Snakecharmer + Rebecca Downes Band
Sunday 14th May 2017
O2 Academy, Islington, London
All roads led to London's O2 Academy, Islington, recently to see Snakecharmer as they continued their eleven date UK tour showcasing their new album 'Second Skin', which was released a few days earlier. Supported by both the Rebecca Downes Band and Knock Out Kaine, the band was originally founded in 2011 by former Whitesnake member’s guitarist Micky Moody and bass guitarist Neil Murray along with guitarist Laurie Wisefield (Wishbone Ash), drummer Harry James (Thunder, Magnum), keyboardist Adam Wakeman (Ozzy Osbourne) and vocalist Chris Ousey (Heartland). In 2016, Moody left the band and was replaced by Irish born Simon McBride on lead guitar. Slightly harder edged compared to their debut, but with roots still firmly planted in Bad Company early Whitesnake and a hint of late 70's AOR, their set was strong, passionate, rocking and Blues-laden.
The evening got off to a bad start as we were told that the first band Knock Out Kaine were on at 8.20pm. Wrong! Following our bite to eat - and ok - another drink - we made our way into the O2 Academy to be greeted by the Rebecca Downes Band minus Brummie Rebecca who is well known on the Blues Rock circuit and indeed won both Best Female Vocalist and Best Emerging Artist in last year's British Blues Awards. In fact this was the first time we had seen her and we were not to be disappointed, as she burst on to the stage following her 4-piece band's instrumental and opened appropriately with the first track from her second album 'Believe', the powerful rockin' 'Never Gonna Learn' with guitarist Steve Birkett dueting with Downes on vocals. Rebecca hooked up her guitar for the catchy ballad 'It's That Easy' - again from 'Believe' before their only cover of the set - Erma Franklin's 'Piece Of My Heart' saw Downes dispatch this classic with vocal verve. The devilish Birkett co-wrote 'Believe's melodic 'Night Train' with Rebecca - it's opening keys and slide guitar complemented by Downes' super smooth and smokin' vocal as she shook the living daylights out of her mic stand before Steve launched into a Southern Rockin' slide solo. 'Messed Up' was the only other track not from 'Believe', the second single from her debut album 'Back To The Start' which saw Downes belting out the Blues with some groovy supporting keys and guitar before Steve's slide guitar on the Southern Blues influenced 'Long Long Time' from 'Believe' more than made up for the loss of the harp from the album. Another Birkett guitar solo opened the slower Blues ballad 'Sailing On A Pool Of Tears' - for once Downes' vocal being dominated by Steve's awesome guitar work before Rebecca donned her guitar once more as the band finished with the familiar opening pounding drum/slide guitar of 'Believe's title track - its mid-section burst of driving drums/slide solo easily demonstrating why this track was runner up in the Best Blues Song category at last year's British Blues Awards. A superb Blues Rock set with something for everyone - do get to see her!
I hold my hands up as I have never been a massive Whitesnake fan, but must admit that I really enjoyed their two latest gigs - Wembley Arena in December in 2015 and Ramblin' Man Fair in July 2016. Combined with the fact that I really liked what I had heard of Snakecharmer's 'Second Skin' - I was really looking forward to seeing the headliner's as they made their way on to the Academy 2 stage. Given it was essentially an album launch, it was no surprise that the first two melodic numbers were from ‘Second Skin’. ‘Follow Me Under’ had a great riff and was an immediate opportunity for the powerful Ousey to flex his vocal chords, whilst the classic 70’s Classic Rock of ‘Are You Ready To Fly’ similarly demonstrated the strong rhythm section of Neil Murray and Harry James, with trademark Hammond organ for that era from Adam Wakeman. In fact the Whitesnake feel of the latter blended nicely into the first cover of the evening – Whitesnake’s Ready An' Willing before the band went back to their very first album with ‘Accident Prone’. Snakecharmer returned to the new album with the melodic Blues of ‘Where Do We Go From Here’ which built into a pucker rocker before they went back again to their first album with ‘A Little Rock & Roll’ which did exactly what it said on the tin – with a couple of great solo’s from McBride complemented by Wakeman’s keys. Another from their first album ‘Nothing To Lose’ was followed by the opening drums and bass of ‘Hell Of A Way To Live’ –from ‘Second Skin’ - another catchy rockin’ number – which was so reminiscent of Bad Company - with the shades wearing Wisefield dueting powerfully with McBride. It was then time for more melodic Blues with the ‘Second Skin’ ballad ‘I'll Take You As You Are’ – with it’s acoustic opening building into a Blues based hard rocker, helped by the subtlety of Wakeman’s Hammond infusion, which itself was followed by another cool ‘Second Skin’ Bluesy ballad ‘Fade Away’.
Step forward the gem of the evening – OK it was a cover of Whitesnake’s ‘Crying In The Rain’ - but it was just under ten minutes of quality British Hard Rock at its very best – showcasing Ousey's vocal style, which is soulful and smooth before he left the stage and handed it over to McBride and Wisefield to do the honours – before they duly handed the baton over to Wakeman. Awesome. It was then back to ‘Second Skin’ with a nod to the late 70’s AOR and ‘That Kind Of Love’ – a Snakecharmer microcosm – great vocals, harmonies, catchy chorus and riff. James’ pounding drum on ‘Guilty As Charged’ from their first album, nearly saw the giant Murray emerge from the back of the stage, but Neil thought better of it given the tambourine wielding Ousey and both Wisefield and McBride stealing the limelight again with some great guitar work. Ousey’s opening acapella heralded the inevitable cover of Whitesnake’s ‘Here I Go Again’ – cue audience participation - before the guys rounded off a terrific set with Second Skin’s ‘Dress It Up’ - Wisefield’s solid riff, James’s drum beat and Ousey’s high vocal taking them nicely into Foreigner territory with its Bluesy organ/guitar feel and its singalong chorus. Finally, three big shout out's from the night - firstly, to new WRC member Matt who was in the disabled area next to us, secondly to Rebecca who kindly autographed her set list and CD for Matt, and finally WRC member Pete Elphick - who received a text during the gig congratulating him for being part of the production team that won a BAFTA for best live event for The Queen's 90th Birthday Celebration on ITV last May!