Well 20 years have passed but you wouldn’t know it to see Brian ‘Fastman’ Lester (Bass, Keyboard, Trumpet and curiously, a swanee whistle - a prop that would be used, both as a percussion instalment and for comedic effect throughout the entire performance) and Huey Morgan (Vocals) let rip on stage, joined by Frank Benbini, their drummer since 2003. They entertained the crowd with their own unique blend of Hip-hop, blues and rock at their gig at the Great Hall in Exeter University on Friday night.
As I stood waiting to be let in I eyeballed the clientele, from 20 something’s in their drainpipe jeans and hipster beards, to balding Goths, they were all there. But it appeared to be predominantly people of my era; the 40 something’s who remembered Huey and the boys from the good old days, when records were big, black and vinyl and a tape was more than just something you stick wrapping paper down with.
While we waited we, the expectant audience and I were cordially entertained with a diverse collection of TV and Film clips as diverse as the Crazy 88 scene from Kill Bill, to some 1920s footage of Harold Lloyd, but, like the slick professionals that they are, at precisely 9pm the films finished, the lights went down and, entering to the John Williams’ Star Wars theme, like a phoenix rising from a rock and roll flame, out came the boys and, just like that, Huey ceased being an actor, Radio and TV personality and resumed his life as a rock star… And he resumed the hell out of it too!
And then suddenly there I was, standing with pen and pad in hand, in front of a man I had fantasised about since I was a fresh faced teenager - I won’t go into gritty details, but let’s just say that it involved me, Mike Patton and Huey, a large sum of money and a bottle of Jack Daniels. But without pausing to chat and with the class and professionalism of an old master the band snapped straight into their seminal track, ‘Fun, Lovin’ Criminals’. The crowd exploded! And with a cue from Huey to “Make some fucking noise!” the gig had started with a bang.
It was only after this track that the boys addressed the audience, if only to apologise for some feedback, but with typical Huey charm he added “We’ll keep it under control, and I hope you’re gonna’ keep yourselves under control too?!”
After a couple more tracks from the first album ‘Come Find Yourself’ – which they played in its entirety - the boys congratulated the audience on being “Nice fucking people” while astutely noting that half the people there were too young to even remember them. But unfortunately for me, the combination of standing pretty far back to take notes, together with the thick New York Accents of Huey and Brian, I found it hard to completely comprehend everything the guys were saying and at times it was like watching a badly pirated Scorsese movie. But it must have been hilarious because the front rows were going wild!
Then came the moment I had been looking forward to, when they played their rendition of a pivotal track in the history of music and one Huey managed effortlessly, the Hal David classic ‘We Have All The Time In The World’. Huey’s deep and rich vocals lend themselves perfectly to this genre and I’m sure that his gravelly tones and suave charisma would make even the late great Louis Armstrong swoon.
Now, up to this point the boys had remained pretty stationary, anchored to their mics and instruments, only gesticulating to the lyrics, but during ‘Bear Hug’ something seemed to possess Brian and he emerged from behind the keyboards and started almost straddling the drums, much to Frank and Huey’s amusement.
It was during the album’s title track, ‘Come Find Yourself’ that they guys really showed their professionalism as they continued playing un-phased while a scuffle broke out near the front of the stage and two security guards suddenly vaulted the barriers to drag a drunken idiot out of the audience... I had noticed that prick earlier… there’s always one…
After ‘Crime and Punishment’, there was more banter, accented by Brian and his swanee whistle and Frank exclaiming loudly “I’d like to see Professor Green do this shit!” before pounding out the beat to ‘Methadonia’. And with that, a “Thanks for hanging with us” and a wave, the boys exit stage left.
The crowd cheered… a long passionate cheer… Everyone looked at one another, anxious that this was the end of the gig and the boys were gone for good. But, come on, the poor bastards had been playing for an hour and deserved a sit down and a loo break. Yes, these guys are legends, they are musical geniuses, but they’re not fucking super-heroes for God’s sake! And I bet their bladders aren’t what they used to be either… and for that matter nor was mine… So while the crowds all kept their places, desperate for some glimmer of hope that they might come back for more, I popped to the ladies.
Re-entering the hall just as the band returned to the stage, I decide to slink out of the safety of the back row and make my way to the front of the stage. Risking life and hairdo, I battled against the fanatical women of the front row vigorously gyrating to the music, each one of them, waving their arms, desperately hoping for the chance to catch Huey’s eye, like some horny 20 year-olds… And admittedly, I secretly wished the same.
From my new vantage point I finally noted how slick the boys looked in their grey pinstriped suits, like a trio of New York mafia family members. But while Brian smartly wore his with a shirt and tie, Huey, with a nod to his hip-hop roots, preferred a more urban approach, adding a chunky chain and a pair of Grey Nike’s.
Now I am not one for audience participation at gigs, even when encouraged to do so by band members - it’s one of the reasons I despise Pantomimes - but even I found myself getting carried away and singing along to “Friday night”, yep! Those boys know how to rouse and audience!
The next two songs were equally as stirring, Korean Bodega’ and ‘Love Unlimited’ made me forget what I was there for and I made little or no notes, so I’ll just have to rely on my memory for this one… And I do remember that they totally nailed it!
Their finale was ‘Big Night Out’ from 1998, a song that left us, and them, on a high. And so, with a swanee and a cheeky grin, they left the stage.
It had been an amazing experience… I had thoroughly enjoyed it, the fans most certainly had, but most importantly the boys seem to have too and left the stage to Clarke Williams’ version of “I’ve Had The Time Of My Life’, which I thought was very apt.
So with the smell of cider wafting up from the wet floor and a steady step, I made my way out of the building into the cool Exeter night with buzzing ears, a pad full of notes and the promise of a Tequila hangover.
Scooby Snack anyone?
Bombin The L
I Can't Get With That
King Of NY
All The Time In The World
Come Find Yourself
Crime And Punishment
Coney Island Girl
Big Night Out
Words by Charlotte Cooper
Pictures by Julian Baird