Dave and Phil Alvin
Jumping Hot Club – The Cluny
29th October 2014
Sometimes, the stars can align and you witness a concert so good you actually consider never going to another one ever again, because it will be a disappointment; which is exactly what happened last night.
The opening act Johnny Dickinson was a regular performer at the Jumping Hot Club until a long-standing illness took its toll in 2012 and he had to give up performing….until tonight.
Many in the sold-out audience already knew JD so every song and tune were greeted with loud applause; and in fairness the mix of Folk and Blues tunes were genuinely worthy of their praise.
Using a battered Strat copy that he bought off E-Bay for £20 and an acoustic that cost £50 he made them sound like hand crafted works of art on classic songs like The Cuckoo and The Poor Boy. His 40 minutes went by in the blink of an eye and a long queue formed to shake hands and slap him on the back as he left the stage.
It only took the Amazing Alvin Brothers’ roadie a couple of minutes to set the stage for the band as they filed on without making eye contact; even though the mature crowd greeted them like it was a 1 Direction concert.
The brothers fractured relationship is well documented; as is their reason for recording together following Phil’s near death experience two years ago and while Dave has been a regular visitor to Newcastle over the years the elder brother had never been here before either as a solo artist or; more importantly when they were in the genre defining Blasters; all combing to make this gig a really special event for everyone in the building.
With a cursory 1-2-3-4 from Dave the band rolled straight into Big Bill Broonzy’s All By Myself making it crackle with raw electricity and when Phil stepped forward for I Feel So Good there was a palpable in take of breath; until that deep voice resonated around the room like an RAF Hurricane.
As the roar of approval slowly died away at the end, Phil pulled a harmonica from his jeans pocket and the roar became even louder as the opening chords to Key To The Highway were recognised by the knowledgeable fans. With this being the third song I was still squashed next to the front of the stage taking photos; so had a close up view of the look of admiration on the younger siblings face as his older brother took the gig by the scruff of the neck and proved what a star he really is.
The brothers went on to more or less alternated songs from then on in; with Dave generally stepping back into the shadows whenever Phil took the centre; allowing his elder brother the opportunity to ‘be the star of the show’ (like he always should have been).
I’m a huge Blues fan; but a show full of Big Bill Broonzy songs would make for a very long evening indeed; so thankfully the Amazing Alvin Brothers included a couple of Dave’s songs recent – with Dave stumbling over the intro to Johnny Ace is Dead only to be prompted by a fan; who knew the story from previous visits. This got a laugh from everyone; including Alvin Jr. While the imperious looking elder brother looked on bewildered at the relationship between singer and adoring fans.
As Dave Alvin fans know his well told stories are exceptionally well told and while we’d all heard the story about Border Radio before; we were like kids at Christmas waiting for the reference to his brother who looked a little bit embarrassed at the praise; before belting it out like he was 21 again; much to our visible and audible delight.
Highlights? Phew; where do I start? Where do I stop?
For me the most memorable song was when Alvin Sr. proved what a versatile singer he is when he blew us all away with a breathtaking version of James Brown’s Please, Please, Please which received a full minutes applause that stopped the next song starting and forcing Phil to attempt a smile; as he raised his hands in appreciation.
Watching their body language during What’s Up With Your Brother? Was interesting as it was very apparent that Philip isn’t quite as tactile as David, as he nearly froze when he playfully went to put an arm around his shoulder, before pulling it away.
After one hour and forty minutes on stage; barely stopping to catch breath the band tore the joint apart with another song from the Blasters days; One Bad Stud which could have been written for Phil and sung as if it was. As you’d expect at this stage the other band members got to let loose and show off their own talents and what a talented group they are. As an aside; during Dave’s ‘battle of the axemen’ he subtly slid in the riff from the Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love presumably as a nod to Jack Bruce who had died the day before (I thought I’d heard a similar snatch of Spoonful earlier) which I thought was a nice touch.
After a cursory ‘will they/won’t they’ the band returned and let rip with a blistering 4th July before a grinning Dave introduced the fans favourite Marie-Marie by thanking a little know Welsh singer for making it popular (it was a huge UK hit for Shaking Stevens during the Glam years) and when Phil’s booming rasp filled the room I had a funny feeling in my stomach; finally hearing him sing the Blasters signature song.
Two hours after coming on stage the house lights came on as the Amazing Alvin Brothers disappeared into the shadows. I go to a lot of gigs, some in Arenas but most in clubs like this and I have to tell you I’ve not witnessed many concerts as exciting and as memorable in the last 40 years. To some degree the music took second place as all eyes were on the interaction between the brothers and the genuine look of joy on Dave’s face as he watched his big brother have the time of his life leading a band of exceptional musicians.