Babe Ruth: Sheffield

TYPICAL OF A Sheffield gig is the way in which the dancing section of the audience settles down crosslegged in front of the stage to greet the band with immobility. For a band of Yes’s ilk this may be a reasonable approach. For a band like Babe Ruth it’s absurd.

Also typical is the way in which the audience (for the most part) remains immobile till the band leaves the stage, whereupon feet are leapt to and encores demanded. In view of the abysmal performance they have been given and the embarrassing “audience participation” rendition of ‘Get Back’ they have been party to, the audience, in asking for an encore, is either making with the little white lie or is collectively lacking in even the most basic of critical faculties.

To be honest, I’ll admit I’ve never been Babe Ruth’s biggest fan; Jenny Haan’s “dance movements” always came across as a gimmick, and an ugly one at that; the band as a whole could be said to be competent and tight. No more, no less. Tonight’s incarnation of the same name would be hard pressed to arouse in me even a fraction of that regard.

Okay, so there’ve been a few changes of face in Babe Ruth. That’s still little excuse for a performance as devoid of subtlety or imagination as this. After all, any band with a four-album pedigree should be able to (a) choose new members with some degree of talent, (b) write material of at least a, passable standard and (c) put it across in a professional passable manner. Babe Ruth strike out in all three categories.

Jenny Haan’s replacement, Ellie Hope, comes on rather like Gypsy Rose Lee doing a hula routine – overblown camp eroticism which leaves me cold but presumably has the required effect on some of the male members of the crowd. Sheffield’s not the most erotic city in the land, you understand.

That in itself wouldn’t be so bad – after all, every band has their angle – except for the fact that by the second song, the only word I’ve been able to decipher is “music”, which on its own doesn’t do too much for me.

The majority of their-songs begin with the same (or as near as makes no difference) rapidly-strummed chord figure, a variation of the Doobies ‘Long Train Running’ intro, and what instrumental breaks there are are undisciplined and purposeless. ‘Wells Fargo’ prompts a few punters to their feet, despite its being but a sloppy shadow of its former punchy self; however, what impact it makes is lost as the band proceeds ,to drag Smokey’s ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me’ across the coals tacking the ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ intro onto the beginning as a complete musical non-sequitur.

Another bit of Doobie-riffing, then ‘Get Back’ a la Quo. All rise for the National Encore and off home.

This account may appear unnaturally harsh, but my dissatisfaction is not directed so much at Babe Ruth (who, given more time to settle down, can only improve) as at the audience. E. M. Forster once made the rather myopic statement that “we shall never have a beautiful new London until people refuse to live in ugly houses”. This principle, I believe, can be applied more successfully to music than to architecture.

© Andy GillNew Musical Express, 29 January 1977

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