A bunch of old Wild Things who made my heart sing

troggs the gov

Chris Allen and Chris Britton up front of The Troggs, 2016-style. Mandy Tzaras photo 

The original Troggs were Ronnie Bond (drums), (guitar), Reg Presley (vocals) and Pete Staples (bass), and their first hits began over 50 years ago. Along the way, they profoundly influenced ‘60s garage rock (not to mention glam) and seem likely to have been the inspiration for “Spinal Tap" when a spirited recording session was recorded, edited and bootlegged ("The Troggs Tapes").

Those reasons alone would be good enough to shell out your $70+change and hurry along to the fine establishment on Port Road in Adelaide, The Gov.

The Troggs
+ Tom Lawson
The Gov, Adelaide
November 27, 2016
Mandy Tzaras photos

If I wanted another reason to see The Troggs, look no further than Lester Bangs’ “James Taylor Marked for Death”, an article spanning nearly 30 pages of his trademark purposeful rant. I quote:

“The Troggs eschewed all trendy gimmicks and kinky theatrics” [Bangs was referring to the MC5, the Stooges and the Doors here], “delivered their proposition with sidewalk directness and absolute sincerity… Just dig their song titles; ‘Gonna Make You’, ‘I Want You’, ‘I Can’t Control Myself’, ‘Give It To Me’, ‘I Can Only Give You Everything’.”

You’ll have spotted these titles rather resemble the Ramones’. Now, I’d forgotten that the Troggs had been banned rather a few times in an assortment of countries; “I Can’t Control Myself” (also banned here in Australia), “Night of the Long Grass” and “Strange Movies” … the list is longer but you get the idea.

Basically, anyone under 60 kinda forgets that the British Invasion wasn’t about cute tunes and harmonies: what was happening was a genuine revolt of the young. They had guitars and volume, talked in a strange argot, had weird hair, wore weird clothes, took drugs and had sex.

The ‘60s were a rather unpleasant sexual revolution. More than that, these young folk sang songs about all this and they sold by the truckload. It wasn’t so much all the stuff they were doing, or wanted to be doing, but that their views were everywhere … bucking the system until about, by my reckoning, 1969 found the mod - hippie gen becoming well and truly mainstream. And dull.

However, it’s time for a little perspective, so here’s a useful diversion.

Several years after the event, I now know that I have experienced only a handful of profound, poignant moments in half a lifetime of witnessing performances.

One such event was “Pop Crimes”, a re-presentation of the songs of Rowland S. Howard, by some of his many musician friends. It was powerful and magical at the time, but on looking back, for me the event was something of a watershed. The tickets were fairly cheap, the atmosphere tense, electric, and after the gig a storm burst.

I’ll never forget the impact the show made on me. I was almost out of my skin with multiple emotions. Reader, the show touched me like no other. I can only hope the people involved decide to do it all again one day.

The previous night, I’d seen the Rolling Stones (for the first and, god willing, the last time). I’d spent over a grand on two seats with a fair chance of glimpsing a bouncing bunch of dots and tried vainly to watch the actual dots rather than give up and watch the huge TVs.

After the gig my feet and legs ached like hell from all the strange angles I’d put myself through. With the passage of time I now realise that seeing the Stones was one of a handful of utterly uncomfortable, annoying, unpleasant musical experiences I’ve put myself through (rather like eating sprouts, liver and a roadkill burger), only to be denied the sumptuous coffee and cake at the end. Reader, the Stones touched me like no other, and with any luck I’ll never see the buggers again.

Rowland S. will, I suspect, remain under the radar, like a hungry ghost awaiting prey. His songs still resonate, his live shows were always captivating. The Rolling Stones long ago gave up on their low beginnings, opting for big dollars in exchange, frankly, for their musical souls. I doubt they realise they’ve done this, of course - perspective usually arrives, as I indicated above, after a gap of space and time. The Stones are, of course, excellent at showmanship, sleight of hand and flashery. Somewhere in there, they lost the ability to communicate with the audience in a personal way, rather than a ‘tweak the Human Desire for Spectacle’ bone, along with the ‘I Saw Him in Person’ bone.

The opening act was local singer/ guitarist Tom Lawson. The audience were still filing in, stealing chairs from the beer garden to bring inside. One woman was reading a book. Most people were chattering very very loud. So Tom did bloody well to hold it together and perform. His voice is at its best when he’s pushing it, and while I didn’t like all of his songs, he was credible and, had the environment not been so evidently hurry-up-and-get-off I would’ve paid more attention. So I’ll have to see him in more convivial surrounds sometime…

troggs gov guitar

Tonight’s Troggs show should put all the talk about whether original members are in the band or not completely to bed, as if that should somehow make any difference. Take The Sonics - with only one original member. They ruled a few weeks back, because they’d gotten hold of hungry, talented veterans who loved the band’s music and allowed themselves to be trained in exactly how to re-present The Sonics. To the point where, if you didn’t know any better, yes, you were seeing The Sonics.

There are plenty of examples of the original members vs hired guns + a few originals, and the results are just as mixed. Some things don’t change: time does, however, and the circumstances of, say, Filth’s original live shows (back in’ 77) cannot be replicated - even so, we all want to see Filth return to the stage, at least once.

The Rolling Stones could never replicate the angsty urgency of their first London live shows, any more than the Troggs could. And, while the Stones reinvented themselves after turfing out troubled Brian Jones and became EVERPRESENT ROCK STARS, when key band personnel kark it most outfits find themselves either trundling in another direction, or changed somehow… or not much changed.

The Sensational Alex Harvey Band were a treat to see - musically - but there was little personal interaction with the crowd. They seemed stand-offish. Sometimes a little arrogance works. Not when you’re on the comeback trail, though.

For a variety of reasons, The Troggs have had a few shifting line-ups. Most of us, if we’re feeling sensible, realise that you can’t stay with a band you started when you were in your early 20s, so if a band is to continue, you need to get someone else in. No-one whinged about acca dacca. Also, Ronnie Bond died in 1992, Reg Presley (who founded the Troggs with Chris Britton) in 2013. Peter Staples has been unwell but by all accounts is now better and powering along, writing his autobiography.

The Troggs we’re seeing tonight are Chris Allen (vocals), Chris Britton (guitar), Pete Lucas (bass) and Dave Maggs (drums). Lucas has been with the band off and on since 1974, and “Maggsy” since the mid-‘80s.. Chris Allen has also performed with the Denny Laine Band, The Commitments and The Animals; he’s not unfamiliar with a stage. Chris Britton is the only "foundation member". (Of course, I shouldn’t mock. We’ll be like that in a couple of years, trundling out to see The Angelic Upstart or The Pixie).

Seeing The Troggs tonight was just what I needed. The household had endured a rather rubbish few weeks, and The Troggs did what performers used to do: they entertained us. Sure, it’s not 1967, and thank god for that, say I. Sure, the crowd mostly sat on chairs (The Gov provided several hundred, they knew their audience) because, look, 68 years old is 68 years old.

That said, two 60-something ladies in the front row took the opportunity to wave and grope their bouncers to catch Mr Britton’s eye. One 30-something lass hurled her blue bra and caught Mr Britton right in the face. It was hardly a riot but it was a rather exquisite moment.

They could’ve been up themselves, these blokes. But they weren’t. Huge influence, legendary status … they’re down to earth, like the Pro-Tools or Harry Howard and the NDE, joking between themselves but sharing it all with us. Some bands have a magic. The Rolling Stones lost theirs decades ago; The Troggs have no right to still have it… but they do.

The Troggs are, of course, mostly trading on their past. Which would become rather tedious if they were your local band playing each week down the Dog and Duck. But they haven’t been here for ages, so it’s a Moment for all of us.

And, while some old acts come out yet again to trundle rather stuffily through their hits with an ill-chosen mixture of original members and dutiful plunkers, the Troggs don’t just have a bunch of great songs, but have developed an intimate rapport with the crowd. Yes, you can see them working, but the patina of professionalism is very thin, so you see the blokes right there in front of you all the time.

Lucas and Maggsy are the mainstay, the tuff lynchpin of the band. I initially wondered at the rather beefy '80s heavy metal drum sound, but then figured, well, back in the day the drum sound was probably a bit difficult to beef up, and people expect a tougher rhythm section these days. I didn’t think it marred the songs (although I thought their version of “Louie Louie” was … not good).

Chris Allen moves brilliantly, filling the role of the jack the lad lead singer perfectly, dolled up in modern retro gear (great boots) with the friendly, unforced ability to reel the crowd in and make them respond naturally. Not that many performers can do this, it takes not only skill - it’s still true that the audience need to be able to trust the singer if the singer is to enter their emotional space.

chris brittonChris Britton (pictured right) was bloody good.

If you see an old bugger playing a guitar badly … don’t feel sorry for him. Like an old bloke who’s a shit driver, he needs to get off the road, and he probably knows it. Some idiots continue driving or playing guitar long after they should’ve headed back to the Bide-a-Wee-While Rest Home for Incontinent Malcontents (I’m sure you can think of a few) - but Britton is not one of these.

Every note is right. Every chord. There are no mistakes, there is only silk to the ears or, if you like, the smooth sweet sound of a machine running on rails. Now, that said, there were evident moments where they diverged a bit. But it all hung together (with one exception, and it was a cover).

So the rhythm section hold it all together, Britton hides his light under a bushel and Chris Allen gathers the crowd, plays them and they just love it.

The set list was:

Give It To Me/ From Home/ Louie Louie/ Walking the Dog/ I Do Do/ Night of the Long Grass/ Feels Like a Woman/ Any Way You Want Me/ Strange Movies/ Little Girl/ With a Girl Like You/ Love is All Around/ Wild Thing. Encore Can’t Control Myself.

Personal highlight of the show was when Chris’s wife, came up to the front of the stage in front of Chris, singing the words while watching him. When Chris saw her, he just lit up. The look on their faces was timeless and damn wonderful.

There was a moment in “Wild Thing” where we were all enjoined to clap along. And a few moments later … the band stopped and watched us clapping. For what felt like a dangerously long time. Then they snapped back into the song. Another warm, human, magical moment. Very few bands can get away with this. It was clear, too, that the band were enjoying the night. Britton and Allen couldn’t stop smiling.

No, The Troggs weren’t one of those profound, poignant moments I mentioned above. But on a scale of 1 to 5, they were definitely a 4.

To misquote Reg Presley, they took my last couple of weeks and “put a little bit of fucking fairy dust over the bastard”’.

The Troggs website has three excellent single compilations and a live recording of the current outfit, as well as a couple of books, one by Reg. Get hold of Tom Lawson here

 

Tags: live, rolling stones, tour, australian, the troggs, chris britton, wild thing, tom lawson, the gov

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