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Stone Broken + Those Damn Crows + Dead Man's Whiskey

Friday 22nd February 2019

O2 Academy Islington, London

2017 WRC 'One's To Watch' award winners Stone Broken spent much of 2018 gigging hard, playing non-stop in the UK, Europe and the USA in support of their current studio album 'Ain’t Always Easy', and 2019 sees the Black Country Hard Rockers continuing down the live path, headlining sixteen dates across the UK and Ireland, including London's O2 Islington Academy last Friday night, with great support from South Wales quintet Those Damn Crows and the Doomy Blues Rock of Dead Man's Whiskey.

As it so happened, the finger of fate decreed that I would end up here at the O2 Academy as opposed to Blue Oyster Cult at The Eventim Apollo! With a curfew of 10pm, it was an early 6.30pm start for Dead Man's Whiskey, so it was a good job that the five-piece lived just around the corner! Formed in London in 2016, we first saw this impressive, young, traditional Hard Rock band supporting Bigfoot at Camden's Underworld back in October 2017, followed by Ramblin' Man Fair's Rising Stage last July and then at Hard Rock Hell just three months ago. Comprising Nico Rogers (vocals), Billy Kons (lead guitar), Elliott D’Alvarez (rhythm guitar), James Titley (bass guitar) and Charlie Gray (drums), they use their youthful energy to craft a blend of modern and classic Rock with Blues tones and a paced and exciting sound. The band understandably have amassed a strong following of fans, especially in their London base, which was indeed evident by the number of DMW t-shirts on show. After congregating for a while by the side of the Academy stage, the band entered the stage to the accompaniment of their Wild West intro - namely 'The Ballad Of Jack McCall', with Nico duly entering into the spirit with his checked shirt. With Kons and D'Alvarez sporting twin Gibson Les Paul's through Marshal and Victory amps, Titley's opening bass launched 'This Fight', the first of four consecutive songs from their 2017 debut album, ‘Under the Gun’, which gave an immediate opportunity for the Black Sabbath t-shirt wearing Kons to get his first guitar solo off of his chest. Playing with an explosive, youthful vigour, complemented by the Academy's great sound and lighting, 'War Machine' was another hard hitting song that made the most of both the fist pumping Nico’s vocal range and another great sweeping guitar solo from Billy. "Stand To Attention Broken Army" drilled Rogers before introducing themselves as the "Local Act". Cue the locally slanted 'Hoe Street', another slice of their new wave of classic sounding Rock, with Jack Black lookalike Rogers playfully pointing to his imaginary watch in front of Kons, as the lead guitarist went off on another awesome solo, before, at precisely 6.45pm, Nico managed to do away with those early start cobwebs, getting the crowd rockin', as they participated in some healthy "Wooooo Ooooohs". 'Make You Proud' followed - a slower, poignant and very emotional track, dedicated to Nico's Mum during her serious illness, which was well received and respected, although boos did break out from the audience when Rogers announced that their new single from their 2019 'Under The Gun Reloaded' release would be their final song. One of two bonus tracks, in addition to the seven tracks on their 2017 release, 'Reloaded' was produced by Killit guitarist Niro Knox. "You Guys Rock" Nico praised, before jokingly admonishing "William'' for his verbal promotion of their next home town gig at The Camden Assembly. If we needed final proof, 'Racing Bullet' once again reemphasised the riff potential provided by this trio of mesmerising guitarists, as the band signed off in style, with a final Kons solo, plus the obligatory stage photo at the end, no doubt a picture including many newly acquired fans.

"The words 'going places' do not even begin to describe the future of this great band." Praise indeed, given this was part of our Those Damn Crows review when they supported Federal Charm plus the then named The Bad Flowers on their co-headline tour at London's The Borderline in September last year. Two weeks earlier to that gig, they were even further down the graveyard shift, as we saw them supporting The Quireboys, Aaron Buchanan & The Cult Classics and H.E.A.T. So it was good to see that the South Wales quintet were further up the pecking order tonight, even though their set would not be much more than the criminally short thirty minute slot we had witnessed previously. With one of the best debut albums released well over two years ago and re-released last September, the self professed Rock 'N' Roll band have certainly put in the road-work, and once again, a bit like Dead Man's Whiskey, with so many TDC t-shirts in the crowd, it was obviously apparent who many fellow Rockers had come here to see. Given the early start, the Academy had now filled out , as Those Damn Crows took to the stage. "Whats up London" cried frontman Shane Greenhall, as he immediately jumped up on to a speaker stack, the Bridgend band opening again, as they did at The Borderline, with the head bangin' mean riff of 'Don't Give A Damn'. There was no time to draw breath as they morphed into 'Long Time Dead', the energy of the band, consisting of the baseball capped guitarist Ian 'Shiner' Thomas', bassist Lloyd Wood (who continually gave the middle finger throughout their set), guitarist David Winchurch and drummer Ronnie Huxford, rubbing off on the Academy faithful, as Shane demanded "London, Get Your Hands Up" and we duly obliged. "What's Up London - Do You Love Rock 'N Roll?" teased Greenhall, with no let up in their sonic blast as they reeled off two fan favourites - 'Someone Someday' with a delightful snippet of 'Pinball Wizard' that saw everyone clapping along, and then after more Greenhall encouragement - "Make Some Fuckin' Noise" - it was time for the first ever track they released - 'Fear Of The Broken' - with another outstanding vocal from said Shane. From one song that Greenhall suggested should be on Planet Rock - to one that was a Planet Rock favourite. Indeed 'Behind These Walls' was followed by former single 'Blink Of An Eye' - the latter seeing everyone's hands in the air, clapping and singing as Wood, Winchurch and Thomas congregated at the front of the stage. No disrespect to The Borderline, but the O2 Academy was a much better fit for the dynamic of Those Damn Crows, as evidenced by my pick of their set - 'Breakaway' - with it's great driving riff, very reminiscent of Creed. Despite more boos this time from the TDC faithful, as yet another set came to a premature end - they finished as usual with the fist pumping anthemic ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Dead!’ - a microcosm of their set. "Do You Want Rock 'N' Roll? Let'g Go Ape Shit" said Greenhall as he ended up in the crowd singing along withtheir "Woooh Wooooh's". "Who Says Rock 'N' Rolls Dead?" London Fuckin' Outstanding! Best Yet!" Couldn't agree more Shane. Once again, it's a privilege to see young Rock bands such as this with new ideas and new energy. If anyone tells you that Rock is dead, tell them to get off their arses and go and see Those Damn Crows. They're flying and kicking butt.

We first caught Stone Broken supporting Glenn Hughes at The Islington Assembly Hall in January 2017, shortly after they were voted as runners-up in the ‘Best New Band’ category of the annual Planet Rock Awards 2016. After further seeing them from afar on the Sunday on the Ramblin' Man Fair Planet Rock Stage in July and then supporting Living Colour as they blew the proverbial bloody doors off of London's ULU in October, the band, consequently, and most deservedly, walked away with our 2017 WRC 'One's To Watch' award. The rising Stars, hailing from Walsall in the West Midlands, could easily be from Birmingham AL. The four piece, With Rich Moss on vocals/guitar, Chris Davis on guitar/vocals, Kieron Conroy on bass and Robyn Haycock on drums/vocals, are the clean cut, current favourite of radio friendly Rockers everywhere, although that doesn't make them bland or insipid. Regulars on the radio, there's a reason why they get so much airplay. They're damn good. In fact the last time we saw them, was on London's Indigo O2 stage in June last year as part of the Stone Free Festival, just three months after the release of their latest album 'Ain't Always Easy'.

The headliner's were welcomed on to the stage with both a huge cheer from a rammed Academy plus an intro tape of 'I'm Coming Home', in healthy acknowledgement to their recent sojourns overseas. They describe themselves as a big chunky Rock sound with huge choruses and that certainly came across in their opening number, and their very first single, 'Stay All Night' - for mine think Monster Truck meets Blacktop Mojo - with some great guitar work from the smiling Davis and Moss belying his Walsall accent. This was followed by another from their stand-out first album 'All In Time', and a particular favourite of mine, 'Doesn't Matter, with its awesome grunge riff and a Scantlinesque vocal from Rich plus the mandatory standing on stack speakers and the resultant manic hand-clapping from a packed auditorium. The spinal strength of their latest album was immediately evident with the awesome 'Heartbeat Away', with a great punishing riff, driven by Haycock, complemented by the venue's smoking pyrotechnics, plus another great vocal from the baseball capped//goatee bearded Moss demanding "Make Some Noise", the Broken Army once more duly obliging by clapping along. It literally then got 'Better', consolidating their huge arena Rock sound with some delightful guitar harmonies, much to the pleasure of those clapping around me, before a great guitar outro led into 'Let Me Go' - another awesome heavy riff track from 'AIT'. "Make Some Noise London" was greeted with big cheers. "How Are You Doing Tonight?" as Rich reminisced about when they played a sold out Camden's Black Heart just four months before the aforementioned Glenn Hughes gig. That really hit home how far these guys have come in such a short space of time. Cue the slower and poignant 'Home' from 'AAE' - in respect of their current 'Home' tour - with another outstanding vocal from Moss.

Moss then told the story behind the video of their brand new remixed version of their Hard Rockin' single ‘The Only Thing I Need’ - taken from 'AAE'. The track has been given a fresh arrangement by renowned UK engineer/producer Adrian Hall, and when asked where about's in America this major production was filmed, he answered "Kidderminster"! Well you can take the boy out of Kidderminster, but you can't ....... And on the subject of anecdotes, during 'The Only Thing I Need', Those Damn Crows bass guitarist Lloyd Wood brushed past me, but thankfully gave me a firm handshake instead of a middle finger! What was this though? A keyboard was set up in the middle of the stage, and egged on by Robyn in the background, Rich proceeded to land the knock out punch of the night - 'Anyone' from 'AIT'. Moss's keys added another string to the Stone Broken bow, not forgetting his great vocal on this great track. Think Aynsley Lister meets The Exies (please check them both out). Delightful. Follow that! Well testament to 'AAE' the band completed their set with five more tracks from their latest album. Two Hard Rockers, 'I Believe' with a great Davis guitar solo and the Rock 'N' Roll riff of 'Let Me See It All' were split by a short drum solo from Haycock behind her Natal drumkit festooned with an Animal muppet - which Robyn most certainly isn't! An almost impossible feat when it comes to drum solos!

Frontman Moss, brandishing a beautiful Les Paul, lead the band in some memorable Rock songs, such as 'Just A Memory' with its memorable opening riff, fully deserving of some hand clapping and of a bit of speaker stack jumping. Assisted by the Mars Attacks t-shirt wearing Davis on a humbucker packed Fender, there was an almost brutal Metal edge to the Hard Rock sound such as on 'Follow Me' with its thumping Haycock intro. How could that be bland? "Here We Go - Get Those Hands Up!" demanded Rich for the final time, on the loud and proud 'Worth Fighting For' - proof again, if one needed it, of the quality of their latest album. "Thank You So Much" praised Moss as the band left the stage, only of course for them to return. "We can't play a headline show without playing this song" added Rich. Indeed, some might say their clean cut image has comparisons to "Ed Sheeran Does Heavy Rock" - so in some way it was appropriate that 'AIT's rocker 'Wait For You' was initially performed as an encore on acoustic guitar by Moss with his great vocals, which then unsurprisingly turned into a huge singalong, as the rest of the band eventually joined in. Finally, full Hard Rockin' order was restored with their glorious closing headbanger and second single off of 'AIT' 'Not Your Enemy' - with its riff to die for and some final stack climbing. Demanding that we "Give It Up For The Support Bands", they left the stage to rapturous applause before taking the obligatory photo of the jubilant crowd. A set stuffed with recognisable riffs and singable lyrics - there was not a filler in sight. These guys never fail to deliver. All in all, not only a brilliant night of Rock from three young dynamic bands, but just as importantly, performed also to a young demographic who thankfully don't operate solely in the world called 'The Brits'. Sod Blue Oyster Cult - so pleased to witness tonight that Rock music is in such safe hands.

AJ (photos courtesy of Bruce Biege)

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