Wednesday 28th July: A few weeks ago a work mate came up to me and said something along the lines of, "There's a sh*t band playing York soon and I think you'll want to see them..." At the time, I wasn't sure whether that was a comment on my musical tastes, but it turns out that he meant that most other people thought they were sh*t and that he actually liked them. It also turns out that they were already on my radar from the What's On listings and so plans were hatched, tickets were purchased and tonight we find ourselves in a much fuller than usual Duchess. Either everybody was here for the support band or the main act weren't considered that bad after all...
Said support was The Jokers who hail from Liverpool. Although initially looking a bit like a gimmick act - vocalist Wane Parry stares and lurches around stage liked a stoned zombie, while bassist Joker Jet plays the entire set wearing a mask and guitarist Paul Hurst is a Rick Parfitt look-a-like with a small amount of makeup around one eye (I couldn't see whether Neil Wardleworth on drums was wearing makeup) - they ended up impressing both of us. Apart from a brief rendition of Helter Skelter all the songs played were their own. Most were of the classic rock/metal style but others had a hint of T-Rex style glam rock about them. In fact, The Jokers could be the missing link between glam and metal, which isn't to take anything away from them. If I had one complaint it would be the proverbial one - the sound mix wasn't up to the band's output, with the music drowning out much of the lyrics during the songs but, strangely, Parry's incessant attempts, between songs, to get the crowd going being slightly overwhelming. The Jokers may not have fulfilled their stated aim of creating the world's greatest rock and roll band, but they are a long way from being the worst support band I've ever seen.
It could probably be argued that Hayseed Dixie (it took me a while to realise the joke) are a gimmick band. Hailing from Deer Lick Holler, Appalachia (don't look for it on a map...) the band formed in 2001 and released their first album, A Hillbilly Tribute To AC/DC that year. Since then they have released a further seven albums, containing a mixture of their own songs and covers of rock classics (and the odd pop song) re-interpreted in a bluegrass style and henceforth known as Rockgrass. Proclaiming to sing songs about drinking, cheating, killing and hell - with an emphasis on murder and death (and with several threats that tonight's audience might not make it out alive) the band treated up to a nearly two hour set of musical greatness.
Mixed in with the likes of Centrefold, You Shook Me All Night Long, Black Dog, Walk This Way, Ace of Spades, Bohemian Rhapsody, Bad Moon Rising, Fat Bottom Girls and Highway to Hell, were songs about tolerance, alien probes (yes, that sort...) and corn liquer, usually introduced in Southern preacher style with an amusing observation or hilarious story (including the funniest Take That story, which actually started out as a tale of how much the band drinks, you are ever likely to hear) and much face pulling and wild-eyed staring. Funniest song by far was I'm Keeping Your Poop, although Alien Abduction Probe was a close second.
Unlike most covers bands, who just re-play the songs, the fact that Barley Scotch (vocals, guitar and fiddle), Reverend Don Wayne Remo (banjo, vocals), Deacon Dale Reno (mandolin, guitar, vocals) and the wonderfully bearded Jake "Bakesnake" Byers (bass, vocals) manage to so successfully reinvent the classics in such superb style shows what good musicians they are (kind of like Les Dawson on piano, without the bum notes). The fact that they drop in a song called The Merchandise Table Is Next To The Stage just before ending the set goes some way to show their mentality. That fact that I'm now kicking myself for not wandering over to see whether they had brought any CDs on tour shows how much I was entertained.
And what a way to finish the evening...an encore of Duelling Banjos, with banjo and guitar and including a brief foray into Freebird. Superb and very highly recommended for any fans of rock music. Even if they are a gimmick band, and I'm not convinced about that, Hayseed Dixie put the music back into fun. We cheered, we hollered, we Hell Yeah'd, we drank and we danced (in fact some people there even seemed to have started their own hoe down...) but, most of all, we had a good time.