Having visited Scotland for the first time just twelve months before, blues, country, rock legends The Kentucky Headhunters were back in Glasgow once more to raise some hell. Aided and abetted in that task by up and coming English rock n' roll band Bad Touch and one of the hottest new outfits on the Scottish scene, The Swamp Born Assassins, the packed ABC2 was treated to not one, not two, but three different sides of traditional rock and roll, all delivered with power, passion and damn near perfection. There for Sea of Tranquility, was Steven Reid.
Local lads The Swamp Born Assassins have been building a serious reputation in the year since their debut album Smell The Mud was released, the band's mix of heavy, hard, grungey, blues finding favour not just at home, but also in Belgium where they've been gaining regular radio time. Recorded by the core trio of vocalist and harmonica shouter Charlie Moffat, drummer Stevie Craven and guitarist David Nimmo, the live line-up has, for a variety of reasons, evolved quite considerably since. With Charlie and Stevie still in their rightful places, things have become something of a family affair, Charlie's daughter Kirsty providing backing vocals as her brother Jamie handles rhythm guitar. Add in the hugely respected bass prowess of Allen Bell (of Maiden Scotland) and lead guitar work of Andy Christie, and the Swampers have grown into a real live force. If there was ever any doubt of that, you only needed to hear the response the band's tight, classy set received from a crowd that may have been partizan, but only because of the authentic sounds this outfit create. Hitting just as hard on stage as they do in the studio, "Gator Hole" and "Dead Man Walking" highlight the classy way The Swampers meld traditional ideals to a 90s grind; Moffat senior a charismatic frontman able to pepper the set with welcome blasts of harmonica. Vocally he might not have the widest range you'll ever hear but with three part backing vocals - and a special mention for the phenomenal Kirsty - what could be a potential weakness turns into a real strength. In fact it's clear that - and not just vocally - a lot of time has gone in to the live arrangements, the slow build (and album highlight) of "Clara Belle Lee" given its maiden live outing in quite outstanding fashion. The Glasgow rock scene is good at giving its own local talent a chance to showcase their goods in front of an audience ready and primed for some more experienced outfits. Few grasp that opportunity like The Swamp Born Assassins.
Since their 2015 debut album Bad Touch seem to have been permanently on the road, that dedication to their craft paying off in spades through not only the manner in which they deliver a thoroughly professional set, but the damn good fun they force everyone in the room to have with them. With an easy, but never cocky confidence, singer Stevie Westwood carries just enough swagger to command the audience, while also coming across as your best mate. A rare skill that allows both him and his band to immediately have everyone on their side. Obviously that would count for little if they didn't have the songs to back up the swank, but with a stronger Zeppelin-like edge to "My Mother Told Me", "Outlaw" (even if Westwood introduced the wrong song!) and "Wise Water" than there used to be, Bad Touch have slowly evolved into a bombastic beast capable of controlled explosions of good time rock, that can stand up to the best of them. As though to back up their authentic style, one of the best run throughs of The Zep's "Whole Lotta Love" - interjected with other Plant and Page goodies - you're likely to hear, found the band in their element. And none more so than drummer George Drewry, who took great delight in unleashing his inner Bonham. However, it's to Bad Touch's massive credit, that this fun diversion was far from the highlight of the show, the closing crescendos of "99%" and "The Mountain" confirming the class of the band's own compositions. With the twin guitar combo of Rob Glendinning and Daniel 'Seeks' Seekings, Bad Touch also have the flash and foundation to hit hard every time and the ability to hold a crowd in the palm of their hand. Tonight was a prime example and there's little doubt that the majority of this audience will be back in November when Bad Touch hit Glasgow on their first ever headline tour. Oh, and it was 'Seeks' birthday tonight, Westwood coming back out on stage as the band were packing up their gear to admit that he'd forgotten to announce his 'brother's' milestone, resulting in a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday by way of farewell!
In truth it was the two opening acts that had enticed us out on a wet Glasgow night, The Kentucky Headhunters a completely new proposition for me - and it would appear the same was true for many of the audience, which did thin a little after Bad Touch's departure from the stage. However, with a history stretching back to 1968, winning over a crowd won't be a new thing for this outfit, and that's exactly what they set about doing. A collection of songs delivered with such joy - and a selection of stories told from the stage with such heart and soul - that even as someone who'd never heard the band before, there was an immediate sense of belonging. This is an outfit who play every note as if it's absolutely vital and dig every groove so deep that you can barely see the bottom. Instead you simply get lost in the good times of "Dixie Lullaby" and "Walking With The Wolf". Always keen to share where their motivation and inspiration came from (either through guitarist and vocalist Richard Young's meandering anecdotes, or the choice selection of covers that dotted a set of cracking originals) everything from Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit In The Sky" to "The House Of The Rising Sun" was given a raucous workout. With lead vocals - and sumptuous harmony singing - split between bassist Anthony Kenney and Richard Young, the mix of country, blues and rock kept coming, "Wishin' Well" and "Crossroad Blues" drawing the ever more appreciative crowd right into the heart of the show, the band visibly touched as the choruses were sung back at them with gusto. Much though the two singers dominate the front of the stage, what goes on behind is key for TKH, Greg Martin possibly the most unassuming lead guitarist on the planet - although the excitement he brings through his playing is more than enough to compensate - while drummer Fred Young may well look like the oldest, mutton-chopped swinger in town, but sporting the seldom seen (in rock circles anyway) traditional grip of his sticks and a mighty Davey Crockett hat, he was simply irrepressible.
All too soon the night headed-hunted its way to a conclusion, a storming run through of The Beatles "Hey Jude" finding the Bad Touch boys invited back on stage to form the choir - BT drummer George Drewry even changing places behind the kit with Fred Young mid-song! The veteran sticks-man donning a Scottish "tammie" hat as he careened around the stage in mock-highland dancing, to not only bring the set to an end, but the entire UK tour. If every night was as good as this, then I take my "tammie" off to everyone concerned!
Photographs by Katie Reid