Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne

Albert Lee & Band

I first came across Albert Lee roughly forty-seven years ago when he appeared with his band, Heads Hands and Feet, at a free concert in Hyde Park, London with Steve Marriott’s Humble Pie and the overhyped American rock band Grand Funk Railroad. Prior to that he had left school at the age of sixteen and become a professional musician working for the Larry Parnes stable of artists backing Dickie Pride, amongst others, before joining Chris Farlowe’s Thunderbirds. But blues wasn’t his calling and he left to join the country influenced Country Fever and then Heads Hands and Feet in 1970, (their bass player was one Chas Hodges, who went on to find fame as one half of the rockney duo Chas and Dave). After their demise, Albert became a sort after sideman playing sessions and tours with artists such as The Crickets, Phil Everly, Joe Cocker and Jerry Lee Lewis before teaming up with Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band, replacing James Burton, who had jumped ship to play with Elvis Presley. By now he was living in America and was forging a solo career in tandem with his high profile work as a guitar for hire, which included a five year stint as a foil to Eric Clapton and in 1983 becoming the musical director for the Everly Brothers reunion shows, a job he retained intermittingly for over twenty years. Other periods of employment have included spells with Hogan’s Heroes and Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, as a regular guest on the bill of Clapton’s Crossroads Festivals and at the Concert for George (Harrison) at the Albert Hall, London in 2002. Now well into his seventies, Albert made a welcome return to the Tivoli in Wimborne on Thursday night, as part of a European tour.

Albert Lee & Band

Five minutes after the advertised start time of 7.30pm, Lee and his youthful band of Ross Spurdle on keys, bassist Ben Golding, and drummer Ollie Sears, took to the stage putting their tardiness down to slow service at a local eatery. With his apology accepted by the sell-out crowd, the double Grammy winner donned his signature Ernie Ball Music Man guitar and launched into a spirited version of Fats Domino’s “I’m Ready”, followed by a tentative “Two Step Too”. For the first couple of numbers, the sound wasn’t quite balanced, Albert’s vocal was too far down in the mix and the thump of the kick drum drowned out the bass, but thankfully as the set progressed, these issues were resolved and the band settled their nerves.

Albert Lee & Band

Albert’s tenure with Emmylou Harris was well represented in the setlist with two Gram Parson’s songs “Wheels” and “Luxury Liner”, plus two numbers, “Song for Life” and “‘Till I Gain Control Again” from his former colleague in the Hot Band, Rodney Crowell. He was also in a Buddy Holly mood with nice renditions of “Well…All Right” that was famously covered by Blind Faith, “Rock Around with Ollie Vee” the B side to “That’ll Be the Day” and in the encore, “Learning the Game” which he performed on piano. But it was his guitar skills that we had all come to see and he didn’t disappoint. After a rollicking rockabilly master class on Carl Perkins “Restless”, a nimble run-up and down the fretboard on the aforementioned “Luxury Liner” and Richard Thompson’s “Tear Stained Letter” the increased energy levels in the audience was palpable. Of course the loudest cheer of the night was saved for Heads Hands and Feet’s, “Country Boy”, a song that he can’t leave out of the set as it has become his signature tune over the last forty-five years and I suspect, for Albert, a bit of a millstone around his neck. But familiarity didn’t dampen the gusto with which the band ripped into the opening salvo of notes, pushing Albert and keyboard player Ross Spurdle along as they had fun in the closing stages trading licks and riffs while drummer Ollie Sears grinned on like a Cheshire cat. For the encore, they left us with a couple of rockers from Chuck Berry, “Back in the USA” and Johnny Burnette, “Tear it Up”.

So two hours of great entertainment from a guitar legend who doesn’t appear to be slowing down in dexterity or work rate, plus we were all home in time for a hot cocoa and feet up in time to watch “Question Time”, not quite Rock n’ Roll, but none of us are getting any younger.

Set List
I’m Ready (Domino; Lewis; Bradford)
Two Step Too (Delbert Clinton)
Wheels (Gram Parsons)
Mexico (Hoyt Axton)
Restless (Carl Perkins)
Song for Life (Rodney Crowell)
Runaway Train (John Stewart)
Luxury Liner (Gram Parsons; Chris Hillman)
Well…All Right (Holly; Allison; Mauldin; Petty)
Rock Around with Ollie Vee (Sonny Curtis)
Spellbound (Paul Kennerley)
No One Can Make My Sunshine Smile (Goffin; Keller)
Leave My Woman Alone (Ray Charles)
Highwayman (Jimmy Webb)
‘Till I Gain Control Again (Rodney Crowell)
Tear Stained Letter (Richard Thompson)
Country Boy (Lee; Colton; Smith)
Learning the Game (Buddy Holly)
Back in the USA (Chuck Berry)
Tear it Up (Burnette, Burlison; Burnette Jr.)


Written By John Cherry.