Rock: Chip off the old block
Friday 10 April 1998
It took some time for the Splinter Group to make their way through the crowd, but then Peter Green was up there, smiling and looking incredibly relaxed for a man who has journeyed to the heart of darkness. His lime- green shirt traced a belly like Barbapapa's, and little tufts of grey hair stuck out from under his cap like the feathers of some wise old owl. On a night when Fleetwood Mac's founder took another large step towards reclaiming his genius, this was the first of many special moments.
Naturally, such occasions generate a certain amount of gratis applause. Just three songs in, however, Green's sweetly-intoned phrasing ensured that we didn't need to patronise or excuse. The song in question was the 1968 hit "Black Magic Woman", and as his treacle-rich voice oozed out of the PA like some ambrosia, toes curled and pupils dilated.
"Big Mouth" sounded oddly contemporary and Prince-like, and later, during "Rattlesnake Shake", you could hear how Green's fat and sweetly frazzled guitar sound has influenced ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons and countless others. Just as his gaze held the middle-distance rather than the audience, so we too focused almost exclusively on him, rather than his band. However, one has to acknowledge his fellow guitarist Nigel Watson, who seems to anchor Green both musically and psychologically and has been an important source of inspiration through each stage of this miraculous comeback.
The acoustic interlude mid-set showcasing Robert Johnson songs from the Splinter Group's forthcoming album was quite sublime. On "Steady Rollin' Man" Watson demonstrated his mastery of Johnson's fingerstyle playing while Green breathed delicate, rolling phrases into his harmonica. It was sweetly intoxicating, and a reverent silence was maintained throughout Then, just when we were wondering where they could go from there, Watson introduced the Street Angels, a gospel quartet who added a thrilling stamp of authenticity to Johnson's "If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day" and "Last Fair Deal Gone Down".
The evening's most moving moment, though, came when Green's and Watson's guitars joined in the limpid harmonies of "Albatross". The tune is such a staple of the classic rock canon that its live performance takes on a surreal quality. For a few minutes, it could have been 1968 again.
Anyone who saw the BBC's 1996 documentary tracing the first faltering steps of Green's comeback would not have believed that he was still capable of such a potent, soulful performance. Seems that when Green went down to the crossroads, the Devil forgot to read the small print.
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