Live Review : The Magpie Salute + Maker @ Academy 2, Manchester on December 3rd 2018

The most satisfying success comes when you push and push and something happens beyond the prescribed boundaries. Often it is where you can see opportunity that others can’t. So it was, that in the sixth minute of four minutes injury time, Divock Origi saw what no one else did and caused much celebration for one middle aged Frenchman, who now sits beside me, bottle of water to hand and the effects of a 96th minute derby winner steering him nauseously to Manchester in the red, bullet wagon of death.  “I don’t skimp on brakes and tyres” he assures me, testing his unnerving creed to the limit, but thankfully not past it.

In an alarming twist to the usual roadrunner style infiltration of a gig we are not only on time but boringly early.  Rich Robinson, (former Black Crowes guitarist) of The Magpie Salute has some complex photography requests in order to minimise filming of their set (Rockflesh don’t do this without permission) as they are filming the gig themselves.  Johann has to stow his gear in the Academy’s safe, it’s a dubious request at best and has the potential for all kinds of shenanigans but we are a captive audience and have no choice but to comply.  

Maker enter the stage almost reluctantly, there is no introduction just straight into the music.  There is an element of psychedelia in some of the repeated hypnotic guitar lines.  The singer and guitarist turn their backs to the audience, firstly I thought it was rude, inexperience showing, the more they do it though, it feels like a jam.  They might be under rehearsed, but the vibe was loose and the sooner I let go my expectations of a live band I start to really feel the music.  The guitarist, Andrew Donaldson, isn’t flashy but his notes are whole and resonate.  The solos feel important and totally add to the overall relaxed tone.  Alessandro Marinelli’s vocals are smooth and soulful, a little like Rod Stewart.  Sometimes his lack of power means the music overtakes the vocal melody.  There are occasional fluffs and some odd musical moments but they start as they mean to go on.  

 

The third track, AIM, has some outstanding guitar parts, it builds slowly with a persistent turn in the melody.  The build up is slow, it reminds me of ‘Glosoli' a little, when Jonsi of Sigor Ros opens the volume on his guitar and all hell breaks loose.  They claim to have had a song poorly reviewed, but they’ll play it regardless, the track is superb and by now people are grooving along to the simple, yet effective mix of classic rock guitars and flowing psychedelic vocals.  With dashes of Led Zeppelin, a look of Kasabian and some really good guitar parts and a very soulful Harmonica break, Maker really are a very good live band.  There was little interaction with the crowd but it kept the vibe easy and really let the music do the talking.  The bass player might want to rethink his outfit in line with the whole band and should definitely learn as much as possible from Sven Pipien (The Magpie Salute bassist) while on the tour.  Maker first album is out and is called ‘Dead Ends and Avenues’ and is available in all the usual places.  

With a lengthy gap between artists, it was time to meander conversely through the usual mid gig topics of where we are going, where we have been and how much is the beer.  Tonight though, we are off the beers. Bottled water and…oh wait here’s a beer.  Never mind normal service resumed. The front row is largely encompassed by pensioners and photographers, it’s not particularly cool, but this crowd is almost entirely propping up the live scene. Manchester is absolutely busting with gigs and nearby cities could learn a lot from them.   

There is a reasonable cheer when The Magpie Salute take to the stage, it’s not often I feel short, you have to bear in mind my photographic cohort is over six feet tall, but Rich Robinson looks like a giant southern Jesus.  I was a lead guitarist in a past life, genetically failed by a short mother.  The first song ‘High Water’ is a swirling hypnotic, electro acoustic sixties folk tune.  It has elements of Simon & Garfunkel, with the vocal depth of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.   The loose, almost rehearsal like vibe continues from where Maker left off.  Incense heavy in the air, ‘High Water’ showcases the sheer depth of talent in The Magpie Salute.  The sound is a little muddy. The keyboards aren’t cutting through and Marc Ford’s guitar isn’t quite in the mix just yet.  ‘Omission’ is the first song that grips me, a heavy muted, funky riff backed by big drums and a hugely hooky chorus.  There is lots of room for ripping blues solos. The young lad in front of me has been snake hipping sideways, left then right for about ten minutes and I am starting to get seasick.  The syncopated rhythms of ‘For the Wind‘ drive the set forward.  The crowd are warming to the task, The Magpie Salute are another band not heavy on crowd interaction, instead they perform two twenty-minute jams, 'Lailla II is the first.  It’s a Doorsesque dual guitar masterclass in rhythm and control.  It’s hard as someone who has played plenty of these kind of stoned rehearsals to sit through. You want to participate, the amount of time the members of this band have played together is most evident here, they can hear when it’s time to come in, get louder, faster.  It’s a joy to watch. Sven Pipien’s bass just does not falter ever, the bass lines are perfect, melodic, on the button every time. The tone fills out the sound perfectly like laundry bellowing in the breeze on a hot summer day, it’s gentle but crucial.      

About a third of the way through the set Rich, Marc and singer John Hogg, take the dynamic down a few notches. A three-piece acoustic mini set, showcasing their vocal harmonies. The highlight would have to be Rich Robinson singing ‘She’.  A glorious southern gospel ballad. They changed the mood on its head with the immensely doom laden dirge that is ‘Black Cloud’, written when Robinson and Hogg where in Hookah Brown.  A messy but mesmerising, trippy circle of a song more Mad Season recording the Desert Sessions in an alternate reality.  Swathes of phased, wah’ddelay sweep above our heads and between our shivering shoulder blades like distorted ghosts.  

Another roadside Tragedy’ has a quirky chicken’ pickin’ intro and a march for beat.  As an encore they decide not to leave the stage but interject some humour and a little of the human touch. Rich Robinson is the leader of the band, no doubt, but it looks like a responsibility he’d rather not have.  He seems shy, the passion is there but he isn’t gregarious with it, just a quick face-pull on a fierce bend. They unleash ‘Jealous again’ on the crowd who lap up the nostalgia, it saddens me a little that they couldn’t leave the Crowes alone. The music from the ‘High water 1’ is outstanding and songs like ‘For the Wind’ showcase Robinson’s strong writing skills.  With a hearty catalogue of songs to draw from, The Magpie Salute deliver a laid bare, laid back show that’s worth every penny of the entrance fee.  

We leave the Academy tired, it was a long set, unknown songs and jams, but we both concluded that the gig was outstanding. The musicianship on display was on a level you don’t often see anymore. Honourable mention goes to Sven Pipien on bass, the best bass player I have seen live. ever. Flawless, melodic and he can sings.  We get to the car and precede down the twilight zone that is the M60 roadworks.  The sliproad to Liverpool is again blocked off, it’s almost symbolic of the divide between the cities live music aspirations.  We trundle through the woolly back lands hoping for a speedy return to our beds.  Let’s not forget the real heroes of this tale, Divock Origi and a crossbar. Rock and Roll costs six quid a pint in the Liverpool Arts Club! 

Words by Paul Flett
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki

The Magpie Salute Setlist