It’s like fish without chips, I mean fish is great alone but with chips, well…. Morecambe without Wise, Eric’s brilliant on his own, a pillar of entertainment yet with Ernie to bounce off the stuff of legend. So the same applies, the Home Service are a touchstone band playing an epic English rooted rock stirred by brass and searing electric guitar, but with founder John Tams they are classic. Tonight’s gig has the tag line, The Great Reunion and to be honest that just about sums it up.
Quite why Tams left four years ago was never clear, other than he was busy with other matters – like Warhorse. The Home Service replaced him with another John, Kirkpatrick who had ironically been involved at the band’s genesis as The First Eleven. So it’s that version of Home Service who appear on stage first and throughout the gig we’re reminded that their music made sans Tams is powerful and radical enough particularly their version of trad venerable ‘Arthur McBride,’ with Kirpatrick’s jaunty accordion balanced with heavy brass and granite rhythms. The title track of the latest album ‘A New Ground,’ is another wonder deep with social and political undercurrents. The roar which greeted JT’s entrance though was heartfelt, after all this was where he belongs, launching into ‘Alright Jack,’ you knew immediately this was a very special event. The grins were all across the stage, especially on the faces of fellow originals Graeme Taylor and Michael Gregory. Tams dipped into his solo career with a beautiful ‘How High The Price,’ the Service sweeping moods across the extended piece majestically. They closed the first half with ‘Sorrow/Babylon,’ the ultimate rail against 80s unemployment married to a Civil War anthem, it echoed round the theatre and bouncing off the walls and into your ears; glorious stuff.
Further wonders awaited, Graeme Taylor led the troops through some Shakespeare rock’n’roll his guitar shredding old dance tunes to bits and retooling them clearly for the 21st century. Why he isn’t mentioned in the same sort of breath as Richard Thompson when it comes to technical ability is one question that needs answering. There’s a mighty solo album lurking within him, y’hear Graeme? It was rewarding to hear him fly the frets. Likewise Joh n Tams was clearly having a ball and he dug deep into his past, there were some unexpected Albion moments. ‘Snowfalls,’ was an affectionate reading which had everyone on the edge of their seats and I cheered as loud as I could when they returned for the encore parting the waves of time with an enflamed ‘Battle of the Somme,’ a tune long appreciated and regularly played round Jones Towers, they all swung and rocked though the WW1 melody its noise echoing the tragedy of so many fallen.
Lining up for the first of many bows all the Service beamed and bid us goodnight for at least five minutes as they all trooped out to chat and shake hands in the bar. “We’ll see, we all want to do more,” GT confided, “there’s even a whisper of new material.” It can’t come soon enough. They’ve lit the fire now it just needs feeding. A peerless night by an indomitable band.