During the sixties, the blues rock movement was pivotal to the emergence of several major bands that would dominate the following decade. Such names as The Rolling Stones, John Mayall, The Animals, and Cream had already gained inspiration from the blues. Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin, among many others, also explored that great tradition. To that list can be added another British band, The Groundhogs.
Tony McPhee’s Groundhogs were formed in 1962. In recognition of their blues foundation, they supported John Lee Hooker on his tour of the UK. Numerous albums and line-up changes followed over the next four decades. Two things have, however, remained constant. Chief singer-songwriter, guitarist, and Mr. Groundhog himself, Tony T.S. McPhee and, of course, the blues.
Any list of their most well known albums would include Thank Christ For The Bomb (1970), and the magnificent Split, released the following year. They reformed in the late nineties after a period of relative inactivity and released an album Hogs In Wolf’s Clothing. It was an unashamed tribute to blues legend Howlin’ Wolf.
It is this period that this DVD/CD set, (The Groundhogs Live At The Astoria), captures, showing a concert from February 1998 filmed at London’s Astoria. Remarkably it is, despite coming 35 years after their formation, the first proper film of The Groundhogs in action. The DVD includes a brief verbal introduction section by Tony McPhee before the band takes us into “Shake For Me”.
Any live set by the Groundhogs throughout the years would not be complete without “Eccentric Man”, “Groundhog Blues”, “Cherry Red”, or “Split Part 1” and “Split Part 2”. All are captured here on this film along with several tracks form the Hog’s In Wolf’s Clothing album.
It is perhaps the material from their own impressive catalogue that will really excite followers of The Groundhogs. “Eccentric Man”, taken from Thank Christ For The Bomb, will act as an early reminder of why they gained a near cult-like and passionately loyal following. Both “Split Part 1” and “Split Part 2” are worth the entrance money alone. Split the album had one side of vinyl divided into the four Split sections. It is from this remarkable album that live favourite “Cherry Red” is also taken.
“Mistreated”, dating way back to the 1969 album Blues Obituary, makes a welcome appearance. An even earlier, powerful rendition of, “Still A Fool” from 68’s Scratching The Surface, is next. It is a wonderful blues workout from a superb bluesman. In fact, it is the blues tracks that really seem to ignite Tony McPhee. This is particularly obvious on “Groundhog Blues”. It is another searing blues number “Down In The Bottom” that brings it all to a close. This track showcases McPhee’s guitar prowess superbly.
Ten years on and The Groundhogs are still putting in the odd performance. This set successfully plugs that gaping hole in The Groundhogs legend and finally supplies us with quality film evidence of Tony McPhee in action. It is made all the more valuable for people like me who were very much part of that enthusiastic audience on that night.
As the film ends someone in the audience says, ‘thank you I’ve waited thirty-five years for that’. He had to wait another ten for this DVD set, but I’m sure he is more than satisfied now.
To read about the continuing career of The Groundhogs visit the official Website.