Molly Hatchet + Federal Charm (M)
Friday 7th December
Dingwalls, Camden, London
Dingwalls is a unique 500 capacity venue in the heart of Camden in London. Its history dates as far back as 1973 and has had many bands grace its stage over the years including emerging acts and established international superstars as well as a regular venue for a thriving comedy scene. In recent years Dingwalls has played host to acts such as the Foo Fighters, The Strokes and Mumford and Sons. Around the time that Dingwalls was opening, a new form of music was emerging in the American South. A mixture of Blues, Country, Gospel and the English invasion of Rock and Roll that later was to be coined the phrase “Southern Rock". The music was filled with style and emotion and with bands in the forefront such as the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and a band from Jacksonville, Florida, called Molly Hatchet, named after a famous 17th-century axe murderess. Least that's what the official websites say.
The reality on a cold December night is a small venue in the heart of Camden, surrounded by venues filled with young and beautiful Christmas revellers, hosting 300 odd mature Rock fans. It's a nice little venue, with low ceilings and a 4 tiered floor allowing all to have a good view of the small cramped stage. Rather unusually, at the back of the venue, alongside a well stocked bar, is a kitchen supplying high end nosebag to the restaurant upstairs. It isn't every venue you have to fight your way to the bar through chocolate cheesecake. They did say it was unique. Opening tonight's festivities are Federal Charm, the four piece Blues Rock band from Manchester, currently warming the ears of Planet Rock listeners with tracks from their latest album, 'Passenger'. It's an interesting album of varied styles of Blues and Rock. Unfortunately for them, the sound quality tonight is frankly awful. So the subtleties of frontman Tom Guyers vocals and lyrics are lost in the terrible mix. Unfortunately, this is to be the theme for the evening. The lads give their all with all the enthusiasm you would expect from a vibrant group of talented musicians. The growing crowd appreciated their efforts. Shame the sound engineer didn't.
As the four piece made their exit, and the stage was readied for the main event, we were again given another unique 'treat'. Every venue plays music whilst the punters are waiting for the next act to hit the stage. We usually cheer when it's NOT AC/DC. Now I love a bit of AC/DC but surely there must be other CD's available. Well tonight we were treated to Fats Domino and some thirties Jazz. Or somesuch. Hardly the most appropriate music for tonight's Southern Rock extravaganza, but It certainly raised an eyebrow or two. At least the sound quality was good enough to warble along to 'Blueberry Hill'.
Entering to Whitesnake's 'Here I Go Again', the Jacksonville five piece take to the stage. Over the years, Molly Hatchet have seen a number of members come and go, many sadly passing away far too young, not least of which was founding member Dave Hlubek, who passed away at the too young age of 66 last year. But the current line up have been keeping Molly alive for over a hundred years between them. Centre stage, sporting a huge white stetson, is vocalist Phil McCormack who personifies what Hatchet are all about - big, brash, loud and proud. To his right is long time axeman Bobby Ingram, a diminutive mullet topped maestro sporting a beautiful PRS through a cranked Marshall amp. Behind him is keyboardist John Galvin and bassist Tim Lindsay stage left. And hidden behind all, presumably in a hole is drummer Shawn Beamer. With the audience stepped up on the four tier auditorium, we found ourselves looking down upon the band. And the only part of Mr. Beamer we could see was his head. Or his hair to be more precise. And his long blond hair spent the entire evening performing it's own Timotei advert as fans blew it into a permanent Gonk. It was probably the highlight of the evening,
Opening track "Whiskey Man' is one of the bands iconic tracks from their 70's album 'Flirtin' With Disaster', a classic Southern Rock track. Unfortunately, this is also where the current line-up shows what is probably the most notable absence - they lack a second guitarist. Southern Rock is typified with harmonic dual guitars, a role taken by keyboardist Galvin since the loss of Hlubek. And, despite the excellent guitar skills of Ingram, the sound of backing keys just did not sound right. To make matters worse, the sound was muddier than ever. But Hatchet are not to be put off by such trifles. They launch into their set of classic tracks like 'Bounty Hunter' and 'Gator Country', with it's excellent Ingram solo, as well as 'newer' tracks (1996) like the slow slusher that is 'Devils Canyon' from the album of the same name. McCormack banters with the crowd, borrowing a camera from the front row to do his own bit of paparazziing, and generally having a good time.
Although he is somewhat more sober in his dedication of 'Fall Of The Peacemakers' to all the US servicemen and women. And the Royal Navy. Presumably the Pongoes and the Crabfats have upset him. He also felt the need to pledge his allegiance to the US flag. Which was nice. I guess the mid-Brexit Brits struggled a little with that. But despite the sound quality, the set bounced along at a fair pace with the Hatchet faithful loving the catalogue of great songs, including a short solo from the frantic folicles, and a fun cover of 'It's All Over Now'. Penultimate anthem 'Boogie No More' was dedicated to all the past members whilst closing track 'Flirtin With Disaster' ended the evening on a high. No encore needed, the good ole boys made their way to the bar to end the evening in typical Southern style whilst we made our way out into the night to watch the festive party girls throwing up into their sequined clutchbags.
Christmas - It's called the silly season for a reason. Entertainment to excess in a unique way - just like watching Molly Hatchet at Dingwalls. They are a great band, and Dingwalls is a great venue. I guess there are just nights when it doesn't click. Don't get me wrong, we had a great time. But having seen the boys absolutely kill it at Hard Rock Hell in 2016, I know what tonight could have been. Come on Dingwalls, get that sound sorted. You mess with the Hatchet and you're 'Flirtin With Disaster'. Upset those lads and you'll 'Boogie No More'...
Molly Hatchet setlist:
It's All Over Now (The Valentinos cover)
Beatin' the Odds
One Man's Pleasure
Fall of the Peacemakers
Dreams I'll Never See (The Allman Brothers Band cover)
Boogie No More
Flirtin' With Disaster