Danny Wilson’s self-professed gang swaggered into town riding high on rave reviews for their latest album, What Kind Of Love and trailing clouds of glory from the unanimous praise heaped on the nine shows they’ve played so far on their summer tour. The news that they are still one of the top live bands of the day is really no news to anyone who’s caught them live in the past three years or has heard their thrilling live album released last year. What Kind of Love was recorded in the wake of a punishing schedule of shows at the end of 2014, 17 shows in Scandinavia in September and another 25 shows in October, and most of the songs on the album were forged on the road, at soundchecks or back at the hotel after the show. As Wilson says
“We wrote songs in Scandinavia, in Nashville, in the Preston Travelodge. This line-up of the Champs has been together for some time now, the group started out as a loose, lawless thing now we’re a bit more of a gang than we used to be.”
Rooted in the soul records they were listening to on tour What Kind Of Love is a solid soul groove that was an attempt, Wilson says, to sound like Gladys Knight & The Pips covering a Dylan song. Live, The Champs have always had a touch of the soul revue about them with Danny cajoling the audience with monologues within the extended songs inviting participation and tonight was no exception. With a new album to promote the set list was significantly different from the past three occasions the band have played here but the new songs more than made up for some old favourites missing in action. No Space Rocket opening tonight, instead the punchy and defiant bliss of Clear Water, a song that seems to encapsulate all of their influences, The E Street band, Motown and vintage Van Morrison with its tremendous sax riff and swirling pedal steel wrapped around Wilson’s impassioned pleading voice. Precious Cargo ebbed and flowed like a powerful tidal surge, the pedal steel flowing indeed over the chunky beat as if Booker T had forsaken his keyboards as guitarist Paul Lush threw out Steve Cropper lines. By the time they swept into the forsaken country soul of This Is Not a Love Song it was evident not only that the band were riding the crest of a wave via the new album but are also finely honed as the pedal steel and guitars curled around one another. An outing for Stay True showed that the soul genie has been flitting around the band for several years now sounding tonight as if it were an old Smokey Robinson song. Another oldie, Every beat Of My Heart, was launched with a cacophonous crash and raced along like Springsteen in a dragster with saxophonist Free Jazz Geoff given full rein but the frenetic delivery of Words On The Wind, a song from the new album showed that the spirit of the freewheelin’ Southern sound of a band like the Allman Brothers is still there with Lush’s guitar curling like a snake in the everglades. The Gospel influence on soul was apparent on the magnificent juggernaut that was Just Be Yourself with Wilson testifying as if his life depended on it before the sweeter tones of What Kind Of Love reminded one that soul can encompass Al Green as well as Otis Redding.
So, an hour into the set and having established the Church of Danny & The Champs to everyone’s evident satisfaction the band launched into an amazing pick’n’mix of old and new songs with Henry The Van a crowd favourite kicking off before (Never stop Building) That Old Space Rocket really revved the audience and the band up. It’ll Be Alright in The End was a perky slice of New Orleans inspired jive with some hot guitar licks and was followed by some inspired tomfoolery as Free Jazz Geoff led a sax fuelled conga line through the hot and sweaty cellar. Cold Cold World and These Days pumped away before the monumental Colonel And The King swung into view with the front rows dancing away. For the encore they delivered a coup de grace with the road philosophy of Restless Feet seemingly endless with the audience clapping and singing along wishing the night could last forever as the band took turns to solo.
All told it seems that Danny And The Champs are still the prime contenders for the best live band around these days. The new songs bite and the show in all is a glorious testament to the power and glory that is rock soul and country done just right. A lovely, tiring yet invigorating experience.
We need to mention the support, The Goat Roper Rodeo Band. Three young (and hairy) guys from Rhyll in Wales they have two guitars and a double bass and scrabble up a fine thrash that has old time country roots. More so than that they conjure up a vocal harmony that recalls the Everly Bothers in their prime and if they can build on this they might be a name you will hear more of.