Billy Bremners Rockfiles Entertains The 100 Club

With Clive Gregson supporting Billy

This was an evening of pure unadulterated musical pleasure as the diminutive Scottish guitarist and his Swedish backing band took the audience in the 100 Club on a nostalgic trip back to the late 70s when Rockpile were formed as a dream combination, an under-rated supergroup of songwriting and musical talents, fronted by the geniuses, Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds.  It was a sadly short-lived but wonderful period when the four-piece played on two genuinely classic albums, Edmunds’ “Repeat When Necessary” and Lowe’s “Labour of Lust” prior to the release of the first and only album by the four under their own name “Seconds of Pleasure”.  They were one of the few really good groups that played at my University around ’79 and I caught them again a few weeks later in a packed audience at St Mary’s College. I can’t remember a lot other than them being brilliant (loved the stylish twin guitar attack of Edmunds & Bremner) and the real buzz in the audience as they played.  My college band incorporated a stack of their songs in our repertoire, including “Switchboard Susan” and “Crackin’ Up.”  All of which is to say that I was really looking forward to this gig!

Billy Bremners Rockfiles Entertains The 100 Club
Clive Gregson

Times have moved on but there was a sense of anticipation in the crowd, probably curious, if they were like me, to see how the sideman, with a pretty spectacular CV of guest guitar credits, was going to sound as a front man.  Before the main act appeared another blast from the same past came on stage in the guise of former Any Trouble frontman Clive Gregson, someone I knew a lot about without actually really having heard much of his extensive solo repertoire.  His was an excellent cameo of a set, playing a mini best of including “I Love This Town” – which, as he recounted, was covered by Nanci Griffith and Jimmy Buffett and “Trouble with Love”. He has a really good voice and a nice touch on the guitar, alternately fingerpicking or strumming, adding melodic and accomplished solo runs on his acoustic.  An easy, conversational stage manner, witty songs – he introduced two new numbers, one a commentary on Brexit and the “Darwin Shuffle”, inspired by the award for folk who kill themselves through acts of complete stupidity – and good musicianship all made for a really enjoyable set, which concluded with “I’m Still Rockin’” from his “Forward Into Reverse” album.   No arguments about that.

As the stage was being prepared for the main act and setlists were being put into position it was amusing to see that Nick Lowe’s “Switchboard Susan” was the first number (a tone lower than the original key if anybody’s interested!).  After a short interval the band unobtrusively took up position, with Billy Bremner stage left, and launched into a superb set of selected cuts from the various Rockpile related albums mentioned above as well as additional songs in their repertoire at the time like “Trouble Boys” (written by Bremner) and “Three Time Loser”.  24 songs in all, played one after the other, all great rockin’ numbers, wham bam, with no in-between song banter, apart from a very occasional introduction from the jovial-looking bassist Micke Finell.  It has to be said that the guitarist is not a natural frontman, looking slightly uncomfortable and, it has to be said, not in the greatest of health (with his moustache, glasses and a thinner physique he is almost unrecognisable from the player of yesteryear); mind you, at the age of 72 he’s not doing badly; if he occasionally cast those looks over at his fellow guitarists that clearly acknowledged that he’d screwed up the ending to one or two numbers he certainly didn’t have to apologise for the quality of his solos and tasty fills, like the familiar, sharply bent licks in the opening to “I Hear You Knocking”.   Playing an inexpensive black Stratocaster copy his lead playing was crystal clear, each note counting as he ripped out fast runs and country bends, playing with a pick and fingers to achieve those Chet Atkins style cascades of notes. He was complemented by the second guitarist Bonnie Lofman, a distinct figure in his large black cap (stylish but slightly reminiscent of one worn by one of Dick Emery’s characters on his TV show back in the day) who was no slouch himself and took lead honours on a few numbers, notably on “Sweet Little Lisa” the high octane classic from “Repeat When Necessary”, which he also sang.  Listening to Billy Bremner’s solo offerings prior to the gig it was a surprise how uncannily similar his vocals were to Dave Edmunds’. This all added to the authenticity of the sound on the evening.  The guitarist sang most numbers but took a backseat for a few, including contributions from bald drummer Peder Sundahl, whose face was pure Essex geezer but, apparently, as his name suggests, from Sweden like the rest of the band.  It’s hard to pick out highlights as most of the songs are personal favourites: “Play That Fast Thing One More Time”, “Queen of Hearts”, “You Ain’t Nothing But Fine” (another one we used to cover!), “Singing The Blues” (ditto),”Born Fighter” and “Love so Fine” are all fabulous rocking tunes. The band mooched off to great applause from a very appreciative audience, returning for two encores, Nick Lowe’s storming “Heart of the City” and an instrumental called “Goofin’ Around” which displayed Billy’s superb country style lead work off to the full, twice as skilful than most widdly widdly merchants and ten times more enjoyable.  Total class. A great evening.

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