Graham Bonnet Band + Beth Blade

Friday 29th July 2022

Boston Music Rooms, Tufnell Park, London

At the age of 74, Graham Bonnet can look back on a career of over fifty years; indeed, having recorded with the band Marbles as long ago as 1968, he’s now in an impressive seventh decade as a professional. And yet, to most music fans, he is still best remembered for his fairly brief tenure in Rainbow.

That said, it did result in a fine album in ‘Down To Earth’ (1979), which has stood the test of time remarkably well and which forms the backbone of the GBB’s live set. Indeed, ‘Down To Earth’ provided nearly half the set at the BMR, with only two of its tracks (‘No Time To Lose’ and ‘Danger Zone’) being omitted from the slightly shortened setlist.

Although ‘Down To Earth’ marked a move into more commercial territory for Rainbow and spawned two very radio friendly singles, conversely it led GB away from a more Blues and R&B style towards heavier Rock, as evidenced by his subsequent stints with the Michael Schenker Group, Alcatrazz and Impellitteri (only the last named did not feature in the BMR setlist). Those decades of Heavy Rock have taken their toll, not so much on GB’s voice, which remains impressively strong, but on his hearing.

The sound balance in the room seemed uneven to me from the outset, with the bass and GB’s vocals battling to be heard over the other instruments. But, coupled with this, GB complained that his “in ears” weren’t working and that he could only hear the harmony vocals, but not his own. To sing lead vocals for an hour without being able to hear much of his own voice must have been incredibly tough; together with the general sound imbalance, it led to a bit of shouting at times, but, in fairness to GB, he knows his own voice well enough to be able to shout in tune!

It is to the band’s credit that it overcame the sound problems and the sweltering on stage heat, to deliver a show which sent the crowd home satisfied. I suspect that many a dusty copy of ‘Down To Earth’ was given a spin during the weekend afterwards.

Perhaps surprisingly, the songs from the album were not staggered throughout the show, but instead formed the first third of the set, plus the encore. ‘Eyes Of The World’ was a great opener and had those drinking and smoking in the outside courtyard scrambling quickly back into the main room in time for a singalong to the first of the singles, ‘All Night Long’. Nothing wrong with a bit of nostalgia!

The ‘Down To Earth’ section of the show continued with ‘Love’s No Friend’ and ‘Makin’ Love’, which led to a rousing ‘Since You Been Gone’, which featured keyboard and guitar solos, together with backing vocals from just about everyone in the house!

While GB nipped offstage to freshen up, Italian keyboard player Alessandro Bertoni took the opportunity to stretch out during a version of Deep Purple’s ‘Lazy’ (from ‘Machine Head’, 1972). More Don Airey than Jon Lord to these ears perhaps, but none the worse for that and further extending the Rainbow links.

Indeed, both Bertoni and Airey contributed to the GBB’s current album ‘Day Out In Nowhere’ (2022). Although three drummers played on the album, Kyle Hughes from Newcastle wasn’t one of them, but he and Bertoni were chosen for tour duties alongside the core trio of GB (vocals), Beth-Ami Heavenstone (bass), who has been the leader’s on and off stage partner for the past decade, and Brazilian guitarist Conrado Pesinato, who had previously played with Beth-Ami in the otherwise all female band Hardly Dangerous.

When GB returned to the stage, we were treated to the only song from the new album, ‘Imposter’, followed by ‘S.O.S.’, which was a single from his ‘Line Up’ (1981) album immediately after his departure from Rainbow, then ‘Desert Song’ from the MSG’s ‘Assault Attack’ (1982).

The on stage heat meant that the band were then happy to allow Hughes to play a lengthy drum solo, before they joined him to play ‘Jet To Jet’, the only Alcatrazz song of the evening (from ‘No Parole From Rock ‘n’ Roll’, 1983), as an instrumental. GB returned for a great version of ‘Night Games’ (also from ‘Line Up’), before the title track of the MSG’s ‘Assault Attack’ album closed out the set.

The show had barely cleared the hour mark at that point and I half-expected that to be our lot, given the heat and sound difficulties, but the band gamely returned to the stage and to ‘Down To Earth’ for a romp through ‘Lost In Hollywood’. Those who went home at that point seemed happy enough; those who stayed to buy signed merch and to have photos taken with GB and/or Beth-Ami were happier still.

It was clearly a difficult night in some respects and it was a reminder of how tough life on the road can be. I don’t suppose GB and the band were comfortable during the show and they probably didn’t feel much like performing an encore, much less meeting their audience while they were hot and sweaty and in need of a cold beer and a shower. But they still did it all.

GB is a seasoned professional who gives his all and whose voice has retained most of its fine qualities; he deserves his loyal following and I’m sure they will be back out in force when the GBB returns to the UK (later this year, I believe).

Setlist:

Eyes Of The World; All Night Long; Love’s No Friend; Makin’ Love; Since You Been Gone; Lazy; Imposter; S.O.S.; Desert Song; Drum Solo; Jet To Jet; Night Games; Assault Attack; Lost In Hollywood.

Gary Smith