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Brian Downey's Alive And Dangerous: Nell's Jazz & Blues, London

dave bonney
Words: Dave Bonney, Pictures: Ash Phoenix
18th February 2018

brian downey

"Brian Downey on drums" has become one of the most iconic pronouncements, etched into the vinyl grooves of one of rock's most classic live albums of the past forty years.

Downey is back in town tonight at Nell's Jazz & Blues in upmarket West Kensington, which is rather more salubrious than your average rock venue, but then again, Brain Downey is not your average rock drummer, a man who is resoundingly recognised amongst his peers as one of the best in the business, his place as a rock legend is cast in stone.

brian downey

Alive and Dangerous played a couple of sold-out gigs here last November and they make a swift return tonight to perform as part of the London Fleadh week, which is a celebration of traditional Irish & Celtic music, and what a celebration it turned out to be.

The band were born out of a jam session at 'Vibe for Philo', an annual pilgrimage to Dublin for many to celebrate the late, great Philip Lynott's life and legend on the anniversary of his death on January 4th.

It's ironic that what signalled the end of something special also sowed the seeds of the beginning of something that would develop into what we have now, a band bringing the beautiful harmony of the finest musicians from both sides of the Irish border.

brian downey

Downey got together with guitarist Brian Grace, musical director for 'Vibe for Philo' as well as playing with Andrew Strong from the Commitments, vocalist/bassist Matt Wilson who has performed as Judas in Andrew Lloyd-Webber's West End smash 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and guitarist Phil Edgar who plays in Belfast Metal heroes Sweet Savage.

They're here tonight to pretty much do what they did last time around, which is to play a set based mostly on the iconic double live album, with a few other classics thrown in for good measure. There's no support act tonight, it's simply not needed.

brian downey

Downey had previously said that when he first jammed with these guys, it was obvious they had the "feel for the music, which is all important and these guys have it in spades", and when they hit the stage with 'Jailbreak', it's safe to say, he knows what he's talking about.

At the beginning it's hard to take your eyes off the man at the back, sitting resplendently behind his beautiful emerald metal flake Natal kit that changes colour chameleon-like, to a lovely blue in a certain light. He's such an elegantly fluid and precise player and his conservative manner makes it look all too easy, which of course it isn't.

'Are You Ready' keeps up the tempo until 'Southbound' brings it down to that lovely, lazy, Lizzy pace, and it's around this time you really start to take notice of the band as a whole.

brian downey

Wilson's beautifully soulful voice and his Irish charm come to the fore and with the high slung bass style and his Philo like hairstyle, this guy is keeping it real, of course he is, he's done it a hundred times before with The Low Riders, albeit with a Belfast intonation, as have guitarists Grace and Edgar whose sound, tone and harmonies do absolute justice to each and every song.

These guys are loving every minute of playing with Downey and Wilson told the audience "I'd like to thank Brian for getting me off the streets, I was working in a launderette and would still be doing it now if he hadn't decided to do this". I'm not so sure about that but his gratitude for playing with one of rocks true greats is clearly apparent.

'Rosalie', 'Dancing in the Moonlight', the magnificent 'Still in Love With You', and 'Johnny The Fox', the classics just keep on coming, and with a set list this strong, it's not easy to pick a highlight, so I'm going to throw a curve ball in there and say that out of all the classics, which is every single one of them, it was the less obvious 'Massacre' that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.

brian downey

The guys just seemed to be all consumed by it, and it was intriguing to watch. 'Cowboy Song' brings a chorus of coyote calls from the crowd, whilst 'The Boys Are Back In Town' possibly gets the biggest reception.

'Warriors' leads into 'Sha La La' with Downey excelling in the spotlight of his solo, and yes, Wilson said it, "Brian Downey on drums"! 'Don't Believe a Word', 'Suicide' and 'The Rocker' brought the main set to a close

This made way for three songs not on the album, 'It's Only Money', 'Whisky in the Jar' and 'Bad Reputation', with 'Emerald' bringing the evening to an end with some fine twin guitars and Downey once again showing his beat master brilliance.

At the moment, this band is all about the nostalgia, but hopefully that's not always going to be the case, as during rehearsals they have started to discuss working on some original material.

brian downey

Downey said, "I think that's a good thing because eventually, we'd have to break out and play our own. That's what we're going to do when we have time off this year, get into the studio and put some demos down. The natural thing would be to let those songs or ideas come out in the studio, that's the plan.

"We'll have to put some stuff down that we'll enjoy, we definitely have to enjoy the material, that is the plan at the end of the day, to enjoy ourselves as well".

Well, he's just been enjoying himself for the last hour and a half, so let's hope this spurs the band on and next time around we have some new stuff to listen to. Slàinte to Brian and his boys.


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Set List:
1. Jailbreak
2. Are You Ready
3. Southbound
4. Rosalie
5. Dancing In The Moonlight
6. Massacre
7. Still In Love With You
8. Johnny The Fox
9. Cowboy Song
10. The Boys Are Back In Town
11. Warriors
12. Sha La La
13. Don't Believe A Word
14. Suicide
15. The Rocker
16. It's Only Money
17. Whiskey In The Jar
18. Bad Reputation
19. Emerald


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