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Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Hammersmith Apollo, London, June 29th 2006

I can still remember how smugly cool I felt when I walked out of Osborne’s in Parsons Street with Creedence Clearwater’s 1969 classic album Green River under my arm. However eclectic we liked to pretend our musical tastes might be (it was the ones with big brothers and sisters who won at this game hands down) buying stuff was largely confined to safety zones inhabited by the Beatles et. al. But this raucous Deep South funky rock and swamp outfit (actually they came from California, which I’ve always found a little disappointing) seriously pushed the envelope, as they say in marketing (hey Serge, you’re a marketing guy – what does that mean?). And of course they became the defining sound of the late sixties and early seventies (in 1971 they beat the Beatles to win the New Musical Express’s ‘Best Band in the World’ poll), inextricably linked for many with the last years of the Vietnam War. Thinking about this I wondered if this was really true, or simply something that’s been planted in our minds by all those films where Creedence tracks are a mandatory on the soundtrack.

But then I read this, from a Veteran: “I flew helicopters and combat missions in Vietnam. Whenever I'd get back to base, I'd turn on my Creedence Clearwater Revival records and play them as loud as I could … Every band that the USO brought or played the NCO and officers clubs had to do Proud Mary. It was the song of the day. I heard that song done with British accents, Vietnamese accents, Australian accents, every accent you can think of.” ‘Nuff said.
Needless to say Creedence shone and burned, by 1972 they were all washed up, co-founder Tom Fogerty having left the band acrimoniously a year earlier, and the predictable Beach Boys style legal disputes and wrangling followed. John Fogerty – the voice of Creedence, the guitar sound of Creedence, and the composer of almost all of their songs pursued an on-off recording and performing career (in so far as legal disputes allowed him to) in the course of which he gained the dubious distinction of writing what came to be Status Quo’s anthem, the song that famously kicked off the original Live Aid, ‘Rocking all over the world’.
And having hung up his guitar for few years he returned in 1997 with the fantastic album Blue Moon Swamp which I would recommend to anyone. He has also in latter years associated himself closely with the Democratic Party in the United States, campaigning and performing (along with the likes of Bruce Springsteen) on behalf of John Kerry in the last Presidential election.  

John Fogerty (top)
Fray Bentos - ? - (bottom)
Tonight he’s in London with a tight five piece band campaigning on behalf of his new retrospective album The Long Road Home. And before I start being critical I should say that it was great fun, Fogerty’s voice was in remarkably good form, and although I gave up counting all the songs there was no doubt in my mind, or those of the almost exclusively 50 years old plus audience, that this a great value for money show. And that’s important for such a Saga savvy audience who look as though they don’t get out too much, and as if their critical sensibilities aren’t quite fully honed. We got all the great songs, ‘Travelling Band’, ‘Green River’, ‘It came out of the sky’, ‘Down on the corner’, ‘Have you ever seen the rain’, ‘Bad moon rising’, ‘Fortunate son’ and ‘Proud Mary’ to name but a few – ‘egg timer songs’ said the Photographer, as each was played (with the exception of a long and meandering solo in ‘I heard it through the grapevine’, when I became a bit worried that Alzheimer’s might have set in and that they’d forgotten which song it was) to a tight three minutes or so. We also got a new song. ‘Ramble tangle’, and a very old song, ‘Porterville’, recorded when Creedence were actually known as ‘the Golliwogs’ – well you can’t get everything right can you? Fogerty played a bewildering array of beautiful guitars (it was a real Fender fest) and his band provided excellent support – particularly beefy bass player Fray Bentos (at least that’s what I think he was called) who had every pose from the Bass Players Handbook of Choreography. By the end of the night the dyed blonde OAPs in the front row were waving their pension books at him hopefully, offering something more than a late night (hang on, it finished at 10.00pm on the dot) Ovaltine and Digestives. And as we left you could see that the urinals were full of tight-jeaned beer bellied old men striking Fray Bentos positions as they relieved themselves. Not pretty. And God knows what happened when they got home.
So what was there to moan about? Well for a start this isn’t huge concert hall music, we should have been dripping down the wall of an airless 200 capacity club to really enjoy the sound. But of course Fogerty only does big events – even bigger in the USA where he’ll embark on a huge tour once his European dates are over. And the way the show was staged made it feel like a TV Special more than a real gig. It began with a film montage of Fogerty’s career, with gooey shots of his young son playing guitar that ended with an irony free clip of Bill Clinton introducing him. Fogerty jogged onto the stage with contrived enthusiasm and pulled off that nauseating trick beloved of American politicians, pointing into the faceless crowd as if to suggest some sort of feigned familiarity with fans and friends.
      He did this all night, and also, rather more often than I would have liked, told us how wonderful we were, and how much he loved us. This facile insincerity really grated by the end of the night – but at least we weren’t at a US gig, where you can buy ‘platinum’ tickets which get you front row seats, a signed programme, and a chance to shake the man’s hand. Need I say more? Well actually I will. The big moment of the evening was Fogerty singing solo, from his most recent album ‘Déjà vu’ – an anti-war song reviving that predictable theme that we’ve heard from many American musicians over the past couple of years. Now I would not doubt for a moment the sincerity of Fogerty’s sentiments on this subject, and I’m sure that in the USA this is really quite an edgy piece, but with more film – pretty little girl running through meadow with flowers, archive Vietnam footage, Iraq footage, war memorials, more pretty young girl with flowers etc. etc. – it actually lost its impact and just felt like Mom and Pop apple pie sentimentality. Generally speaking I think even this half geriatric audience could have expected a little more.
But maybe that’s really just churlish. I’ve always wanted to see Fogerty and now I have. And when I shut my eyes and listened to him sing with that southern (err Californian) swamp groove thing going on it was just like being in a little bit of heaven. Everyone should have at worst a Creedence hits album at home, at best a copy of Green River, and you should also seriously have a listen to Fogerty’s Blue Moon Swamp. Great music, shame about the show. - Nick Morgan (all concert photographs by Kate, soldier with guitar www.vietnampix.com)

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