Toto + The Darkness
Thursday 13th June 2019
Royal Chelsea Hospital, London
Now in its fifth year, Live At Chelsea brings an eclectic mix of music to the poshest part of town. This year's four day event sees such luminaries as The Gypsy Kings and Tom Jones. It's not unusual. Opening night sees a Rockier couple of acts take to the stage in the absolutely magnificent grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Founded over 300 years ago, the prime real estate in the swankiest part of London is home to over 300 Chelsea pensioners, ex-soldiers 'of good character'. Nestled amongst the spectacular quadrangle of buildings that form Figure Court is a large stage and rows of seats filled with hoards of music fans of equally good character. Today's event smacks more of a genteel garden party than a music festival amongst the perfectly manicured lawns and posh nosh outlets. Fronting the arena area are cast iron cannons that smack of the AC/DC album 'For Those About To Rock'. How appropriate.
As we take our seats for the opening act, all carefully ushered by a team of smartly dressed security personnel who are determined to keep everyone seated throughout, I look skywards to watch the rain clouds gathering overhead. It's going to be a wet evening which is sadly all too common in London in June. But my thoughts wander briefly to my mate Nick who is currently experiencing the extreme mud at this years Download festival - or Downpour as it has come to be known. Poor bugger. I should have known it would rain - it always rains during Download week. The well heeled, and well oiled patron's of the iconic Almshouse are about to get their champagne flutes shattered by the rebellious The Darkness. Like a modern day Wat Tyler come to reap his revoltingness on the London gentry, Justin Hawkins bursts onto the stage in a blaze of white, long hair flying and a smile as wide as the SW3 bridge. Flanked by brother Dan on guitar and the outrageously attired Frankie Poullain in a black and pink pin stripe suit, the mercurial Justin launches into opening track 'Givin' Up'. It's balls to the wall Rock goodness with Dan getting some Ay-May-Zing rock tones out of his many Les Paul's through Marshall amps.
I doubt the Hospital walls have witnessed such noise and wailings, even during its darkest days, but this time it's a sound to savour. For an outside festival, the sound quality is top notch. I am sure the quadrangle of buildings contribute. JH is in wonderful form. He has had his troubles in the past, and I have seen the bad days when even the fans turned on them. But not tonight. Those not hugging their G&T's too tightly immediately evacuate their rain sodden seats to hit the front, duly encouraged by Justin. However, after giving a willing audience full dancing instructions, and joining in with every step, Justin is forced to bow to the blazered security staff and bring the merriment to a halt. This is Chelsea after all. However, it was all done with good grace so, as we move to stage left to allow the seated special ones their unobstructed view, we carry on in the wings. We may be rabble but we are dancing Darkness fan rabble.
The short set continues with hits from across their last fifteen years with tracks like 'Growing On Me' and 'Black Shuck' from their smash opening album 'Permission To Land'. Was that really sixteen years ago? Justin joins his brother on a white Les Paul as the Rock quartet blast their irreverence into the night. And very well received they were. Posh people love to party too. Hawkins is animated and full of enjoyable fun. His banter is just what the night needs as the stiff upper lips curl into smiles and brown brogues tap along to killer riffs and just great Rock music. Singalongs like 'Love Is Only A Feeling' get the crowd vocally dancing, trying unsuccessfully to match Justin's piercing falsetto. Apologising to the powers that be for any slippage into the occasional rude word during his inter song banter, Hawkins launches into 'Get Your Hands Off My Woman' triggering the whole audience screaming the chorus. I'm not sure the organisers had that in mind when they planned the event. Don't worry though, most soldiers know more swear words than any Rock star could ever fathom so I doubt they heard anything they hadn't heard before. With the far too short set closing with their great hit 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love', the boys signed off in style, leaving a happy band of soggy Rockers to make their way to the bars to compare notes and wring out their Barbour jackets.
The Darkness setlist
Growing on Me
Love Is Only a Feeling
Japanese Prisoner of Love
One Way Ticket
Get Your Hands Off My Woman
I Believe in a Thing Called Love
A nice touch during the break, as the roadies rearranged the stage and set up for the main event, a Chelsea Pensioner takes to the stage to welcome us to his home, thank us for coming and to ask for support in keeping the Hospital a place for veterans for the next three hundred years. Standing proudly in his scarlet tunic, the old warrior looked like the best advert you could ever ask for his generation and what they stand for. In the 75th anniversary year of the D-Day landings he personified the dignity befitting of the location. And he was quite rightly rewarded with huge applause too. Like the second half of a high brow theatre, we were all bidden to take our seats for the rest of the show. Hassled security did their very best to ensure everyone were seated, and stayed seated, for the entrance of headliners Toto. Enter Toto, everyone stands up, security team give up. Good, let's get on with it then shall we.....
Toto are a band that I would have dismissed as a middle of the road Soft Rock from the seventies and eighties. Not my kind of thing thinks me. So it was a pleasant surprise for me that they prove to be so much more. In fact they are a band that definitely has something for everyone. Touring their new 40th Anniversary, '40 Trips Around The Sun' album, the band treat us to a selection of hits from across the years that encompass so many genres including Pop, Rock, Soul, Funk, Progressive Rock, Hard Rock, R&B, Blues and Jazz. Although the line up has changed over the years, the core of the team have a pedigree of session musicians that have played with, written for or performed with some of the greatest musicians in the world.
And it shows as the eight musicians on stage are so talented, and so comfortable in what they do that this is an unparalleled performance. One drummer, one percussionist, one bassist, two keyboards, a sax player, a guitarist and a vocalist form the current Toto line up. Vocalist Jo Williams is the son of one John Williams, composer of those famous bars from the film Jaws, and has written a few film scores of his own, when he isn't singing for Toto. Guitarist Steve Lukather is a legend in the guitar world and has worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and George Benson, and keyboardist Steve Porcaro has worked with Yes and Jefferson Airplane.
Opening track sees Lukather, with his signature Music Man guitar through three Bognor amp heads launch into 'Devil's Tower', originally written in 1982 but only released in 2018. A jaunty Prog Rock song that sees all the musicians on stage contributing to what is a huge sound. And set the scene for the evening two hour plus set. It's like watching a collection of the world's best musicians gel together into a seamless music machine. Where The Darkness are raw energy and fun, Toto are the class acts that befit their surroundings. Watching on impassively in front of the stage is the golden statue of Charles II. Lukather tells us that it is actually keyboardist David Paich in a gold suit who, in reality, is unfortunately not well enough to travel. His place is ably taken place by youngster Xavier X (Dominique XavierTaplin) who does a storming job.
The set consists of a bit of everything. I shouldn't like it but I do. It is absorbing, watching so many styles perfectly blended. Tracks like the fusion type 'Jake To The Bone' and 'English Eyes' are sprinkled between classic radio hits like 'Rosanna' and 'Hold The Line'. And all to the accompaniment of the rain battering the top of my head. Steve helpfully offers us sun cream. The band put aside their instruments for a more cut down section with Lukather on acoustic and each artist playing something close to their heart. Porcaro opts for a piano heavy 'Human Nature', the Michael Jackson hit, which was inspired by Porcaro's daughter. Lukather chose the R&B 'Georgy Porgy'. Xavier is left to enthral the audience with a breath-taking display of what was exquisite classical music, on piano, whilst the rest of the band return to their full ensemble of instruments.
The hits keep coming, although the Toto composed music form the film 'Dune', and a very alternative version of the Beatles 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' keeps things fresh. Percussionist Lenny Castro, a long term member of the band, gives us a master class of every type of percussion from bongos to gongs, timpani's and tom-toms. And very well received it was but it's the closing song 'Africa' that unsurprisingly get the best response. Everyone belts out the words of the 1982 classic. "I bless the rains down in Africa" we sing - how ironic. I curse the Chelsea rain.
Leaving briefly before returning for the encore of 'Home Of The Brave', an anthem of a song from their eighties album 'The Seventh One'. They sign off with this monster of intricate interaction between the guitar, keys, bass and percussion. Quality professional music. As we wend our way through the discarded Bolly bottles, I am heartened that part the funds from tonight's treat are going to the upkeep of this amazing place. It heartens me that in these difficult financial times that places such as this still exist. There is still good in this world. As the rain drips off my nose I am reminded again about Nick who is sloshing around in the sea of mud in his own little 'passion dale'. I've been there and done that. I think I will stick with what I've got. Wet I may be, but I'm surrounded by splendour and I have a warm dry bed tonight, not a pup tent in the mud. If Nick is the PBI in the trenches, I'm the officer in the chateau behind the lines. Now where's my chauffeur?
Hold the Line
Lovers in the Night
I Will Remember
Jake to the Bone
Human Nature (Michael Jackson cover)
I'll Be Over You
Stop Loving You
Piano Solo (Dominique Taplin)
Dune (Desert Theme)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles cover)
Home of the Brave