Review and photography by Drew Kirkland

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Walking into Woody’s bar at The Robin 2, and seeing a genuine legend propping up the bar, chatting with the punters is one of the more surreal moments of my life*. But, as Steve Cropper (for it was he) was to say later “I’m just an old man, having some fun”.

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He’s enjoying himself, sharing his stories of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Eddie Floyd, and playing some fine music.

But I’ll get to that later…

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The support act was scheduled to be the Stone Foundation. I’d seen their set at the Godiva festival, and was looking forward to seeing them again, but unfortunate circumstances meant that only singer/guitarist Neil Jones and percussionist Rob Newton were able to make it, so they performed an unplugged set. Fair play to them for doing so.

Jones has a genuinely authentic soul voice, which wasn’t exposed in the least by the stripped-down setup.

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Opening with Ted Hawkins’ ‘WatchYour Step’, the duo followed with ‘To Find The Spirit’ and Nolan Porter’s ‘If I Could Only be Sure’, then their own ‘No More the Fool’ and ‘Bring Back The Happiness’.

The impromptu format gave SF the chance to play a medley of Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ and ‘Something in the Air’ before they closed with ‘Tracing Paper’ and ‘That’s the Way I Want to Live My Life’.

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The Animals and Friends include original member Johnny Steel on drums – he’s been playing with them for over 50 years. Danny Handley (guitar and vocals) fronts the band now, and Scott Whitley plays bass. The legendary Micky Gallagher now picks up (impeccably) the Alan Price organ parts.

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Their set started out with the hits ‘Baby Let Me Take You Home’ was followed by ‘Bring it on Home to Me’, ‘I Believe to My Soul’, ‘It’s My Life’ and – of course ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Then there was the odd “B” side (‘Outcast’) in with ‘Club-A-Go-Go’ and Chuck Berry’s ‘Around and Around’.

Closing on ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ ensured a return for ‘House of the Rising Sun’.

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Steve Cropper then joined them on stage. He plays regularly with The Animals and Friends in Europe – mostly (one suspects) because of the respect he has for Gallagher, who opened the set with the understated intro to ‘Time is Tight’.

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We were then taken through ‘Midnight Hour’ And ‘Dock of the Bay’ before returning to the Booker T & the MGs canon, with ‘Green Onions’ and ‘Hip Hug Her’. Gallagher’s Hammond playing is perfectly nuanced as he leans into the Hammond.

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The songs are punctuated by the Colonel’s anecdotes about writing songs (and stealing them from yourself!), auditioning Otis Redding, writing with Wilson Pickett… and so many more. If you love the old R&B, these stories are pure gold.

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The band clearly relishes being able to cut loose on this material (while for their own set, they stuck  tight to the original arrangements), built on a rock-solid rhythm section. Hadley helps out on vocals sometimes, but Cropper’s chopping rhythms are still sublime and effortless.

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Back to the Stax classics, for ‘Knock On Wood’ and ’99½’, before Cropper’s own (and only) solo Stax single release, ‘Water’, and ending the set with Wilson Pickett’s ‘634-5789’.

Of course, there were encores – ‘Soul Man’ and John Lee Hooker’s ‘Boom Boom’.

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All in all, this was a really full night, with some truly vintage material played by musicians who wrote the book back in the 60’s.

Just some old men, having some fun…

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* I was very British, and dumbstruck, in case you were wondering.

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