Meal Ticket were a country rock band that played the London pub circuit in the late 1970s. The Canadian performer Rick Jones wrote many of their songs.
Steve Simpson and Willy Finlayson played guitars (plus additional instruments ) in the original squad and are still going strong — now performing together in the band-project known as ‘HALF MEAL TICKET.’
Willy takes center stage and plays acoustic rhythm guitar. He still provides most of the lead vocals, though ocassionally defers to Steve. Steve, meanwhile, takes on the electric lead guitar.
The last time we saw HALF MEAL TICKET at Staines Riverside Club they boasted the fabulous Nigel Portman-Smith on bass.
Now Nigel has retired from music, and we wish him well. In his place this Thursday was the esteemed blues bassist Malcolm Hoskins — a long-time friend and collaborator of Steve Simpson.
Completing this all-chordophone line-up was the excellent lead guitarist Dean Barnes. We last saw Dean in action performing with LIZA MARSHALL and the Smokey Turtle Band [reviewed here: https://staines.me/2016/06/03/liza-marshall-]
The show kicked-off with the sensational Singalong classic: “It’s All Over Now.”
The band gave us motoring rhythms, jangling strings and the first fine harmonies of the evening.
Both Steve and Willy are passionate vocalists. Steve’s voice has dark amber gravitas with tobacco edges. Whilst Willy’s is less rough — more fervent.
“Look Good In Blue” had scintillating guitar-work from Dean and an ‘Ain’t No Sunshine‘ riff. We spoke to someone who seemed convinced that this number was originally performed by the hard-bop drummer Grady Tate.
The show continued to be an exploration of truly great, but rarely covered gems. Such as “She Will Be Loved” [Maroon 5] and the Billy ‘The Kid’ Emerson number “Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile (Every Woman I Know)” which was made famous by Ry Cooder in 1980.
At times the band sounded very similar to Dire Straits. (With the two Knopfler-like guitarists duelling it out.) But HALF MEAL TICKET produce more “rootsy” tones than most pub rock bands and their renditions are filled with deep soul and meaning.
Although improvisations seemed scarce, with few ‘blowing’ guitar breaks, nevertheless it seemed obvious that the band were merely ‘jamming along’ at times. The lack of smooth transitions between songs and no obvious pre-agreed set-list made the show a little less polished than perhaps really necessary — although it was never actually chaotic.
As one observer put it, “Once they get going they are better-than-good… But it takes more than a while to get themselves into things …”
The stand-out song of the second half was the Springsteen number “Hungry Heart” [originally written for The Ramones and recorded by The Boss in 1980.] Here the audience at Staines was encouraged to clap and sing along. Soft and kindred guitar lines were eased out by Dean and Steve and sparkled in the warm summer air.
This was yet another lovely evening at Staines Riverside Club spent in the company of some really versatile and thorougly entertaining musicians.