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FRANCIS DUNNERY and The New Progressives
Bush Hall, London 1 November 2009
The last time I saw Francis Dunnery, he was belting out pared down
reworkings of old It Bites classics, accompanied by the sweet tones of backing
vocalist Dorie Jackson and a few dozen friends and fans in the bizarre setting
of my kitchen (check out Mark Taylor's GRTR!
review) opposite the sink and a foot to the left of my Wallace and
A quantum leap from the ‘big hair' pop/prog of 80s It Bites where Top of the
Pops and Vari-Lite strewn venues were his natural habitat, but Francis is not
your usual rock star, as well as his normal album/touring schedule, he plays
House Concerts all over the world where he can play and talk to fans in intimate
Between the progtastic days of It Bites and tonight it has been a long journey
for Francis, relocating to the United States, various solo ventures, and a
number of albums, touring as guitarist for Robert Plant as well as guesting on
albums by Elton John and Carlos Santana.
As heavily publicised, this tour and the coinciding album There's a Whole New
World Out There were going to be based around Francis revisiting It Bites
material with a new slant.
The venue was packed with a crowd eager to hear Francis returning musically to
his roots, and the dimming of the lights sent a wave of anticipation around the
1900s frescoed dance hall.
However instead of the usual gig intro tape the voice of a hypnotherapist filled
the hall but instead of getting us to give up smoking or drink, Francis' voice
punctuated the calm encouraging us to perform lewd acts and buy t shirts.
Starting on a high, the band hit the stage and launched straight into Kiss Like
Judas an old It Bites classic, but with Francis armed with a semi acoustic, the
song was given a shuffle/swing treatment, more restrained than the 20+ year old
original, but the new arrangement explored the songs beautiful melody with
perfect harmony vocals provided by Dorie Jackson.
Next up is the title track of the latest album There's a Whole New World
Out There and again the more intimate and relaxed feel to the evening
continues, the song's intro being very reminiscent of Peg by Steely Dan
and the stripped down sound gives a real dynamism.
One of the biggest surprises on the new album is the inclusion of New
Order's Love Will Tear Us Apart and tonight it is given additional
surprise by the appearance on stage of Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery.
It's folkish sensibilities are the perfect foil for Rothery's fluid yet
restrained solo lifting it to new heights, the crowd, in the main prog
stalwarts, respond accordingly and with a polite wave Steve acknowledges the
response and disappears stage left.
The show is now gathering momentum and Francis straps on his old trademark It
Bites white Stratocaster and bursts into the opening riff of Calling To You a
whirling eastern riff with drummer Paul Ramsay, bassist Jamie Bishop and rhythm
guitarist Brett Kull driving the rhythm giving Frank plenty of room to flex his
rock chops and show that he still cuts it amongst the other great prog
guitarists with Dorie providing an Yvonne Elliman counter to Franks Eric
Clapton, while on keyboards, Tom Brislin fills the sound perfectly.
In fact the whole show has the feel of a man rediscovering his roots but
taking them in a less obvious direction, like Clapton he proves that even
though he certainly can, you don't have to play at a million miles an hour
to play beautifully.
Which brings us perfectly to the next song, yet again an unexpected cover, this
time it's Japan's Still Life in Mobile Homes, a haunting song made even more
haunting by the Blade Runneresque flute playing of Theo Travis.
The set moves through the pop hooks of Holiday and onto Charlie where the
legendary tapboard (a complicated instrument that defies description) comes into
it's own creating a blend of Latin staccato and Japanese classical sounds.
Punctuating the evening with his now legendary humour Francis the band move on
through It Bites classics Sister Sarah, Underneath Your Pillow and Yellow
Next up is one of the new album's high points, an edgy cover of Back in New York
City from Genesis' Lamb Lies Down. With Francis paying homage to his musical
For the shows closing song it is Let Us All Go another It Bites song, but one
that Francis said he had only agreed to do if the band played it as a bluegrass
number, enter two young musicians discovered whilst on his house tour guitarist
Luke Machin and fiddle player Guy Fieldhouse who proceed to blow up a
shitkicking storm with Luke stealing Franks thunder by playing a searing solo at
a thousand notes a second. The audience are jigging like crazy as the show comes
to a dramatic close and the band disappear.
The obvious stomping and chanting of MORE brings the band back to the stage and
it's a sing along to Still Too Young To Remember, smiling singing faces all
around as the show ends and the house lights go up.
A very different evening for most, especially for those of us that remember the
flowing locks and rock star poses of 80s It Bites. But Francis Dunnery is a man
who has moved on and despite his legendary prog guitarist status it is clear to
see he is a man totally at ease with himself, his songs and his new less flash
and more refined guitar playing.
A great gig and a speedy return to these shores is essential
Review by Geoff Banks
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