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Steve Winwood in London

Steve Winwood 2In 1964, while just about everybody else was still learning how to be a musician, Steve Winwood made his first national appearances seemingly fully formed in every way: already, at 16 years old, a great blue-eyed soul singer, a lethal exponent of the Hammond organ and a fluent blues-rock guitarist. That precocity was both his great gift and, in a way, his handicap: he had less ground to cover in his adult years, and perhaps it made him less ambitious.

At Hammersmith Apollo on Wednesday night, on a rare return to London to promote a new live album, he began with “I’m a Man” and ended his encores with “Gimme Some Lovin'”, a tactic admission that he knew where the audience’s interests lay. In between came some lovely music that veered from hard-driving grooves to mellow reflection, assisted by a fine band: Jose Neto (guitar), Paul Booth (saxophones, flute and keyboard), the great Richard Bailey (drums) and Edwin Sanz (percussion). Some of the extended pieces — including a cover of Buddy Miles’s “Them Changes” — reminded me that Traffic, particularly in their expanded configurations, were a jam band as well as a songs band.

Lilly Winwood, Steve’s 21-year-old daughter, came with him from Nashville, where he has lived for many years, to play an opening singer-songwriter set which grew in confidence, despite the heat of the night making it a bit of a struggle to keep an acoustic guitar in tune. She returned to join the band for “Higher Love” and the encores.

Her dad’s voice has survived the years unimpaired: that slight straining in the upper register was always part of his soulful appeal. And, less than a year away from his 70th birthday, he retains the boyish silhouette of that teenaged prodigy who went off to get it together in a country cottage with his mates from the West Midlands, and the modest, unaffected charm of a man who held a special place in the affections of all Island Records employees in the 1970s.

I particularly enjoyed “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”, seated in a very typical chilled-funk Traffic groove, and the beautifully poignant “Can’t Find My Way Home”, a relic of the Blind Faith project on which Steve played a very interesting Telecaster solo much closer to a country picker’s approach than to his regular Stratocaster style, itself on double-helping display in “Dear Mr Fantasy”. I’d like to have heard “Walking in the Wind”, “While You See a Chance” and “Valerie”, but you can’t have everything. At the end of a too-short 100-minute set, the standing ovation from a full house was well deserved.

* Winwood: Greatest Hits Live, a box set of two CDs or four LPs, is released on September 1 on Wincraft Records. It includes “Walking in the Wind”, “While You See a Chance”, and many other songs not played at Hammersmith.

9 Comments Post a comment

    I’m just off to the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam and note that Stevie Winwood is on the bill – must get along to see him. Haven’t seen him live seen ‘Arc of a Diver’ days. Great singer, great musician – I suppose, though, that it might be too much to expect that he will roll back the years to Spencer Davis group days and give us a blast of ‘Stevie’s Blues’.play

    July 6, 2017
  2. Tim Adkin #

    Sounds a good night. Caught him in Birmingham in 83 when he had a fantastic band…always wish he’d play more guitar.

    Oddly enough we were at a gig on Monday night as part of the Ledbury Poetry Festival which was a tribute to an old work colleague of mine who was also a poet and musician and very much part of the nice scene up there. One of the bands playing did a deeply affecting cover of “Can’t Find My Way Home” which, increasingly as the years pass, is an epoch defining song.

    Good to see Richard Bailey is still around too

    July 6, 2017
  3. nick grant #

    Richard the new Steve Winwood is in my band! 16 year-old Laurie Milton is a keyboard and trumpet player. Nikki Yeoh has been tutoring him but says she has no more work to do. Watch out for our self-recessed album in September. Songs of Love and Resistance by The Fred Hampton Appreciation Society. All the best.

    Sent from my iPhone


    July 6, 2017
  4. nick grant #

    Er, should read self-released not recessed!!!!

    Sent from my iPhone


    July 6, 2017
  5. next to Sir John Barbirolli, Stevie is, in my estimation, the greatest British musician since R V Williams.

    July 6, 2017
    • GuitarSlinger #

      That might be just a tad bit of hyperbole Buell … but then again considering Winwood’s prodigious and extensive talents … maybe not 😎

      July 6, 2017
  6. GuitarSlinger #

    Stevie Winwood . Suffice it to say of of the few musician/pop/rock stars of our generation that still has it in spades rather than falling back on his reputation hoping no one will notice . Now if only he’d start writing some new material to go along with all the great classics he’s written . Yeah I know the current business model frowns on the new … but then again Winwood’s made his and can afford to buck the trend showing what passes as the music business these days the international single digit salute

    Ahhh .. but here’s a question worth asking … how’s comes y’all ( Brit musicians ) keep moving our ( US ) way ? Especially in Winwood’s case considering the incredible home he had in the UK and his participation in the local village and church’s music program ? That one I do not get . A case of ” The Grass is Greener … ” perhaps ?

    Well .. for all of you across the pond considering such a move … take my word for it … it aint … greener over here .. fact is at present for music and art … overly homogenized digitized blatant rot verging on fossilification comes closer to the truth … as Buell would no doubt attest to . Or to paraphrase a movie title ‘ No Country for Music Men/ Women ‘ young or old

    July 6, 2017
  7. Richard,a faithful reflection of last night’s concert in the old Hammersmith Odeon.Steve has a difficult task deciding what a disparate audience wants to hear from him.The excellent band is ideally suited to dip heavily into the Traffic canon without worrying about new material.The Blind Faith songs always sound fresh.Thought slightly shortchanged by the length of the set but most of the audience relieved to escape the heat in the old theatre.

    July 6, 2017
  8. Sedat Nemli #

    I’ve always thought that Van Morrison could do a wonderful job of “Walking in the Wind”. Not to mention a Marvin Gaye version of “Dream Gerard”, perhaps? Traffic’s last album was a low key gem.

    July 25, 2017

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