Rapiers Live at BUS 1
Cortemaggiore, Italy, 7 December 2008
By Dominic Turner
Cortemaggiore vibrated with the sounds of early '60s British rock 'n' roll as The Rapiers served up another gem of a gig (do they ever do otherwise?) at the annual BUS 1 festival. The last time I saw them was way back in June 2001, at another Italian beat festival (held just 40 miles away at Pianello Val Tidone). On that occasion, Colin and the lads had to cope with 38°C temperatures. Things could not have been more different this time round, as the thermometer hovered around freezing point!
We got to the gig about an hour early after a two-hour drive, and happened to run into Gianni Fuso, one of the organisers and a good friend, as we reached the entrance to the club. This proved to be a real stroke of luck: "Dom, if you want to meet up with The Rapiers, you’ll find them at a restaurant called Antica Trattoria in the main square." Ten minutes later, I was sitting at a table with Colin, Nathan, John and Neil (the only Rapier I hadn’t met on that previous occasion), discussing the merits of flatwound strings, whether it's acceptable to drink water on stage, and the difficulty of booking recording time at London's Toe Rag Studios. Neil was sporting a very husky voice, and kept squirting throat spray into his mouth, always a worrying sign for a singer before a gig.
BUS STOP: The Rapiers set up before they storm the Fillmore Club. Photo courtesy Nathan J. Hulse.
Time flew, but we soon remembered that there were two other bands on the bill at the Fillmore, and walked briskly over to the club, just in time to catch local frat rockers The Kool-a-tones. Despite appearing a little overawed by the occasion, they delivered an entertaining set (including a nice cover of Billy Fury's Gonna Type a Letter). Next up were the Fabulous Ottomans from Barcelona, whom I’d already seen last year. What a superb band! If you like late '50s R&B (Little Willie John, Clyde McPhatter, early James Brown, Sam Cooke, Hank Ballard & The Midnighters) played in the style of those Northwest frat rock bands (think Wailers, Kingsmen, Sonics), then The Fabulous Ottomans are... fabulous. (Audience reaction thus far had been on the frosty side, but the turban-headed Ottomans pulled out every trick in the book, and managed to whip up no little enthusiasm.)
And then it was the The Rapiers' turn.
It’s quite remarkable how they do it. By the end of the first two numbers (note-perfect renditions of Shadoogie and The Savage, complete with meticulous choreography), they had the audience eating out of their collective hand! I won’t make any apologies for incorrect order, but the setlist was something along the lines of: Shadoogie, The Savage, Apache, Move It, Say Mama, Roll Over Beethoven (a stirring lead vocal from Nathan), Brand New Cadillac, Saturday Night at the Duckpond (that choreography!), Buckleshoe Stomp, Castin' My Spell and I'm A Hog for You Baby (two more Nathan vocals), Linda Lu (complete with spoke intro from Colin, as per Ray Sharpe's original), Lies (dedicated to me... thanks Colin, you made my evening!), Wipeout (with John’s customary dazzling drum solo), Do You Wanna Dance and FBI.
The punters were screaming for an encore, and were rewarded with the magnificent That's Alright, followed by The William Tell Overture (how DO they do it?). I’m sure the Rapiers would have carried on relentlessly, but Neil (who'd soldiered on valiantly all evening, despite looking like he was on his deathbed) had just about given his all. So the ecstatic audience were treated to heartfelt goodbyes and a bow... and then it was off into the night. Oops, I almost forgot a chorus of Happy Birthday for Nathan, still gigging hard at the ripe old age of 61! Well, that’s what Colin said, anyway.
A brilliant evening and a cracking performance... excellent sound (there were a couple of problems early on, but The Rapiers simply rose above it all)... the choreography was spot on... the audience rapport was marvellous (I complimented Colin before the gig on his ability to make himself understood to a foreign audience, something far too many bands seem not to bother about).
OK, you want me to find something negative? Try this: The Rapiers' repertoire is sufficiently huge that unless they extend their set to four hours (a beat version of The Grateful Dead), then you're always going to come away saying, "A pity they didn’t play X." I'd have loved to hear Peppermint Twist, On My Mind and Baby My Heart, but hey, I’m not complaining!
I was too young to catch Cliff & The Shadows, Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, Billy Fury and Vince Taylor & The Playboys in their prime, but every Rapiers gig takes you back in a time machine to that magical era.