Bad Company: Then And Now
In the latest of our ongoing series Then And Now, Xavier Russell looks at one of the great dinosaurs of British rock, Bad Company, travelling back to Olympia 1976 and then forward to Wembley 2010. Check out our previous Then And Now features on Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kiss.
Words: Xavier Russell / Photos: Steve Way
I first saw Bad Company supporting The Who at Charlton FC in 1974, but that day belonged to openers Montrose. It was Bad Company’s headlining performance a couple of years later, at The Great British Music Festival in London’s Olympia on January 2, 1976 that caught my eye.
Back then Bad Company were riding high in the charts. The success of 1974′s self-titled, debut album (five million copies sold in America alone) and 1975′s Straight Shooter (three million copies sold) meant the band had established a firm base. Now Paul Rodgers and Co. were in town promoting their third studio outing Run With The Pack (one million copies sold) and headlining two sold-out shows at The Great British Music Festival (January 2/3, 1976), which ran for four nights. The other headliners were Status Quo on December 3, 1975. Barclay James Harvest and Procol Harum (January 1, 1976).
VENUE: London Olympia. The Great British Music Festival featuring Bad Company, Nazareth, Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, Pretty Things, Be-Bop Deluxe, Charlie
DATE: January 2, 1976
I remember when this set of gigs was first announced being surprised at the choice of location for such an array of talent. After all, this is a venue normally used for The Horse Of The Year Show and real ale festivals, so it felt odd that it should now be housing 40,000 watts of speaker power! And there was my first gripe – the sound was truly horrendous. By that I mean a bit like being trapped on the noisiest part of the Victoria Line! I could barely hear Charlie, Be-Bop Deluxe and The Pretty Things. The PA was turned up a notch for Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance, so at least I could hear what Ronnie was singing, but it was till very echoey and tinny!
At last the PA kicked into life for Nazareth. Now this is a band I’ve always had a lot of time for, and they really delivered. Vocalist Dan McCafferty knew how to work an audience and most of the crowd-pleasers came from their excellent album Razamanaz. Their unique brand of Scot-rock is very infectious, especially Woke Up This Morning with heavy, pounding riffs from Manny Charlton. And there was also great renditions of Woody Guthrie’s Vigilante Man and Alcatraz. The perfect band to get the crowd ready for Bad Co.
And so to the headliners. It was great to finally see them top of the bill, and not stuck half way down playing through a woolly sock! This was, of course, the classic line-up – Paul Rodgers (vocals), Mick Ralphs (guitar), Boz Burrell (bass) and Simon Kirke (drums) – and they didn’t disappoint. Promoting the recently released album Run With The Pack, it was hardly surprising that they kicked off with Live For The Music, while also played from …The Pack were Simple Man, Run With The Pack and Honey Child.
This being a festival gig there was always going to be the odd hiccough, like feedback, the PA cutting out and the odd plastic bottle hurled towards the stage, which I did my best to avoid because of its contents – urine! But that didn’t deter Bad Co., who just got better and better, Rodgers even made the suspect PA sound good with his strong set of pipes and was especially potent on Deal With The Preacher, Ready For Love and Seagull.
Bad Company really were one of the great rock bands, and when it came to good straight-ahead no-holds-barred hard rock they can’t be beaten. The powerhouse drumming of Kirke, the hard-hitting bass of Burrell and the simple but effective catchy riffing of Ralphs, topped off by Rodgers’ screeching vocals… it all gelled together perfectly on Can’t Get Enough. The now-frenzied crowd in Olympia couldn’t get enough either and the band encored with Bad Company. So, despite the occasional sound blip, this was a triumphant display.
VENUE: London Wembley Arena, Bad Company with special guests The Joe Perry Project
DATE: April 11, 2010
Having just watched Spurs go out to Portsmouth in the FA Cup semi Final at the J.J. Moons Wetherspoon’s boozer in Central Wembley I was in need of a serious pick me up. Thankfully, it arrived in the form of Bad Company at the revamped Wembley Arena!
I had not clapped eyes on Bad Co, since the aforementioned Great British Music Festival at Olympia. The last time I saw Paul Rodgers was when he was a member of The Firm with Jimmy Page, and that was back in 1984 at the Hammy Odeon.
Opening tonight were The Joe Perry Project. The Aerosmith’s guitarist and his Project got to play 65 minutes, which is very rare for a support act.
The familiar riff to Let The Music Do The Talking came blasting forth to open the set, and Joe always plays from the heart, really knowing how to bend those strings, but he should not attempt to take on lead vocals. His voice is, shall we say, an acquired taste! He continually changed guitars in-between blues standards such as Vigilante Man (yes, the very same tune covered by Nazareth, as described above) and Fleetwood Mac’s Somebody’s Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonight.
A very varied and interesting set, there was even a re-working of Train Kept A Rollin’. And it was a pleasant surprise to hear Aerosmith’s Walk This Way close the set, albeit slightly altered for the Project!
And so to Bad Co. This was the last night of the comeback UK tour, and you just got the feeling it was going to be special.
Opening with Can’t Get Enough, the crowd was on their feet from the off. Paul Rodgers’ voice just seems to get better with age, the way he commands the stage and works the crowd is a joy to watch. Honey Child and Run With The Pack were knocked off with aplomb. But it was during Burning Sky that Rodgers really let rip. Cutting through the dry ice, his voice simply reached new heights and took the song to another dimension. And when he returned to earth, the frontman announced: ”Sounds good to me, I mean the sound is good! Whether or not we’re any good is another matter!” (said with a cheeky grin). This led us neatly into Seagull where the duelling acoustic guitars of Mick Ralphs and Rodgers were very impressive.
Sadly, the sound that Rodgers announced was so good actually got a bit ropey during Electric Land, Rodgers’ vocals being drowned out by an overloud piano and Lynn Sorensen’s distorting bass. Thankfully, normal service was resumed for Simple Man, then former Heart guitarist Howard Leese stole the limelight at the beginning of Feel Like Makin’ Love (which has one of rock’s finest riffs) with some fine pickin’ on a mandolin, before Rodgers took over on harmonica.
Elsewhere there were fine renditions of Shooting Star complete with ‘na, na’ sing-a-long, and Rock ‘N’ Roll Fantasy, before the set finished with a rousing version of Movin’ On, one of Bad Co’s greatest songs. Put simply this is classic rock par excellence! Rodgers really gets carried away as he snarls, “I gotta, gotta, gotta keep movin’ on.”
Encores? Well, this was the last night of the tour, and the band obliged the now delirious crowd with Ready For Love. At the beginning of Bad Company itself, Rodgers suddenly announced: ”This one’s for our representative from Swan Song Records” – a cheeky nod to Jimmy Page; the band had been signed to Led Zeppelin’s label in the 70s and Page was apparently in attendance.
It was during the evergreen Bad Company that you could clearly see that Rodgers still loves playing these songs, and judging by the crowd’s reaction Bad Company should keep touring for some time to come. They returned for one final encore, bowing out on Deal With The Preacher.
Normally on these Then And Now reviews I’ve tended to prefer the early shows, but this is not the case with Bad Company. I actually enjoyed the Wembley gig much more than the Olympia show. The band, with the addition of Leese, have a much richer sound now. Some of Ralphs’ solos didn’t quite hit the spot, but Leese was always nearby to help out. Kirke still beats the living daylights out of his skins and Sorensen does a fine Geezer Butler impersonation! And that just leaves Paul Rodgers, now looking more and more like a Gibb brother with his year-round tan. You can see he clearly runs the show, and his gargantuan voice has to be heard to be believed. I can’t wait to see Bad Company again.
Tags: Bad Company, Barclay James Harvest, be-Bop Deluxe, Boz Burrell, Charlie, Dan McCafferty, Geezer Butler, Heart, howard leese, Lynn Sorensen, Manny Charlton, Mick Ralphs, Montrose, nazareth, Paul Rodgers, Pretty Things, Procol Harum, Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance, Simon Kirke, Status Quo, The Who, Then & Now, Then And Now, Woody Guthrie