Most widely known for his tenure with the Scorpions in the 1970s, Uli Jon Roth is a hugely respected guitarist with his band Electric Sun and, since the early 1990s, as a solo artist. His relaxed yet intense style continues to draw those who appreciate guitar virtuosity. A sizeable crowd arrived on a Monday evening to see the great German’s first show in Cardiff since 2002.
Uli Jon Roth
The Globe, Cardiff – 20 November 2023
Words and Photography: Paul Hutchings
With no support act to warm things up, you know it’s going to be a set crammed full of classics and spread over a couple of hours. Around 8:30 pm, Roth and his band take the small stage to a huge ovation.
These aren’t curious voyeurs in the crowd, though. No, this is a fanbase who know the words, who bask in the solos, and almost without exception, have been there throughout Roth’s musical journey over the past 50 or so years.
There’s less hair in the audience than in 1976, but Roth hasn’t really aged much since those early days of In Trance and Virgin Killer. Yes, he’s been grey for many years, and his moustache may be less flamboyant, but he’s still dressed in his medieval outfit, his oversized hat perched above his flowing locks.
Something that would no doubt fit in when he’s out shopping in his home of Oswestry. He looks healthy. He doesn’t move a huge amount, partly due to the numbers on the stage. With another guitarist and bassist, as well as drum kit and keys, there isn’t room to swing a cat, never mind a Strat. Or, in Roth’s case, his own immaculately crafted Sky guitars.
But it’s his playing we’ve come to see, and it’s a delight from start to finish.
His smooth style is organic. Very much influenced by the old gods, Roth has established his own approach. He draws from Clapton, Beck, and Hendrix, alongside peers like Blackmore. But all the time, it’s Uli Jon Roth playing the notes.
He takes off into the odd flight of fantasy, punctuating the set with some spellbinding workouts, although he’s often content to deliver a more measured yet no less intoxicating solo or two.
There are early technical difficulties with a guitar not cooperating. This temporarily seems to faze Roth as he stands on stage, not sure what to do. It’s eventually sorted, although the gremlins do reappear on and off for the rest of the evening.
Uli Jon Roth is gentle in his words between songs, explaining where they come from, introducing newer songs, and engaging in banter with a German speaker in the crowd. “He’s probably gone for schnapps,” he quips when his countryman is nowhere to be found a bit later.
Whilst Roth is the central attraction, his band are all top players. Co-vocalist and bassist Niklas Turmann takes much of the attention on some of the Scorpion’s works, including set highlight In Trance, which wows the audience. Left-handed guitarist David Klosinski does his fair share of shredding. Behind the kit, drummer Richard Kirk does a fine job, as someone with his pedigree would expect.
Roth is also pleased to point out the rerelease of some of his early works on vinyl, which began on 10th November with the 1979 Electric Sun album Earthquake. We get a cut or two from this album, and the nods around the room confirm that it’s not just the Scorpions fans who agree with the quality on display. We even get a newish release to bring balance to the night.
We get a splendid set with a broad selection, including tracks from Virgin Killer. “This is from Virgin Killer,” Uli announces. “Not Virgin Killer, from Virgin Killer,” he corrects one over-excited fan as they launch into Catch Your Train. Turmann nails the Meine delivery, his vocals somewhat smoother than the original, although they are just as intoxicating.
Unfortunately, I must leave before the end due to a work commitment. For his first solo visit in 21 years, this is a real bind. But as I hit the motorway, I’m left to reflect on an evening of substantial quality.
Sure, there’s an element of nostalgia in the performance. But with such a great catalogue to choose from, why would you not provide an evening of stunning entertainment, allowing those present to be transported from their working day into a time when things were much simpler?