It’s a little known fact that when John Squire left The Stone Roses, the choice for his replacement came down to Aziz Ibrahim and Slash. Aziz only got the gig because he didn’t wear leather trousers on stage. I know this because Aziz told me. He told the whole Roadhouse from the thrust of the stage. The way Aziz tells you a story makes it sound like it’s just you and him, friendly and familiar.
The listing for the event, happening as part of the seminal venue’s closing-down week, was simply the guitarist’s name and a little information on the musicians playing, including the promise of Overload: “The loudest band in Pakistan’. A bold statement indeed. What we, the audience, were privy to that evening was seeing the pure joy that comes from making music.
Armed with a case of beautiful and interesting guitars, Aziz Ibrahim and tabla player Dalbir Singh Rattan perfectly showcased his trademark “Asian Blues”; a fusion Western rock ‘n’ roll paired with the exotic sounds of his native Pakistan. The gig was an exercise in creative expression, a well choreographed jam session that kept the volatility for things to change direction or go wrong at any moment. Aziz and Dalbir used this freedom to take us on a musical journey through an array of genres, from funk to metal all backed by a undulating Asian heart beat.
Of course this kind of journey was only available because of their obscene talent. Dalbir’s tabla didn’t let up for a minute. while Aziz’s virtuosity must be seen to be believed. Did you ever see those videos of Led Zeppelin at the BBC, the one’s where Jimmy Page is doing unimaginably bonkers things to a guitar, yet producing the most delicious sounds? Yeah, it’s like that, except no violin bow. Aziz is a man who has clearly adopted the Keith Richards approach to loving thy guitar like it’s the last lady in the world, and it has payed off in his playing. Magnificent. And his fret tapping would give Eddie Van Halen a run for his money.
Interspersed amongst the 2-man set were the promised appearances from Overload. Vocalist and drummer Farhad Humayun’s powerful and hypnotic vocals weaved beautifully through the room, while dohl player Nasir Sain provided the advertised “loud”. The four men tinkered and tested there into each song, creating expansively haunting musical landscapes. It was a pleasure and an insight to see the results of their creative process; a key change here, a little more drum there. We were treated to a couple of truly otherworldly moments, when Sain, beautifully turned out in a floor length sequin tunic, took to the middle of the dance floor and spun smooth concentric circles, drumming himself into a trance. The audience lapped this spectacle up, bringing a truly different edge to the live experience.
A formally informal affair, punctuated by career anecdotes on being plucked from obscurity from the blues parties in Hulme to tour with Simply Red, saying no to drugs and yes to women, and telling his relatives in the audience to quiet down when the rabble again descended into conversation. As the gig came full circle, just before he played the first song he ever wrote to close the show, Aziz calmly exclaimed that “this is what Manchester is all about”. I could not agree with him more. The cross section of communities and age groups bought together, the representation of local homeless charity Coffee For Craig, the fusion of sounds on stage and having the space to experiment and play. This eclecticism and rebellion is what Manchester does best, it’s what defines the city. Losing The Roadhouse will be a terrible loss to live music in the city, one less place for musicians young and old to try something new. But as long as Manchester has someone as passionate about championing local (and not so local) music as Aziz is, I’m confident that the lights won’t got out yet.
A truly different, exceptional experience.