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HALF MEAL TICKET at Staines Riverside Club

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-]

Half Meal Ticket with Steve Simpson [L] and Willy Finlayson [R]  — Image by @neilmach 2016 ©
Half Meal Ticket with Steve Simpson [L] and Willy Finlayson [R] — Image by @neilmach 2016 ©
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.

Words & Images: Words: Neil Mach 2016 ©







Four Wheel Drive – Twickenham Green June 19

It’s lamentable that the Red Lion Pub (Filthy’s) at Twickenham has now closed for good – to be replaced by a Tesco Metro stores  (I ask you). This landmark pub was a real resort for rockers , an important stop-off point for every local band’s graduation and an integral part of the West London music scene. It was the petri dish for so much local talent that it should have been preserved by the heritage trust and had a blue plaque slapped upon it.  In fact, it should have it’s own entry in the rock and roll hall of fame. But now it’s gone (and so has The Marquee.) So it was laudable that our friends from ‘Four Wheel Drive’ made mention of this great rock n roll institution during their gig – a venue that played such a prominent part in their own development…

So it is June 19th and 4WD are playing on a bright red ‘London Pride’ wagon to a vibrant and good looking crowd on Twickenham Green as part of a week long set of festivities at Twickers.  It is a cold and cloudy afternoon,  but the boys have brought light and sunshine with them as they crank up the volume and heat up the statically charged air. It has to be said, to be fair, Four Wheel Drive has now outgrown this kind of event. It’s like watching your sixteen year old nephew playing with his younger cousin’s toy soldiers. A couple of years back it would have all seemed quite normal, but now these boys are too  big for their shorts, their bits are ‘sticking out’ when they are charging around, and those shoes are too small for the long toes. They are a bit too bold and boisterous for the other kids on the block. But on the other hand, isn’t it kinda special and kinda heartwarming that this fabulous band wants to play a free concert at their local public park before they hit pay-dirt and go global? And isn’t it the kinda thing that the Stones would’ve done? And you know what else? These guys really love their local fans. They honestly do. They are so proud of their Twickenham roots. And they just love to play live. So it’s gotta all be good.

You have to hand it to the Four Wheel Drive team. They live and breathe the rock n roll dream. They don’t just dress up and pretend to be rockers. They are rockers.  It just comes natural. And their live shows are as thrilling as a freefall drop sans le chute and as loud as a monster-truck derby.

From the moment the band exploded onto the impromptu ‘stage’ we knew we were in for an extraordinary treat. The sound quality was good. As good as anything I’ve heard in any club or pub that the boys have played in. It just shows that you do not have to compromise on sound when playing in the open – even off the back of a lorry. Of course, the boys put in 100% effort  (as they always do) and that energy goes a long way to ensure success. Crisp ‘n crunchy ‘White Lines’ evoked AC/DC from the Bon Scott era and is a powerful anthem. And ‘High Roller’, with vocals that are stretched tighter than a babestation girl’s G-string, is ludicrously catchy – frontman/ bass playing lead vocalist Jamie Lailey soon has the entire bubbling crowd singing along to that happy humdinger of a chorus. At other times the band sounded positively Zeppelinesque with fine blues guitar work from both Paddy Achtelik and Ben Austwick. But it  also seemed like we were watching a reincarnation of the early Rolling Stones circa 1965, with the fuzzy riffs, earnest vocals and authentic stadium-ready blues rock hurtling along towards us at an extraordinarily fast pace – helped along, every inch of the way, by Will Richards on blistering drums.

Finishing off the set with some scintillating razor-sharp covers including a very fine ‘Johnny B. Goode.’ and an astonishing  ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’, Four Wheel Drive never once paused for breath in this helter-skelter rollicking madcap rock n roll jaunt in the park. It lifted the spirits of the entire throng and such was the wave of enthusiastic applause that echoed and thundered around the Green – that the shock-waves knocked the dust and the moss from the sadly neglected guttering of that once proud and mighty Red Lion on the corner. Rock n Roll will never die. Not with the likes of 4WD around, anyway!

© Neil_Mach
June 2010




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