Write in tune again

CHIP TAYLOR has always been a gambler, but there was no risk involved in picking up his guitar again after 15 years of playing the horses. Even in a lean year, the royalties from his three-chord trick "Wild Thing", courtesy of the Troggs, Jimi Hendrix and dozens of others, keeps the bread on the table. Janis Joplin's "Try", The Hollies' "I Can't Let Go" - no wonder when he decided to make a comeback in his comfortable mid-fifties, he titled his calling-card CD Hit Man.

As a racetrack gambler - the hobby he turned into a hugely lucrative profession in 1980 when yet another record company failed to pigeon-hole him - he was one of the best in America. It was a clinically practised obsession. Now that he is back in love with making music, however, there is little objectivity in his approach. The cold assessment of form, track and horseflesh has been replaced by a musical confessional, a sentimental autobiography.

It is a very American form of stand-up entertainment and what carries him through, as he ties up songs with anecdotes about his dying mother, his coal-miner grandfather or his new love, is the lack of brashness. Then, of course, he kicks into the song. He is a country writer from New York, an anecdotalist who wrote rock'n'roll's most simplistic anthem, a lyricist obsessed with the vagaries of the record business, a walking contradiction.

Towards the end of the show he became the fan that we all are, and pulled a master stroke, calling on PP Arnold. This Los Angeles soul singer, former member of Ike and Tina Turner's backing group, moved here in the mid-Sixties. Her soaring gospel voice gave much-needed grit to the evening. With guitarist John Platania slipping in little soul licks they swapped lines on PP's hit, "Angel of the Morning", and camped their way through "Wild Thing". A somewhat polite evening turned into a celebration of rock'n'roll.

Taylor's first encore, "Talking the President", was recorded months ago, but now this jokey song of a betrayed Democrat is more perceptive than ever. Taylor may never see his own name on a huge hit record, but as a writer he is as shrewd as ever.

John Collis