They were queuing patiently around the block for half an hour or more to catch the legendary ex-Fleetwood Mac guitarist and singer, Peter Green, in concert at Londons Union Chapel. Pity then those who were still shuffling forwards to the entrance while upcoming singer-songwriter, Andrew Morris, provided a sparkling warm-up set. They missed a great appetiser. Morris played a selection of songs from his two EPs and threw in a couple of new, and as yet untitled, offerings. His confident performance was only dampened by a broken string, which conspired to cut short his set by a song. Maybe he should have asked Peter Green if he had a spare acoustic out back among the impressive electrics.
Morris got a measured, respectful response from an audience who plainly hadnt come to see him but were prepared to lend an ear to an accomplished singer and thoughtful songwriter. In a way this set the tone for the rest of the evening because respect hung heavy, both on stage and in the auditorium. Morris paved the way for a man who is clearly held in great affection by a largely, though not entirely, ageing audience. The guitarist is billed as Peter Green & Friends, a ubiquitous title for a collective of accomplished musicians who provide backbone to Greens filigree. The backing band consists of rhythm guitarist and front man, Mike Dodd, Matt Radford on double bass, drummer Andrew Flude, Geraint Watkins on keys and tenor saxophonist, Martin Winning. This was the last leg of 19-date UK tour over February and March, a strenuous schedule for a sixty-three year old you might think.
After a short interval during which most people favoured retaining a seat over chancing their arm in the Chapels bar, Peter Green took the stage. His portly, grey whiskered appearance seemed light years from the slim youth with dark gypsy-like looks who was revered as possibly the finest white blues guitarist theres ever been. Wearing a dark blue spotted bandana, Green sat down, side on with a folder atop a small music stand for support and remained in situ until pre-encore, seldom speaking but smiling quite a bit. Meanwhile rhythm man, Mike Dodd, took the role of band leader and worked the audience, well aware of the ace in the pack seated alongside him. The set kicked into life with a familiar blues standard, Key To The Highway with Greens lazy toned vocal hardly ringing clear but redeemed by his sparsely expressive soloing.
Two more less individual blues tunes followed and, despite the fine musicianship displayed right across the stage, you began to get a mite irritated by the indistinct vocals and lack of dynamics. This venue, after all, is blest with staggeringly good acoustics and somehow it just wasnt working to script. The politely muted audience response, this from devotees too, said a great deal. Dodd did his best to enliven things, getting the audience to stand up and shimmy during Barefootin’ in which he took the lead vocal. The song, though, was routine rock nroll and any shimmying you sensed was being done out of duty rather than true motivation.
While you could hear all the instruments, Dodds onstage announcements packed diminishing clarity so you couldnt catch much by way of song titles or credits. Then suddenly at the start of an Elmore James number (thats all I got from Mr Dodd), Peter Greens vocal rang out with something approaching crystal clarity and his guitar volume was notched up to highlight some lovely fluid playing. The song, not surprisingly, got the first real response of the set. Things continued on an upward curve with the chilling The Dark End Of The Street, with Greens husky drawl and eloquent guitar embellishing a late sixties soul classic.
Greens lead guitar work continued to enchant on the slow blues that followed, supported by some great ensemble playing but sadly vocal clarity went AWOL again. It was time for Dodd to ask the audience to stand up once more. This and the next number fell into the functional rock meets r&b trap. Spirits were lifted as the band moved on to the early Fleetwood Mac classic Oh Well, the opening riff creating a wave of anticipation among the audience. It was messily delivered though with odd hesitancy and it lacked dynamics, the very thing the song is built on. Somewhere around the end of part one, redemption struck as the song abruptly morphed into the instrumental wonder that is Albatross. This was the undoubted highlight of the set with Peter Green waxing lyrical guitar against the stunningly calm and simplicity of cymbals, toms and bass. It went down a storm.
Greens vocals continued to suffer from less than audible reproduction, though occasionally a world-weary, seasoned phrase would make its way through and you were reminded that this ageing man really still has the blues. The final song felt a bit like youd just heard Mustang Sally fifteen times over and Dodds meet the band introductions were so protracted that you almost knew each members inside leg measurements. The two encores summed up the set in many ways. The old John Mayall song, Sitting In The Rain, was spot on, intimate and engaging, while Black Magic Woman should have been great but was a let down short, loose, messy, and vocally hazy.
All in all, the gig left you with widely contrasting emotions. Peter Green has had a huge influence over guitarists the world over. His is a true legacy and in so many ways it is a joy to see him performing again after all the troubles in his life, with drugs and mental health issues. You are thankful that he still has the ability to play some wonderful stuff and more so that he is obviously enjoying himself playing live. Those feelings are tempered by a sense that you are witnessing a bit of a freak show the guitar hero making his way back from a self-imposed musical wilderness, nurtured by his musician friends and loyal fans alike, at a time of life that many would want to put their feet up and retire gracefully.
There are times when less is more and this has been one of them.