Finally, a Saturday night gig! I’ve been used to rocking up to midweek affairs for a few weeks now and was starting to lose my mojo (do you still call it a ‘mojo’?), would Barrence Whitfield & The Savages restore my faith in the power of rock n’ roll or should I head to the local pub/club, drink countless ‘shots’ prior to dancing myself silly to remixes of sugar coated dross that’s flooding our airwaves right now, well read on to find out!
I arrived at The Phoenix a little earlier than normal, unsure why, maybe it’s because the kids don’t need sorting out as much as they do midweek, allowing me a little more time to get myself together! There were a few people milling about but nowhere near the volume of people that are normally frequenting the bar on a Saturday evening, something was amiss and I wanted to know what was going on. I tracked down the ever present and super friendly ‘Front of House’ Manager ‘Bob’ and asked him for the lowdown, apparently, there was a big event on that wasn’t due to kick off until 9pm so the Barrence Whitfield & The Savages show was going to be held in the Voodoo Lounge upstairs, this made perfect sense and answered my previous question about where everyone was….
Julian the photographer arrived, full of cold/cough/man flu (delete as you see fit, it’s all the same to me), from the look on his face and knowing that he had peeled himself off the sofa after the rugby to get his stuff together to attend the show, I had a feeling that he wouldn’t last the evening, the poor lamb!
We headed up to the Voodoo Lounge where the stage was set up for Barrence et al to entertain the people that I hoped would fill the room.
For anyone who doesn’t know who Barrence Whitfield is, let me, via the powers of Wikipedia, tell you a little about him….
Born Barry White in June 1955, Barrence Whitfield if an American R&B/Soul vocalist, most famous for fronting his own band. He sang in gospel choirs and played drums in funk bands throughout the 1970’s, owing to another cat called Barry White, he decided to use the stage name ‘Barrence Whitfield’ instead to avoid any confusion. His debut album was released in 1984, consisting of mainly obscure soul covers and his most recent record /, which has been described as “the most punk soul record you’ve ever heard”, was released in 2015. He has remained active in-between these dates, producing 13 albums in the time. BBC Radio DJ Andy Kershaw caught wind of BW&TS and bought them to the UK to tour in the mid 80’s. He has supported some amazing names in the past, Bo Diddley, Tina Turner and Robert Cray to name just three. In 2013, BW&TS appeared on Jools Holland’s ‘Later’ show where they played a killer track called The Cornerman. So there you go, a one paragraph look back at his life, so how did he do in Exeter, well read on to find out….
He took to the stage, thanked the audience for taking part in this ‘private’ gig and said that they had played Exeter before a couple of years back, they launched into the super bluesy tones of ‘The Wolf pack’ which saw the audience move a little closer to the stage and loosen up a little. ‘Bip Bop Bip’ sounded sublime, some proper 50’s style rock n’ roll, it also showcased BW’s awesome vocal range, transitioning from soulful croon to screaming banshee in a nanosecond. Had Little Richard and Wilson Pickett ‘got it on’ back in the day, Barrence Whitfield would have been the result! BW treated us to some killer dance moves during ‘Bloody Mary’, proving he could walk the walk as well as talk the talk!
‘I’m Sad About It’ reminded me of classic James Brown, a great horn infused intro which broke into a soul classic, igniting the audience with its groove. This led into a more rock sounding number called ‘Willow’ which wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Rolling Stones setlist.
A rather ‘refreshed’ member of the audience asked if BW would like a drink and he said that he’s a clean man, no drink, no smokes prior to the drummer adding that he just has a problem when it comes to buying records (he sounds like my kind of guy!) prior to launching into a track called ‘I’m a Full Grown Man’.
That feeling you get when you hear something that just sounds right, sounds like it’s being played by a bunch of guys who are experts in their field, this is how I felt whilst listening to these guys, it just felt ….GOOD!
BW told us a story of a boxer from Washington State called Willie Meehan who knocked down the legendry fighter Jack Dempsey, this led into the highly charged horn led rock tones of ‘Willie Meehan’, BW ducking, dodging and throwing jabs that would have impressed Rocky Balboa!
They played an absolute killer track that I was sure was called ‘Why Must I Lie’ but I cannot find it anywhere on the Internet so maybe I wrote it down incorrectly? Anyway, it wouldn’t have sounded out of place as an intro track to a classic Tarantino movie such as Jackie Brown.
He introduced the next track as being about loneliness, a wife had committed a crime and her husband was left in the outside world, having to fend for himself and he was crying, why was he crying? It wasn’t because he missed his wife, it was because he couldn’t cook, this took us nicely into ‘Incarceration Casserole’ which was a perfectly cooked up serving of classic soul that had people up and dancing along. A cover of ‘You Told a Lie’ by the legendary ‘tough soul’ singer Johnny Sales followed this which allowed BW to add his trademark vocals and put his own mark on proceedings. ‘Just Moved In’ was another slice of classic rock n’ roll that had the audience jiving away like there was no tomorrow.
After a short break, the band took to the stage once again to play another couple of tracks before the power was killed (only joking, the Phoenix would never do that…) They burst back into the room and launched into ‘Ramblin’ Rose’ which appeared on MC5’s 1969 debut album ‘Kick out the Jams’, ‘Georgia Slop’ (which I noted down catastrophically incorrectly as ‘The Joy of Slop’ – no wonder Spotify couldn’t find it!) prior to ending with the classic ‘Dig Yourself’ which closed the curtain on this amazing but surprisingly somewhat under attended show.
It would be rude of me not to mention the band at this late stage of the write up, ‘The Savages‘ were a super talented bunch who looked cool, calm and collected throughout the set, Peter Greenburg (guitar) remaining focused on his task, Phil Lenker doing a superb job of keeping the bass notes thumping along, Andy Jody on the skins and Tom Quartulli dazzling us with his sax solo’s.
All in all, a highly charged and entertaining evening, there should have been so many more people there but as Barrence himself said afterwards, they don’t mind if it’s 5 or 500 in the audience, they give 100% everytime, I can truly say that they certainly did that!
They are to leave UK shores shortly and hit Europe where they’ll be playing gigs in France, The Netherlands, Italy, Finland, Germany and Spain (not necessarily in that order). If you missed them in the UK this time around, I’m sure they’ll be back, unsure when, but they will be!
Words by Steve Muscutt
Photography by Julian Baird © JULIANBAIRD.COM
To see all the pics that we took at the show, please click HERE