Gig Review by Andrew Lindsay with Photography by John Bentley

Steve Winwood, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 2 July 2018

It is a rare gig where the support act delivers a performance that’s more engrossing and entertaining than that of the headliners. The Black Feathers, hitherto unknown to me, did just that at the Bridgewater Hall. A wife and “current husband” duo based out of Gloucestershire they captivate the audience with stunning harmonies underpinned by a single acoustic guitar. Not quite Richard and Linda Thompson (they are much too loved up for that comparison to stick) but more Gillian Welch and David Rawlings and their brand of sparse Americana. Two studio recordings, both crowd-funded, have been released: 2014’s Strangers We Meet EP and Soaked To The Bone from 2016.

Black Feathers, Manchester, 2 July 2018

The Bridgewater Hall is the 2000+ seated home of the Halle Orchestra. Sitting on a bed of 280 springs to reduce external noise the acoustics are perfectly unforgiving. So it is with no little guts that Sian Chandler opens the evening, in the “poshest place we’ve ever played”, unaccompanied. If there are nerves then they don’t show. Perhaps the pair are still on a high from the thrill of having their own dressing room. By the third number the couple risk attempting to woo the audience into a sing-along. That doesn’t happen of course but their version of Greenbaum’s 1969 hit ‘Spirit In The Sky’, with which absolutely everyone in the audience is familiar, is a joy and ends with finger snaps lifted from the Addams Family theme tune. Terrific fun. The audience may only have murmured along but there’s no doubt from the ensuing applause that that they are well and truly hooked.

Huddled closely over a single quite beautifully designed microphone, they dedicate ‘Goodbye Tomorrow’ to “anyone out getting drunk on a school night”. Well there are few of those in the crowd tonight but no matter. Pitch perfect harmonies on ‘The Ghosts Have Eaten Well’ fill the auditorium. You could hear a pin drop. A class act.

Steve Winwood, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 2 July 2018

I declare I’ve been a big fan of Steve Winwood ever since Traffic’s appearance at Lancaster University in 1974. Yet tonight’s show is something of a mixed bag. Sat behind his Hammond Organ for the first three numbers it is clear that this ‘vintage’ seventy year old has lost none of his distinctive and distinguished vocal chops. The four piece band accompanying him is full-on percussion-driven and they deliver a fine funked-up version of Buddy Miles’ ‘Them Changes’. Yet it is only when Winwood moves to centre-stage and straps on his stratocaster guitar that the show hits stride. The two offerings from the Blind Faith album are the evening’s highlights. Not only are they great songs in their own right but they also feature extraordinary guitar solos.

After a brief acknowledgement to the crowd Steve, not a natural raconteur, retreats to the Hammond for a run through of ‘Low Spark’. It starts promisingly with Paul Booth’s woozy baritone sax but the drums are way too high in the mix and the piano which features so strongly on the studio original is badly missed. Jose Neto’s guitar work saves the day on this particular outing but the whole excursion thing is a tad perfunctory before it flows into the excellent ‘Empty Pages’.

Steve Winwood, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 2 July 2018

Next up is ‘Light Up or Leave Me Alone’ which is where proceedings go awry. Extended soloing by all the virtuoso musicians is the order of the day – drum and percussion solos are mind numbingly included. These may be meat and drink to the musos in the audience but most are here for the songs and for the hits. This is after all a tour to promote the Greatest Hits Live album. The undeniable instrumental prowess of ‘Light Up’ goes on for almost twenty minutes (it feels much longer). The result is that there is no room in tonight’s show for some of Steve’s best songs – no ‘John Barleycorn’; no ‘Rainmaker’; no ‘40,000 Headmen’ or ‘Keep on Running’ and next to nothing from Arc of a Diver and Back In the High Life. And how wonderful would it be to hear Steve resurrect ‘No Face, No Name and Number’. Interestingly ‘Light Up’ didn’t make the cut for Greatest Hits Live.

The joyous swing of ‘Higher Love’ is lost amongst the clatter with Steve’s voice battling vainly against the arrangement. Order is restored with the two encores. A sumptuous ‘Mr Fantasy’ (Steve back on guitar) and ‘Gimme Some Lovin’ which gets everybody on their feet and puts a smile on everyone’s face (including mine).

If only Steve would ring them changes. The setlist was very similar to the one he played at the Salford Lowry in 2013. Most of the cuts tonight deviated little from the versions on the live album. A solo segment with Steve on piano would be a delight. Anyone who caught Steve playing live on Chris Evans’ Breakfast Show last year (exquisite versions of ‘Higher Love’ and ‘What’s Going On’) will understand the missed opportunity. That won’t work in Hyde Park this coming Sunday but here at the Bridgewater Hall you’d hear a pin drop.

Setlists:
Black Feathers: Lighthouse on Fire; Down By the River; Spirit In the Sky; Goodbye Tomorrow; Homesick; The Ghosts Have Eaten Well; Nashville 3 Stars.
Steve Winwood: I’m A Man; Pearly Queen; Them Changes; Can’t Find My Way Home; Had To Cry Today; Low Spark of High Heeled Boys; Empty Pages; Light Up or Leave Me Alone; Higher Love; Dear Mr Fantasy; Gimme Some Lovin’.

4 Responses to “Steve Winwood + The Black Feathers at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, UK – 2nd July 2018”

  1. Doug Says:

    Hi,

    We were at the Bridgewater Hall and I’d waited nearly 50 years to see and hear Steve. We agree 100% with your review, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    Thanks
    Doug

  2. Joy Says:

    Born in Worcester, we have followed Steve since the 1960s and this was a great chance to hear his talents in a wonderful live arena. But as the reviewer correctly observes, the acoustics of this concert hall are unforgiving. The mixing was atrocious. It spoiled our enjoyment of the whole evening. So sad, when his voice and the undoubted talent of his band, were still so strong.

  3. Gig Junkies » Blog Archive » British Summer Time Hyde Park Ft. Eric Clapton + Santana + Steve Winwood + Gary Clark Jr, London, UK – 8th July 2018 Says:

    […] Winwood’s set is a facsimile of his Manchester show earlier in the week even down to Steve’s now trademark light blue shirt and white ‘T’. The only differences are […]

  4. Chad Says:

    Was at the Bridgewater hall and walked away really disappointed. The hall has absolutely superb acoustics and I have seen some fantastic concerts here but this was not one of them – the sound was terrible; far too much volume on the bass on the hammond pedals and drums which just turned the overall sound into sonic mud with an annoying second echo bouncing off the back of house. Did the Sound techs not listen to the sound naturally or was it all headphone monitoring ?

Leave a Reply