Robert Plant and Saving Grace Middlesbrough Town Hall 25 April 2022

SAVING GRACE TIXMy head is still reeling with the music and sounds from last night. And the concert raised so many questions for me. Why is the rock legend, rock god, who is Robert Plant playing small venues such as Middlesbrough Town Hall and not singing any Led Zeppelin songs? After all he could reform Led Zeppelin, as many promoters and ex-bandmate Jimmy Page would apparently like him to do, and earn megabucks. Yet he chooses not to. And why do so many people turn out to see Robert Plant sing with a relatively unknown female vocalist, Suzi Dian (who has an exquisite voice by the way), and perform a set of mostly obscure songs which the majority of the audience would not be familiar with? Yet why did I come away from the concert feeling so fulfilled, elated and exhilarated?

It is some years since I have been to Middlesbrough Town Hall. The last time I was there was to see Morrissey with my daughter, Laura. I wondered how I would get in to the venue in a wheelchair. I need not have worried. No longer is there a requirement to walk up a large flight of stairs to take you into the venue. They have built a new accessible entrance around the corner which took me to a lift and upstairs into the, very familiar, main hall; a lovely old panelled building in which I have seen many acts over the years including Siouxsie and the Banshees, AC/DC, Van Morrison, Procol Harem, the Hollies and too many more to list (or remember). Lisa my carer and I were led to our seats close to the stage. I was seated at the end of the role, a little squashed, but with an excellent view of the stage. First up was singer-songwriter Scott Matthews who opened the proceedings with a set of fine tunes which warmed up the crowd well. Following a short interval, during which I chatted to an old friend and colleague and had a lovely cool pint of Guinness, Saving Grace took to the stage.

saveing graceSaving Grace is very much a band. Of course people had turned out to see the main man, Robert Plant. But Robert is simply a singer in the band along with Suzi. The rest of Saving Grace comprises two guitarists and a percussionist; all excellent musicians in their own right and also providing some backing vocals. Lisa mentioned that the main hall may have been a church in earlier days (I must check this out). It certainly has stained glass windows on one side and a large church – like organ behind the stage. Tonight it certainly became “a church” in which we all enjoyed a spiritual and soulful journey led by a man who has explored spiritual themes throughout his career; “Stairway to Heaven” being one obvious example. The set comprised songs which Robert, unashamedly, has chosen because they have influenced him and touched him over the years. So there were the traditional such as “The Cuckoo” and “Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down”, old blues songs and classic progressive/psychedelic tracks including “It’s a Beautiful Day Today” by Moby Grape and (one of my all-time favourite songs) “Season of the Witch” by Robert’s old friend Donovan. The stage setup was quite basic with a simple curtain backdrop naming the band and unobtrusive lighting. But the music was exquisite, challenging, soulful and beautiful. Robert shared the vocals with Suzi and, in many cases, took us through the story of the song and what it meant to him. He even forgot which song he was introducing at one point and Suzi came over and whispered in his ear; tactfully correcting his mistake. There were references to performing at Redcar Jazz Club in 1966 with Long John Baldry. Many of the audience clapped, showing their age! “Season of the Witch “, led by Suzi, transformed into “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield at one point; another reference point to Robert’s roots. The final song was an old Richard and Linda Thompson track, again taking us back to the late 60s/early 70s. The lights went up to signify the end of the show. But the crowd weren’t ready to leave just yet. Everyone stood up and cheered until the band returned.

SAVING GRACE 2Oh, and I must not forget that they sang a couple of songs by new American band Low. Robert spoke highly of them; another thing to check out. I learned lots of things last night. The final song was performed a cappella with the band all coming together at the front, arms entwined, singing the beautiful “And We Bid You Good Night”. Robert playfully said “see you soon at Kirklevington country club”. For some moments I believed this to be serious. But then I don’t think the wonderful venue that was referred to as “the Kirk”, and was 10 miles or so south of Middlesbrough, exists any more. Of course, Robert played there with his band the Honeydrippers many years ago. We wandered out into the cool dark Middlesbrough night, everyone chatting and looking at each other, each of us knowing we had just had the privilege of experiencing something very special and unique. The 45 minute taxi ride flew over and I was soon safely back home.

Returning to my questions which I can now partly answer. Why is Robert playing intimate venues with a set of semi-obscure songs? The answer lies in the man that is Robert Plant. He sings because he wants to and he has to; singing lies deep within his soul. And he chooses to share with us some of the songs which are important to him, hoping in doing so that we will enjoy the concert experience and learn a little more about the man and his music. And why do we all turn out to see Robert Plant? Because somewhere over the years his music has touched each and everyone of us in a different place, and a different time. For me it lies in important memories of seeing Led Zeppelin in 1971 at Newcastle City Hall and Sunderland Locarno; in Earls Court in 1975; Knebworth in 1979; more recently at the O2 Arena and solo many other times. There is a magical quality about Robert Plant. Long may he invite us to share evenings of his songs and memories.

Many thanks to Ned my taxidriver, Lisa for accompanying me to the concert, and Chris for helping me back into bed. And thanks once more to Robert Plant for sharing some of his songs, his memories and his soul with me; one more time.

Setlist (something like this, with several missed out!):

Angel Dance; The Cuckoo; I Don’t Wanna Hear It; Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down; Everybody’s Song; It’s a Beautiful Day Today; Monkey;  As I Roved Out; Too Far From You; Chevrolet; Season of the Witch, For What Its Worth; House of Cards.

Encore: Down To the Sea; And We Bid You Goodnight

 

12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by David Pallant on April 26, 2022 at 2:07 pm

    Sounds like a really great night. I really enjoy your gig reviews, you have excellent musical taste if I may be so bold. Keep rockin’ & rollin’

    Reply

    • Posted by vintagerock on April 26, 2022 at 5:28 pm

      Thanks David. Thanks for your support and I am pleased that you enjoy my reviews best wishes Peter

      Reply

  2. Think I suffered temporary hearing loss at Middlesbrough Town Hall crypt courtesy of Lemmy & Co.

    Reply

    • Posted by vintagerock on April 26, 2022 at 5:26 pm

      Sounds great Harry! I think I could have been at the same gig! I saw a lot of great gigs in the crypt! Happy days Peter

      Reply

  3. Posted by David Dennis on April 26, 2022 at 6:45 pm

    Great review. When you asked why he sings the type of music he does now, I had the answer but you answered it yourself. Great artist, and sings beautifully with a female singer. Great stuff. And I was at Earls Court in 1975 … that was pretty damn good too!

    Reply

    • Posted by vintagerock on April 27, 2022 at 11:38 am

      Thanks David for your support. I am pleased that you enjoyed my review. Robert Plant is one of my all-time heroes. I simply love the guy. Singing is in his soul. I still can’t get over how much I enjoyed the concert. Yes Earls Court was a wonderful experience. Happy days Peter

      Reply

  4. Posted by John Moses on April 28, 2022 at 9:30 am

    Hi Peter,

    Really great review – I now wish I had been there! Sadly the Kirk is no more – it is now a small housing estate! But the Crown Hotel which was next door is still going and supports (ed) gigs by the odd local singer/guitarist (at least up until the pandemic).

    Best wishes,

    John

    Reply

    • Posted by vintagerock on April 28, 2022 at 11:43 am

      Many thanks John yes it was really good. We could have met there! I thought he was joking about the Kirk. I went there a couple of times and have fond memories of the place. Glad you enjoyed my review. Happy days Peter

      Reply

  5. Posted by Peter Maggiore on April 29, 2022 at 9:25 am

    Great review. As always we can reminisce of our idols, and its great that Percy likes to stay fresh. When he does cover the Led Zep catalogue these days, which he chose not to this time round, he puts a different slant on rather than going through the motions. Shame I missed out due to being on holiday abroad. Keep well Pete

    Reply

  6. Posted by Tony Grey on May 2, 2022 at 8:48 pm

    I was fortunate enough to see Robert with The Priory of Brion at Derby Assembly Rooms back in 2000. The Assembly Rooms are about the size of the City Hall, but he wasn’t playing the main hall, but The Darwin Suite a small room off the main hall which holds about 250 -300 standing.
    The band, I believe were two music tutors from Kenilworth college & two students, but I must say they were excellent musicians & very tight.
    Robert was outstanding, he could easily have filled the main hall twice over, but clearly enjoyed the intimate atmosphere, a superb showman with an amazing voice, also played a mean harmonica & some rhythm guitar on a couple of tracks.
    The band were supported by a group of North African musicians, who were very different, but knowing Roberts interest in world music, not unsurprising.
    I feel privileged to have seen a genuine superstar in such an intimate environment, & lucky enough to have been right at the front too.

    Reply

    • Posted by vintagerock on May 3, 2022 at 12:47 pm

      Hi Tony. Many thanks for sharing your memories. I also saw Robert in Priory of Brion at Whitley Bay Dome, I assume on the same tour. You will find a review on my blog. The Dome was part of a funfair and for a few years became a music venue. It is now a restaurant. It was also a very small venue. The performance was similar to the one I witnessed at Middlesbrough the other night in that Robert sang a mixture of songs which had influenced him. I recall him doing an excellent version of the Youngblood’s Darkness Darkness and, as he did the other night, Donovan’s Season of the Witch. The guy is pure magic. Long may he share his songs with us. Happy days Peter

      Reply

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