Uli Jon Roth at The Patriot!

Uli Jon Roth at the Patriot - Poster

“Where’s your review of Uli Jon Roth at The Patriot?” my friend Richard asked me. It was the first gig we’d been to together for about 25 years. When I told him I wasn’t planning to do one, he looked a bit disappointed.

When I started this site it was partly to make other rock fans aware of my book, Words and Music, and partly to develop the themes of the book through a series of blogs, reflections and interviews. It wasn’t my intention to publish reviews of gigs and new releases – plenty of other sites and magazines already do that, and do it very well – unless in some way they illustrated or extended the themes of the book.

Words and Music is about the value of rock music and the (often understated) importance it can have in people’s lives. Although it has some anecdotal sections, it is not a book about rock star or rock fan decadence. (Again, if that’s the kind of thing you want, there are plenty of other books and websites already out there for you.) At the end of the day, for most rock fans, it’s the music that matters.

So, Uli Jon Roth at The Patriot? Well, on the night my mind was entirely focused on seeing one of my favourite guitarists, an indisputable guitar great, in relatively intimate surroundings and in good company. I went along without either notebook or camera. But, actually, the more I thought about it, Richard was right. There was much here of relevance to Words and Music. And it does deserve to be reported. So let’s start with the venue itself.

The Patriot, Crumlin
The Patriot, CrumlinThe Patriot has established itself as a signficant rock venue, attracting international, national and local bands, as well as rock fans from across the UK. It’s owned and run by a national motorcycle club whose membership consists entirely of ex and serving members of the armed forces. It’s what those of us who’ve been around for a while often like to call a ‘proper’ rock venue – friendly, earthy, non-corporate and choc-full of fascinating rock memorabilia.

I contacted David Down, Entertainment Officer at The Patriot, who told me how the venue has progressed from being a pub putting on local covers bands 11 years ago, to the serious music venue it is today with its ability to attract renowned artists of the calibre of, well, Uli Jon Roth!

Indeed, The Patriot’s owners have put considerable effort into undertaking the kind of renovations that have enabled them to host the likes of LA Guns, Blaze Bayley, Skinny Molly, Wrathchild, Tygers of Pan Tang, and Donnie Vie (Enuff Znuff), alongside Welsh bands like Hangfire and Lethargy. (Note to interested punters: Love/Hate will be playing The Patriot on 1 April 2013.) The venue continues to put on unsigned bands, as well as top-quality covers bands like Letz Zep, High On Maiden and Hell’s Bells.

It’s an impressive, even heartwarming, story of dedication to the cause; a commitment to sharing and spreading “the joy of rock”  (to quote an old friend I bumped into that night) that goes well beyond the call of duty.

And so to Uli …
Beyond the Astral Skies album coverWithout question, Uli Jon Roth is, and always has been, a fascinating character. Check out his website for info on his approach to life, music and art, or to read about Electric Sun, his invention of the Sky Guitar, the Sky Orchestra, the Sky Academy and the influence on, and importance to, Uli of the work of Monika Dannemann.

He is still perhaps best known for his stint as lead guitarist with the Scorpions, a period that culminated in the incredible live album Tokyo Tapes, an album which left the Scorps poised to take on the world. But Uli was off, before its release in fact, embarking on a varied and intriguing solo career that has often blended rock guitar, classical music and Uil’s own philosophical approach in unique and imaginative ways.

It must have taken considerable personal conviction, and some guts, to step out of the limelight with the Scorpions, particularly at that point in their career, and into an uncertain future. Having said that, his presence in the band always struck me as bit incongruous. Not so much musically, but it’s a bit odd is it not, that a man with Uli’s spiritual and philosophical leanings appears on albums with controversial covers and questionnable, almost unsavoury, titles such as ‘Virgin Killer’ and ‘Taken By Force’. Not that his old Scorps chums lacked a sensitive or thoughtful side, and not that they weren’t a great rock band, but, you know, when Uli was striving for transcendence, the post-Roth Scorps were still catching a thrill on streets they called ‘The Zoo’.

And so to the gig …
I’ve got to say that we weren’t sure what to expect. A one man and his guitar acoustic show? Uli, a cellist and a violinist? A set of highly technical instrumental guitar wizardry? Electric Sun revisited? We got in the mood by giving Beyond the Astral Skies a spin in the car on the way up, leaving Richard’s teenage daughter and her friends bewildered at Uli’s … er … eclecticism, if I can put it like that. (Actually, I really love that album. If I had to choose material from my record collection to show someone what can be achieved with an electric guitar, one of the albums I’d certainly play them would be Beyond the Astral Skies.)

The last thing we expected from the gig was what, in fact, we got – a full on rock set consisting predominantly of Roth-era Scorps track: ‘We’ll Burn The Sky’, ‘In Trance’, ‘Sails of Charon’, ‘Dark Lady’, ‘Pictured Life’, ‘I’ve Got to Be Free’, ‘Catch Your Train’, ‘Fly to the Rainbow’, ‘Life’s Like a River’. The old classics just kept coming and coming to the surprise and delight of a small but enthusiastic audience. Chuck in a bit of blues, and a bit of Hendrix (or, to be more precise, a bit of Roth-does-Hendrix-doing-Dylan) and what more could you possibly want on a Friday night! And what a great guitartist … mindbogglingly good. It was worth going just to see the looks of amazement on people’s faces – truly jawdropping stuff!

Uli Jon Roth at The Patriot

Uli Jon Roth and band live at The Patriot. Photo courtesy of http://www.billibeecreative.co.uk

As you will have surmised from the foregoing paragraph and photo, Uli played with a full band, more than amply supported on this occasion by a line-up featuring Owen Davidson (bass, vocals), Steve Owen (keyboards), Richard Kirk (drums) and ‘wunderkind’ Ali Clinton (guitar). Regarding Ali Clinton, all I’ll say here is keep an eye out for this young buck – his time is surely approaching – and remember where you read that first!

Through it all I was left with the impression of a man, a musician, a performer of uncompromising musical and spiritual integrity for whom creativity, artistic expression and personal growth matter more than the trappings of commercial success and the more decadent side of the rock and roll lifestyle.

It was, I have to say, both a joy and a privilege to be at this gig – one of rock music’s most creative talents, a man who’s played to thousands, ‘stepping down’ to play to maybe a hundred, maybe fewer. We stood about ten feet from the stage in awe. It truly was ‘The Night the Master Came’. And in nurturing and promoting young talent in the form of guitarist Ali Clinton, Uli is helping to perpetuate all that’s best about the great rock tradition of which he has been an integral, if sometimes under-appreciated, part.

I find it reassuring that it’s still possible to find such single-mindedness and artistic integrity. Just as it’s reassuring that small groups of music fans will commit themselves to maintaining venues and putting on events that help keep rock music alive and kicking at the grassroots. Thank you to all concerned, and all power to your collective elbow!

Some of the bands playing The Patriot in the early part of 2013

About Words and Music

Uli Jon Roth’s official site: www.ulijonroth.com

The Patriot website: www.patriot-inn.co.uk

Billibee Creative: www.billibeecreative.co.uk

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2 Comments

  1. What a refreshingly well-informed and crafted article on the amazing Uli Jon Roth! I felt much the same after witnessing the mind-altering Uli show in Sellersville, Pennsylvania this past February. It was literally a dream come true to see Uli perform so many great, yet under-exposed Scorpions gems, such as They Need A Million (with extended improv jam!), Longing For Fire, Evening Wind and personal favorite, Crying Days. Uli brought rock guitar virtuosity to insanely high new levels with a backing band worthy of the task, including Uli’s close friend and Electric Sun bassist, Ule W. Ritgen – a musician and songwriter of great depth and ability himself and a wonderfully warm person, to boot.
    Vocalist Henning Basse did a remarkable job, especially considering it was his sixth consecutive night singing over two hours of some of the most challenging material in the rock pantheon this side of Led Zeppelin. He also had a headcold, making it all the more amazing. Guitarist Niklas Turmann threw down some incredibly tight guitar harmonies with Uli, as did 16 year old phenom, Ali Carter.
    Anyone who loves great guitar playing should make it a point to catch Uli on stage at some point. You won’t hear anyone better.

    Reply
  2. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for your kind comments, and for your account of the gig you saw in Pennsylvania. I didn’t for one minute think the gig I saw was a fluke, but it’s always nice to hear from others who’ve experienced something similar. I caught Uli twice in two days in April at the HRH AoR and PROG events in Rotherham (England). He played two completely different sets on different stages to predominantly different types of rock fans – just stunning! Not many players could pull that off!
    Best wishes,
    Michael

    Reply

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