Michael Schenker Fest
Saturday 10th November
The Forum, London
Michael Schenker is a German Rock guitarist who was an integral member of UFO and leader of the Michael Schenker Group. He was also an early member of the Scorpions, featuring on their 1972 debut album ‘Lonesome Crow’ at the age of sixteen, before joining UFO in 1974. He was offered the position of lead guitar player (taking over for Bernie Marsden, who was a temporary replacement for original guitarist Mick Bolton) after the Scorpions supported UFO in Germany. Schenker featured on five classic era UFO studio albums, ‘Phenomenon’ (1974), ‘Force It’ (1975), ‘No Heavy Petting’ (1976), ‘Lights Out’ (1977), ‘Obsession’ (1978) and the excellent live album ‘Strangers in the Night’ (1979). He left UFO in October 1978 due to musical differences and went on to found the Michael Schenker Group. Despite quitting UFO, Schenker has rejoined the band three times, recording an album each time; ‘Walk on Water’ (1995), ‘Covenant’ (2000) and ‘Sharks’ (2002). He also briefly re-joined the Scorpions in late 1978, featuring on their ‘Lovedrive’ album.
In 1979, Schenker founded the Michael Schenker Group (MSG). The first two studio albums ‘The Michael Schenker Group’ (1980) and ‘MSG’ (1981) plus the ‘One Night at Budokan’ live album featured the, at the time, relatively unknown vocalist Gary Barden. In 1982 Barden quit and was replaced by Graham Bonnet (Rainbow/Alcatrazz). Bonnet lasted one album ‘Assault Attack’ (1982) and a single gig, at Sheffield University, where he drunkenly exposed himself and was subsequently fired from the band! Barden was brought back for the rest of the tour and subsequently appeared on the 1983 studio album ‘Built to Destroy’ and the band's second live album ‘Rock Will Never Die’ (1984). Barden left for a second time to be replaced by Robin McAuley (Grand Prix). Schenker renamed the band the McAuley Schenker Group and released three albums, ‘Perfect Timing’ (1987), ‘Save Yourself’ (1989) and ‘M.S.G.’ (1992) before parting company with McAuley.
Over the next ten years the Michael Schenker Group had a revolving door of musicians with four different singers appearing on each of the next five albums; ‘Written in the Sand’ (1996), ‘The Unforgiven’ (1999), ‘Be Aware of Scorpions’ (2001), ‘Arachnophobiac’ (2003) and ‘Tales of Rock'n'Roll’ (2006). Barden rejoined again for the 2008 album ‘In The Midst Of Beauty’, which was a positive return to form. Then in 2010 Barden, Schenker, Simon Philips, Neil Murray and Wayne Findlay embarked in an extensive 30th Anniversary tour, which was recorded and released in 2010 as ‘The 30th Anniversary Concert – Live in Tokyo’.
In 2011 Schenker then formed the Temple Of Rock with Herman Rarebell on drums and Francis Buchholz on bass, both former members of the Scorpions, and Doogie White (Rainbow/Yngwie Malmsteen) on vocals. They released three fine studio albums including, ‘Temple Of Rock’ (2011), ‘Bridge the Gap’ (2013) and ‘Spirit on a Mission’ (2015). In 2016 Schenker put together the 'Michael Schenker Fest', a reunion with former MSG singers Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley, along with band members Chris Glen (bass), Ted McKenna (drums) and Steve Mann (guitar/keyboard).
The original idea for the reunion was to tour in Japan only. This resulted in a CD/DVD ‘Live - Tokyo International Forum Hall A’. However, the gigs proved to be such a huge success that they decided to extend the tour into Europe through 2017. With the success of the tour and the good feeling amongst the band members they then went on to record an album of all new material, with the addition of Temple of Rock singer Doogie White. The result was the ‘Resurrection' album, which was released in 2018 and features vocal contributions from all four singers.
The subsequent tour to promote the 'Resurrection' album stopped off in the UK in November 2018 for six dates including this gig at The Forum in Kentish Town, London. The band featured Schenker on lead guitar, Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley and Doogie White on vocals, Chris Glen on bass, Ted McKenna on drums and Steve Mann on second guitar and keyboards. The band kicked off the evening’s entertainment with the Scorpions instrumental 'Holiday' from the 1979 'Lovedrive' album. A bit of a slow start, but things soon heated up with the monumental UFO classic 'Doctor Doctor' from the 1974 'Phenomenon' album. Normally held back for the end of the set, this time being unleashed near the start. All four singers got to take turns at belting out the lyrics. A fantastic building track with a powerful and infectious rhythm that got everyone in the mood to Rock!
The rest of the set was structured into four main sections allowing each of the four singers a chance to take centre stage. With exuberant and jubilant introductions from Schenker, first to step up to the mic and show us what he could do was Doogie White. Opening with the excellent 'Vigilante Man' from the 2015 Temple Of Rock 'Spirit On A Mission’ album, galloping on to the superb 'Lord of the Lost and Lonely' from the 2013 Temple Of Rock 'Bridge The Gap' album, which was seamlessly followed by the catchy and melodic 'Take Me to the Church', one of the stronger songs from the 2018 Michael Schenker Fest 'Resurrection' album. Next up was the immense thumping heavy 'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead' from the 2011 'Temple Of Rock' album, before ending the mini set with the stellar UFO song 'Natural Thing' from the 1976 'No Heavy Petting' album. A superb performance from Doogie, and, to be honest, the best singer of the evening. His voice is strong and muscular, with a rich tone, immense power and deep resonance. A potent force to be reckoned with!
Before Graham Bonnet gets his chance to shine, another instrumental was played in the form of 'Captain Nemo' from the 1983 Michael Schenker Group 'Built To Destroy' album, which bookends the previous set nicely, before more enthusiastic and buoyant introductions from Schenker. I've never heard him talk so much at a gig! He is clearly more comfortable talking on stage these days and seems to be having a ball playing to his devoted fans. Bonnet stormed in with 'Dancer', from the volcanic Michael Schenker Group 1982 'Assault Attack' album, going on to thrill us with 'Searching for a Reason', also from the 'Assault Attack' album, before tackling the monstrous 'Desert Song', another track from the 'Assault Attack' album. A new one 'Night Moods' from the 2018 Michael Schenker Fest 'Resurrection' album greeted us like fresh breeze, before Bonnet concluded his short set with the momentous 'Assault Attack' from the album of the same name. Bonnet is going through a very lucrative creative period these days, particularly with his solo ventures as well as with Schenker. His voice still has the power and range and on a good night he excels, but unfortunately he did sound slightly strained at this gig. Perhaps over worked a bit recently.
Time for another instrumental interlude, with the melodic 'Coast to Coast' from the 1979 Scorpions 'Lovedrive' album. Schenker with his trademark flying V guitar played with fluidity and discipline. A joy to witness. Schenker's other trademark these days is his Beanie hat with goggles over it that he wears right down over his forehead and almost covering his eyes. It must get hot under there!
The time had come for original MSG vocalist Gary Barden to entertain us. He kicked off with 'Ready to Rock' and then onto the gritty and thunderous 'Attack of the Mad Axeman', both from the 1981 'MSG' album. The mediocre 'Rock My Nights Away' from the 1983 'Built To Destroy' album washed over us before the brilliant new song 'Messin' Around' from the 2018 Michael Schenker Fest 'Resurrection' album greeted us with interest. This track has an infectious swagger to it and Barden does a good job on it. The anthemic 'Armed and Ready' from the 1980 'The Michael Schenker Group' album lifted the spirits and satisfied our souls. All four vocalist got turns on the awesome 'Warrior' from the Michael Schenker Fest 'Resurrection' album. Overall a reasonably respectable performance from Barden. He gave it his best, but unfortunately his voice is mostly shot these days! He was struggling to be heard at some points with many cracks showing in his vocals. The crowd showed their appreciation for his efforts, as he is well loved by the fans, and rightfully so. The obligatory instrumental came next to bookend Barden's set, 'Into the Arena' is another well structured and dexterous piece from the 1980 'The Michael Schenker Group' album and was played to perfection.
On to the last of the four vocalists to show us what they can do, step up Robin McAuley. McAuley has aged well and he obviously looks after himself, being fit, bronzed and toned. His voice is also fully intact and he gives a quality performance. Along with White, McAuley was definitely the other best singer of the evening. His set mostly focused on UFO classics, but before that he tackled 'Bad Boys' from the 1989 McAuley Schenker Group 'Save Yourself' album, then going on to belt out the rip roaring UFO song 'Shoot Shoot' from the 1975 'Force It' album. The dramatic and stirring 'Heart and Soul' from the 2018 Michael Schenker Fest 'Resurrection' album was delivered with growling attitude by McAuley, with the other three vocalists joining in to raise up the bar. Ted McKenna and Chris Glen did a sterling job keeping the rhythm flowing.
The last part of the show was UFO territory, with the monolithic 'Only You Can Rock Me' from the 1978 'Obsession' album satisfying the senses, before hot footing it into the seductive 'Too Hot to Handle' from the 1977 UFO 'Lights Out' album. Time for the big one, the epic, the earth shaking monster that is 'Rock Bottom' from the 1974 UFO 'Phenomenon' album. A great big voluptuous track that is the perfect vehicle for Schenker to stretch out and indulge in some tasty extended guitar heroics, hedonistic string bending and luscious fret noodling! Hypnotising and mesmerising stuff! The encore delighted us with the bombastic 'Lights Out' from the 1977 UFO 'Lights Out' album, which rounded the show off in style. A mammoth and entertaining gig, with many decadent highlights to satisfy the ears.
Steven C. Gilbert