Tony McPhee’s Blues Band – Split Part II: Live in Bremen 1982
8 songs – 57 minutes
The leader of The Groundhogs, one of the most important groups in the history of British music, guitarist/vocalist Tony McPhee and his bandmates began their careers by touring Europe with Champion Jack Dupree and John Lee Hooker in the mid-‘60s before becoming founding fathers of blues-rock and more.
A band that was created in 1963 and still works today, they started out as a four-piece unit in 1963 and made their recording debut five years later with the LP, Scratching the Surface. While the Rolling Stones – with whom they toured — and most of their contemporaries plunged deep into the blues in the ‘70s, McPhee’s unit went in an entirely different direction entirely.
After a handful of successful albums, they stripped down to a three-piece and dove head-first into blues-laced rock and psychedelia and eventually laying the groundwork for grunge as Tony incorporated distortion and other tricks by tinkering with his amplification. This super-rare collection was recorded during one of the multiple break-ups the band’s experienced in its long history. The “blues band” here is in the trio format McPhee frequently turned to when The Groundhogs were on hiatus.
This set was captured by Radio Bremen at Die Schauburg concert hall in the West German city on Oct. 25, 1982 – seven years prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Tony’s backed by regular Groundhogs percussionist Mick Kirton who drives the bottom beside bassist Steve Towner.
A version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Shake for Me” opens the action at breakneck speed thanks to Kirton’s rapid-fire drumbeat and remains fairly faithful to the original, albeit with powerful fretwork by McPhee that’s on the extreme rock side of blues. McPhee reprises “Soldier” next, a tune he first recorded with his other band in 1970. Psychedelic overtones kick in after a spoken intro as he warns a World War I GI to affix his bayonet and stand firm against the 8,000 invaders who’ll soon overwhelm his position.
The percussive “Light My Light” opens with distorted, minor-key guitar runs and drives steadily for more than seven minutes as the singer pleas for relief from the darkness that surrounds him before “Eccentric Man” keeps the heat on with a heaping helping of grunge as he advises folks to call him by the title, but insists that he doesn’t believe the moniker to be true.
“Garden” – which first appeared on The Groundhogs’ Thank Christ for the Bomb LP – serves up another five minutes plus of psychedelia before giving way to the rocker, “Mistreated.” It explodes out of the gate before settling down and reflects about what the singer’s done wrong after a relationship’s gone bad.
The title tune, “Split (Part 2),” is up next, taking its title from the 1971 album of the same name — a mind-altering offering recorded during what proved to be McPhee’s ill-fated, sole experimentation with hard drugs. Let’s just say that the follow-up, like the original, is a trip. The album closes with a loping 14-minute jam of “Cherry Red” – not the Big Joe Turner classic, but another tune from McPhee’s songbook.
If you’re a fan of blues-rock, this time capsule will take you to territory you’ve probably never explored before. If you’re a mainstream blues fan, however, be forewarned: You’ll need a heaping helping of LSD to make this one enjoyable.