Lionheart + Airrace + V1
Saturday 2nd December 2017
The Underworld, Camden, London
Kindred spirits Lionheart and Airrace continued their pre-Xmas co-headlining tour stopping off at London's Underworld in Camden last Saturday night. From the moment we walked into The World's End Pub and chatted to guitarist Dennis Stratton and drummer Clive Edwards from Lionheart and then met vocalist Adam Payne and keyboard player Linda Kelsey Foster from Airrace after the show - it was well and truly an amazing night of pure traditional AOR/NWOBHM. Although an added bonus of the evening, as we made our way down to the Underworld's depths, was the inclusion of support band V1. Billed as a classic Rock band, born out of Iron Maiden in 1978 by Dennis Willcock and Terry Wapram, reformed in 2016 with bass guitarist Dwight Wharton and now with the very recent addition of Jamie Carter guitar and Fabio Bizzi drums - our decision to vacate the World's End upstairs early doors was well and truly vindicated. Frontman and vocalist Willcock, with his starry suit and shades, was a larger than life character in more than ways than one, that you could not fail to warm to. Their setlist was completely taken from their 2017 album release 'Armageddon'End Of The Beginning', although Dennis's shades obviously didn't help on their opener 'V1' as Dennis jumped on Wharton's pedal and took him out of the number! 'Taking You Higher' had a great riff courtesy of the very talented Wapram and despite the time pressure and its consequent impact on banter/intros, those lucky enough to witness their set took V1 to their hearts as they reeled out 'Ready For Action', 'Lights', 'Devil Devil', 'Don't Cause A Scene' and finally the graffiti story of 'Croydon Boys' with great guitar harmonies from Carter and Wapram. Try and check out V1 live plus their album 'Armageddon' - you won't be disappointed.
One of the UK’s pioneering AOR bands, Airrace are best known in Hard Rock circles for being the band that saw the musical debut of drummer Jason Bonham (whatever happened to him?). The band was the brainchild of former More guitarist Laurie Mansworth and following their acclaimed 1984 release of their debut album, ’Shaft Of Light’, Airrace supported Rock titans such as Queen, AC/DC and Meat Loaf (whatever happened to them?). However, they had crash-landed by the Summer of 1985 and it took a 25th anniversary reissue of the album to reunite the group (with a slightly amended line-up), and they eventually issued a second album, ‘Back To The Start’, via Frontiers Music srl in 2011. The Italian Rock powerhouse label recently announced the re-signing of the band for a new album to be released in 2018 - their line-up for this 'Mini Tour' being Adam Payne (Serpentine), Mansworth, Rocky Newton doubling up on bass for both Airrace and Lionheart (clever fella), Linda Kelsey Foster and Dhani Mansworth (from The Treatment and more importantly Laurie's son) - drums.
Well if you wanted pure uplifting 80's AOR Melodic Rock then The Underworld was definitely the place to be on Saturday. Airrace quite rightly gorged on 'Shaft Of Light' throughout their set, the use of the word 'acclaimed' to describe this nugget, never being more appropriate, as they opened with 'Caught In The Game' - Payne's "Oooohhhh yeah", combined with its sublime organ/guitar riff, sounded as fresh as ever before Mansworth Senior let loose for his first and definitely not his last guitar solo of the evening. The heavy riff of 'Not Really Me' demonstrated the tightness of the band before they fast forwarded thirty three years to the present and their new single 'Eyes Like Ice' - its Dokkenish feel with their trademark guitar/keyboard fusion giving their assembled fans that warm feeling like the band never had actually been away. Two more from 'SOL' followed - a great opening vocal from Payne on 'Didn't Want To Lose Ya' led to another great guitar solo from the scarf wearing Laurie, before they launched into their very first single 'I Don't Care' - classic Rock at its best with its Van Halen edge. The second new song of the night 'Come With Us' showcased charismatic frontman Payne's powerhouse vocals, before Mansworth Senior dedicated the next song, 'Promise To Call', to an Airrace fan named Tim. Just hope that Tim was there to witness the fantastic execution of this melodic AOR classic. 'One Step Ahead' - another with a very 80's Van Halenish feel - was the only track played from 'Back To The Start', whilst the third and last track on the night from the new album, the aptly named 'Men From The Boys', had that classic Airrace riff but with a heavier edge, as Payne got the crowd to participate with a bit of a singalong and some handclapping. The penultimate track from 'SOL' - 'First One Over The Line' - was a tribute to the glorious '80's with a fantastic Rock vocal from Payne, the tightness of the band never more evident, thanks in main to the engine room of the energetic Newton and Mansworth Junior. The ever smiling Kelsey Foster, with her red fedora and her similarly coloured feather boa draped across her keyboards, played the beautiful intro to their Survivor sounding epic 'Brief Encounter' before Payne rounded off proceedings on this final track from 'SOL' with another cracking vocal. An awesome set that not only had those present salivating at the prospect of the release of their new album next year, but also those present checking out the release of that amazing and very underrated album thirty three years ago. A must for this year's Christmas stocking!
As it happens, Airrace's Laurie Mansworth toured with Lionheart's Dennis Stratton, Rocky Newton and Steve Mann back in the 80's. In fact Lionheart was formed in 1980 and were hailed as the first supergroup of the new wave of British Heavy Metal, but split up in 1986 and reformed in 2016, consisting of guitarist Stratton (Iron Maiden), guitarist Mann and Newton (Michael Schenker Group), drummer Clive Edwards (UFO) and vocalist Lee Small (Shy). The last time we actually saw Dennis was drinking Trooper with an army of Maiden fans at The Pilot Inn before their gig at London's O2 Arena at the end of May, so it was no surprise when we bumped into Stratton drinking guinness with his troops in The World's End before the gig! After a false start they opened with Stratton's boppy 'Give Me The Light' from their 1999 'Unearthed - Raiders of the Lost Archives' album - just one of a 30 strong song collection of Lionheart demos - before Edwards drum intro launched the Hard AOR title track of their 1984 debut album 'Hot Tonight' - think The Darkness 33 years later - the combination of both Stratton and Mann's V guitar nailing this rockin' Lionheart favourite. From the old to the new and their third and last album 'Second Nature' and 'Prisoner', with its duelling Lizzy like guitar harmonies, plus keys from Mann, which many consider to be the album's best track. Lionheart, once described as a Heavy Metal version of Toto, then reverted back to the familiar opening riff of 'Towers Of Silver' from 'HT', which definitively kept the momentum of this 80's love in going, before they launched into their kick ass first single from 'HT' - the powerful and emotional 'Die For Love' with its soaring vocals, sharp guitars, crystal bass, drums and keyboards, again demonstrating the true tightness of this band. An excellent cover of Michael Schenker Group's 'Anytime' - written by Mann himself (with Robin McAuley) - again with outstanding duelling guitar harmonies - was followed by two new tracks from 'Second Nature' - 'Angels With Dirty Faces and '30 Years' - before cockney geezer Stratton joked with Wolverhampton born Small that we needed some sort of translation given his Black Country introduction to their cover of 'Don't Pay The Ferryman'! Dennis needn't have worried, as there was certainly no loss in translation on the band's take on this Chris De Burgh hit - which is also covered on the new album. Two tracks from 'Unearthed' - now recycled on 'Second Nature' - namely 'Hearbeat Radio' and the aptly named 'Lionheart', rounded off another awesome - yet short set. As the band took a deserved bow, Stratton apologised for the early finish, pointing out to those present that they had to make way for a disco! How time's have changed - although thanks to bands like V1, Airrace and Lionheart - at least 80's AOR/NWOBHM is still very much alive and kicking arse!