John Verity - Backstage at the Green Hotel

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Pulling into the car park at the Green Hotel, I’m quite excited to be attending a gig at the Backstage venue.  Truth be told, I'm just glad to be getting out of the house again.  You see, I’ve just spent a week getting over some sort of virus, meaning the only time I’ve left the warmth and comfort of my bed or couch is to reluctantly walk the dog or to drive to the Co-op to stock up on painkillers, orange juice and comfort food.  The only real upside of being ill for a week was getting to introduce my girlfriend Jo, aka patient zero, to the joys of Columbo.  I don’t know what it is, but when I’m poorly I find modern TV and films too edgy and noisy, but old skool crime dramas like Columbo, or Murder She Wrote, seem to really hit the spot.

Like Columbo, the star of tonight’s show, John Verity rose to prominence in the 1970s, starting out as the guitarist in the band Argent from the years 1974-1976.  Argent were named after keyboard player Rod Argent of Zombies fame, and had hits like ‘Hold Your Head Up’ and ‘God Gave Rock and Roll to You’ (later covered by Kiss).  Since then Verity has played with Phoenix, Brian Connolly (vocalist for glam-rockers The Sweet), and produced the debut album for Barnsley metal legends, Saxon!  If that wasn’t enough, he has also recorded 20 solo albums the most recent of which, ‘Blue To My Soul’, has proved very successful.

As I wait for John and his band to take to the stage I notice that not only does he have his own signature guitar and amps, but he also appears to have his own line of rubber 'rock' duckies that bear the bands logo.  That's got to be a rock n' roll first!  As the 3-piece band strike up a cover of the Sonny Boy Williamson classic 'Help Me', I'm immediately reminded why I love watching electric blues being played live.  It's amazing how just three people can sound almost like a symphony.   Just a guitar, bass, drums and vocals producing a sound that will rival any you've ever heard and that's even before John weighs in with a frenetic buzzsaw like solo.

Tonight the bands set is a great balance of John's original material, like the soulful call for devotion, 'Prove your Love', from 2016's 'My Religion' and more familiar blues and rock standards.  I particularly enjoyed a cover of the legendary Etta James 'Blues is my Business', with wry lyrics like: 'If I had a dollar for every broken heart, I'd be drinkin' fine wine and eatin' caviar.'  The song also sports a sense of playfulness and fun that's as infectious as Ebola!  Plus, again the band sound absolutely immense, with some machine gun drumming from the hard-hitting but soulful Liam James Gray, and bassist John Gordon channels his inner Tommy Shannon with some powerful p-bass playing.

'Blues is my Business' is followed up by a cover of J.J. Cales classic 'Cocaine' that features some solo-ing by Verity that sounds almost heavy metal in its ferocity.  Then comes another cracking original, featuring a Muddy Waters beat, a killer riff and a great lyric and vocal from John.  When it comes to blues guitarists, vocals can sometimes be almost an afterthought, just something vaguely melodic to connect up the guitar solos.  This is absolutely not the case with John Verity. He has a genuinely great blues and rock voice, totally losing himself in the music.  Definitely more Johnny Winters than Eric Clapton!

The second half of the show features a few blasts from the past including two of Argent's biggest hits, 'God Gave Rock n' Roll to You' and a rousing sing-along version of 'Hold Your Head Up'.  We only had one word to sing, 'Woman', but I have to admit that when the song changed key I even managed to mess that up.  I blame the man-flu!  Other highlights included a touching tribute to Verity's now sadly departed friend in the sweet-natured 'Blues In Heaven'. Plus an incendiary cover of Purple Haze that starts off with a snatch of the 'Star Spangled Banner' that almost seems more Van Halen or Tom Morello than Hendrix.  I've heard Purple Haze played live dozens of times in my life but never quite like this.  Verity has such great control of his guitar and despite really hitting for the fences he never seems to put as much as a semi-quaver wrong.  The song goes down like gangbusters, prompting a standing ovation and the band declaring they're going to be doing a Joe Walsh penned encore.  I was a little bit gutted that they didn't then play 'Funk 49' by the James Gang, but a barnstorming version of 'Rocky Mountain Way' made a very fitting substitute.


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