Angel Air 2014
Fans and friends’ celebration of a fallen Face’s music at the most prestigious London venue – in aural and visual versions.
Ronnie Lane was one of the most loveable characters in a too often unpleasant world of rock ‘n’ roll, but even with his popularity filling The Royal Albert Hall seemed an almost impossible task. Still, in April 2004, the almost impossible happened and though neither Rod Stewart nor Ian McLagan didn’t appear at the event, it turned out to be a fantastic, if sometimes rough around the edges, homage to the man they used to call Plonk – released after many toils and troubles on a 3-hour-plus DVD and a double CD.
If there were any doubts, SMALL WORLD smash them to smithereens with a short, yet vigorous, set, starting with the sharp rendition of “I Can’t Make It”. Despite their attire, the mod revivalists reveal how much punks owed the rockers’ antagonists, the point emphasized later on when, sporting a white jacket, sprightly looking Buzzcock Steve Diggle, as comic a character as Plonk was, joins 17BLACK to deliver “Here Comes The Nice” and kick the festive gears into a full motion, and then when Glen Matlock and Mick Jones empower SLIM CHANCE, Lane’s old band, for “Debris” and “You’re So Rude” that make everybody dance. 17BLACK, helped vocally by Mollie, Steve Marriott’s daughter, somehow dim the light of “Lazy Sunday” to make up for it with a couple of pieces, including “Whatcha Gonna Do About It”, led by NINE BELOW ZERO’s Dennis Greaves, before Midge Ure comes up with a touching, heartfelt acoustic “Mad John” and “My Mind’s Eye”. In contrast to him, OCEAN COLOUR SCENE look energetic and cool – kool-aid! – when they cut into “Wham Bam Thank You Mam” and emote on “Done This One Before”, while DEBORAH BONHAM BAND, their leader dressed in black and backed with HUMBLE PIE’s Jerry Shirley on drums, offer a different sort of grace, the bluesy one, with “Every Little Bit Hurts”, as if to stress the Englishness of it all.
Not to the extent, though, of SLIM CHANCE featuring members of several line-ups and augmented with Henry McCullough who takes the lead vocals on “Kuschty Rye”. They display the relaxed, folky class, hung on Charlie Hart’s accordion jive and Geraint Watkins’ piano boogie with such gems from Ronnie’s post-Face endeavor as “Cat’s Melody”. Fronting the group for “How Come”, Chris Jagger elegantly and easy comes the closest to stepping into Ronnie’s shoes. Yet it’s Pete Townshend who receives a standing ovation even before he starts to play “Stone” on acoustic guitar and looking, as many of the participants, at the lyrics on a stand – charmingly inhabiting them. Not that the words are needed for impact: the accordion passed to Watkins, instrumental “Harvest Home” thrives on two fiddles without a single mumbled line.
Busy for a good part of the show, Sam Brown shines on “If You Think You’re Groovy”, wilder than P.P. Arnold back in the day, with Kenney Jones’ group, THE JONES GANG, shaking it with a genuine groove, as well as in two duets: one, “Tin Soldier”, with the GANG’s Robert Hart, and the other, “Spiritual Babe”, with Paul Weller who, a bit earlier, renders “The Poacher” somehow pathetic but plays it down visually. Perhaps, only these two singers, and Keith Smart, who sings “Anniversary”, dress for the occasion, as the others adopt quite a casual look, like Ronnie Wood whose appearance prompts the punters run towards the stage to witness another former Face roll out “Ooh La La” in the company of Weller, Brown and a pair of can-can dancers to revive the spirit of Lane’s caravan concerts, also remembered in the GANG’s own, very Plonk-like “Gypsy Lane”. His soulful facet is reflected by another ’60s star on the stage, Steve Ellis, who elevates “Afterglow Of Your Love” to a higher ground, where THE WHO leader returns to remember Ronnie with “Heart To Hang On To”, but it’s a closing triplet of “Had Me A Real Good Time”, “Stay With Me” and “All Or Nothing” which witnesses the emergence of its chart action, Chris Farlowe – with his COLOSSEUM partner Clem Clempson in tow – that brings the concert to a tremendous climax.
Gone but not forgotten, Ronnie Lane’s music is still a reason to be cheerful.