All bands, if they’re around long enough, reach that point where youthful urgency overlaps with experience. Bad Touch are now in that zone.
Currently on their first UK headline tour (“eight years in the making,” as frontman Stevie Westwood puts it), the group have two full-length studio albums and two EPs of material, the skills gained from supporting big names like The Kentucky Headhunters around the country, and the lessons learnt from playing hundreds of shows. But, almost a decade in, they’ve lost none of the unbridled passion and dynamism of their early days as a bar band in Norwich.
Even as they jostle for space on the cramped O2 Academy Islington 2 stage, the quintet play their feelgood Southern rock songs with flamboyance, confidence, and unbridled power. Pedal-to-the-floor Take Me Away easily lives up to its name, taking the audience on a wind-in-your-hair road trip towards the Mexican border.
Barely taking a breath, they leap directly into the equally spirited Good On Me, raunchy Sweet Little Secret, and crowd-baiting Heartbreaker Soulshaker. All are defined not just by Westwood’s whiskied lead vocals, guitarist Rob Glendinning’s twangy solos, and George Drewry’s booming drums, but the nimble basslines of Michael Bailey and rhythm guitarist Daniel Seekings’ insistent riffs.
Never are their contributions more apparent than on the towering Waiting For This, which, thanks to some dramatic time changes and sublime musicianship, sounds even more epic than it does on 2016’s Truth Be Told LP.
Wise Water sees Glendinning channel some classic Jimmy Page slide guitar while Westwood, in full Robert Plant mode, incites the audience to rock along. The not-yet-released I Belong, a slow-burning power ballad about “feeling at home” once again starring Glendinning’s slide, is immediately contrasted by one of their oldest and heaviest, Down, which provokes some headbanging from Bailey in particular.
Something Someone, “a little love song” initially given the unplugged treatment by the frontman and lead guitarist until breaking into a full band performance, continues the contrasts. The high-octane My Mother Told Me, with a truly heartfelt message of thanks and audience participation session from Westwood, barrels along like the proverbial bat out of hell, before the laid back Take Your Time and full-throated Outlaw show off Bad Touch’s more soulful side.
A sweeping rendition of The Mountain, which sounds like a lost track from the Led Zeppelin II sessions, fittingly ends the main set on a high.
The encore begins with this tour’s special guest Mollie Marriott returning to the stage, performing with as much swagger and power as during her own set. She and Westwood are perfectly matched as they duet through their ass-kicking rendition of long-forgotten Ike and Tina Turner gem Baby Get It On. But it’s the deep-fried Southern hit 99% that has the five men from Norwich riding off into the sunset with their heads held high, and promising to return.
Marriott’s return is equally inevitable. During her nine-song performance she confidently delivers highlights from her recently released debut album, Truth Is A Wolf. But alongside such moments as the knockout punch Control, brooding King Of Hearts, and soaring Run With The Hounds that showcase the full range of her towering voice, she slips in the brand new songs Nobody To Love and Into Shape that sound every bit as impressive, and suggest a long solo career lies ahead.