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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
ZAPPATISTAS Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, London, 22nd August 2007
This was done on an impulse – or maybe it was the result of an as yet undiagnosed pizza addiction that’s slowly gnawing its way through my bones. Either way it’s the Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho. We’re shoe-horned in next to a couple of tables who are getting along like a coach party on its way to Morecambe. On one there’s Kevin and his son Know-it-all-Nigel (aged 10), on the other Brian and Belinda. Nigel, who sensibly skips the Pizza and goes straight for the Triple Chocolate Glory (“mmm, I like it very much, Daddy”), is a guitar nut and probably headed for the school of rock. Chickens
He loudly informs his weary-looking father of a few salient rock facts – “Did you know Daddy, that Jimmy Page recorded the solo on ‘Stairway to Heaven’ using a 1958 Fender Telecaster that was a gift from his Yardbirds band mate, Jeff Beck, and a Supro amp? I like it very much”. Then he turns on Brian – “Do you play the guitar too?” “No” says Brian, “Actually it’s my 30th birthday and Belinda’s brought me here for a special treat (Birthday? Pizza? Just what sort of treat is this, Serge?). But I did try and play a long long time ago, but you know I could just never get the thing in tune. Bad ear I suppose”. “Oh” says Know-it-all, “But you don’t need to use your ears. I’ve got a Peterson VSS2 StroboStomp Pedal Tuner that Granny bought me for over one hundred pounds and it does it all for you. I like it very much. Don’t you have one?” And so it goes. By the time they leave, they’re swapping addresses and promising Christmas cards and Nigel, somehow, has avoided getting plates full of Pizza emptied on his head.
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We’re here to see a very superior sort of tribute band – it’s jazz giant, legend, and virtuoso John Etheridge, of mid seventies Soft Machine (he’s here later in the week with his Soft Machine Legacy too) and Stéphane Grappelli fame, and his Zappatistas, featuring Annie Whitehead on trombone, Steve Lodder on keyboards, Simon Bates on saxophone, a wonderful trumpeter (not the regular guy) who’s name I confess I didn’t manage to get into the little black book. The band was put together by Etheridge (who’s about to tour the world with the Placido Domingo of the classical guitar, John Williams) and Lodder as a one-off in 1998, but since then they’ve played occasionally and recorded one album, the wittily titled ‘Live in Leeds’. I have to remark that I’m not a great Zappa fan (sorry Serge, it must be like saying that I don’t like motorbikes much, which I’m afraid I don’t) – I mean I can see the technical brilliance of his music, the accomplishment of his guitar playing (as a friend said earlier today – “he was a fantastic player, I mean he just sounded as if he could go on and on and on, which he often did”) and the sly edge wittiness of his lyrics but I just couldn’t get engaged. If you must know that’s also exactly how I feel about the Marx Brothers – I got the astonishing timing, the uber-surreal jokes, the wisecracks, but it didn’t really make me laugh. But Know-it-all has got his mouth stuffed with ice cream (silence at last!), I’m pizza replete, so I’m in a good enough humour for anything.
Serious Stuff
As are the band, hustled and bustled through the songs by musical director Lodder who sits at his keyboards like a Sergeant Major, barking orders and gesticulating at the band as he orchestrates their way through the songs. We may all be having fun, but it’s serous stuff, as Paul and Bruce in the front row (down from Walsall for a night in the big city – hello boys) found out when they navigated their way through the profusion of music stands and half-inched some sheet music (they tried to read it upside down at first – typical Brummies). And although various members of the band choose to sit out some of the other solos at the bar (leaving a gesticulating Lodder angrily staring into the crowd searching for them when it’s their turn to play) everyone turns in some pretty impressive playing – not least of course Etheridge, who uses Zappa's complex arrangements as a vehicle for some extravagant soloing. He’s good.
“Daddy, I think he’s rather good, but I’m not sure that he’s using his pinky enough in his fingering. Do you think I should tell him?” says Know-it-all, before Daddy eventually whisks him away as he yells “Daddy, I thought Mr Zappa used a Baby Snakes SG with a 23rd fret and phase switches and an onboard preamp, played through his Pignose amplifier. Why isn’t Mr Etheridge? And look at his pedal configuration, that surely can’t be right, he hasn’t got a Electro Wagnerian Emancipator or a Electro- Harmonix Big Muff….”
Well, for all that nonsense we enjoyed ‘Peaches en regalia’, ‘The grand Wazoo’, ‘Let’s make the water turn black’, ‘Eat that question’ (Etheridge was very hot here on a blues solo – “why play 3 notes when you can play 125?” said the Photographer), ‘Big Swifty’, ‘Zoot allures‘, ‘King Kong’, ‘Harry you’re a beast’, ‘Oh no’, ‘Lumpy gravy’ and ‘I am slime’. And some remarkable solo work from the brass section, and from quite excellent bassist Rob Statham. And after a chat with Paul and Bruce from Walsall we left happily into an unusually wet August night for home, with the sound of Serge’s favourite Mr Zappa, and some excellent musicians, ringing very pleasantly in our ears. - Nick Morgan (gig photographs by Kate)

FZ and his SG: "Why play 125 notes
when you can play 500?"

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