Anyone rolling up to Bernie Marsden’s current round of shows anticipating him weighing into the likes of ‘Fool For Your Loving’ with a four or five piece band should recalibrate their expectations. This could be billed as ‘An Audience With Bernie Marsden’, as the former Whitesnake man, ably assisted by Jim Kirkpatrick on guitar, harp and a share of vocals, delivers a largely acoustic set of songs interspersed with stories and audience Q&A.
Avuncular and affable are adjectives that could have been coined for Marsden. He’s self-deprecating about his roly-poly shape and his aged dad’s lack of trust in him to change a plug, but less self-effacing about his guitar-playing and writing ability and the quality of the classic Marsden/Moody Whitesnake line-up – and rightly so.
|Bernie Marsden - a talented little sod|
He eases into things with ‘Linin’ Track’, a field holler inspired blues that also opens his latest album Shine, and follows up with ‘Till The Day I Die’, which he points out is a David Coverdale composition – throughout the evening he’s as happy playing others’ songs as his own. And it’s a never-released Rory Gallagher track, ‘Wheels Within Wheels’ that provides one of the first highlights, with Kirkpatrick’s vocal hinting at Rory’s singing style and a measured, tasteful solo from Marsden.
‘Time Is Right For Love’ is hauled out from the nether regions of Whitesnake’s first album, Trouble, a song that Marsden says was dismissed by the whole band after one outing. But he’s right to suggest that it’s an unfairly overlooked little gem, which in this light but warm incarnation feels like Bernie is channelling his inner Van Morrison. It’s a good example of how songs can realise their potential in different styles. He introduces ‘Is This Love’ with a tongue in cheek suggestion that Coverdale should have given him a writing credit for it. Like Robben Ford, say, Marsden has a light voice that lacks the oomph and personality of truly great singers, but he’s tuneful and has a decent spoonful of soul, and not for the last time delivers a vocal that probably does the song more justice than ol’ DC could do these days.
He takes the piss out of some of Coverdale’s pretensions in the way only a mate could, doing a fair imitation of his Redcar-gone-AWOL accent, but at the same time gives him credit where it’s due. Peter Green’s monosyllabic chat is similarly mimicked in the intro to ‘Dragonfy’, an old Fleetwood Mac song penned by Danny Kirwan and covered by Marsden on Shine – Green agreed to collaborate on the song but then no more was heard from him for months. It’s another standout though, as Marsden demonstrates a lovely tone and produces a wonderfully relaxed solo very much in the spirit of Green.
He plays ‘Dragonfly’ on a twin-neck electric, having already made use of its 12-string option in the service of ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry No More Today’ – again, acknowledging that the song came from Micky Moody rather than himself. Nevertheless, his playing highlights the lightly ringing chords to which the song owes much of his appeal.
A spare, earthy acoustic blues heralds the closing stretch, in which Marsden comments on the explosive success of ‘Here I Go Again’ in the years since he left Whitesnake. Interestingly, in this twin acoustic rendition, with Jim Kirkpatrick supplying harmonies, the song sounds like something that could easily have been recorded by the Eagles rather than going global in the heavily-coiffed 1987 version of David Coverdale’s outfit.
Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s ‘Ain’t No Love (In The Heart Of The City)’ is a temptation for a soulful singalong, before Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ brings the night to a rousing end. Marsden introduces it by recalling how he was bluntly informed by Peter Green that he was playing the riff wrong. Not an observation that would often be made of Bernie Marsden, I imagine. He is, as Jon Lord apparently put it, “a talented little sod”.