Thursday, February 10, 2011

Denny Laine Live @ White’s “Gimme a Coupla Guinness and I’m Anybodys”

Meeting Denny Laine was like rubbing shoulders with my past and discovering a fragile treasure within. Fond memories suddenly became more vivid and colored with excitement. I could feel a vibrant energy building up in my body. I was alive in the moment yet touched by the past. I could see my younger self smiling in awe. I remember buying his first solo album, an import entitled Ahh, Denny Laine. I loved it unconditionally but then again I loved anything connected to the Beatles. The music was a bit pastoral, reflecting disparate influences from folk to blues and rock. Its quiet dignity suggested that Denny could be a successful traveling minstrel - a singer/songwriter. Rock & Roll merged with folk and Laine was in a groove. Later I saw him perform with Wings in 1976 @ Olympia Stadium. It was an incredible, well-rehearsed show that revealed Wings to be a real band not just a vehicle for and ex-Beatle. At the time I thought McCartney to be quite generous with the Limelight. Jimmy McCullough sang Medicine Jar and rocked his ass off as the lead guitarist and Laine did a masterful take on his Moody Blues hit, Go Now and one of Wings best ever rockers Time To Hide. Ahh…Denny Laine and he’s standing right in front of me here and now. It was an exquisite moment in time…

Denny opened the show by greeting the crowd with “I’m gonna do a few songs…I don’t remember the words” and improvises a snippet of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice (It’s alright) that segues into Time to Hide from the Wings at the Speed of Sound. It came off well despite the absence of a band to give it that rock & roll sonic oomph. The lyrics are filled with joy and sorrow - relationships breaking apart and the demands of fame.

If I have to run, I’m not running out on you
If I have to shake a little sand out of my shoes
I’m running from the law or they’ll put me inside
Baby won’t you let me find a little Time to Hide

McCartney-penned folk inspired chestnuts followed - Picasso’s Last Words turned into a group sing-a-long

Drink To Me Drink to My Health
You know I can’t Drink anymore

And the plaintive No Words

You want to give your love away
And you end up giving nothing

Denny’s mid-temp pop rocker Say You Don’t Mind was an unexpected treasure. Originally written for the Electric string Band, it became a British hit for Colin Blunstone, the lead singer of the Zombies. Denny’s Children Children from Wings London Town album is an ode to home and hearth, missing his kids and being out on the road too long

Denny is a natural born storyteller and throughout his 90 minute show he regaled the crowd with the inside skinny on many of his famous friends. He was at once both spontaneous and irreverent – good clean fun and sometimes a little naughty. Denny was in fine form, dropping names like swatting flies. No one escaped his watchful eye and vivid memory as he recalled one hilarious episode after another, a jaded yet tongue-in-cheek inside take on the business of rock & roll.Incredible.

Denny followed with a rolling bluesy rocker entitled Burning Bridges about lost loves, lost friendships and regret and after he finished he goes into a rap…

I recorded that one with the Moody Blues and once I left the
Moodies they went on to bigger and better things. I couldn’t figure
out how they got that famous. They were still playing the old songs.
One night a guy came up and told ‘em that the music was a bunch of
crap and that they were rubbish. Well, they agreed it was rubbish.
So they went away and wrote and recorded Days of Future Past. It
was the first stereo rock album ever made.
ARRRGHH… hey, just kidding… I love them and we still keep in touch

Denny did a few songs from his solo albums including the incredible heartfelt ballad Speaking the Truth and Wish You Could Love Me recorded with Roy Wood of the Move, Rick Wakeman, and Hank Marvin from the Shadows. He called it a “bunky thing” – kinda pop but jazzed up and be-boppin’. I call it stoned cool.

Denny co-wrote Food For All with Richie Havens to help and bring aide and resources to the impoverished and suffering people living in the streets of Philadelphia. He recalled that his old friend Marianne Faithfull after her first flush of fame spent a few years on the street and it was her heartbreaking story that inspired the song. The lyrics are powerful and Denny sang it beautifully…

We all talk and talk is cheap
A heavy heart won’t let me sleep
And I make excuses I won't deny
How will it change if I don’t even try

We need food for all

Lonely days and cold dark nights
No where to go is no way to live
Stripped of all their human rights
We hide their faces and muffle their cries
We need food for all

Denny performed Move, a new tune from his upcoming CD Valley of Dreams. It was recorded piecemeal in a variety of places but he didn’t really get it together until he met up with Dr. Longhair in New Orleans.

I will love you more than my dreams
If you think the sky is beautiful at night
Or when you see and eagle fly
I want you to know
I’ll love you more
So much more

One of the highlights of the night was Denny’s tender reading of Go Now. With just a piano, Denny’s stark minimalist approach gave the song more power and seemed to illuminate the longing in the lyrics. His voice was another instrument that gave the song its emotional valence. Denny found his voice.

Denny’s Buddy Holly Rap

This is where it gets interesting. Buddy Holly was always an
inspiration - an impromptu That’ll Be the Day interrupts the rap –
he was always our hero. He rocked the Apollo and he was only 22
when he died. He’s the reason I turned professional. Every year
Paul does a Buddy Holly day on his birthday…he bought all the rights,
ya know. So, I’ve met his wife and all the Crickets. So… I’m going to
do another Buddy Holly song.

Laine does a reverent and soulful Raining in My Heart, His voice is alive now, stronger and more assured. I can tell he’s diggin’ it.

Denny’s Beatles/Elvis Rap

I first met the Beatles in Birmingham, my hometown. It was a show
and we were playing on a revolving stage. We were all neighbors
with the Beatles especially George…we would play our acetates for each other.
Paul was a big Elvis fan, you know.

Laine segues into a rousing medley of That’s All Right and Mystery Train. Cool Rockabilly. Great energy. Denny’s found his mark.

Denny’s Ringo/Tim Hardin/Carl Perkins Rap

We (Wings) were in Montserrat Spain doing Tug of War…a lot of friends
came by and helped out a bit. We used echo boxes to get a certain
sound. But then Carl Perkins came by, played his guitar on Get It and it
sounded exactly like the echo box – my hero! Ringo was there. He turned
up when he was drinking. When he was a real man…ok, ok, ok - he only says
he’s not drinking. ARRGH. Anyway he had bottles of champagne next to his
drums and we started playing Reason To Believe. Ringo stopped and said
“TIM HARDIN, everyone’s got a Tim Hardin album.” Yep, Ringo, Nilsson, > Rod the Mod (Stewart) – we all loved Tim Hardin.

Laine sings Reason to Believe and is able to capture the gentle sorrow of the singer and the longing and acceptance in the lyrics. He’s on fire.

Denny developed a musical with his friend Chris Hill entitled Arctic Song and played a song from it, The Ghost of the Scrimshaw Carver. It’s in the vein of the old sea Shanties and tells the story of an old frigate that encountered a huge monstrous whale that brought the ship and crew down to Davey Jones locker. Denny provides a nuanced and vigorous vocal

Landlubber have awoken me
Releasing of ‘me spirit from the bottom of the sea
Where ‘me bones have laid since 1883
I’m the ghost of the Scrimshaw Carver

The next song Mull of Kintyre is a tribute to the island in Scotland where Paul and Linda lived and worked a farm. It is known for its vast and serene beauty. Though this was Wings biggest hit, selling more than 2 million records in England, it was barely known in America. The flipside, the rockin’ Girls School gained more attention and finally landed at 33 in the top 100 Billboard singles of 1977. It seemed incredible to me that Denny could turn this breathtaking though obscure song into a rousing sing-a-long with an audience that had never heard it before. Listen to the lyrics

Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre

Far I have travelled and much I have seen
Dark Distant mountains with valleys of green
Past painted deserts the sun sets on fire
As he carries me home to the Mull of Kintyre

Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre

Sweep through the heather like deer in the glen
Carry me back to the days I knew then
Nights when we sang like a heavenly choir
Of the life and the times of the Mull of Kintyre

Mull of Kintyre, oh mist rolling in from the sea
My desire is always to be here
Oh Mull of Kintyre

Smiles in the sunshine and tears in the rain
Still take me back where my mem'ries remain
Flickering embers grow higher and high'r
As they carry me back to the Mull of Kintyre

Denny closed with playful renditions of Live & Let Die and Band on the Run. They may have lost a bit on the translation between heavy production, overdubbed and echoed vocals and instrumentation and Denny’s spartan arrangement. But it came straight from the heart and the energy of the crowd carried it on a wave of captured memories.

Afterward Denny and I spent a few hours just talking, wondering about all kinds of things, mostly it was a travelogue of our lives, distant and recent memories, longings and regrets; love and success… transcendence.

It was a night to remember
It was a grand night indeed.

Bo White

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