Big Bad Barrence has been rockin’ stages for 30 years now and he knows his trade. The five piece band stroll on to the cramped Cluny stage just after 930 and blast straight into the MC5’s “Ramblin’ Rose”. It’s an impressive high octane start to a stompin’ 90 minute show that is solidly based around the new album ‘Dig Thy Savage Soul’. Barrence is a big bear of a man dressed in a sharp suit and bright red shirt and The Savages are as cool as any band in the country whilst guitarist Peter Greenberg has the look of a young mean Robbie Robbertson, and plays almost as well too. The sound of the Savages is a thick bluesy stew with honkin’ baritone sax and a firmly anchored but funky rhythm section at the heart of the beast.
Barrence is in great humour and banters with the crowd throughout the night whilst the pace from the opening song barely slackens as they blast into ‘Bip Bop Bap’ it’s clear that the band are intent on giving a total 100% commitment to the cause of hot R&B tonight. By the third song the sweat is beginning to seep through onto Barrence’s shirt darkening the red hues considerably. He’s bawling “Hubba Hubba Hubba” at the top of his not inconsiderable voice as the band blast into ‘Bloody Mary’ and the crowd begin to groove down at the front, much to the big man’s delight. Barrence appeared on “Later” a while ago and performed ‘I’m Sad About it’ and that tear jerking break up song is done again tonight as a big classic smokin’ soul tune with the Savages locking together in a big soulful groove. With barely a pause for breath the big man is off into a steamy ‘Tellin You For Your Own Good’ and then straight into a thundering ‘Black Jack’ that has the crowd moving.
Barrence is a great raconteur and serves up ‘Oscar Levant’ which he describes as a song about a man with “evil on his mind” before making a complicated raucous joke about Levant, Marylyn Monroe, Arthur Miller and some kosher chicken which can’t be repeated in polite company. Mid way through the set we get ‘Just Moved In’, a good old fashioned rock n roll song that sends a ripple through the crowd with a honkin’ Bill Haley style sax solo and a classic guitar solo a-la Carl Perkins. We all get caught up in Barrence’s chants of “Say Yeah!” Before another big soul ballad “Who’s Gonna Rock my Baby When I’m Gone’ keeps things cookin’. Another character song follows as Barrence strips of his jacket and tells us the story of Willie Mehane a classic boxer who knocked out the great Jack Dempsey – twice. He’s shadow boxing throughout the song, delivering punches towards the audience and grinning wildly. He pulls his jacket back on because, he tells us, “it feels good”. He launches straight into what turns out to be the highlight of the set – ‘You Told a Lie’. It’s a classic steamy soul ballad that ends up with Barrence weeping in wounded pain as the Savages crowd round him patting him tenderly on the back and I swear that the big man has real tears in his eyes. We are almost at the end now as Barrence launches into a classic from his very first album ‘Ship Sails at Six’ and it’s met by whooping from the heaving audience. The main set ends with ‘Walkin with Barrence’ and the audience are heartily screaming for more as some random guy in a pork-pie hat leaps on the stage and shouts “Barrence Whitfield & the Savages – the Greatest R&B Band on the planet!” into the microphone. He’s probably right too. The mighty show ends on a thundering ‘Mama Get the Hammer” with a dedication to our local heroes – Eric Burdon & the Animals. The only thing missing is the promised streak by my mate Derek, another Cluny stalwart. Where were you Derek?
Reviewer: Greg Johnson
Photographer: Graeme Harwood