The Rab Howat Band Live at Bannermans Edinburgh
It’s almost exactly one year since decibelROGUE published it’s first gig review. Since then we’ve gone on to photograph and review some of the world’s biggest artists and bands, reviewed major albums and previewed tours. It’s been an absolute blast, and we’re looking forward to doing lots more of the same in the coming months. So with our Birthday fast approaching, I thought that I’d get a little self-indulgent on you by writing about how my journey into the world of music photography began, and tell you about the band which was on the other end of my camera when it did. And since I was at their latest gig on Saturday, it’d be downright rude of me not to include a review and gallery of that as well!
The Rab Howat Band have been a cornerstone of Edinburgh’s rock music scene for over a quarter of a century, and their Saturday afternoon blast through some of rocks coolest songs has become a magnet for music fans throughout the central belt of Scotland and beyond. The RHB exploded into my consciousness back in 1997 when a couple of mates took me along to one of their gigs at the Cas Rock. This was the first time I’d been in the audience at a rock gig of any description and I was totally blown away by the whole thing. I promised myself that once my ears had stopped ringing I’d go back for more, and in the years since that first gig, the RHB have become the band I rock out to whenever I have a free Saturday.
So it’ll come as no surprise to learn that soon after I bought my first DSLR 7 years ago, I took it along to a RHB gig to see if I could shoot some decent photographs of them in action. By this time they had been resident at Bannermans Bar in the city’s historic old town for 8 years or so, and it’s where you’ll find them on a Saturday afternoon to this day. It’s arguably the best small music venue in the city and is the place where, in November 2009, I framed up my first live music photographs. And yes, by todays standards the photographs were shit. But it was a start!
Fast forward to 3.45 last Saturday afternoon then. Once again I found myself in Bannermans, chatting with the band before they took to the stage. And for the first time in almost 2 years, my camera was at the ready to shoot some frames of the guys in action. Obviously I can’t really look at a RHB gig from an impartial point of view, because I’ve seen them somewhere north of 300 times! So please don’t shoot me if you feel that I’m being a little bit less than completely objective on this occasion…
The band’s current lineup consists of Rab Howat (guitar), Calvin Laidlaw (guitar), Roy Martin (bass) and Ali Wilson (drums). Unless you’ve actually been to one of their gigs, or are familiar with the music scene in Edinburgh, their names will mean nothing to you. But here’s the thing – each one of them could walk into any one of the bands we’ve featured in decibelROGUE in the last year. They really are that good.
Sometimes you go to a gig and it takes a few songs to really get things going. Not here! Right from the opening bars of Talking Head’s Psycho Killer you could tell that the audience – and the band themselves – were really up for it. The first dancers of the day appeared during next song The Seeker and by the time the band rocked into Albert Lee’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Man, the venue was absolutely bouncing.
One of the things that sets the RHB apart from other cover bands is the fact that they don’t set out to replicate the original material exactly, then play it exactly the same way every time because that’s all they know and that’s all they’ve rehearsed. Although the RHB always remain faithful to the original material, they have the ability to improvise when they wish. So they never really play songs quite the same way twice. This means you can go to their gigs as often as you like knowing that even if their setlist is broadly similar to the last time you saw them, there’ll be something new within their current performance to enjoy.
A case in point on Saturday was Superstition. Stevie Wonder’s classic has been a regular feature at RHB gigs for some time now and their version usually has a break which contains the distinctive guitar intro, a verse and a chorus from Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile before the band eases back into the rest of Superstition. Sounds a strange combination, but trust me, it works brilliantly! On Saturday however, after a little bit of duelling guitars between Rab and Calvin, they launched into an unrehearsed section of Sex & Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll instead. Sounds simple, but it was all done so effortlessly, sounded seamless, and the audience loved it!
Highlight of their set for me was Cream’s White Room. This is one of the newer additions to their setlist and I really can’t get enough of it. Obviously the Bruce/Clapton/Baker version wasn’t too shabby – to say the very least. But the addition of a second guitar in the RHB’s version seems to give an already brilliant song a much bigger and badder feel. I know Mr Baker is notoriously sniffy when it comes to other drummers, but I’d bet my last twenty pence even he’d be impressed with Ali Wilson’s performance on the drums here. I could listen to the band play this one song all day.
Even if I hadn’t seen the RHB perform so many times over the last 19 years, there was still plenty of things about Saturday’s performance that would make me want to go back for more. Rab is clearly the star on guitar and it’s not often you get to watch guys as naturally gifted as he is at such close quarters. But it’s the way he and Calvin work together throughout the gig, occasionally swapping lead and rhythm guitar duties, which helps to create a brilliant dynamic to the overall sound of the band. The engine room of the RHB is pretty damned special too. In Ali Wilson the band has a drummer who could give Thor a run for his money in the thunder generating department, but it’s the most chilled out guy on stage who holds everything together and makes the band tick. If there was such a thing as a laid back atomic clock, it would be named after Roy Martin.
I don’t need to tell you that I thought their gig was brilliant – they always are! But the best bit of all is these gigs are absolutely free of charge. If you’re within striking distance of Edinburgh, do yourself a favour and go see them. I’ll probably see you there!
Psycho Killer – Talking Heads
The Seeker – The Who
Rock ‘n’ Roll Man – Albert Lee
White Room – Cream
Superstition – Stevie Wonder
Dirty Jean – Rab Howat
All or Nothing – The Small Faces
All The Young Dudes – David Bowie
Heroes – David Bowie
Personal Jesus – Depeche Mode
I Am the Walrus – The Beatles
Don’t You Forget About Me – Simple Minds
Get it On – T. Rex
Purple Rain – Prince
Substitute – The Who
You can check out forthcoming gigs at Banermans on their website HERE
The Rab Howat Band are old school, ergo they don’t have a Facebook page. Just go to Bannermans at 4pm any Saturday afternoon!