Steve Hole's Rock Review

The truly FABULOUS Grandads! By Steve Hole

I have to be honest and say I haven’t seen the Fabulous Grandads for a while although I have been keeping in touch with developments via their website – and Facebook page.

 The demand they’ve created on the (primarily) Kent pub, function, party and corporate gig circuit shows no sign of slowing down. In a day and age where it’s hard for young, and not so young, bands to get gigs let alone be paid for them, it’s a sure sign that this group of oldish geezers is doing something right.

The Fabulous Grandads could probably be plying their musical trade every night of the week if they wished. Fact is they are more than happy doing the couple of shows per week on average that they do. Actually, the ‘Grandads’ bit is a slight misnomer. They don’t come shuffling in on Zimmer frames and walking sticks as the energy they produce proves otherwise. It is fair to say though that they are nearer retirement age than they are to a youth training scheme. As one of the mantras on their website proclaims: ‘Growing old is compulsory; growing up is an option’.

I do, however, reckon that a video featuring them on mobility scooters could be a hoot. Funnily enough, I have a mate who currently has 40 of them, but that’s another story, for another day.

Back to matters of a ‘Grandad’ and ‘Fabulous’ nature and I recently had the chance to see them playing at a cracking Kentish pub and a regular gig for them, The Padwell Arms, in leafy Stone Street, near Seal. A smashing venue, with dedicated gig conservatory and a proper stage area with no danger of getting an errant headstock in the ear. You get a chance to be up close without being too intimate.

 There’s a good crowd in for tonight’s gig – obviously they’ve heard the word - and the band are in fine form apart from two of them being hindered by colds, not too debilitating but irritating for singing duties, nevertheless. In fact one of their crew keeps John the bassist regularly topped up with a honey and lemon concoction…I think it was honey and lemon, anyway! The show must go on and all that.

There’s quite a few wags in the audience at the Padwell, one enquiring whether the dry ice contains Vicks Vaporub (other chest ointments are available!), while I hear another say to his mate: “That bass player looks like Rick Parfitt.” Actually, now you mention it…

They kick straight off with Chris Rea’s ‘Road to Hell’, find the groove and keep it all night. Well, for the two and a half hour set anyway. It’s fine playing your songs and playing them well, but keeping the crowd happy, that takes some doing. A bit like keeping plates spinning. Lose momentum and you have to start all over again.

The emphasis is very much on classic material. Unlike some bands, they aren’t afraid to tackle serious tunes. How many pub bands would tackle such monster tunes as ‘Africa’ by Toto and ‘More Than A Feeling’ by Boston, let alone make them sound right? Truly impressive that. I’m left open mouthed on several occasions during their set and it’s nothing to do with the dry ice.

Clearly the art of the rehearsal is alive and well in this band. There might only be three of them but Neil Foreman (guitars, vocals), John Simpson (bass, vocals) and Chris Jarvis (drums, vocals) push out a big sound. Consummate musicians all, with years of dues paid gigging and doing sessions. They sure can crank it up when they want, by the same token they can do subtle and quiet with aplomb too as they do on an acoustic version of Crosby, Stills and Nash’s ‘Teach Your Children Well’.

Unlike some bands I’ve seen lately, big ‘names’ among them, where, what you hear is not actually what you see as they have ‘help’ with backing vocals and drums or an extra guitar player hidden behind the amps, what you get with the Fabulous Grandads is 100 per cent live, as it happens.

Sure, Foreman has the most amazing pedal board I have ever seen and equally impressively he uses it and knows what all the knobs (oo-er missus) and buttons do! At times his left foot is a blur of activity. His distinctive Steinberger Synapse Transcale allows the most amazing use of orchestral sounds you’ll hear anywhere. When he plays it straight though, he has a lovely, fluid sound. A sure sign of a quality player.

The classics keep coming – The Cars’ ‘Best Friend’s Girl’, Rolling Stones ‘Brown Sugar’, interspersed with tunes by Quo, Bob Marley, Eagles, The La’s, Deep Purple, The Calling, ACDC, Thin Lizzy and JJ Cale. Rockers, country, pop, heavy rock, they can cover it all. Where else will you hear a version of Be Bo Deluxe’s ‘Ships in the Night’, let alone a nigh-on perfect one. Bill would be proud…How about a bit of ‘Life in the Air Age’ or Axe Victim’ guys?

If you like Steely Dan, you’re in luck because The Fabulous Grandads look after a few of their iconic tracks including a nailed on ‘Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number’ and not many bands will attempt their stuff as they use notoriously difficult chord progressions and minor chords. All advanced grade playing. A killer cover of The Knack’s very naughty (If only the BBC knew when they played it copiously back in the day) ‘My Sharona’ also goes down well!

Sharing lead vocals with Neil is bassist, John Simpson. Even with a heavy cold he delivered impressive vocal performances of songs as varied as John Waite’s ‘Missing You’ to Deep Purple’s ‘Black Night’. He also drives the engine room along nicely with drummer, Chris Jarvis. A rock solid and rock steady rhythm section. Jarvis also takes over lead vocals on a few occasions too, notably the Beatles’ ‘Back in the USSR’. Must be his sixties beat group experience, when the his band would regularly open up for the Fab Four. His Drum Solo towards the end of the set is a corker and gets the audience up on their feet. Much like flying a helicopter, drumming involves the ability to multi-task. Adding in singing while doing it, now that’s something else.

Along with clever and spectacular use of lighting from their ‘Toyboy’ Rob - a chap who knows how to mix a good sound from pub to pub, the Fabulous Grandads really do have something for everyone and that’s a real skill. Indeed by halfway they have people dancing down the front - and not one of them was drunk!

Everyone went home very happy after this Fabulous Grandads gig, just like they always seem to wherever in Kent they play. If you haven’t caught them yet, or if you run a pub with a liking for live music (good on ya) and are looking for a band that ticks every box then check these guys out. You will NOT be disappointed.

 Has Britain got talent? Well, yes actually but the Fabulous Grandads? They’re loaded with it but don’t hold your breath to see them on the telly program of the same name. They’ve already turned down an open invite.


Steve Hole