THE Yardbirds with Derek Miller at the Guvernment (132 Queen's Quay East), Monday (June 16). cancelled. Refunds at point of purchase. Rating: NNNNN
With Led Zeppelin suddenly back on the charts thanks to the critically lauded How The West Was Won live triple-disc set and fabulous concert DVD package, the time couldn't be better for the return of the Yardbirds, the influential British proto-garage combo that launched the career of guitarist Jimmy Page. Although Page and the group's other two legendary hired guitar guns, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, aren't touring with the current version of the Yardbirds, the group does include original drummer Jim McCarty and rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja along with ex-Dr. Feelgood guitarist Gypie Mayo and singer/bassist John Idan, who looks kinda like Jeff Beck.
And since McCarty and Dreja founded the Yardbirds back in 63 with Dreja's Kingston Art College mate the late Keith Relf, they feel justified in using the hallowed handle for their new Birdland (Favored Nations) disc, which features celebrity riffing on some old faves by Queen's Brian May (Mister, You're A Better Man Than I), Steve Vai (Shapes Of Things), Joe Satriani (Train Kept A Rollin') and Slash (Over, Under, Sideways, Down).
"Chris and I had been in the group from start to finish," explains McCarty over the phone from a hotel in Florida, where the tour kicks off. "All the others came and went during the group's short run. Jeff and Jimmy both came to see us play, and they didn't object to us using the name, so we felt OK with it."
For years there's been speculation about who actually has the legal rights to the Yardbirds name. At this point, even McCarty isn't sure, but he can shed some light on how Page - hired as a bassist fill-in for Paul Samwell-Smith - wound up using the name after the group split in the summer of 68.
"When the Yardbirds broke up, there was a piece of paper that Keith and I signed allowing Jimmy and Chris to keep on using the Yardbirds name. We didn't want to be in the group any more, but Jimmy and Chris wanted to play the rest the dates we had booked.
"Then Chris left the group - or was shoved out, I'm not sure which - and Jimmy continued on for a short time as the New Yardbirds. Chris had them stop using the name, and that's when they became Led Zeppelin. I guess Chris and I have as much right to call ourselves the Yardbirds as anyone."
There's no denying that nostalgia is the main selling point of the Yardbirds reunion tour - the whole idea was hatched by a bloke in Lancashire who succeeded in putting the surviving Animals back on the road - but McCarty was determined to make the Birdland recording more than a mere rehash of the old material played a few beats slower.
Admittedly, the new tunes don't stack up against the familiar classics like For Your Love and Happenings Ten Years Time Ago - no great shock there - but at least the high-profile guests, Jeff Beck included, keep their wanking tendencies in check and work within a Yardbirds rave-up context.
"The initial plan was to revisit the old Yardbirds material using a number of guest guitarists, with the idea of bringing this music to a new audience.
"Yet we didn't want to seem like a retro act, so we thought we'd add a couple of new songs. As we began working on the album, our confidence increased and we wanted there to be more original material. I'm quite happy that we were able to get a 50/50 balance between new songs and old."