Mick Abrahams Benefit – The Borderline, Soho, London, May 9th, 2016

Revived – And Live!

“Just to see him get on that stage, put his guitar around his neck and play when people were saying ‘Oh, he’ll never play again!’ is everything… and seeing everyone here who’ve come to support and listen to him. Hopefully this is a new beginning and the start of many more shows to come.”
Rick Wakeman

“Benefit” is a loaded term; it can invite patronizing pity for the beneficiary’s circumstances rather than genuine empathy for struggles with health or economy that can easily become – or maybe already are – our own. Benefits which serve all participants bring us together in a celebration of the resilience of the spirit during even the hardest of times.

Mick Abrahams, 71, is a survivor of two heart attacks, a stroke, and other health issues which compromised his finances and called for improved living conditions due to lack of mobility. To say he invites neither pity nor patronization is an understatement. From the moment this original lion of British blues ascended the stage in his first live performance in five years and took the guitar, the venue was already cheering. The band ripped into the Jimmy Forrest classic “Night Train” – a befitting song, considering Mr. Abrahams was born in war-torn Bedfordshire, to “the generation that just got on with it.” There was no sitting still; anticipation of his first chords broke into clapping, swaying and cheek-by-jowl hop-dancing.

“Night Train” was followed by the BLODWYN PIG standard “Summer Days” and “Breaking Down Slow.” With Patrick Walshe and Sharon on vocals and Mick playing slide, “The Migrant Song” – Pete Seeger’s paean to the poor and dispossessed – was as poignant as the day it was written. The last song of the set was a hypnotic rendition of “On The Road Again.”

“I’ve known him since I was probably about seventeen. He had just left TULL for BLODWYN PIG and played the town hall down in Kent. We had a band and we were his opening act. That was fine; we played, they played. I met PIG again in a professional capacity and I had to remind him that my band opened for his, going back all those years; I said, ‘When I was a kid we opened for you and played for you at Woodville Hall, in Gravesend,’ and he went, ‘Were we nice to you?’ and I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and he said ‘We were really really bad about playing practical jokes on our opening bands!’ and I said ‘You were actually very nice!’ And he said, ‘You must have been all right, then!'”
Geoff Whitehorn

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Mick took a well-deserved break as master keyboardist, all-round entertainer and TV personality Rick Wakeman, in his tradition of never disappointing, regaled the crowd with “Eleanor Rigby” played with his characteristic wizardry in the style of a Bach fugue. The crowd was allowed to catch their breath as emcee Miki Travis, known for his work as comic and magician, held an auction of signed guitars that had many an aficionado drooling.

“What’s important to me is the support of the community. We’re all turning out for this guy because we love him. He came up to my house on Riverside Drive in Manhattan and we just hit it off and we had mutual friends and when I came over to live here it was just like the continuation just carried on. It’s a love affair that goes beyond music. Mick’s eyes are like this [saucer eyes with fingers]… He just can’t believe it.”
– Elliott Randall

The next set began with a revisit to the band Mick has best been known for, JETHRO TULL. Joined by vocalist Peter Eldridge, Phil Hilborne on guitar, Gavin Coulson on bass, Nick Payn as flautist and genesis-of-TULL colleague Clive Bunker, “Teacher” and “New Day Yesterday” took many back to the days of their first acquaintance with Mick as musician. “Big Noise From Winnetka,” demonstrated the ease with which Mick and his players could swing from rock classics of the Seventies to the Big Band era without missing a beat, then move forwards to the Fifties with “Poison Ivy” and to the Sixties with “It’s A Man’s World,” featuring the vocals of Beverly Skeete.

“I was talking to Mick because he’s in the Chelsea Lodge and we spoke about how I always admired his playing and we spoke about the time I saw him with JETHRO TULL at a jazz and blues festival – I don’t know where it was – it was the first JETHRO TULL show where they blew everybody offstage. About three years later Mick left the band and I went for an audition as guitar player for JETHRO TULL. I didn’t get it but I got on OK with Ian Anderson and everything; he was playing and I was singing. It was in the back of my mind and I had this jug band, skiffle band; we were playing rural blues and Leadbelly stuff and some rockabilly – no drums – and we did this gig for Brunel University in cinema, up by Hanger Lane [West London] and BLODWYN PIG were playing. BLODWYN PIG you know, ‘Oh! Brilliant band!’ and funny enough, the drummer, I’d played with him before – Ron Berg – it was great! And I’ve been a big admirer of Mick’s playing. So I found it quite an honor to be invited here and take part in this fundraising event. I haven’t known him for long; I think I’ve only been talking to him in a good way for about a year. I’ve known him all this time, but we really started conversing, about life, about religion, about everything; music… [The benefit] really shows you what can be done when people do a bit of networking and get a bit of love in the world and spread it around and you can do stuff for everybody!”
– Ray “Mungo Jerry” Dorset

Ray Dorset, best known as MUNGO JERRY, then took the stage and sang “Rock Me Mama” and ushered in the coming season with his classic hit “In The Summertime,” getting a rousing call-and-answer going from the audience. Dennis Greaves and Mark Feltham of NINE BELOW ZERO joined Mick for some gentle acoustic country-blues ballads and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine.” Then it was back to classic blues with “I Wonder Who” and “Last Night Blues.” Though Mick’s voice was a bit fainter than it had been, it rang clear with all the emotion of the evening.

“You just help the man out. We’ve been mates for a long time. We used to meet at trade fairs and we now both act with signature model guitars, playing for the same company, Vintage. I got involved doing stuff for Mick and he said, “Come and play some guitar for me,” on one of his albums. And I played at his 65th birthday and I got invited to, if you like, sort of produce his last album. And tonight he’s doing so well, he’s doing so great! I haven’t heard him play like this since before he got sick. So it’s not perfect. But if he had a big black hat and a bottle of whilskey you’d think he was a legend! Because there’s every style there. That’s the whole deal going on there, you know? And there’s that energy in the room… “
– Geoff Whitehorn

Then came the last song, “Good Night Irene,” with full band, the audience singing the chorus and hardly a dry eye in the house. The end came to a the first performance in years of a man who, if blues is the musical medium of selfless humility, a hand under the heart and the authority to console, is the genre’s most authentic and constant disciple.Setlist fragment

It was to our benefit.

For most of the show Mick performed alongside his distinguished friends and stalwarts: Elliott Randall on guitar, Chris Gore on keys, Graham Walker on drums, Terry Taylor on guitar, John (Guinness) Gordon on bass, Nick Payn on flute and sax, Matt Lynch on trumpet and Peter Eldridge and Beverly Skeete providing vocals and Mick’s own “Top Geezer” Geoff Whitehorn on guitar.

Sally Sharp-Paulsen

Many thanks to Rick Wakeman, Geoff Whitehorn, Ray “Mungo Jerry” Dorset, and Elliott Randall for their kindness and consideration in granting me impromptu interviews and to Kevin Wallbank for his sound guidance and technical support.

Photos used by kind permission of Chris Patmore.

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