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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Chuck Berry

(with Nine Below Zero)
100 Club, London
March 23rd 2008

It’s around seven o’clock in the evening on an unseasonably early Easter Sunday in London, and outside on the capital’s retailing street of shame bewildered tourists are walking by the closing down sales and trash shops into the face of a biting wind and stinging sleet.

Inside the 100 Club it’s already hot and sweaty, late lunches and chocolate overdoses mixing with the plentiful wine and beer to produce a pleasingly benign atmosphere. It’s aided by the fantastic music being played by the exceptionally youthful-looking comedian and TV presenter (and owner of an allegedly huge collection of ‘obscure’ rock and roll records) Mark Lamarr. It’s cracking stuff, and most appropriate for a crowd who’ve paid what can only frankly be called a ridiculous amount of money (sorry Serge) to attend a ‘private’ gig featuring an 81- year-old three-times jailbird who in the past has been notorious for his throw-away live performances. We need something to settle our nerves.
Helping out are Nine Below Zero – you know who they are – with the former Rory Gallagher rhythm section Gerry McAvoy on bass, and Brendan O’Neill on drums, Dennis Greaves on guitars and vocals, and harmonica virtuoso Mark Feltham on virtuoso harmonica, who deliver a pretty good set given that it’s only about eight o’clock, and it’s a Sunday. But most of us are still thinking about the old man – will he make it to the stage? Will he deliver? I did see him back in the late 1970s giving a fairly tawdry performance, the centrepiece of which was the rather shameful ‘My ding-a-ling’, so I wasn’t entirely confident.
Preceded to the stage by his band (featuring his son Chuck Berry Jnr on guitar), who were made to wait nervously for what seemed like ten minutes, Chuck Berry finally made his way through the crowd shrouded by minders and stalked, by of all people, guitar-legend Wilko Johnson, who’d been lurking around since the start of the evening. The man who created the riffs that defined rock and roll is wearing his age, skipper’s cap and blue-sequined shirt pretty well, and like so many performers gained at least a couple of inches in stature as he took to the stage, red Gibson hanging from his Union Jack guitar strap, bursting into a rather staccato ‘Roll over Beethoven’. Chuck Jnr., looks on (as he does all night) concerned. There’s obviously no set-list, and as Chuck Snr moves from song to song (in no particular way to go, ‘Around and around’, ‘Nadine’, ‘Rock' n' roll music’, ‘Maybellene’, ‘You never can tell’, the unfortunate ‘My ding-a-ling’, ‘Carol’ ‘Little Queenie’) you can see that Chuck Jnr. is willing him to get it right.
Chuck Berry
Well let’s say that his voice is remarkable; I don’t know where it comes from but it’s Chuck Berry ringing out like a bell, and most of the lyrics are good and true (even if he can’t remember the names of his band, which he can’t). Of course he sings with his face – he grins, raises eyebrows, smirks, and gives the odd salacious leer like an eighteen-year-old. As for the guitar, it’s like talking to an older person I suppose. Sometimes they just don’t seem to be there, and then you get moments of absolute clear lucidity with razor-sharp recollection. And that’s what we got from Mr Berry’s guitar – and when it was good, as it was when he left the stage after an hour still riffing away to ‘Reelin’ and rockin’’, it was as good as it gets.
For that last song he’d invited some ‘gals’ of dubious age to take the stage, which they did, but there amongst them was the ten-year-old boy whose Dad had sneaked him in to see the Prime minister of rock and roll at work. What a story for his grandchildren, whenever that might be. Sad of course that he forgot to play ‘Johnny B Goode’ for him, but you can’t expect a man of his age to remember everything. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Kate's Chuck Berry photo album Kate's photographs

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