The Bull’s Head in Barnes, just upriver from central London, is a lovely riverside pub on a quiet residential street. The Thames, improbably thinner here than it is just a few miles downstream, flows past the pub on the south side and a school boathouse on the other. If you like rowing, The Bull’s Head would be a premium place to watch the concluding stretch of the Boat Race.
If you like great music, do anything you can to be at The Bull’s Head on the second Thursday of every month. Alan Price and a varying band of musicians play a regular, sold-out gig here. I was fortunate enough to be in the front row for the 13th August show.
Price has been in my life since I first heard The Animals and “The House of the Rising Sun.” I don’t remember when that was, but I can’t remember not knowing it, every word, and every rippling, rolling keyboard line. The rocking rise and fall of Price’s hands skimming over the slight Vox Continental is elegant, assured, and timeless. It remains so, though he is now 73, and has given up the skinny suits for khakis and a navy long-sleeved polo shirt. He looks easily twenty years younger, his handsome face unlined, and his hair, graying blond now, flopping over his forehead just as it ever has.
Price performed for over two hours a far-ranging, excellent show full of stories, jokes, vaudeville and music-hall touches, jazz and blues and just plain superb music. He opened with a sad story and tribute to a former road manager, dead after a rough life, then told us about Louis Jordan and his band and turned the mic over to George Bruno Money. Zoot Money nailed Jordan’s classic “Let The Good Times Roll,” and his own “Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’ But the Bacon.”
Price’s introductions to the songs were often epic — I’d pay just to listen to him talk. A saga about Bobby Tench as a child prodigy, trailing home through the streets of Soho after a gig hand-in-hand with his nanny and nearly tripping over Van Morrison (“a little fella in a suit, and trilby”) in the gutter gave way to Tench’s steamy cover of “Black Magic Woman.” An even longer tale followed of Jackson Browne seeking guidance from a “guru with a Fu Manchu” in San Francisco. Shaking his head, Price complained that Lawyers In Love is constituted of “the most miserable bloody stuff ever recorded,” and then he tore into a fabulous rendition of “Say It Isn’t True.” The best cover of the night, though, was of Price’s old pal Bob Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country.” Price sang “far” instead of “fair,” which made the song even more archaic, more long-ago.
However, those of us who love Alan Price were there to hear his songs, and he obliged with grace and great power. Announcing that most of his audience now have a median age of 63 (and indeed I was the youngest member of the audience by a long shot), Price told us that he was going to do some songs he’d done for Lindsay Anderson films. “They’re not very exciting. Now is a good time to go to the toilet, ladies.” I disobeyed, and delighted in “O Lucky Man” and a boogie-woogie, ragtime medley in its wake. Never stopping, Price riffed into Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” “Put Another Nickel In,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as he soared through “Changes.”
Sitting two feet away, where I could see Price’s hands as he played, was such a privilege. His left hand is an anchor, and his right hand a sail. The left holds steady to the quivering Korg, while the right floats like a butterfly, and stings like a bee. He rollicked through “Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear,” the hurdy-gurdy irony of “The Jarrow Song,” and, in closing, the one-two punch of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “The House Of The Rising Sun.” Genial and gracious after the show, Price greeted friends in the largely local crowd, and welcomed travelers from afar. There were perhaps 70 people in the small room. He could have been playing to seven or 70 or 700 times as many. I thanked him for the evening, and received a grin and a “thank you, darling” in reply. My English husband, an Animals fan since boyhood, was perhaps even more thrilled by this than I. Ears ringing, hearts singing, we floated back home to London, not up the river, no, but from the Hammersmith tube stop. The next time you visit London, music lovers, please make sure to be there over a Thursday when Price is at The Bull’s Head. Londoners, you are spoiled in so many ways, and being able to hear Alan Price every month is major. I’ll be envying you until the next time.
photograph of keyboard by me and of Alan Price via AlanPrice.com