Herbie Hancock, John Miles.
The Venue, London
In the world of Rock music, there can be no greater travesty than the way John Miles' music has been ignored, especially by the weekly music press. Musical skill has never been high on their list of pre-requisites for stardom and as soon as John's fifteen minutes of fame had terminated in the mid-Seventies, the shutters came down with a resounding bang. 'Passe' and 'old-fashioned' were the usual glib diatribes flung insultingly in Mr. Miles' direction with every subsequent record release, yet to those prepared to listen, each and every album contained material that consolidated his status as an exceptional songwriting talent.
Such talent extends also to live performance. John's heavily under-rated guitar playing is always a joy to behold in a concert situation and this was undoubtedly the case at The Venue. On classic tracks like 'Overture' from the Zaragon album, Miles let loose a riposte of screaming, fluid guitar solos that grew cleverly from apparent avant-garde meanderings into thundering melodic runs hung upon a musical framework as solid as a rock.
The evening's events were the culmination of a concentrated, low-key UK tour and a sense of release was clearly evident in all band members, none more so than in the relaxed flourishes of Brian Chatton's keyboard parts. A long-serving member of the band both on and off record, Brian displayed some tasteful playing alongside his rockier excursions especially when wielding his new 'cheese-board' - the Korg Poly 800, though his choice of sounds was a touch limited.
As if to end the tour with a bang, the band played a good but somewhat safe selection of hits from most Miles albums, including the funky 'Slow Down', the powerful 'Turn Yourself Loose', a rather unspectacular version of 'Stranger In The City' which evoked little response from the crowd during the final chant section, and a rowsing rendition of the classic 'Music' which now comes earlier in the set than his audience would ever have allowed if this concert were taking place in 1976 and not 1984.
Amongst the hits, John found time to air two new songs (hopefully from a forthcoming album?), one of which featured his playing slow, arpeggiated chords on a Korg Poly 61 synth, highlighted by one of the best vocal performances of the night.
Every song packed a refreshing punch, due one sensed to the powerful and solid drumming of Barriemore Barlow (ex-Jethro Tull) on a Simmons kit, and to the staunch, dependable bass playing of lyricist Bob Marshall.
The undisputed highlight for me came perhaps rather too early in the repertoire, when John eschewed the Les Paul guitar for a Yamaha electric grand and struck up the opening chords to yet another Miles anthem, 'The Right To Sing' from his last Plays On album. Although a heavily orchestrated tune on record, the song didn't suffer from its live setting thanks to the holes being filled capably by Julian Colbeck's Juno 60 synthesised string textures, which helped build the song to an emotional climax with a gorgeous guitar solo that simply tore at the old heartstrings.
All in all, an excellent evening's entertainment that should have been experienced by far more people than The Venue can hold. For the life of me I still can't understand why John Miles isn't as huge a star as he deserves - if the fashion-conscious music world was a just place, he most certainly would be...
Hammersmith Odeon, London
Not so very long ago, the idea of Herbie Hancock doing an essentially electrodisco concert with an essentially modern band at an essentially rock venue would have been about as unthinkable as Klaus Schulze appearing on Top of the Pops, but, such is the man's passion for keeping up with the times, the gig at Hammersmith was only one in a whole series of European dates, all of them incorporating the very latest instrument technology.
Accompanying Hancock were 'The Rockit Band' - two drummers (both Simmons-equipped), a bassist, a second keyboard-player and a singer, plus, of course, the inimitable Grand Mixer DST on turntables.
Only his name sticks particularly long in the memory - none of the others did anything sufficiently outstanding to warrant any more than a passing mention, and that really was a major cause of the event's lack-lustre atmosphere.
First things first, though. Hancock's Future Shock album contains all manner of high-technology equipment in its enormous equipment list, and a fair slice of it was being played - with varying degrees of inspiration - on this particular occasion. Perhaps not surprisingly, the man himself was particularly well-endowed equipment-wise. Briefly, his keyboard stack incorporated a Fender Rhodes piano, a Clavinet D6, a Rhodes Chroma (complete with the latest version of the Expander module), a Yamaha DX7, a Moog Liberation, and a Fairlight CMI.
What most of the audience had come to see were renditions of most of the songs on Future Shock with, perhaps, a quick oldie or two just to keep the really hardcore fans happy. And, by and large, that was exactly what they got. The big problem was that only a couple of the songs were actually distinguishable from their recorded counterparts - the rest were little more than high-level album excerpts with the odd additional synth solo or percussion break thrown in for good measure which, given the reputation of the show's star and the enormous range of capabilities represented by the gear on show, was more than a little disappointing.
Few people can deny Hancock's courage in deserting his jazz roots in preference to today's - and tomorrow's - electronic keyboard technology. However, although he's put that technology to effective use on record, and gained a large, younger audience in the process, his stage performance lacked any real bite or imagination. Every Fairlight sound he used was identical to that used on Future Shock, almost every line he played could have been played just as well by a record-player, and the DX7 - itself not present on the album - was used so sparingly it might as well not have been at the gig, either.
There was the odd flash of brilliance - a startling, but brief, Liberation solo here, a quick burst of arpeggiating Chroma there, but in the main Herbie Hancock's playing was as grey as that of his backing musicians, and the event's only truly great moment was provided by manic scratching DJ Grand Mixer DST.
Armed only with two turntables and a couple of twelve-inch records - not exactly high-technology, you've got to admit - this man provided more excitement than the rest of the band put together. His stunning intro to 'Rockit', achieved mainly with the aid of a couple of BBC Sound Effects records, one suspects, brought the Hammersmith audience to its feet. His own personal departure from the way he'd played on Future Shock spread to the rest of the band (though not to Hancock, who seemed determined to do nothing but go through the motions, regardless), who succeeded in turning an utterly immemorable evening into one highlighted by a flash of golden imagination.
But one good song does not a happy concert make, and I for one left the auditorium with a sense of sheer disbelief that somebody so talented could do so little with so much, and still walk off stage with his audience pleading for more.
Previous article in this issue:
Next article in this issue:
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!