Average White Band: Marquee, London

IT’S SO EASY to be brought down by the gross excesses of what is fondly being referred to as the “pop revival.” Much of it is so inexplicably dull and awful that many a solid and upright music listener has begun to lose his grip on reality, not to mention his sanity. Whenever I sense another attack on the way, I make a point of seeking out the Average White Band — one of the few musical combinations around who have gone neither daft nor cynical.

It was a pained experience, therefore, watching their incredibly-drunken and sloppy performance at the London Marquee a couple of weeks ago. Endless rounds of record company whisky had numbed them into near-oblivion, and the set tapered off into hazy delirium with drummer Robbie McIntosh unable to make it back onstage for the encore. Is this the end, we asked, throwing up over our Ricky Wilde fact-sheets?

Last Thursday, they were back at the Marquee and played the best damned set heard at the club in recent memory. Scoff, as you might, but let the hooting and the stomping feet speak for themselves.

Average White long ago felt the first rushes of manhood but as a band they are still relatively young and it always amazes me to see how the set, and the whole balance of their music, alters from week-to-week.

Six months ago Hamish Stewart’s vocal chords were so severely ragged, and his range so limited, that I was beginning to wish he’d keep his mouth buttoned and stick to his guitar-playing. Yet the voice is now as good as fully-repaired and when combined with the vocals of bassist Alan Gorrie, the mixture is, dare it be said, magical.

The stage dynamics are also improving slowly, again due largely to the fancy footwork and buttock-thrusting of young Hamish.

But Average White are, above everything else, a musical group. Most of their material reflects their passion for the music of James Brown, Cannonball Adderley and the Isley Brothers, and their own compositions, written by pianist and alto player Roger Ball and Alan Gorrie, have most of the rhythmic drive of the aforementioned gentlemen, plus a touch of melody.

They have a new album out in a few weeks called Show Your Hand, and they gave the title track its first run-through on Thursday. It’s still a little indecisive, but once everything’s in place it will be a strong addition to a set already bristling with handsome performances of songs like ‘This World Is Music’ (play it again), ‘Put It Where You Want It’ and ‘Walk Tall’. Easily the best soul band in Britain.

© Andrew TylerDisc, 7 April 1973

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