Gig Review and Photography by John Bentley

Steve Winwood

Steve Winwood’s career has been remarkable and diverse, spanning from the 1960s to the present. He was a teen pop idol with The Spencer Davis in the 60s Group, a stalwart of the laid-back rock scene of the 70s, with his band Traffic, and a sophisticated solo mega-star in the 1980s. The question tonight is whether he can meet the expectations of the fans from across these generations and provide music to satisfy everyone.

Joe Summers

Support act tonight is songwriter Joe Summers, who takes to the stage with his acoustic guitar. His songs are on subjects from anti-war (‘Planes Will Fly’) to love and everyday life (‘What Would The Neighbours Think’). He has a world-weary and heartfelt vocal style which conveys his lyrics well. He commits an error by telling the audience it’s great to be in Manchester. It is pointed out forcibly that it’s actually Salford, but the audience forgive his indiscretion.

Steve Winwood

Birmingham-born Steve Winwood has always been a dedicated musician rather than playing the rock star roll. He possesses one of the best and unique voices in the business. Essentially he’s a rock singer with a soul singer’s voice. He’s a talented multi-instrumentalist, particularly noted for playing the Hammond Organ, as well as being a fine guitarist. He’s also a great songwriter, usually composing the music while collaborators provide the lyrics. He has also worked with many other great artists, including Jimi Hendrix (he played on the ‘Electric Ladyland’ album), Paul Weller, Marianne Faithfull, Joe Cocker, George Harrison and Eric Clapton.

Steve Winwood band

Before Winwood even takes the stage there are clues about how the evening will go. Prominent is a Hammond organ, drums and congas, suggesting we are back to the stripped-down form of Winwood’s career with The Spencer Davis Group and Traffic. The band comes on and Winwood settles in behind the Hammond, where he stays for most of the gig. First off we get the melancholy and slow-paced ‘Rainmaker’, one of Traffic’s lesser known songs and substantially rearranged for tonight’s performance. The main link with the original remains the flute, an instrument which was prominent in Traffic’s repertoire. Traffic’s songs figure prominently tonight, not surprisingly as they were a diverse and remarkable band, able to produce top-ten hits, while also appealing to the developing rock audience of the 1970s.

Steve Winwood band

Next we’re back to the Spencer Davis era, for the first of three of their chart hits, ‘I’m a Man’, with Winwood bellowing the lyrics over the familiar organ drone. This well-loved song really warms the audience, who respond enthusiastically. It also demonstrates that the Winwood voice is still powerful and in good shape.

Next up are two tracks from his most recent album, ‘Nine Lives’, which show that he is still a fine songwriter. During ‘At Times We Do Forget’, we start to appreciate the power and musicianship of Winwood’s current band, as the conga player gets into his stride and there is some serene flute playing. Then Winwood at last emerges from behind the Hammond, takes to the front of the stage and straps on a guitar for two songs from his days with the short lived supergroup Blind Faith, which included Eric Clapton. The songs from their one album have proved to be among Winwood’s finest, so it’s great to hear the lilting ‘Can’t Find My Way Home’ (featuring some nice two-guitar interplay) followed by the belting guitar workout of ‘Had to Cry Today’. He hasn’t said much to the audience yet, but at last he briefly speaks, jokingly telling us that it’s good to be in Salford, Manchester, Lancashire or wherever it is.

Steve Winwood band

I suspect Winwood’s 1980s fans will have been disappointed up to this point, as none of that era’s songs have been played. Steve was highly successful as a solo artist in the 80s, adopting a new smooth image (including embarrassing hair cut). Although the songs were as great as always, they had typical 80s over-polished production values and featured heavy use of synthesisers. Interviewed for a TV documentary recently, Winwood seemed slightly embarrassed about his 1980s period. So it seems hardly surprising that when we do get some of the solo career songs, they are delivered in a more ‘organic’ fashion by the band.

Steve Winwood band

First up is ‘Back In the High Life Again’, probably the best of the solo-era bunch and truly one of Steve’s most melodic songs. The interpretation tonight features a lengthy intro and outro section, which incorporates parts of the Traffic song ‘Hidden Treasure’. The song is beautifully delivered, with some splendid mandolin plucking by Steve. The only other offering from this period is ‘Higher Love’, again re-interpreted, with an organ introduction and plenty of percussion.

Steve Winwood

The band get to show their prowess on the slightly over-lengthy wig-out of Traffic’s up-tempo ‘Light Up Or Leave Me Alone’, which features some funky guitar and even a (good) drum solo. Back in the 1970s drum solos could go on forever and it was always a bad sign when the rest of the band left the stage to have a fag and let the drummer get on with it. Tonight the band stay on the stage and watch the drum solo intently, which proves to be a good omen. This touring band is a little reminiscent of Traffic in style, particularly in allowing each musician a share of the limelight, but it’s a much tighter and slicker outfit.

After the spirited ‘Keep On Running’ the band say goodnight and leave the stage. They return for a two-song encore beginning with Steve back on guitar for Traffic’s iconic ‘Dear Mr Fantasy’, always an interesting piece, with its semi-psychedelic guitar solo. Then it’s ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’, with its sweeping organ sound, perhaps the best-known song from the Spencer Davis era. The audience give Winwood and the band a rapturous response. So, the end of a great evening and, it being Glastonbury week, ‘Gimme Some Lovin’’ really completes a circle for me, because I last saw Winwood perform this song with Traffic way back in time at the 1971 Glastonbury Festival. This event was captured on film in the movie ‘Glastonbury Fayre’. Incidentally, he’s back playing at Glastonbury this week.

Steve Winwood

There have been mixed reviews of this tour so far. This is probably inevitable as Winwood’s career has been so varied and it is impossible to please everyone. I would imagine that fans of the 80s era could have been particularly disappointed, but Steve is clearly more comfortable with his 1960s and 70s style and delivery and, generally, history has not been kind to the musical legacy of the 1980s. Overall Steve gave us a good selection from across his large body of work, although it would have been good to see him pick up an acoustic guitar to perform ‘John Barleycorn’ or ’40,000 Headmen’.

Setlist: Rainmaker; I’m A Man; Fly; At Times We Do Forget; Can’t Find My Way Home; Had To Cry Today; Low Spark Of High Healed Boys; Empty Pages; Back In The High Life; Light Up Or Leave Me Alone; Higher Love; Keep On Running. Encore: Dear Mr Fantasy; Gimme Some Lovin’.

Follow Steve Winwood on Facebook and Twitter / Follow Joe Summers on Facebook and Twitter.

One Response to “Steve Winwood + Joe Summers at The Lowry, Salford, UK – 24th June 2013”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Uncanny similarity, John. I swear I didn’t read your review before I wrote mine!

Leave a Reply