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The Roundhouse, London 18 October 2010

Steve Winwood has been one of Britain's greatest voices for some 45 years since his days as a teenage prodigy with the Spencer Davis Group. However for all the respect afforded him in the music industry, he has rarely converted that into a sustained public profile.

However in the last couple of years his collaborations with Eric Clapton, a BBC4 documentary and a career spanning Best Of have again brought him into the spotlight, making this a good occasion to catch him at another recently revived icon with a distinguished musical
history, namely the Roadhouse at Chalk Farm.

Looking youthful at 62, the aching, soulful voice is still in good form, albeit a bit rougher around the edges, but he makes a reluctant rock star. Only twice throughout the show did he even speak to the audience, once to introduce his fellow band members, instead preferring to bow modestly and clap the (noticeably fifty-plus and middle-class) audience.

He seemed much happier just playing his Hammond organ as band leader in an unusual, world music flavoured line-up, with a percussionist featuring more prominently in the sound than the drummer and guitarist, and no bass player.

Early in the set we had an insight into his past with I'm A Man from Spencer Davis days and he then donned guitar for a beautifully judged Can't Find My Way Home, but after the rocking Dirty City which reminded me of Peter Frampton with Steve playing a great solo on his Stratocaster, a succession of jazzy meanderings stretched out, often at 10-15 minutes a time, with relatively little singing.

There was no denying their musical dexterity, notably multi-instrumentalist Paul Booth whose solos on a variety of instruments including flute and saxophone often attracted spontaneous applause, but this self-indulgence was increasingly testing the patience of the audience.

Having seen him a few years ago in America I understood the show would take this direction in places, but eavesdropping on comments leaving the show, many had been expecting to hear more hits. Notably, the days of his eighties commercial success, when for a while he was a fixture along Dire Straits and Phil Collins in city yuppies' new CD players, were almost ignored, until Higher Love closed out the set, but even that was done in a jazzy, almost calypso style.

The encores were worth waiting for though: his Traffic signature Dear Mr Fantasy, with great musicianship including a guitar solo from Steve worthy of Eric Clapton, and some great organ and saxophone jamming during Gimme Some Lovin (it felt surreal to hear the original singer perform this, after so many years hearing Thunder cover it).

The crowd had finally come to life, though I sensed many left disappointed at the introspective nature of the show with a mere 13 songs fitted into two hours . But here is a man happy to hide in the shadows and play music he loves for the sake of it without pandering to rock n roll's usual common denominators.

Review by Andy Nathan

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