above the Argent listing in the Academy gig guide was somewhat tragic.
Jackie Leven had been booked in to play less than a week before. R.I.P.
Which makes band reunions all the more poignant these days: rock's getting old.
for a long time fondly remembered as much as for the songs they 'gave
away' as those that they had hits with, finally got it back together in
2010 at High Voltage. A tentative set maybe but the guys must have got a
taste for it as this short tour now proves.
some reason I've still got my 'Sounds' poster of Russ with his guitar
that looks like it's hewn out of some off-coloured Emmental.
been a fan of the band since the early seventies I always admired their
eclectic blend of melody, hard rock, funky rock, and frequently tinged
with prog. I had never seen them back in the day when – in Rod
Argent's words – they could blow Rainbow off stage. But for some reason
I've still got my 'Sounds' poster of Russ with his guitar that looks like it's hewn out of some off-coloured Emmental.
So it was
with a certain amount of middle-aged excitement that I made my way to
the opening gig on this all-too-short tour. Academy 3 is frankly not
befitting of a band who once frequently graced the pages of the music
press and the TV studios of the BBC but it was a terrific opportunity to
witness true rock craftsmen at close quarters.
was 2011 this would have been one of the gigs of the year. As it is, it
sets the bar almost at Olympian levels for 2012.
terms of craft they don't come much better than Russ Ballard. Always an
excellent if underrated guitarist Russ has had a lucrative life as a
songwriter par excellence. Rod Argent on the other hand has maintained a
gigging profile most recently with The Zombies, whilst bassist Jim Rodford has worked consistently with The Kinks and
with Bob Henrit there is a certain magic and I think the band must sense
this as well. If it was 2011 this would have been one of the gigs of the
year. As it is, it sets the bar almost at Olympian levels for 2012.
with 'It's Only Money' (Part 1 and 2) we were immediately drawn in to
one of several utterly superb Hammond solos from Argent. But progressing
through a set list that included also some of the musicians' finest
individual moments - such as a humongously good 'She's Not There' (Argent) and 'I
Don't Believe In Miracles' (Ballard) - this was a triumph of wonderful
musicianship and durable songwriting (And due credit to Chris
White who co-wrote some of the earlier material).
Rod kept us informed about the songs and provided a context and whilst
the audience were of a certain age and probably reasonably well versed in
the band's history it was a really nice touch and embellished as
Jim or Russ.
Russ Ballard doesn't need to lift a guitar again and I am sure he was
last heard of peeling grapes (or having them peeled for him) somewhere
exotic. It will certainly be warmer there than Manchester in January.
There has been a lot of recycling and reinvention in rock over the past
couple of years but to my ears Argent sounded as good as they probably
were back in their heyday, right down to the dual vocals of Argent and
Ballard and trademark harmonies, with even Jim Rodford adding his vocal
In a show
that would have satiated any lost or relapsed Argent fan, the band saved
their biggest hitters for last. 'Hold Your Head Up' - with an exhilarating
audience call and response before the final section of power chord and
pneumatic bass - was simply magnificent, whilst 'God Gave Rock And Roll To
You' must have kept Ballard in some grandeur since he wrote it back in
There is a
certain good spirit about this enterprise. I mean Russ Ballard doesn't
need to lift a guitar again and I am sure he was last heard of peeling
grapes (or having them peeled for him) somewhere exotic. It will
certainly be warmer there than Manchester in January. Rod Argent
keeps busy with his own projects and The Zombies. But as they said
tonight, this reunion gives them the chance to play songs they never
played on stage back in the day. ('Sister Mary', 'Be Free')
now be an incentive and - dare I say a momentum - to carry on. A new
album, maybe? The only tragedy is that they didn't play 'Tragedy' but I
am sure there is still time for that.
Setlist: The Coming Of Kahoutek/ It's Only Money I & II/ Keep On
Rollin'/ Be Free/ Rejoice/ I Am The Dance Of Ages/ Sweet Mary/ She's Not
There/ I Don't Believe In Miracles/ Liar/ Since You've Been Gone/ Hold
Your Head Up/ God Gave Rock And Roll To You