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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
THE PIRATES The Borderline, London, August 19th 2006
It’s pretty cool to be a Pirate these days, what with Captain Jack Sparrow Johnny Depp and all that. Why thanks to that rascal Johnny Depp there’s even a new album of piratical ballads and sea-shanties, Rogues Gallery, featuring as unlikely a crew as Whiskyfun favourites Richard Thompson, Nick Cave, Bill Frisell, Martin Carthy and David Thomas (amongst others).
But I don’t notice any of these new to the world pirates in the Borderline – this is strictly hardcore brigand territory, and the place is pretty packed with some shifty looking fellows I can say. The Pirate’s Code forbids women being brought onto a ship, and it’s clear that no one wants to breach the rule tonight – the Photographer only gets in because of her piratical headgear. Now let the man at the bar do the talking: “See I first saw them in 1963. Fucking fantastic. Nothing better, even after Johnny got topped. And that Mick Green he’s just the bollocks – always has been. No guitarist better, but of course no one gave him credit for what he done, and then all the punks copied him. But he’s settled down a lot now; I mean in the old days he could be really quite aggressive but he’s almost fucking serene now…”
Johnny Spence and Mick Green
Johnny Kidd and the Pirates are probably best remembered (in fact quite possibly only remembered by people other than those here tonight) for their 1960 smash hit ‘Shaking all over’ (and that riff), for their fantastic name (Kidd was actually called Fred Heath and his band The Five Nutters – who came up with the name seems to be a bit of a mystery) and for their Hollywoodesque buccaneer costumes. Kidd split from the Pirates in the spring of 1966 as he struggled to keep his career alive – sadly he died a few months later in an accident. Actually the guitar work on ‘Shaking’ was done by session man Joe Moretti, but by 1962 the Pirates were Mick Green, Johnny Spence and Frank Farley, the classic line up that was rediscovered in the early 1970s and which flourished briefly (striped trousers and all) during the Punk era. Recently the band have played sporadic gigs and earlier this year released their first album for 18 years, ‘Skullduggery’.
But apart from being a beery Saturday night out the real reason for coming is to see Green, who is acknowledged by many (the man at the bar included) to be one of the most influential British rock guitarists of all time. Readers may remember that he’s the man who influenced Wilko Johnson who influenced Gang of Four’s Andy Gill who in turn inspired the current round of British guitar bands such as (the apparently out of tune) Franz Ferdinand. He cuts an unusual figure for a rock legend, chubby, benign, with a bashed up Fender Telecaster and apparently more concerned that he’s just become a grandfather than with his worldwide fame (he’s big, as they say, in Japan). Actually he collapsed on stage a couple of years ago (he was playing in Brian Ferry’s band) and ended up having a quadruple heart bypass, so maybe there’s a reason for the serenity. Anyway it doesn’t seem to have affected his playing – which if not exactly note perfect certainly stood out as still being quite remarkable and still unique – imitators notwithstanding. It’s a stuttering lead and rhythm guitar sound combined with staccato riffs and shuddering chords. It’s easy to see where Wilko got his style from, and how the influence has worked through to bands today.
The band are pretty tight – new drummer Mike Roberts (Farley having retired through ill-health) powers his way through the songs, and is clearly one of those drummers who cares as much about the end of songs as the beginning. Spence’s bass playing is never going to set the world on fire, nor will his singing to be frank, but he has a fearsome grimace (actually I think he was having problems with his false teeth) and a fine line in saucy patter (“We had to have a break to take our pills. Course we’re taking even more pills now than we were in the sixties, only now we get them from the Health Service for nothing”). There’s a selection of old material ‘Please don’t touch’, ‘Gibson Martin Fender’, ‘Honey hush’ and ‘Drinking wine spo-dee-o-dee’, and of course new like ‘Ugly millionaire’. And there are a few really outstanding moments, ‘I can tell’, the inevitable ‘Shaking all over’ and an almost traumatic guitar solo on encore ‘Baby please don’t go’ which was worth the price of admission alone. On stage at nine, off by ten-fifteen, in accordance with article thirteen of the Code, “all old pirates shall be abed afore the hour of ten and thirty’. Arrrrrrrr! - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

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