Review + Photography by John Hayhurst

The Magpie Salute bring some Americana, Earthy Blues and Southern Rock to Manchester. Showcasing new songs from album ‘High Water I’, they were so much more than former members of The Black Crowes.

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I’ll start by saying I have a massive history with The Black Crowes going back 28 years and every guise of that band or solo project by its various members over the years have been watched in an almost religious fashion. More than a hundred times I have seen either Rich Robinson or Chris Robinson in concert and sadly since the brothers are not on speaking terms anymore, the chance of a reunion called ‘The Black Crowes’ is probably now only a distant fantasy.

So, in the meantime Rich Robinson has put together a band called ‘The Magpie Salute’, Magpies are a member of the Crow bird family – clever eh? Not only that we have in the ranks of this fine band, founder Rich Robinson and former Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford, and longtime live ‘Crowes’ bass player Sven Pipien. If you put those elements alongside Robinson’s solo band members Joe Magistro (drums) and Matt Slocum (Keys) and then add the incredible voice of John Hogg you probably have as close as you can get to a Black Crowes experience without enduring the mouthy front man antics and hippy dances of squawker Chris Robinson. In short, it doesn’t get much better, if you like your classic rock music with a Southern feel, a little bluesy, a bit of acoustic Americana and some extended rock guitar jamming that can take you to another place – then this is the band for you!

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The Academy 2 is fairly well packed for a cold wet Monday night in Manchester – a lowish stage and good viewpoints all around, and as the band take to the stage we have some old original bluesmen guiding them in to match the burning sage scent wafting over the first few rows. Opening with several new songs from their proper debut studio record ‘High Water I’ they set the scene with some extended open jamming, this happens a lot during the night. Rich Robinson always in control of proceedings as he looks across and nods to Marc Ford who then picks up the guitar solo baton in this long-distance epic. It isn’t a race though, or a type of fretwankery associated with an Yngwie Malmsteen or Joe Satriani, it is a delicate balance of blues-based jamming with light and shade in equal measures, passing from one to another Ford and Robinson weave a tapestry of intricate tunings and melody from a range of beautiful guitars. When they combine together it is a force to be reckoned with, and the sound here in Manchester was good enough to pick out both leads without it feeling too muddy.

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After a hefty opening of new songs from the album as well as a superb rendition of ‘Omission’ which goes back to John Hogg and Rich Robinson’s other breakaway band Hookah Brown, we have a handful of covers starting with The Band’s ‘Look Out Cleveland’. However, this is no match for the next song which at around 10 minutes long has a bass groove designed to give Sven Pipien cramp for the next few days, his relentless playing is a joy to watch even whilst Marc Ford is melting faces with his blistering guitar runs. ‘Laila II’ originally recorded in the 60’s by the obscure Krautrock outfit Agitation Free, however Rich Robinson has been playing it for quite a number of years in his solo work, in a band setting with two incredible players this turns into a masterclass of solo and dual solos (if that actually makes sense!) everyone except Hogg gets a turn at showing off their skills. He is left to shake tambourines and maracas at the back.

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A chance next for Marc Ford to play one of his solo songs ‘Shalimar Dreams’ and then Rich Robinson and John Hogg delve into their back catalogue for another Hookah Brown original – ‘Black Cloud’. Robinson did rework this song for his first solo record ‘Paper” but changed the lyrics and called it ‘Places’ – tonight we got the original with the steely dark lyrics and John Hogg’s emotional outpouring. Rich then jokes that this was their Christmas song, “Can’t you just picture it, Santa and his Reindeer humming along to it as they go?”.

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Whilst this band is made up of 2 heavyweights from the Guitar World, they have a mutual respect for each other’s talents and know that together on stage they are much stronger, the Marc Ford influence on 3 key albums (Southern Harmony, Amorica & 3 Snakes) in Black Crowes folklore is in evidence throughout tonight. Even on new songs like title track ‘High Water’ it feels like it could have been taken from any of those 3 records.

John Hogg’s vocal range is much wider than Chris Robinson and his faint touches during the acoustic section of the evening were a huge contrast to the all rock out ‘Jealous Again’ and ‘Send Me An Omen’ encore.

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Interestingly Hogg did most of the speaking to the audience in-between songs which shows how far he has grown into an equal member of this band, and not just a replacement singer. It takes some balls to break up a rock n roll show with “We’d like to do some acoustic songs for you”. Miraculously it didn’t cause a stampede to the bar from the beardy long-haired crew here tonight, NO! they stood and watched in relative quietness as Ford and Robinson sandwiched Hogg (bacon butty anyone?) in front of a single mic and delivered a spellbinding session of lush acoustic blues with all the pathos, poise and sentiment intact. Particularly the Gram Parsons song ‘She’ which was quite breath-taking in its simplicity and showed some deftly soft vocals from Rich Robinson. The acoustic session culminated in ‘How Much For Your Wings?’ and was the first time in the evening that they played a Crowes song, they very cleverly transcended from acoustic back to electric, swapping guitars in turn, welcoming back Pipien, Magistro and Slocum to the fold and upping the decibels x 10 in the process. Impressive to watch and great on the ears.

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The home straight however had three absolute stunning Black Crowes songs including ‘Another Roadside Tragedy’ which was a rare live only track for some years, and then ‘Black Moon Creeping’ which had a much-extended piece of rock and roll guitar heaven, frequent nods between all players before Robinson and Ford bring the track to a close with their duelling guitars moment.

A very brief “Thank you for coming” and explanation of how they don’t go off, hide behind a curtain and then come back on for an encore – “You are in the encore now, and here is an oldie but goodie”. ‘Jealous Again’ is riffed out to everyones delight, as one of the first Black Crowes singles released in 1990 it still has all hands clapping and probably the most audience participation here. ‘Send Me an Omen’ remains ringing in our ears all the way home with it’s “BaBaBaBaaah” chorus line. As one of 6 gigs that I am going to on this tour – it really had everything (and beat the previous night in Birmingham) – old classics, new songs, light and softness of acoustic and then some dirty rock and roll blues. Whether it is Crowes or Magpies it is all good in Manchester tonight and expect a return next year for this band at a few festivals in 2019.

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SETLIST: High Water / Take it All / Omission / For the Wind / Look Out Cleveland / Laila II / Shalimar Dreams / Black Cloud / Sister Moon / She / How Much for Your Wings / Walk on Water / Mary the Gypsy / Black Moon Creeping / Another Roadside Tragedy / Jealous Again / Send Me an Omen

LISTENING: ‘High Water I’ album released 10th August 2018

WATCHING: Black Moon Creeping Audience Recording from this gig!

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One Response to “The Magpie Salute at Academy 2, Manchester, UK – 3rd December 2018”

  1. Amy Sky Says:

    Well written, makes me sad I missed that beautiful show!

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