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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
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.
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