Hailing from Bedfordshire and formed in 1967 was the magnificent British blues rock band, Jethro Tull. Martin Barre was the guitarist for over 40 years, making him a grand, grammy-winning figure in classic rock. To quench the thirst of Tull fans alike, Barre now tours, playing songs from the 70's and his solo stuff - and, more recently, music from his recently-released sixth solo album, Back to Steel.
It was a heart-warming sight inside the Phoenix Auditorium. People of different ages waited together, hands in pockets and pints a-plenty. A man in a leather jacket leaned on one wall with his (I assume) son, his son's beanie-hat pulled low and hair flowing. As the lights dimmed and the stage was readied after a tight-sounding support set from The Mocking Birds (local band! Exeter! Check them out!), the pair moved closer to the stage. Cheers erupted as the band stepped on, warmly lit by the stage lights.
Barre tours with singer and rhythm guitarist Dan Crisp, drummer George Lindsay and bassist Alan Thomson - all talented, distinguished musicians. Also on stage were two singers introduced as Alex and Becca, bringing soulful melodies to Crisp's vocals.
Guitar over his shoulder, Barre stepped to the mic, claiming Exeter as the band's "almost hometown". Without further ado, the band tore into their first song, the crowd's hands flying out of pockets and by this point, pints were not-so-a-plenty. It was hard not to smile throughout the set; Barre was as brilliant as you'd imagine, well-complemented by Crisp's leading frontman-ship.
'Watch Your Step' was the first song, a blues track originally by Bobby Parker and made heavy by The Martin Barre Band. Also by Bobby Parker and made heavier by The Martin Barre Band (but firstly, guitarist Joe Bonamassa) was the next track, 'Steal Your Heart Away'. Crisp has a beautiful voice, and imitated Bonamassa well - not to mention the two look quite alike (especially when you're at the back of the auditorium without your glasses). In fact, they looked so alike that I ended up grabbing the lady next to me and demanding to know the name of this mysterious singer. I had enough foresight not to ask "IS THAT JOE BONAMASSA?!" for fear of seeming like a complete idiot - yet here I am, admitting it to you all. Anyway...
The band performed the title track of Barre's new album, 'Back to Steel'. A perfect balance of powerful guitar solos courtesy of Barre, solid drum and bass from Lindsay and Thomson, and gritty vocals layered by Alex and Becca's, the song nods to the rock n' roll songs of the 70's.
'Eleanor Rigby' was also covered by the band, after Barre claimed it was song number seven, which "has to be a Beatles song" to humbly "cheer the audience up". Of the Jethro Tull songs, Barre played the wonderfully long and sultry 'Thick As a Brick', Crisp singing the brilliantly-written lyrics. 'Sweet Dream' was also played, its explosive hard-rock tendencies and changing time signatures giving it a darker edge. Of course, 'A Song For Jeffrey' was also played, trademark flute replaced by the high-end doubling-up of Crisp and Barre's guitars.
'Crossroads' by famous delta-blues player, Robert Johnson, was also covered by the band. "He was a womanizer," Barre announced to cheers from the crowd, "A drinker! A lover of other men's wives!" He also explained the rather gruesome demise of Johnson, before diving right into the song.
The also-bluesy 'Locomotive Breath' was their encore, lengthened with the most room-embracing of instrumentals as a jovial "screw you" to the 10pm curfew set on the band.
A hell of an experience, I strongly suggest you keep an eye on The Martin Barre Band tour dates, and go watch these musicians in action. You won't be sorry!
Reviewed by Nickie Shobeiry, photography by Simon Edward Johns.