It’s time for the second post pandemic Glasgow Americana Festival and this writer was especially impressed by the inclusion in the line up of Danny George Wilson who was appearing without the safety net of his excellent Champions Of The World band. Danny & The Champs, as anyone who has seen them can testify, are simply one of the best live acts around (with two brilliant live albums available to support this) but, having released his first solo album for 16 years in late 2021, this time Wilson is appearing under his own name with a fresh band and a fresh sound.
It’s not a radical makeover. Champs mainstay, guitarist Paul Lush remains in place and he continues to thrill with his scintillating playing while bassist Joe Bennett has been an occasional Champ and tours with Wilson’s other famed troupe, Bennett Wilson Poole (the Bennett here being Joe’s brother, Robin). Completing the line up are Steve Brooks on drums and Henry Garratt on keyboards.
The two opening songs from Wilson’s solo album opened the set. A short instrumental flurry of sound led into a driving and confident Lost Future which segued into the loping Sincerely Hoping with Lush launching into the first of many incendiary solos of the night. This was impressive playing, the band tight and the songs rousing, a beefed up delivery of an old Champs song, Those Days was power pop heaven. The pace slowed down on Right Place, another song from the new album which had more than a hint of cosmic country in its gentle lilt which eventually grew into an epic guitar swathed climax.
Recalling that the last time he played Glasgow it was in this venue with Bennett Wilson Poole, Wilson and the band launched into a worthy rendition of Not Forgetting (Just Not Remembering) with Lush’s guitar flourishes making up for the absence of Tony Poole’s Rickenbacker chimes. It was followed by an acoustic interlude with Lush picking on mandolin which found Wilson revisiting two songs from the first Danny & The Champs album. The Truest Kind and Red Tree Song. These reminded one of The Champs’ folksier days and when Bennett played a mournful trumpet towards the end of the latter song it was reminiscent of that peculiar melancholy which Roy Harper used to mine so well.
All amped up again, Wilson quipped that they now intended to play their way through Yes’s Tales Of Topographic Oceans – a cool joke given that he admits that in his day job as a record shop owner he has had has his eyes and ears opened wide to a number of past acts and genres (although that Yes album is still a bit of a stretch), some of which influenced the sound and textures of Another Place. The next songs were more kaleidoscopic and, dare one say it, almost psychedelic. Heaven For Hiding glistened and Can You Feel Me (with its Carly Simon intro) had a Big Star like jangle to it before evolving into a lengthy “space rock” like jam with Garratt’s keyboards sounding as if they had been beamed down from Hawkwind’s orbiting spaceship. A cover of Spirit’s We’ve Got A Lot To Learn (with some George Harrison licks thrown in) compounded the thought that Wilson is hugely enjoying his access to his shop’s “pre-loved” albums. They wound up with a rollicking and raucous Jukebox, an old Grand Drive song which was followed by an even more glorious slice of jangled and boss infused rock’n’roll as they sashayed powerfully through Every Beat Of My Heart. This was a thrilling close to a great show. Proof that Wilson, with or without the Champs, is a most engaging and powerful force on the stage.
Opening the show was another Bennett, Katy Rose, sister of the aforementioned Joe and Robin. Playing a fine looking Gretsch electric guitar, she sang a short set of songs which ranged from folk nostalgia on the delightful Jack & Ivy to a Billy Bragg like sense of outrage on the savagely delivered She Was Just Walking Home. Clearly the Glasgow audience had warmed to her (her T-shirt, adorned with the slogan “ Tories Lie Bab” – bab being a Birmingham term for babe – undoubtedly helped) as Bennett was able to cajole them into singing along with her on two songs from her recent acapella album, Alone On A Hill. To hear the low thrum of “yoy, yoy, yoy” repeated by the crowd throughout Trees, so early in the evening, was somewhat akin to, as Bennett said, being at a singing workshop, but it was also quite uniting, a theme repeated in the other sing-along, Growing Peas, where we all sang “I really need to see you and sing the songs out loud, being in a place with the people I love and playing to a real live crowd”. A lovely post pandemic nod to the power of live music.