youthful energy and passionate performance. Hot on its heels came ‘One of These Days’ from the 1971 album ‘A Space in Time’. A mid-paced rocker which saw Bonfanti blast out some vibrant harmonica lines with Churchill keeping the main riff flowing on the keyboards. The time was right for a classic in the form of ‘Hear Me Calling’ from the 1969 album ‘Stonedhenge’. A haunting irresistible boogie that juddered along with slick understated soloing from Bonfanti. The classics kept coming with ‘I'd Love to Change the World’ from the 1971 album ‘A Space in Time’. A nice mellow hippie tune with juxtaposing crashes and wallops! The great thing about Bonfanti is that he has his own guitar style and is not trying to emulate his predecessors. His voice has a raspy rough edge to it quite different to Alvin Lee’s vocal style. It actually reminds me more of Dave Walker from Savoy Brown, born to sing heavy Blues!

The energy bar was raised even more with ‘Silverspoon Lady’, another quality tune from the 2017 album ‘A Sting in the Tale’. A spectacularly fast boogie rocker with ravishing layers of smokin' hot keyboard action from Churchill and scrumptious guitar work from Bonfanti! The time had come for one of the band’s most successful single releases ‘Love Like a Man’ from the 1970 album ‘Cricklewood Green’ which reached number ten in the UK singles chart in 1970. This song's repeated bewitching riff is spellbindingly potent! One for all seasons! Bonfanti's solo near the end takes it to another level all together. I can see why he got the job!

Ric Lee then removed himself from behind the drum kit to address the audience out front, going on to talk a bit about their legacy of the band and paying a debt to the great Alvin Lee for writing so many wonderful songs. It was then time for a change of pace with a three song acoustic set with Lee adopting to play out front with a mini snare drum and brushes. Bonfanti strapped on an acoustic guitar and sat down to perform ‘Portable People’, the bands very first single in 1967, and ‘Don’t Want You Woman’ and ‘Losing the Dogs’ from the 1967 self-titled debut album. All three tracks are catchy Country flavored Blues tunes.

Back to the full drum kit and electric guitar for the menacing ‘Spoonful’ (Willie Dixon cover), also from their 1967 self-titled debut album, and also featured on the 1968 live album ‘Undead’. A seductive groove was established before Bonfanti proceeded to impress us all with some tasty improvisational guitar runs. ‘Good Morning Little School Girl’ (Sonny Boy Williamson cover) from the 1969 album ‘Ssssh’ was just as sinuous! This track laid the bedrock for even greater expansive improvisation. Original bassist Leo Lyons is much missed from the lineup as his thundering bass playing added so much to the dynamics of the band’s sound. Stand in for the absent Colin Hodgkinson, Jonathon Noyce, did a worthy job, but I would have liked to have seen Hodgkinson in the role as he has been with the current lineup for seven years now and is also a great improvisational bass player.

Back to the 1967 self-titled debut album for the high octane ‘I Can't Keep From Crying’ (Blind Willie Johnson cover). A monstrous track with serpentine twists and turns. Bonfanti’s gargantuan snaking guitar lines hypnotise and mesmerise! The main set was brought to an almighty conclusion with the thundering ‘I'm Going Home’ originally from the 1968 live album ‘Undead’. This is the moment where all inhibitions were set free and everyone in the band got to cut loose and flex their musical muscles. A special mention must go to Bonfanti for his agile and flexuous guitar playing. It’s not every guitar player that can play the Blues that fast with precision. To set us off into the cold dark night on a high we were treated to the rapturous ‘Choo Choo Mama’ from the 1972 album ‘Rock and Roll Music to the World’. A fast paced boogie rocker that had many heads bopping and hips swaying!

Steven C. Gilbert