Brian Downey's Alive And Dangerous + Federal Charm
Saturday 25th November 2017
Nells Jazz & Blues, London
Brian Downey, known to millions of Rock fans as the original drummer of Thin Lizzy performed the second of two rare and sold out concerts at Nells Jazz & Blues in London last Saturday night. As it said on the tin, his new band Alive And Dangerous, featuring Brian Grace (best known as the guitarist for the Commitments Andrew Strong), former Low Rider members Matt Wilson (lead vocals, bass) and Phil Edgar (lead guitar) were to cover one of the greatest live Rock and Roll albums of all time: Thin Lizzy's 'Live and Dangerous' - the question on every Lizzy fans lips assembled tonight was would they do it justice? Downey's band were celebrating the 40th Anniversary of 'Live and Dangerous' - although not trying to be Mr. Picky, the double album was actually released in June 1978, however, it was primarily recorded at London's Hammersmith Odeon in November 1976 as part of the Johnny The Fox tour plus Toronto's Seneca College Fieldhouse and Philadelphia's Tower Theatre Bad Reputation gigs in October 1977, with further production in Paris, which sort of averaged it out to '77 I suppose! It was also the last Thin Lizzy album to feature guitarist Brian Robertson, who left the band shortly after its release, the conspiracy theorists singling out Robertson's displeasure at how much of the album was overdubbed, which has always been a contentious topic since its release.
Anyway, from the past to the present - and to prove Rock 'n' Roll is still alive and kickin' - and an added bonus of the evening was the news that Stockport's very own sons Federal Charm were support. This was the third time we had seen Federal Charm, previously in 2015 supporting Joanne Shaw Taylor at the Jazz Cafe and a year ago at Islington's O2 Academy with Simo and Aaron Keylock as part of Plant Rock Roadstars. Looking a lot more hairier than last time, again theses guys did not disappoint with their own musical setlist which featured 'Master Plan', 'Choke', 'Get Through', 'Guess What', 'Death Rattle', 'Silhouette', 'Gotta Give It Up' and 'Concrete Creature'. In a touch of class, they not only thanked Brian Downey for the honour of supporting him, but they also paid tribute to another legend - Tom Petty - with a classic cover of 'I Should Have Known It'. Known for their immense Blues Rock sound with a huge nod to Zeppelin and a twist of Free - these guys have the lot: stage presence, ability, belief and a catalogue of songs that back all of that up. Make sure you check them out if they're gigging your way.
It's perhaps no surprise to learn that Brian Downey's much missed compadre, Phil Lynott, with the exception of Bob Seger's 'Rosalie', had a clean sweep on writing all the songs featured on the iconic 'Live and Dangerous'. However, on the richter scale, it's a pretty mean feat for a drummer to have also co-written almost half of those classic songs. True to the album they set the bar mighty high as they opened with the corker - 'Jailbreak' - and boy were the assembled Lizzy fans ready as they continued to Rock out with fists proudly in the air to 'Are You Ready' - promoted up the order - but the four hundred strong crowd didn't give a damn. It was an opening salvo to make your hair stand up on end - if Brian had any - although his three Irish amigos were certainly not challenged in the follicle stakes nor indeed musically as they immediately demonstrated why they had been hand picked by the legendary tub thumper. They then went back to the original running order with the harmonic 'Southbound' - ironically recorded for the live album from the Tower Theatre soundcheck - before Wilson duly paid homage to Downey before they launched into 'Rosalie'. Awesome stuff. And in my mind's eye, I can still recall the classic silhouette of Lynott during 'Dancing In The Moonlight (It's Caught Me In Its Spotlight)' at The Lewisham Odeon in December 1977, during the aforementioned Bad Reputation tour - not one of my all time Lizzy favourites - but this immediately brought back great memories as did 'Massacre' - again identical to the running order that night and also so great to hear a track that has been relegated from the mainstream Black Star Riders and Lizzy Tribute set lists.
Although considered by many critics to be Lynott's finest hour - 'Still In Love With You' - a slower and more emotional track compared to the studio version on 'Nightlife' - has its roots well and truly nailed in another Lizzy era - namely Gary Moore. Suffice to say both Phil and Gary would have been applauding from upon high as Grace nailed Robertson's 'LAD' guitar solo to the mast. 'Johnny The Fox' was followed by a perfect recreation of one of Lizzy's iconic sequences, again true to the live album, as the band segued immediately from 'Cowboy Song' into 'The Boys Are Back in Town', on the line "a cowboy's life is the life for me" - the last chord of the former was the first of the latter, although their studio versions were recorded as separate songs. Other than the occasional bit of Irish banter from the suitably Afro-mopped Wilson - it was Downey's night - but his band mates well and truly let their musical instruments do all the talking as proven on 'Warriors' and 'She La La'. Wilson's vocals and bass were spot on, and as for those unique Lizzy duelling guitar harmonies, substitute Grace and the guitar swapping Edgar for Robertson and Scott Gorham - both respectively and respectfully. However there is no substitute for Downey's drumming, the sorcerer behind his emerald green drum kit with his apprentices performing that Lizzy magic in front of him.
By this time, the hits were coming like a machine gun to our ears! Rat a tat tat .... 'Don't Believe A Word', 'Suicide' and to finish off the set 'The Rocker'. In fact they omitted 'LAD's 'Baby Drives Me Crazy' (Huey Lewis would not be happy) and overall the set list was in a different order to the album - but hey they more than made up for it with an encore of Nightlife's 'Angel From The Coast/Its Only Money', plus two tracks that surprisingly are not on 'LAD' - a certain 'Whiskey In The Jar' and 'Bad Reputation'. They duly finished with, from the Iive album, and the pure embodiment of Thin Lizzy, 'Emerald'. Superb. It was a storming set and Alive And Dangerous did an exceptional job of keeping Lizzy's music alive, right from the moment they came onto the stage, to the moment they left, with their high energy and unerring first class delivery. However, you wouldn't expect anything less from Downey, who has a proud musical legacy to behold and who no doubt wants to ensure it flourishes for another forty years! And at the end, with deserved applause ringing around Nells, did I catch the ghosts of Lynott and Moore out of the corner of my eye, bowing alongside Downey, Grace, Wilson and Edgar? Think we're all still in love with you guys.
AJ (photos courtesy of Andras Paul)