The summer is here and it's time for a new tour by Danny & The Champions Of The World - with a storming new album to promote, What Kind Of Love, I was at my second favourite venue to see the second date of the tour.
Danny has pulled off a bit of a coup with his support act for this evening with Michele Stodart. Although Michele does perform backing vocals on the new Champs album.
You will probably know her as one quarter of the band The Magic Numbers, where she plays bass/keyboards & vocals with her brother Romeo and another brother/sister Sean & Angela Gannon.
In 2012, Michele was the first of the band to release a solo record - the lovely WideEyed Crossing. It sits firmly in the Americana genre with some quality songwriting and wears it's influences of all the female country greats on it's sleeve. Freed of bass duties, Michele has the chance to come out of the shadow of her brother Romeo and when you hear her solo, you can see how much she brings to the Magic Numbers sound.
I was delighted to discover that Michele's performance tonight features mainly new songs. Songs that have been recorded for album number two, which she is in the process of finishing off.
She opened up her set, just Michele & her guitar, with Once In A While, a lovely new song. Many of the new songs are of a downbeat nature but suit Michele's voice perfectly and stripped of their obvious forthcoming studio sheen, sound raw and of the hurtin' kind - exactly as a good country song should.
Other new songs included Just Anyone Won't Do & one whose name I didn't catch but both were excellent.
Michele did play some songs from her solo debut though with Invitation To The Blues and Foolish Love getting alive airing tonight.
Michele also sang one lovely cover - Neil Young's Birds from his After The Goldrush album.
An appreciative audience lapped up the set and it was brave to end the set with another new song, Will Your Heart. I for one can't wait for album number two and hope it comes out soon. Judging by the activity on the merch stand following the gig, I won't be the only one.
So it was time for the main event as Danny & The Champs took to the stage - now a stable band of Danny George Wilson on Vocals/Guitar , Chris Clarke on Bass/Vocals, Paul Lush on Guitar, Free Jazz Geoff on Sax/Keys/vocals, Henry Senior Junior on Pedal Steel and Steve Brookes on drums - the band are as tight as the proverbial ducks rear end.
I've now seen The Champs quite a few times and I've got to say that tonight is the best I've seen them perform. The new album is a magnificent beast and I couldn't wait to see how they recreate the classic soul/Stax sound of What Kind Of Love in a live setting. I was about to find out from song one.
The band opened up with the new album's opening track Clear Water. It's a great song with a classic Champs riff and got the audience on board straight from the off.
The Sold Out Louisiana was bouncing tonight and with maximum audience participation on the singing front, it was great to see people singing along to tracks from the new album- and it's only been out a week. Impressive stuff indeed and shows the power of a good song.
Tonight's set featured most of What Kind Of Love and the next two songs up, Precious Guard and This Is Not A Love Song show the quality of the songs contained within.
What IS missing from the album is the female backing vocals and the brass section that adorns a lot of the songs on the new album - although stripped back, the energy still manages to shine through. A Champs live set is not about recreating the albums - it's about energy, brilliant playing and most of all, Passion. And Danny has enough for the whole band.
The band released my favourite live album of all time last year - it caught the band at the height of their Stay True tour. It was called Live Champs. And you need a copy in your collection.
But with the increasing number of albums added to the goldmine of songs to chose from, the boys had a tough choice of what older songs to include in the set - obviously it will change from gig to gig as the tour moves on and I'm sure somebody will say they didn't play their favourite song - but that's the price of success , I guess.
The title track from their previous studio album, the breakthrough record Stay True was up next and is proving to be a real live staple for the band.
A favourite of mine from the new album, Words On The Wind was an early highlight and brought the house down with some superb guitar work from the always excellent Paul Lush - the antipodean with a grip of iron (just try shaking his hand to see what I mean).
Early in the set, Chris Clarke managed to break a string on his bass - a real collectors item - and something you don't see it very often. But he had a spare bass up his sleeve and normal service was resumed by the time Danny re-tuned his guitar.
The now legendary Henry The Van, complete with and audience singalong was followed by another superb song, the fabulous (Never Stop Building) That Old Space Rocket. A fabulous live song.
Two more new songs follow with It'll Be Alright In The End & Thinking About My Friend, and once again they got a fabulous reception from the Louisiana Crowd.
By now it was very hot, very sweaty and totally exhilarating. This is what live music is all about. And any young band who wants to see what this live performing game is all about should just attend a Danny & The Champs gig - and take notes. Nobody stealing the limelight, all the musicians working together, quality songs and stage presence.
The set ends with the elongated version of The Colonel & The King, (about Elvis & Cl Tom Parker) - which gives each member of the band a chance to show off their musical skills and a share of the spotlight. Paul Lush is on top form in this song and shows you don't have to be Eddie Van Halen to be able to play the guitar.
Nobody bothers leaving the stage in the Louisiana as the band has to go through the crowd to get to the stage - so the band just stood there and milked the applause from an appreciative audience. Hot, sung out, gigged out but buzzing.
The encore was the literally show stopping Restless Feet before the band called it a night and headed for the bar - promptly followed by most of the audience.
The Merch stand was doing brisk business and all of the band came down to have photographs taken, sign cds and generally chat with their audience. To all you musicians and band members out there, This is how it SHOULD be. Respect your fans and your fans will support you, Danny & the boys are always good humoured and seem to enjoy a chat - that's one of the reasons I love this band. And so should you. They're a National Treasure.
Long Live The Champs. And roll on St Donat's in July
All Photos by Macwood Fleet with Courtesy to the performers.