Early Saturday afternoon, and the Corn Exchange is already busy. During the following hours around 800 fans will fill the place up for the inaugural Edinburgh Blues’N’Rock Festival – a successful first outing, which will hopefully be built on in years to come.
So to begin at – well, the middle, at around 6pm as the Bernie Marsden Band take the stage. Right away Bernie and co set about delivering the goods to an audience whose appetite has been whetted by the four acts that shaped the afternoon. Kicking off with ‘Linin’ Track’ from his 2014 album Shine, with its opening gospel feel slipping into something more heavy, and sidekick Jim Kirkpatrick weighing in with spot on slide guitar, Bernie swiftly has a crowd gathering at the front of the stage.
|Bernie Marsden - gertcha!
They limber up a bit more with the Santana-ish instrumental ‘Strictly Latino’, with locked in guitar harmonies between Marsden and Kirkpatrick, before getting down to business with a selection of Marsden solo efforts, blues classics, and the big hits from his heyday with the pre-1987 (and best) formulations of Whitesnake.
Albert King’s oft-covered ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ is a decent showcase for Marsden’s vocals. He may not have the resonance or the range to be a top-drawer blues bawler, but then neither did Albert King. He’s earthy enough, with strong phrasing, and has developed a bit of a blues growl into the bargain. On this, Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’, and ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’ – popularised by Howlin’ Wolf, but going way back to the Mississippi Sheiks and probably beyond – it’s evident that Marsden is as familiar with such blues mainstays as he is with his own backyard.
Shine also supplies ‘Kinda Wish You Would’, a short and sweet slice of boogie that works as a neat curtain-raiser to the hits Marsden contributed to Whitesnake.
Marsden can’t quite emulate David Coverdale’s vocal on ‘Fool For Your Loving’, but it really doesn’t matter. It’s a classic riff from a musician who really is in the major league. ‘Ain’t No Love (In The Heart Of The City)’ is a truncated version of the Bobby Bland original because, as Marsden has famously admitted, he overlooked a verse when he taught it to his Whitesnake bandmates. But it’s still a crowd-pleaser, and he supplements it with a chunk of ‘Thrill Is Gone’ for good measure.
‘Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues’ is one of my all-time favourite blues-rock tracks, and after a teasing intro it lives up to that billing here. If I have one regret, it’s that it isn’t given its own moment of acclaim, but slides into ‘Here I Go Again’. Marsden knows how to work the crowd with it, as they bawl out the chorus, and he adds an upbeat, high revving coda to round it out.
‘Walkin’ By Myself’, in the manner of Marsden’s old pal Gary Moore, rounds out proceedings. With old Whitesnake compadre Neil Murray on bass (a chant of “One Neil Murray" starts up at one point) and Micky Butler on drums Marsden has a suitably substantial rhythm section, and Jim Kirkpatrick’s guitar and backing vocal contributions suggest that Bernie has also found a foil to rival Micky Moody. The only thing that’s missing is the gutsy sound of a Hammond B3 organ – but who could step into those shoes?
More reviews from the Edinburgh Blues’N’Rock Festival to follow . . . !