Live Zone

Average White Band: Birmingham Town Hall, 27th April 2024



Who says nostalgia ain’t what it used to be? We have funk, soul and r&b royalty in the house tonight for a glorious stroll down memory lane with the legendary Average White Band [aka AWB] on a final trek around the UK before they retire.

Birmingham’s classical-style and impressive Grade II listed town hall – which opened in 1834 and was extensively renovated between 2002 and 2007 – is the second night of the 17-date UK leg of AWB’s “A Funk Finale – Farewell Tour 2024”, which opened in Manchester on Friday.

They play The Royal Albert Hall, London on 2nd May with guests Kokomo, and close the UK leg in Holmfirth, Yorkshire 18th May, before a spring tour across the USA. Then they call it a day after an amazing 52-year career peppered with timeless hits, classic albums and global touring.

One of the most sampled bands in history by the likes of Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, T.L.C., Ice Cube, Erik B & Rakim, A Tribe called Quest and many more.

Rocky Bryant

The group – now fronted by former Tower Of Power singer Brent Carter – formed in London in 1972, the six-piece band somewhat incongruously, given their Scottish roots, took the influences of their r&b heroes such as Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Stevie Wonder, and developed their own authentic sound.

The group’s consistently accomplished song-writing helped them to achieve several gold and platinum-selling albums and multiple Grammy nominations with the legendary Atlantic Records.

“Onnie” McIntyre, Rob Aries, Rocky Bryant, Brent Carter and Alan Gorrie

In fact, it was 50 years ago “this week”, that the young lads from Scotland and London ended up in Miami to record for famed record label Atlantic, founding member Alan Gorrie recounted to the Birmingham audience. Recalling the grotty basement in Chelsea where they rehearsed, and then being stood watching Aretha Franklin nail a vocal in the studio in Miami, surrounded by legendary producers Arif Marden, Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler.

Alan recalls: “The Queen of Soul is done and a voice booms out: ‘You are next’ and they are looking at us.’ ” The cue for Alan and his mates to tremble and for the nerves to kick in.

Today two founding members in the ranks: Bassist, guitarist, and co-lead vocalist Alan Gorrie, and guitarist and vocalist Owen “Onnie” McIntyre. Brent Carter on co-lead vocal duties. Rob Aries on keyboards and on bass when Alan plays guitar.

Rocky Bryant on drums – [original AWB drummer Robbie McIntosh died of an accidental drugs overdose at an L.A. party in September 1974, Steve Ferrone then joined on drums] – and the fantastic two-piece horn section of Fred Vigdor (tenor) and Cliff Lyons (alto), who also both sing harmony vocals.

The so-called Dundee Horns were the original AWB horn section: Roger Ball and Malcolm “Molly” Duncan [Molly died in 2019] – pretty much The UK’s Brecker Brothers. But the sax’ guys in the band today really are something special at this West Midlands’ gig. Their faultless playing put me in mind of sax heavyweights David Sanborn, Tom Scott and Clarence Clemens, and the Brecker Brothers. The scorching solos were utterly stunning.

Alan Gorrie, Fred Vigdor and Cliff Lyons

No support. An early start at 7.30pm. AWB fans were then treated to a bumper 20-song evening; split into two sets: eight songs in the hour-long first set, and 10 songs in the 65 minute second set, including the two-song encore – with a half hour interval to grab a drink.

They trawled their back catalogue of many of their 13 albums, and most of the big hits; some deep cuts included, especially in the first hour.  They kicked off with “I Just Can’t Give You Up”, and then the obscure “The Jugglers”, which featured a drum solo from Rocky Bryant – unusually early for a solo of any kind in a set. Third up “This World Has Music” before the first banger, “You Got It” and they nailed the groove for sure. Nice to hear “Keepin’ It To Myself”, and even nicer to hear the wonderful often sampled “Person To Person”.

Four more to end the first set, Alan Gorrie telling us the instrumental “McEwan’s Export” was named after the cans of beer they had in the rehearsal room back in the day, when they first formed, when they were stuck for a title.

“T.L.C.” and “Just Want To Love You Tonight” followed the instrumental, before the fabulous cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Work To Do”.  Singer Brent Carter telling the circa 900 fans they could and should get up and dance – even though this was an all-seated concert.

Most did not need telling twice, and even up in ‘the Gods’ and on the balconies, folk were up and shaking a tailfeather. Some couples even smooching in the aisles to the love song ballads. Ahhh.

Set # two began on a high: “When Will You Be Mine”. Such a great song, and the interweaving of the two guitar parts between Onnie and Alan; like a tapestry of funk ; was a joy to hear and made me realise how clever and intricate that arrangement is. From the 1979 AWB album “Feel No Fret” – the band’s seventh LP.  Alan Gorrie wrote the song.

Big sing-a-long time for the Burt Bacarach classic “Walk On By”, and some lovely falsetto between Brent and Alan. Of course, a huge hit for Dionne Warwick who will be at the town hall’s sister venue Symphony Hall on 11th May.

Everyone is up and shaking their bits for the next one: the magnificent title track of their 1975 gold-certified album “Cut The Cake”, # one in the US r&b chart, which tonight sounded funking fantastic.

“A Love Of Your Own” was a great moment of the night; original member Hamish Stuart and Ned Doheny wrote the song, a stunning ballad and for me, the best vocals of the set so far. Alan and Brent’s falsetto just a perfect blend – the track taken from the June 1976 AWB album “Soul Searching”. New Yorker Brent Carter’s falsetto across this concert was very much in the mould of Marvin Gaye. [That is a big compliment.]

Loud cheers at the town hall when Alan Gorrie recalls previous AWB gigs at JBs in Dudley and Ronnie Scott’s in the city’s Broad Street; both venues long gone.

“Watcha Gonna Do For Me” sounding super, a song Chaka Khan covered with her band Rufus.  “A lovely version of AWB’s soulful 1974 hit “Atlantic Avenue”, penned by original members Hamish Stuart and Robbie McIntosh and one of the band’s most popular songs.  “Queen Of My Soul” precedes the final song of the main set, a cover of The Crusaders’ “Put It Where You Want It”, after which the boys leave the stage to roars of “more…” and they return shortly after for the brace of encore numbers.

Starting with the one everyone has waited for tonight, “Let’s Go Round Again”, with the seven AWB members getting circa 900 backing singers for assistance – while Brent Carter grins broadly and wanders the stage filming the sing-a-long and boogieing fans lifting the roof.

He continues shooting footage for the final song of the set, the classic instrumental “Pick Up The Pieces”, sounding superb – a lot of that is courtesy of these two excellent horn players Fred Vigdor and Cliff Lyons, who were on fire all night.

Rocky Bryant and Brent Carter

Speaking before the farewell tour, founding member Alan Gorrie said, “AWB has been our life for the last 50-plus years and has brought unbelievable highs – and some lows – to us throughout that tumultuous half-century, touring the globe and seeing the millions of happy and friendly faces that have greeted us wherever we have performed.

“That it’s finally coming to an end is going to mean a highly emotional tour… but one which will mean we bow out at the top level, thanks in great part to the wonderful five American ‘soul brothers’ who have been our band members for the last many years, and who are some of the best soloists and singers you could find on the planet”.

Onnie McIntyre added: “Our guys never phone it in, they bring it all every night. The tour will be our way of saying goodbye and thank you to all the people who have supported us over the years.

“No doubt the unbelievable success of ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ and other Grammy-nominated classics helped get us there. We bucked our Scottish roots, took our cues from Marvin Gaye, Al Green and James Brown, and took ‘coals to Newcastle’ when we broke into the US and a huge multi-racial following there, to add to our loyal UK fans.

“As a final tour of the United Kingdom, this will be a joyous (but bittersweet) trip through our roots, our history and our love affair with all of the UK since 1972, when we first stuck our toes in the waters of home-spun Soul and r&b…Taking it to the rest of the world and to success we could hardly have imagined back then.”

A brilliant night of vintage soul and r&b and many classics that sound as fresh today as they did way back in the day. But as Onnie said, a bittersweet evening indeed, realising this iconic band will be no more after their imminent US shows.

Last word: Alan (74) and Onnie (79), you’ve more than earned your retirement chaps. A very fond farewell and thankyou for the music – part of the soundtrack to many, many, many lives. Rest assured; that music will live on…


Photos: Jason Sheldon

Words: Steve Best



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