Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings
Featuring Mary Wilson
Back in the UK
11th November 2011
Bill Wyman – bass, vocal
Albert Lee – lead guitar, piano, vocal
Georgie Fame – organ, vocal
Geraint Watkins – piano, vocal
Beverley Skeete – vocal, percussion
Graham Broad- drums, vocal
Terry Taylor- rhythm guitar, vocal
Nick Payne – saxophones, clarinet, percussion
Frank Mead – saxophones, harmonica, percussion, vocal
Mary Wilson – vocal
(I’m only 90% on the order, and think I missed one early on. it’s accurate later)
Ever Since The World Ended / I Got A Woman – GF
Jitterbug Boogie- AL
Man Smart Woman Smarter –GW
Three Cool Cats – GF
Tell Mama – BS
Too Late – TT
Baby Love – MW
Stop In The Name of Love – MW
Stormy Weather – MW / GF as duo
Muleskinner Blues – AL
I’ll Be Satisfied – BS
Time Is On My Side (fragment) – GW solo
It’s Raining – GW
You Never Can Tell- BW
It’s A Man’s, Man’s World- BS
300 Pounds of Joy – GW
Race With The Devil – AL
Just For A Thrill – GF
I Just Want To Make Love To You – BS
Sugar Babe – FM
You Can’t Hurry Love – MW
I Don’t Know Why (Norah Jones) – MW
Green River – MW
That’s Rock & Roll – AL
Honky Tonk Women – BW
So Sad – AL / BS / TT as trio
Dancing In The Street – MW
Bill Wyman’s tours resemble Charlie Watts’ tours, or The Blues Band or Jools Holland, or even Ringo Starr’s All Star Bands – established musicians from a variety of backgrounds touring and playing because that’s what they do. They enliven the act with guest vocalists and then incorporate stuff from the various members’ backgrounds.
You think, well, Bill could still have been doing this with The Stones, but even as a full member, something it took Ronnie Wood thirty years to achieve, he jumped ship. Bill was the historian of the band, and while many find huge tours irksome, they fitted Bill’s long time hobby of collecting groupies. It must have just got too dispiriting. While Bill’s bass added powerful riffs to the 60s productions, by the 70s the odd hours kept by Keef and Mick meant hours hanging around studios waiting. The side guys gave up waiting, and more and more a close read of the credits sees Keef or Ronnie playing bass at 3 a.m. while the idea was hot, rather than waiting to assemble the band. Bill increasingly became a puppet in the Glimmer Twins theatre. If you don’t need the money, why put up with it? Bill has played cricket at Lords, opened a restaurant (Sticky Fingers), sold two million books, produced for other artists and formed Willie & The Poor Boys and The Rhythm Kings. It’s all a lot more varied than doing six months sitting on planes and churning out Satisfaction every night.
So now the Rhythm Kings are doing what they want to do for their own pleasure. I hadn’t paid them much attention till someone was playing their Groovin’ CD in a shop, and I said ‘Who is this? It’s incredibly good.’ I went straight home and ordered a copy.
You realize walking into the venue that this was a Rolling Stone in town – two huge trucks and a tour bus contrast with Roger McGuinn’s Ford Transit van a few days ago. Wyman comes on and introduces the band one by one and states This is not a career move … we just want to go home with smiles on our faces.
Unfortunately they sounded pretty awful. I was sitting central, two thirds of the way back, and if the mics are treble and tinny and the voices sound “very microphone” and the words are hard to hear there, it’s not a good mix. Actually, it’s a very rare bad mix for Poole Lighthouse Concert Hall, a classical hall with superb acoustics. The last two bands I saw (Glen Campbell, Eliza Carthy) had perspex shields around the drummer. The Rhythm Kings didn’t and he was central, very busy, and also the drums sounded echoey and treble. They didn’t play too loud at all, the usual fault, they just had the vocal mics way too low in relation to the instruments. The mics weren’t even clear. Geraint Watkins explained that the night before the audience couldn’t understand him when he was saying It’s Raining was by Irma Thomas. I could only make out what he was saying with great difficulty myself. This was because his mic sounded echoey and tinny, nothing to do with his Welsh accent. It really annoyed me, because knowing the hall well, a few minutes work on the mixing desk should have delivered an excellent balance.
The drummer seems technically good, not that I’d know, but to me he overplayed, and his sound bled into the array of vocal mics too much. I never imagined Wyman was a great bass player. On tonight’s evidence he’s not even a particularly good bass player. His sound was muffled and low in the mix. He plays with very soft gentle thumb movements way up over the base of the neck. He never varied it by hitting it harder, or changing the tone, or moving his hand towards the bridge pick up, or playing a percussive riffing style. He had a great big stack right behind him, and no doubt his gentle brushes of the strings were subtle and audible where he was standing. Where I was sitting it was hard to tell there was a bass player at all for much of the time. Albert Lee’s Telecaster sound is naturally trebly and jangly. You have a stellar organist and a stellar pianist, but they don’t work well together. The combined effect was poor. Basically, the band would sound a whole lot better with another rhythm section.
The few times when they sounded good were interesting. Stormy Weather with Georgie Fame and Mary Wilson duetting + only the Hammond. No one else on stage. It’s A Man’s Man’s World sung by Beverley Skeete, when the drummer made full use of his busy ability to great effect … but used light and shade and played quietly, then exploded loudly. He was excellent in that one. You realised how much he was too full on otherwise. And the first encore, So Sad (from The Everly Brothers), with only three on stage … Albert Lee and Beverley Skeete duetting on vocals, Albert Lee on electric piano, and Terry Taylor on guitar. It was the best sound they got all night … without the rhythm section.
The other issue is that Wyman has the static onstage charisma of a whelk. Georgie Fame has no charisma either, Geraint Watkins does amusing pub intros then disappears. Both are way at the back. Albert Lee is affable, but no more than that. He communicates by being one of the best British guitarists. Terry Taylor is a sideman. That leaves it to Beverley Skeete to work her socks off, ably accompanied by the tremendous sax section who danced, did hand movements, did routines and never stopped working. Three great entertainers, but the dull static centre between them is Wyman, Taylor and Lee. This is a band of excellent sidesmen. I’ve seen both Fame and Watkins several times with Van Morrison. Great, though better singly than when they both played together at Larmer Tree. And Albert Lee with Van and The Everly Brothers and way back with Head, Hands and Feet, But they are all sidesmen with the exception of Beverley Skeete. Answer? Move her right into the centre. I also thought that when she was singing and moving with Mary Wilson; it was odd to confine her to far stage right, out of the spotlight. I’d have moved her in next to Mary Wilson. The Supremes sound is a girl group sound.
The sax section were especially splendid in You Never Can Tell, playing right at the opposite sides of the stage with mirror movements. Incidentally, You Never Can Tell was introduced by Wyman as “this was written by a nasty piece of work, but he writes good songs …” I was expecting a Stones song, not Chuck Berry! Geraint Watkins channeled Johnnie Johnson with magnificent piano work too. Honky Tonk Women finished the second set, sung feebly by Wyman. Albert Lee could reproduce the guitar part, but this was a travesty, utter shite. It brought the audience to their feet cheering. Such is the second-hand charisma of The Stones.
If Mary Wilson hadn’t been there, I might have gone home in the interval. Mary Wilson must have strong though unpleasant memories of Poole. According to Tom Jones – The Biography by Robert Eggers (Headline 2000), she was caught in a compromising position with Tom Jones in his rented Canford Cliffs house (more or less where I live) when Tom was doing a summer season in Bournemouth. Tom fled his wife’s wrath and sat in a neighbouring bungalow, hiding out and drinking tea all day. Back at Bournemouth Winter Gardens, I was lying behind the curtain paying out and drawing in Tom Jones’ microphone twice-nightly. All I can say is Tom never confided in me. But I remember the point where his wife turned up and stood in the wings arms folded every night.
Mary Wilson knows what it’s like to be sidelined by the star if anyone does (and I mean Diana, not Tom), but Mary also has relaxed, unforced charisma and knows it. She rocked through Baby Love and Stop! In The Name of Love, even if it was apparent that the bass player was no James Jamerson or Carol Kaye. In the second set, she did a wonderul I Don’t Know Why, the Norah Jones song, then Green River by Creedence Clearwater Revival. When she said Baby Love was #1 in 1964, someone called out, I wasn’t born then. Mary said In answer to the question y’all thinking, I am sixty-seven and a half. Her singing ability is undiminished. Fantastic and worth putting up with the bad sound for the rest of the evening. Don’t miss her if you get the chance. I wouldn’t go and see any of these guys in the Rhythm Kings, together or solo, again.