Jeff Beck @ The Royal Albert Hall: 1983 v 2004

Legendary producer/engineer Glyn Johns has worked with many of the biggies (The Beatles, Led Zep, The Stones, The Who), but arguably his most important task was putting together the Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS) concerts on Ronnie Lane’s behalf.

For the London iteration – taking place at the Royal Albert Hall on 20th September 1983 – Johns opened his address book and assembled a tremendous lineup of Brit greats: Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood, John Paul Jones, Andy Fairweather-Low, Bill Wyman, Kenney Jones, Charlie Watts.

The whole concert is worth watching and occasionally superb (check out Clapton’s versions of ‘Lay Down Sally’ and ‘Cocaine’), but Beck’s set is particularly fascinating. It was three years since his (superb) last studio album There And Back and he hadn’t played a major gig for almost that long. A clearly under-rehearsed band did their best with the RAH’s famously dodgy ‘rock’ sound (despite Beck’s gorgeous stereo delay, if you’re listening on headphones/speakers), not helped by drummer Simon Phillips being set up about 20 yards behind the rest of the group!

But it’s a great success, mainly through the musicians’ sheer force of will and Beck’s outrageous playing (check out his solo on ‘Led Boots’). The Tony Hymas/Fernando Sanders/Phillips rhythm section is terrific, and there’s even a funny version of ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ featuring Beck’s reluctant vocals alongside Winwood and Fairthweather-Low.

Just over 20 years later, on 24th June 2004, Beck was back at the Albert Hall for his 60th birthday gig, and I had a good seat. His live outings were much more common at this point; recently he’d played Hyde Park and also celebrated 40 years in the music biz at the Royal Festival Hall with John McLaughlin and The White Stripes.

But this concert was particularly notable for featuring enigmatic keyboard genius Jan Hammer, one-time Mahavishnu member and chief collaborator with Beck on Wired and There And Back. Making up the numbers were the phenomenal Mondesir brothers: Mike on bass, Mark on drums.

Beck hardly seemed to have aged. Wearing black jeans and black vest, he stalked the stage like a born showman, exchanging grins and winks with Hammer, occasionally punching the air to emphasise a musical flourish. However, things started a little uncertainly; ‘Freeway Jam’ and ‘Star Cycle seemed leaden. But by the time Beck roared into ‘Big Block’, the energy level of the band had gone up two or three notches.

Old favourites ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’, ‘Where Were You’ and ‘Blue Wind’ seemed to mean little to the Albert Hall audience but the long-hairs reacted more positively to Beck’s most recent work from albums like You Had It Coming and Who Else?. There were some unintentionally amusing Tap-esque moments too, like the big-screen footage of Jeff’s souped-up hot rods during ‘Big Block’ and the cloud of dry ice which almost engulfed him during ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’.

For the encore, Ronnie Wood sauntered on to play a charmingly ramshackle version of The Meters’ ‘Cissy Strut‘. Two old rockers from Surrey playing a funky New Orleans anthem? That’s the majesty of fusion!

So, while they’re still around, let’s cherish El Becko and the best of British. (And I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve featured Jeff – one of my all-time musical heroes – on this website. Better late than never, I suppose…)

6 thoughts on “Jeff Beck @ The Royal Albert Hall: 1983 v 2004

  1. Thanks for a great and interesting piece on one of the most consummate guitarists we have been blessed to hear. His touch, timing, tone and guitar techniques are astonishing. Rock, funk, Heavy Metal, Jazz, even throwaway pop that he clearly despises, is there anything that Jeff Beck cannot play?

    But, I must point out that the second video you have posted may be ‘Block Party’. But it’s not the one featuring Jan Hammer and the Mondesir Brothers which is a pity as I would have like to have seen that. Instead it’s Beck’s fabulous quartet with Vinnie Colaiuta, Tal Wilkenfeld and Jason Rebello, now no more since Wilkenfeld has decided to go off and try and be a pop star. It’s a great video for all that – just watch the interaction between the musicians. But it’s not quite the contrast that your piece is about.

    I was hoping to see Jeff Beck for the first time in Cardiff this May until a virus put it all on hold. I will will bide my time and keep my fingers crossed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Paul, thanks for the kind words and very much agree re. Jeff’s mastery across all genres. I hope you get to see him in May. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed, even if he seems to have gone a lot more ‘pop’ over the last decade! Apart from the Albert Hall 2004 gig, I saw him at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1989 with Terry Bozzio/Tony Hymas – one of the loudest gigs I’ve ever seen…

      Yes, I hoped to add some footage of the 2004 gig but the stuff I found on YouTube really wasn’t up to scratch sound-wise. So I thought I’d include that ‘Crossroads’ fest footage to illustrate ‘Big Block’ and Beck’s fantastic playing on it. I wish there was some decent footage of the Hammer/Mondesir band, because it has some outstanding moments.

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  2. I saw Jeff Beck at the Hammersmith Odeon back in 1980.Fantastic of course – Jimmy Page came onstage briefly and was surprisingly pretty underwhelming.My first time seeing Jeff was as a teenager in Toronto during the Blow by Blow era .Wow .Have seen him many times over the years here in Washington DC , including an unusual show with Brian Wilson (!) not too long ago. He was back here again 2 summers ago , and he still seemed ageless and engaged – one of my all-time favorite musicians and live performers. Hope we can see him again soon. Thanks for this piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for those great memories, Richard. Would love to have seen that Hammersmith show in 1980 – that’s probably my favourite Jeff era. I caught him at Hammersmith in 1989 with Hymas/Terry Bozzio – memorable, and probably the loudest gig I ever saw there! Did you see him in Toronto when he had that famous band with Bernard Purdie on drums, and played opposite McLaughlin/Mahavishnu?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Matt,
    If memory serves, in Toronto Bernard Purdie was on drums, Wilbur Bascombe was on bass, and Max Middleton was on keyboards.
    I saw the same 1989 band you did in Denver. Tery Bozzio was almost scary in his intensity.Stevie Ray Vaughn was the opener.
    The 1980 concert had Simon Phillips on drums,Mo Foster on bass, and Tony Hymas on keyboards.When they played Led Boots, and Star Cycle, the crowd went nuts.
    He’s had great players with him on every show I’ve seen, and the respect and admiration they have for his talent is apparent to me watching in the audience.
    By the way , I also loved your previous post about Prefab Sprout’s “Nightingales”.Beautiful record.
    I am going to have to read some of your earlier entries .
    Have a great one.

    Liked by 2 people

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