British Blues – Events – Gigs – George Thorogood

George Thorogood & The Destroyers – at Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 6th June 2003

‘Twas a warm early June evening that I strolled across the green of Shepherds Bush village, stopping awhile amidst a group of blushing, giggling young maidens as they watched their waxy moustached, tight white breeched, local men folk indulge in near silent devotion to the game of cricket, interspersed with the odd cry of “Silly mid wicket” or perhaps “Leg byes”. The concentration of one of the fellows would lapse for a mere second or two as he passed a nervous, flirtatious grin in the direction of the coy young maids.  

Soon I found myself wandering off in pursuit of the plump man on a bicycle to which a tray is affixed from where he purveys delicious tubs of dairy ice cream. “A most pleasant day,” I smiled, handing the striped apron and matching boater attired man a half penny for my purchase. “Thank you young sir,” he responded before adding, as I was about to walk away, “God bless the King.” “Indeed,” I nodded. “And Stanley,” the man continued. “Stanley?” I enquired. “Baldwin good sir,” replied the vendor as though slightly annoyed. “I do beg to contradict you my good man, but the times are surely Edwardian. Bonar Law must surely be the gentleman deserving of receiving God’s blessing. Baldwin is many years hence. Like now, my good man, when the world is upon the eve of change.” The man said nothing, gazing upon the ground, his brow furrowed with confusion, desperately searching for his place in time and space.  

I left him to his personal predicament to head off towards my place of appointment. As I glanced back to the man, his head still bowed, his body unmoved, a group of young children ran across my path playing a game of tag, causing me to almost trip over them. Shaky Lee Wilkinson and I stood upon the corner of the village green, glancing nervously at each other without a word as though we dare not speak those words. Dr Charles Dale of Pyrford, Surrey is late! Moments later a flicker of a smile, a sigh of relief as Lee called out in joyous relief, “He comes, Charles is all but upon us!” pointing in the direction of three powerful machines. In the middle was the man himself, laid back on his seat like a gladiator en route to the Coliseum, his powerful hands gripping the bullhorn handlebars, one and a half thousand cubic centimetres throbbing beneath his crotch. At either side rode his loyal unquestioning minders, Hans Feet and the Duke of Kneecaps.  

The roar of the powerful machines was silenced as they drew up beside us. Lee and I stepped forward hesitantly with outstretched hands, Charles’ hand clasped mine and such was the power of his grip, I winced, my eyes filling with water. “Hello Charles,” I squealed a girlish squeal. I tried to hide both the pain and relief as the grip was released. Dr Charles looked at both of us and let out a deep, guttural growl. “He’s hungry,” Lee and I said to each other, nodding our heads in shared agreement, quickly followed by another growl, this one deeper, more frightening, more demanding, like a trapped and starving bear in a mountain snow drift. Sensing immediate action was required, the Duke of Kneecaps grasped the powerful, masculine arm of the good doctor and led him through the doorway of a nearby eatery. Hans Feet walked in behind his master, an expression of constant observation upon his face as Lee and I shuffled meekly behind, knowing and respecting our place.  

A hush fell over the amassed throng as the lights dimmed, the good doctor was lifted above the expectant crowd in the arms of his loyal minders every mouth was silenced, every eye upon the doctor a massive clenched fist hit the air. “Let the thrash begin!” A huge roar let out as the crowd obeyed the doctor’s command. Thorogood And The Destroyers, subservient to the call, ran excitedly from the wings.  

‘BeBop Granma’ opened the show. I was convinced that George’s voice was backed up not just by bass and drums as I first expected but a sax player and a second lead/rhythm guitarist; not only that, occasionally I could hear George’s guitar so, yes, it was plugged in. A man standing next to me, very tall with pointed ears, spoke to me in a heavy Vulcan accent as he turned his head and said, “It’s Solomon Burke, Keith, but not as we know it.” I realised they were into their second number; able to pick out beneath the thud a familiar Bo Diddley beat. Yes, it was ‘Who Do You Love’ but sadly no-one had told ‘Granma’ for she was still up there, boppin’ in her concrete carpet slippers. ‘One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer’. Something is wrong here folks, I can hear the saxman blow – has the drummer exploded? Have the strings fallen off the bass guitarist’s guitar? This was indeed worrying. How would the capacity crowd react to such a flicker of subtlety on this John Lee Hooker tune?  

This worrying trend continued into ‘Madison Blues’ where one could pick out George’s slide. I glanced across at the good doctor, tears welled in his eyes as the moment he had been waiting for dawned. Slowly, the wires lowered a four foot six inch replica of Stonehenge onto the stage while, from each of the wings, thirteen duck-walking dwarves in green pixie tunics with matching hats appeared. The chief pixie dwarf wearing a Viking helmet clambered on top of one of the giant speakers, thumbs thrust into hip pockets, and ferociously slammed his body to and fro in perfect timing to the beat. As the thirteen duck-walking dwarves left the stage to head for the nearest pub, George hit out on ‘Bad To The Bone’ which was unique because it enabled him to display his skill as an air singer. ‘Get A Haircut – Get A Job’ – great idea for a Rock’n’Roll song George. The encore consisted of Jerry Lee Lewis’s ‘Rocking My Life Away’… at least the first and last verses anyway. Thorogood And The Destroyers left the stage and every eye in the Empire fell upon the doctor; Hans Feet held the bucket of ice-cold water from which the Duke of Kneecaps dipped a sponge to rub down the mighty man’s frame. Finally the words bellowed around the Shepherds Bush Empire… “The Thrash has left the building!”


Keith Woods


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