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Inglorious +Blind River + City Of Thieves

Friday 1st February 2019

Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

The first thing I notice is the number of women in here - how great to see the girls loving this kind of music - and the front barrier is pretty much lined with them. The last gig I went too was almost entirely populated by fat blokes in black t-shirts - I cunningly blended in by disguising myself as a fat bloke in a black t-shirt. We’re in the minority at the Empire tonight. At 7.30pm the place is already brimming with skinny young punters keen to catch all three acts. Given that all these bands are London based and this is their home crowd, expectations are high. First on stage are Blind River who amble on with - WTF? - acoustic guitars! Yes, normally these boys are armed to the teeth with proper geetars and riffs are crunchier than fresh snow, but tonight they look alarmingly like Pearl Jam on Unplugged back in ’92 - all thrashing hair and thrashing, um, acoustic guitars. Singer Harry Armstrong prowls around looking suitably wired and demented - imagine the love-child of Ted Nugent and James Hetfield - actually don’t imagine that, that’ll give you nightmares. I know this guy from his other band - End Of Level Boss - who’ve been plying their brand of head hurting Stoner-Prog-Black Metal since the 21st century was but a pup.

The band, also consisting of Chris Charles - guitars, Dan Edwards - guitars (AJ's former guitar teacher ;-), William Hughes - bass and Andrew Esson - drums, are a bit more straight ahead Rock - but there’s no tender ballads here - sample lyric: “I’m gonna tear your fucking heart out and throw it away” I can’t see their songs being covered by a soppy boy band anytime soon. Harry is evidently pleased to see so many people here for the first band. At one point he says we’re all “fucking beautiful” and he’s right. We are. I look around and see loads of smiling faces and nodding heads. This is only their second ever acoustic gig apparently, and Harry invites us to “come and see the full electric madness”. Well, I’m in. The material works surprisingly well in this format though, but all too soon the short five song set is almost over. Harry intros the last song - “this one grooves like a motherfucker”. He’s correct again - 'Can’t Sleep Sober' is the heaviest song of the set, and at the finale Harry lets forth a Ronnie Dio like scream, and lo and behold he even does the patented Dio devil digits. Happiness abounds.

Set list:
Going Nowhere
Resurrection Sister
Can't Sleep Sober

The next band, City Of Thieves, announce themselves offstage with a low drone and stride on to huge applause - obviously these guys are better known to this crowd, preaching to the already converted. Well, they have been around for three years now, and a bit more under their previous moniker Four Wheel Drive. C.O.T. are one of those rare beasts - the Metal power trio. Well, OK, apart from Motorhead. There’s probably some more. Anyway, they’re immediately great. The songs have a sheen of polish that reminded me of 'Load' period Metallica which is no bad thing. Indeed, on one of guitarist Ben Austwick’s Marshall speaker cabinets the word “Marshall” has been turned into “Lars”. Coincidence? Accident? You decide. Whilst Ben and drummer Will Richards look like something a child would draw if they’re asked to draw a rock star - all big hair and beards - you wouldn’t pick singer and bassist Jamie Lailey out of a police line-up of suspected Metal singers - he looks incongruously like a member of a 90’s Shoegazer band - but he sure has the pipes and the attitude to carry it off.

Some geezer in audience keeps shouting “come on Jamie!!!” - exactly what Jamie was supposed to do in response to this was unclear. The songs are pretty much all from the excellent 'Buzzed Up City' album from late last year on Italian Metal specialist label Frontiers (who also count Inglorious among their clients). Introducing 'Reality Bites' from that album, Jamie asks us to check out the video to this song, saying he’ll give you £100 if you can “tell us what the fuck was going through our heads when we made this”. If you think you know and you’d like to claim your ton then here’s the link: Good luck with that. Time for the last song and this one gets a special dedication from Jamie: “This is our home town, this is for people who saw us in every toilet and every fireplace, whatever, and we lost a few people along the way, so this is to the people who always knew we’d be stood here at some point”. With that we get the sublime 'Something Of Nothing', the best song about struggling in a band since Thunder’s glorious 'Wonder Days'. The band seem to give this one 110% welly in honour of those seen and unseen and Ben looks towards the heavens during the solo. As they leave, I had to smile at Jamie’s T-shirt which reads ARRIVE - RAISE HELL - LEAVE and that’s exactly what this band did.

Set list:
Fuel And Alcohol
Born To Be Great
Reality Bites
Ride It Like You Stole It
Buzzed Up City
Something Of Nothing

And so we come to the main act - the support band’s kit is removed and the Inglorious backdrop is revealed in its full glory - a stark white sheet with images of spindly trees and moody looking crows. I’ve noticed the image of the crow seems to be rather popular with bands in the past few years. Funny how these things go in cycles. The first time I saw this lot they were opening for The Winery Dogs at the Forum in London exactly three years ago and one day ago. Yes, I looked it up in my sad-bastard-gig-spreadsheet. Now here they are headlining the Empire. Well, bloody good luck to them - they deserve it. If you follow Inglorious you’ll be aware of the trouble late last year. What trouble? Oh, half the band quitting. It seems that not only are this band going to be inspired by Deep Purple’s music, it also appears that they’re going to follow in that band’s footsteps of “refreshing” the members once in a while. Oh well, it only made Purple all the more interesting. And, as we know now, it was the “Mark II” that everyone loved and remembers. But Inglorious have bounced back from that kerfuffle with aplomb - the new album sounds GREAT - and the first song of this set is the opener of that record - 'Where Are You Now?' Mid-song, vocalist Nathan James can’t help himself - “Shepherd’s Bush Fucking Empire!!!!!” Yep, that’s us, and we’re loving it.

One of the new boys is lead guitarist Danny Dela Cruz. This guy is going to end up getting a LOT of attention and deservedly so because (pardon my French) HE’S FUCKING AMAZING! Fast and fluid and fiery, he’s a perfect fit for the band. Where did Nathan find HIM? I did some research on YouTube and there’s a video of Danny in his old covers band Metalworks playing Led Zep’s 'Rock & Roll' and tearing it up at a pub called The Monarch here in London about a year ago. There’s another bloke filming him too. Guess who. Anyway, Danny looks amazing too, it’s like Prince’s little brother is up on that stage. He’s in a black crushed velvet jacket (all I can think is - aren’t you hot mate?) and chunky silver jewellery. You can’t go about wearing that kind of stuff unless you can play your bollocks off. And this kid plays his bollocks off. Yes, I said kid - for Dany Dela Cruz is all of 19 years old and he’s arrived in style. Not to be upstaged, Nathan is sporting an Ozzy style fringed shirt. Random fact - cowboys used to wear these fringes on their shirt sleeves to help the sweat evaporate and keep cool. Ozzy just had them so he had something to fling about and look bat-shit crazy. Nathan is following in those esteemed footsteps.

Three songs in and it’s time for an oldie - but “oldie” for this band means one from their first album way back in the distant and dimly remembered 2016. The song is 'High Flying Gypsy' - the one that sounds a bit like 'Kashmir' - and it sounds great with some new blood all over it. After the song Nathan introduces another one of the new chaps - bass player Vinnie Colla - who’s quite renowned in his home town of Sao Paulo in Brazil as a session man and producer. The bottom end is in safe hands then, not forgetting Inglorious original Phil Beaver on drums. We then fast forward all the way to the slightly better remembered 2017 and 'Read All About It' from the second album. Time for an intro of the second new guitarist then. It’s Dan Stevens - another alumnus of London covers band Metalworks. Blimey, this makes you think if you wanna get plucked from obscurity and be plonked into an already successful band then get your arse in Metalworks for a bit! Just when you think the acoustic stuff is done for the night and we’re settling in for a night of rawk, out come the acoustic guitars and we get the ballad 'Glory Days' from the new album. Nice.

It’s a brief respite from the testosterone tide however, as 'Warning' from the first album is wheeled out. Nathan introduces it telling us he’s played it on this stage before - when Inglorious opened for Steel Panther here about a year ago. “And now we’re headlining!!” Big cheers for that. He says it’s their biggest EVER London show, and also gives a shout out to Planet Rock for supporting them and new British Rock & Roll. Yep, beers aloft, Planet Rock, you rule. The song starts out with slow Sabbathy menace before morphing into an up-tempo Judas Priest screaming stormer. It’s like a trip around the suburbs of Birmingham all in one song. And then we get another one from the second album (there’s a pattern emerging here, huh?) with the slow-burning Blues of 'Making Me Pay' which is hard evidence that Mr. James has also been studying Mr. Paul Rodgers.

Back to the new album and Nathan is bigging it up, saying they’re chuffed to have done three albums in four years. They really wanted to do four but the label wouldn’t let them he says. WTF? Joe Bonamassa seems to do an album every two weeks and it hasn’t done him any harm. Anyway, they’re already working on the fourth one says Nathan. The song is 'Freak Show' and it’s the sort of thing you could have imagined Whitesnake doing on MTV in the eighties surrounded by scantily clad girls. Actually I think Nathan James is a more skilled singer than Coverdale, his range is amazing, more like the sadly missed Ronnie Dio. Time for a cover now, so what’s it gonna be? 'Child In Time'? 'Here I Go Again'? Nope, the band go totally left-field here and opt for Alanis Morrisette’s 'Uninvited' which you might remember from the 'City Of Angels' soundtrack. Ironic, don’t you think?

Of course, with these guys it turns into a soaring power ballad which segues into a rather wonderful Slash-esque solo from Danny. Nathan leaves the stage to let him have a proper blow-off. Actually comparing him to Slash is doing him down a bit, it’s only the Les Paul and his slight resemblance to the man which made me think of that - his playing is more in the vein of Paul Kossoff or Gary Moore. Yep, as I said, the geezer is 19 years old. Imagine what he’ll be like when he’s 21. Nathan returns to stage having lost the Ozzy fringed shirt an acquired a spangly sequined one. Oh dear. It doesn’t really work, as he looks like a badly wrapped Christmas present. “How do you follow that?” he says. “Sequins!” Okay, we’ll go with it. My eyes! He intros the next song as the title track from new album, “our heaviest song to date."

Yep, 'Ride To Nowhere' is indeed quite heavy but I wouldn’t have picked it as the heaviest thing they’ve done. But like most of the new album, it sounds more like Inglorious are carving themselves an identity of their own rather than being a pastiche of Classic Rock of the past. Same with 'Liar' which comes next. It sounds familiar, but not because it reminds you of something else, it’s because it sounds like Inglorious. After that Nathan tells us it’s been a hell of a year, on top of the dramas with the band, he’s moved to Devon, he’s lost his Grandad, and we played this next song at his funeral. That song turned out to be 'Faraway' and its lyric “I wish I had more time to waste” would have been quite poignant at a funeral. Things are beginning to wind up now and we get another oldie 'I Don’t Need Your Lovin' from the second album which is back to Whitesnake on a stick. A white stick. With a snake on it. Never mind, we’re all partying like its 1987. It’s the last song of the night says Nathan and it’s 'I Don’t Know You' which is delivered with the sort of passion that only comes when your bird is off bonking some other bloke, as happens in the song. Incidentally, if you come across the Japanese version of the 'Ride To Nowhere' album, you’ll get as a bonus that song done as rather lovely acoustic piano duo with Nathan and Heather Leone (she co-wrote it and does the backing vocals on the album version).

So Inglorious leave the stage to cheers and upheld beers, but it’s a pretty secure bet that they might just do an encore. Sure enough five minutes later we can hear some Bluesy noodling offstage and the band the band wander back minus their singer. They kick in 'Holy Water' without him. Crikey, what’s happened? Have they sacked him in the break? Nope, it turns out the spangly Christmas present is only up in the bloody balcony singing amongst the delighted punters. And second guitarist Dan Stevens finally gets a decent solo after being in the considerable shadow of the other Dan all night. Time for the last song then as Nathan returns to the stage and we wind back the time machine to song one album one for 'Until I Die'. Now I reckon THIS is their heaviest song but it’s an imprecise art picking them. At the finale Nathan falls into the front row for a bit. One of the happy ladies in the front even got a snog. So, that’s the end of Inglorious’s first show at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire as the headline. Nathan claps his hands to his face and shakes his head - not quite believing what just happened. Well, I think the band have got a few more believers after tonight.

Set list:
Where Are You Now?
Taking the Blame
High Flying Gypsy
Read All About It
Glory Days
Making Me Pay
Freak Show
Ride to Nowhere
I Don't Need Your Loving
I Don't Know You
Holy Water
Until I Die

Pete Elphick (photos courtesy of Bruce Biege)

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