It’s hard to believe, but despite their regular appearances in Bonn over the years, this was my first visit to a concert by the Hamburg Blues Band. Somehow it never worked out in the past. This time however the prospect of seeing 71 year old Maggie Bell onstage with 23 year old Krissy Matthews at the Harmonie was irresistible.
Surprisingly, given their sound, HBB were only formed by singer/guitarist Gert Lange in 1982. There is a distinct late 60’s/early 70’s feel about HBB’s style of Blues-rock but perhaps that’s not so surprising when they have as an ‘extra man’ Pete Brown whose writing credits include Cream’s ‘White Room’ and ‘Sunshine of your Love’.
It’s not all about the past though and moving on to the New of this articles headline means mentioning the young lad regularly grimacing through guitar solos to my right onstage – Krissy Matthews. If you got there early for Greg Allman’s concert at the Museumsplatz in 2011 you would have seen Krissy deliver an electrifying set before the Tedeschi Trucks Band and later Allman himself (what a night that was!)
Here at the Harmonie Krissy Matthews is just as electrifying when he gets a solo. As a relative newcomer he is still having to blend in a bit at times, but the constant smiles going round the stage indicate that his presence has been an energizing one for the ‘older statesmen’ of the band Lange, bassist Michael Becker and drummer Hans Wallbaum. Krissy has to stand by during a lot of dialogue from Lange ‘auf Deutsch’ but gets his own back when a string breaks to ask if anyone is following the snooker on tv. If he continues breaking strings (seven is the record in one night on the current tour) then a German language course will be useful. Matthews is fluent however in the language that really matters this evening – Bluesrock guitar.
The plan is to stay with HBB and also still tour with his own band which makes sense in that the HBB has a big audience that Matthew’s will be able to pick up on with later tours. It also makes sense when you listen to the material written by Krissy himself, songs like ‘Feeling for the Blues’ where his opening “I wasn’t born in 1901…” seems to have a strong air of regret. It’s clear that Krissy is enjoying learning fro his peers and also playing their music alongside his own. The Old of my title – Matthews really is at his best on the Old style Blues rockers, giving them an extra metallic razor edge. More modern numbers like Matthew’s own ‘Bubbles’ are atmospheric and he deserves praise for nerve with lines like: “They called him bubbles, cos he was always in trouble”. This is Blues n Rock n Roll though so lets not get too hung up on the lyrics – the guy is a blisteringly fine guitar player and his own combo will be worth checking out people.
Back with the HBB and Thursday night though. An excellent first half of Rock with a mini stadium feeling courtesy of Gert Lange’s super audience repartee. Already a fun evening – and we still had Maggie Bell to come…
Okay, second half, and no substitutes but an extra ‘player’ who needs no introduction if you are of a certain age and love rock music (the first of which applied to 95% of tonight’s audience I would think). Maggie Bell was smaller than I had expected, but what she lacks in height she certainly more than compensates for in sheer stage presence.
A few days before ,Bell had celebrated her 71st birthday so time and it’s passing were very much a theme. Which invariably led to a mention and song dedication to David Bowie. “My band Stone the Crows actually had David support us a few times in the early days” she recalled, and it was a measure of her own musical stature at the time. Together with Les, the younger brother of Alex Harvey, they were signed up by Peter Grant who gave them plenty of freedom as he had his hands full with a band named Led Zeppelin. Peter Green auditioned for the band even. Tragedy struck in 1972 when Harvey died after an electric shock during a soundcheck and Bell fell on her feet making a name solo and singing with top stars like Rod Stewart. In true Glasgow style this evening her reminiscences of Bowie and own latest birthday after followed by a raunchy ‘I don’t need no doctor!’ and Maggie Bell proceeds to show it’s true with an energetic performance that almost suggested a 17th rather than 71st birthday.
The Borrowed of this articles title belongs to those classic numbers played like Freddie King’s ‘Rattlesnake Shake’, the classic ‘Wishing Well’, ‘Respect Yourself’ and a Stone the Crows classic in the shape of ‘Penicillin Blues’. Borrowed’ came in the shape of fine covers of Tom Waite’s ‘Down in the Hole’ and the classic ‘Respect Yourself’.
The title’s Blue of course belongs to the musical thread holding all this wonderful music together and also the way we all felt that such a great evening of no nonsense Rock must come to an end. It’s impossible to be sure who might appear onstage at an HBB concert. Clem Clempson, Miller Anderson and Chris Farlowe have all appeared with the band. It’s certainly a compliment to Gert Lange that he has managed to not just keep the band going for so long but flying so high.
Long may they continue to do so!