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Preacher Stone + Sons of Liberty

Friday 31st March 2023

Leo's Red Lion, Gravesend, Kent

This was quite a night; two long sets from two bands playing their own versions of Southern Rock, loud and proud in an intimate venue with a long tradition of live music. One, a set of good ol’ boys hailing from North Carolina, and the other, not quite so authentically, coming up the M4, rather than Route 66 (or Route 70 if you’re being picky), from the Wild West of Bristol.

Regardless of their origins, both these groups played blistering sets with a good time vibe that energised the enthusiastic crowd and created a highly enjoyable atmosphere. With my ears still ringing three days later it felt like I and the crowd had literally been blown into a different state of consciousness. It has to be said, and bless them for it, that both groups were a godsend to a photographer, hitting every kind of shape you could wish for. With the number of titfers on display, the boys also deserved a collective award for services to the millinery industry, albeit with the focus on Western headgear.

Sons of Liberty hit the stage first and put their collective feet on the accelerator, blasting into the first three songs from 2019 album ‘Animism’, ‘It’s My Bad’, ‘Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief’ and ‘Up Shit Creek’. The Sons cranked out a powerful wall of sound, driven by the twin Les Pauls of Fred Hale and Andy Muse and supported by Mark Thomas on bass. At the back of the stage on a raised plinth drummer Steve Byrne, bathed in a spectral blue light for the entire set and sporting a natty pair of white gloves that only a Rock drummer could get away with, kept it rock steady.

Singer Rob Walker roamed the stage, teaming up with different band members to loon around with. Fred Hale played some blistering solos and gazed into the audience with an engagingly gleeful expression. It was an all action affair, made more so when the members of Preacher Stone trooped on stage mid-set to join in on a number, giving the impression that there were about twenty musicians crammed onto the small stage. It was all good clean fun and there was a real sense of camaraderie between the two groups of fellow travellers who had been on a whistlestop tour of the UK together. The Sons smashed their way through a 16-song set and finished their encores with an absolute killer of a track, ‘Ruby Starr’ from their latest album ‘Aces & Eights’.

There was hardly time to draw breath before Preacher Stone got up to do their thing, which was another twin guitar assault with the adrenalin factor set to 11. The sound balance focused on creating a powerful guitar sound, which resulted in the vocals of founding member Ronnie Riddle getting a little buried beneath the layers of riffs, which was a shame as, catching up with their material after the gig, their songs are full of content.

As well as playing a powerful set drawn from across their back catalogue, including the memorable ‘Old Fashioned Ass Whoopin’ Sum Bitch’, the band provided a lot of visual interest. Marty Hill on guitar had the sort of lived in face that looked like he’d fully experienced every one of his years playing Rock ’n’ Roll. The more youthful Ben Robinson with his flowing locks and resplendent facial hair looked like the template for every Southern Rock guitarist there’s ever been.

Jim Bolt on bass, sported a Texas Prison T shirt and the sort of hat you could imagine being glued to his head as he scanned the horizon for runaway convicts from his porch. The very tall Josh Wyatt on drums looked like he was taking a break from a Sly Stone tribute act. Their songs had a burning intensity that, without knowing any of their material, left an immediate impression. The guitarists fired out a relentless wall of riffs and some great gurning solos, Marty Hill adding some tasty slide to numbers like ‘Lazarus’, a Bluesy rocker from 2016’s ‘Remedy’. By the end of the set the audience were purring with pleasure as the band encored with a joyful slice of hardcore southern boogie. It felt like this had been a special night for Southern Rock fans.

Simon Green

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