Tag Archives: Virgil McMahon

92. PHIL THE MUSIC QUILL IS TWO YEARS OLD!

I can’t believe that my website is two years old on 1st February 2016! Just out of interest, here are my ten most popular articles; ordered by the amount of ‘hits’ they’ve had….

TOP TEN ARTICLES FROM THE LAST TWO YEARS:

  1. SON OF MAN at VILLAGE BLUES CLUB, DAGENHAM TRADES HALL. Gig review. Sept. 2015 (Review #69)
  2. MARIELLA TIROTTO & THE BLUES FEDERATION Live In Concert album review (#34)
  3. LARRY MILLER at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC. Gig and interview. July 2015 (#61)
  4. MARTIN TURNER’S WISHBONE ASH at VILLAGE BLUES CLUB, DAGENHAM ROUNDHOUSE. Gig review. May 2015. (#56)
  5. MARTIN TURNER’S WISHBONE ASH at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC. Gig and interview. October 2014 (#25)
  6. MARTIN TURNER’S WISHBONE ASH at THE BEAVERWOOD CLUB. Gig review. April 2015 (#44)
  7. VIRGIL AND THE ACCELERATORS at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC. Gig and interview. Nov 2015 (#83)
  8. MARTIN TURNER Written In The Stars album review (#73)
  9. RED BUTLER at THE NEW CRAWDADDY CLUB. Gig and interview. August 2015 (#66)
  10. MALAYA BLUE at DAVE SPARKS ROCKIN’ BLUES NIGHT, ANCHOR, BENFLEET. Gig and interview. Aug 2015 (#64)

 PTMQ

83. VIRGIL AND THE ACCELERATORS at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, Hockley, Essex. Friday 13th November, 2015; + and a pre-gig interview with the new look band!

VATA Sound check (Photo: PTMQ)

VATA: Sound check (Photo: PTMQ)

Preamble:  My readers may remember that just over a year ago, my son James and I interviewed the highly talented young Rock band Virgil And The Accelerators at Touchline Live Music’s old venue in Hullbridge, Essex. (See entry #26). That interview preceded a most excellent performance from the band – in fact, one of the best Rock gigs that I had the pleasure of attending during 2014. So when Dave Kitteridge of the Touchline informed me that he’d booked VATA again (this time at the new venue), we were of course, keen to come along to the gig and catch up on what the boys have been doing lately. But a year is a long time in the world of Rock’n’Roll, and a lot can change…

Arriving early at the Touchline’s fine new venue in Hockley; we found that the band were still doing their sound-check. This was apparently due to having spent the best part of five hours stuck on the motorways between their base in Brum, and the venue here in Essex! We got ourselves a pint each and entered the Music Room; and were greeted by Dave, Brian and Trudie of the club – and by Virgil McMahon himself, who recognised us at once, and called out to us from the stage.

Back stage with VATA (Photo: PTMQ)

VATA: Back stage  (Photo: PTMQ)

The VATA interview:  The first of the changes was apparent in Virgil’s new look; with slicked back hair. He invited us back-stage where we reacquainted ourselves with his brother – and VATA’s drummer – Gabriel McMahon; and we were then introduced to the band’s new bassist Joel Wildgoose – another change; on which more anon. But I began by asking the band if they had any new material in the pipeline (ie, a new album planned); and whether we’d be hearing any new stuff that night?

Virgil: ‘We are going to be writing next month. We’ve got one in the set that we’ve been trying out on our Spanish tour, but its still in draft mode, called ‘The Lost”.

PTMQ: ‘Are you continuing more with the Rock, rather than Blues feel?’

(Photo: PTMQ)

VATA: Army Of Three! (Photo: PTMQ)

Virgil: ‘Yeah, for sure. Army Of Three was a bit more Classic Rock-esque; but this time I think, something a lot more modern – something that sounds a bit younger’.

This need to attract a younger fan-base is becoming a common theme when James and I interview young Blues / Rock bands…

James:  ‘We interviewed Red Butler recently. (Read the interview #66). They are struggling to get a younger audience too. So have you noticed any trends in that respect in the last year? Is your fan-base getting any younger?’

Virgil:  ‘Yeah. Its a question of finding something that appeals to music lovers. To be honest with you, playing in Spain and continental Europe, you see a younger audience – far younger…’

Gabriel:  ‘Yeah, 85-90% of the audience are much younger – late teens to 30’s’.

(Photo: PTMQ)

The new look Virgil with his Les Paul known as ‘The Preacher’ (Photo: PTMQ)

Virgil: ‘…whereas the audiences here are in their 50’s. There’s no problem with that, but at the same time you do want to appeal to a wider scope of people. We want to appeal to people who are ‘music fans’ rather than specifically ‘Rock fans’ or ‘Blues fans’.

It will be interesting then, to see in what direction the brothers – and new boy Joel – take VATA’s music for the third album. So moving on, I then asked about why the previous bassist Jack Alexander Timmis had left the band. This was a difficult subject for Virgil and Gabe to talk about; and I am not qualified (or authorized) to divulge what James and I were told in any detail. Suffice to say that there were issues within the band concerning management; and so another major change within VATA is that their manager is also no longer in the band’s employ. I must stress though, that the brothers told us sincerely, that there had been absolutely no issues between Jack and themselves – nor was the split due to ‘musical differences’ – and that they are still great friends; and he still turns up at gigs. Jack has now gone back to his career as a music tutor; and they are wishing him well in this role. But in spite of all the shenanigans that have been going on; and with a new bass player now on board; VATA now look settled again – and optimistic for the future. So I asked Joel how long he’d been with the band now?

Joel: ‘About two and a half months. First gig was in Spain – Barakaldo’.

New bassist Joel (Photo: PTMQ)

New bassist Joel (Photo: PTMQ)

Virgil:  ‘The cool thing was that we knew Joel from two or three years ago. He’s got his own band called River Chickens – front man and guitar player. We did a couple of gigs with them and we were really blown away by them’.

Gabriel:  ‘Jack told us he was leaving at the start of the year’

Virgil:  ‘So just off the cuff I phoned Joel and said “Look do want to play Bass for us?”, and he did. And he’s done a sterling job’.

Surprisingly, Joel doesn’t consider himself to be a Bassist!  ‘I’m not a proper Bass player!’ he said modestly. ‘I don’t know anything about the Bass… I’m shit!’. Well, thus far we’d only witnessed a little of the sound-check, but he certainly didn’t look shit! He also has a lot of respect for Jack: ‘Big boots to fill, they were!’

James:  ‘What sort of capacity places  were you playing in Spain?’

Virgil:  Music clubs. A couple of them were like little bars – Rock bars’

Gabriel demonstrates his new Natal kit! (Photo: PTMQ)

Gabriel demonstrates his new Natal kit! (Photo: PTMQ)

Gabe:  ‘The smallest ones were like 150 – 250 people, weren’t they?’

Virgil:  ‘Yeah, but the biggest was in Pamplona; a good few hundred in there’.

The lads had enjoyed their time in Spain; and found the locals to be very appreciative of their music – and not afraid to say what they thought either!  They had a lot of fun too. One day after Virgil had given a guitar master class, and before a scheduled jam night with local guitarists, Gabe and Joel went out busking on the streets for a laugh and ‘a few pennies!’

Guitars:  Virgil had brought three geetars with him: His vintage Gibson Les Paul Black Beauty known as ‘The Preacher’ (his main stage axe); his Les Paul Gold Top (Joe Bonamassa signature edition) known as ‘Goldie’; and his battered Fender Strat known as ‘Alice’. The pale blue Gibson Firebird that he’d used at the last Touchline gig, was not in attendance on this occasion.

(Photo: PTMQ)

VATA: Under the lights at the Touchline (Photo: PTMQ)

Drums:  Gabriel, I noticed, had set up on the stage, a brand new signature drum kit; courtesy of Natal Drums. ‘Its a UK company owned by Marshall Amplification’ Gabe explained.  Its a very smart looking acrylic kit with the band’s Army Of Three logo emblazoned on the bass drum. It sounded great during the sound-check, and I was looking forward to hearing it in action.

Bass:   Joel, not being ‘a proper bass player’, didn’t even own a bass guitar when he was recruited to the band!

Gabe: ‘When Joel came on board, Virgil phoned me and said “He doesn’t have a bass!” Well, I’ve got an old Fender Precision Bass, so I said “let Joel play this”. But Virgil said “No, no, no! It has to be a 5-string!”

Joel:  ‘I didn’t have any choice really – the boys said “5-string!” so I thought, “alright, I’ll go and buy one”. That was the only one they had. So it’ll do! Its an Ibanez SDGR.’

(Photo: PTMQ)

Gabe is there somewhere, while Virgil plays a G-shaped A# chord! (Photo: PTMQ)

Another big change for the band is that their live set is now to be very different to the two-hour / nine-song extravaganza that they’d performed at the Touchline a year ago. Due to the advice of a Spanish promoter, the band have decided to shorten their set, but include more songs. Sadly this means less extended solos from Virgil. Personally I don’t mind lengthy numbers with improvised solos; but its true that if the boys want to appeal to a wider audience, then the set has to be tailored to that end. After thanking the band and a few photos, James and I returned to the auditorium which had by then filled up with (mostly) 50-something music fans (like me!) We looked forward to a great show. We were not to be disappointed!

The VATA Set:  Master of Ceremonies for the Touchline, Brian Sangwin, introduced the band, and they climbed on stage unpretentiously. Virgil took up ‘The Preacher’ and thanked the Touchline for having them back once more, before opening the set with a fine rendition of ‘Take Me Higher’ from Army Of Three. But there was precious little time to applaud, as ‘Blow To The Head’ followed – and did exactly that, with its Halen-esque ‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’

(Photo: PTMQ)

Virgil with his battered Strat known as ‘Alice’ (Photo: PTMQ)

The boys looked more animated than I remembered from last time, and I guess this is due to the lively on-stage presence of Joel. He threw himself about with great enthusiasm whilst delivering great bass-work. And the rockin’ good show continued with ‘All Night Long’; and this was followed by another from the second album, the remarkable ‘Give It Up’. The moody ’88’; and ‘The Storm’ from the The Radium were performed next. At all times we witnessed superb axemanship from Virgil; and tight reliable drumming and bass from Gabe and Joel respectively. Gabe’s new kit was certainly impressive.

With Virgil changing to his Strat ‘Alice’; the band’s performance of ‘Working Man’ was the nearest we got to the extended solo.  ‘Backstabber’ – my favourite from the first album – followed; with Virgil changing back to ‘The Preacher’. It had evolved slightly from the original recorded version, but was no less enjoyable. The afore-mentioned new one that the boys had tried out on their Spanish fans was up next.  ‘The Lost’ is a slow, heavy number with a menacing vibe to it; a bit Sabbath-like, I thought; and with an unexpected ending. It was the only taste of what we are to expect from the boys in the future. The main set finished with the wonderful ‘Free’. I very much like this song with its melodic chorus and its ‘Southern-Rock’ inspired solo. With that, the lads left the stage to great applause.

(Photo: PTMQ)

Joel takes lead vocal for ‘Rock’n’Roll’ (Photo: PTMQ)

Encore!  But they soon returned for a two-song encore, beginning with a fantastic rendition of their beautiful instrumental ‘Silver Giver’, off the debut album. It was pains-takingly delivered. I was disappointed to find that it had been temporarily dropped from the set when I saw the band last year, but I’m glad to report. that it is now fully reinstated. It too has evolved since it was recorded but was still superb!

Only a good old rocker could end the show; and the boys had decided to play their only cover of the night – a rousing version of Led Zep’s classic ‘Rock’n’Roll’. Joel took lead vocals for this, and did a fine job with it.

It had certainly been a shorter set – 13 songs in less than two hours rather than the previous nine songs in a full two hours. But it was no less of a high octane performance from a very tight and impressive band indeed. Gone were the lengthy abstract improvised solos; but there was still no doubt as to Virgil’s fine fretboard abilities. And Gabe and Joel impressed us very much too.

(Photo: PTMQ)

The stage at the Touchline (Photo: PTMQ)

Farewells:  We had a few words with the band after the show; and Virgil gave us a copy of their Set List printed on the back of some scribbled notes from his recent ‘Guitar master Class’. With our ears ringing, we said our goodbyes and left the club satisfied with another VATA performance – albeit quite different to last time.

VATA are now embarked on a short nine-date UK tour which includes two of my other favourite venues – The Boom Boom Club in Sutton; and The Beaverwood Club in Chiselhurst. So I’m hoping to get along to see the band in action again during this tour.  ‘All we care about is putting on a good show for people. Next year’s going to be good’ predicted Virgil. James and I are wishing the lads the best of luck anyway. Finally, thanks to Dave, Brian, Trudie and Steve the sound man at the Touchline for hosting yet another memorable gig. PTMQ

For info on gigs etc; here is a link to VATA’s website…

http://www.vataband.com/

Here is a link to the Touchlines website…

http://touchlinelivemusic.co.uk/

61. LARRY MILLER BAND at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, Hockley, Essex. Friday, 17th July, 2015. + a pre-gig interview with Larry; and a few words about the club’s new venue.

When I bumped into Dave and Brian of Touchline Live Music, in Peggy Sue’s Music Bar back in April (see my Blog entry #47), they told me that they had Larry Miller booked for July, and would I be interested in coming along? I was of course keen to do so, as I knew I should be available that night; and there  was the chance of an interview with the renown Blues-Rocker in the offing too. Also, I was keen to see the Touchline’s new home at Hockley Community Centre – or ‘The Commy’ as its known locally.

Sound-check completed, the stage awaits (Photo: PTMQ)

Sound-check completed, the Touchline stage awaits…(Photo: PTMQ)

The shennanigans that went on over the loss of the club’s last venue in Hullbridge, I’m not qualified to speculate on. The important thing is that the club has had a new home in Hockley, Essex, for the last six months. I have been unable to visit ‘The Commy’ since the Touchline moved in there, so I was keen to see what Dave, Brian and co  had achieved so far. My first impression was good – the car park alone is a vast improvement on the old place! And as I walked in, I was continually impressed by everything that I saw. The whole place is very smart; and the function room is excellent. (The stage is at one end, and was looking good – set up with Marshall and Warwick amps and speakers). To be honest, I liked the other place  – it was fine; but this venue is definitely superior.

I arrived early, and after being greeted by Trudie, Dave and Brian (and also having got myself a beer), I was introduced to the club’s guest star for the night, Larry Miller; who had kindly agreed to an interview with the Quill! I’d never met him before, but he is an instantly likable bloke with a genuinely warm handshake; and turned out to be quite a character – off-stage as well as on. Trudie suggested that we should chat outside on the patio; so that’s where we went.

We began by talking about Larry’s last opus: the excellent Soldier Of The Line, released late last year. Apart from the fact that this is arguably his best work so far, I was particularly interested in the story of Larry’s Grandad, a violin player who served in the Great War, which inspired the title track. This is because my Grandad also served in that hideous conflict, and played violin too. (I won’t go into that now, but there is more to say about it, so it may be the subject of a future Blog entry). At this point, my mate Rambo turned up and after introductions, joined us.

(Photo: Rambo)

Mr.Miller and myself engaged in a pre-gig conflab! (Photo: taken by Rambo)

I asked Larry if the superb title track (which I describe as a kind of Progressive-Folk lament), was to be part of a new direction for him: ie, experimenting with genres outside the Blues-Rock field of which he is a recognised master – bearing in mind that there is also an interesting and unexpected brassy, Jazzy ending to the opening track on the album, ‘One Fine Day’. Our man pointed out that we are all influenced by multiple genres – even those who claim to be purists in a particular field: ‘People always think that if you play one type of music, that’s what you’ve been listening to all your life….we all listened to the same things if you grew up in this country – The Beatles; The Stones; Abba; Mud; Sweet – what was playing in the charts. I can write most forms of music really’ he said ‘…but if you’re making a living (from music), you’ve got a fan-base; and you know what your fan-base want to hear. Some of them go to that (pointing to his new album that I’d put on the table) and think “Oh this isn’t Larry!” One bloke said he threw it away! Then he went back to one of my old records and thought “Oh I’ll give it another go”; and then of course he hasn’t stopped playing it since! Its a fine balancing act: you’ve got to move forward, but at the same time keep the guys who pay your bills happy!’ (Surely no one is unhappy with Larry’s last album, are they?)

‘Unless of course you are like Richie Blackmore’ I digressed, ‘…who never gave a toss about his fans anyway, and totally gave up Rock for Folk music without batting an eyelid – much to the chagrin of his fans!’ (Just for the record, I like some of RB’s Folky stuff). We then laughed about Blackmore’s infamous tantrums with Purple and Rainbow (I witnessed one of these for myself at Wembley back in ’79, – but that’s for another blog). Larry quipped that he was ‘…probably suffering from pre-minstrel tension!’

Back to the subject in hand, Rambo observed that: ‘Surely you’ve got to go where your heart takes you?’  Larry agreed: ‘Yeah, if you’ve got an ounce of creativity about you – you are an artist. I never did music so that I’d become rich – it would be nice though! Its like any artist, like Picasso. He never painted pictures to make a lot of money – that would be soulless’ . Its quite clear then that Larry wouldn’t do anything he didn’t want to do. And quite right too.

Larry with '57 Gold Top (Photo: PTMQ)

Larry with his main guitar: a Gibson Les Paul ’57 Gold Top Reissue (Photo: PTMQ)

So I asked what Larry had in the pipeline? ‘I’m working on a double album right now’ he replied, ‘…The Sinner And The Saint. I’ve got about sixteen tracks on it. I consider it my best ever.’ ‘So when is this Magnum Opus due out?’ I asked. Larry couldn’t say yet. Nor would he be drawn too much on it other than saying ‘Its got my normal Blues-Rock content’, and that there’s ‘a mandolin track’ on it. Then he told us ‘I’m a Christian; so its going to be a spiritual one as well’. Larry had anticipated my next question here, as I’d planned to ask about the religious subjects / references that I’d noticed in some of his earlier songs – ‘Bathsheba’ for example. ‘American bands sing quite happily about these subjects but English bands don’t’ he said. That’s probably true enough; apart from The Strawbs, I can’t think, off-hand, of a British band that have handled religion (not including Occult obsessed HM bands!) ‘Everything I write comes from within’ he explained. Anyway, that’s an album I personally can’t wait to hear!

The subject of the young Blues-Rock guitarists came up then – again Larry anticipated the question, as I was going to ask what he thought about young guns like Virgil McMahon; Laurence Jones; and Oli Brown. ‘I know ’em – all nice guys’ he said. ‘Its great that they’re playing it, but I wish their mates would get into it. Its weird … they’re playing to all these old guys!’ I agreed. There aren’t a lot of young Blues fans; and this came up when I interviewed Virgil last October (see my Blog #26). Funny enough, I’m glad to report that my son James and a couple of his mates do love Blues-Rock, and he would  have been there with me that night if he hadn’t been lured away to a cricket match in Chelmsford!

I asked Larry about his forthcoming gig at the Forum in London, supporting Walter Trout for his I’m Back Tour. He is very much looking forward to it as you would expect. Larry didn’t know if Walter had specifically head-hunted him for the gig, but apparently someone close to Walter did say that Larry reminds Walter of himself as a young player – not that Larry is that young of course! But its quite a complement coming from an international giant of the genre like WT.

Mad Dogs! The Larry Miller Band at the Touchline (Photo: PTMQ)

Mad Dogs! The Larry Miller Band at the Touchline (Photo: PTMQ)

Next I asked about his guitars. ‘Ahh!’ he exclaimed seeming to relish the chance of some axe-chat! ‘I take it you’ll be playing a Les Paul tonight?’ I enquired.   ‘Yeah. Well, I’d always been a Strat man’ he said. ‘Because of Gallagher?’ I asked (Larry being a well known fan). ‘I guess so …but they just looked so awesome! I’ve had loads of Strats, but you see lots of Strat players with a slightly thin toppy, grainy sound. I liked Stevie Ray Vaughan’s sound, but …then I saw Bon Jovi at Wembley Stadium. He had all these guitars; and this one guitar sounded really lovely, and it was a Gibson Les Paul ’59 – it was obviously the best sounding guitar there. So I bought a Les Paul in 2002, but I could play a Strat faster, so it took me a while (to get used to it). Then people started to say “Oh you’ve got a great guitar tone”; well they never say that if you’re playing a Strat. But with the Les Paul its a brilliant thick, creamy sound. And if you back off the volume, then it cleans up like a Strat anyway. So now I’m a bona fide Les Paul Player!’ Larry now has three Les Pauls – one of which, a Gold Top ’57 Reissue is his main gigging axe. ‘Its absolutely wonderful’ he enthused.

What about acoustics? He said he used a 1931 National for slide work on the forthcoming album; and he’d be playing ‘just a crummy old thing’ later that night for ‘Soldier Of The Line’ (it actually turned out to be a good-looking, and great sounding Yamaha acoustic tuned to DADGAD). I said I’d be watching closely so that I could try to learn the song. ‘Its bloomin’ hard!’ he warned; then added laughing ‘…well I think so!’ Well if he finds it hard, and its his song, I don’t know what chance I’ve got at playing it!

Finally I asked Larry to sign my CD copy of Soldier Of The Line. He stared at the cover for a while deep in thought; then smiled and wrote ‘To Phil The Music Quill, from Larry The Music Mill’! As well as everything else, Larry has a great sense of humour! He went back stage then and Rambo and I took our seats, reserved for us by Trudie, on Table 1 – right in front of Larry’s monitors. And there we waited….

Soldier of the line - Larry Miler (Photo: PTMQ)

Soldier of the line – Larry Miller with his Yamaha acoustic  (Photo: PTMQ)

At about 9pm Master Of Ceremonies Brian Sangwin climbed on stage  and introduced the band. Larry casually strapped on his Gold Top and plugged in, and after a little banter with the audience launched into the rabid rhythm riffs of ‘Mad Dog’. Like a Rottweiler suddenly released from a cage, he hit us with a full-on display of axemanship and growling vocals! It was a howling success; and that set the pace and tone for the entire gig really.

From the very beginning, you can’t take your eyes off Larry – he is like a presence on stage. Not just because of his consummate fret-board dexterity, which left me open-mouthed at times; or for his powerful vocal style; but also for his on-stage antics: throwing himself about like a man half his age – even running around in the audience at one point! And he kept it up throughout the whole show too! He still has the enthusiasm he had as a fifteen year old – and its infectious! We, the audience, were lapping up everything he did. Clearly he is a man who loves what he does. Quite how he keeps it up night after night, I don’t know.

‘Our Time Is Coming’ was up next – again a power-packed rendition with breath-taking solos – and to paraphrase the lyric, ‘there was nothing we could do about it’! Great applause ensued, and Larry said ‘Really cookin’ isn’t it?’ Then the intro of ‘The Power You Have’ had us clapping along, before the distinctive rhythm riff burst full scale upon us. Another winner.

At this point, Larry introduced the rest of the band. The other members tend to be somewhat overlooked in comparison to the presence and antics of the main man. But they were there alright – and a superb performance they both gave too. On Bass was Derek White; Larry’s long-term gigging bassist. And on Drums, Graham Walker; ex-Gary Moore Band. These two proved themselves to be more than capable as a rhythm section; tight and reliable, and always there to provide the back-bone to the songs, and enable Larry to venture into lengthy abstract solos at will.

(Photo: PTMQ)

(Photo: PTMQ)

Things slowed down a bit then for the beautifully arpeggiated intro to ‘Calling All The Angels’. The angst-ridden lyric he sang with genuine passion; and the lead solo came from deep down in his soul. It was dripping with emotion!  After some more banter he said he’d do his ‘Rory tune’ – a Gallagher-esque Blues-Rocker that would have had his late, great Irish hero nodding with approval.  And thus ended the first set. Only five songs long; but as he explained ‘I can’t help doing solos that are 400 hours long!’ Time for a beer methinks!

The second half began as promised with ‘Soldier Of The Line’. Larry donned his Yamaha acoustic (the ‘crummy old thing’ mentioned earlier), tuned to DADGAD, and after doodling a little, began the very distinctive and beautiful intro to the song. And I must say, it did look difficult to play! But what a faultless performance it was; musically perfect, and sung with genuine emotion.

With his beloved Gold Top back in hand, ‘One Fine Day’ followed. This is the opener from the Soldier…  album; and one of the tracks that make that collection his best yet in my opinion. This live version did not disappoint either. No brass was possible for the outro, of course, so Larry just improvised a nice lead to finish. Only another good rocker from the same album could follow this. ‘Mississippi Mama’ hit us like a hurricane running amok through the Bible Belt! It went down a storm.

He gave us the pure Blues of ‘Missy Mango’ next. Its a simple but effective number that is a perfect vehicle for Larry to improvise over. Another excellent Blues tune followed this; and again Larry showed off his remarkable skills. ‘I Fight Myself’ ended the second half to rapturous applause and a standing ovation. It was well deserved.

During this part of the show, he had been quite brutal with his Les Paul. Volume and tone pots were roughly handled; the pick-up switch was singled out for a fair amount of abuse; but the low-E string was particularly brutalised when he used it to hold the unfortunate guitar aloft and shake it roughly! This all produced the most amazing sounds, and he was remarkably adept at it! In fact, given Larry’s normal string-bending technique – that often rendered at least two semi-tones – he had to frequently retune the thing throughout the gig.

The whole place was on its feet. Encore! was demanded – and duly delivered. Returning to the stage, the boys delivered more of what we desired, in the form of the SRV-esque ‘Rebekah’. Finally, the unmistakable opening riff to ‘Parisienne Walkways’ sounded out from Larry’s Marshall speakers. Teasing us with that searing sustained note made famous by another of his heroes, Gary Moore, Larry gave us a final flourish of his sublime axemanship. Phew!

Thanks to Larry and the lads for a superb demonstration of Blues-Rock at its highest level. I think this is definitely a contender for my Best Blues-Rock gig of 2015. Its difficult to guess who could possibly top it!  Finally, a great big thank you to Dave Kitteridge for arranging the interview; plus Trudie; Brian, and Steve the sound man; and all at the club and the venue for helping to make it a very memorable night indeed.  PTMQ.

Here is a link to Larry’s website… http://www.larrymiller.co.uk/index.htm

Here is a link to Touchline Live Music’s page… http://touchlinelivemusic.co.uk/

26. VIRGIL AND THE ACCELERATORS at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, Hullbridge, Essex. Friday, 24th October, 2014; plus chatting with the band pre-show.

Virgil talks about his favourite Stat (Photo: PTMQ)

Virgil talks about his favourite Stat  (Photo: PTMQ)

I’ve been aware of VIRGIL AND THE ACCELERATORS (VATA) for a couple of years or more now; but never seen them live before. Their album The Radium is a brilliant debut; and their second, Army Of Three which has recently been released, (to paraphrase one of their songs) ‘takes them higher’.  I’ve been listening to both albums a lot lately; and enjoying them. So I was honoured when VATA’s guitarist VIRGIL McMAHON said he’d put me on the Guest List for their gig at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, in Hullbridge, Essex.

My sports journalist son, James and I, turned up at the venue nice and early; and were warmly welcomed by club proprietor DAVE KITTRIDGE and his wife Trudy. Virgil himself soon appeared and invited us back to the Green Room to meet the other two members of the band – younger brother and drummer, GABRIEL McMAHON; and bassist JACK ALEXANDER TIMMIS. And three more welcoming, friendly and articulate young musicians you couldn’t imagine. (They are 22; 21; and 25 years old, respectively). An immediate comparison of Virgil and Gabriel with the guitarist and drummer Eddie and Alex  VAN HALEN is obvious. (And even the band’s ‘VA’ logo is reminiscent of Van Halen’s famous ‘VH’ symbol, I noticed).

As the brothers originally hailed from South Africa (although living for some years now, in Wales, and more lately, Birmingham), we started the interview by asking Virgil about the music scene in their homeland. Apart from traditional tribal; or Afrikaans Boeremusiek, there is apparently little in the way of a home-grown blues or rock scene – guitarist DAN PATLANSKY  being a rare exception.

James with VATA (Photo by PTMQ)

James with VATA (Photo by PTMQ)

What then, you may ask, are their influences? No doubt their first was their father HENDRY McMAHON, who introduced the brothers to blues-orientated rock music from a very early age; encouraging them to learn to play instruments, and sit in on his gigs. Consequently the boys have a fantastic knowledge of rock music that was old, long before they were born. And listening to their conversation – and of course, their two excellent albums – this becomes very clear. And for an old rocker like me, its nice to see! For example, when Virgil saw my Twitter moniker (Phil The Music Quill@ptmq2112) on my calling card, he immediately recognised the 2112 as a RUSH album title from ’76 – not many people get that these days! Away from the band, each member listens to a wide variety of sounds too – not just Rock or Blues. Personally, when I listen to the band, I hear bits that remind me of all sorts of other artists; and James hears other things too. This may be coincidence of direct influence; but at all times, VATA’s music has its own style and vibe to it.

An observation I made to them, having listened to their work, is their (sometimes) similarity to the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) which emerged from late ’78 onwards. For those not familiar with it; this was the inevitable back-lash against the Punk/New Wave aberration of the mid-70s; where young rock bands influenced by late-60s / early-70s rock bands, suddenly took off – led by such luminaries as my old mates IRON MAIDEN; and SAXON. With VATA being influenced by some of that same earlier music, I’m hearing a similar fresh and exciting interpretation of the old vibe, with an energy, enthusiasm, and sound, reminiscent of the NWOBHM. VATA also have the added advantage of  35 extra years of Rock since the NWOBHM to draw upon now too.

VATA looking unimpressed by my playing of  Virgil's Black Beauty! (Photo by JPC)

VATA looking unimpressed by my playing of Virgil’s Black Beauty! (Photo by JPC)

Like those earlier bands, their music has a Blues base, of course, but VATA are feeling more comfortable as an out and out Rock unit. James asked if they thought their style was changing. They confirmed this. The second album has certainly moved away from Blues to a large extent. This is something they think has evolved rather than been designed: ‘It wasn’t intentional – its just how it came out…’ Virgil explained, ‘…we always liked the heavier side of Blues anyway’. They feel that Rock gives them more scope to experiment  – as Jack pointed out ‘I think all three of us want to get away from the Blues world….. there’s only so much you can do with a 12-Bar Blues’. Saying that though, they all have a great deal of respect for the Blues genre. And they are not too concerned with what other young Blues-Rock bands are up to – as Virgil said ‘All we’re focused on is The Accelerators’.

Virgil and Gabe’s Dad Hendry in fact, was the founder of the Accelerators; and brought his sons into the band one at a time; before departing himself, and leaving the group in their precocious, and highly capable hands. So from 2006 the group was called Virgil And The Accelerators. Brummie bassist Jack joined later to complete the band in its current form. At first they were, of course, just playing pubs on Friday and Saturday nights ‘for a couple of quid, and a bit of fun’. But once they met manager MARTIN LEWIS (at the ROBIN 2 in Brum), things started to take off.  Since then, they haven’t looked back; and have supported veteran bands like URIAH HEEP and CHICKEN SHACK among others. In fact, they are at pains to point out how much they owe to Martin and his wife Kate; believing that they’d be nowhere without their guidance – ‘Guardian Angels’ is how Gabe describes them. These days the brothers even lodge with the couple at their house  in Brum; which is in a good central position in the UK for gigging.

New material is usually written by the group collectively from jams in their converted garage at home, where they can play in as near concert conditions as possible; bouncing ideas off each other.  This arrangement is not only conducive to the development of new material, but also facilitates the revision of their earlier stuff too: ‘We try not to carry on playing the older songs the same way for any extended period of time’ says Virgil. Therefore their songs are constantly evolving. They are a kind of tri-partite democracy that refer to themselves, as  ‘VATA Band’ Gabe explains. Its a great dynamic that works very well indeed.

Virgil's geetars: 2 Stats; 2 Les Pauls; and a Firebird. (Photo by  PTMQ)

Virgil’s geetars: 2 Stats; 2 Les Pauls; and a Firebird. (Photo by PTMQ)

Inevitably, with both James and myself being guitarists (although not in Virgil’s league, of course!), we asked about the small collection of geetars that he’d brought with him to the gig. It soon became clear that he has a comprehensive knowledge of the instrument in general; and specifically of his own.  He brought with him: a GIBSON FIREBIRD 7 (limited edition);  two GIBSON LES PAULS (a JOE BONAMASSA signature edition Gold Top with ‘relicked’ finish;  and a Black Beauty known as ‘The Preacher’. Two distressed FENDER STRATOCASTERS  were also present: one a ’62 Custom-Shop model,  signed by PHILIP SAYCE and known as ‘Alice’.

I asked the band if there was anything they’d like me to say (or not say) when I wrote up the interview. They merely wished me to thank all those who have come to their gigs and bought their albums. Interview completed, it was time for the lads to get ready for their performance; so James and I decamped back to the auditorium in anticipation of a great show. In fact, my friend and fellow music-writer NIGEL FOSTER had seen the band the week before at the BOOM BOOM CLUB, Sutton; and described how they’d ‘blown the bleedin’ roof off!’  So we were expecting something good. Most of the audience were twice the age of the band – rock fans who’d have loved VATA at any time in the last 30 or 40 years; and still appreciative of good music.

Before long, Virgil And The Accelerators climbed on-stage to great applause – Virgil armed with the Gold Top –  and immediately launched into the opening number from the new Army Of Three album, ‘Take Me Higher’, with its  reverb’ed arpeggiated intro. It was a great start, and a mere taste of what was to come. The aptly named ‘Blow To The Head’ followed, hitting hard as the name suggests!  Its also from the new album, and is a great head-banger (reminiscent of Maiden) with fine solos and  good use of the wah-wah pedal.  Changing to his Firebird, Virgil continued to lead the assault with my favourite track from the first album: ‘Backstabber’. An excellent rendition it was too. A guitar change was again required (this time to his Black Beauty, aka ‘The Preacher’ with capo on the 3rd fret) for ‘Give It Up’ – again from the latest collection.

Virgil with Gold Top (Photo by JPC)

Virgil with Gold Top (Photo by JPC)

‘Racing With Life’ from The Radium was next up. With ‘The Preacher’ still in hand, Virgil used this song as a show-case for his astounding axemanship. A lengthy solo section has been added to this piece to facilitate this. With a jazzy bass-line from Jack; and tight drumming from Gabe; Virgil launched into a lead solo that was at times Bluesy; at times almost psychedelic; but at all times sublime, with a beautiful tone; and executed with consummate ease. Now there are some who call this type of thing self-indulgence, but personally I love to see it;  and so did everyone else as far as I could see – that’s why we were there!

The scope of VATA’s song-writing was evident in the next track: the thoughtful ‘Through The Night’. After the first five rockers, it was a fine contrast. It is a melodic rock song that has had an interesting reverb’ed intro added to the original. Unfortunately the FX pedal died soon into the tune, forcing the band to start again – but that’s Rock’n’Roll for you! Problem solved, the piece continued. I particularly enjoyed the quiet Bluesy solo section.

From the first album, they then played ’88’ which included an interesting Stones motif; and ‘Low Down And Dirty’ which always puts me in mind of BLACK SABBATH, and which also included a nod to ERIC CLAPTON  in the form of a few bars of the classic ‘Layla’ riff, during another very lengthy – but excellent – solo section. Good volume-swell technique on this one too. What struck me on this song too, was how tight the band are as a unit – completely in unison at all times during some complex rhythm changes.

Virgil then asked the audience to show their appreciation of Gabriel and Jack’s work. Surprisingly, neither did a solo themselves. Changing axe once again back to the Firebird, Virgil and the boys gave us a final song in the main set: ‘Free’ – another new one. To me this has something of the ambience of a Southern-Rock song; reminding me of MOLLY HATCHETT; and a little of some of JEFF HEALEY’s work too.  It included an ALLMAN BROS ‘Jessica’ motif nicely worked in to it too.  Its another melodic rocker, and went down a storm. The band left the stage to rapturous applause.

Virgil with Firebird 7 (Photo by JPC)

Virgil with Firebird 7 (Photo by JPC)

The only question now was: Would encore be required? Well, what do you think? The lads returned to the stage (Virgil armed with one of his Strats) for a final offering: an excellent cover of the classic  JIMI HENDRIX song ‘Are You Experienced?’ Phew! Only eight songs in over two hours unbroken; shows not only the length of some of the songs, but the remarkable energy of these fine young musicians. I was knackered just watching! I glanced at the roof – it was still there but  was showing serious signs of distress!

Virgil himself is a consummate axe-master. Not since I saw a young EDDIE VAN HALEN at the old RAINBOW THEATRE in London back in ’78, have I personally witnessed such a gob-smackingly remarkable string-smith at close-range.  It is clear that when Virgil plays solo, the  fret-board becomes an extension of his mind. Eyes closed, he is in another world – and as the audience witnessing his performance, we are privileged to see, and be privy to part of that world!  And he’s still only 22!

Skin-beater Gabriel was barely visible behind his kit, which was half surrounded by Perspex. This is to protect the ears – ‘My big Ride Cymbal is a real beast…’ he explained. The Perspex is  ‘… just there to improve sound on and off stage, and to offer a little protection to people’s ears’. Well, we may not have been able to see Gabe at work; but we sure as Hell knew he was there! He’s a powerhouse of precision percussion – reliable and unwavering in intensity for over two hours!

In my previous blog entry (#25), I said of Martin Turner, that ‘a busier bassist you’ll not see outside the Jazz world’. Well I take that back! Jack Alexander Timmis was exceptionally busy on his LAKLAND 5-string bass. I always admire bassists in 3-piece bands – the poor sods have to work really hard; especially when the guitarist switches from rhythm to lead. But JAT showed us that he was far more than equal to the task; performing his bass chops with confidence and precision; always there as a reliable back-bone for Virgil’s inventive, lengthy solos to refer back to.

As we’ve seen, each of the band members is highly proficient in their own chosen instrument; yet together they are more than the sum of their parts. On stage they are musically so tight that they become as one – highly practiced, and seemingly telepathic in anticipation of each-other’s next move.  They are not so much three musicians in the same group; rather, they are more like three facets of the same being: that entity is ‘VATA Band’ – an ‘Army Of Three’ about to conquer the Rock World!

My only disappointment was that they didn’t play ‘Silver-giver’; but that is an, oh so minor complaint! As James and I left the venue, we saw the band having a smoke outside the stage door. We offered our congratulations and after another brief chat, said our farewells. I understand that roof repairs are currently being carried out at Touchline Live Music, Hullbridge; and at the Boom Boom Club, Sutton. And that roof reinforcement works are taking place at every venue where VATA are due to play next! Go and see this band if you get a chance – if you love guitar-based rock, you’ll love it!  Once again, thanks to Dave K and his Mrs; and all the staff at the Touchline who made this evening possible. PTMQ