Where: The Half Moon, Putney, London
When: December 24th 2017
Mud. Now there’s a name to conjure with. It’s only a few days since I was writing about another band from the Chinn / Chapman stable of the Seventies and now surprisingly I get to turn my attention to a second. I say surprisingly because Mud (in this format) have only played a handful gigs since their heyday. For the band this evening are led by original members, Rob Davis on lead guitar and Ray Stiles on bass and vocals.
The story of Mud’s line-up history is a good deal less convoluted than that of Sweet although both sadly have two deceased members. Mud from their conception were Davis and Stiles accompanied by lead vocalist, Les Gray and drummer, Dave Mount – accompanied by an occasional keyboardist. In 1978, Les, who like Brian Connolly was very much the visual and recognisable part of his band, left for a solo career and a spot in the revival of Jack Good’s “Oh Boy”. The band continued, very briefly, for a single, with Margo Buchanan on lead vocals. Neither Gray or his former bandmates achieved much and after a brief recording studio reunion, Gray took over the name and performed as Les Gray’s Mud until his death in 2004.
Gray’s sad passing left a sad musical situation where his backing band continued to perform at nostalgia shows and festivals as “Mud II”. This deeply unsatisfactory situation has been improved by Davis and Stiles decision to get out and about, occasionally, as Mud and tonight in Putney was just one of those occasions.
Now without Les Gray, Mud’s chief need is for a lead vocalist and bassist Ray Stiles takes up that role without much difficulty. He has been touring for many years as part of the Hollies and so neither his vocals or bass-playing are rusty even if the role of leader doesn’t quite come naturally to him.
Rob Davis cuts a very different image than he did in the decade of Mud’s prominence but he proves himself as an excellent lead guitarist.
The band is rounded out by long-standing industry professional, most notably featuring ex-Glitter band drummer Pete Phipps on the kit. Also along for the ride on keyboards is Stiles’ Hollies band-mate, Ian Parker.
One of the peculiar things about tonight, to the casual observer, is the nature of the support band, Vambo – who cast themselves much closer to Led Zeppelin than the glam side of the 70s sound, one of the chief exponents of which they are supporting. But like with most things in life there is a logical explanation. Their charismatic frontman is Jack STILES – son of Ray who will step up to the mic in Mud’s mid-set to add lead voice to “Cut Across Shorty” and “Johnny B. Goode”.
The rest of the set is made up of Mud’s big hits (leaving aside only “Lean on Me” and “Show Me You’re a Woman – oh, and the minor hit, “One Night” which judging by the written setlist looks like it was scratched at the last minute).
Now there is no good pretending that Mud don’t sound like a band who only play together a couple of times a year and that Mr Stiles doesn’t occasionally stumble over the lyrics or get them in the wrong verse but this is Christmas Eve and there is very few places better to be than at a show with the band who at their peak were one of the ultimate good time bands and are not far away from that now. Also there is no point in not mentioning that Mount and Gray, in particular, are not missed but it was an awful long time ago that Les Gray was at the height of his game and, anyway, wishes will not bring them back.
The show opened with “L’L’ Lucy” and then took us on a fairground ride of all the hits of the early and mid-70s. The early hits came early on with Stiles making it clear that he preferred “Crazy” to “Hypnosis”. Sandwiched between them was an exuberant rendition of “Dyna-Mite” with some great guitar work. Ray kept up a commentary throughout the set and next explained that “The Secrets That You Keep” was his favourite of all the Mud songs and one of mine too. The harmonies were a little patchy but everything else was just so and besides you forgive a lot on Christmas Eve.
“Shake it Down” was quite a departure for Mud at the time and perhaps inspired Rob Davis in all those dance records he wrote in later years. How much of a departure it was is perhaps shown in the fact that it was one of the few numbers that those in front of the stage don’t know all the words to.
The number one hit “Oh Boy” of Buddy Holly vintage is followed by “Moonshine Sally” one of the earliest songs Mud recorded for RAK, albeit one which was held back for release until after the band were leaving the label (and the Chinn-Chapman stable) for new pastures some three or four years later. Then we have the aforementioned minor hit “…Shorty” and the album track “…Goode” with Jack Stiles having to crib from a lyric sheet to remember the words – emphasising the rough and ready nature of the whole night.
The lyrics are all over the place during “Rocket” but that is the last minor faux pas before a straight run for home which begins with “The Cat Crept in”.
Christmas Eve can’t be better served than with the pairing of seasonal sadness (kind of) of “Lonely this Christmas” and the joyous nonsense of “Tiger Feet”. Mud handle these with aplomb and the audience sings their collective hearts out.
Well, a great night out and where it was a little frayed around the edges that should only prove an invitation for Messrs Stiles and Davis to get out more often. I’m guessing this crowd will be there for more.