O2 Academy Brixton, London
Sunday 3rd November 2019
From Long Beach, California, USA, this is now the Rival Sons tenth year, and they are busy constantly crossing the Atlantic, touring their home country or over here in Europe. Those that are maybe unfamiliar with this act should imagine taking Led Zeppelin and Free in a collaboration, then producing for these times, where you can find the big riffs blended within a soulful (even Gospel at times) underbelly. To introduce anyone to this act, play ‘Open My Eyes’ as a taster, which indeed was duly dropped into the latter half of tonight’s show.
They arrived in Liverpool the previous night to warm up for a short UK Tour before crossing the channel for more dates on the back of this year’s ‘Feral Roots’ Album. The opener ‘End of Forever’ kicks off proceedings much to the pleasure of this enthusiastic and dare I say it “youthful” crowd (who said “Rock was dead?”). All six albums are featured in their eighteen song set from 2009’s ‘Before the Fire’, 2011’s ‘Pressure & Time’, 2012’s ‘Head Down’, 2014’s ‘Great Western Valkyrie’ and 2016’s ‘Hollow Bones’.
There is not a lot of chat from lead frontman Jay Buchanan, but without doubt he’s becoming one of the big vocalists of our time, along with guitarist Scott Holiday’s big sound who found Jay via Myspace back in 2006, who had played in a band with Bonham style drummer Michael Miley, and then hooked up with original bassist Robin Everhart to form the band. Dave Beste replaced Everhart in 2013 and keyboardist Todd Ogren joined the act in 2014.
An evenly balanced collection of songs, which included the ‘Feral Roots’ number ‘Shooting Stars’, a definitive moment in the evening. Drum solos are too many a time an excuse to exit for the bar, but on this occasion it was kept short and sweet, and was consequently well received. The bigger venues are beckoning for this band!
Hard Rock Hell 13 Day 1
Thursday 7th November 2019
13 years on and Hard Rock Hell is underway again at a new venue but with a familiar routine. So is it unlucky 13 or a bakers dozen of delight? Well tonight's opening night has been a huge disappointment as the usually slick HRH organisation have dropped the ball in a number of ways. HRH are veterans of organising large music festivals at premier holiday camps. The basics needed are large stages with good sound, plenty of bars well stocked and staffed, decent accommodation and sufficient eateries and ancillaries like WiFi etc. And probably in that order of priority. All were present in last year's North Wales venue although getting there was always an ordeal.
Getting to Great Yarmouth is infinitely easier to get to and the facilities and accommodation is as good as ever. The bars are plentiful, well stocked and amply staffed. Sadly, the stages and sound have hugely failed. The format is for two stages with stage 1 being the home for the headline acts and stage 2 for the up and coming acts. As per usual everything is on stage 1 for the opening night and immediately the problems are evident. The stage 1 is too small, badly organised and with poor sound. The stage is set at floor level due to the very low ceiling and a seated only VIP section has been put centre stage in front of all. The results are chaos. And due to the restrictions of the venue, it's difficult to see how this can be improved. With more punters and bigger acts on day 2, it will be interesting to see what happens.
So to the bands. After the brief but excellent opening ceremony performed by the absorbing Area 51 troupe, openers Liberty Lies are a last minute replacement. The Black Country band are in the style of Biffy Clyro and QOTSA with a slightly Prog tinge to a Classic Rock sound. Like all the bands, they struggled to work the room with it's peculiar set up but were full of enthusiasm and joy which transmitted to the already full auditorium. Showcasing tracks from their forthcoming album 'It's The Hope That Kills You', the 5 piece were a great way to start the day.
Next up are Killcode, the New York based 5 piece, who describe their sound as Southern infused Rock/Metal. Frontman and founding member Tom Morrissey shows more of a Rap Metal vibe, with his smart short hair and shades, than a Southern Rock Metal band. But it's a cool vibe. Their song 'Cool Kids' sums up their performance. Lots of audience interaction - "I say Kill, you say code" - and plenty of grooving from the corralled crowd. They close with a cover of Twisted Sisters 'You Can't Stop Rock And Roll', a nice touch as Dee Snider was due to headline the stage tonight but unfortunately had to cancel due to ill health.
Next up are Tequila Mockingbyrd, a much changed line up consisting of members of TM and The Amorrettes. This time the female quartet included a male bassist, but Jacinta Jaye and Josie O'Toole have been consistent members of both bands. The brand of drink themed Rock music remains although they are talking about reinventing themselves. A shame if they lose their excellent Rock and Roll vibe. Their new single sounds something like an Irish sea shanty. But the short set was still full of the feel-good Rock tracks like 'Somebody Put Something In My Drink' and closing favorite 'I Smell Rock And Roll'. Great stuff.
Act of the night were Cloven Hoof. The veteran NWOBHM 5 piece hailing from the Midlands sound exactly like what they are. Iron Maiden and Judas Priest are both bands that spring to mind. Marshall amps and Gibson LTD guitars, strong wailing vocals, black leather and pentagrams. It's classic yet still fresh. Frontman George Call struts a la Dickinson/Halford in front of hugely powerful sound. It's just a shame that the arena didn't showcase either the sound or the show in it's best light. But a great set well received. Electric Mary are an Australian 5 piece with influences from Deep Purple to John Lennon. Their short set was as eclectic and entertaining.
Headline act are Reef, last minute stand ins after the late cancellation by Dee Snider. The bearded rockers were complemented with Duran Duran's Andy Taylor, notably clean shaven. The funky rockers had a more Stoner Rock feel to their set. Now into their 26th year, the funky band famous for their 1997 hit 'Place Your Hands', have evolved into a more rounded rocking act with frontman Gary Stringer and bassist Jack Bessant being the consistent factor throughout. 2018 saw them release their first new album since 2000 but the various projects in between have paid dividends. Regular festival appearances have honed their live skills since which are evident tonight. The set gets a warm reception from the appreciated audience with tracks including 'Precious Metal', 'Revalation', 'Place Your Hands' and 'Summer's In Bloom' before closing 'Yet Old'. A final encore of a cover of The Faces 'Stay With Me' closes an excellent set.
So day 1 ends with a musical flourish but a raft of vitriol on social media by some seriously upset regular punters. It's a shame because the unusually poor organisation has completely overshadowed the great acts. Let's see if the HRH team listen and act. Hopefully day 2 will see some changes.
Hard Rock Hell 13 Day 2
Friday 8th November 2019
So have the HRH generals taken note and made some changes to the stage 1 set up? The slightly delayed access to the venue suggests so, so we anticipate a new dawn as we queue in the damp morning. Sadly the HRH generals have maintained their tactical doctrine and thrown us into the same trench warfare as yesterday i.e. nothing has changed. Somewhat apt on Rememberence weekend. Still, let's crack on shall we.
Today's format is the traditional two stages affair with the headline acts on stage 1 and the newer acts on stage 2. As there is little difference in size between the two, it makes the switch between the two less obvious. Although the layout of the arenas makes transition between the two difficult. Consequently I saw very little of stage 2. So somewhat anchored in stage 1 for the day I anticipated another rerun of day 1. Openers Twister were winners of the Highway to Hell competition, set up by HRH to promote Rock and Metal bands who write their own material. Having won a 5 year worldwide record contract for 2 albums, the 4 piece from Durham get to open the main stage. Kudos to HRH - they're not all bad.
The darkened stage erupts to the sound of three drums battering away as two kettle drums accompany the full drum kit. All very tribal. The band kicks in proper to some excellent Rock licks. Frontman Stevie Stoker sports a two tone look with his white hair, Les Paul and white Marshall amps contrasting nicely with the regular black Rock ensembles. The band are Rock but make use of guitar effects, especially delay and reverb, giving them and edgy U2 vibe (sorry, terrible pun). The crowd are already quite large and yesterday's issues are still blatantly evident but Twister rise above it all and produce an excellent enthusiastic opening set. The sound in stage 1 is still remarkably variable depending on where you stand and the VIP seating at the front still causes logistical and atmospheric issues but already today feels better. Maybe it's excellent ales.
Next up is Beth Blade & The Beautiful Disaster, a Cardiff based 4 piece fronted by the eponymous power house. She has that powerful female lead vocalist thing that are making bands like Halestorm such a popular force in current Rock music. Behind Beth's strong vocals are some squealing guitar licks with some heavy fuzz added. Unless that is down to the vagaries of the stage 1 sound. With Beth also on guitar we get some excellent guitar harmonies and stand out track 'Jack and Coke' gives us a punchy Rock groove. A great sounding band that again notches up the level a little further.
When it comes to ratcheting, things go up a whole other level with the entrance of Those Damn Crows. And not only that, but they change the whole festival. The now packed arena - many of whom have come just to see them - now becomes a cauldron of excitement. The VIP bastion of good behavior becomes a sea of ebullience that washed away the issues of day 1 and makes everyone friends again. The Welsh 5 piece have been making a big impact on the live music scene with their big Rocking sound. The Les Paul through Orange amp sound has graced, and wowed, Download, Ramblin' Man and Steelhouse festivals amongst others. It's heavy but Melodic Rock in the vein of Foo Fighters, Zep and Aerosmith, all influences on the Bridgend boys. Frontman Shane Greenhall is hugely charismatic with his Welsh patois a joy between some strong vocals performances. 'I Don't Give A Damn, Say What You Want' as a song sums up their excellent set that included excellent tracks like 'Set In Stone' and 'The Fighter'. But it was closer 'Rock n Roll Ain't Dead', with a dash of 'Pinball Wizard', that summed up an excellent performance. Possible band of the weekend for me, these fellas have been the turning point. They are touring next year and I definitely will be there.
Praying Mantis hail from the NWOBHM era but are a more Melodic Prog offering. Their more restrained performance saw a slightly smaller audience enjoy the twin harmony of Les Pauls through Marshall amps, accompanying the equally joyous vocal harmonies. The Troy brothers celebrate 45 years of Rocking and their tight sound reflect this as well as covering Skynyrd's 'Simple Man', their own tracks including 'Highway', 'Letting Go' and closer 'Children Of The Earth' are well received.
I manage to navigate my way briefly to stage 2 to enjoy some of the newer acts. The stage is similar in size to stage 1, but without the infamous VIP gladiatorial pit, with an excellent atmosphere although the sound was a little fuzzy. The energetic Black Tree Vultures were performing a great set to a packed crowd. It's where I usually like to spend time, watching the up and coming talent, but today I have to make my way back to stage 1 pretty promptly if I want to watch the headline acts in a place where I can at least see or hear them. Or preferably both.
Wayward Sons are up next, and Toby Jepson's !atest vehicle. And a fast driving vehicle it is. And loud too. The volume notably cranks upwards as Sam Woods Les Paul screams into life, whilst the tall blonde fella grins like a Cheshire housewife. Sorry, Cheshire cat. After getting the sound levels sorted - it was heavy on keys - the smooth machine shifts up through the gears. Jepson is in his element, behind his Gibson hollowbody, bantering with the crowd, and singing vocals with all the assurance of a man at one with his music. When, after declaring his thirst under the hot lights, and a punter delivers him a cold beer, he jokes that it's a perk of being a Rock legend when his bandmates don't get any. But it's in all humility and all in fun. It epitomises the friendly feel good factor that permeates the now Rocking arena. With a set list that includes old and new - 'Ghost', 'Little White Lies', 'The Truth Ain't What It Used To Be' and 'Crush', with a touch of Blondie's 'Union City Blues' - it's another cracking set. The boys are touring with Steel Panther next year. That will be a gig not to miss.
Penultimate band on stage 1 are the fabulous Gun. All dressed in black, the Glaswegian rockers are another seasoned, professional, tight and frankly just brilliant five piece. The Gizzi brothers - Dante on vocals and Jools on guitar - are just damn cool. Dante's infectious smile is picked up by the now rammed audience and his banter, in that broad Clydeside accent, is so easy on the ear. Not something you often hear said about the Glaswegian drawl. The tempo and the temperature soar as hit after hit are poured out from their forthcoming greatest hits album. Hits like 'Don't Say It's Over', 'Welcome To The Real World' and 'Steal Your Fire' showcasing over 30 years of Rocking. Another regular of the festival scene, their superb set is only marred by some VIP based altercation that sees Dante visibility upset by the unnecessary fracas. As a Glaswegian, you don't need to see your home sport on your travels. He's a man of loving life and tonight we all loved it with him. Well, most of us anyway.
Now Buckcherry, and lead singer Josh Todd especially, are a band that could clearly do with a little more love in their life. Whereas Gun exude warmth and comfort in their Rock, Buckcherry are altogether more edgy. You aren't sure what you are going to get when the LA rockers hit the stage. The opening couple of tracks see a few technical glitches including Todd's in ear monitors. The band look edgy, the crowd feel uneasy as Todd has that look of one about to throw his toys out of his perambulator. But the man is used to dealing with crap - just read his lyrics - and with the Gremlins duly dealt with, things really kick into gear. The pent up crowd now joyously release their energy in a torrent of highly colourful lyrics about predominantly drink, drugs and sex. And as the audience comes alive so does Todd. His wavering voice is discarded alongside his headscarf and leather jacket to leave the heavily tattooed singer bearing his chest and his soul. The voice gets stronger as does the set with classics like 'Lit Up', 'Too Drunk To Fuck' and 'Sorry' rubbing shoulders with newer material. The crowd love it. When it comes towards the end of the set, Josh asks what track the audience want to end with, some bright spark yells out 'Footloose', the Kenny Loggins dance track. Which the boys immediately launch into much to the delight of all who join in. Made a good job of it too, showing there is a lighter side to them. Of course what we really wanted was 'Crazy Bitch,' the non-PC sing-along we just love, which was served up with all the crowd interaction and a slice of 'Proud Mary' and 'Jungle Fever' on the side. Awesome. Add to that the band actually returned for an encore - not something they make a habit of - with their adult version of Icona Pops 'I Don't Care, I Love It'. Even more awesome. What a great end to a great night.
So day 2 ends on a high and the fears of day 1 appear to have receded. The venue still needs some work, the sound has improved but the VIP area has to go. Bet it won't though. But the HRH vibe is up and running. Roll on day 3.
Hard Rock Hell 13 Day 3
Saturday 9th November 2019
And so begins day 3, the final day of HRH 13. And let me say from the off that I am happy to eat my words, as contrary to my cynical predictions at the end of day 2, the HRH generals have listened, learned and acted. Kudos to them. At the preplanned meeting of the HRH inner sanctum, known as The Dark Circle (no magic tricks were harmed in the making of this presentation), members were given their regular chance to discuss and provide feedback. Sources tell me good things - the HRH generals listen and provide positive feedback, including some proposed additional improvements for next year over the fixes they want to make at this year's event. Knowing commander in chief Jonny, he will be good to his word.
Stage 2 opens first where we are pulverised by Pulverize. Don't say we weren't warned. The Leeds based Rap Metal band, front a male and female vocal line up who scream the Be Jesus out of us and each other. Brutal stuff that has me applauding with my hands over my ears. I wouldn't recommend you try that. Again, I would have liked to have stayed for more of stage 2 but the ability to switch between the stages is awkward so I opt for another day on stage 1. It's a shame as there are some excellent acts on stage 2. Special mention to my local outfit Stonewire who rocked the place. So to stage 1 and the changes made by the HRH team are subtle but a big improvement. The VIP area has been rejigged to provide standing at the front with the seating at the sides. Still no photo pit and I'm sure those forced to be seated weren't happy, so there is still work to do. But the atmosphere, and sound, has definitely benefited.
Openers on stage 2 are a Polish 5 piece called Chemia, who are somewhat Rock royalty in their home town of Warsaw. They have performed alongside some big names. Their name means Chemistry and is a nod to their experimental musical nature. As a result, their sound covers every aspect of Rock - Melodic, Prog, Punk and Classic. The sound is a fine mix of Les Paul and Telecaster which switches ably from Rock to Blues to Hardcore. Frontman Luke Drapala does a fine job of injecting excitement into the slightly jaded audience - did I mention the fine ales? With the new arena set up, the crowd soon come to life. It's hard not to find something you like in this varied set. Their short set ended with an anthemic 'Gotta Gotta Love Me' which is a classic live Rock song that we all joined in on.
Next up, and clearly back to the 80's Metal theme are Melbourne's Ablaze. This is not an AC/DC clone, rather a collection of every 80's Metal standard - long hair, cowboy boots, squealing guitars and whisky drinking. The latter were included if you were lucky enough to be at the front barrier as the bottle was handed around during the introduction of the band members. Both Ben Anderson and Matt Dynon sport Ibanez guitars, which even my non-guitar geek friend admired, and create some fine Van Halen sounding stuff. They are almost formulaic in their Australian hard drinking, no thinking, Rock till you drop approach to music. But that has negative connotations, which it really shouldn't - these boys are good. Not that they give a damn, they are just having a good time and are happy for you to join in. So we do. Tracks included 'No Chaser', from their 2018 first album of the same name, 'The Hard Way' and 'Pick Your Poison'. Alcohol fuelled fun all the way and the day is yet young.
And now the day takes a rather bizarre twist as the somewhat unusual Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction take to the stage. Although, to be honest, the frontman 'Zodiac Mindwarp' himself did appear to be somewhere else. His body had turned up but his mind appeared to have gone to another place, possibly assisted in some way .... What followed was a set of Psychedelic shenanigans that was really guitarist Cobalt Stargazer (I don't think that's his real name) playing some blistering licks whilst ZM's body came and went whilst muttering what I presume were lyrics.
No stranger to controversy, some of those more audible mutterings were somewhat questionable. So I left them doing a unique cover of Thin Lizzy's 'The Rocker' to fight my way to stage 2 to see the 3 piece Brighton riff rockers, The Rocket Dolls. These boys have been putting the hours in recently - I saw them at Ramblin' Man - and are due to release their third studio album shortly - thanks in no small way to their fans who crowdfunded it. We are treated to 'The Grip' and title track 'The Art Of Disconnect' as part of their set. Worth a listen, we may be seeing these guys playing bigger stages before long.
Diamond Head have seen many a large stage. Today, however, they are squeezed onto the main stage, which only just accommodates them. Another alumni of the NWOBHM academy, their honest and open Rock sound has been emulated and covered by many. Their set is another mix of old and new as classics like 'Lightning To The Nations' and 'It's Electric' rub shoulders with new tracks like 'Messenger' and 'The Belly Of The Beast' from their forthcoming album 'The Coffin Train'. But its closing classic 'Am I Evil', with its stirring intro and epic range that epitomises why Tatler and the boys are still making great music for over 40 years.
Penultimate act, and truly an icon, is German songstress and iron maiden, Doro. It is no stretch to call the blonde bombshell the queen of Heavy Metal. Dressed to seduce in classic black leather and studs, the most notable thing of Doro's look is not the glamour, the Rock outfit or the dark eye make up, it's the warm smile and total enthusiasm. We are watching an artist who really knows her game. The lyrics won't win any awards, its typical fist pumping stuff with repetition and chanting the name of the game. She exhorts the crowd to raise their fists, in her Teutonic lilt, which the gladly do. It would be like pantomime if it wasn't so Shakespearean. 'Night Of The Warlock' is a theatrical masterpiece. There are a number of Warlock tracks, Doro's 80's band including 'I Rule The Ruins', 'Burning The Witches' and 'Fight For Rock', as well as modern tracks like 'Soldier Of Metal', the closest we get to a ballad. Taken from her latest album 'Forever Warriors/Forever United', it soon turns into a headbanging frenzy. After a cover of Judas Priest's 'Breaking The Law', she closes with the chanting extravaganza 'All We Are'. But before she can exit the stage HRH, C-in-C Jonny appears to present her with the HRH Angel Of Rock award, much to the delight of everyone. She truly is an angel of Rock. So we get an added bonus of 'Warlocks East Meets West' from her as a bonus track before she is finally teased away from her fans. Its difficult who adores who most, Doro or the fans. Mutual admiration.
And so to the final act of the weekend. Michael Monroe is quite simply amazing. A quiet shy character off stage, once he hits the stage he is an explosive bundle of energy that does not stop from the first minute until the last. Looking like a cross between Keith Richards and Goldie Hawn, the blonde bombshell has a large dose of Iggy Pop in there too. And a sprinkling of Stephen Tyler. If that isn't a winning mix then nothing is. With guitarists Rich Jones and Steve Conte we get two distinct sounds that go to make up the Michael Monroe vibe. Jones sports a hollowbody through a Fender amp giving us a Rock and Roll vibe whilst Conte's white Les Paul through the Blackstar amp smacks of the Sex Pistols Steve Jones rig and Punk sound. Put them together and you have an explosive but catchy mix. Bassist Sam Yaffa has been a constant companion of Monroe from his early Hanoi Rocks days through the Demolition 23 days, so we are treated to a setlist including tracks from all previous incarnations.
Monroe just doesn't stop. Jumping, singing, dancing and grinning. And he loves a prop. When he isn't waving a fan, a baton, a light wand or a bright red top hat, he is making shapes with his mike stand, twirling it like a cheerleaders baton, and on more than the odd occasion, putting it through the unusually low ceiling. But his frenetic stage presence is most heartily felt when perching precariously on the barriers, held aloft by his adoring fans, whilst he dutifully drips sweat upon his faithful human pedestals. He grins like he is on the strongest of narcotics, although we know the fantastic Finn is clean as a wolf's whistle. And his smile is so infectious. He only stops when playing his beloved red saxophone on tracks like 'Last Train To Tokyo' or 'Harmonica'. Tracks from the new 'One Man Gang' are showcased - 'Junk Planet' being a cracking example. But for me, down the front getting plastered with perspiration, its tracks like '78' and 'Trick Of The Wrist' from his 2011 'Sensory Overdrive' album that really hit the spot. Its happy time. After a brief break we get a three song encore finishing with a Stooges classic 'I Feel Alright' and then he is gone. Like a whirlwind he has swept all in his path and left them wondering exactly what happened. Michael Monroe happened.
And so another Hard Rock Hell has reached its conclusion. Its been a tough couple of days for the HRH team, putting in long hours and working their fingers to the bone. There are things to change and issues to deal with but there is no doubt that HRH13 has been a success. And we can trust the HRH team to make things even better next year. But we have to remember all the excellence of the last three days. The staff have been amazing, security friendly and beers first rate. Accomodation is fine - no sleeping in a tent in a muddy tent for us - and most importantly, the bands have been pretty damn good. Coupled with the familiar faces, old and new, its been a friendly few days - maybe excepting out fighting VIP's. So the HRH troops will be marching back to Norfolk again next year, they have already responded to the HRH clarion call. Ugly Kid Joe, Skid Row,The Wildhearts and Phil Campbell are just some of the names confirmed which has resulted in HRH 14 having nearly sold out already. Next year, everyone will be a VIP. Very Impressed Punters. Rock on.
Michael Monroe setlist
(Navajo Joe By Ennio Morricone)
One Man Gang
Last Train to Tokyo
The Pitfalls of Being an Outsider
Not Faking It (Nazareth cover)
Ballad of the Lower East Side
Old King's Road
Black Ties and Red Tape
Motorvatin' (Hanoi Rocks song)
This Ain't No Love Song
Don't You Ever Leave Me (Hanoi Rocks song)
Malibu Beach Nightmare (Hanoi Rocks song)
Up Around the Bend (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)
Dead Jail Or Rock & Roll
Nothin's Alright (Demolition 23. song)
Hammersmith Palais (Demolition 23. song)
I Feel Alright (The Stooges cover)
Dee Rock - The Dublin Castle +
Brian Downey's Alive & Dangerous - The Underworld, Camden
Thursday 7th November 2019
It's Thursday night in Camden, London's very own smorgasbord of great live music venues, and we're ready to devour the musical fayre on offer tonight. Although not before we have necked a few pints in the Rock Church of the World's End pub of course, across the road from Camden Station! Time to take in our starter of the night, as we pass the iconic Jazz Cafe to our left and continue up on the right hand side to the equally iconic Dublin Castle venue. Indeed, memories of previous Camden Rocks festivals start to flood back. Unbelievably, tonight, there are five bands in its famous back room, all for a fiver. Although we are there a tad early with sound checks still being completed. Fortunately enough, the band we have come to see are on first!
Following the release of his new album 'Backroad Symphony', back in May, Nashville artist Dee Rock was indeed playing the final night of his UK tour. Rock's Lone Star roots run deep, tracing his family from the time of Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie at the Alamo, to today. Both of Dee's parents are music lovers and raised their children on a soundtrack ranging from Motown to Grand Ole Opry, with artists like BB King, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash and The Allman Brothers. All of that great music has shaped Dee Rock's style and sent him down the road he's on. Rock has found success in both sides of the music industry - on stage and off - from producing artists and song writing for various record companies including Virgin, EMI and Capitol Records, to writing the soundtrack for the Warner Bros. film 'Divas'.
Sitting in the bar, patiently waiting for the sound checks to finish, the opening bars of Dee's 'Battle Scars' sees us dash to the venue door and pay our dues. The stand out track for mine from 'Backroad Symphony', and for me personally, it was worth paying the fiver to hear this on its own, even though we missed part of it. Even if it was good for us that Dee Rock was on first, the unfortunate flip side, I suppose, understandably, was the number of punters there to see them. Although those lucky enough to witness their set, immediately warmed to the USA/UK seven piece consisting of the cowboy hatted, dreadlocked and shades wearing Dee on guitar and vocals, more than ably supported by guitar, bass, keys, violin, drums and backing vocals/tambourine. The all too short set also included the Southern Rockin' 'Ripples On The Moon' from his 2010 album 'The Road Ain't Long' and the inspirational 'Southern Summer Night', the soulful 'Long Way Home' and the native American roots Rock of 'Wild Mustang', all from his latest album, plus also the heartfelt 'Other Side', which Dee poignantly dedicated to a dear friend of his. Talking to all-round nice guy Dee afterwards, the good news was that he would be returning to the UK next May. Do not miss him.
Despite, the temptation of no doubt four further fine bands, namely Subterranean Street Society + Michael Lukes + Pat And The Hats + Morning Tourist, the allure, just a stone's throw away, of legendary original Thin Lizzy drummer Brian Downey's Alive & Dangerous boys, who were back in town at The Underworld, was just too much, as we made our way back to whence we came. This seemingly annual convention in London, of which we had previously had the pleasure of attending all at Nell's Jazz & Blues, is it a bit like dusting down your favourite live LP and not only listening to it in all its glory but actually seeing it performed to perfection as well. Also featuring Brian Grace (best known as the guitarist for the Commitments Andrew Strong), former Low Rider members Matt Wilson (lead vocals, bass) and Phil Edgar (lead guitar), Alive & Dangerous effectively pay tribute to one of the greatest live Rock and Roll albums of all time: Thin Lizzy's 'Live and Dangerous' - plus a lot more.
The double album was actually released in June 1978, however, it was primarily recorded at London's Hammersmith Odeon in November 1976 as part of the Johnny The Fox tour plus Toronto's Seneca College Fieldhouse and Philadelphia's Tower Theatre Bad Reputation gigs in October 1977, with further production in Paris, which sort of averaged it out to '77 I suppose! It was also the last Thin Lizzy album to feature guitarist Brian Robertson, who left the band shortly after its release, the conspiracy theorists singling out Robertson's displeasure at how much of the album was overdubbed, which has always been a contentious topic since its release. It's perhaps no surprise to learn that Brian Downey's much missed compadre, Phil Lynott, with the exception of Bob Seger's 'Rosalie', had a clean sweep on writing all the songs featured on the iconic 'Live and Dangerous'. However, on the richter scale, it's a pretty mean feat for a drummer to have also co-written almost half of those classic songs.
The earlier ying of seeing Dee Rock was unfortunately offset by the yang of missing most of the excellent Rebecca Downes set, although as expected, the guitar wielding Rebecca received a rapturous reception from the ardent Lizzy faithful present, no doubt adding more fans to her much deserved following. As Grace, Edgar and Wilson, entered the stage, looking every bit as though they had time travelled from the ‘70’s, they were joined by the main man Downey. Authentically ‘70’s. True to the album they set the bar mighty high as they opened with the corker - 'Jailbreak' and continued with the pure embodiment of Thin Lizzy, 'Emerald'. Wilson duly paid homage to Downey before the magical riff of 'Rosalie', sandwiched effortlessly by slower tracks 'Southbound' and 'Dancing In The Moonlight (It's Caught Me In Its Spotlight)'. 'Massacre' brought back fond memories of their December 1977 Lewisham Odeon gig during their 'Bad Reputation' tour, before Wilson dedicated the slower and emotional 'Still In Love With You' (compared to the studio version on 'Nightlife') to Phil, considered by many critics to be Lynott's finest hour, Matt's soulful voice subsequently bringing the lyrics we all know and love to life, which also soared thanks to Grace and Edgar's guitar playing, feeding off each other in dual guitar harmonies with high octane solos a la Robertson and Gorham.
Once more it was an opening to make your hair stand up on end - if Brian had any - as they continued with 'She La La' plus an obligatory solo from Downey - the sorcerer behind his Natal drum kit. Although his three Irish amigos were certainly not challenged in the follicle stakes, with both the ever smiling duo of Grace and Edgar not only appearing to have been separated at birth, given their looks, but also with his big curly hair and engaging smile, Wilson certainly looks and plays the part, but he very much has his own powerful stage persona and completely owns the stage. A perfect recreation of one of Lizzy's iconic sequences, again true to the live album, saw the band segue immediately from 'Cowboy Song' into 'The Boys Are Back in Town', on the line "a cowboy's life is the life for me" - the last chord of the former was the first of the latter, although their studio versions were recorded as separate songs. Wilson then poignantly dedicated 'Waiting For An Alibi' to my hero Gary Moore, before they played the sleaze driven funky mood of 'Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed'.
Understandably, the crowd were lapping it up, screaming for more as they piled into classic after classic, like a machine gun to our ears! Rat a tat tat .... 'Don't Believe A Word', 'Warriors' and then the epic 'Are You Ready', seeing those assembled, Rocking out with their fists proudly in the air. They finished off their set with 'Suicide', although cries of "Lizzy!, Lizzy!, Lizzy!" saw them inevitably return to the stage with an encore of 'I Got To Figure It Out', 'Black Rose' plus a final singalong to 'Whiskey In The Jar'. ‘Live And Dangerous’ is an album of raw energy, freshness and passion, and indeed, it was another stunning set from Alive and Dangerous, well and truly matching it and thus keeping Lizzy’s music alive. We're all still definitely in love with you guys.