"An Evening with Elvis' Friends and Original Musicians"
Following the success of their 2014 tour, "An Evening with Elvis' Friends and Original Musicians" returned to Europe in May 2015.
This show stands out from the regular ETA concerts since it features Elvis’ original associates and musicians. It also offers something different from other concepts that use Elvis’ TCB Band.
This production represents a rare opportunity to experience an essential part of musical history, personal and up-close. At the shows there is a 'meet & greet' enabling the audience to meet all the musicians and singers.
The line-up for 2015 featured:
- Duke Bardwell who played the bass for Elvis at over 180 concerts in 1974-1975.
- Bob Lanning who was the drummer for Elvis at 63 shows during one of Elvis’ finest years, 1970. He also played on what is viewed by many as Elvis’ finest live album, "On Stage".
- Actress Marlyn Mason as the compere for the evening. In 1969 she starred alongside Elvis Presley in the MGM film "The Trouble with Girls".
Dwight Icenhower as lead singer.
Carl Bradychok on Lead guitar.
Damien Daigneau on keyboards
Rietta Austin and Chantelle Duncan on backing vocals.
With EIN based in Australia it is was a fabulous coincidence that my time in Europe this year coincided with UK leg of the 2015 ‘An Evening with Elvis' Friends and Original Musicians’ European tour.
This is first time that Arjan Deelen’s production had visited England with the first concert in the incredibly famous 100 Club on Oxford Street in London and with the second in Gateshead / Newcastle.
The concept of the gathering Elvis’ musicians along with a powerful new lead singer is of course not new but hearing musicians outside the TCB band such as funky bass-player Duke Bardwell and with the recently re-discovered Bob Lanning on drums is quite a treat.
Sadly the TCB Band almost never stray from their standard set-list. But here we get some real delights. For instance, when was the last time you heard ‘Anyway You Want Me’ or ‘Way Down’ performed in concert by genuine Elvis musicians!
If you don’t know of London’s 100 Club it is a small and sweaty venue that started back in the 1940s and has featured some incredible bands from Louis Armstrong to The Rolling Stones, Sex Pistols and The Clash. It is sweaty, small, up-close and it’s perfect for some hot rock ‘n’ roll.
As the venue warmed up it was delightful to see members of the group walking around and just chatting to the fans. I spoke to Bob Lanning who was excited by the size of the club and even though Marlyn Mason is now 75 she is still packed full of energy and was loving every minute.
Duke Bardwell, Dwight Icenhower, Bob Lanning and Carl Bradychock
When the band took to the stage that was a real buzz in the air as the rhythm section of Duke Bardwell and Bob Lanning kicked in with cutting guitar from Carl Bradychock as the lead in to ‘All Shook Up’. While we all know the power of Ronnie Tutt’s bump-and-grind style of drumming, Bob Lanning plays a wonderfully tight style of percussion adding a different feel to the songs.
The sound was wonderfully reminiscent of Elvis’ On Stage album with the mix completed by some edgy guitar licks from Carl Bradychock and with the stylish Dwight Icenhower working up front.
Thankfully Dwight Icenhower is not an Elvis Impersonator as such but has a great presence and a powerful vocal perfectly matched to the band.
The first half of the concert basically featured the set list from Elvis’ On Stage February 1970 shows but with a few extras thrown in.
Highlights of course all were ‘Polk Salad Annie’ and the truly outstanding ‘The Wonder Of You’. The ‘Walk A Mile In My Shoes’ / ‘In The Ghetto’ medley was also quite spectacular.
The band also impressed with some of the more "regular" songs by for instance adding a powerful twist to a brilliant ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ demonstrating some real inspiration which in fact was so much better than Elvis’ all-too-often later throwaway versions.
Apart from being able to appreciate Bob Lanning’s driving percussion another real highlight of the first half of the show was Duke Barwell singing a beautiful rendition of Elvis’ ‘Peace In The Valley’.
The emotion and feeling that Duke imparted to the song was delightful.
One of the most impressive features of the ‘Elvis and Friends’ concerts is that not only does the set-list vary from night to night, but there is often something extra added each individual show.
Tony Prince - and Maryln Mason tell their Elvis stories
In London not only did Marlyn Mason get up on stage and tell several stories of the time she had with Elvis during the making of ‘The Trouble With Girls’ but also radio Luxembourg DJ Tony Prince was also there.
Tony Prince - who met Elvis several times in the early 1970s when taking the UK Elvis Fan-club on tour to Vegas - has a very warm way of telling his tales about meeting our hero. He spent about 15 minutes on stage relating what it was like to meet Elvis and be in Las Vegas. This was of course a long time ago but his insights into Col Parker and Parker’s manipulation were fascinating – as again he confirmed that for The Col it was all about the money! Prince also noted how much the Hilton management disliked the UK Elvis fans as they didn’t have any money for gambling.
Coming across as surprisingly modest, Tony Prince also told us that introducing Elvis on stage in Las Vegas was the true highlight of his life.
While the first half of the 100 Club show provided the expected performance of Elvis "On Stage’ it was in the second half of the night that the real excitement and surprises featured.
Perhaps the best song of the whole evening was ‘Crawfish’. Absolutely stunningly performed, with some amazing input from backing vocalists Rietta Austin and Chantelle Duncan, this was no doubt the highlight of the evening.
It is songs such as these that makes you realise just how inflexible Elvis’ set-lists were over all those years and how disappointing it is not to have heard Elvis perform some of his more unique material on stage.
Getting away from the usual TCB / Elvis video-screen set-lists is such a buzz. Surely any keen Elvis fan would get really excited to see Elvis rarer songs get performed well on stage. The night featured ‘Too Much’, ‘Anyway You Want Me’, ‘Reconsider Baby’, ‘Long Black Limousine’, ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Way Down’ just to name a few.
Not surprisingly with Duke Bardwell on stage the band performed an absolutely sensational T.R.O.U.B.L.E. with a funky excitement outstripping most of Elvis’ classic performances of the same song! (Duke Bardwell’s bass-line features on the original single).
Another delightful addition at 100 Club was when Greg Heath (husband of backing vocalist Chantelle Duncan) jumped on stage to add some spontaneous cool saxophone to the mix. This added that extra buzz to songs like ‘Such A Night’ and ‘Reconsider Baby’.
Marlyn Mason with Rietta Austin, Chantelle Duncan - ‘Swing Down, Sweet Chariot’
Another nice touch was Marlyn Mason joining the fabulous backing singers on stage for the ‘The Trouble With Girls’ ‘Swing Down, Sweet Chariot’ – what a treat - and once again Duke Bardwell provided another highlight with his version of Johnny Aces’ ‘Pledging My Love’.
Bardwell has a lovely pleading vocal style that so suits songs such as these.
I should also mention that Damien Daigneau provides some very fine keyboards while guitarist Carl Bradychock also provided another blues highlight of the evening with his fabulous workout and vocal on ‘Baby, What You Want Me To Do’.
With a packed set-the list I lost count of how many songs were played and although the audience thinned out later in the evening (it was a Wednesday) three encores were demanded from the band.
The only disappointment of the night was that the concert tickets were being marketed and sold by ‘The Official Elvis Fan Club of Great Britain’ who only managed to half fill the club.
Friends of mine in London could find no local publicity about this fabulous event, nor any mention of it in the London media.
It should have been so easy to publicise with the O2 Elvis exhibition on at the same time.
Once again the 'Official Elvis Fan Club of GB' only showed how out of touch and irrelevant they have become nowadays. If they have the fan club membership that they suggest they do, then they should have sold out this wonderful venue two nights running at least.
A prize was awarded on stage to somebody from the Official Elvis Fan Club when what I felt they really needed was a big kick up the butt.
Todd Slaughter was also present but appeared a little disinterested and sadly left half way through the evening.
The second night in Gateshead / Newcastle was far better attended and had a very different feel.
This concert was not organised through the UK Official Elvis Fan Club and featured some input from the "Elvis The Man and His Music’ organisation.
It was also in the sumptuous Gateshead ‘Sage’ Theatre.
Because this was a seated theatre performance the band played in noticeably different way to the rougher, sweaty feel of the smaller London venue.
Here they really put on a show to fill the larger auditorium.
This night the interesting addition was a question and answer session to begin with featuring Marlyn Mason, Duke Bardwell and Bob Lanning.
Trevor Cajiao from "Elvis The Man and His Music’ handled the questions.
Marlyn Mason, an animated Duke Bardwell and Bob Lanning answer questions
Marlyn Mason talked more about her 10 weeks with Elvis and the silliness of his "Hollywood diet".
Duke Bardwell explained how Elvis was "Lean and mean and ready to rock" at the start of his 1974 series of performances, - - "I just held on tight and rode it for as long as I could."
Bob Lanning discussed just how personal Elvis was and how he always considered every member of the band.
With the question and answer session over, once again the band took the stage for the first segment of the night featuring Elvis’ ‘On Stage’ set list.
Tonight the audience went absolutely wild for ‘The Wonder Of You’ – Bob Lanning had earlier explained how Elvis insisted on his back-beat style percussive ending. They crowd were also particularly excited by their version of ‘Love Me Tender’ (never one of my favourites!).
Dwight Icenhower found a real rapport with the enthusiastic audience who demonstrated their excitement shouting out for songs and cheering on every solo.
There were of course a few surprises thrown in. ‘Polk Salad Annie’ got a little ‘Suzie Q’ work-out, while guitarist Carl Bradychock solo’d with Carl Perkins song ‘Matchbox’.
A highlight this night were the backing vocalists Rietta Austin and Chantelle Duncan featuring on an absolutely outstanding ‘Amazing Grace’.
Again it was the second half of the performance that provided the real treat for the audience. The band threw in a pile of the rare and unusual Elvis songs and each one was greeted with rapturous applause by the crowd.
Carl Bradychock kicked off the second set with a wicked ‘Baby, What You Want Me To Do’ while songs such as a rockin’ ‘Too Much’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ got plenty applause.
Once again ‘Crawfish’ was outstanding, the crowd lapped up ‘Pledging My Love’ from Duke Bardwell and with a slowed-down ‘Love Me’ also causing a few shrieks from the crowd!
Dwight Icenhower provided his own personal highlight playing a solo version of ‘Unchained Melody’ that rightfully earned a standing ovation. From then on the audience was putty in his hands as ‘Long Black Limousine’ and a rocking version of ‘Way Down’ and a blistering ‘T.R.O.U.B.L.E.’ kept the set-list on a wonderful high.
Again the fans demanded three encores and by the time they reached the inevitable ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ the crowd - and the band - could not have asked for any more.
With only two shows left to play this weekend in Holland (May 16 - Melkweg, Amsterdam. May 17 - Effenaar, Eindhoven) if you are an Elvis fan eager for something more than the usual, boring Elvis impersonator concerts you should definitely try and get to see this show if possible.
Hopefully they will come back again next year.
Review by Piers Beagley.
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