Brighton and Hove News »It’s been a while, but full capacity is back, with Saving Grace by Robert Plant

Robert Plant live at Pavillon De La Warr 20.7.21 (photo Sara-Louise Bowrey Photography) (click on the photo to enlarge!)


As the leader of rock legends Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant has an indisputable place in the pantheon of great singers of all time, and a varied and successful solo career spanning the following decades.

The most recent of his many projects is an acoustic group, Saving grace, playing an eclectic selection of folk, blues, country and gospel covers, and occasionally the Plant original. For someone who could fill a stadium, this is a relatively low-key operation, visiting smaller venues in less obvious places. The inclusion of the iconic De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea sparked considerable excitement in the area, and the event quickly sold out.

The audience tonight, are you there? (photo Sara-Louise Bowrey Photography) (click on the photo to enlarge!)

It’s the second day since the pandemic restrictions were removed, so getting together in a crowd for an event at full capacity is new. The place is well organized, with a lot of helpful staff to help the free flow of customers. Most people voluntarily wear face coverings when moving indoors, and there is a spacious bar on the terrace to soak up the sun on a warm July evening.

Scott Matthews live at De La Warr Pavilion 20.7.21 (photo Sara-Louise Bowrey Photography) (click on the photo to enlarge!)

The first in the room tonight is the indie-folk singer-songwriter Scott Matthews, a man with a huge rack of guitars. His first album, “Pass a stranger” was critically acclaimed in 2006, with the debut single ‘Elusive’ pick up an Ivor Novello songwriting award. A native of Wolverhampton, he was supported by Robert Plant (famous from the Black Country himself) who contributed vocals to a track on the follow-up. ‘Elsewhere’ in 2009. With six other albums released, there is a large catalog to draw on.

“Live music!” Scott exclaims opening his arms to the audience, who respond with a loud cheer. Tall figure wearing a blue shirt and black jeans, he sports a clean look with his cropped hair. Relying on a semi-acoustic Guild with a gorgeous dark wood finish, he launches into the opening act ‘Virginia’. The sound is ambient and vibey, with minimal electronic drone support, presumably provided via a foot pedal. Both vocals and guitar are drenched in massive reverb. “Give me something I can dream of” the lyrics are imploring, and it’s like a dream to be sitting watching a performance in the company of a large crowd.

Scott Matthews live at De La Warr Pavilion 20.7.21 (photo Sara-Louise Bowrey Photography) (click on the photo to enlarge!)

There seem to be guitar changes for each song: amplified acoustics, twangy 12-string, a few alternate tunings. Glad to see hard-working guitar technician Ady Johnson being thanked and introduced to the crowd.

The highlights for me cover both ends of Scott’s discography. ‘Intruders on Earth’, from the current album ‘New skin’ is very atmospheric with Spanish guitar arpeggios and a melody reminiscent of the vocal style of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. “Pass a stranger”, from the debut album, is a beautifully written song with a nice progression, its blues style reminding me of Ben Ottewell from Gomez. The lyrics are also a cracker: “The coffee you served me is cold, the newspaper I read is old and that smile is not yours.” It was a very impressive start to the evening.

Scott Matthews setlist:
‘Virginia’, ‘As The Day Passes’, ‘Sunlight’, ‘Something Real’, ‘City Headache’, ‘Intruders On Earth’, ‘Passing Stranger’

Saving Grace live at De La Warr Pavilion 20.7.21 (photo Sara-Louise Bowrey Photography) (click on the photo to enlarge!)

The terrace bar does a quick trade during intermission, and there is a palpable buzz of excitement in anticipation of seeing a true legend unfold. Back in the room, the stage is set, with a large backdrop with a bison motif, and as the lights go down and the introductory music kicks in, it’s time for Saving grace.

The instrumentalists take their places under a thunderous applause, and launch a groove with exotic sounds with banjo, percussions and mandolin. Robert Plant and Suzi dian enter the house to the left and right respectively to the enthusiastic cheers of the ecstatic crowd and we are in the first issue, a cover of Clarence Ashley ‘Hello’. The double vocals fit together superbly and an effervescent banjo line dances to quivering percussions and a bass drum. It is clear that we are going to have a special gift tonight. The haunting double voice continues through a version of ‘Gospel Plow’.

Robert Plant & Suzi Dian live at Pavillon De La Warr 20.7.21 (photo Sara-Louise Bowrey Photography) (click on the photo to enlarge!)

“Just another night,” quips Mr Plant, who is clearly delighted to be back after a forced hiatus of nineteen months. There is a change of mood for ‘Move along the train’, led by an insistent snare rhythm of Oli Jefferson, house just behind a black kit. Two musicians sit at the back of the stage, both equipped with a set of ready-made instruments, including acoustic guitars and long-necked electric baritone guitars. Tony Kelsey, who started the mandolin set, sits hunched over in a dark t-shirt, long hair cascading under a baseball cap. Bearded banjo player Tony Kelsey, his black jacket revealing numerous tattoos, takes the lead of a call-and-answer vocal section. In this case, the answer is provided by Robert Plant, handsome and dandy in a blue satin shirt, her characteristic curly mane tied back, and Suzi Dian, with flowing blonde hair and a flowing black dress.

“Welcome to the Black Country.” The tall man is in a jovial mood. “We save Grace, and we come from the land of ice and snow ”, a reference to Zep that makes you laugh. Many fans in the audience are straining their ears for a monumental awe-inspiring rendition of ‘Satan your kingdom must Go down’ goes to Blind Willie Johnson’s ‘In my time to die’, famous cover on the Led Zeppelin 1975 album ‘Physical graffiti’. Twin baritone guitars sound sublimely massive.

Each number is an absolute winner, performed by musicians at the top of their game. The introduction of a Moby Grape number brings some fond memories of the 1960s music scene. Suzi takes the lead for ‘Too far from you’, with Robert standing behind the two guitarists, together providing a formidable wall of backing vocals. There is an oriental atmosphere at Low’s “Everyone’s song”, with the effects on Matt Worley’s cuatro producing a sitar sound, and “Two coats” is particularly vibey, with Suzi adding a low drone on an accordion. There is a lot of friendly chat between songs, often providing information about their origins, which is musical education in itself.

Large numbers keep coming. “Cindy, I will marry you someday” has another nice double voice driven by a hard-hitting floor tom. Considering their sound quality, I’m surprised baritone guitars aren’t used more widely. Longer collars allow them to be set lower than standard. Both players use them for Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch”. Suzi takes the lead voice while Robert takes care of some maracas. Oli adds rim shots and big hits, and Tony transforms into another mind-blowing solo.

Robert Plant live at Pavillon De La Warr 20.7.21 (photo Sara-Louise Bowrey Photography) (click on the photo to enlarge!)

“Here is a song I wrote with … someone else” enter the final number of the set, ‘Please read the Letter’, from Page and Plant’s album in 1998 “Enter Clarksdale”, famous cover with Alison Krauss on “High sand” in 2007. It’s a beautiful song, and this interpretation is simply magnificent. The comedic ending elicits laughter and huge applause.

“I didn’t know King Offa had left the West Midlands”, says Robert ironically, saying goodbye to us. The singer has a keen interest in the Welsh Marches and has clearly noticed that the King of Mercia (responsible for ‘Offa’s Dyke’) appears in the names of streets and schools in Bexhill. King Offa conquered the South Saxons in AD 771 and then appointed Bexhill (Bixlea) in a charter he granted. Tonight a different kind of Midland royalty has peacefully conquered the people of Sussex, and they adore it. An insistent and surprisingly long helping hand does not resist the call of a reminder.

The group returns with Robert relaxed, a glass of wine in hand, and we are treated to a superb version of Sam Amidon. ‘As I traveled’, with banjo and baritone guitar evoking an atmosphere reminiscent of “Cashmere”.

“We like to go to places we’ve never been before… like here! is the last word. “You will never leave!” retorts some stir in the audience, League Of Gentlemen style, and the evening ends with a cover of “Dance of the angels” by Los Lobos.

It’s been a long time, as they say, that we haven’t had live music events at full capacity, and what a way to get back to it. Tonight it was an absolute treat to witness a superlative performance by a top quality group of musicians, starring a true musical legend.

Saving Grace live at De La Warr Pavilion 20.7.21 (photos Sara-Louise Bowrey Photography) (click on the photos to enlarge!)

Saving grace
Robert Plant and Suzi Dian – vocals
Oli Jefferson – percussion
Tony Kelsey – mandolin, baritone and acoustic guitars, vocals
Matt Worley – banjo, cuatro, acoustic and baritone guitars, vocals

Saving Grace Song List:
‘Hello’ (Cover by Clarence Ashley)
“The plow of the gospel” (traditional)
“Go by train” (Cover by Levon Helm)
“Satan, your kingdom must collapse” (traditional)/‘In my time to die’ (Cover of the blind Willie Johnson)
“Card room” (Cover by Richard and Linda Thompson)
“It’s a beautiful day today” (Moby Raisin cover)
“Too far from you” (Sarah Siskind cover)
“Everyone’s song” (Low cover)
“Two coats” (traditional / Ralph Stanley)
“Can I do it for you” (Memphis Minnie blanket)
“Cindy, I will marry you someday” (traditional)
‘Season of the Witch’ (Donovan blanket)
“Please read the letter”
‘As I traveled’ (cover of Sam Amidon)
“Dance of the angels” (Cover of Los Lobos)

Concert flyer

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