ROBERT PLANT’S SENSATIONAL SPACE SHIFTERS IN GLOUCESTER: BACK UNDER THE OLD WITCHDOCTOR’S SPELL…
Robert Plant presents Sensational Space Shifters – Guildhall Gloucester – Tuesday May 8th 2012.
Set List: 18 Hammers/Tin Pan Valley/44/Four Sticks/Hey Joe/Bron- Y- Aur Stomp/Standing In The Shadow (Patty Griffin vocal)/No Bad News (Patty Griffin vocal),Black Dog/Somebody Knocking/I’m Your Witchdoctor/Whole Lotta Love-Bury My Body/Encores: Song To The Siren/Gallows Pole.
The band were in the Guildhall venue for a sound check early afternoon and ran through instrumental versions of Song To The Siren, Four Sticks, Hey Joe, Bron- Y- Stomp. Juldeh also did a lengthy warm up. Robert arrived around 4.30pm with Patty. They kicked off by running down Black Dog.
The venue itself had a surprisingly very small entrance leading up to a rather grand staircase and on to the small high ceilinged hall. Prior to the gig I had quick word with Justin Adams –he said there had been a few rehearsals beforehand in Bath but as most of the band had played together so much in the past, not too much preparation had been necessary.
The hall was already filling up fast as support act The Toy Hearts – a two female and one male trio ran through an enjoyable rockerbilly/swing set. The Sensational Space Shifters line up had Skin Tyson to the left, John Baggott’s keyboards centre, Dave Smith’s drums to the right of that. Billy Fuller on bass was situated by Justin who was far left. Juldeh for his pasts stood next to Justin – Patty was to the right of Robert.
The band took to the stage to hugh applause and promptly kicked into the bluesy 18 Hammers. Fashion note: Robert in simple grey t shirt, black jeans and retro Goal trainers. After all the stress of ticket arrangements and planning to make it here (I’d actually been feeling well under par during the last couple of days), it was an absolute tonic to be in close proximity as Robert re interpreted those Oh Rosie lyrics as deployed on How Many More Times on Zep 1.
Tin Pan Valley followed – played in a laid back free form arrangement, a characteristic of the band’s overall performance – it was all a lot less frenetic than the Mighty Rearranger era and definitely a case of more loose than tight.
Throughout the set, Robert was at his most informal with a series of one-liners that added much to the charm of the low key approach. Mind you, things got a little too loose when early on in the set , the main part of Robert’s mic promptly flew off leaving him with er….just the knob! That would have not gone down too well at the 02!
After a knockerbout version of the old blues standard 44 recorded way back by the likes of Roosevelt Sykes and Howlin’ Wolf, Four Sticks followed, again in a moodier slower understated delivery that suited the mood perfectly. In introducing Hey Joe Robert made reference to how this sort of music had as he put it ‘’saved me from Engelbert’’ – a reference to the veteran crooner who has been chosen to represent the UK in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. This brought the extraordinary Juldeh Camara to the fore as he exhorted exotic noises from suitably exotic instruments. Throughout the show, for their part Skin and Justin contributed contasting guitar styles that perfectly complimented the overall mix of styles.
Patty Griffin joined the line up on mandolin for a delightful romp through Bron -Y- Aur Stomp which was the first live UK airing of the Zep 3 standard indoors since it was played by Zep at Earls Court in 1975 ( it was played by The Band Of Joy at the outdoor Big Chill Festival last year – thank you Billy F!) At the close instead of a call of ”Stryder” they all chorused ”Arthur!”
Some delay in setting up her acoustic guitar led to a slight set list switch. Robert stepped back to add backing vocals to her Standing In the Shadow Of The Hill. Patty then explained her next song No Bad News was written about George W Bush.
Patti stayed on to share duel lead vocals with Robert on the Band Of Joy arrangement of Black Dog –effectively embellished by Juldeh who added a distinctive vocal all of his own which merged into a quite frenetic finale.
Robert read from a lyric sheet on the floor as they performed an unorthodox version of Somebody Knocking. He then unfolded a tale of how the next song had been performed by John Mayall with Eric Clapton on guitar and had been produced ‘’by I’m not sure who?’’. A tongue in cheek reference to the fact it was one Jimmy Page. They duly performed I’m Your Witchdoctor. This was an absolute highlight for me – I’ve had this single on the Immediate label in my collection since the mid 70s and it was thrilling to hear Robert add his edge to an arrangement that stayed fairly true to the original, John Baggott getting in some suitably bluesy organ breaks. On the slowed down outro, Robert crunched down on the power chords in familiar fashion.
The version of Whole Lotta Love that followed was in keeping with the Space Shifters strategy - moody and understated as he merged Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love ( a UK hit in 1970 for Juicy Lucy) into the You Need Love refrain and then added Jesus My Dying Bed lines from In my Time of Dying and a reprise of Oh Rosie.
They were back for an encore of Song To The Siren which featured just Skin, John Baggott and Robert – a simply mesmerising vocal performance . There was a bit of a sketch before the final number as Robert presented Patty with an award for ‘’sales of 500 Band Of Joy albums in Russia.”
‘’Who starts this one?…oh it’s me’’ was the cue for Robert to kick into Gallows Pole performed in the more rocky mid noughties Strange Sensation arrangement with Skin delivering the banjo guitar parts.
”Thanks for coming out tonight…time to catch Newsnight’’
And that was the Sensation Space Shifters step one.
Summary: What we have here looks to be hybrid of Strange Sensation, mixed in with the exotica of Juldeh, adding a tinge of the Band Of Joy with the informality of the Priory Of Brion. The whole affair had a very loose and casual feel that perfectly suited the surroundings and low key nature of this gig number one. It was a real joy to see the likes of Justin and Skin back to the fore to add a harder edged element.
As for the singer…well business as usual really – his passion to hop and skip effortlessly between varying musical styles was more than evident, as was the way he deploys his voice as a total instrument. You get the feeling he can move and shake within this unit of musicians as he so feels fit. There’s no big agenda –no album to push or media game to play. He can, as his manager Bill Curbishley remarked to me ‘’Do whatever he wants’’
And in doing whatever he wants, Robert Plant continues to inspire and enthral.
The old witchdoctor is back… and at the Guildhall in Gloucester it was more than a privilege to once again be under his spell.
Dave Lewis, May 10th 2012
Aftermath: After the show we hooked up at the Café Rio bar until the early hours where they had a variety of Led Zep tracks playing loud – Achilles and Ten Years Gone sounding very impressive –it was quite amazing to think that we had seen the singer of these songs perform a mere stone’s throw away a few hours earlier. I had to shrug off the hangover fairly quickly yesterday morning as I was contacted by BBC Radio Gloucestershire to do a quick phone interview live on their breakfast show around 7.30. On the afternoon of the gig I also recorded a preview interview for BBC Radio Gloucestershire which aired on Steve Kitchen’s drive time show. As ever it was great to see many familiar faces during our Gloucester experience – amongst them Lorraine and Michael Robertson, Michaela and Dan Firth,Jonathan Taylor, Mike Lewis, Richard and Roberta Grubb, Simon Wicker from Hats Off To Led Zep and his wife, Dawn Atherton, and Paul Harper. There are more photos up on the Tight But Loose Facebook page.
Above photos Dave Lewis for TBL
Above photo Gary Foy for TBL
Above photo Dave Lewis for TBL
Above photo Gary Foy for TBL
Below photo Dave Lewis for TBL