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Walter Trout + Elles Bailey

Friday 17th June 2022

Islington Assembly Hall, London

It’s always good to welcome Walter Trout back to these shores; it is, after all, only eight years since we nearly lost him to liver disease, before a transplant saved his life. I’m happy to report that, at 71 years old, Walter is looking and sounding remarkably robust, all things considered.

The recent run of UK dates had been the subject of several Covid-related postponements and, until recently, were scheduled to have included the Danielle Nicole Band (a US Blues/Rock trio whose guitarist Brandon Miller is deserving of far wider recognition) as support. The fabulous Mollie Marriott picked up the support baton in Southampton, leaving the rest of the dates to Elles Bailey, about whom I knew rather less.

I’d only previously witnessed one brief support slot by Elles a few years ago, but a couple of promoter friends had both spoken well of her and I’d recently overheard another musician say when discussing a forthcoming gig “Elles is on the bill; she’s always good.” I therefore made sure to be on time for her set!

With a new album to promote, Elles opened with a trio of songs from ‘Shining In The Half Light’: ‘The Game’ and ‘Stones’ were followed by ‘Riding Out The Storm’. This introduced us to the talents of Joe Wilkins (guitar) and Jonny Henderson (organ), although I should probably say “re-introduced” in respect of Jonny, who I first heard many years ago in Matt Schofield’s band. The group was rounded out by Matthew Waer (bass) and Garry Kroll (drums), the latter of whom does not feature on the CD.

A nice cover of the Wilson Pickett classic ‘Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You’ was followed by ‘Perfect Storm’ from ‘Wildfire’ (2017; although it had also appeared in ‘The Ellerton Sessions’ EP a year earlier). The 2019 album ‘Road I Call Home’ provided ‘Help Somebody’ and ‘Medicine Man’, before Elles signed off with ‘Sunshine City’ (a paean of love to her home city of Bristol) from the latest release.

Elles is deservedly building a fine reputation and this was reflected by how full the room was for her set and how well it was received (including, later on, by Walter himself). Catch her when you can.

Walter’s recovery from death’s door ensures a rapturous welcome every-where and rightly so. His illness and recovery from transplant surgery left him in a hospital bed for eight months; he lost 100 lbs in weight and had to re-learn how to walk, talk (never mind sing) and play guitar, as his memory had effectively been wiped clean. Medical miracles can happen and Walter is living proof.

His set list for this tour hadn’t changed much from night to night, but I think he threw in a couple of changes for us in London; the printed list of titles reproduced in this review was handed to me from under drummer Michael Leasure’s kit by a crew member who, on looking at it, said with a grin “that looks something like what they played tonight”!

The set opened with I Can Tell from ‘Live Trout’ (2000) and the second song appeared in the list as ‘Bomp a Bomp’; whether that’s the title or just the rhythm, I don’t know, but it was pretty much pedal to the metal from the word go. Walter’s road manager Andrew Elt has often performed occasional vocals with the band, but tonight he joined in on rhythm guitar for ‘Wanna Dance’, which, like the slower ‘All Out Of Tears’ which followed, is on Walter’s latest album ‘Ordinary Madness’ (2020).

During ‘Got A Broken Heart’ (from ‘Walter Trout’, 1998) Walter thought he might combust from the heat in the room and briefly left the stage, returning after he’d changed out of his smart gig shirt and into a baggy tour t-shirt. In his absence we got the chance to enjoy the keyboard (organ & piano) work of Bob Fridzema, the Dutchman who enjoyed a memorable spell in King King, before stints with Sari Schorr and Joanne Shaw Taylor.

Walter recounted the tale of his serious illness as a preface to a heartfelt reading of ‘I’m Almost Gone’ (from ‘Battle Scars’, 2015), for which he was again joined on stage by Andrew Elt. The printed set list also included ‘Playin’ Hideaway’ (also from ‘Battle Scars’) and ‘Ride Till I’m Satisfied’ (from ‘Go The Distance’, 2001), but my recollection is that one or both may have been replaced “on the hoof”, as ‘Gonna Hurt Like Hell’ (from ‘We’re All In This Together’, 2017) and a John Mayall tribute (‘Rolling With The Blues’?) put in unscheduled appearances.

In amongst it all Walter brought on an additional guitarist in Todd Sharpville for an extended jam, which also allowed Fridzema and bassist Johnny Griparic to show off their chops. The main set concluded with ‘Red Sun’ (from ‘Survivor Blues’, 2019), before Walter was roared back on stage for an encore rip through ‘Bullfrog Blues’ in tribute to the late, great Rory Gallagher.

Two fine sets to send everyone home (many via the pub!) happy; it’s what Summer Fridays are for isn’t it?☺

Set lists:

EB – The Game; Stones; Riding Out The Storm; Don’t Let The Green Grass
Fool You; Perfect Storm; Help Somebody; Medicine Man; Sunshine City.

WT – I Can Tell; (Bomp a Bomp); Wanna Dance; All Out Of Tears; Got A
Broken Heart; Almost Gone; Playin’ Hideaway; Jam; Ride Till I’m
Satisfied; Red Sun; Bullfrog Blues.

Gary Smith

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