SMOKIE IN ISRAEL
June 24-24, 2004
PHOTOS - Part One
Read Terry Uttley's pre-visit interview
A couple of days before SMOKIE landed in Israel, somebody commented on the radio that it was going to be a 'restaurant' band - due to the fact there's just one member of the original line-up. Not quite a premise: this scribe saw how hard, with a sole original musician in the ranks, DEEP PURPLE rocked Wembley. On Haifa and Tel Aviv stages, the Bradford's finest came down hot, too.
The punters were happy - from a girl, aged about ten, seated on her granddad's shoulders and paid a special attention by that same group veteran, Terry Uttley, to a gray-goatee'd guy who looked like real granddad yet danced away like youngster. The players looked glad as well. Whereas many of their colleagues are scared of visiting Israel, this lot not only dared strolling down the streets on their own, but also expressed a not-so-bright idea to travel to Bethlehem - fortunately, the ensemble let themselves be convinced to not do so. "It's wonderful here, in Israel. We don't believe the TV anymore. CNN, bye bye!", announced Terry, met with audience cheers, at the Tel Aviv amphitheatre.
It took a bit more convincing when, on the road to Haifa, Uttley said these days SMOKIE don't do "What Can I Do", a big fave with many a fan. A catastrophe loomed large, yet the good spirits of the band made them not let anybody down, and during the soundcheck the song was dusted down... in a different key. "As long as I'm in the group, we always did it in В minor", answered keyboard player Martin Ballard an obvious question, while Terry admitted that the original recording had been done in E and the reason for changing it was the late Alan Barton's range. His successor, Mike Craft, seemed rather capable of singing the cut the old way - still, the new version sounded very dramatic. As dramatic as can be a song prefaced with, "We were asked to do some thing, something about vodka", that is.
"SMOKIE don't smoke", the singer enlightened the crowd. "Also we don't drink. And don't have sex". "But we tell a lot of lies", added the bass player, resolving a tension and temporarily silencing a heckler who incessantly called out, "What Can I Do". "Shut up and listen!", was Terry's response. Still, to the more calm listeners, the band's advice was to relax and let loose, maybe even get stark naked. The last part went ignored, yet on a new promo picture out-take which Uttley proudly, though discreetly, showed in a dressing room, one of the musicians appeared with his bum mooning - just don't ask who that was! The picture's been taken for the group's new album, out in September: judging on three fresh tracks that got the airing - and WHITESNAKE's Micky Moody, a friend of SMOKIE's guitarist Mick McConnell, contributing his slide licks to it - the record is going to be terrific. At least, a ballad called "Home Is Anywhere You Are" that draws the drummer, Steve Pinnell, to the fore of the stage, is up there with the ensemble's classic cuts.
Those classic tracks made the bulk of the shows, even though the concerts opened with "It Never Rains In Southern California" from one of SMOKIE's last albums and included, surprisingly to some yet not to seasoned fans, CREEDENCE's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain". Anyway, the audience readily joined in the fan - but it was only the Tel Aviv, not Haifa, crowd who engaged themselves into the "Who the fuck is Alice?" refrain. Everybody liked the goings, and if Mike Craft wasn't as happy after the first show, it was due to the band's, not punters', performance. And if Israel looked not as exotic as Mongolia or China that Terry recalled very dearly, there was enough exotic onstage.
The British five threatened to play the first part of the show in reggae rhythm, yet stuck to Jamaican groove only for "It's Your Life" woven into the hits - including Bobby Vee's "Take Good Care Of My Baby" medley. But, boy, how the combo jumped - to and fro, up and down! All that without, lemme repeat that, letting the folks down and without thinking of anyone's age. Uttley, pointing to his gray hair, pointed out that color doesn't mean a thing in regards to the feelings and life attitude and proved his point by signing everybody's everything and drinking in the pub. The talk was about the British need to spend time in a local, still Terry admitted his work is too different from a regular barfly's. No complaints, sure, with an artist's ways allowing him to travel all the world round meeting old friends like Chris Norman who the SMOKIE leader has bumped into recently - and maklng new friends. Like us.
So if there was a reason to be complaining, that was the brevity of the band's Israeli stint - and Smokie said they undoubtedly would be back. No reason for doubt.
PHOTOS - Part Two
© Eugene Veinard exclusively for DME