Chaka Khan Declares War on the South Bank

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I bought Eric Burdon Declares War 54 years ago and it is still one of my favourite albums, so when I heard War had been recruited for Chaka Khan’s Meltdown I knew I had to get tickets, writes Michael Holland.

Eric Burdon collapsed on the stage during a 1970 concert promoting that album and never returned but the band continued, going on to have numerous hits with their funk-soul-Latin sound. I read that Burdon had joined them on stage at The Royal Albert Hall in 2008 for their big hit together, Spill The Wine, so I had convinced myself that he would once again make a surprise appearance here at the Royal Festival Hall.

War walked on stage to whistles, cheers, clapping and US-style whoops, and immediately broke out in to Me And Baby Brother with its thunderous, rolling beat that mimicked the crowd’s welcome.

Hit after hit followed as War set the tempo and the audience were soon up and out of their seats to dance. Some headed down to the front of the stage, some moved to the aisles until the auditorium was a wave of bodies. We only took to our seats when Lonnie Jordan (keyboards and lead vocals) talked us through some of the band’s history or introduced us to the other members.

War has always been a band of musicians with great skills. Their songs were always light on lyrics and heavy on the musical groove that they created – These seven men were maestros, and most with more than one instrument. These skills were allowed to shine as each of them had a solo or two in the spotlight. Jordan burnt out one Roland VK-8 organ during a rather frantic solo, but there was a standby in the wings and the show carried on soon after.

As Spill The Wine was introduced I looked over at the wings to see if Eric Burdon was there, ready to come on. No such luck, but they played a tremendous version without him.

Like all bands, War have had their arguments and falling outs and in this line-up Lonnie Jordan is the only one from that original core group of players that came together in the 1960s, while four others stepped away to become Lowrider Band. A sure sign that greedy men in suits were involved somewhere in the mix.

Nevertheless, Lonnie is the voice of War and his keyboard playing is the driving force behind the music, so with him at front and centre and other on sax, drums, bass, guitar, harmonica and percussion, listening to War play was just like it would have been at any time in their career. Our response to Cisco Kid, Why Can’t We Be Friends and Low Rider was as ecstatic as it always is, anywhere in the world that they play it.

This concert was 90 minutes of pure virtuoso musicianship and we loved every minute of it. Even with no Eric Burdon.


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