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Molly Hatchet + Sons of Liberty

Thursday 29th June 2023

The Beaverwood, Chislehurst

Hot on the heels of Skinny Molly gracing the same venue barely 5 weeks ago, it’s a return to The Beaverwood Club tonight for another slice of genuine Southern Rock from the legendary Molly Hatchet. This is MH’s first visit to these shores since the passing of singer Phil McCormack (which itself came just some 18 months after the death of last original member of the band, founder Dave Hlubek), and sees 7 UK dates starting tonight (and, if you missed it, they are also at The 100 Club on July 5th) before heading off to Sweden and Germany for some festival dates.

Looking at the tour schedule you’ll also see three days in Abbey Road Studios in the run up to these dates… and our very own AJ was lucky enough to be invited along yesterday to the iconic building to meet the band and listen to two brand new bangers, namely ‘Firing Line’ and ‘Coming Home’. Check out some photos below and our thanks to MH tour manager Tom Cunningham and Andy Turner for arranging this amazing experience.

I first came across MH in - I think - 1979, when I managed to send off for and receive the compilation “Heavy Metal Album” from the “Sounds” weekly music paper (still missed), very much my bible in those teenage years. MH’s contribution on that album was the eternally wonderful ‘Boogie No More’, and whilst I was pretty much denim-clad in those days and was anticipating the Priest, Aerosmith etc. tracks more, with Skynyrd having already punched a hole in my metal armour, BNM got its hooks in me (I was trying to save that phrase to crowbar into a future Marillion review at some point, but what the hell).

For various reasons, from that point, it took me 40 years to finally get to see MH live… on the same bill as fellow Jacksonville legends Skynyrd and Blackfoot no less, when I was lucky enough to be in Florida at the same time LS started their (supposed) farewell tour in 2018, and managed to get to the Coral Sky Ampitheatre for what was surely a golden ticket of Wonka-esque proportions for any Southern Rock fan.

And just what is it about Jacksonville, Florida? For a city with a population of 0.5m in 1970 to be the birthplace of so many great bands - not only MH, but the Allmans, Skynyrd, Blackfoot, 38 Special… ok; so they let themselves down when they let Limp Bizkit cross the city limits, but still… I guess they have since redeemed themselves a bit with Shinedown and the Tedeschi Trucks Band.

With Phil no longer with us, along with Bobby Ingram (guitar/voc), John Galvin (keyboards/voc), Shawn Beamer (drums) and Tim Lindsey (bass/voc), four guys who have each been carrying the MH torch for at least 20 years, I thought we were due to be introduced to Phil’s replacement Jimmy Elkins tonight…

But before MH took to the stage, we were treated (and I mean ‘treated’) to a set from the UK’s own Southern Rockers, Sons of Liberty…. not the actual loosely organised, clandestine and sometimes violent, political organisation founded to fight taxation by the British government in the 13 colonies (yes… I did get that from Wikipedia), but a group of home-grown Southern Rockers hailing from Bristol. The band have been building a reputation on the back of touring and original material, and they’ve been on my personal ‘to see list’ since reading fellow Wrinkly, Simon Green’s, review of their recent outing At Leo’s, a stop on their UK tour with Preacher Stone.

And I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed. They ripped through an excellent 11 song set in their 45 minute slot with (at least) four songs off their imminently expected third album, and closing with the brilliantly named ‘Beef Jerky Boogie’ and the frankly quite wonderful ‘Ruby Starr’ from 2021’s ‘Aces & Eights’ album

Mark Thomas (bass) and Steve Byrne (drums) held the bottom end down perfectly (the latter even managing to wangle in some welcome cowbell in ‘Up Shit Creek’), whilst the twin Les Pauls of guitarists Fred Hale and Andy Muse both contrasted and complimented each other at various times, and at one or two points strayed into some great Lizzy/Ash-esque harmonies. Vocalist Russ Grimmett seemed to get stronger as the set progressed, and certainly saved his ‘scream of the night’ for the closing track.

Fun moment of the night was Hale completely forgetting how to play ‘I Come In Peace’ and, after a couple of false starts, having to consult with bandmates to get himself straightened out.

They put me in mind of Massive Wagons… not musically as such, but inasmuch they clearly take the music (though not themselves) very seriously, and they could just take everything - the songs, performance, personnel, moves, style, attitude, and stagecraft - and easily (and successfully) transfer the whole lot to the bigger stage they deserve. They simply exude ‘good time’.

After a brief interval, MH took to the stage…. and had to stand around for at least 10 mins whilst a serious PA snafu was resolved. But then we were off for real, with the familiar opening riff & bassline of ‘Whiskey Man’ rolling to us in waves. Look to stage centre to see Jimmy Elkins (who I had thus far only seen in photos) only to see… not Jimmy Elkins… but some young buck, expending a lot of energy in his early performance. OK… how’s this going to go ?

And the answer to that is pretty well, to be honest. Turned out (later in the set) that this chap is called, Parker Lee, and I have to wholeheartedly agree with Bobby Ingram’s sentiment that he’s doing a great job. His vocals were great throughout, he was confident but not cocky, and front-manned like he was born to it, even introducing songs with really good little anecdotal tales… and he’s certainly capable of growling out a trademark “hell, yeah”.

As things stand, I don’t think we know the full ‘Parker’ story - I’ve searched and have found nothing – is he standing in? Is the gig now his? Is he the voice on the expected new album? I have to say, with no disrespect to Mr. Elkins who I have neither seen nor indeed heard (and I hope is well), I kind of hope Parker’s appointment is permanent… he clearly has a love for the music, and to be as good as he is in the company of (very ☺) seasoned professionals after, like, 5 minutes, strikes me as pretty exceptional, and he has a vitality that gives the whole band a lift.

But back to the gig… a lot of favourites played (‘Bounty Hunter’, ‘Gator Country’, ‘One Man’s Pleasure’, ‘Beating the Odds’ etc.), Ingram flicking countless picks into the audience whilst soloing like his very existence depended on it (which I guess it kinda does ☺), Beamer and Lindsey both holding everything together and driving it along, and Galvin both underpinning everything and adding embellishments wherever he could squeeze them in.

A couple of Ingram/McCormack compositions from 2010s Justice album, ‘I’m Gonna Live ‘til I Die’ and ‘In the Darkness of the Night’, the former with a reasonably uncharacteristic haunting keyboard intro from Galvin were welcome additions… setlist checks confirm that these have been in the rotation for a while but I don’t think I’ve heard them live before, and they certainly didn’t disgrace themselves alongside the early classics.

After closing with ‘Dreams I’ll Never See’, an adaptation of the Gregg Allman-penned ‘Dreams’, the band left the stage to applause and continued shouts for “one more”… just as I looked at my watch thinking ‘no chance’, they did indeed flout the normally cast-iron Beaverwood curfew and return for a really good thank you speech from Ingram (see below) and a thoroughly enjoyable rip through ‘Flirtin’ With Disaster’.

In all, the whole performance was as solid as you would expect and as enjoyable as you would hope.

Whilst I apologise for the indulgence, but (to paraphrase The Pub Landlord), my article, my rules… I feel the need to have a bit of a rant…

There are a couple of elephants in the room with MH… you haven’t got too look too far in the realm of the keyboard warrior to find negative comments about the current line up not reflecting the original three guitar front line of their early years and not including any original members. This whole thing was exacerbated for me recently by (what I regard as) a disparaging comment from Josh Homme with regards to Skynyrd potentially continuing to tour.

So… a couple of points here, for perspective:

• Whilst it encompassed their first 5 albums (from which, admittedly setlists are still heavily drawn from) the 3 guitar line up (Hlubeck, Steve Holland and Duane Roland) was only in place for 5 of the 45 years that MH have been touring since their debut release.

• Sadly missed founding member and leader Hlubeck dedicated 28 years (and a sh*tload of great songs) to the band in his two spells…. however, current members Bobby Ingram (guitar) and John Galvin (keyboards) have thus far chipped in with 36 and 34 years respectively, and both spent time in the band with original members Hlubeck, Danny Joe Brown, Duane Roland and Bruce Crump.

• Whilst there was indisputably a bit of revolving door in and out of the band in the 80s and 90s, until the loss of McCormack in 2019, the Ingram/Galvin/McCormack/Lindsey/Beamer line up presented the most stable and consistent in MHs history, an unbroken membership of some 16 years.

• And I wasn’t going to mention it, but Bobby Ingram owns the rights to the Molly Hatchet name… the only reason I do so is that this has been the case since 2000… and given that Dave Hlubeck rejoined the band for a second spell after this (2005-2010), you can only assume it had his blessing.

So in short, as far as I am concerned, I think all dues have been paid and all credit earned via at least 20 years of hard work on the road. I don’t think these guys could do any more to have earnt the right to carry the flag, and uninformed or negative comments are disingenuous and unwarranted. OK; so there are no original members left… that doesn’t mean I want to lose the chance to see this music live… if you don’t want to see this line up, then don’t… but don’t try and impose that view on those that do, or spoil the enjoyment that they get. I applaud the fact that the current line up is actively still touring this great legacy, and very much hope that this both continues and is augmented by new original material for as long as they are able.

In the thank you speech, Ingram made in the encore, he himself paid special tribute to the original 6 and acknowledged that the band today would not exist without them… but also that each incarnation of MH is a little different, with each contributing separately to the overall MH story, and that the important thing is to keep MH music and the Southern Rock genre in general alive and kicking.

Hell yeah.

Mark C. (photos: John Bull)

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