6 APRIL 2019
The RB Experience is Russ Ballard’s way to say ‘Thanks’ to all the fans – not just the fans of Russ Ballard the solo artist (°1945), but also the fans of the artists he worked, has worked or still works with (Chris Andrews, The Roulettes, Argent), covered his songs (Ray Bradbury of ‘Hello’), are in his current band (Stevie Smith, Michael Steed, Roland Jones, Bob Henrit) or bear some relation to his career which took off for good when he joined The Roulettes in March 1963… before teaming up with Unit 4+2, forming Argent and writing for others (Kiss, America, Abba, Colin Bluntstone, etc.).
‘Blue Submarine’ set the pace and the mood with a wonderful set of Beat and R&B standards, ranging from Delbert McClinton and Johnny Cash to The Kinks and Them. Although functioning as an independent unit, Martin Matthews (gtr), Eddie Angel (gtr), Bob Henrit (dr) and Mike Steed (bs), invited several guests to share the stage: Laurie Garmann (hnca), Stevie Smith (Russ Ballard’s keyboardist) and Derek Trimms (gtr, vcs) all helped to broaden the musical scope. After all, the R&B Experience (that’s RB for Russ Ballard!) is all about sharing the joy of music. ‘Blue Submarine’ remained on stage for most of the evening, though at moments it was difficult to tell who was supporting whom…
Next were The Roulettes, still with the same line-up we know from their most successful period (1963-1967): Bob Henrit (dr), Peter Thorp (gtr, vcs), Russ Ballard (gtr, vcs) and John ‘Mod’ Rogan (vcs). Surprising us all, they opened with ‘La Bamba’, which actually was their very first single release way back in 1962! The Mod had left his bass at home and decided to concentrate on singing instead. After ‘Bad Time’ (that wonderful single on which he sang lead), The Roulettes dug up their Tamla Motown sound with a tough version of ‘Mustang Sally’. Always in for a joke, The Mod sort of rapped the hilarious ‘Sausage Song’ to the beat of ‘Mustang Sally’. A weird mix that lasted minutes and was partly invented on the spot, much to the audience’s and Mod’s enjoyment.
The next part was even more surprising: the band started a song they did with Adam Faith, announcing the very man himself – who passed away in 2003! On came Jürgen Weber and he did a perfect vocal job, accent and all. Mr. Weber is a German singer who flew all the way from Germany to do this medley. I spoke to him after the show and he knows everything there is to know about Britain’s pre- Beatles pop! He was invited by Chris Andrews, who has lived in Germany for decades. In fact, Chris Andrews was next on stage. He sang more early Faith and Faith with The Roulettes tunes, some in duet with Jürgen Weber. It was great to hear him do one of my favourites: ‘It’s Alright’, the b-side that brought Faith some fame in the USA. You will remember that Andrews wrote all of Sandie Shaw’s early hits and one Nicky Amos interpreted some for us.
Russ Ballard had been on stage all the time, treating us to some wonderful guitar-playing without claiming the spotlight. Reminding us – and himself - this was actually his party, he treated us to some solo stuff like ‘Dream On’ and ‘Hold Your Head Up’, before inviting Ray Bradbury of ‘Hello’ fame to perform ‘New York Groove’, a Ballard tune that was also picked up by Kiss!
Unexpectedly, Ballard called Chris Andrews back to the stage inviting him to play the keyboards. Andrews is, in fact, a very good pianist, but he was completely taken aback by the request before happily giving in to Ballard’s suggestion to go back their vey roots: rock’n’roll. In true form, Andrews delivered a piano-driven R&R medley (Great Balls Of Fire, High-school Hop, Whole Lotta Shakin’), with Russ throwing in heavy licks. This is the kind of performance one normally never gets to see and such moments alone are worth travelling to Ware. Of course, there was no escaping ‘To Whom It Concerns’ and ‘Yesterday Man’ (chorus courtesy of the full audience).
Now, I must confess that I’m not sure who was backing who by then, but I seem to remember that Blue Submarine was still on stage. In fact, drummer Bob Henrit hadn’t left his stool - and he wouldn’t till the very end. Russ then revisited his own catalogue with tunes like ‘I Don’t Believe In Miracles’, ‘God Gave Rock’n’Roll To You’ and an interesting version of ‘So, You Win Again’.
Improvisation was the name of the game by now, with Brian Barry singing ‘the shortest British rock’n’roll song’, viz. ‘Move it’, Spencer Gibbins belting out ‘Johnny B. Goode’, Russ suddenly unwrapping ‘Little Queenie’ and Roland Jones (of Joe Brown fame) on ukulele ending the show with a tribute to Chas Hodges.
Naturally, Russ came back for an encore, closing this exceptional evening with ‘Since You Been Gone’ from his 1976 solo album ‘Winning’, as made popular by Rainbow. The fans sang along and aked for more, but the show had been going on uninterruptedly for a good three hours! More duties were waiting for Russ, as he posed with fans, autographed albums and handed a bouquet of flowers to the two ladies without whom there wouldn’t have been an RB Experience, Sue Robinson and Carole Williams.
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On stage, in no particular order: Martin Matthews, Eddie Angel , Michael Steed (Blue Submarine), Bob Henrit (Blue Submariner and The Roulettes), Peter Thorp, Russ Ballard, John ‘Mod’ Rogan (The Roulettes), Chris Andrews, Stevie Smith, Derek Trimms, Laurie Garmann, Roland Jones, Spencer, Brian Barry, Ray Bradbury, Jürgen Weber, Nicky Amos.
© Eddy Bonte www.radio68.be