Last night myself and Big Andy journeyed to Southend to see Roger Daltrey perform 'Tommy' at The Cliffs Pavilion. As we neared Southend I saw a motorway sign that made me suddenly ask the big man the immortal question 'have you ever been to Canvey Island?' When he said that he hadn't we both realised that it was time to leave the script (and indeed the A127) for a while...
As we negotiated the magic roundabout that takes you to the road to the island I remembered one of the other times that I'd visited what is an almost mythical place for Dr. Feelgood fans like myself. We were playing a Blues Brothers show at, I think, a 50th birthday party (I can't remember where it was either; it's at moments like this that I'm reminded that one of the reasons why I started writing this blog was so that things like these wouldn't get forgotten!) and Squirrel and myself were outside the venue; as we stood talking a car came around the corner on the opposite (rather wide) pavement. This stuck me as a little odd and I was about to say as much, when another one followed it round. They weren't going slowly. Squirrel (a local lad) looked at me with a slight smile - 'things like that happen on the island'.
As we pulled up in the car park I was babbling on to Andy about the classic photos on the cover of 'Down By The Jetty', and that maybe he could take one of me for use on the Flying Squad website; as we walked up the slope to the sea wall a young man walked across our path. He was wheeling a bicycle and had a slightly scary-looking dog on a lead. He was wearing a vest and shorts, and it was therefore easy to see that he was tattooed pretty much from the top of his shaven head to his sandaled toes. He looked extraordinary, and Big Andy looked astonished. I was tempted to use Squirrel's line, but didn't.
After taking a few photos looking out across the estuary and getting a bit of (very) fresh air we got back into the car and drove around a while. Andy loved it, and so did I. The Monico, The Oyster Fleet, The Pandora's Box Guest House, the sign saying TANK FOR HIRE - Canvey Island really is a one-off. Fantastic, and as good a reason as any to watch 'Oil City Confidential' again. Not that I, or indeed you, really need an excuse...
We made our way back to the mainland (now I am getting a bit over-romantic don't you think?!?) and found The Cliffs Pavilion reasonably easily, although it certainly helped having Squirrel on the end of a phone line. After getting a lucky parking space on the road near the venue we walked along the seafront into town - Andy hadn't been to Southend before and I hadn't been there for what seems like ages so it was good to have a bit of time to look around. Squirrel had reminded me that occasional Chicago Blues Brothers keyboard man Dave Dulake runs a pub in town - once again we needed a bit of moblie phone help but found The Railway Hotel without too much trouble. As we walked in Chuck Berry was blasting out from the record player on the bar (yes, you read that bit correctly) and a young lady with blue hair came over to serve us. I ordered a couple of drinks and then asked if Dave was about; she said he was busy but he'd be out shortly - when he did emerge he looked rather worried, came over for a few minutes then said words to the effect of 'we might not be here much longer'. This would be a shame as it's an extraordinary place. Let's hope it keeps going.
Back at the venue we meet up with Squirrel and his wife Lindsay (and bumped into Rick Dawson, another sometime CBB keyboard player; we really get through them!) before catching a bit of the support act. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar Paul Freeman played a half hour or so of his own material with a cover of 'Handle With Care' thrown in a couple of songs from the end. He was a bit sweary, very Welsh and shouldn't have played the Traveling Wilburys song as it showed up how relatively ordinary his own songs were in comparison. That said he worked hard and got the audience on his side when he invited a young lady called Kelly up to join him on backing vocals, so I won't be too cruel about him here.
At 8.30 Mr. Daltrey and co. walked on stage to a warm if not over-enthusiastic reception; as the band readied themselves the man himself explained how that after the show at the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year he'd realised that 'there isn't any other music like 'Tommy'' and so he'd decided to carry on singing it. A simple enough sentiment, and one which over the next 70-odd minutes was pretty much proved to be true. The band sounded much more familiar with the songs, the back projections worked well and Daltrey was in fine voice. The audience stayed fairly subdued throughout, politely applauding until the end of 'Listening To You' when they all stood up together and went crazy. Even Daltery seemed a bit taken aback. The next hour-and-a-quarter saw rarely heard gems from the Who back catalogue (an excellent version of 'Going Mobile' with Simon Townshend on lead vocals was a real standout) alongside Daltery solo songs, a Johnny Cash medley and songs from the likes of Taj Mahal. It got a bit chaotic in places - some songs sounded more rehearsed than others, the backing track for 'Baba O'Riley' played too fast and 'The Kids Are Alright' went completely wrong in the middle when the guitarist broke a string - but both Daltery and the band seemed to be really enjoying themselves and that feeling certainly translated across to the audience who gave them a great reception. The show ended with Daltery playing 'Blue Red And Grey' on a ukulele, and somewhere during the show I decided that the afore-mentioned guitarist looked a bit like Mickey Dolenz. I also decided that this wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Well, it's not is it?