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Progressive Rock DVD/Video Reviews

Snowy White

Live From London DVD

Review by Bruce Stringer

This release of British blues legend Snowy White’s 1984 UK TV appearance on DVD provides unique insight into the live performance of a session guitar hero wrestling with pop stardom. It also serves as a historical document of which most of the world missed out on first time round. Recorded as part of the Live From London series on the 30th of November 1984, it was shown on television (and again – albeit edited – as part of Yorkshire Television’s late night music show, “Cue The Music”) and included performances of tracks from his White Flames and self-titled albums.

The first thing I noticed when I played the DVD was the inclusion of the track “You’re No Good” which, although recorded, was never broadcast due to time limitations. Disappointingly, an excellent interview that appeared on a replay was not included (but photos are supplied in the photo gallery section of the DVD). Live From London was scheduled for VHS release in the late 80’s / early 90’s but, if it was released, distribution outside of the UK seems to have been non-existent.

“The Water’s Edge / Stepping Stones” is the first track (though the cover fails to list the former) and is taken from White’s second solo release. The smooth atmospherics of the electric piano sounds and relaxed nature of “The Water’s Edge” is offset by the tension in Mr. White’s guitar sound from his ever-present ’56 Gold Top. Rhythm guitarist Winston Delandro plays second harmony in “Stepping Stones,” which features a cool 7/4 bass line from Japan’s finest, Kuma Harada. Richard Bailey (drummer on Jeff Beck’s Blow By Blow) plays percussive tom-tom patterns with intricacy.

The second track, “Broken Promises” (the B-side to the single “Peace On Earth”), launches with a nice guitar theme and, at times, verges on the jazz-pop doorstep. White’s incredible feel and artistry on the six-string really shine as the band are obviously warming up and breaking a sweat.

From the hugely successful White Flames album comes the single “Lucky Star,” which is a latin-esque Lee Ritenour style vehicle for White’s vocals and cool guitar. For those that do not know much about Snowy White, he is a laid back vocalist with a very British edge which can often be overlooked or seen as weak when it is actually moody and soft-spoken. According to Mr. White at a recent meeting, he believes the vocals from this particular performance were not as strong as he would have hoped, and it does appear that he struggles to hear himself in the mix. “Lucky Star” contains some lengthy keyboard soloing from Godfrey Wang and some great syncopation within the group.

Following a more traditional blues line, “For The Rest Of My Life” (also a B-side and live track for Snowy White’s next group, The Blues Agency) has a great, lengthy opening of Brit blues guitar angst and moves through various key changes before the singing begins. This is an excellent track for live performance as it can be elongated or shortened due to the band’s mood at the time. Being only the second of the vocal tracks, it seems as though White is still warming up those vocal chords. Probably one of hiss most overlooked blues numbers (as is “Straight On Ahead” – B-side to the “For You” 7”single), which deserves more attention from fans and serious blues connoisseurs alike. This version is great but is outdone by the red-hot ECT TV version, circa 1985-86.

“Bird Of Paradise,” the classic hit single that launched Snowy White from musical oblivion and into a household name in the UK, Europe, Japan and Australasia, is next. The song smacks of Peter Green-inspired British blues and is White at his best. Focusing on a D-Minor two-note, chordal riff, the dreamy atmosphere and the clean guitar sound are simply magic. No wonder Dutch airlines, KLM, recently utilized this track in their television advertisements! The two solo spots for Mr. White’s Gold Top are something to behold. He pulls notes from out of the blue and bends them with lyrical abandon, redefining the art and bringing the listener on a journey into a deep, blue, ageless sky on the wings of this emissary from Paradise.

“Cross Roads” (listed on the Australian LP as “At The Crossroads” and the generic UK release as “Crossroads”) follows. Not to be confused with the Robert Johnson song, “Cross Roads” begins on a simple G-major, A-minor pattern, so very 80’s but used in a more musical way. White’s vocals (and guitar) tell the tale before leading into a cool bridge riff and the main chorus (with Delandro on back-up vocals). The original acoustic guitar harmonies are played here in their electric glory, utilizing the dual guitars quite well, indeed. Mr. Delandro plays the solo with some interesting moments of slap-back echo guitar before returning to the harmony section, whereupon the band pulls back the curtain and breaks the song down, leading into “The Journey.”

"The Journey" - Continuing with material from White Flames, “The Journey” is an ethereal, moody minor-key composition that develops into a light stomp that gives the guys some more instrumental playtime. As the piece develops and moves through thematic changes the Gold Top remains constant in that it represents the listener as the passenger embarking on a roller coaster ride from the serenity of part one and the frenetic Latin energy of the second part. Richard Bailey lets loose on the skins during a brief drum solo, with Kuma not far behind. The lads belt out the syncopated changes with a climactic burst of melodic madness and tension building keyboards from Mr. Wang.

“The Answer” – a brilliant and slightly out-of-character, progressive rock piece – is next and is yet another example of Snowy White’s impressive compositional skills. This is one of my favourite tracks by any artist and includes some great synth / guitar interplay and off-time, structured solo lines. The introduction even includes a call and answer guitar / drum section! Sounding more like a rock version of Yes (or a pop version of 1970’s Rush), the band is on fire throughout “The Answer.” A middle section key change and syncopated arrangement provide a great springboard for Richard Bailey’s amazing drum solo (not so far removed from his performance on Jeff Beck’s “Scatterbrain”). The song is explosive and would be quite unachievable for non-seasoned professionals to perform.

“Chinese Burn” (from the Snowy White album) is an all-out Latin explosion of melodic jamming with Winston Delandro stealing the spotlight for a humourous wah-wah introduction. This instrumental track drives along at a fast pace and is in line with the concepts from “The Journey,” but a little more accessible in its lighter thematic approach. White lets loose with quick-fire, fluid motion and plays out his part of the 7:35 with bridge pick-up fatness. Mr. Bailey is at it again with another percussive solo and brings the band to the arrival of the piano keyboard solo (with a very 80’s synth-piano sound). Kuma’s bass pops and funks itself into oblivion with almost mind-boggling elasticity. Again, White’s leadership makes for great performances and drive, however it is unfortunate that there seem to be some technical problems that pull White out in the final moments.

The final track from the original TV performance, “Fortune,” begins with the clean rhythm sound and funky bass bits, allowing White’s soft vocals to rise above and set-up for an all-out guitar assault. Again, in part reminiscent of a Santana styled Latin number, “Fortune” takes the broadcast to a close after an elongated solo and quick fade at the 1 hour mark.

“You’re No Good” is more of a band song and the guys really get into it, having fun and shaking their collective booty! Clocking in at a mere 3:26 the audience are treated to a great little octaves solo from Delando and White ends the track with “You’re No Good, You’re No Good, You’re No Good, Baby, You’re No… Goodnight!” This is a definite highlight from the show that, sadly, has remained in the vaults, unseen for nearly 22 years.

Although this DVD release contains material from a relatively brief – yet highly productive – period in Snowy White’s career, there are probably better performances, which should be made available to the public. Notable are the BBC radio concerts (one of which includes the legendary instrumental version of “The Answer”), and the ECT TV spot (featuring “Land Of Freedom”). This by no means suggests that the Live From London show is in any way a poor performance – it is a great gig. The downside is that the sound / mix is not brilliant (the vocals are very dry) and that the Camdem Palace Theatre itself would suggest the venue has a “sound” better suited to stage shows or something a little less modern (even according to this 80’s recording). Aside from that, this is a great rare document of a short-lived line-up in support of a brilliant musician at odds with his meteoric rise to stardom thanks to the hit single, “Bird Of Paradise.”

The Australian PAL DVD (from MRA) has a different sleeve to The Iguana Project’s NTSC UK release and, although lists a differing running time, is exactly the same. I look forward to more gems surfacing form Snowy White’s illustrious career and encountering more fans who discover his importance in the grand annals of British music history.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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