I don’t go to many big concerts these days due to time restrictions and my own work schedule. But rock stars, like all musicians, and indeed all of us are getting older while trying to maintain our creative projects and occasionally a big event comes up which has the feeling that it could be the last chance.
I never saw Mott The Hoople live in the seventies but always loved them and thought they were a great example of a band of their times, particularly frontman Ian Hunter and the autobiographical songs he writes. I knew they had been an incredible live act then, so in 2009 a week long series of concerts at Hammersmith Apollo (previously Odeon) was announced six months ahead and I acted on impulse and I ordered my ticket quickly. This was a reunion of the original line-up and a very sad aspect of this was that Buffin, the drummer/founder member, was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and took just a small part in the gigs.
It was a great show and the sound was brilliant, everything was put together well and I was happy.
I went to see Ian Hunter play at the Barbican later in the year as well, but sadly in 2016 Buffin passed away, and bassist Overend Watts a year later. So the feeling of it being a one off event was obviously very real.
Similarly, with the great Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers who weren’t really one of my favourites in the 70s but there were so many excellent bands at the time, and over the years I realised that if a band stayed more or less a stable line-up and worked solidly they would be dead tight and make great records. Petty and co actually only emerged in the UK around the 1977, the punk era and were popular here before breaking in their native US, but that still made them veterans of 40 years recording and touring. Consistent members were keyboard player Benmont Tench, and Mike Campbell on guitar with Ron Blair (bass) in and out but currently back in the group, so it was four original members augmented by the superb Steve Ferrone on drums.
Petty’s reputation in any case is assured as one of the most respected figures in US rock music.
Stevie Nicks is one of the ultimate goddesses of that same period of US music, as solo and of course with Fleetwood Mac, so it was the perfect package for the Hyde Park concert. It was her name that caught my attention anyway when advertised and I didn’t hesitate. Stevie and Tom duetted several times on recordings and worked closely over the years.
So July 9th 2017 in the London heat – I walked through Kensington Gardens, hundreds of people enjoying walks, running, ball games in the sunshine and entered the main arena just by speakers corner, and after finding a vantage point waited and watched the other acts on the bill (The James Hunter Six, The Shelters and The Lumineers), my neck and face slowly getting sunburned!
Stevie Nicks looks and sounds amazing, as good as she ever did, and songs like “Gypsy”, “Rhiannon”, “Edge of Seventeen” and “Landslide” were faultless, as were the band led by the legendary Waddy Wachtel on guitar. In an hour she performed all the songs I would have expected and I also praise backing singers Sharon Celani and Marilyn Martin for making a great sound even better.
The Heartbreakers set was incredible. Petty looked energetic and healthy, told stories and in ninety minutes did everything we expected; my favourites, “Refugee”, “American Girl”, “Running down a dream”, Freefallin” etc. and a beautiful duet with Stevie Nicks “Stop dragging my heart around”. Campbell, Tench, multi-instrumentalist Scott Thurston and the harmonies of the Webb Sisters rounded it perfectly. Sad to think it was possibly the swansong for this classic American band.
So, this was one I’ll never forget, and the memory will always be special. Three months later in October the world lost Tom Petty, one of the very best, suddenly and shockingly. As with Mott the Hoople, sometimes these moments turn out to be the only chance we get.