Black Country Communion
Eventim Apollo, London
Thursday 4th January 2018
If you needed further affirmation that Black Country Communion do indeed fill that 70's live void vacated by Led Zeppelin, then you just had to be at London's Hammersmith Apollo on Thursday night to witness their two hour set. OK - their chequered history as a result of their pinkies being in numerous musical pies doesn't see them touring very often - but when they do - you just have to savour the moment. This was the second of the Anglo-American Rock group's two exclusive UK concerts in support of the release of their latest album 'BCCIV' released in September last year - their first studio album since 2013's 'Afterglow'.
Similar to 2010, the Supergroup, comprising vocalist/bassist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Trapeze), drummer Jason Bonham (Airrace, Led Zeppelin, Foreigner) Derek Sherinian (Dream Theatre, Alice Cooper, Billy Idol) and Blues-Rock guitarist/vocalist Joe Bonamassa, did a double header playing Wolverhampton Civic Hall on Tuesday night followed by this London gig two night's later. Indeed we were at Shepherds Bush Empire six years ago and also at London's High Voltage Festival in July 2011 - unbelievably the last time they were seen in the smoke. With two albums already under their belts, our take on that beautiful Summer's day was "BCC's strength is that their sound is fixed firmly in the mid 70s, and so their songs already sound classic. Once BCC’s original material becomes more familiar this lot will go places fast. This Supergroup is still coming to terms with being a band!!"
Fast forward six year's to what we described as "the most unlikely album release of the year". Five years after a reportedly acrimonious split, ten new songs penned by Hughes and Bonamassa, all wrapped up with producer extraordinaire Kevin Shirley's magic touch and you had a barnstorming collection of tunes which we said "could easily make up the best Rock album of 2017." Cue our announcement on the day of the Wolverhampton gig that they had indeed won our 2017 WRC Best Reviewed CD award and we were consequently walking towards the Apollo with their award tucked under our arm to deservedly pass on to the band!
A dapper suited Bonamassa confounded his fashion critics as he walked on to the Apollo stage, the goatee bearded Sherinian the only one of his three amigos without shades, with Bonham donning his trademark beanie and Hughes resplendent in his Union Jack jacket. Any thoughts on Brexit were duly discarded as they re-emphasised the strength of 'BCCIV' by opening, following a snippet of the 'Big Train' drum intro, with 'Sway' - Sherinian immediately taking the spotlight, and despite the unrelenting guitar and drums of the two JB's, his underlying keyboards brought an extra depth to this rocker. Add to this, the vocals by Hughes and this full on song, again reminiscent of classic Zeppelin, was a swaggering five minutes of sheer joy. What an opener. 'Wanderlust' - another from 'BCCIV' was sandwiched in between four classics which took us back to the Summer of 2011. Firstly, Bonham's intro on the still blistering and punchy 'One Last Soul' from their debut album with Joe rocking back and forth, a number which Hughes included in his own Islington Assembly Hall set last year - Glenn then taking the opportunity to tell those assembled not to believe everything they read about BCC in the media! "It's good to be home" declared Hughes before they played the still very beautiful 'Save Me' - crafted by another awesome guitar solo from Bonamassa. Talking of Joe - you have to do a double take to remember that the still spectacular 'Song Of Yesterday', despite being written by JB, is actually a BCC release - in fact it is the only BCC song that Bonamassa has ever included in his personal set other than once performing 'The Battle For Hadrian's Wall'. Sung jointly by Bonamassa and Hughes, and complemented by Joe's outstanding guitar solo - this was utter perfection - whilst the final part of this cracking 2011 quartet was a breakneck rendition of 'The Outsider' - the crowd devouring each song as if they've never been away, with each solo greeted by a huge cheer, the choruses sung loudly and the fists raised at all the right moments.
Hughes appropriately praised the crowd as "beautiful people" before 'Wanderlust' - a classic Bonamassa song with its great pace, a highly infectious groove and a singable chorus, plus another great ascending drum and guitar combination - not to mention Sherinian's rocking keys - made this song another absolute highlight, although the jury is out as to whether Bonamassa should do the vocals on this one and not Hughes? An irony of the set was not only was this the live debut of 'BCCIV' - but would you believe it was also the live debut of their third album 'Afterglow'? The aptly named 'This Is Your Time' from 'Afterglow' - which perhaps should be renamed 'Lost In Time' - with its driving riff - finally received the airing it deserved - although this was the only track from 'Afterglow' included in their set. It was then back to two classics from 'BCC2' - Hughes explaining the background to 'Cold' - all about people we have lost - although there was nothing cold with Bonamassa's corking guitar intro which was followed by the aforementioned 'The Battle For Hadrian's Wall' with perfect vocals from Glenn and Joe equally matched by Derek's mean Hammond.
It was then three from 'IV' - firstly 'The Crow' (a possible reference to the cover of 'Afterglow'?), another storming rocker featuring guitar, drums and keys solos with a Rage Against The Machine like bass line and powerful vocals again from Hughes. Next up was their second single from the album 'Over My Head', with its instantly catchy riff and a great chorus, although this time it was Bonham's time to shine, playing with such force and precision that there's no doubt it would have made Bonham senior proud. BCC were accompanied on last of this 'IV' trilogy by Dublin legend Gerry O'Connor who played a mean fiddle and mandolin on BCCIV's epic 'The Last Song For My Resting Place, the only track on the album with Bonamassa on lead vocals, with its Celtic influence inevitably resulting in mass hand clapping - in a story all about Wallace Harvey, the band leader and violinist on the Titanic who played and perished as the ship went down.
If we needed cheering up after that sad story then cue the other JB and an awesome drum solo, before BCC closed out their impressive set with 'Man In The Middle' - BCC2's stand out driving riff ridden rocker that, if you needed reminding, showcased not what a great vocalist Hughes is, but also what a great bass guitarist Glenn is as well. And if you wanted more dirty bass, then it was inevitable I suppose that they finished with their signature tune 'Black Country' - which took us back to Glenn's set at Ramblin' Man Fair last July when he heralded the impending return of BCC by covering this fan favourite. BCC naturally obliged the ecstatic crowds shouts of "more" as they opened their encore sequence with the Zep like crunching riff of first single 'Collide' - the opener on 'BCCIV' - its statement of intent to blow away the five year old cobwebs - which they inevitably nailed with Hughes vocals soaring and wailing in equal measure, to powerhouse performances by Bonham and Bonamassa. Not to be outdone, Sherinian's contribution on an equally awesome performance of BCC2's 'Faithless' saw BCC finally round off a memorable night with a Deep Purple cover from the album 'Burn' - but not the usual title track set closer but 'Mistreated' - Hughes for good measure reminding everyone of his Purple roots as he asked Bonamassa "to talk to me Joe" which JB's guitar duly obliged on this lucky thirteen minute epic. Wow - what a way to end a gig!
Six year's since we saw them as a collective, Bonamassa is still truly the axe hero of his generation and is still the perfect foil for Hughes’ still-superb voice. Jason Bonham is still a chip off the old block on drums and Derek Sherinian still adds huge depth to the sound on Hammond organ. Six year's down the line and this Supergroup is still coming to terms with being a band given their well-documented commitments but boy-oh-boy, it still is a beautiful thing to behold. Let's pray we don't have to wait as long again for their next tour and 'BCCV'.
AJ (Photos courtesy of Christie Goodwin and Eric Duvet)
The Half Moon, Putney, London
Tuesday 16th January 2018
Last Tuesday at Putney's Half Moon in London saw the debut of 2016 WRC Best Blues Rock award winner Sari Schorr's new band line-up including Ash Wilson (guitar/vocals), Bob Fridzema (ex-King King) on keyboards, Mat Beable (ex-Stevie Nimmo Band) on bass guitar and Roy Martin (ex-Connie Lush Band/Modern English) on drums. We last saw Sari excellently supporting Walter Trout at London's Under The Bridge in October last year and little did those present that night imagine the extraordinary turn of events that would see her entire band replaced just three months later. This was the first night of a five date UK tour that finishes at The Citadel St. Helens tonight. Schorr initially gained prominence throughout the Blues world after several years of touring the US and Europe with Blues legend Joe Louis Walker and renowned guitarist Popa Chubby. Sari is described by many Blues pundits as a modern-day hybrid of Janis Joplin and Tina Turner - a red-hot Blues mama who radiates emotional intensity, connects with and inspires her audiences.
New Yorker Schorr was spotted at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis by producer Mike Vernon who ultimately produced her critically acclaimed 2016 debut album 'A Force of Nature' which delivered hard-driving Blues-Rock, influenced by the late '60's British Blues movement and mixed Blues, Rock and Soul with concrete melodies and poetic lyrics to striking effect. Still on the crest of a wave following 'AFON', to be fair, Sari's new line-up was worth a ticket alone. Indeed we had seen the impressive Wilson supporting Sari and her Engine Room at a newly refurbished Borderline just under a year ago and more recently we caught the magic keys of Fridzema when he played with Joanne Shaw Taylor at The Royal Festival Hall just a couple of months ago.
Despite it being a bitterly cold evening - there was a healthy crowd eagerly awaiting in anticipation - with support from Half Moon favourite Chris Mossop duly warming up the audience with his acoustic guitar and anecdotes. But whose idea was it to have seating down at the front of the stage? Doh! Anyway, Martin's newly monogrammed Sari Schorr drum kit shone out like a beacon as the band made their way on to the stage - unbelievably the word being that the guys had only physically all got together for the first time yesterday! They promised new songs from their all-important sophomore album and they duly delivered with their superb opener 'Revolution' - Ash easing himself in with a cool guitar solo and Schorr's awesome vocals ticking all the right boxes following a conversation I had with some Sari virgins in the bar earlier. It was then three in a row from 'AFON' - Schorr's vocal on the beautifully crafted 'Damn The Reason', featuring Fridzema's keyboards and another Wilson guitar solo - was followed by chuckles from the audience at Sari's throwaway line that the band "had only met yesterday" (which was in fact of course true) before the opening groovy rhythm guitar of Wilson on 'Cat And Mouse' which saw both Ash and Bob excelling again - and finally with Wilson's rockin' solo and Fridzema's keys on 'Demolition Man', again forcefully sung and written by Schorr.
'Ready For Lurve' another from the already underway new album, showcased the quality of the new material, indeed the strength of the musicians and the talents of the Manhattan Records production team, featuring executive producer Mike Vernon again, plus an expanded team of producer Wayne (King King) Proctor and Steve Wright, could make this something very special. Another quartet from 'AFON' was then classily dispatched. The mellow and groovy, 'Oklohoma', with its mean fusional outro jam with Fridzema's keys, another Wilson guitar solo and of course Schorr's excellent lyrical diction and then Lead Belly's 'Black Betty' - with its unique arrangement and Wilson's cajun guitar opening and Schorr's vocal delivery - ultimately resulting in a very powerful version of this classic. A big shout out at this point to Amber (who aptly described 'Black Betty' as gorgeous) and her two friends who not only danced the night away in defiance to those at the front in the cheap seats but also kept the WRC contingent entertained! 'Ordinary Life' (which is the last track on 'AFON') was a measure of Schorr's versatility, with Fridzema's beautiful keyboard intro, proving there was nothing ordinary about this ballad - the crystal clarity of Schorr's vocals all for everyone to see and hear - indeed lighters were at the ready - before the 'AFON' quintet was completed with the stand-out on the album - the melody and harmonics of 'Kiss Me' - which not only saw both Friedzema and Wilson revelling in a riff/chorus/solo that rocks out big time, but once again gave Sari the opportunity to sing the line about her beloved Pit Bulls!
Schorr is a great vocalist with a strong piercing sound, as she danced around the front of stage with the smiles of a woman at one with her music and her voice. It’s sometimes quiet and beautiful, sometimes powerful and strong, but always enthralling. You can imagine her conquering any music genre that she might choose – Rock, Blues, Opera, Soul. In short, a classic. She admits lately to have worked even harder on her songwriting, digging deeper and deeper into lyrics and melodies. The result is what she believe's is some of her best work to date and that was borne out on the final newbie of the evening 'Maybe I'm Fooling'. At this juncture it is opportune to praise the other new kids on the block, namely the baby faced peak capped Beable on bass plus Martin on drums - although drummer Neal Wilkinson, whose work credits include Van Morrison, James Morrison, Paul McCartney, Ray Charles and Annie Lennox, features on the album.
They duly finished the set with a holy trinity from 'AFON' - Wilson doffing his cap (if he had one) to previous Engine Room and Robert Plant guitarist Innes Sibbun, with his killer guitar on their staple cover of Led Zeppelin’s 'Rock and Roll', then the first track off the album 'Ain't Got Not Money' - Wilson's Gary Moore reminiscent style intro with New Yorker Schorr's powerful earthy vocal testing the Half Moon sound system, and finally the clunky opening riff of 'Aunt Hazel' - based on urban slang for heroin - resulted in both Bob and Ash letting us have it with both barrels on this rocker as Sari also took the opportunity to introduced her band to loud applause. "Thank you so much." "Gold bless you" said Sari genuinely to a delighted crowd - some who even got out of their seats! Despite losing her 'Engine Room', The First Lady Of The Blues new line-up (and what a lovely lady she is) is ticking over very nicely thank you - do not miss them when they tour again and keep an eye out for the release of that second album.
AJ (Photos courtesy of Eric Duvet, Richard Bolwell and Edyta Krzesak)
Ramblin' Man Fair - Day 1
Mote Park, Maidstone
Saturday 30th June 2018
The Ramblin' Man festival, held in the beautiful lakeland park of Mote Park in Maidstone, is now in its fourth year. The Ramblin' Man festival has evolved over its short lifespan with tweaks being made each year to fine tune it to the organiser's requirements. In the inaugural year, the headline act was Greg Allman - hence the festival's name – and has since seen such rock luminaries as Scorpions, Black Stone Cherry, Airbourne, Extreme, Saxon and ZZ Top headlining - not bad for such a blossoming festival. But this year’s acts weren’t such an obvious draw for me. Had the Ramblin' Man peaked too early? Had he strayed away from the beaten track? Let’s see.
The format this year is for a two day event spread across three stages, although there is the option of attending a small Friday night event held at the adjacent leisure centre. The ethos behind the organisation appears to be to provide a varied range of music with each of the three stages boasting a theme, albeit with some licence. Today’s three stages are the Classic Rock Rising Stage - a showcase for new talent, the Outlaw Country Stage - showing Country/Blues and the Planet Rock Main Stage, hosted by Planet Rock DJ Paul Anthony, where the headline acts appear. The timings of the three stages were fairly well coordinated with minimal clashes and each of the stages being close enough to each other to easily move between without impinging on each other’s sound. Scattered around the stages are numerous food outlets and beer tents – this is also a beer and food festival folks (winner!) – as well as numerous trade stands. Anyone want to buy a motorcycle? Put this all in beautiful parkland with ample room to chill and add some of the hottest weather of the year (29 degrees of unbroken sunshine) and you have the recipe for a fabulous weekend of rocking rapture. Oh, and as you may know, I’m a guitar nerd so be prepared for lots of guitar references. Apologies, but it was a guitar nerd’s paradise.
First up on the Outlaw Country stage are Thomas Wynn and The Believers. The Floridian sports a cowboy look with fancy weskit and hat and wields his six (string) shooter (a Gibson SG) through the ubiquitous Marshall amp to produce some glorious swampy Blues Rock with just a hint of Gospel. Accompanying him on vocals is his sister Olivia whilst supporting bass, keys, harmonica/acoustic guitar/vocals and drums provide a really full sound that gets proceedings underway in fine style. With a heavy keyboard influence, and raw guitar sound, this is more Boot Hill than Oklahoma. Great start Ramblin Man.
Over on the Classic Rock Rising Stage are Dead Man’s Whiskey, a 5 piece from London. Sporting twin Gibson Les Paul's through Marshal and Victory amps (sorry – I did warn you…) this young band provided some classic rocking sounds with just a hint of Whitesnake. Sporting a NWOCR t-shirt (new wave of classic rock in case you were wondering) lead singer Nico Rogers did exactly what it said on his shirt - produced a new wave of some classic sounding Rock. Stand out track for me was ‘War Machine’, with a great sweeping guitar solo, from their new album ‘Under Gun’.
And so to the main stage where Scottish rockers Gun treated us to what must now be considered classics of their considerable back catalogue including ‘Don’t Say It’s Over’, 'Better Days’, ‘Steal Your Fire’ and their cover of ‘Word Up’. Lead singer Dante Gizzi, sporting classic shades and a white denim jacket, stood proud front and centre, flanked by guitarists Giuliano Gizzi (a black Yamaha) and Tommy Gentry (a red Les Paul) owning the stage and the audience. A great festival band, there’s nothing to dislike about Gun with tracks that are unlikely to offend anyone with a modicum of musicality, and plenty to please the singers, dancers and fist pumpers. With new material (‘Take Me Down’) from their recently released album ‘Favourite Pleasures’ the short set was finished with the U2 like ‘Shame On You’ topped off with their cover of the Beastie Boys ‘You Gotta Fight For Your Right, To Paaaarrrttttaaaayyyy!’. Excellent stuff.
Back to the Rising Stage and for me, possibly the find of the festival. Gorrilla Riot are a 5 piece bundle of excitement from Manchester reminiscent of early GnR although with a strong vein of Blues flowing through them. With three guitars (steady Mother! – two Les Paul's and an SG) they make a big sound and frontman Arjun Bhishma made a big impact on the clearly supportive audience. The set went from hard rocking to groove Rock with hypnotic beats. Lead guitarist Liam Henry on the SG produced some fine work without being overbearing. Again we have proof that young guitar Rock is alive and flourishing. Their recent single ‘Bad Son’ got some critical acclaim in the music press and their latest single ‘ Down The Road’, a Country Blues lament from their new EP ‘American Honey’ is likely to follow suit. I will look to check them out again next time they are in town.
Back at the main stage and we are treated to another turn of musical direction with Punk Metal stalwarts Therapy. 30 years on and the attitude doesn’t change as Ulsterman Andy Cairns (playing a lovely black SG through a Marshall JCM…sigh) opens with their cover of Joy Divisions ‘Isolation’ supported by bassist and fellow Ulsterman Michael McKeegan whilst Derby’s Neil Cooper celebrated his birthday by providing the driving drumbeat. With the lilt of a ‘Liam Neeson accent’ Mr. Cairns and friends entertained the crowd including the singalong of ‘Neil, Neil, drum like a mother something-or-other’ and a tribute to the recently departed Vinnie from Pantera.
The festival really went into full gear as we switched between stages. On the Rising stage Brighton’s Rocket Dolls initially disappointed when we discovered they were 3 fellas but the smiles soon returned when we heard their grunge influenced brand of Rock. Nikki Smash on lead (a Strat in case you were wondering) and vocals fronts with Joe Constable on bass and Benji Knopfler on drums. Lots of riff heavy rocking for all to enjoy. Another band that has been rightfully getting the attention of the media.
Over on the Outlaw stage, Skinny Molly show their Skynyrd pedigree, Southern, swampy Rock credentials with a very well received set. Frontman Mike Estes (ex Skynyrd and Blackfoot) sports a Les Paul Junior and uses it to good effect to crank out some awesome Rock sounds including ‘If You Don’t Care’ and ‘When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Go Fishin’ but it was the closing cover of ‘Freebird’ that got the crowd jumping. A great festival song in the sunshine.
A quick trip back to the Rising stage for a brief stint with Welsh duet Henry’s Funeral Shoe. The brothers Clifford could best be described as a younger Seasick Steve on speed. Very entertaining and an ideal festival band. Guitarist and vocalist Aled made great use of the slide on his Strat whilst Brennig kept the thumping beat.
Back to the main stage and The Cadillac Three. What a band. And what a collection of guitars – a new pair on virtually every song (swoon….). Nashville's greatest advert (the name is emblazoned everywhere including on frontman Jaren Johnston’s arm) are another success story who have graced the Download stage amongst others. To quote Johnstone "There are heavy bands, and there are country bands. Us – we’re both". It’s Country Rock alright with dirty slide and a Tennessee mojo that the fans lap up. Opening track ‘Tennessee’ says it all and is followed by hits including ‘Peace, Love and Dixie’ and ‘Tennessee Mojo’ (are you getting the theme yet?) before ending with ‘The South’. Not a damn Yankee in sight neither. I have always liked this lot but they have gone up a good few notches in my estimation following their great set.
Back to the Outlaw stage for a thrilling acoustic set from Myles Kennedy, surely the coup of the festival for the organisers. The Alter Bridge/Slash frontman is achieving even more success, if that’s possible , with his latest solo album 'Year of the Tiger', and treated us to a selection of tracks including the title track, a cover of Alter Bridge’s ‘Cry Of Achilles’ and an amazing acoustic cover of Iron Maiden’s ‘The Trooper’. He’s an incredible vocal talent but an even more amazing guitar talent. A fact that is all too often overlooked. Kennedy is just a natural talent and a natural performer.
On to the main stage and what was the performance of the day, and probably the festival. The phenomenon that is Steel Panther. I love this band. Puerile, base, childish - all the things I aspire to be. The Californian ‘parody’ band of the 80’s are so in character that they are all too believable. With every 80’s hair metal cliché on display, the four piece entertain the crowd in a way nobody else did, or would dare to do. Their total irreverence of other people was only eclipsed by their irreverence for themselves although all nicely packaged in a narcissistic front that sees more primping and preening than an LA prom night rest room. Visually stunning, these fellas are also audibly impressive as their image is supported by superb musical talent. The irreverence included a ‘tribute’ to Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen by Sticks (Zadinia) and we were treated to an impromptu stage visit from a tottering gibbering Ozzy Osbourne who looked remarkably similar to the notably absent vocalist Michael Starr. With (sexy) Lexxi Foxx on bass and hairspray, and Satchel on lead guitar, the West Coast smutmeisters entertained all but the most miserable so-and-so’s with crowd participation set to maximum. Poor Holly, the girl who was sat centre stage with a large inflatable cock to play with whilst Starr sang ‘Community Property’ was only eclipsed by the mass ‘stage invasion’ of every woman of legal age. Plus a couple who probably weren’t. Ending with their anthemic ‘Death To All But Metal’ the LA Glam Metallers left the stage to a huge applause and left many a happy festival goer singing lyrics that their mum wouldn’t have approved of. Again, another fantastic festival band.
And so to the headline act, Mott the Hoople were formed over 50 years ago. In that time they have been seen as Rock, Glam and even Country-Hippie. This latest reincarnation sees iconic frontman Ian Hunter reunited with Morgan Fisher on keys and Ariel Bender on guitar. Entering the stage to the strains of ‘I Vow To Thee My Country’, Hunter, on acoustic guitar, and the band launch into a set of classic Mott the Hoople tracks as well as a collection of tributes and medleys from artists that have contributed to, or influenced their music. Whilst as different as you can get from the preceding Steel Panther, they still bought an air of fun to the stage and to the audience. Well received and well presented, they were a fine way to end the Ramblin' day. With more glorious sunshine forecast, bring on tomorrow.
Mott The Hoople Setlist
American Pie / Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll
Rest in Peace
I Wish I Was Your Mother
Pearl ’n’ Roy (England)
Roll Away the Stone
Sweet Jane (The Velvet Underground cover)
Walking With a Mountain
All the Way From Memphis
Medley: Jerkin' Crocus/One of the Boys
Medley: Rock'n'Roll Queen/Crash Street Kidds/Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On/Violence
All The Young Dudes
Mother (Photos courtesy of John Bull of RockrPix)