Average White Band: Festival Hall, London

AVERAGE WHITE BAND always were an anomaly. A group of funksters from Dundee inspired by James Brown, Bobby Womack and BB King, they sounded so much like black American musicians that even their idols adored them. By the mid 1970s they were big in Britain and stars in the States, where their million-selling instrumental Pick up the Pieces topped the charts. After they split in the early 1980s, hip-hop gave them a new lease of life, with the Beastie Boys, De La Soul and Public Enemy sampling their sax breaks and bass lines.

With just two original members remaining — the singer and bassist Alan Gorrie and the guitarist Onnie McIntyre, both of free bus pass age — their show could have been a creaky shadow of its former self. In fact, the band’s soul, jazz and funk-fusing songs had lost none of their sinewy sass, while the line-up was as tight, technically brilliant and up-for-a-party as any in its many, previous incarnations.

Gorrie was in charge, albeit his vocals often playing second fiddle to the fabulous Brent Carter — a former frontman of Tower of Power, whose falsetto brought to mind Earth, Wind & Fire – but this was a six-man show in every sense. A pair of sax players hogged as much of the limelight as the singers, every instrument was equal in keeping the fast-paced funk flowing, and the members frequently acknowledged each other’s prowess. No songs outstayed their welcome – although the extended drum solo to In the Beginning came close — and the set flew by.

Half an hour in, fans aged from eight to 80 were on their feet for Atlantic Avenue. A cover of the Isley Brothers’ ‘Work to Do’ had them dancing in the aisles and by ‘Cut the Cake’ there were more folk down the front than in seats. An encore that included ‘Let’s Go Round Again’ and ‘Pick up the Pieces’ turned the Festival Hall into a glorious, old-school disco.

© Lisa VerricoThe Times, 23 November 2015

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