The Bottom Line, Diamond Days, Saving Sebastian,
Camden Assembly, London
Thursday 12th January
January tends to be a quiet time for live music: most bands are looking forward to a few weeks off after a hectic December; fans (and their wallets) need a period of recovery after their excesses over Christmas and the New Year. So, starved of live music since the start of 2017, I was quick to accept the opportunity to witness the launch of The Bottom Line’s latest EP ‘I still Hate You’ at the Camden Assembly on Thursday. The Bottom Line are an energetic Pop Punk band hailing from the UK South Coast, but now based in London. Their debut EP ‘Another Pop Punk EP’ was released in 2012, followed by their more successful ‘Role Models?’ in 2013. Regular UK tours, gigs at venues across Europe and Asia, and a steady stream of new material have helped the band build a small but loyal fan base - many of them at the Camden Assembly on Thursday. Initially, the name of the venue threw me - surely not yet another live music venue in Camden, which has more than its fair share already. I eventually realised the Assembly was what I knew as the Barfly, taken over by the Colombo Group (who also run the Jazz Café, the Blues Kitchen outlets and XOYO) and, after an extensive refurb, relaunched as the Camden Assembly in September. The Assembly has retained many features of its predecessor: a ground floor bar, an intimate first floor club/concert room, a focus on emerging talent - and added a few of its own: a new music system and its own wide range of drinks, including craft beers but, alas, no real ales.
The evening got off to an inauspicious start. I’d decided to make the most of my time in London by starting off with a game of 5-a-side at Finsbury Leisure Centre - hoping to take off a few of those extra pounds I’d inevitably gained over the Christmas period. What I hadn’t expected were the blizzard conditions, heavy snow, partially flooded pitch and freezing temperatures, which all peaked around 6pm, right in the middle of our 45 minute slot - the worst playing conditions I’ve experienced in my 50 years of 5-a-side! AJ fared even worse. As we were a player short, he’d agreed to resume his illustrious, but recently on hold, football career. Unfortunately, I’d failed to mention the Finsbury pitches are outdoors - his flimsy T-shirt and plimsoles weren’t exactly ideal protection from the elements! At least the conditions helped with the weight loss - as well as the calories needed to stay warm, many more were burnt by the perpetual motion essential to avoid frostbite!!
An hour later we arrived at the Assembly, still cold and damp, hoping for some hot and heavy music to revitalise our frozen fingers and tormented toes! Openers Saving Sebastian, a 4-piece Pop-Punk band from Hemel Hempstead, definitely didn’t disappoint. Their unique and fun stage presence, their down-to-earth attitude and Sonny Mayo’s exhilarating vocals, all contributed to an impressive performance of non-stop Rock. Their fast, raw and honest songs soon had our hands clapping and feet tapping - the perfect way to start regenerating some feeling in those lifeless fingers and toes! The momentum started by Saving Sebastian was maintained by the next band on, Diamond Days, an up and coming four piece Alternative Rock band from the North-West, based in Liverpool. They met on-line in 2014, coming together to combine their influences and create their own unique sound. They certainly succeeded: the result is a heady mix of Pop-Punk, Alt-Rock and New Wave Metal that works surprisingly well, despite its occasional description as “A fusion of Panic”! Highlights of the set were 2015 single ‘Love Struck Kids’, high-tempo with a great chorus, and ‘People Change’, an infectious single from last year with a rousing start that never explodes but continues to fuel the growing harmonic and melodic roar. With The Bottom Line waiting in the wings, Diamond Days had to cut their set slightly short, so organised an audience vote for which of their intended last three songs they should actually play. The crowd’s loudest roar was for ‘Kings and Queens’, another bouncy number that had their fans gyrating in all directions.
It was now time for headliners The Bottom Line, veritable veterans in comparison with their support acts. The band was formed way back in 2011 by drummer Matt Bicker, bassist Max Ellis and two guitarists, Callum and Tom. Callum also provides lead vocals and writes most of their lyrics; Max is an active support vocalist. Their current tour, comprising 23 gigs in the UK and across Europe, is to promote their latest EP, ‘I Still Hate You’, which is formally launched at the Camden Assembly this evening. Unsurprisingly the EP takes up a large part of this evening’s set list, from the 100mph ‘Pull Me Out’ to the sepia-tinged swing of the title track. Add in the lively, melancholic, coherent sound of ‘Insecure’ and the raw hint of old school nostalgia in ‘When I Come Around’, and it is easy to see why the band have such enthusiastic audiences and their growing fan base. The Bottom Line’s strong stage presence had been evident from the moment they entered the stage, partly due to the improved, stronger lighting, partly due to the band’s obvious professionalism, but primarily due to the charisma and self-belief of front man Callum Amies. Callum is an expert at relating to and working his audience. Helped by the band’s melody bound riffs, rampant rhythms and the instant catchiness of their songs, he soon has them clapping, bouncing, dabbing and even, at one stage, crowd surfing, at will. The only time for a break in the perpetual motion generated by the set is when Callum is left alone on stage for a (slightly) quieter, (slighfly) slower solo. But not for long; within minutes the rest of the band return for a fabulous finale and all hell broke loose again - on stage and off it!
Thursday may have been freezing outside, but the temperature inside the Assembly rose steadily as The Bottom Line delivered another explosive live performance characterised by their standout ability to interact with the audience. The Assembley’s concert room was more than half full and would almost certainly have been fuller but for the inclement external weather - the absent coach potatoes definitely missed out!!
Glenn Hughes, Stone Broken
Islington Assembly Hall, London
Saturday 21st January
"This tour is all about Rock and what it means to us all, including my band, and to my fans and friends. Let's get 2017 going with a killer night for Rock lovers, movers and shakers. I'm in. Let's go! See you down the front!" Well we were duly down the front at London's Islington Assembly Hall last Saturday night to see Glenn Hughes, the legendary British Rock singer and bassist play the second night off his UK tour following Sheffield the night before. In an official statement before the tour, Hughes had also promised to dip in not only into his latest album 'Resonate' - one of the albums of 2016 - if not the album of 2016 in my opinion - plus also of course his trademark back catalogue with Trapeze, Deep Purple and Rock supergroup Black Country Communion - who he has been in the studio in LA recording a new album with recently. Anticipation was therefore very high amongst the Hughes faithful gathered at a not completely sold out venue - the question was would Glenn deliver?
The bonus ball of the evening was finally getting to see Hard Rock band Stone Broken who were recently voted as runners-up in the ‘Best New Band’ category of the annual Planet Rock Awards 2016. Fittingly, hailing from the Black Country with Rich Moss on vocals/guitar, Chris Davis on guitar/vocals, Kieron Conroy on bass and Robyn Haycock on drums/vocals - their short set, with the exception of impressive newbie 'Just A Memory' from their hotly awaited second album - was taken from their first album 'All In Time'. 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. It literally got 'Better' - another track from 'AIT' - consolidating their huge arena Rock sound much to the pleasure of the guy in the Stone Broken t-shirt in front of me! The slower intro to 'Be There' led into an inevitable huge riff - the impressive vocals of Moss and guitar work from Davis very reminiscent of Nickelback when they rock. Sandwiched in between 'Wait For You', which had a similar formula, and the heavier 'This Life', was the aforementioned 'JAM' - testament to the undoubted fact that they will not suffer second album syndrome! And finally, if you were looking for a glorious headbanger, then the second single off the album 'Not Your Enemy' did them proud. Suffice to say it's only January and we already we have a contender for 'Best Support' or 'One's To Watch' in our 2017 WRC Awards!
Time for the main event. For mine, concerns about the loss of Doug Aldrich to Dead Daisies had already been answered by Søren Andersen's guitar work on 'Resonate'. Although, in contrast, my disappointment at the loss of Lachy Doley on keyboards, following his masterful performance on 'Resonate', was harder to take. The reason why? Most probably down to the release of his new Lachy Doley Group CD. Anyway, as they made their way on to the stage, the constants in the band were Hughes and drummer Pontus Engborg with Jay Boe replacing Doley. Cue my favourite track from 'Resonate' - 'Flow' - with its stand out guitar/organ riff and an immediate opportunity for Glenn to open his tonsils - although a common theme throughout 'Resonate' is the unexpected direction that some tracks take - on this occasion the delicate mid-section harmony that builds into an awesome combination of another Andersen solo complemented by the amazing 'purplesque' keys of Boe - well played sir! Hughes' enthusiasm and emotion was already palpable as he reached back 35 years to his collaboration with Pat Travers Band guitarist Pat Thrall and 'Muscle And Blood' - the 65 year old proving that the body and that incredible voice are still willing despite some of his contemporaries falling by the wayside. It was then time to go back even further to 1975 and Mk IV, for some Deep Purple and 'Gettin' Tighter' - Hughes vocals not only giving Coverdale a run for his money but also showcasing his very cool pounding bass with great drum work from Engborg plus the manic organ of Boe. The rocking 'Stumble & Go' from 'Resonate' had a definite Stones feel about it before Trapeze's 'Medusa' proceeded to beguile - Hughes' hypnotic vocals complemented by a fusion that accentuated every sinew of his band on this classic. Hughes' banter about his runny nose and his historic use of mad marching powder preceded the familiar opening hard riff of 'Can't Stop The Flood' - written by Glenn in the desert - and off of his 2001 album 'Building The Machine' - this kept the set list well and truly alive in an oasis of quality Rock music.
And then it was time for communion - Black Country Communion. Despite his undoubted pedigree, the only time I had seen Hughes live before was with the highly impressive Black Country Communion - which unfortunately ended acrimoniously - although to be fair, Hughes did tell those assembled not to believe everything they read in the media! With love in the air, who were we to argue, as the guys are indeed getting back to together - and if you needed proof that BCC were the nearest thing in recent years that we have had to Zeppelin, then the punchy 'One Last Soul' from their 2010 debut album was more than proof. Bring it on. From one awesome band to another and Deep Purple's 'You Keep On Moving' - Hughes' 'shiver down your spine' vocals, particularly his acapella outro, putting his own personal stamp on another Mk IV nugget. And if Glenn wanted to feel the love - then this was no more evident than we he broke the news of his mother's current illness - the audience genuinely touched by their joint decision that the show must go on. Step forward 'My Town' which continued to carry 'Resonate's' torch with Pontus Enborg's pounding drum opening and a to die for driving guitar riff and solo from Andersen - the perfect vehicle for Hughes to flit between a soft and hard vocal. And just to reinforce Black Country Communion's undoubted quality - their masterpiece 'Black Country' was delivered in such style by Hughes, Andersen and Engborg - that not only can't the new album come soon enough but neither can a BCC tour as well! Brilliant. The funky but hard rockin' title track from his 2005 release 'Soul Mover' rounded off his setlist, before Hughes and his band returned for a well deserved encore featuring 'Resonate's' opening single 'Heavy' - an 'in yer face' intro blending the driving guitar of Anderson, the keyboards of Boe and Engborg's drums (Red Hot Chilli Peppers Chad Smith on the album) before Hughes lets rip with his trademark vocals. Naturally, it had to be Deep Purple's 'Burn' to wrap up proceedings on a night where the crowd had not only witnessed a Rock icon doing what he does best but had also warmed to Hughes himself and loved every bloody minute of it. And there's no doubt in my mind that the same feeling was fully reciprocated by the great man himself.
O2 Arena, London
Sunday 29th January 2017
If this really is to be The End, then The End comes early to a sold out 02. It's 8.15 when the rain (inside and out) and the tolling bell usher in the band with the song of the same name. The crowd goes mental as the curtain falls, to reveal a massive stage spanning screen and a backline of fire. From the first note it's obvious the boys are in no mood to mess around and with little crowd interaction they let the music and visuals do the talking, one hundred minutes of it to be precise. Black Sabbath quickly heads into 'Fairies Wear Boots', who could possibly wish for two better opening songs?
The fire is turned down (presumably before the whole band melt) although the intensity of the band is not, as they smash through Volume 4's 'Under The Sun'/'Everyday Comes & Goes'. Tony Iommi showing why he is such an admired guitarist and Ozzy's vocals right on the money.
No time for a rest as 'After Forever' and 'Into The Void' follow, which brings out much headbanging from some middle aged bald headed men with ponytails near us, clearly back in their 70's heyday. Ozzy dedicates the next song, a storming 'Snowblind' to Geoff Nichols, the ex-Sabbath keyboard player who sadly passed away just yesterday. A fitting tribute and one of many highlights. Next with the stage bathed in blood red light and the air raid siren at full tilt, it's time for my personal favourite 'War Pigs'. At previous Sabbath shows I've seen Ozzy do the "you sing one line and I'll do the next" routine, but not tonight, as the main man sings every line with all us generals gathered in our masses doing the same. He may give the appearance of someone hanging on to the microphone for dear life, but it's a classic performance of a timeless song.
Next up are two songs from the legendary self titled debut album (47 years old this year!) Ozzy introduces 'Behind The Wall Of Sleep' as a song they don't perform very often, although it does seem to appear on most dates of this tour. Then Mr Iommi takes centre stage for some classic riffage with 'N.I.B.' as the crowd help out with the "Oh Yeah's". The double O then takes a break as instrumentals 'Rat Salad' and a great medley of Sabbath Riffs complete with archive footage of the band on screen, take pride of place. With only 3/4 of the original line up on stage, it's down to Tommy Clufetos to fill the absent Bill Wards boots. An absolute powerhouse of a drummer, his speed and precision are incredible. Personally I have seen enough drum solos to last a lifetime, but this really is something special, the man must have two extra arms and legs to make such a powerful noise.
Ozzy returns as yet another classic with a timeless riff makes an appearance. 'Iron Man' has just about everything. This time the video screens highlight the sheer speed of Geezer Butlers bass guitar playing, he may only move about ten paces during the whole show, but his fingers are a complete blur, wonderful stuff. With the show charging to its inevitable conclusion it's time for another blistering Tony Iommi guitar solo on 'Dirty Women', a great song played by a band absolutely on the top of their game. From the moment we walked into the arena the masses of purple balloons tied to the ceiling waiting to be unleashed were waiting for their cue, which comes with 'Children Of The Grave'. There are so many, the band is barely visible, especially when tons of ticker tape are added to the mix. Rather than leave the stage, Ozzy conducts the crowd in a chant of "One More Song" as the band launch into the inevitable 'Paranoid' to bring the curtain down on a great show and even greater band. And that's it, all over. The last time I will see the band that invented the music I love. We live in hope course, as farewell tours don't always mean what they say. But if this really is The End, it was a great, barnstorming way to bow out. Farewell Guys.
Joanne Shaw Taylor
Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Friday 27th January 2017
I first saw Joanne Shaw Taylor play at my local club, the Beaverwood Club in Chiselhurst on her White Sugar tour in 2009. A spectacularly talented Blues guitarist, this hard working Birmingham girl toured the pubs and clubs of the UK learning her trade as a professional musician, playing the screaming Blues licks that emulated her idols such as Stevie Ray Vaughan. Here was one of the new generation of young Blues guitarists, like Chantel McGregor and Samantha Fish, that were paving the way on the crest of the Joe Bonamassa wave of young Blues talent. And Joanne has an incredible voice to go along with her guitar skills. It’s smoky yet growling but never harsh. She has the power in songs like ‘Going Home’ to transcend the electricity crackling from her favoured Telecaster yet sultry and soothing in tracks like ‘Tried, Tested and True’. She is a real guitar genius with a talented singing voice.
A rising star, Joanne played to larger audiences at larger venues, supporting the likes of Joe Bonamassa and making the festival scene with the backing of people like the Planet Rock team. And she moved from Birmingham to Detroit and Memphis where she further honed her talents. So a cold wintry night saw her revisit the Shepherds Bush empire to promote her new album 'Wild'. Ably supporting her were fellow Brummies Broken Witt Rebels. A busy bunch of lads, they supported King King in December 2016 as well as playing a number of gigs of their own. Their set was far too short with only half a dozen tracks showcasing their musical skills, but a well-crafted set it was with Blues, Rock and even Soul influences.
With her latest album 'Wild' breaking the top 20 in the album chart, Joanne took to the stage this time with three backing musicians - a nod to the direction her music has been taking. Oliver Perry, sat behind a plexi screen that was reminiscent of the chicken wire protection provided to the Blues Brothers during their ‘Good Old Boys’ charade, provided a solid beat. Don’t worry, no beer bottles were hurled in his direction. Perry has been with JST for some years now as the touring drummer and really knows his stuff. New bassist Luigi Cassanova provided a steady bassline with an impressive dreadlocked appearance and Drew Wynan provided skilled rhythm guitar and keyboards. Less of a stripped down Blues act, more a rounded musical ensemble.
'Wild' is Joanne’s 5th studio album and was produced in Nashville by Kevin Shirley. The tracks on the album are well produced and show a movement in her career more towards the song writing and singing prowess and less towards her guitar skills. Don’t get me wrong, the dexterity of the vibratomatrix is still evident as she hammers on and pulls off with aplomb. But the focus seems to be the vocals. And that seemed to come across live too. I was all too conscious of the backing keyboards or rhythm guitar where I would usually be transfixed by the searing lead playing. The sound levels were fine, it just felt like the lead had fallen into the overall mix. To me, JST is a supreme guitar player who can sing beautifully. But the set was still fantastic. As part of her evolution, Joanne has added Gibson Les Paul’s to her arsenal and boy does she get the best out of them.
There is nothing finer than watching her disappear into a rapturous world of her own, lost in the moment of playing amazing Blues solos that would make even her idle SRV applaud along with the rest of us. In the early days, she would have covered an SRV or Hendrix track, much to our delight, but with a growing catalogue of her own, we are lucky if we get to hear our favourite JST track, let alone any covers. There was no special guest this tour either. I wondered if Bernie Marsden might appear again. Or Bonamassa. Or Clapton or Jeff Beck. With JST’s skills, anything is possible. The soloing on ‘Time Has Come’ was extraordinary. The contrast with the almost gentle cover of Johnny Mathis ‘Wild Is The Wind’, dedicated to David Bowie was notable. Both great performances but showed the diversity of the set. The night was another great performance from a truly talented artist. The hard playing SRV wannabe has been transformed into the smooth, polished, confident act of today. Is JST now a singer who plays guitar rather than a guitarist who sings? No, I don’t think so. She may have lost a bit of that raw edge we love when the pick starts to dance around the frets but we still remain devoted to our Brummie girl made good.
Dyin' To Know
Nothing To Lose
No Reason To Stay
Jump That Train
Diamonds In The Dirt
Tried, Tested & True
Watch 'em Burn
Time Has Come
Wanna Be My Lover
Ready To Roll
Wild Is The Wind (Johnny Mathis cover - dedicated to David Bowie)
Tied & Bound
Black Orchid Empire
The Monarch, Camden, London
Thursday 2nd February 2017
Described as Hard Rock with a soft underbelly, we saw the awesome Black Orchid Empire headline at Camden's Monarch last Thursday night. At yet another Camden Rocks showcase, The Monarch is a real rock pub, a microcosm of today's music business as bands bartered equipment with each other during their sound checks, whilst we were interviewing BOE consisting of New Zealander Dave Ferguson (bass/vocals), American Billy Freedom (drums) and Brit Paul Visser (vocals/guitar) backstage beforehand. With a plethora of support bands, namely, I Cried Wolf, Dead Dollar Days and The Indya Band - there was no question that you were not going to get your money's worth - particularly as BOE confirmed that the majority of their setlist was to contain their critically acclaimed new album 'Archetype'.
Rising out of the phoenix of the band Cape Fear - who once supported INXS - and winners of UK Emergenza 2013 - BOE are influenced not only by the bands the guys like, such as The Deftones, Rival Sons and Alice In Chains, but also the bands they have supported i.e. Biffy Clyro, Feeder and Skunk Anansie plus the bands they have met on the circuit i.e. Veridian and Stereo Juggernaut (who were also on the bill tonight). 'Archetype', mastered by American Ted Jensen and released in November 2016, was essentially three years in the making, not only because of the meticulous musical nature of the band but also because they wanted to ensure that the necessary commercial infrastructure was in place to launch the album.
Therefore this one-off gig followed some pretty extensive promotional gigging in 2016 which included Planet Rockstock and Standon Calling. It was a bit disappointing therefore to learn (but understandable) towards the end of our interview that, with a strict curfew at 11pm, BOE's set was to be restricted to just half an hour! The band are currently writing their second album and kicked off with a newbie 'Mouth Of The Wolf' which was immediately followed by the more familiar and punchy 'God Is Awake' with it's stand out vocal harmonies from Visser and Ferguson - their second single from 'Archetype' (and part of their "Empire Strikes Back" video trilogy) which has deservedly received plenty of airplay on Planet Rock. Given the short setlist - the self explanatory quick fire 'Riff Of Death' again from 'Archetype' was proof, if needed, of what a meticulous power trio BOE are - not only further evidence of their strength but the fact that they are all riffing from the same hymn sheet.
And if you were in any doubt that these guys weren't all about rhythm, melody and heavy riffs with an edge, then Visser's enticing guitar/vocal intro of their very first single from 'Archetype' 'Come In' (another part of their "Empire Strikes Back" video trilogy) and his rallying call "Let's fucking have it!" was immediately followed by a riff to die for plus Freedom's pounding drums - cue general head banging all round and Visser asking how we were doing - very nicely thank you - THE track that attracted me to BOE in the first place! The inclusion of 'Mountain', again from 'Archetype', which was sandwiched in between two more impressive new tracks 'Burn' and 'Wires', made up for the exclusion of my favourite track from 'Archetype' - 'Here's To You'. This was the first song BOE ever wrote with its eastern mystical feel - which duly validated the guys own belief of their tag of Alt Rock with Progressive tendencies - reinforcing their stand out harmonies with Ferguson's storming bass outro leading into some more heavy head banging riffage from Visser. A short but great set from BOE, plus a massive well done to all the bands that performed on the night - keeping the flag flying proudly for a real live rock music venue. As for Black Orchid Empire - they return for Camden Rocks on Saturday 3rd June plus they have other festival plans in the pipeline - do not miss them.
O2 Arena, London
Wednesday 8th February 2017
You would be forgiven for thinking of Green Day as a bunch of young aggressive upstarts writing anarchic teenage angst songs about a world that they don’t yet understand. Truth is, Green Day have been around for over 30 years now with an impressive catalogue of albums and hits. It would be better to describe them as a bunch of aggressive upstarts writing anarchic angst songs about a world that they do fully understand.
Their latest album, 'Revolution Radio', saw the Oakland/Berkley CA trio (all six of them…..) hit the stage at London’s O2 arena to a packed out audience on the latest leg of their world tour. And true to their lengthy legacy, the crowd was a pleasant mix of teenagers’ and their parents, both equally justified at seeing ‘their’ band, both equally excited. Many bands share fans across the generations - AC/DC and Alice Cooper are good examples - but not many create this sort of fervour as to which generation owns and loves them more. Supporting them were the appropriately named Interrupters, a punk/Ska band from Los Angeles who warmed the audience nicely with their lively set, reminiscent of the 80’s Ska bands like The Beat and The Specials, but with a modern punky irreverence showing hints of bands like Zebrahead. Audience participation was enjoyed by both band and fans setting the scene for a boisterous night.
Most bands like to make an entrance to some atmospheric music to build the crowd and set the scene for the set to come. Green day typically had three. Starting with 'Bohemian Rhapsody' to loosen the crowds vocally - is there any better song? - The Ramones 'Blitzkrieg Bop' got the moshers moshing and then the expectation levels, already high, were sent stratospheric by Ennio Moricone’s classic soundtrack from 'The Good, The Bad And The Ugly'. Nice work boys. Now Punk bands are all about the attitude. They don’t know how to play their instruments, nor do they care. They have something to say and want to say it loud. Most grow old disgracefully and then discover that making adverts for butter is what matters and lose all their credibility. How can you have a responsible adult decrying the establishment when secretly they are an M&S card holder. Well Billie Joe, Mike and Tre do it and do it with all the conviction, venom and visceral attitude that younger Punk bands often fail to create.
All the anger, the passion and the drive is there - this could be their first gig. Opening with 'Know Your Enemy', Green Day unleashed their sound on an audience that were revved up and ready to go. And go they did. Billie Joe is all about the crowd, constantly exhorting them to stand up, jump around, wave their arms, scream or just generally go crazy. Fairly common stuff you might say but you rarely see Dad’s out bopping their teenage daughters. And rarely do you ever see no-one giving a toss about it either. The set was a lengthy one - two and a half hours including the encore, which all went with lightning speed. The set was sprinkled with a good mix of hits from albums past as well as the new material. 'Revolution Radio’s title track was a big hit with the audience. It’s great to see the new material being acclaimed as highly as the classics by the adoring crowd. So many new album tracks are politely applauded, rather than maniacally lauded. It must warm the bands hearts to know that their current music is as relevant as their hits of 20 years ago. These boys aren’t living off of their past, that’s for sure.
Favourite’s like 'Holiday' really got the crowd jumping – even in the seats which is dangerous in the acutely angled nose bleeds that are the cheap seats. But that’s what Punk is about - bugger the establishment and prepare my ambulance.
For three fella’s who have played a bit, they were as tight as you would expect. Tre Cool sitting behind his drum kit, with the occasional forays onto the stage proper, including his vocals for the opening of 'Shout', played the role of teen idol to perfection whilst still managing to do a bit of quality drumming. Many a teenage girl was carried out in a state of swoon. Or drunk - it’s hard to tell these days. Mike Dirnt defies the dull methodical bass player stereotype by battering out some murderous bass riffs in a proper "fuck you" stance whilst looking like a Rock God. The swooning levels went up another notch. And Billie Joe Armstrong, the iconic front man jumped, strutted, skipped, and skittered around the stage like an angry 6th former who just got expelled for smoking, again. He worked the crowd all night. “Tonight is about freedom, man” he yells as he vents his anger at all the wrongs in the world. A self-confessed champion and founder member of all the freaks, the audience were all convinced he is still that angry young teenager. A great musician, he battered his much loved childhood guitar, bought for him by his mum when he was just 10. And played at every Green Day gig since too. He even added a little mouth organ melody to 'Scattered'.
But it is as a crowd pleaser that he excels. As well as the sing-alongs and chanting, he invited members of the crowd onstage to participate with differing levels of success. From the clearly star-struck teenage girl who was too mesmerised by the audience to sing, to the little girl Rachel who was invited up to play guitar with Billie Joe, She was rewarded with being given the guitar for her troubles – nice touch Mr A. But gold medal goes to the Superman t-shirt wearing teenage fella who was invited to come up on stage and sing 'Longview'. No shy retiring fella this one, he owned the stage, sang some pretty decent lyrics and then rejoined the crowd with a stage dive that justified his choice of t-shirt. Well done mate – you really entertained the crowds.
The evening went on with hit after hit. Quietly but expertly supporting in the background were the three unknown members – Jason White, Jeff Matika and Jason Freese - playing guitar keyboards and saxophone. The latter showed his true versatility with a medley of assorted hits starting with a well-received rendition of George Michael’s 'Careless Whisper', that was enthusiastically received with a slight melancholy joy. "That’s not f’ing Punk" bemoans my mate. No, it aint, but then Green Day aren’t just Punk. They are great entertainers, anarchic punks, romantic balladeers - they have it all. Which probably explains their wide appeal. I felt it was fitting that the gig that started with such an angry and excitable opening, should finish with a couple of thoughtful numbers with just Billie Joe on an acoustic. Great sounds, great singing, great night. Can’t wait to see them again at Hyde Park in July.
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
Know Your Enemy
Boulevard Of Broken Dreams
2000 Light Years Away
Hitchin' A Ride
When I Come Around
Are We the Waiting
Knowledge (Operation Ivy cover)
Do You Wanna Dance (The Beach Boys cover)
King For A Day (w/ 'Careless Whisper' saxophone solo )
Shout/Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life/Teenage Kicks/(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction/Hey Jude
Jesus of Suburbia
Ordinary World - Acoustic
Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) - Acoustic
Where Fires Are
93 Feet East, London E1
Wednesday 15th February 2017
Spitalfields Market in the East End of London used to be a run-down working class area, home to the famous meat market. Then the Asian influx saw nearby Brick Lane, home of the curry house, bringing an eastern allure to the fringes of the old East End. Nowadays, it’s become the home of the young and trendy. Gone are the butchers and abattoirs, replaced with trendy market stalls and stands selling tofu and gluten free treats. Well healed young beautiful people dine on Anatolian cuisine whilst eyeing the latest design of coiffure on show at Toni & Guys. But hidden amongst the back streets, in wafting distance of Brick Lane’s finest, is a growing number of live music venues like 93 Feet East, hosting the up and coming bands that are the future of today’s real music scene. Not the commercially produced pap that fills our supermarket aisles but real artists who write their songs from the heart and tour the country in small dark clubs to a growing following. The people outside may be young and trendy, but the music is as down and dirty as the old meat market ever was. I suggest you check the area out.
There are four acts playing the typically dark and atmospheric venue. Openers Kryer start the night with 'Know Your Name' - the first track of their first gig. And a fine start too. The five piece from London played a short 4 track set of original Alt-Rock material that was both heavy but melancholic, with the woes of young love being the overriding theme - you gotta sing about what makes you mad. They had a good if cathartic time to a small but appreciative audience.
Next up are Local 3 piece Knites playing to a sadly depleted auditorium. Doesn’t bother them though. I feel like I should go drag some of those beautiful people from their vegan hell in here to see what they are missing. Another young Alt-Rock band (is that a keyboard shortcut?) the stripped sound of drums, bass and guitar still sounded full with vocalist Andy Cooper adding a melodic wailing that was in no way unpleasant and had elements of Thorn Yorke about his voice. Another great set, I would like to see this band progress further and expand their repertoire. Another young band that should go far. Let’s hope they do.
Kid Kapichi, a Hastings 4 piece bundle of loud, arrived and decided to crank up the decibels. A punkier sound and a punkier attitude, these boys have been endorsed by Sham 69’s Dave Parsons. I can see the link. Far more erudite than the ‘Ersham Boys’, Kid Kapichi have that assured swagger that fits a small backstreet club like the 93 East Feet so well. The seasiders track 'Ice Cream' is typical of their sound – not sugary in any way, but certainly delicious. They are the sort of band you love to get drunk to. And then drunk with afterwards. Their short set was concluded with a doomier almost stoner sound but with no less attitude.
Billed as the headliners, Where Fires Are are a 5-piece band from Leeds consisting of frontman Robbie Gillespie, Nick Banks (keys, synth), James Clegg (bass), Matt Exton (drums) and Ash Reynolds (guitar). They have an edgy Alt-Rock feel to their music featuring big riffs and soaring melodies. Sporting body paint reminiscent of great aunt Boudicca, they are a colourful lot. Tattoo’s are sooooo yesterday. Twin guitars - a Tele and a Strat – pump out harsh guitar goodness through Marshall amps giving a metal edge to their Northern Rock. The sound is soothed by Banks keyboards to soften the sound yet retain it’s pleasingly hard edge. Vocalist Gillespie has a voice that alternates somewhere between growl and falsetto that fits perfectly with the power being pumped out behind him. A powerful sound often interspersed with lulls of almost quiet contemplation before the explosion of sound again assaults the lug holes. There’s almost a funky feel to the bass line of track 'I’m Here' but no let up to the power of the song. 'Your Brother' could almost be considered a ballad although only by the insane. 'Feels Right' has hints of The Cure about it – a dancing bass line with Gillespies calling voice serenaded by a twanging guitar. But all the time there is that deep down grunt that makes you want to sway. Or is that the beer? The head nods as Gillespie brings the song to it’s crescendo. 'I’ve Got the Time', a track from their latest EP 'One Four Six One', sees Ash Reynolds provide additional vocals for a more melodic, but no less powerful slice of Yorkshire anthem. 'Kill My Mind' is a stone cold piece of navel gazing that has the audience head shaking until the delicate keyboard break. The song then builds back up again to a further bout of body rocking that sees both band and audience lost in the music. The closing song, 'You Are The Sun', is apparently supposed to send us on our way in a delightful frame of mind. So says Mr G. It does indeed, in a soft sunny way, to begin with. But they soon rack up the volume to kick us out into the night like a swift boot up the arse.
Each of the four bands had short but enjoyable sets. This was a night to showcase new talent and it’s good to see the future of music has hope, has promise. Let’s hope that these promises are fulfilled. But the music industry today is a meat market for these up and coming bands. Literally.
Where Fires Are Setlist
Die Or Survive
I’ve Got The Time
Kill My Mind
You Are The Sun Part II
The Pineapple Thief
Islington Assembly Hall, London
Saturday 11th February 2017
Progdate: Saturday 2nd August 2003. Deputising for the the missing Oxygen8 and supporting headliners Caravan - we had just witnessed The Pineapple Thief's first ever gig at The Whitchurch Prog Rock Musical Festival. It was a cracking set - so much so that we headed straight over to their merchandise stall and bought a signed version of 'Variations On A Dream/8 Days'. Now turn the clock forward 13 years or so plus eleven quality studio albums later and the Testbourne School Theatre gig is all but a distant memory as TPT marched into a sold out Islington Assembly Hall last Saturday night.
In fact the last time we saw TPT was at Ramblin' Man in 2015 following the release of their penultimate album 'Magnolia' in September 2014. With the trusty Prog backbone of Bruce Soord, John Sykes and Steve Kitch - an added attraction for the assembled masses was the addition of Porcupine Tree/King Crimson drummer Gavin Harrison to the fold - following his outstanding performance on TPT's latest offering 'Your Wilderness' - which we were about to witness live for the first time. Much was expected - and as usual - we were not disappointed!
The biggest surprise of the evening was the addition of Godsticks guitarist Darran Charles to the TPT ranks following their impressive support set. Indeed we saw Godsticks support TPT at The Underworld in 2011, a month before TPT supported Blackfield at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. There's no doubt that following this performance, there would be a number of TPT fans checking out Godsticks again, as I'm sure there were a number of Blackfield fans in the audience from that Shepherd's Bush gig six years ago. It is indeed a long hard climb up that Prog ladder as TPT can testify - so only time will tell whether the promising Godsticks can mirror their gradual rise.
Soord's acoustic intro to their up tempo opener 'Tear You Up' - belied the fact that this is perhaps TPT's heaviest track from 'Your Wilderness' - Harrison's drum rolls and their trademark stirring guitar(s) channelling into Sykes' bass laden verses propelling a slick riff. The first time we saw TPT debut 'Magnolia's 'The One You Left To Die' was at Islington's O2 Academy in 2014 - real British stock - again with Sykes' bass line taking centre stage from the beginning - building up - in true TPT style - into some more powerful riffing. Question: are John's two guitar pedals still labelled 'prunes & custard' and 'big muff'? 'No Man's Land' was the very first Youtube track I heard from 'Your Wilderness'. Soord's voice and haunting acoustic guitar melody duly carrying the audience before Harrison stepped in - his drumming the catalyst for a classic, but short, Prog outro by the band. 'Magonolia's rocker 'Alone At Sea' followed by the dreamy 'That Shore' from 'Your Wilderness' were further evidence of the musical balance of TPT - the former with Kitch's electronic wizardry, aggressive bombastic guitar riffs and booming melodies and the latter's softer blend.
On all of their albums, TPT never fail to deliver a Progtastic epic. In the case of 'All The Wars' that epic is 'Reaching Out' - it's delivery again making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end ever since I first saw them debut this masterpiece at The Barfly in 2012. Ten minutes of pure, unadulterated joy, showcasing TPT as the ultimate unit - the compactness of the band never more apparent. Given the critical acclaim of 'All The Wars' - and on a night that would ultimately see half the set taken from 'Your Wilderness' - it's probably churlish to point out that this was disappointingly the only track to be aired from 'ATW' - the flip side of course being TPT's undoubted strength in content. Harrison's minimalistic opening drum groove gave way to Soord's crystal clear vocal along with a synth, bass lick and soft guitar lick on 'YW's deceptively catchy 'In Exile'. The more upbeat 'Take Your Shot' again from 'YW', with its atmospheric Brit-Pop feel, also had the power of both a strong chorus and a great lead guitar.
TPT then 'Show-ed A Little Love' to the guy standing next to me, resplendent in our matching 'Someone Here Is Missing' album t-shirts. This TPT stormer took me back to the end of 2011, following the release of 'SHIM', when we presented TPT with our WRC 'Best Prog Performance 2011' award before their London Borderline gig and our interview with Bruce before the release of their forthcoming album 'All The Wars' - how time flies! Soord and Kitch's unplugged collaboration between guitar and piano on 'YW's 'Fend For Yourself' more than made up for the absence of John Helliwell's clarinet solo, whilst, for all us Whitchurch/'Variations On A Dream' veterans, 'Part Zero' is always one of the highlights of a TPT gig - Bruce's effortless switch from acoustic to electric guitar made all the more easier with Darran's presence (Charles actually guested on 'YW') although trying to match Soord in who could look the scruffiest was taking his new gig a step too far! And it was at this point that I took my life in my hands as the gig was being filmed for DVD release - hence a clampdown on no pics or vids - although I did manage to vid most of 'PZ' before my officious steward friend told me to put my phone away!
The low-key, verbal intro to 'Simple As That' - their final track from 'Magnolia' slowly built up unsurprisingly into another explosion of power before they finished the set with their Progtastic epic from 'YW' 'The Final Thing On My Mind' - with its classic bittersweet Prog construction and its intricate rhythm - another opportunity for Harrison to show his mettle but not show off in another ten minute delight. On a night that centred around the new album - it was perhaps fitting that their deserved encore featured two classic TPT encore songs from the past. 'Snowdrops' from their 2006 'Little Man' album - perhaps interestingly the only album that has ever divided the TPT faithful - saw Soord perform a classic acoustic rendition - complemented by the accompanied hand clapping of the masses - although where was the guy from their 2011 Underworld gig who turned up as a penis? Bruce's hypnotic delivery of 'SHIM's Nothing At Best had the audience in the palm of his hand - this classic wringing every sinew out of Soord's TPT compadre's - always a great number to finish on.
But hang on, where were the TPT staples of the past such as 'Wake Up The Dead', '3000 Days', 'Preparation For Meltdown' 'My Debt To You' and 'So We Row'? Well if the social media comments after the gig of "Amazing", "Awesome", "Superb" and "Fantastic" were anything to go by - then the TPT faithful didn't really give a shit! Proof, if you needed it, of a band not resting on its laurels and further continuing its climb up that Prog ladder. Superb.
Oslo Bar, Hackney, London
Wednesday 15th February 2017
On Wednesday evening I headed to the Oslo Bar in Hackney for the UK launch of ‘Blood Jungle’, the latest album by one of Sweden’s most influential Rock bands, Johnossi. Johnossi is a rock duo from Saltsjöbaden in the outskirts of Stockholm, simply named after its two members: John Englebert (songwriter, vocals, guitar) and Oskar “Ossi” Bonde (drums, percussion). Initially formed as teenagers back in 2004, the band has already ventured outside its native Sweden, where it has achieved platinum sales and Grammy awards, with a series of European tours, and occasional concerts in Japan and America. ‘Blood Jungle’, Johnossi’s fifth album, maintains the band’s characteristic style, but seeks to adapt it for a wider market.
The Oslo is easy to find - right outside Hackney Central Overground station. Its downstairs bar is a typical gastropub, boasting a wide selection of draught beers and an enticing menu. Unfortunately, the three real ale pumps were all dry, and the bar staff weren’t willing or able to connect another barrel. I hope this isn’t another of those venues that whets your appetite with the promise of real ale - but rarely actually has any! At least the food was succulent and tasty; the only problem was finding a free table to eat at – its culinary expertise seems well established locally! The Oslo’s upstairs concert room is, not unusually, somewhat less salubrious than its downstairs pub, with a small bar and an even smaller selection of canned and bottled beers, but it was a reasonable size for an intimate live music venue, with good acoustics and an excellent sound system.
First on stage were Swedish compatriots Francobollo, a quartet who met at school in Lund, but are currently based in London. Francobollo took to the stage with an immediate vigour and enthusiasm, stomping, jumping and dancing until the floor shook. Their music wavered between Indie and Alternative Rock: wobbly guitars and a stirring rhythm section seamlessly welded to frontman Simon Nilsson’s incensed, abrasive vocal quips. The overall effect was a wonderfully deranged, completely engrossing set, ranging from energetic, excitable Rock to joyful, alternative songs oozing with experimentation.
It was now time for Johnossi, the regular long-time duo supported on stage by a guest keyboard player. Johnossi launched straight into ‘Air is Free’, which, although included on their new album, had already been released as a single back in October. The recorded version breaks new ground with backing from horns and a female choir which, unfortunately, it is impracticable to replicate live in the Oslo. Nevertheless, ‘Air is Free’ is the perfect introduction to Johnossi’s core sound: John's significant guitar riffs heavily backed up by Ossi's pounding drumming. Its message of living life by your own accord remains intact, and it is lively enough to have the audience clapping and bouncing from the first minute. Next up is ‘Gone Forever’, a song about an old friend that is even livelier. ‘Weak Spots’ is another song from the new album, as is ‘Hands’, the band’s latest single that explores the issue of police brutality from the perspective of both the victim and the police officer. However, the serious nature of a potentially classic protest song is lost when it degenerates into a singalong, wave-you-hands-in-the-air number.
These songs from the new album were interspersed with a selection of old favourites including ‘What’s the Point’, their breakthrough song and biggest hit in Sweden to date, ‘Summer Breeze’, a yearning, quieter acoustic solo by John and ‘Man Must Dance’, with its distinctive hard beat and repetitive “And you” chorus line. Finally, saved for the encore, was ‘Roscoe’, another well-known song with a loud, heavy, rhythm and a crescendo that rises steadily to a fitting finale. Even these older songs were new to me - but not to the large audience at Oslo, many of whom knew all the words and needed little invitation to join in - enabling John to occasionally stand back and leave them to it. This familiarity was largely because at least half of the audience was Swedish, out in force to see their home country favourites - though I’d previously had no idea there was such a large Swedish population in and around Hackney!
A key feature of Johnossi is their unique guitar sound, achieved by running an acoustic guitar through effects pedals and electric guitar amplifiers. As well as providing a myriad of pedal effects, this approach enables John to switch quickly and easily between acoustic and full-on Rock anthem guitar sounds, supporting a wide range of musical styles. However, although their music style may shift dramatically, Johnossi’s lyrical themes rarely do, invariably revolving around personal soul-searching, existentialism and/or angsty situations. These charateristics all help give Johnossi’s music a unique flavour, a flavour that has been influencing Swedish Rock music for over a decade. If they continue performing sets like Wednesday’s at Oslo, and producing albums like ‘Blood Jungle’, Johnossi’s influence will soon be felt over a much wider field.
Scar Of The Sun
The Underworld, Camden, London
Sunday 19th February 2017
Camden, in North West London, is probably the premier place for live gig venues in the South of England. An eclectic mix of markets, cuisines and live music venues like Koko, The Electric Ballroom, The Jazz Café and The Roundhouse, my favourite by far is The Underworld. Nestled under a fantastic pub, the World’s End - a great place to stop in for a pre gig beer – The Underworld is a subterranean dark and dingy world of live music heaven. With a capacity of around 300, it is a really intimate venue where you can stand at the edge of the stage just feet away from the bands and share in their perspiration. No photo pit and no small chance of getting electrocuted or trodden on by the band. Idyllic.
The Underworld has an impressive CV of bands who have played there through the years – including Anthrax, Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age and the Foo Fighters - and tonight’s addition the list of the poor and famous are Sweden’s Power Metal band Manimal, sandwiched between two Greek colossus. All three bands have that drama about their performance that is typically European. Or is it that European bands are less inhibited than us Brits? It was to be a night of Power Metal riffary with a machine gun volley beat.
Openers Scar Of The Sun are a modern Metal band, influenced by bands like Killswitch Engage. Although of Greek origin, they formed in London in 2005, but still call the Peloponnese their home. Sporting twin Schecter 7 strings and utilising Axa FX amplification, they are a classic chugging Power Metal band. Their grand opening to a growing enthusiastic crowd saw frontman Terry Nikas appear sporting an unusual set of eye furniture that reminded me of the aquatic Abe Sapien from Hellboy. Not very Metal I will grant you but he has the presence to set the tone for the evening with their opening track 'Among Waters And Giants'. This is their first tour in the UK although you wouldn’t know it. No nerves, just out and out enjoyment. There is some great twin guitar work from Alexi Charalampous and Greg Eleftheriou throughout the set, especially good on 'An Ill Fated Wonder', with lots of chugging down strokes at Spandau pace. And that includes Panagiotis Gatsopoulos on bass. His fingers will need some TLC in the morning. Tough bunch these Greeks. It was a good set, although the vocals could have been louder, but they left the stage to deserved applause. Just what an opening act should be.
Setlist - Scar Of The Sun
Among Waters And Giants
An Ill Fated Wonder
Versus The World
Ode To Failure
The Truth About Lies
Manimal are a Gothenburg-based band formed in 2001. All sporting face make up that gave them a leering skull like quality, the 4 piece are fronted by the extremely charismatic Samuel Nyman. His high-pitched vocals are very similar to Rob Halford and the heavy, Judas Priest-like riffs clearly show the bands influences. And very good influences they are. But where Priest had the dual guitar joy of Tipton and Downing, axeman Henrik Stenroos is out on his own and there are times when he could do with a rhythm guitarist to add that extra layer. Although bassist Kenny Boufadene does a damn good job of keeping the rhythm at full throttle whilst Stenroos applies his Gibson Flying V to the glorious sounding Engl amp. Completing the line-up, and looking scarier than Alice Cooper, is drummer André Holmqvist providing that 50 calibre tempo that will see my fillings being replaced next Tuesday. But holding centre stage, Manimal are all about Nyman. He really works the crowd well with a scary leering skull like presence that has hints of Gollum, The Walking Dead and every Brooklyn punk with a bad attitude. He’s animated, fist pumping, exhorting the crowd who were having a ball. All of which are eclipsed by his voice. Halford had the pipes and so does Nyman. The set has the same chugging tempo with everything from throbbing djent to the almost funky bass opening of 'Human Nature'. Although that doesn’t last long before the enfilade of machine gun fire opens up again. It’s a war in here. 'Psychopomp' has some almost prog qualities about it with songs like 'The Dark' feeling quite epic. But Manimal are animals at heart. Closing track, and crowd favourite,'Irresistible' sees Nyman take to the stage in the straight jacket that looks so right on him to escape to the final volley from a band that are both entertaining and energising. Add them to your bands to see.
Set list – Manimal
After a five-year hiatus, Greek Power Metallers Firewind are back with a new album and front man. And their fans are very pleased to see them again. Henning Basse rejoins on lead vocals as the band showcase their new album, 'Immortals', a concept album about the Battle of Thermopylae. How very Greek. Formed in 1998 by iconic lead guitarist Gus G. (also axing for Ozzy Osbourne as well as his own solo projects) the band has seen a number of line-up changes over the years. The current line-up is Henning Basse – lead vocals, Gus G. – lead guitar and backing vocals, Petros Christodoulidis – bass and backing vocals, Bob Katsionis – keyboards, rhythm guitar and backing vocals and Johan Nunez – drums. But the band for me is all about Gus G. An icon of the Jackson guitar brand he plays his own signature Gus G. Star through Blackstar amps. Hi octane, hi output Metal guitar playing is his forte - this is the man who replaced Zak Wylde – and all the shred you would expect. His dual playing with Katsionis was exhilarating - with Katsionis swapping between his ESP and his keyboard with equal dexterity with hints of Iron Maiden about it. Great to see a keyboard/lead harmony or two. Visually the band are as iconic Metal as you can get. The hair, the leather, the studs. But they have a certain maniacal look that befits their passion.
The tracks from 'Immortals' have that epic feel about them that befits an album about the heroic stand of 300 Spartan soldiers against the invading Persian hordes. There is nothing Spartan about the sound though - full fat metal with all the trimmings. Chunky bass, screaming lyrics, blistering solo’s. I would like to use another machine gun analogy to describe the sound but that would seem odd for a band singing about sword wielding heroes of antiquity. But you get the picture. Interspersed were favourites like 'World On Fire' and 'Tyranny' and the encore and set finished with 'Falling To Pieces'. But the night for Firewind is about the new album - and rightly so. It’s excellent. So this was the story of 300 (ish) denim and leather clad fans trying to hold back the unstoppable wave of Firewind sound. Desperately they tried, with fists in the air, and heads banging, but ultimately they were overwhelmed, like the ancient Spartans. Glad to see the resurgence of the Helenic hurricane that is Firewind, the truly brave fans succumbed with joy. This was no Greek Tragedy. The Gods must be smiling.
Set list: Firewind
Ode To Leonidas
Head Up High
Few Against Many
Between Heaven And Hell
Back On The Throne
Hands Of Time
Wars Of Ages
Lady Of 2000 Sorrows
World On Fire
Fire And Fury
Live And Die By The Sword
Falling To Pieces
Dan Reed Network/Vega
The 100 Club, London
Friday 10th March 2017
Truly placing our WRC cards on the table - we didn't really know what to expect last Friday at a sold out 100 Club in London's Oxford Street, as the Dan Reed Network continued their UK tour which concludes at Nottingham's Rescue Rooms tomorrow night. An American Hard Rock band that originally existed from 1984 for ten years and toured with the likes of The Rolling Stones and Bon Jovi - DRN were resurrected in 2013 culminating in the release of their acclaimed 'Fight Another Day' album in 2016.
Unfortunately our pre-gig audio interview with support band Vega did not materialise, although this was more than made up for by the voracity of their set. We originally introduced Vega to our website in January 2015 - although they originally formed in 2009 with four Melodic Rock/AOR albums now under their belts. Boasting the Martin brothers, James (keyboards) and Tom (bass), vocalist Nick Workman, Markcus Thurston (guitar) and Dan Chantrey (drums) - and with a performance at HRH AOR5 the following night night waiting in the wings - the band stormed through a tight and rocking set which included tracks ‘White Flag’, ‘Every Little Monster’, ‘Saving Grace’ and our former Vid Of The Day 'Stereo Messiah'. Vega had well and truly rocked the 100 Club and despite a distinct lack of photographer etiquette during the interval, all was to be forgotten as a result of an intoxicating DRN set!
Vocalist Reed, a hybrid of a sweaty Buster Bloodvessel with the facial expressions of Wilko Johnson, eased us in, or "starting slow" as Dan put it, with the groovy late 80's feel of 'Get To You' and the driving riff of 'Divided' from 'FAD', before the party really got going with Inglorious front man Nathan James joining Reed early doors for a blistering cover of Kiss classic 'Rock And Roll All Nite'. With fans from as far and wide as Norway and Italy in attendance, the network went into overdrive as the DRN faithful lapped up the energy plus the twists and turns of the set, which was no more evident than with 90's favourite 'Baby Now I', which included a classic mid-section medley of covers including Kiss's 'I Was Made For Lovin' You', Metallica's 'Enter The Sandman' and FGTH's 'Relax', before hatted bassist Melvin Brannon II smoothly stepped up to the mic with Earth Wind & Fire's 'Let's Groove'.
DRN's interaction with the audience was a joy to behold, with Reed occasionally thrusting his microphone into the crowd during songs, enticing vocal participation, plus high-fiveing and continual banter, including birthday celebrations and requesting what song the band should play next. Indeed the banter was so polished on stage, with an inevitable Trump gag running throughout the set, that when the band experienced a few technical gremlins and the consequent horse play - such as before 'Stronger Than Steel' - nobody was sure whether this was just part of the act!
The band dynamic is another jewel in the DRN crown. Reed's powerful voice, energy and charisma was complemented by four outstanding musicians who just ooze their love of live music. The ever-smiling dreadlocked lead guitarist Brion James, with a new album out, belying his 61 years, not only with stand-out guitar solo's on the amazing 'Stronger Than Steel', 'Rainbow Child' and 'FAD's awesome 'Champion', but also seamlessly took lead vocals on the funky reggae of 'Save The World' also from 'FAD' and not forgetting the brief 'Rikki Don't Lose That Number' - part of that Trump gag. As for the excellence of the engine room - Brannon, currently working with Booker T. - is one cool dude, whether it's his bass, vocals or banter - whilst drummer and DRN video director Dan Pred was party to perhaps the most moving anecdote on the night - Reed's recollection of them both listening as teenager's to Rush - cue Pred's short tribute to Peart. Finally, keyboard player Rob Daiker - the relative baby of DRN, also with a new album out - has no doubt added a new dimension to the band - for example, not only the characteristic '80's opening vibe on 'Ritual', but also with guitar in hand, as he sang his own composition 'All For A Kiss'.
A memorable evening, that those present did not want to end, was brought to a close by the A capella 'Long Way To Go' - with the DRN and the 100 Club punters all singing in union - a fitting finale. To be perfectly honest - we are all still buzzing after last Friday and it was a real privilege to witness and enjoy a gig that I doubt will be bettered this year. As the saying goes - form is temporary - class is permanent. Just can't wait to see these guys again.
Black Star Riders,
Backyard Babies, Gun
The Forum, Kentish Town, London
Friday 17th March 2017
Another Friday night and yet another awesome gig in London - albeit on a night when England's capital turned green. Black Star Riders stormed into Kentish Town's The Forum - not only celebrating St. Patrick's Day but also the release of their latest album 'Heavy Fire'. The night was not all about BSR though - with a strong following for both support bands Backyard Babies and Gun - as evidenced with the t-shirts proudly displayed next to us. On the same theme of invading London, Glaswegian Hard Rock band Gun thoroughly rocked the joint with their impressive short original set, which included 'Let It Shine', 'Don't Say It's Over', 'Better Days', 'She Knows', 'Steal Your Fire' and 'Shame On You'. Featuring Dante Gizzi - vocals, Jools Gizzi - guitar, Tommy Gentry - guitar, Andy Carr - bass and Paul McManus - drums, the enthusiasm and versatility of the band was defined by a cool cover of Cameo's 'Word Up!' The invasion continued with the tattooed Punk/Hard Rock of Swedish band Backyard Babies with Nicke Borg - lead vocals/guitar, hoody Dregen – lead guitar/vocals, Johan Blomquist – bass and Peder Carlsson – drums. Right from the outset you couldn't take your eyes of these guys - this was real Rock n' Roll delivered with attitude - and yet another short set list consisting of 'Th1rte3n or Nothing', 'Dysfunctional Professional', 'The Clash', 'Brand New Hate', 'Painkiller', 'Nomadic', 'Bombed (Out Of My Mind)', 'Minus Celsius' and 'Look At You'.
Air raid sirens and strobe lighting greeted BSR as they opened with title track 'Heavy Fire' - imagine a heavy 'Waiting For An Alibi' thanks to the combination and riff intensity of Ricky Warwick, Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson guitar's - immediate testament as to why a bespectacled Warwick was presented with Planet Rock's Best Album award for 'Heavy Fire' earlier in the evening on behalf of the band. And we didn't have to wait long for the first Celtic sounding offering of the night as BSR launched into 'Bloodshot' from their very first album - 'All Hell Breaks Loose' - with Johnson's guitar work virtually breaking out into an Irish jig. BSR then returned back to the title track of their second album 'The Killer Instinct' which had those to-die-for Lizzy trademark chords plus an emergency stop towards its end, as Warwick milked the Forum crowd leaving the band in no doubt that those in attendance were up for the occasion.
And it was not only St. Patrick's Day, but it also just happened to be Scott Gorham's birthday - with not just one, but two choruses of 'Happy Birthday' afforded to the legend from the BSR faithful. 'Heavy Fire's 'Dancing With The Wrong Girl' saw more of those sweet jousting chords, whilst their Celtic riffs were complemented by Gaelic chants of "Tar a Ti" in the lyrics of 'Soldierstown' from 'TKI'. The slower 'Hey Judas' from 'AHBL' was followed by 'When The Night Comes In' - Jimmy Degrasso's pounding opening drumbeat accompanied by mass hand clapping, giving way to Gorham's guitar solo in this fast and furious track from 'HF'. 'Cold War Love' - also from 'HF' slowed things down nicely before literally 'All Hell Breaks Loose' with the classy title track from their very first album - with Gorham's guitar again in overdrive. And given the occasion - you could have been forgiven for listening out intently during every BSR intro for THAT Lizzy classic. Muted cries of 'Jailbreak' subsided until exactly half way through proceedings when, cue pyrotechnics, 'The Boys Are Back In Town' was ecstatically received - to be sure! Well it was St. Paddy's Day after all!
We all put our hands in the air again for 'AHBL's 'Hoodoo Voodoo' with guitarist Johnson proving - if anyone was ever in any doubt - that he's the perfect foil for Gorham. Explosive solo's from Johnson and Gotham on 'Who Rides The Tiger' - another from 'HF' - was followed by 'Blindsided' - Warwick's acoustic guitar complementing Johnson - this track from 'KI' inevitably ending with yet another stand-out Johnson guitar solo. 'Thinking About You Could Get Me Killed' was the perfect vehicle to show off the talent that is bass guitarist Robbie Crane - its opening bass riff not only driving us down the direction of one of the best tracks off of 'HF' but also validating what an awesome tight unit BSR are. In fact 'Testify Or Say Goodbye' with Gotham effortlessly leading from the front was the last track aired from 'HF' in the set before they ended the night with two tracks from 'AHBL': the familiar opening Celtic drum intro from the excellent DeGrasso on 'Kingdom Of The Lost' - a latter day 'Black Rose', the sing-a-long 'Bound For Glory' - epitomising the glue that Warwick is to BSR in both his presence and vocal power - and finally, for mine, the appropriately named 'Finest Hour', - their stand-out track from 'TKI'. And that was that - as Ricky tweeted after the show "BSR don't do encores Peter never have .. never will.. thank you".
The last time we caught Black Star Riders supporting Def Leppard and Whitesnake at Wembley Arena in December 2015, we made the observation that BSR might still have a bit of an identity problem, but who cares when they play live music of this quality. Well as Warwick pointed out tonight, the guys have now been together for five year's and with three album's and a strong back catalogue under their belt's - don't expect many Lizzy covers on their setlist. If you wanted proof that there is life after Thin Lizzy - then this was it.
Sari Schorr & The Engine Room/Ash Wilson
The Borderline, London
Monday 20th March 2017
Sari Schorr & The Engine Room's current UK tour, which began last week, stopped off at London's nicely refurbished Borderline last Monday night. Currently on a crest of a wave following the release of their critically acclaimed debut album 'A Force Of Nature', we were lucky enough to present the band with our 2016 Best Blues Rock performance award backstage prior to the gig - our thanks to Manhaton Records, Noble PR and of course, the band, for making us so welcome on the night. Now missing its infamous pillar in the middle of its main standing area, Sari and the guys, as expected, rocked the new joint - although a major bonus on the evening was special guest Ash Wilson from Lincolnshire - who took his soon to be released debut album 'Broken Machine' to another level with a stunning live set mostly taken from the new album including 'The Revelator' (from the album 'Big Blues' with Jesse Davey), 'Peace & Love', 'Out Of Time', 'Broken Machine', 'Words Of A Woman', and 'Worlds Gone Crazy'. The album is out on Friday 21st April with Ash also a special guest on Dan Patlansky's UK tour in April and May.
Anyway, the 90 minute main event was indeed Sari Schorr & The Engine Room who deliver hard-driving Blues-Rock, influenced by the late '60's British Blues movement and mixes Blues, Rock and Soul with concrete melodies and poetic lyrics to striking effect. The album was produced by the legendary Mike Vernon (Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall & the Blues Breakers and David Bowie) which features Walter Trout, Innes Sibun and Oli Brown - although the Borderline roster was Innes on guitar, Kevin Jefferies on bass, Anders Olinder on keys and Kevin O'Rourke on drums. And despite it being the proverbial Monday night graveyard shift - there was a healthy crowd eagerly awaiting in anticipation.
Understandably their setlist was pretty much in line with their album launch show at Putney's Half Moon last September with the first track off the album 'Ain't Got Not Money' - Sibun's Gary Moore reminiscent style intro with New Yorker Schorr's powerful earthy vocal testing the newly refurbished Borderline sound system. Sibun's rockin' solo and Olinder's keys on 'Demolition Man', again forcefully sung and written by Schorr, was followed by the opening groovy rhythm guitar of Innes on 'Cat And Mouse' which saw both Sibun and Olinder excelling again. Schorr's tribute to Lead Belly with a great cover of 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night' was equalled by their barnstorming cover of 'Rock And Roll' - Innes accordingly celebrating his Robert Plant heritage - before 'Letting Go', with its big finish, was complemented by excellent vocals by Sari and keys from Anders. The stand-out on the album - the melody and harmonics of 'Kiss Me' - not only saw Sibun 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!
Despite teething problems with both the Borderline's sound and lighting - Sari and the guys soldiered on - with Sari resting her voice as Innes led the band into a classic cover of Freddie King's instrumental 'The Stumble' which cooly set us up for another Blues standard - T-Bone Walker's 'Call It Stormy Monday' - with Olinder's delightful opening keys, Innes' jaw-dropping fretwork and Sari's sultry vocal - this was the stand-out for me on the night and showed the class of this band - not forgetting the literal 'Engine Room' of Jefferies and O'Rourke. Two new tracks (for me) sandwiched 'AFON's, the mellow and groovy, 'Oklohoma', with its mean fusional outro jam with Anders' keys, another Sibun guitar solo and of course Schorr's excellent lyrical diction. The former 'Don't You Call My Name' and the latter 'American Boy' both kept the Blues Police and momentum in check.
It was then back to 'AFON' for the rest of the set and Lead Belly's 'Black Betty' - with its unique arrangement and Sibun's cajun guitar opening and Schorr's vocal delivery - ultimately resulting in a very powerful version of this classic. There was no let up in Schorr's vocal on the beautifully crafted 'Damn The Reason' - with Olinder's keyboards and another trademark Sibun guitar solo. The clunky opening riff of 'Aunt Hazel' - based on urban slang for heroin - resulted in both Sari and Innes letting us have it both barrels with this rocker. Once again, the irony of the evening was that if you were to have walked into the gig for their encore 'Ordinary Life' (which is also the last track on the album) you could have been forgiven for getting the wrong end of the stick with its genre. However, it's a measure of Schorr's versatility, with Anders Olinders' beautiful keyboard intro, that there is nothing ordinary about this ballad - the crystal clarity of Schorr's vocals all for everyone to see and hear. Another beautiful end to an awesome set. Make sure you catch these guys before their UK tour ends in May!
Monster Truck/The Picturebooks
The Electric Ballroom, Camden, London
Wednesday 22nd March 2017
Despite the cowardly attrocity in Westminster that afternoon, life in England's capital city, as it always does, carried on in the face of adversity, as Southern Hard Rock outfit Monster Truck did both London and Hamilton, Ontario proud at Camden's Electric Ballroom last Wednesday night. The Canadian rockers pulled up to finish off their UK leg of their European headlining tour, with excellent support from "in yer face" German two piece The Picturebooks. And we were lucky enough to interview Jon, Brandon and Jer backstage beforehand and also present them with their 2016 WRC Best Support Band award following their O2 Arena gig with Nickelback!
We counted down to Monster Truck's opener 'Why Are You Not Rocking?' - our answer to bare-chested lead guitarist Jer Widerman on our side of the stage was an emphatic "Yes we are" as this riff ridden nugget from 'Sittin' Heavy' did exactly what it said on that sign on that proverbial gold mine. 'Old Train' from their debut album 'Furiosity' kept Monster Truck moving nicely down the same track - those unfamiliar with this rocker comfortably singing along with the "woah woah woa" chorus. Bit of a surprise for mine to find the standout from 'SH' - and if not one of the best tracks from last year - 'Don't Tell Me How To Live' so early in the setlist. With both its growling vocal from bass guitarist Jon Harvey and a Heavy Rock riff to die for, the swagger of Widerman's mid-section guitar solo is so reminiscent of Perry in 'Walk This Way' and I just never get tired of listening to or watching the video to this Rock monster. 'The Enforcer' from 'SH' was the very first Monster Truck tune I ever heard - no "free beers" tonight unfortunately - but its distinctive pounding opening drumbeat from Steve Kiely got our hands clapping in the air with even more "woah woah woa's" as the truck took off once again at breakneck speed. "Alright, I Want To See You Moving" shouted Harvey and we all obliged as Widerman's guitar opened with the distinctive riff of 'She's A Witch' - cue a bit of head banging with cries of "That Girls Got A Demon In Her Soul" thrown in for good measure.
It was then time for a walk in the 'Black Forest' - evidence of Monster Truck's undoubted musical breadth - Blues Rock at its best - smacking of Bonamassa's 'Sloe Gin' even down to its opening/closing cool keys from the appropriately named Brandon Bliss and its awesome climactic guitar solo courtesy of the energetic Widerman. Indeed the breadth of MT's music, as showcased in 'Sittin' Heavy' was indicative of why the Electric Ballroom mosh pit never got really going on the evening, further evidenced, once Harvey returned, on 'For The People' with its Country feel. "Are You Having A Good Time?" enquired Harvey as 'Things Get Better' with this rockin' belter and more audience participation "I Got A Feelin' Things'll Get Worse Before They Get Better". The delicious Blues fusion of Bliss's keys and Widerman's guitar on 'For The Sun' - not only re-empahasised the fact that these guys are not just one trick gold mine ponies but Harvey's vocal really nailed the guts of this Blues track from 'Furiosity' before it dissolved into the heavier Blues Rock of 'Seven Seas Blues'.
"Alright" said Harvey before Monster Truck navigated their way back on to the Heavy Rock highway with 'Sweet Mountain River' - with now a semblance of a mosh pit in the offing as the crowd sang along: "I Haven't Felt Home In This City For So Long" before they wrapped up the set with Widerman still marching energetically around the stage and another rocker from 'SH' - 'New Soul'. It was now time for something completely different as the band returned for their well deserved encore - firstly a cover of James Brown's classic R&B number 'I Feel Good' - as I said, I wouldn't put anything past these guys - but must admit doing a double-take before I recognised this great truckin' version. Their oldest track on the night 'Righteous Smoke' from their 'Brown' EP was sandwiched in between two final tracks from 'Furiosity'. 'Righteous Smoke' still rocks out with the best of their current batch and gave us a clue as to where those ""woah woah woa" choruses were born and bred, whilst the 'Spirit In The Sky' riff of our latter day Canadian Angus on 'Call It A Spade' and, ultimately the driving riff of 'The Lion', saw the emergence finally of a well deserved mosh pit. No new material as the guys promised beforehand, but with just two albums under their belts, they proved to this sold out venue that they are are not only 'Sittin' Heavy' but they are a force to be reckoned with. Make sure you catch Monster Truck when they park up at Ramblin' Man in July following both their headline tour and supporting Deep Purple across Europe.
Devilskin, Sumo Cyco,
Eva Plays Dead
The Underworld, Camden, London
Wednesday 22nd March 2017
An eventful night in the nations capital city saw yours truly back at the premier gig venue in Camden, the subterranean Underworld, to see a night of Punk Metal mayhem. Three bands from three separate continents, they all have a similar form. Sexily attired female fronted power backed by scary chugging Punk dynamos. Real Beauty and the Beast stuff.
Openers Eva Plays Dead are a British Rock band from the Nottingham/Derby area. Fronted by boss-lady Tiggy Dockerty and her Punk tinged vocals they quote Aerosmith, Black Flag and Heaven's Basement as their influences amongst others. I'm liking them already. Prancing around stage like a demented Betty Boop, ironically wearing a 'Cute As' t-shirt, Tiggy is a great front of stage artist with attitude, wiggling what she's got, enticing the crowd, and with fine vocal skills too. Guitarist Matt Gascoyne played a fine game of pedal stamping as he ground out some great Rock sounds on his Les Paul Standard and Fender Telecaster through a Marshall Amp whilst bass duties were skilfully discharged by Zach Shannon. Many bands like to interact with their audience, especially at intimate venues like the Underworld. It's rare that the drummer, Seb Boyse in this instance, do so. I think this is the first time I have seen a drummer set up a small drum kit in the middle of the audience and play the final song Monogamy in the round surrounded by applauding fans. Great fun. Even more fun seeing him trying to get his kit back on stage afterwards.
Eva plays dead Setlist:
Sumo Cyco are a Punk Metal band from Toronto, Canada. Lead singer Sever (formerly solo artist: Skye Sweetnam) is an achingly pretty provocateur whose attire doesn't leave much to the imagination. The girl next door, if you live near Anne Summers. And who during the course of a hot and heavy night was in competition with the drummer to strip down to wear the least amount of clothing. Compulsive viewing that I can attest to. If you want to see who wins, go see them for yourself. Lead guitarist Matt 'MD' Drake (Dodger) is an excellent musician, much unlike many Punk bands, gleaning some fantastic sounds from his white triple humbucker Epiphone SG through a Mesa Rectifier. And supporting with heavy bass tones is Ken Thor Corke on bass guitar. Full of vigour, both Sever and Dodger whirl like dervishes on stage with 360 pirouettes only just avoiding each other like battling tops of old. This is good quality Rock with a hard Punk edge but with some catchy rhythms too. Hints of System of a Down and Black Label Society pervade. The crowd love them, 'Cry Murder' is a clear crowd favourite. Not to be outdone by Eva Plays Dead, Sever wades into the crowd on Dodgers shoulders to sing 'Fighter' along with an audience warming even more to the Canadians. She then dismounts and urges the crowd to get down low on the floor with her then jump up for joy as she launches into 'Mountains'. The set ends with her being lifted bodily by the crowd and carried back to the stage with every male hand only too eager to assist. Funny that. Great set. Great band.
Sumo Cyco Setlist:
Go Go Go
My Name Is Rock 'N' Roll
Crowd Control (Do What We Want)
Devilskin are back at the Underworld again - I saw them there last year with the excellent Skarlett Riot in support. Devilskin is a four-piece Alternative Metal band from Hamilton, New Zealand, formed in June 2010. And it would appear that at least half of the audience are fellow Kiwi's following their homeys around the globe. I would if I were a Kiwi. Fronted by the black leather clad Jennie Skulander, Jennie has a powerful voice that ranges from whispers to full bellowing roar. Yes she's beautiful, yes she's dressed like a sexy dominatrix, but it's the voice you notice first. Sporting red beards Nail (lead guitar) and Paul Martin (bass, backing vocals) provide the power and the melody behind the vocal delights of Skulander whilst Paul's son Nic Martin excels on the drums. Nail, playing a Gibson Les Paul through twin Marshal JTM stacks, won fame in NZ playing lead for the popular Waikato band Chuganaut who won the NZ Battle of the Bands and the World Battle Of The Bands in 2004.
The set was excellent. Standing centre stage manipulating the audience JS works the adoring crowd. Ironically singing "I will be dressed in black" whilst bedecked in nothing but black, her voice powerfully proclaimed the opening track to their latest album as another must listen to album. 'House 13' is proper Metal riffing material with some great thumping drum beats - take a bow Martin Jnr. 'Voices' is another release from their 2016 album 'Be Like The River' with a more melodic edge that is a singalong classic in the making whilst 'Mountains' shows the harder rapid firing beat. An interesting inclusion is their cover of Heart's 'Barracuda'. Done Devilskin style, this is a great cover version of a great Rock track. And if you like your singalong tracks, 'Until You Bleed' is none too shabby. The set was rounded off with the superb 'Little Pills' - I am sure I will be reaching for mine to stop the pounding in my head. Although if it removes the smile from my face, I might just give them a miss. Devilskin are a class act and, for one night at least, Camden's Underworld was a little piece of Aotearoa. Can we have it back please?
Start A Revolution
Until You Bleed
Never See The Light
Hammersmith Apollo, London
Tuesday 28th March 2017
Thunder are one of those bands that have been far less commercially successful than they should have been. Which only goes to show that there is no justice in this world. From their early beginning in 1989, Thunder rose out of the ashes of Terraplane with their hugely successful debut album 'Back Street Symphony' which earned them a slot on the 1990 Monsters of Rock festival at Donnington. But whilst following albums were successful, the band never got the mainstream attention that they deserved. Which is a shame because they are a class act. However, Thunder did build a loyal fanbase through constant album releases and touring which remain as steadfast and devoted today as any band could wish for. But through the years the mighty Thunder have announced more than once that their current tour would be their last. Thankfully they kept coming back for more.
Having seen the mighty Thunder many times before, the audience knew exactly what they were going to get and, as usual, they weren't disappointed. Going to see Thunder, no matter what the venue, feels like going to see your mates band playing in a local pub. It's a true party atmosphere. The audience all seem to know each other and, more importantly, lead man Danny Bowes interacts with the audience like they are old friends. Gone is the long hair and ripped jeans of yesteryear to be replaced with greying short hair. But Danny is as vibrant and active as ever. Less Daddy dancing and more Danny dancing, he skitters around the stage with all the exuberance and fun of a teenager. Makes everyone else feel young too.
The five bandmates were all dressed in black against a simple but highly effective lighting display. The usually excellent sound at the Eventim Apollo (or the 'Ammy Odeon' as we all really know it) was very muddy which is a shame as the boys are a great sounding band. Thunder is a singers band - Danny's voice is still as strong as it ever was even after nearly 30 years with many of their anthems being terrific singalong songs. Even the writer is known to warble a few bars within the privacy of his own car (thankfully for others a solo experience). As part of the crowd, every voice is lifted in joyous rapture conducted by the ebullient Mr Bowes. But that would also be doing a disservice to the rest of the band. Lefty lead guitarist Luke Morley has always been a favourite with some awesome traditional British Rock solo's and great rock riffs. Thor isn't the god of Thunder, Luke is. But where was his trusty Les Paul? Has anyone seen it? Rhythm guitarist and keyboard player Ben Matthews thankfully played his beautiful black Les Paul so my guitar porn fix was satisfied there. Chris Childs provided the bass line with the charismatic Harry James (Arry, Arry, Arry…) sitting behind the tubs.
The set opened with the opening track of their new album 'Rip It Up' followed by 'The Enemy Inside' from this excellent album. It's one to add to your collection. This sets the scene for the rest of the night with the audience clapping, singing, screaming, jumping up and down as required. Or all of the above at the same time. Then into the 'Classic River of Pain' with the singalong reaching new levels. More beer for my vocal chords please. And earplugs for anyone in earshot of me. Is Luke playing a Strat? 'Resurrection Day' from their 2015 album 'Wonder Days' was well received which shows that they aren't just about their classics although 'Backstreet Symphony' gets a huge cheer as you would expect for the song that made Thunder the beloved band of us devotees. Luke, is that a Flying V? Still no Les Paul. Sigh.
Hit after hit followed with Danny's voice lighting up the dark whilst Luke electrified all - back on the Strat again. Every song has Danny leading the crowd in clapping, or waving or shouting. This is real interactive stuff folks - kids, put down those X-Boxes and come and see some real action. 'Don't Wait For Me' is another of those songs that should carry a Tonsil Health Warning for those attempting to emulate Mr Bowes. What a voice. Luke playing acoustic guitar on 'Love Walked In'. And then the set was brought to a close with the cow bell heralded 'I Love You More Than Rock And Roll'. Every Rock band needs a cow bell.
After a brief interlude the boys reappeared for a three track encore, but this time with the colourfully attired Lynn Jackaman who dueted with Danny on 'She Likes Cocaine'. A great song, it's another reason to pick up the new album. I could have watched that played all night. Closing with the anthemic 'Dirty Love' (what else?) the band sealed a fantastic night at their 'home venue' with photo's and a live Facebook feed. Not something these Monsters of Rock could have imagined all those years ago. And Luke played his Les Paul finally. Crisis over, I can sleep well now. Great songs, great times, I would never miss the opportunity to see them. Come back soon boys, I need another farewell Thunder tour t-shirt to add to the collection…
No One Gets Out Alive
The Enemy Inside
River of Pain
Right From the Start
In Another Life
The Thing I Want
Don't Wait for Me
Rip It Up
Love Walked In
I Love You More Than Rock 'N' Roll
She Likes the Cocaine
Mother (Photos courtesy of Nicola Jane Reading)
Chalk Farm, London
Tuesday 28th March 2017
North London became part of the Confederacy the last time we saw Blackberry Smoke at Islington's O2 Academy three years ago - so much so that they they walked away with our 2014 WRC Best International Award! With great support from fellow Atlanta based band Biters, Blackberry Smoke proved at a packed London Roundhouse on Tuesday night that they have still got what it takes in the Southern Rockin' department! Now two further albums down the line, namely 'Holding All The Roses' and Like An Arrow', their distinct dueling guitars/keyboards sound that they burn, sent the Smoke faithful home happy on their way back to Chalk Farm station.
Their set opened with the riff heavy rocker, ‘Fire in the Hole from 'HATR' which managed to get in a funky section that recalls Rosco Gordon’s old R&B classic, ‘Just a Little Bit' with an "Oh Yea" from foot tappin' frontman Charlie Starr - his guitar solo and some wonderful Brandon Still keys setting the standard for the evening. "Alright" screamed Starr as the Roundhouse roared their approval for the catchy 'Six Ways To Sunday' from their third and breakthrough album 'The Whippoorwil' - which would predominantly feature during the set - this one much more country with its distinct bar room piano.
No time for any banter as we then literally had 'A Little Piece Of Dixie' with 'Good One Comin' On' from their 2009 second album with more of Still's bar room piano plus Charlie's slide guitar - the devil horn fingers from the young lady next to me not that appropriate - but I got the sentiment. Contrast that with the slower guitar and hammond organ driven riff of the next song 'Crimson Moon', another from 'TW', and for mine we were back in the zone.
And talking of tough, sinewy riff heavy tracks, the Bad Company/Brit Rock inspired ‘Waiting for the Thunder’ from 'LAA' with its crashing drums, greasy riffs and arm-waving chorus, rocked The Roundhouse, every bit as powerful when I first saw it on Mr. Holland's 'Later' show. Their genre rollercoaster of a set list continued with ‘Rock and Roll Again’ from 'HATR' almost sounding like something from the songbook of Dave Edmunds - always a good path to roam. From hand clapping to hand waving as Paul Jackson grabbed his acoustic guitar on the very country 'Pretty Little Lie' from 'TW' before Starr cried "God bless Chuck Berry" as the chugging boogie of the appropriately titled ‘Let it Burn’ from 'LAA' saw the band return to their bar band roots with once again some nice bar room piano from Brandon in the background.
Half way through their set they delivered a very tasty meat in their sandwich with 'Sleeping Dogs' from 'TW' - beautifully elongated with a jam medley of
Zeps 'Your Time Is Gonna Come', The Allman Brothers ‘Mountain Jam’ with Starr and Jackson's jousting guitars being joined by Still on Yes’s ‘Starship Trooper' - it just does not get much better than that - real music y'all! We were then 'Shakin' Hands With The Holy Ghost', its cajun style opening riff, pounding drums and harmonies - a fan's favourite from 'TW' - which had hands clapping before it led into the title track, the distinctive intro of the slower Floyd flavoured 'The Whipoorwill', once again demonstrating that these guys can turn their talents to anything. Loved it.
It was time then for a "Hoedown" with more 'Little Pieces Of Dixie' and 'Watch The World Go Up In Smoke' - with two attempts - the chivalrous Starr initially curtailing the intro when he spotted a fan collapse close to the barrier at the front of the stage. As I said, given the breakneck speed delivery of the set, their was not much time for small talk - although when Starr again spotted a fan video linking the gig to a friend - he asked for the mobile to be passed to him and he had a chat to the bemused fan at the other end. Nice touch - although we couldn't confirm whether the mobile was, ahem, a Blackberry. It was probably a good time at that juncture to slow down things down, Starr grabbing his acoustic guitar for the singalong 'Ain't Got The Blues' from 'TW' - despite its title - more Country with that trademark bar room piano. As Charlie put it - if the former was their happy song then, in stark contrast, 'Paybacks A Bitch' from 'HATR' was their angry song with its groovy Rock riff - one of the stand out tracks of the set.
'Free On The Wing' was appropriately dedicated to kindred spirit and Smoke supporter Gregg Allman, who guested on vocals on the track from 'Like An Arrow', both Starr's vocal delivery and slide guitar doing the business on this slow burner. The intro of 'Humble Pie's 'Walk On Gilded Splinters' took us down the path to more 'Little Pieces Of Dixie' and 'Restless' as the Smoke faithful cussed along to this stormer - with once again Starr's guitar and Still's keyboards kicking ass. "In the tiny town where I come from" sang the crowd - another Country favourite from 'TW' - 'One Horse Town' before Blackberry Smoke wrapped up their set in contrast with the heavier title track from their latest offering 'Like An Arrow' and its distorted opening riff. The encore was the microcosm that is indeed Blackberry Smoke. We now had a had-trick in both senses, with both hatted drummer Brit Turner and bass guitarist Richard Turner, now being joined by the feather hatted Starr, banging out a cover of the Stones 'Street Fighting Man', 'LAA's' appropriately named 'What Comes Naturally' - another dip into their Country roots, and finally despite, for mine, Charlie's uncomfortable slide guitar intro of 'Amazing Grace' - the heavier riff of 'Ain't Much Left Of Me', another for good measure from 'TW', rounded off a ram jammed set list - Starr's slide even squeezing in Bob Marley's 'Three Little Birds' in the middle! No BS. These guys were on fire tonight.