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Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack

Live: Robin 2 Club, Bilston

by Ian Mann

June 12, 2006


My main criticism of the show would be that there is little variation in pace. Even a so called ballad like "I'd Rather Go Blind" verges on the histrionic.

Veteran guitarist Stan Webb is still paying his dues and singing the blues at the age of sixty. His band Chicken Shack first came to national prominence during the great British blues boom of the mid to late 60’s. Chicken Shack had a major hit with a version of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” delivered by their then vocalist Christine Perfect who subsequently left to enjoy greater commercial success with Fleetwood Mac under her married name Christine McVie.

The Shack’s big hit may have been in the summer of ‘69, but Stan Webb is still playing until his fingers bleed. Unlike many of his contemporaries such as Fleetwood Mac and Eric Clapton, Webb has never had his rough edges filed off. He has stayed true to the blueprint of loud, abrasive, uncompromising blues-rock played with a ragged bravado. He does what he does impervious to musical fashions and doesn’t seem to care what anyone else thinks.

After the lean years and the myriad line-up changes of the late 70’s and the 80’s there has been a revival of interest in Webb’s music particularly in Europe and especially Germany.

Tonight at a hot and sweaty Robin Club audience numbers are fairly modest, but after a tentative opening number in which a few sound gremlins are sorted out Webb’s band begin to hit their stride and audience enthusiasm begins to grow. There are a few brave females dancing at the front, but it’s so damn hot most of us are just happy to stand and listen and take in that incredible guitar work.

BB King’s “Thrill Is Gone” has been a staple of Chicken Shack gigs for years and opens quietly with a duet between Webb and second guitarist Gary Davies. The band doesn’t work from a set list so I would guess this is entirely improvised. The main body of the song is suitably loud and features Webb’s incendiary guitar, the propulsive rumble of Jim Rudge’s distinctive five string bass and the thunderous drums of Mick Jones.

This was followed by Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby” a song written in 1954 and still sounding great over half a century later. Webb treats us to some searing bottleneck guitar and we also get a couple of other slide solos later in the set.

Webb is fond of quoting from other songs and throwing a few surprises into the blues mix. “Sweetest Little Thing” incorporates his cover of “Hurt” by the late Johnny Cash who seems to be a bit of a hero of Stan’s. Ironically Cash’s version is also a cover as I’m fairly certain the song was written by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Later in the set we get a snatch of “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” by The Temptations.

Webb’s guitar foil Gary Davies is given some solo space himself and reveals himself to be a nifty soloist as well as a highly competent rhythm player.

Webb is certainly a better guitarist than he is a singer but if anything his voice has improved over the years and it is certainly strong tonight. He makes a point of not singing across his own guitar so he does not compromise his strengths. He even tackles the old hit “I’d Rather Go Blind” and makes a fair fist of it but then nobody’s Perfect.

Webb has considerable stage presence and adopts a world weary, avuncular persona that is initially rather amusing. There is some humorous banter with one of the dancers and everything is very good-natured. Later in the set he tends to ramble a bit too much between songs leading one to wonder if he might have had one pre-gig loosener too many.

The band get a considerable ovation at the end and the general consensus is that everybody enjoyed themselves despite the heat. It must have been hard work for the band who put in a good hour and a half under the stage lights.

My main criticism of the show would be that there is little variation in pace. Even a so called ballad like “I’d Rather Go Blind” verges on the histrionic and the rest of the material was, in Stan’s own words “f***in’ loud”. Good as it is the constant pounding and lack of variety can get a little wearing after a while so mixing things up and having some genuine ballads or slow blues would make for a more balanced performance.

Maybe it’s just me. I can just visualise the look of consternation on Stan’s face at the very idea of quietening down. There’s nothing he likes more than standing in front of a big old Marshall amp making a glorious din and I don’t think he’s going to compromise now.

Everybody else seemed to love it and if you go to see Stan and Chicken Shack you know exactly what to expect. So more power to his elbow, larynx and bottleneck.

Earlier ‘Big Angry Fish’ provided competent, but unspectacular support. Their blues based music featured saxophone and took in elements of soul, funk and jump jive. They featured a highly competent guitarist/vocalist, but with his mumbling between songs he just didn’t have Stan’s charisma. A percussion workout with the front line playing cowbells and claves failed miserably (unless it was meant as a contrast to the power of the saxophone).

In World Cup year it’s better to leave that kind of thing to the Brazilians!

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