Live review

Impossible Gentlemen at Buxton International Festival

Gwilym Simcock, Mike Walker, Laurence Cottle & Ian Thomas

(Palace Hotel Buxton, 9 July 2022. Live review by Charles Rees)

L-R: Gwilym Simcock, Laurence Cottle, Ian Thomas & Mike Walker. Phone snap by Neil Hughes

The Impossible Gentlemen‘s performance at Buxton Festival was their first live show together since their Let’s Get Deluxe tour in 2015 (review by Adrian Pallant). The band has, in previous years, featured Adam Nussbaum, Steve Swallow, Steve Rodby and Iain Dixon, but bandleaders Mike Walker and Gwilym Simcock opted to try out a new, UK-based quartet lineup for their reunion…

From the get-go, the music had the Impossible Gentlemen sound: Simcock and Walker’s collective voice is very distinctive and, at this point, well established. Yet, the new players in the group brought something fresh into the mix. Laurence Cottle‘s electric bass was the principle catalyst for this, whereas Steve Rodby would usually opt for upright (and Steve Swallow’s bass was and still is an art form in itself). Cottle and drummer Ian Thomas tended to tap into a more funk-based element than their predecessors would, and though the band has always essentially been a fusion outfit, this produced quite different interpretations of the music.

The set was mostly comprised of music from past Impossible Gentlemen projects and recordings: The opener “Heute Loiter” and the encore “Barber Blues” are both tracks from Internationally Recognised Aliens (reviewed here by Chris Parker); and “It Could Have Been a Simple Goodbye”, Walker and Simcock’s heart-wrenching tribute to the late John Taylor, was recorded on Let’s Get Deluxe.

“LaughLines”, an incredibly dense and complicated composition of Mike Walker’s, certainly left an impression. “I’m sorry I wrote it, it’s too hard”, quipped Walker to the audience. It is another tune that the Gents played in their earlier years and it was fascinating to compare the hard-swinging approach, taken by Adam Nussbaum, with Ian Thomas, who played a pattern similar to what Peter Erskine plays on Jaco Pastorius’s “Domingo”. This reinforced those prior observations about the group’s newer sound and highlighted the Jaco influence that Simcock, Cottle and Thomas (most likely Walker also) share in common.

Walker was to be heard not just in the role of accomplished composer, he also stole the show at least twice with the characteristic screaming, soulful bouts of emotion which he weaves into his guitar solos; especially on “A Simpler Time”. He has an uncanny ability to find ‘sweet’ notes – usually towards the higher end of the register – and just go to town on them, milking them for all they’re worth; it’s glorious!

In addition to Jaco Pastorius, the influence of Steely Dan could certainly be heard in the compositions; made all the more apparent when Simcock explained that one of the tunes – a composition of his – was inspired by the music of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. More broadly, one could imagine the entire concert having been comfortably at home in a rock festival, yet it was by no means out of place at a jazz festival either.

Unfortunately, from my seat, the piano was often lost in the mix at the expense of the drums. There had been issues with the sound that delayed the start of the performance, but this quibble didn’t spoil a perfectly enjoyable gig, and a triumphant return for the Impossible Gentlemen. They have always been one of the most exciting bands on the UK scene and it was wonderful to hear them again in Buxton with this new line-up.

There is another opportunity to hear them on 3 September at Ambleside Days (book here).

RELATED ARTICLE: Preview/ interview with Gwilym Simcock

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