Following the Autumn 2014 release of their critically acclaimed second studio album Army Of Three, there are few bands in the blues-rock arena that are currently stirring up as much interest as Virgil And The Accelerators. Support slots with veteran acts such as Uriah Heap and Michael Schenker have helped build an audience and the band are now headlining venues as they strive, seemingly inevitably, towards bigger things. Now then, is perhaps the best time to catch them in the intimate surroundings of a space such as London’s iconic 100 Club, a music venue that has history dripping off its walls.
The ‘Tuesday Blues’ night at the 100 Club is known for serving up a mix that Bob Harris would waste no time in calling eclectic and tonight looked likely to be no exception. First up, The Luke Doherty Band played some stock blues to an initially modest though steadily building audience. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Luke Doherty of the Luke Doherty Band was anybody other than who it actually was – a seemingly mute guitarist who spent most of the performance avoiding the limelight whilst protruding out the bottom of a wide-brimmed Stetson. Doherty did in fact briefly remove the hat, though it transpired this was solely for the purposes of playing guitar with his teeth – and he retired to a position of safety back under the brim soon thereafter. Whilst the set was engaging enough, the most notable element of their performance was the number of cameras the band had brought with them to capture it. With two roving camera operators and at least as many fixed optics dotted around the stage, GCHQ would have struggled to provide them with such scrutiny.
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Matt Woosey occupied the second support slot of the evening. If The Luke Doherty Band was a touch formulaic, Matt Woosey was a revelation. Woosey, who provided an acoustic filling in a sandwich containing heavily amplified bread, has picked up positive press from Paul Jones on his Radio 2 show and it’s not hard to see why. A consummate guitarist and vocalist with a very engaging rapport with the crowd, he brought to mind a more politically correct version of John Martyn. Encore Black Smoke Rising form his 2012 album On The Waggon featured some brilliant slide guitar which warranted the price of admission on its own. Matt has an extensive touring schedule and is performing at a number of festivals through the summer. I’d urge anybody to see him perform live. I certainly intend to do so again.
By the time Virgil And The Accelerators made their entrance the audience had swelled to impressive proportions. 23-year-old Virgil McMahon, a guitarist of extraordinary talent, fronts the band whose sound sits firmly at the heavy rock end of the blues audio spectrum. Anyone with the balls to take on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Scuttle Buttin’ with play it with such aplomb (well worth checking on You Tube) gets my respect and I was looking forward to watching him live. I was also looking forward to Virgil’s big cat mane flopping about as he played, so it was a slight disappointment to see that he has had most of his hair lopped off. With sideburns and a slicked back quiff, he was more Arthur Fonzarelli than Aslan the Lion, but you can’t have everything.
Whilst Virgil is the obvious focus of attention, younger brother Gabriel occupies a similarly impressive position from behind his custom transparent acrylic kit. The junior McMahon is clearly committed long-term to VATA and he displays this on his left pectoral in indelibly inked form. Of very slight build, as he walks to the kit you think you’d fancy your chances if called upon to engage him in an arm-wrestle. It’s a different story once he’s on the stool though. The power he generates is phenomenal and when he gets going he is a study of whirling arms and hair. Residing atop his bass drum sits an Animal (from the Muppets) stuffed toy. This is irony of the Alanis Morissette variety.
Completing this quintessential power trio stage left is bass player Jack Alexander Timmis. Timmis was an external candidate recruited to complete the family business and radiates less of the ardor of his sibling workmates. That said, his bass firmly nails the band to the floor and forms an essential foundation upon which the McMahon’s build their explosive antics. With his calm exterior, cropped hair and shades there’s something of the Presidential Secret Service operative about him.
The 100 Club is an odd space. Significantly wider than it is deep, the low stage hugs the edge of one of the long sides of the rectangle and seems to go on forever. The result is that although the audience is on top of them, the sparsely populated 3-piece are positioned relative to each other as if they were playing Glastonbury rather than a sweaty basement club. Virgil and Jack do get to rock out together, but the guitarist does have to go for a committed yomp around Gabe in order to do it.
But any complaint about the staging is made up for by the music, which is exuberant out of the gate. VATA open with Take Me Higher, Blow To The Head and All Night Long, these being the first three songs from Army Of Three. The experience is not dissimilar to that on hearing the album for the first time: pulverising, with Blow To The Head surely one of the most aptly named songs of all time. This is granite-edged music and the harder direction infused in the new album is clear to all. It’s not an entirely one-dimensional affair though. Whilst Virgil McMahon puts an indelible stamp on everything he plays, the catchy licks in Give It Up have an air of ZZ Top about them, whilst the Southern bluesy feel of 88 has a spiral or two of Gary Rossington and Allen Collins threaded in its DNA.
Virgil’s guitar work is utterly brilliant and he clearly has a prodigious talent but he also has his feet on the ground it seems. He made a point of showing his appreciation to the audience and to the other artists performing tonight and a couple of times expressed his reverence at playing in the iconic surroundings of the 100 Club. Whilst tracks from Army Of Three got an understandable roll out, the VATA debut album The Radium was also well represented tonight. As well as 88, instrumental The Storm offered Gabriel the opportunity to push the Animal analogy to extremes, whilst long form pieces Working Man and Silver Giver allowed Virgil space to weave his guitar through the music.
The Band closed out to explosive applause with an extended version of Free, the final track from Army of Three. They quickly downed tools and walked off stage to cries of more but there was no encore as they had pushed the 100 Club curfew to its limits. I walked past Virgil on the way out whilst he was generously giving his time to fans. You could have rung him out, a testament to the commitment and passion that Virgil And The Accelerators put into their performance tonight.
Photography and review by Simon Reed. 100 Club Tuesday Blues with Virgil And The Accelerators on 26 May 2015. Simon has his own great site right here: www.musicalpictures.co.uk
The full photoshow here: http://rockshot.photoshelter.com/gallery/Virgil-The-Accelerators/G0000tIBIyl12qiY