Blue Beat, July 12
Where George Harrison’s guitar gently wept, Reg Mombassa’s gnashes its teeth. The one he uses for playing slide is bright red: the colour of habanero chillies, war wounds and prostitutes’ lipstick. It howls and shrieks, protests and laments, and yet all the time is slyly celebrating, like a bloke on borrowed time enjoying a drink.
Mombassa first unleashed this WMD of a guitar on a swaggering Little Red Rooster, a song so widely covered as to be a 52-year-old blues and rock cliche. Suddenly the red guitar made it seem freshly hatched, so we were hearing it with something like the raw excitement that greeted Howlin’ Wolf’s initial recording.
Mombassa’s WMD was not only a device for solos. On Elmore James’ Shake Your Money Maker its effect on the groove was much a like a turbocharger’s on an engine. Then again this engine was already humming, courtesy of one of the ultimate Oz blues rhythm sections, double bassist Jonathan Zwartz and drummer Rob Souter. They eased into the ageless boogie of On The Road Again and drove the wheels off it, before which Zwartz had played probably the solo of the night on Hank Williams’ Honky Tonkin’: a kaleidoscope of playfulness and invention that somehow remained utterly apt within its simple context.
In fact wherever you looked on stage was another major asset, with no make-weights. There was Robert Susz’s blistering harmonica and likeable vocals, Peter O’Doherty’s engaging singing, presence, song choices and mandolin, Brendan Gallagher’s ballsy vocals and stinging guitar and Doug Nairn’s impeccable sense of the right guitar solo to give each song a lift.
Four lead singers is an obvious plus, but four guitarists could have been as cluttered as my desk. Happily the seven Pinks all have the musical instincts to make the material work without the need for nifty arrangements. They were too busy having knockabout fun (with only a few energy sags) to want to tangle themselves in complexity.