Saturday, August 3, 2013

Robin Trower - crossing the Bridge of Sighs



The rock trio format produced many great bands in the 1960s and 70s, from Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience through Rory Gallagher’s bands, the early Thin Lizzy with Eric Bell and one of my personal favourites, the Robin Trower Band.
Trower was a member of Procol Harum during their 60s heyday but by 1970/71, he was forging a new sound and direction. His first post-Procol band, Jude evolved into the three piece Robin Trower band and their first album Twice Removed from Yesterday established the blueprint that they refined through the 1970s.
Early days of the RT band, with Reg Isidore (right)
Trower's guitar playing drew instant attention because of the similarities in tone and sheer power with Jimi Hendrix. The early comparisons with Jimi were valid to some extent. The Robin Trower sound did borrow from the master, but Trower was soon able to demonstrate that he had his own personal style that was as distinctive as Jimi’s. He was genuinely trying to forge a new direction for the rock trio and, as Charles Shaar Murray’s review of their second album Bridge of Sighs indicates, Trower was able to win people over with the sheer force of his playing.
CSM's review states: "
Trower and his sidemen seem to give the evoking of an atmosphere very high priority, which means that unless you’re prepared to sit down and listen hard, you’re going to miss the point completely. By pursuing a direction totally unlike that of any other three-piece guitar-led band, Trower may well be cutting himself off from a large number of potential listeners who are only interested in guitar pyrotechnics of the kind he is quite capable of playing if he so desires. However, what he is doing here is ultimately far more valuable."
The NME review of  'Bridge of Sighs' from 1973

"It's just a bit of a yawn," said Robin at the time, with regard to the Hendrix comparisons: "I guess it gives people something to talk about. People like to put you in a pigeonhole if they're uncertain. Maybe it makes it easier for people to accept what I'm doing, the Hendrix thing gives them something to hold on to."
Of course, the Trower sound had another key ingredient – the smooth soulful voice of bass player Jimmy Dewar who, along with drummer Reg Isidore provided the dynamic backing on the first two RT band albums. Dewar was undoubtedly one of the great British vocalists and his contribution was crucial in making their albums and live shows so memorable. This video clip shows what a silky smooth voice can really add in a rock context. It's an early version of Day Of The Eagle (from Bridge of Sighs) with different lyrics.

Isidore was muscular and frenetic - a key part of the band in the early days. But he was maybe a little too loose for Trower’s liking. Robin said at the time of the third album For Earth Below, when Bill Lordan joined, “'Reggie just started to drift a bit. I run a very tight ship”. And so in came the tall blond American Lordon, who had previously played with Sly Stone and, it was claimed (somewhat implausibly) with Jimi in the Band of Gypsies. Trower said they all knew when they got together that he was the right choice: “It was classic! He knew he was right for us before we did. He'd been into us from the time the first album came out and he's been trying to get hold of me ever since, cause he knew he was The Drummer. He phoned me up and said, 'I'm the guy you want. Don't listen to anybody else.' And he was right. He was absolutely perfect.”

My vantage point for Robin Trower at the Reading Festival in August 1975
The RTB were one of the best live bands I ever saw. And that run of albums, from Twice Removed… through Bridge of Sighs, For Earth Below and Long Misty Days were constants on my record deck at the time. I saw them live a few times, notably at the Reading Festival in 1975, when they provided the high point of the Sunday afternoon. I have this memory of the crowd getting in such a frenzy – it was a sunny afternoon at the end of what had been a typically sodden weekend (it poured down during the headline set by Yes on the Saturday night) and a kind of delirium came over the crowd during Trower’s set. At the climax of one of the songs, a great wave of cheering could be heard as a (good-natured) rubbish fight broke out across a no-man’s land puddle of mud in the middle of the crowd. I just remember this cloud of paper and empty bottles suspended in the air, the crowd seemingly spurred on by the excitement of the music.

The BBC recorded them for an In Concert show in early 1975 but then ruined the recording by releasing it on CD in the mid 1990s with fake crowd noise. I have the original, recorded off the radio, and Trower is incredible. It’s an old-fashioned ‘wireless’ recording, from the radio onto a Phillips portable cassette recorder,
complete with Pete Drummond’s between song announcements. I've never heard a better version of Daydream. It’s a must for any fans of the classic era Trower band. The band are at the top of their game, Trower's tone and fluid soloing have rarely been captured so consistently in one show. Apart from the version of Daydream, highlights for me are the new song Gonna Be More Suspicious which really jumps out of the speakers on the BBC version. Lady Love crackles with intensity. Too Rolling Stoned was an instant classic. Here's my recording of Daydream, and I have pasted links to a re-broadcast of the entire show at the foot of this post:


 I saw the RTB again at the Hammersmith Odeon on the tour promoting Long Misty Days. Trower provided a jaw-dropping volume on the title track with its wall-of-guitar intro. Although he has continued to make records to this day, his reputation rests on that golden period in the mid 70s and the trio format with Jimmy Dewar on vocals. Dewar sadly died in 2002. Robin Trower can be seen on the gig circuit, still playing the classic material. In 2005, when I saw him playing at the Mean Fiddler in London, the volume knob was still way up at 11. He began the set with a terrific rendition of Too Rolling Stoned. What amazes me about this clip is that my camera was able to process the sound so well. It really was very loud.   

BBC In Concert Program, January 1975
Day of The Eagle, Bridge of Sighs, Gonna Be More Suspicious
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnGbbd_nU-Q&list=PL-R4Z6A4NVglr89GKkAf-Smwb-SStIlMZ

Fine Day, Lady Love, Daydream
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAlQN66vOQo&list=PL-R4Z6A4NVglr89GKkAf-Smwb-SStIlMZ

Too Rolling Stoned, I Can't Wait Much Longer
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPg6b8im6sw&list=PL22xMk52Uk_QUi0CbEMmbUPTJzHJSSboT

Alethea, Little Bit of Sympathy, Rock Me Baby
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtVtICWvcXE&list=PLA4AD3535D7E692A6

Reading Festival, 23rd August 1975
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAoVe9CvCHM

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