Concert review by Tony Jaggers

Stevie gives it his all during the finale. At right is Phil Manning on guitar and in the background is Dr Harry Brus on bass. (Photo by Tony Jaggers)

The "Hard Road" concerts
Fri Oct. 31 / Sat Nov. 1
Royal Theatre, Canberra.

For Stevie Wright it has been a “Hard Road” but he has reached the crossroads with his head up high after a heart moving performance at the two shows in Canberra…. Why there were empty seats at these shows has me baffled but on the up side at least it allowed me to attend the Saturday show as well… and what a bonus. My concerns that Stevie had pushed himself too hard in Friday's show were allayed as he turned his performance up several notches for the crowd on Saturday, even managing one of his famous karate kicks at KBs head.

Chain kicked off the show with their usual solid performance aided and abetted by Canberra local Kieran Roberts on keyboards. No doubt playing for their old bandmate Big Goose who was given an appropriate tribute by MC Donnie Sutherland they thundered through Boogie, Judgement (with Matt announcing that it made #2 in the charts and dryly suggesting that No. 2’s are more satisfying than No. 1’s) 'Black and Blue', 'I Remember when I was Young' and finishing with Stevies hit ‘Hard Road’.

On Saturday we got a bonus with a very youthful looking Lonnie Lee dropping in for ‘Lets Play House’. Max Merritt was up next with ‘Fannie May’, ‘Western Union Man’, ‘Try a Little Tenderness’, ‘Slippin Away’ and finishing with ‘St Louis’. From my seat centre stage, front row and thanks to the low stage it was like having these guys playing in your living room ... and what a backing band! Borich and Manning on guitars, Dr Harry on bass, Jamie Rigg on keys and a big fat Hammond with Leslie speaker box, Kieran Roberts tucked away on second keyboards, three great backing vocalists and one hell of a drummer who didn’t miss a trick over the whole two nights, Mick Skelton.

Normie Rowe hit the stage next, and if you need an example that the male voice improves with age, here it was. His range has increased, its powerful and shows what can be gained from stage show work and constant touring. He worked that stage like a trouper … plenty of audience participation … quick with the wit, and when a female fan screamed out “I’ve loved you for thirty years, Normie!” he responded immediately with “Ya only human”. ‘Que Sera’, ‘Oh La La’ a moving “Ain’t Necessarily So’, ‘Its Not Easy’ and he took the challenge with a fantastic version of ‘Friday’.

Intermission…..lets take the time to talk about the fantastic sound…..for once we had sympathetic mixing, obviously tailored for our elderly status…not wimpy but not gut wrenching at the bottom end.

Full marks to promoter Tony Southwell for his direction. Changeover between acts were pretty speedy with Donnie doing a great job while roadies scuttled like roaches…and the stars themselves…not only are they singing better than ever they all looked fit and tanned, if not a little thicker around the waist ('cept for KB who must be working out) and that’s who led us into the second half. From my seat I heard his guitar straight from the Marshal (not the FOH) and he played it like ‘a ringing bell’. ‘Strange Imagination’, ‘Heartstarter’, ‘Mornin Good Mornin’, ‘Gonna See My Baby’, and then the meanest sounding riff of ‘Guitar Band’ cut the air as KB and Phil drove that song to new heights. KB looked like he was havin’ a lot of fun, he played so well and obviously felt happy to be paying this tribute to Stevie.

Russell Morris up next. Apparently not feeling 100% but it certainly didn’t show as he soared thru classics ‘Hush’, ‘Wings of an Eagle’, ‘Sweet Sweet Love’, ‘Baby Blue’, ‘Real Thing’ and ‘Good Times’. What a unique voice…plenty of classic rock moments with the interplay between Russ, KB and Phil.

Suddenly the riff of ‘I’ll Make You Happy’ kicked in and before you knew Stevie almost ran across the stage to the roar of the crowd and it was away. I’d talked at length with Stevie a couple of weeks ago and he claimed he wasn’t fully up to match condition so there would be no backflips but he went close with the karate movements, chops and kicks. His face was animated and he kept breaking into huge smiles at his bandmates. ‘Sorry’ followed with Stevie still on his feet and looking and sounding good. Then ‘Wedding Ring’ with the backing singers working overtime brought the sweat out onto his face…Stevie may not be in match condition but he put more into those 3 songs than some bands put into a full set. OK its time to hid my face as the opening bars of ‘Evie’ sounded…I can’t help it I always have a bawl when I hear this lately…some simple blue lighting bathed Stevie as he sang this in a voice that showed his pain but yet in some ways added to the feeling of the song. And then it was over…far too soon but I think that everyone in the audience understood just how much Stevie had put into both shows…especially the Saturday night so we were content with a raucous encore of ‘She’s So Fine’.

It was truly a night of Rock n Roll history. When I interviewed Stevie prior to the concert I asked him what he would do when this ‘last performance’ was over and with that trademark twinkle in his eye he replied that he might find an old orange box and crawl up under it and sleep. From the smile on his face at the finale of the show I somehow doubt we’ve seen the last of Little Stevie Wright.

Stevie, take a bow and be very proud…you done good.


Tony Jaggers


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