Green Mac at The Malt Shovel Tavern - 23rd March 2011
"This is beginning to look a little tired" I thought to myself as I glanced through the latest gig list for the Wednesday night blues show at the Malt Shovel Tavern in Northampton. Although the flyer was recently revamped with an impressive glossy full-colour printed layout, scanning through the gig list gave me a feeling of déjà-vu. Spotting names that hadn't appeared at the Malt Shovel at least half a dozen times was becoming more and more difficult.
Green Mac are certainly no strangers to the Northampton blues venue, having played there a number of times in recent years. However, it isn't that often that we get a band from northern England at the Malt, but the long trip down the M1 motorway for this Leeds-based unit is not as illogical as it might seem. The band were on their way to Holland via Dover for a series of Dutch gigs, and the Malt Shovel provided a welcome stopover en route.
Green Mac is effectively a Peter Green tribute band, playing a selection of the iconic blues-guitarist's classic repertoire. And they were sporting the latest edition to the band, a young guitarist and singer named Trevor Birkinshaw.
My initial reaction on arriving at the venue amidst one of the band's earlier numbers was "TOO LOUD". Over the years we've been treated to a wide variety of musical talent at the Malt, ranging from mediocre to excellent. A lot of focus understandably centers on the lead guitar player (well, it is a blues venue), but in cases where the guitarist’s performance falls short, there is generally some other aspect of the band that captures the interest, if not the emotion. So it's very rare indeed that I would contemplate leaving the Wednesday night gig prematurely. There is one exception however – DECIBEL LEVELS. Fortunately, I'm glad to report that on only one or two occasions over the last five or so years have I had to depart early, or withdraw to the pub's lounge area, because of the volume levels. My view is that if I want to wreck my hearing, I can always pop over to the King Billy rock venue across the street. I guess you could say that I don't have too much toleration for loud bands. So I was greatly relieved when Green Mac finished the first set, having spent most of the time out of harms way at the bar chatting to a friend.
The interval provided me with the opportunity to gauge reaction from some of the punters who regularly attend the Wednesday night gig, and who are usually keen to engage in a little "intelligent" commentary or opinion about the band's performance. Overall, the response was pretty positive. Nobody I spoke to seemed bothered about the volume! In fact, one guy stated that he LIKED to feel the bass "in his gut". "Yeah" I retorted "But this is like getting punched in the solar plexus and being knocked against the back wall every time the bass player plays the lower register notes!”
During the interval I found a vacant seat beside a couple I know, who uncustomarily were STAYING for the second set! "You staying too?" they asked. Then the awful truth dawned on me. "Where else is there to go?" I conceded. I guess we're a little spoiled here in Northampton's premier blues venue. The music is put on for free, the beer is excellent, and the audience is friendly and enthusiastic about the blues. "Ah!" I mused, sipping my pint of real ale. "Maybe it's not so bad after all?"
Actually, from my new position, I found the sound levels during the second set vastly improved. Bass no longer posed a treat to my stomach, and though the guitars were loud, they were tolerable. Peter Tallent on drums was however noisy, especially when he banged out a roll on his snare. I remembered this guy from the last time the band played at the Malt, and I wasn't impressed then. I began to understand why one of my friends, who had dropped by my house earlier that day, had stated that he wouldn't be coming to the Malt that evening. A drumming enthusiast, he stated he was beginning to get a little more selective in his listening habits these days. "Hmm!" I thought, as Peter hammered out another laboured straight roll, moving in a recurring pattern from the snare to each toms in turn, then back to snare. "Now I understand."
I also remembered Dusty Miller, the left-handed guitar player with his left-handed guitar strung in reverse order. "The strings may be the wrong way around to you, but they're the right way around for me" he retorted when I queried the logic of this particular arrangement. I've only ever seen one other guitarist playing this way, and that was back in the late 60s at a Sunday afternoon blues gig in a pub in Dublin.
Despite the string arrangements, his playing was proficient, though his style was more reminiscent of Danny Kirwan than Green. But I was a little put out by his excessive use of reverb. I know Green used a lot of reverb in his later solo albums, but the early Fleetwood Mac sound was notable for its stripped-down unadulterated sharp crisp guitar tones.
Overall, it was an unremarkable performance, memorable for its deficiencies rather than its highlights.
"They SHOULD have been good!" one punter commented. "After all, they have the pick of some of the best music of the 60s" I guess that about summed up their performance.
Green Mac are:
Dusty Miller – guitar and vocals
Peter Tallent – drums
Trevor Birkinshaw - bass
Luke Smithson – guitar and vocals
For the gear geeks:
Dusty was using a guitar amp that I had not seen before, a Dr Z head and cabinet. "They are a small boutique guitar amplification manufacturer in the US" Dusty told me. "Boutique" apparently means not mass produced. Dusty told me his rig cost £1,800! Well, he does own a guitar shop in Leeds. Not too sure which particular model he was using, but the company's website is http://www.drzamps.com/