Review by Alan Glass and Photography by John Bentley

Alan’s review also covers The Magic Band gig at The Kazimier, Liverpool – 8 November 2015.

The Magic Band’s ‘United Kingdom’ tour offer was taken up by English venues only but a handful of Scots fans joined the good people of Preston for a memorable night in the north of England.

The Continental is a small, friendly venue situated on the banks of the River Ribble. The hall is attached to a bar and restaurant which dealt perfectly with my requests for cask ale and vegetarian food. To make things even better, Magic Band members mixed with devotees before the show, adding to the already relaxed and intimate atmosphere.

'We are the Magic Fans', John French, The Magic Band, Preston Continental Club, 7-11-15

Sadly, popular bass player, ‘Rockette Morton’ (Mark Boston) didn’t make it over from America this time.  He had to pull out of the tour due to health issues, having recently undergone major heart surgery. Fortunately his situation is steadily improving and news of his anticipated recovery was received with applause at both Preston and the following night at Liverpool. Rockette is a charismatic figure and his absence was a major disappointment. However, even in Beefheart’s day, there were frequent personnel changes. I saw the good Captain four times in the 1970s and 80s with around sixteen different musicians. Somehow they were all ‘Magic’ and I wondered if this young outfit would be able to keep up the high standard.

The Magic Band, Preston Continental Club, 7-11-15

The 2015 UK tour band line-up is: Brian Havey – keyboard; Eric Klerks – 8 string guitar, Magic iPad; Max ‘Maximus Minimus’ Kutner – guitar; Andy Niven – drums; John ‘Drumbo’ French – vocals, saxophone, harmonica, drums, percussion.

John French, 'Drumbo', The Magic Band, Preston Continental Club, 7-11-15

The concert began with Drumbo loudly proclaiming, “We are the Magic Band doing the music of Captain Beefheart!” This cued the start of the first number, ‘My Human Gets Me Blues’.  Any doubts anyone had about the personnel vanished in an instant. These guys were up for it and an appreciative audience entered party mode.

The Magic Band, with John The Magic Band, Preston Continental Club, 7-11-15

The evening consisted of two sets separated by a short break. Half of the material was from the ‘Trout Mask Replica’ and ‘Clear Spot’ albums, most of the remainder coming from ‘Shiny Beast’ and ‘The Spotlight Kid’.

‘Low Yo Yo Stuff’ and ‘Diddy Wah Diddy’ had the audience dancing, but were followed by a slightly disappointing ‘Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles’. It seemed to have a ‘Shiny Beast’ rhythm about it and lacked the tenderness of Beefheart’s original. Be that as it may, the next four songs were all well performed favourites including ‘Ant Man Bee’, which featured a mesmerising free jazz intro by the four younger members.

The Magic Band, Preston Continental Club, 7-11-15

The Magic Band, Preston Continental Club, 7-11-15

After the break, John French began with a short drum solo leading to the classic ‘On Tomorrow’. He stayed on drums for ‘Hair Pie’ before leaving the stage to the rest of the gang who performed ‘Suction Prints’ without him. They were terrific. I began to hope I was watching the Magic Band of the future.

John’s improvised sax playing was limited to short bursts on 5 or 6 numbers. As usual, his playfulness was as much of a feature of the concert as was his singing. He put everything into his performance and communicated with his audience throughout the night with animated gestures and lines of lyrics aimed at this or that section of the floor.

The Magic Band, Preston Continental Club, 7-11-15

He introduced Brian Havey as a musician who could do anything with a keyboard, a claim which was evidenced by the weird harmonica/horn sounds of ‘Bat Chain Puller’, the trombone on ‘Tropical Hot Dog Night’ and the marimba in ‘Bellerin’ Plain’.

Andy Niven has a very precise drumming style. He obviously knew the material perfectly, but once or twice John gave into temptation and joined Andy with a second set of sticks on the same kit.

At the end of the final set, John joked that the band would normally leave the stage at this point and wait to be called back for an encore – but there was nowhere for them to go in the small hall. Did we want another couple? Silly question. The night should have ended with ‘Big Eyed Beans From Venus’, but after it (and rapturous applause), someone in the audience asked to hear ‘Grow Fins’ at which point John beckoned four exhausted and confused musicians back to play a simple, unrehearsed version of the song.

Although every member of the audience went home happy, the musicians themselves seemed dissatisfied with their performance, their poorest (it was said) of the tour so far. I only fully understood that sentiment when I saw them again the following night in Liverpool. If they had been good at the Continental, they were immense at the Kazimier – tighter and more confident in every department and every number. OK, Eric Klerks may have got a bit carried away with his electronic sound effects on ‘Electricity’ – less is more – but he can be forgiven this small indulgence as both he and ‘Maximus Minimus’ were on fire all night. Indeed I can remember (during ‘Circumstances’) asking God to “take me now” as it would never get any better than this. I was wrong, ‘Glider’ was especially brilliant and there was another even bigger-eyed finale.

John French, 'Drumbo', The Magic Band, Preston Continental Club, 7-11-15

It is worth mentioning that the sound levels were perfect at both venues.  The balance was slightly better at the Kazimier and the vocals more distinct although this might have had something to do with where I was standing on each occasion.

The Magic Band, Preston Continental Club, 7-11-15

I travelled back to Scotland on Monday with my autographs, T-shirt and memories – glad that I had made the 400 mile round trip to Preston and the extra jaunt down to Liverpool and sorry that I hadn’t squeezed in the Manchester gig as well.

Drumbo has been the driving force behind the 21st century Magic Band and I sincerely hope this is not his last tour. (Ideally, for us, any farewell tour should be billed as such). However, he has spoken about retirement and you never know, this might just be your last chance to see him and The Magic Band. Do yourself a favour and grab a ticket for one of the remaining shows if you can. The remaining November tour dates are: Leeds (11th); Hartlepool (12th); Norwich (13th); Colchester (15th); Wolverhampton (16th); Bristol (17th); Margate (18th); London (20th) and Aldershot (21st).

Preston setlist:
My Human Gets Me Blues
Low Yo Yo Stuff
Diddy Wah Diddy
When It Blows It Stacks
Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles
Tropical Hot Dog Night
Nowadays a Woman’s Gotta Hit a Man
Ant Man Bee
Circumstances

(Interval)

On Tomorrow
Hair Pie: Bake 2
Suction Prints
Bat Chain Puller
Steal Softly Thru Snow
Click Clack
Electricity
Bellerin’ Plain
Moonlight on Vermont

Encore:
Glider
Big Eyed Beans From Venus
Grow Fins

Footnote: A very big thanks to guest reviewer (and long term Beefheart fan) Alan for his enthusiastic and really well informed review. All photos were taken at The Continental, Preston. For further information on Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band visit www.beefheart.com

One Response to “The Magic Band @ Preston Continental Club – 7th November 2015”

  1. Steve Says:

    Great review, and thanks for the nod to Beefheart.com

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