British Blues – Events – Gigs – Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry at the Café de Paris, London, Sunday 20th October 2002

I only found out about this gig ten days beforehand through connections at work, and I managed to get my name on the guest list.  With admission set at £40 standing or £99 for a seat and a meal, I wouldn’t have thought about attending otherwise but boy, was I glad that I did.  

This trendy West End nightspot just off Leicester Square gave off good vibes right from the start as I entered to find a blues band going through their paces.  Accompanied by a female work colleague I proffered a tenner for our order of a rum & coke and bacardi & coke only to be informed by the friendly bar fellow that would be £14!  After picking myself up from the floor we surveyed the plush surroundings and enjoyed an excellent Rock’n’Roll disco leading up to 10pm when it had been announced Chuck would be appearing.  

With trepidation, I gingerly approached the bar and this time was relieved of fifteen of my hard earned English pounds in exchange for two drinks.  Although admittedly large measures, I could only think “Jazz Café all is forgiven” (having berated them over bar prices in my June column).  By the way, the place was packed with people eating and drinking, although I didn’t recognize a soul – obviously I don’t mix in rich Rock’n’Roll circles!  

Anyway, on to the show. Finding a prime position behind the mixing desk at the side of the stage, three minutes after the appointed time a rejuvenated Mr Berry stepped on stage and it was straight into ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, followed in quick succession by ‘School Days’, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, and ‘Around And Around’.  

Our vantage point meant that we were so close we could have almost reached out and touched him.  Two days after his seventy-sixth birthday Chuck looked in good shape in his peaked sailor’s cap, spangly red shirt and neatly pressed grey trousers as he slowed the pace a little for a take on Elmore James’ ‘It Hurts Me Too’.  

Moving on to ‘Memphis’, ‘Carol’, and ‘Little Queenie’, Chuck spat out the lyric with clear diction, playing his big red Gibson just like ringing a bell, before another bluesy excursion into ‘Mean Old World’.  ‘Rock And Roll Music’ preceded ‘Let It Rock’, during which Chuck demonstrated that he can still duck walk, and then the dancers were invited on stage for ‘Reelin’ and Rockin’.  With “We gotta go, we gotta close the show” a beaming Berry departed after precisely one hour and a dozen numbers, leaving the crowd shouting for more.  

To sum up: grand intimate venue, responsive audience, artist in fine form executing the numbers concisely without meandering and good sound and vision.  What more could you ask for, apart from a friendly bank manager?

 Lee Wilkinson


If any reader wishes to contribute an event review (festival or gig) please email