Ramblin' Man Fair - Day 2
Mote Park, Maidstone
Sunday 1st July 2018
Morning Campers! Those partaking of the camping facilities had the pleasure of waking up to another beautifully sunny day with the prospect of more beer, food and great music. A lazy hazy Sunday morning was spent regaling tales of ales with accounts of the amounts before the festival doors opened again at noon.
Sunday follows a similar vein to Saturday, although today we have three slightly different stages. A Blues stage, a Prog stage and the Planet Rock main stage again. First stop was the Prog stage. I thought it was the Blues stage because it was blue. Surely it should have been a multitude of psychedelic colours? It did mean however that I caught a couple of Prog acts that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Second Relation, from Gotzis, Austria, are a five piece playing a Metal/Rock form of Prog music, although, like much Prog, had a heavy keys sound. Frontman Bastian B. Berchtold carried out his duties whilst giving some heavy bass accompaniment although kept the banter to a minimum. They were well received before the theatrical experience that is Goldray made their very theatrical entrance. The psychedelia missing from our surroundings was brought in abundance as singer Leah Rasmussen and guitarist Kenwyn House (of Reef fame), adorned in flowing robes of many colours (although mainly yellow) lit up the small stage. This is classic Prog - long complex songs with a Kate Bush vibe as Rasmussen’ vocals carry across the intricate fretwork of House's Telecaster. Some funkiness crept in but this was predominantly magical Prog with stand-out track ‘The Forest’ attracting warm applause.
The trouble with festivals is avoiding the timetable clashes. One of my not to miss moments is the Kris Barras Band over on the colourless Blues stage. Kris is an MMA fighter-turned-musician who pulls no punches when it comes to his Blues Rock. Kris was voted in the Top 15 Blues Guitarists in the world by the reader's of Music Radar/Total Guitar Magazine which will give you some idea of how good he is. He is also the new frontman for USA super-group, Supersonic Blues Machine featuring legendary artists such as ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons who are also touring the UK at the moment. The Torquay 4 piece produce some excellent swampy Blues Rock that really made them stand out from the crowd. Barras sports an oilcan/junkbox guitar for some excellent slide guitar before switching back to his trusty strat for regular Blues rocking. Piano/keys from Josiah Manning bring a melodic accompaniment to the great groove. They were hugely appreciated by the large crowd lapping up the sun, and the excellent beers.
Back at the Prog stage are Finnish Prog heroes The Von Hertzen Brothers. Playing a mix of classic Rock combined with Progressive elements, Folk, Punk and contemporary Rock, the band has a sound for everyone. Guitarist Kie, playing his battered white strat, gets some killer sounds out of his Vox amp with a set that has heavy guitar but also a big keyboard sound that has Rush-like qualities. Mikko Von Hertzen has a happy look on his face the whole time, although, if you are young, good looking and front a popular band, why wouldn’t you be. The heat of the weekend feels at it’s hottest here as Kie quips to the assembled photographers "We look way better when we are soaked". And not a drop of rain all day.
Appearing on the main stage are the supergroup that are the Sons of Apollo. Comprised of Rock dignitaries drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Billy Sheehan, keyboardist Derek Sherinian, vocalist Jeff Scott Soto, and guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal, this lot have some pedigree. Their all too short set was a snippet of their current full tour set but included some of the rocking from their recent album 'Psychotic Symphony', a collection of tracks that has influences from each of the band. Us guitar nerds were also treated to the rare sight of Bumblefoot playing a twin neck six string guitar alongside Sheehan playing a twin neck bass. Now that’s not something you see very often. With Soto leading the vocals, the crowd joined in in a totally microphone free singalong that could have ruined Soto’s voice on the UK debut for the band, but he belted out closing track ‘Coming Home’ with some gusto so all is well there then.
Following on the main stage from establishment are the new blood that are Blackberry Smoke. Although you couldn’t get a more 1970’s looking band if you tried. I say new blood, the Georgian 5 piece of Charlie Starr (lead vocals, guitar), Richard Turner (bass, vocals), Brit Turner (drums), Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals), and Brandon Still (keyboards) have been around for nearly 20 years now. And the guitar nerds got a whole festivals worth of eye candy in just one band. Played through boutique Germino amps, the Southern rocking sound has a Prog keyboard tinge to it. Tracks like ‘Six Ways To Sunday’ has a shuffle beat with a busy bassline and a real feel good factor to it whilst ‘Let It Burn’ is a sultry slow Blues with a keyboard solo and a Gibson 335 Wah-fest. Sandwiched around a cover of the Beatles ‘Come Together’, it was exquisite. Tracks from the new album ‘Find The Light’ get an airing but with favourites like ‘Shakin Hands With The Holy Ghost’ and ‘One Horse Town’ before finishing with ‘Ain’t Much Left Of Me’ - I could have listened to them all day.
Last minute stand in Big Boy Bloater made a fine fist of covering for Chas and Dave who were forced to withdraw due to illness. Wishing the East End duo well, the Surrey Cockney entertained the crowd with his dirty strat Blues and humorous lyrics and banter. This big fella has some fine chops, as well as a history of session guitar playing in his bag of tricks, that showcases why he is a regular at festivals as well as across the gamut of Blues playing radio stations. Currently touring his new album ‘Pills’, Bloater had also performed a small acoustic set to the VIP tent the previous day which raised a number of smiles. Dedicating his song ‘The Saturday Night Desperation Shuffle’ to all the ugly ones in the audience, he endeared himself to all. It’s nice when you are made to feel special.
Next on at the main stage was Halestorm. Singer Lzzy Hale looked stunning in a heavily studded black leather jacket, with matching high heel/platform boots, over a glorious red dress that complemented her bright red lipstick. With a Gibson Explorer to finish off the ensemble she really looks the part. Ms. Hale is no shrinking violet with a deep and soulful voice which matched perfectly with the bands Heavy Rock sound. "Please do not be gentle" she pleaded to the crowd. With tracks like ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’ and ‘Mayhem’ it wasn’t going to be a gentle set. It was Metal done well with a large number of the crowd there to specifically see Lzzy’s brand of Rock that has seen the Pennsylvanians tour with some of the top names in Rock and Metal. ‘Freak Like Me' stood out as a real crowd pleaser. They are returning to the UK in September to tour as headliners for their new album ‘Vicious’. And I am sure that it will be.
Closing off the Prog stage is ex-Marillion front man Fish. Despite being a solo artist for nearly 30 years, the Scottish singer-songwriter and occasional actor was happy to play the first side of Marillion's ‘Clutching At Straws’ album in its 25 minute entirety as well as finishing with an encore of ‘Slàinte Mhath’ and ‘Incommunicado’ from side two. Also including a couple of his solo tracks, the iconic frontman with his iconic scarf and genre defining iconic voice treated the Progsters to what was the epitome of a one hour set that left the fans satisfied and dehydrated in equal measures. There are some extremely happy faces leaving the Prog tent for the last time this weekend.
Closing the Blues stage are the equally iconic Gov’t Mule. The Southern Rock jam band was originally formed as a side project of The Allman Brothers Band by guitarist Warren Haynes and bassist Allen Woody but has become a headline band in its own right. The all too short set included a number of Mule tracks (including ‘Mule) as well as an Allman brothers track (‘Blue Sky’) with Charlie Starr from Blackberry Smoke and then Bernie Marsden joining them for closing tracks ‘Heartbreaker’ (Free cover) and Whitesnake’s ‘Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City’. As a self-confessed ‘Muleteer’ I could have watched them all night but the Blues stage had to come to a close for the final act on the main stage.
So headliners for the final day of the festival are The Cult. A difficult band to pigeon hole, they have vibes of Rock, Punk and Metal but all packaged together with great lyrics and seriously catchy hooks. There aren’t many bands who have such gravitas and cool yet are ubiquitous in the advertising world for catchy themes. Originally from Yorkshire, where they think what they sing and sing what they think, the five piece have had some tough times but keep coming back, to the delight of their loyal fanbase. Frontman Ian Astbury, dressed all in black, sports a large white Gretsch for opener ‘Wild Flower’ which he sings with as much gusto now as he did as when it was released 30 years ago. With fellow Cult original Billy Duffy on guitar coming from Manchester, you can see why this war of the roses has such energy and passion. They work off of each other to produce great songs with great energy. The hits keep coming with ‘GOAT’, ‘Lil Devil’ and ‘Spritwalker’ whipping up the crowd as the sun sets behind the massive stage. By saving their classic ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ for their encore the sunburnt masses drift off into the night happy that they have had all of their musical buttons pressed.
So did the Ramblin' Man stray from the path? No, but he certainly chose an alternative route. The festival generally ran smoothly and seemed to be well attended although numbers felt slightly down on previous years. The choice of stages was good with a good variety of music although the main stage felt a little too varied at times. When you have set the bar as high as the Ramblin' Man Fair has achieved in previous years, it is difficult to maintain that standard. It was a great festival of music, beer and food and a great chance to catch up with old friends and new bands. But for this year at least, it is over. So, in the words of Led Zeppelin:
"The time has come to be gone
And though our health we drank a thousand times
It's time to ramble on"
The Cult Setlist
Deeply Ordered Chaos
King Contrary Man
Sweet Soul Sister
G O A T
Love Removal Machine
She Sells Sanctuary
Mother (photos courtesy of John Bull RockrPix)
Supersonic Blues Machine, Rob Chapman Band, Davy Knowles
Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Wednesday 4th July 2018
Our Guitarfest of an evening began with short sets, of little more than 25 minutes each, from Davy Knowles and the Rob Chapman Band.
Isle Of Man native Davy first came to prominence with the band Back Door Slam, but his UK appearances have become increasingly rare since he settled in Chicago. Raised on a diet of British Bluesrockers of the 60’s and 70’s (e.g. Clapton, Green, Gallagher etc.), Davy’s playing still happily displays many of those influences (he recently deputised on the USA tour by the Band Of Friends, which features Rory’s former rhythm section) and his quartet’s set flew by far too quickly.
I must confess that Rob Chapman was a new name to me, perhaps because he is better known as a guitar manufacturer than as a musician. Maybe it was in the hope of increasing the band’s profile that he renamed the quartet as River Thief halfway through their set! Theirs was a rather heavier Blues and perhaps insufficient to retain the attention of some of the photographers congregated in front of the second guitarist because they thought his ZZ Top style beard looked rather familiar (although the fact that he was playing left handed should have given them a clue!).
The Supersonic Blues Machine’s two albums, ‘West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco’ and ‘Californisoul’, feature a long list of guest guitarists, so we were keen to hear what they would sound like without them and also without former lead guitarist Lance Lopez, whose role for this tour has been taken by our own Kris Barras, whose reputation seems to be growing by the week. We needn’t have worried in the slightest.
Early in the set Kris announced that it was his first ever gig with the band and asked us to forgive any wrong notes, but if he was nervous, it didn’t show at all. Although well supported by Serge Simic (guitar) and Alex Alessandroni (keyboards), as well as co-leaders Fabrizio Grossi (bass) and Kenny Aronoff (drums) and two excellent female backing vocalists, Kris was front and centre throughout, taking all the lead vocals and guitar solos.
With the songs taken in pretty equal measure from the band’s two albums, Kris’ solos grew longer and more confident than when I’ve heard him with his own band. This was no mean achievement, given that those solos had been played in the studio by the likes of Warren Haynes (‘Remedy’), Walter Trout (‘Can’t Take It No More’), Eric Gales (‘Elevate’) and Steve Lukather (‘Hard Times’).
As the temperature began to rise in the surprisingly sparsely attended venue (only one balcony of seating had been sold and walking around downstairs in the stalls was not difficult), Kris gave us his best Hendrix touches, playing the guitar behind his head, then with his teeth, before welcoming Davy Knowles back to guest with him on ‘Let It Be’.
Then came the mini-set that most people had probably booked for, with ZZ Top veteran Billy F. Gibbons joining the band for half a dozen numbers. These began with Top’s ‘La Grange’ and continued with the two songs he had recorded with the band (‘Running Whiskey & Broken Heart’), a pair of Blues classics and a welcome romp through ‘Sharp Dressed Man’.
Billy seemed as relaxed on stage as he had when he kindly signed my copy of ‘Eliminator’ at the stage door earlier in the afternoon. He’s a true professional and he was having fun; it didn’t seem to worry him at all that the audience was significantly smaller than he is used to. He and Davy returned for the encore, which had the added bonus of former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden playing the instrument he affectionately calls The Beast (a ’59 Gibson Les Paul which was formerly owned by both Eric Clapton and Paul Kossoff).
It’s always a treat to hear Bernie, who is playing as well as ever, but it was a rare pleasure to see and hear Billy G. from only a few feet away!
Davy Knpwles – (unidentified); What Doesn’t Kill You; Coming Up For Air; Tear Down The Walls; Catch The Moon.
Rob Chapman Band – Sunshine; Flash Flood; Old For New; Breath; Part Of The Plan.
Supersonic Blues Machine – I’m Done Missing You; I Ain’t Fallin’ Again; Remedy; L.O.V.E.; Watchagonnado; The Stranger; Bad Boys; Can’t Take It No More; Elevate; Hard Times; Let It Be; La Grange; Broken Heart; Dust My
Broom; Running Whiskey; Sharp Dressed Man; Got My Mojo Working; Goin’ Down.
Gary Smith (photos courtesy of Bruce Biege)
Roger Chapman Family & Friends
Under The Bridge, London
Friday 3rd August 2018
Roger Chapman, also known as ‘Chappo’, is an English Rock vocalist, originally from Leicester. He is best known as a member of the Progressive Rock band Family and also the Rock, R&B band Streetwalkers. Chapman started his musical career as the vocalist for the Farinas in 1966, who then morphed into The Roaring Sixties, before being renamed Family in 1966. The line-up included Roger Chapman – vocals, John "Charlie" Whitney – guitar, Jim King – saxophone, Ric Grech – bass and Rob Townsend – drums. Their first single ‘Scene Through The Eye of a Lens’, was released in 1967 on Liberty Records, with their debut album ‘Music In A Doll's House’ following in 1968 on the Reprise label. A further six Family albums were released including ‘Family Entertainment’ (1969), A Song for Me (1970), ‘Anyway’ (1970), ‘Fearless’ (1971), ‘Bandstand’ (1972) and ‘It's Only a Movie’ (1973) before disbanding in 1973.
Chapman and Whitney decided to continue writing together and formed the Chapman-Whitney band, signed to the Vertigo label they released the ‘Chapman Whitney Streetwalkers’ album in 1974 with a line-up including Family members Ric Grech, John Wetton and Jim Cregan, and also King Crimson members Wetton, Mel Collins, Ian Wallace and Michael Giles. Bobby Tench (Jeff Beck Group, Hummingbird and future Humble Pie) joined on guitar and vocals in time to record the ‘Downtown Flyers’ album in 1975, together with Jonathan Plotel on bass and Nicko McBrain (now with Iron Maiden) on drums. Bobby Tench is a fantastic and hugely talented singer in his own right, so pairing his voice with Chapman’s made for a very interesting and powerful tour-de-force! A further two studio albums followed including the excellent ‘Red Card’ (1976) and ‘Vicious But Fair’ (1977) before the band called it a day.
In 1979 Chapman began a solo career and recorded his first solo album ‘Chappo’ on Arista. The album features Geoff Whitehorn (If, Crawler and current full time member of Procol Harum since 1991) on guitar and who would go on to work with Chapman on and off for the next thirty nine years. The album received critical acclaim, particularly in Germany, and Chapman was on a roll. The outstanding ‘Live in Hamburg’ followed in 1979, featuring a red hot line-up firing on all cylinders, including Geoff Whitehorn - guitar, Tim Hinckley – keyboards, Mel Collins – saxophone, Jerome Rimson – bass and Leonard "Stretch" Stretching – drums. Roger named his backing band ‘The Shortlist’ after the Micky Jupp song of the same name covered on the album. A successful solo career continued with albums such as ‘Mail Order Magic’ (1980) and ‘Hyenas Only Laugh For Fun’ (1981). Thankfully the subsequent 1981 tour was captured on the outstanding ‘He Was... She Was... You Was... We Was...’ double live album recorded in Germany and released in 1982.
Chapman has also provided vocals on Mike Oldfield's hit song ‘Shadow on the Wall’ from the album ‘Crises’ (1983) and on the Yardbirds off-shoot band Box of Frogs second album ‘Strange Land’ (1986), singing lead vocals on two songs. Chapman continued to record and release a steady stream of quality material throughout the 90’s and on into the 2000’s before making the decision in 2010 to retire from performing. Despite this decision Chapman has returned to the stage several times since then, including the highly successful reunion gigs with Family in 2013. The band included former members Poli Palmer, Rob Townsend and Jim Cregan, also featuring Chapman's regular back-up musicians Paul Hirsh, John Lingwood, Nick Payn, Gary Twigg and Geoff Whitehorn. Demand was so great that further gigs happened in 2014, 2015 and 2016, with the 2016 concerts being billed as the bands last ever shows. Despite these being the last ever Family gigs, Chapman seemed to be re-invigorated by the experience and decided to get back on the road in 2017 with members of the Shortlist for a series of gigs billed as ‘Roger Chapman: Family and Friends. A career celebration 1968 – 2018… the bleedin’ lot, well almost!’ The band featured the usual suspects; Paul Hirsh on Keyboards, John Lingwood on drums, Nick Payn on saxophone, Gary Twigg on bass, Geoff Whitehorn on guitar and special guest Poli Palmer (Family) on vibes. This momentum has continued into 2018 with a short run of gigs in January, including the prestigious Shepherd’s Bush Empire on 13th January, and a further set of gigs in August, including a return to London at the Under The Bridge venue situated under Stamford Bridge Football Stadium in Chelsea, London on 3rd August.
The temperature outside exceeded thirty degrees celsius, inside was not far behind! Chapman and band were on fire, sparking of each other with electric delight. At this gig Lingwood was replaced by Henry Spinetti (The Herd, Judas Jump, Eric Clapton) on drums, a seasoned session drummer that has played on many classic albums and tours over the last fifty years. Henry has a confident swagger about him and good sense of fun, which was clearly evident as he exchanged laughs and jokes with fellow band members. At this gig Gary Twigg played bass sitting down throughout the set, but whatever ailment was plaguing him it did not dampen his playing ability. Chapman commanded the stage with abounding energy and his distinctive bleating vibrato vocals shrilled the air, not bad for a seventy six year old rocker! These days Chapman plays gigs for fun and because he can. He is clearly still enjoying performing and entertaining a loyal following, giving it his all every time. The room is not full, but that’s not a bad thing on a hot night like this!
Chapman and band delivered a strong and tight set of classic Family, Streetwalkers and Chapman solo material, including the groove laden and menacing ‘Prisoner’ from the 1981 album ‘Hyenas Only Laugh for Fun’. Three classic Chapman solo songs from the brilliant 1979 ‘Chappo’ album, ‘Who Pulled The Night Down’, ‘Moth To A Flame’ and ‘Midnite Child’ were played proficiently and with tremendous gusto! Whitehorn set the groove and the band followed, with classy embellishments from Hirsh and Payn. A couple of newer tracks, ‘Habits Of A Lifetime’ and ‘Kiss My Soul’, were performed from the well-received 1996 album ‘Kiss My Soul’. ‘Run For Cover’ from the classic 1976 Streetwalkers, ‘Red Card’ album rocked and rolled along nicely.
A few select Family songs were played including the exquisite ‘Burlesque’, a 1972 hit single, also featured on the 1972 album ‘Bandstand’. The sensational ‘Weavers Answer’ from the 1969 ‘Family Entertainment’ album was truly exquisite. The main set drew to a close with the mellower pastoral sing-a-long song ‘My Friend The Sun’, from the 1972 ‘Bandstand’ album. For the encore we got a vibrant and frantic medley of classic material, including ‘Shadow On The Wall’, from the 1983 Mike Oldfield album ‘Crisis’, which then segued into ‘Shortlist’, from the 1979 album ‘Live in Hamburg’, and finally an excerpt from the monumental Streetwalkers song ‘Toenail Dragging’, originally on the 1975 ‘Downtown Flyers’ album. It feels quite special to be part of an audience with Chapman these days, as he has been hinting about retirement for some time. If the quality of this performance is anything to go by then long may he continue to grace the stage with his presence.
Steven C. Gilbert
229 The Venue, London
Friday 10th August 2018
Friday nights are for live music – alright?! I slip into jeans and a black t-shirt, pull on my leather jacket and leave the office by a side door with my suit left behind for the weekend. I’m off to check out Zero UK at The Venue 229 in Great Portland Street, hoping for a musical treat. I’m not disappointed, with not one, but five bands to enjoy in the subterranean Venue.
First up is Blooms Taxonomy, a one-man soundscape with laptop, synth, pads and occasional guitar pushing out some laid-back vibes. Then something a bit harder with Behind The Seen, a guitar driven Alternative Rock similar to Husker Du which got certain elements of the crowd spinning around on the dancefloor, crashing into each other!
The third offering was Anthony James, a four piece Indie Rock group who had also brought along their fan club, most of whom were singing along with the band!
Next up was Zero UK, my main reason for coming to the gig. I’d checked them out on YouTube beforehand and had detected hints of Blur, Oasis, even twangs of The Monkeys, albeit with a harder edge. Probably no surprise really as this is the second incarnation of ‘Zero’, who had moved on to other projects then re-formed, having identified a global market and interest in the Britpop sound whilst working in Argentina of all places! They added the ‘UK’ initials to the original band name and went into a studio in Buenos Aires to record their new album ‘Somewhere Between Heaven & Hell’.
Marky, the lead singer and guitarist, acknowledged the influence of bands like the Yardbirds and Faces on the sound of the Zero’s music, similar to the link Oasis have to the Beatles. He also disclosed that when singing in his Sex Pistols tribute band, he is often mistaken for the real Steve Jones. So no surprise then when the Zero’s start playing, their stage presence is as big as their musical sound! Marky is bantering with the crowd and builds up the atmosphere as they smash into their set list.
The song structures are simple, but effective and catchy, easy to swagger along to in that Britpop way. ‘Petrol Fumes’ and ‘What’ve We Done’ are catchy but my favourite was ‘You Fly Too High’ with a solid riff and tight drumming from Rick sat at the back.
Chatting to Darren the bass player in the bar, again I got a sense of the cross-generational nature of their music, we all listened to our parents records – right? Well the younger generation are blowing the dust of their parents Oasis albums and so the future could be bright for another blast of Britpop? Which is summed up by the last track ‘Things You Love’ as well as the free album handed out to those left at the end of the gig. Can’t argue with that!
Zero UK are playing at some Summer festivals and I can easily see myself bopping along in my wellies with a warm pint of beer with them sometime soon, especially if the demand for a new wave of Britpop continues to grow.
The last act of the night was Spring.Fall.See a three piece with so much energy, they were literally bouncing off the stage. Powerful drumming, powerful vocals, but due to earlier delays, the crowd was thinning out to catch the last train home, including yours truly, so sadly did not manage to catch the end of their set, but another one to watch out for.
For me, a great night out, with an eclectic range of music genres and styles, a mini-festival in the heart of London. Keep music live, it can’t be beat!
Hylands Park, Chelmsford
Saturday 18th August 2018
One of the seemingly permanent fixtures in the UK’s Summer Festival programme came to an abrupt end in 2017, when Richard Branson announced he was pulling Virgin Media’s sponsorship of the 20 year old V Festival. Recent V Festivals had been run by the Festival Republic organisation, simultaneously at Hylands Park near Chelmsford and Weston Park, ten miles north-west of Wolverhampton, over the same August weekend. Not wanting to lose a popular and profitable slot in their annual festival calendar, Festival Republic decided on a rebranding without the Virgin association and V name: the RiZE Festival was born. RiZE retained the Hylands Park venue, but dropped the simultaneous performances at Weston Park. More surprisingly, although still a two day event, RiZE has moved from Saturday/Sunday to Friday/Saturday, requiring festival goers to take a day off work to attend Day 1, but giving them plenty of time to recover from Day 2 before returning to work on Monday.
The music at V Festival always had an Indie Rock and popular focus - definitely not traditional WRC fare. RiZE moved the festival’s music even further from the WRC’s core: there wasn’t a Blues guitar in sight, and the hardest rock on the programme was Bastille’s Indie. But, hey, the music all fulfilled another fundamental WRC principle - it was live! At least the two main stages and the New Music stage were; the various dance arenas were naturally manned by DJ’s, but they could easily be avoided - there was more than enough live music to fill your day!
On entering Hylands Park I headed straight to the Main Stage for the start of Maximo Park’s frenetic set of classic existentialist Rock. It is now 13 years since the Newcastle band released their first album, but they’re still playing with the exuberance of youth, attacking songs like heady youngsters in their early days, but now with the added technical acumen that only years of experience can bring. Topped by his trademark fedora, vocalist Paul Smith raced energetically around the stage; within the confines of just one song, he scissor kicked, dropped to the floor and tossed his microphone in the air. His perpetual motion inevitably attracts most of the crowd’s attention, and that of the cameras feeding the huge screens either side of the stage, but it only succeeds as well as it does because of the technical brilliance of the rest of the band, in particular lead guitarist and co-writer Duncan Lloyd. Maximo Park start their set by rattling through fan favourites ‘Our Velocity’ and ‘Risk to Exist’ with an energy and sonic brilliance that is a taster of what is to follow. Recent songs have added a political edge to the intellectual witticisms that have been there from the start. This edge is represented at RiZE by ‘The Kids are Sick Again’ and ‘Get High (No, I Don’t)’, about the right of refusal. Throw in the anthemic ‘The Undercurrents’ and ‘Apply Some Pressure’ and this whole gig would definitely have gone down well with a WRC audience.
Still exhausted from merely watching Maximo Park, I wandered across to RiZE’s Second Stage, in an enormous marquee, to see a much more relaxed set from 24 year old Scottish guitarist, pianist and singer-songwriter, Nina Nesbitt. Supported only by Jamie on keyboards, Nina sang with passion and feeling about teenage relationships and teenage angst. Her song titles said it all: ‘The Moments I’m Missing’, ‘Stay Out’, ‘The Best You Had’, ‘Somebody Special’ and ‘Loyal to Me’ (her new single). They were sung from the heart, seemingly reflecting both her own personal experiences and those of her attentive and appreciative, largely young and female, audience. But I’m not sure Nina would have gone down so well with that hypothetical group from the WRC.
As soon as Nina finished, I headed back to the Main Stage to see another female singer, the much livelier Rita Ora. Rita’s 2018 tour is her first for three years and she’s used the hiatus to develop a new on-stage style. Flanked by slick dancers, she puts in a fun, fast-paced, energetic performance with a sophisticated delivery. After warming her audience up with three bouncy openers, Rita launched into ‘Girls’, the song that was her coming out as bisexual. Perhaps understandably, given its “Sometimes, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls” chorus and its overtly sexy video, its release led to more criticism than compassion, primarily from the lesbian community who accused it of pandering to male-gaze stereotypes and delivering a dangerous message. But it was well received at RiZE, where the audience just wants to sing along and enjoy itself. ‘Girls’ is followed by ‘Lonely Together’, a tribute to Avicii who last week posthumously won “Best Dance Video” at the MTV Video Music Awards for this collaboration with Rita. Her set finishes with two more recent hits, ‘For You’ and ‘Anywhere’, and her fans in the audience singing louder than ever.
Next up on RiZE’s Main Stage was Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, aka 33 year old Rory Graham from East Sussex. He kicks off his set with ‘Wolves’, followed by ‘Ego’, a great sing-along song, and the unremarkable ‘Your Way Or the Rope’. It’s only when Rag ‘n’ Bone Man strips the band away and moves on to his self-proclaimed “miserable songs” that he really excels. Hearing that mighty baritone belt out Soul-baring lyrics in the beautiful ‘Skin’ is almost spiritual, bringing the crowd under his spell. His massive hit ‘Human’ impresses too, an extended version with several variations around the steamy Gospel style of the hit version. Surprisingly, ‘Human’ wasn’t saved for Rag ‘n’ Bone Man’s finale. As he told the crowd “There’s still two songs left, but people often fuck off at this point”. Several did and, to be honest, by the end of his set, I wish I’d been one of them!
Before Bastille, I had 20 minutes for a quick glimpse of Sean Paul in the Second Stage marquee. Sean’s musical career began over 20 years ago as a dancehall singer in his native Jamaica. Seven studio albums later, he still has the vocals of a Reggae artist, but combines his voice with hip-hop and R&B beats to produce the unique sound that has led to his long-term success. And the crowd here loved it: the marquee was bursting at the seams with a mass of swaying bodies, singing along to every song. However, I couldn’t stay - Indie rockers Bastille were due on the Main Stage and that was one band I didn’t want to miss. No, Bastille aren’t French; their name comes from the birthday of lead singer Dan Smith: 14th July. Unusually for a band’s front man, Dan isn’t at ease between songs - with his bumbling anecdotes and self-deprecating comments he comes across as, in his own words, “a nervous wreck who hates doing this”. But from the moment he starts singing, his nervousness disappears and, in an instant, he wins the audience over, with his heartfelt passion, unadulterated energy and impressive vocal range, which he has no trouble sustaining while leaping around the stage. Even at an outdoor festival, Dan maintained his tradition of singing at least one song from within the audience, remaining visible to the large screen cameras with the help of a couple of strategically placed boxes. Highlight’s from Bastille’s set included ‘Things we lost in the Fire’, a lively, bouncy sing-along, ‘I know you’, written and originally performed with Craig David, and an ebullient rendition of ‘Of the Night’. Bastille ended their set of political, dark and dancing songs with the anthemic ‘Pompeii’, so well known that, for the final minute, the band stopped playing and just clapped along to the crowd’s singing. With their rhythmic riffs, catchy hooks and sheer energy it is no wonder Bastille are now filling arenas worldwide - they would definitely be well received at a WRC event!
After Bastille I had an impossible dilemma: two bands I wanted to see were performing at the same time. The Stereophonics started first, so I made my way to the Main Stage for a set of the band’s classic hits, delivered with enthusiastic aplomb. After 25 years of touring and numerous chart successes, the Stereophonics need no introduction. Kelly Jones’ voice adds horsepower and heft to newer material, but there is a distinct upturn in energy when the band reprise their earlier hits. Their set occasionally veers into arena-Rock routine but, overall, there is a serious vibe and little sense of self-indulgence. However, after a rousing performance of ‘Maybe Tomorrow’, complete with almost continuous audience participation, I dragged myself away to ensure I caught the end of the Years and Years set on the Second Stage, thereby apparently missing an impressive medley of covers that included ‘Handbags & Gladbags’ and ‘Highway to Hell’. Years and Years were definitely different. Their music is hard to categorise but, at RiZE, they produced a bold and theatrical set of experimental, electronic dance music. Olly Alexander’s yearning vocals steal the show, but are underpinned by the rapid, electric pulses provided by the skilled musicianship of guitarist Mikey Goldsworthy and keyboardist Emre Turkman. Years and Years dance-friendly sound is ideal for a live gig, especially during showstoppers such as ‘Take Shelter’ and ‘Desire’. During their finale, the international hit ‘King’; it is almost impossible not to indulge in some form of uninhibited dance. It is no wonder that, despite the competition from the Stereophonics, the Stage 2 marquee is heaving, with a few hundred spectators having to watch as best they could from outside.
Overall, Saturday at RiZE was an excellent day of varied live music. Inevitably, not all of the music was to everybody’s taste but, with three live stages, if you couldn’t find anything to enjoy you must be extremely hard to please. I’m still disappointed the organisers didn’t stagger the performances of their two headline bands but, apart from that, the festival was well organised. Despite virtually selling out on Saturday (unlike, not surprisingly, Friday), there were minimal (if any) queues to get in, for food, for drink or even for the toilets - most unusual!
The Graham Bonnet Band, Doomsday Outlaw
The Underworld, Camden
Wednesday 22nd August 2018
Graham Bonnet is an English Rock singer and songwriter who has recorded and performed as a solo artist and as a member of several Hard Rock and Heavy Metal bands including Rainbow, the Michael Schenker Group, Alcatrazz, and Impellitteri. In the mid to late 60’s Bonnet was a member of several local bands that played in and around his home town of Skegness, including The Skyliners, The Blueset and the Graham Bonnet Set. He had his first hit single in 1968 as part of a duo with Trevor Gordon, The Marbles, with the song ‘Only One Woman’ which reached Number 5 in the UK Singles Chart. For most of the 1970’s Bonnet had a few shots at a solo career with the release of his debut solo album 'Graham Bonnet' in 1977 and its follow up 'No Bad Habits' in 1978. Bonnet’s major mainstream success came when he joined Rainbow in 1979 appearing on their excellent ‘Down to Earth’ album, and scoring two hit singles with the Russ Ballard song ‘Since You Been Gone’ in 1979 (this song originally appeared on Russ Ballard's 1976 album 'Winning'), and ‘All Night Long’ in 1980. Rainbow went on to headline the inaugural Monsters of Rock festival at Donington Park, Castle Donington, in August 1980. This would be Bonnet's last ever appearance with Rainbow.
After leaving Rainbow Bonnet released another solo album 'Line-Up' in 1981, then he joined the Michael Schenker Group in 1982 and appeared on their ‘Assault Attack’ album before being fired from the group after a single concert, at Sheffield Polytechnic, when he drunkenly exposed himself on stage! In 1983, he co-founded Alcatrazz, with Gary Shea (bass), and Jimmy Waldo (keyboards), Jan Uvena (drums), and Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen. The band released three studio albums, ‘No Parole from Rock N' Roll’ in 1983, ‘Disturbing the Peace’ in 1985, with guitarist Steve Vai replacing Malmsteen, and ‘Dangerous Games’ in 1986, with Danny Johnson on guitar. After the demise of Alcatrazz in 1987, Bonnet joined Chris Impellitteri's band and released the 1988 album 'Stand In Line'. Throughout the 1990’s and into the 2000’s Bonnet worked with many other bands including Forcefield, Blackthorne, The Taz Taylor Band and Elektric Zoo, as well as recording another three solo albums 'Here Comes The Night' in 1991, 'Underground' in 1997 and 'The Day I Went Mad' in 1999.
In 2015, Bonnet formed The Graham Bonnet Band, and toured the UK and Europe, playing songs from throughout his career including Alcatrazz and Rainbow. The band released a two-song E.P. titled ‘My Kingdom Come’, (the song ‘My Kingdom Come’ was written by Russ Ballard). In November 2016, The Graham Bonnet Band released their debut album, 'The Book' on Frontiers Records, quickly followed by the live album ‘Live…Here Come The Night’ also on Frontiers Records and recorded live at the Frontiers Rock Festival 2016.
In 2016, Bonnet joined Michael Schenker and fellow former MSG singers Gary Barden and Robin McAuley in 'Michael Schenker Fest', initially for a tour of Japan. The resulting CD/DVD ‘Live - Tokyo International Forum Hall A’ showed a band clearly having fun and enjoying playing together again. That momentum continued with further tours of Europe and Japan throughout 2017. In 2017, with the addition of singer Doogie White, Michael Schenker Fest recorded the album ‘Resurrection’ featuring vocal contributions from all four singers. With Bonnet’s current creativity firing on all cylinders and with his voice retaining its powerful resonance, The Graham Bonnet Band have recorded another album entitled ‘Meanwhile, Back In The Garage’, which was released in July 2018 on Frontiers Records.
The Graham Bonnet Band are back on an extensive fourteen date UK tour this summer promoting their new album ‘Meanwhile, Back In The Garage’, including this gig at The Underworld in Camden, North. This is the third time I have seen the Graham Bonnet Band live and each time they have had a different guitarist with them! Any guitarist in this band has massive shoes to fill as they must be able tackle the fret work of some of the greatest guitar players of all time, namely Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker and Yngwie Malmsteen. On this tour that job goes to Kurt James (Dr Mastermind, Steeler). He definitely has the confidence and ability, but I feel he needs a few more gigs under his belt with this band to tighten things up. It did appear to me that he meandered slightly off course occasionally! Their last guitarist Joey Tafolla was a much more fluid player and gelled well with the band. The current line-up also includes the beautiful and elegant Beth-Ami Heavenstone (Bootleg, Hardly Dangerous) on bass, Jimmy Waldo (Alcatrazz) on Keyboards and Mark Benquechea on drums.
I arrived at the venue just in time to catch the last three songs by the support band Doomsday Outlaw. A five piece Blues-tinged Rock band from Derbyshire, featuring Phil Poole (lead vocals), Stephen Broughton (guitar), Gavin Mills (guitar), Indy (bass and backing vocals) and John Ironfoot Willis (drums). They are a tight, well-honed band that deliver monumental chunky riffs and groove-laden tunes, with a nod towards Zeppelin, Trapeze and Black Stone Cherry. The band's performance was flawless, engaging and connecting with the audience at every opportunity. I believe the full set list included the songs 'Over And Over', 'Tale Of A Broken Man', 'Bring It On Home', 'Hard Times', 'All That I Have' and 'Bring Your Pain'. I am fairly certain these guys are destined for great things.
The Graham Bonnet Band kicked off their set with a great Alcatrazz song 'Too Young to Die, Too Drunk to Live' from their 1983 album 'No Parole from Rock 'n' Roll'. A few sound issues distracted Bonnet from time to time during the early part of the set, but all seemed to be back on track with the down and dirty Rainbow anthem 'All Night Long' from their 1979 album 'Down to Earth'. The brilliant 'Night Games', from Bonnet's 1981 album 'Line-Up', stormed through with almighty gusto! Bonnet is still in good voice and manages to reach all the high notes. A newer song, 'California Air' from the 2016 album 'The Book' is a cracker of a song! Nice groove with great hooks.
Another couple of Alcatrazz songs from the 'No Parole from Rock 'n' Roll' album were up next, the catchy melodic 'Island In The Sun' and the harder 'Jet To Jet', satisfied the senses. The slower 'Rock You To The Ground', a Michael Schenker Group track from the 1982 album ‘Assault Attack’, rolled along with ease, quickly followed by the anthemic Impellitteri title track from the 1988 album 'Stand In Line'. Yet another Acatrazz song form the 'No Parole from Rock 'n' Roll' album, 'Starcarr Lane' rocked! A rare airing of the Impellitteri song 'Goodnight and Goodbye', from the 1988 album 'Stand In Line', smashed it before the monumental Michael Schenker Group track 'Desert Song', from the 1982 album ‘Assault Attack’, thundered through with force! Powerful solid drumming from Benquechea and steadfast bass playing from Heavenstone, anchored the performance.
Another fine track from 'The Book' album, 'Into The Night', punched good weight! Then we got a Kurt James guitar solo where he was allowed to indulge in some clever fret noodling, including the Hendrix trick of playing the guitar behind one’s head and with one’s teeth, before 'Long Island Tea', the first and only song to be aired from the new album, ‘Meanwhile, Back In The Garage’. It is a good track, but the album has several better songs on it, some tasty keys from Waldo though. The epic and enthralling Michael Schenker Group track ‘Assault Attack’, from the 'Assault Attack' album, rattled on like a steam train! 'Mirror Lies', a track from the 2015 Graham Bonnet Band EP 'My Kingdom Come' was another rare live outing. Onto the final stretch and the one we were all waiting for, the Rainbow classic 'Since You Been Gone' from the 'Down to Earth' album, was thrilling and had everyone rocking and singing along! The set drew to close with another Rainbow epic, 'Lost In Hollywood', also from the 'Down to Earth' album. Save the best for last, that’s the way to do it! A very enjoyable gig was had by one and all!
Steven C. Gilbert
L. A. Guns, Jared James Nichols, Stone Trigger
O2 Academy Islington, London
Friday 31st August 2018
It's the end of the Summer break and the kids are on their way back to school. So it's time to check that they have the essentials. Overstuffed pencil case with mainly redundant utensils? Check. School blazer three sizes too big to allow them to 'grow into it'? Check. New shoes destined to last less than a term? Check. L. A. Guns tour ticket? Check. All set then. Apparently the latter is non-essential but then we are talking about the school of life, and there's nothing more important at school than great teachers, so with tonight's line up we are in for some serious musical education.
Class tonight will be held at the excellent O2 Islington Academy, with the first lesson starting at the early time of 6.30pm. With train disruption causing some to get to registration late (poor performance - see me), openers Stone Trigger had a somewhat threadbare audience to entertain. Did the Dubliners mind? Feck no, they had a blast. Entering the stage to their customary Terminator soundtrack, the four piece let loose their dogs of war with all the enthusiasm of the new kids at school. Although this lot have been around since 2011 so have scuffed a few pairs of shiny shoes in their time. Opening track 'Children of the Night' gives them a chance to unleash their considerable energy showing the influences of tonight's headliners along with other 80's West Coast Metal bands. Singer Tommy Rockit looks more like he was born in Redondo Beach, LA, rather than Ranelagh DUB, with obligatory long hair, red strides and eyeliner and a strong voice to boot. Whereas guitarist Andii Andrews looks smooth in comparison picking some fine lead licks from his beautiful cherry sunburst Les Paul through a Marshall stack. Andrews is happy to look mean and moody doing his thing whilst Rockit provides the showmanship. Providing back line are lefty bassist Peter Jordan and drummer Moyano El Buffalo. Despite the small crowd they played as if to a packed arena. Rockit gave everything. It was a fine rocking performance with tracks like 'Got To Get It On' and 'Rattle Your Bones' getting a good reaction - chugging riffs and screaming vocals will get you that. Finishing with their recent single 'Edge of Insanity' and a cover of the epic Lizzy track 'Killer On The Loose', they were a great opening act.
Stone Trigger setlist:
Children Of The Night
I Declare War
Gotta Get It On
Larger Than Life
Show Your Hands
Rattle Your Bones
Edge Of Insanity
Killer On The Loose
In school terms, Wisconsin's Jared James Nichols is surely a star pupil. Tall, good looking and with a Colgate smile, the long haired guitarist with snake tattoos looks every part the LA Metal rocker. But looks can be deceptive. Whilst he can rock out with the best, there is a strong Blues vein running through the LA cheese as well as some spectacular technique. One of the most notable, and refreshing things of note is that JJN plays an 'affordable' Epiphone Les Paul ('Old Glory') that has clearly seen some action. Unusually, he has removed the neck pick up (and the selector switch and volume/tone pots) so only has the trebly neck pick up. Played through a Blackstar amp, this produces a harsh Metal tone but, as JJN eschews a pick and plays with his fingertips, he gets some extraordinary tones from a hugely simple rig. And boy does he put that rig through its paces. When he's not throwing the Epi around his body or up to the ceiling, he is bashing the poor D'Addario's with every part of his considerable anatomy or, failing that, the guitar cable, to squeeze out some great sounds. Here's proof that quality is not necessarily down to how much you spend on your rig. And the speed that he gets with his fingers is faster than many can manage with a pick. And not a note out of place.
The star pupil has some qualifications to his name too. Following his move to Los Angeles in 2010, he quickly gained notoriety by winning the prestigious Gibson Les Paul Tribute Contest as well as Musicians Institute Most Outstanding Player Award. Watching him, I can see why. Backed up by bassist Gregg Cash and drummer Dennis Holm, the trio all look remarkably similar although JJN seems to tower over the other two despite Cash's 6 foot. And a fine trio they are. Although there to compliment JJN's talents, Cash and Holm are skilled musicians themselves. How many times do you see acclaimed musicians touring with a 'backing band' only there as a prima donna's bitch? Well the JJN trio are a band of equals, making great music without ego. When you have the skills, they speak for themselves. It also helps that they are three of the nicest guys you are likely to meet.
The set is a fine mix of funky Rock Blues although with a rock edge and tracks like 'Last Chance' and 'Don't Be Scared' getting the now full classrooms attention. But it was when JJN invited one Tracii Guns onto stage where they performed an excellent cover of Sabbath's 'NIB' that the evening was made for me. With Holm outdoing Bill Ward on the drums, and Cash, bass slung low and grinning like an evil goblin, the only thing missing was a shambling mess on vocals. Great track - excellent cover. Great band.
The missing piece from 'NIB' heralded the entrance of our main event as Ozzy's 'Diary Of A Madman' filled the packed auditorium. And entering the stage with a nonchalant swagger comes the iconic guitarist Tracii Guns and lead vocalist Phil Lewis. So where was Michael Grant? Well he has now moved on to be replaced, eventually, by ex L. A. Guns bassist Adam Hamilton on rhythm guitar whilst bass duties are expertly handled by Johnny Martin. Shane Fitzgibbon is still there on drums. Keeping track of personnel changes in L.A. Guns is like getting to grips with your new lesson timetable. Old and new subjects, and in different places too.
As always, they look the part of an 80's Metal band. Lewis dresses all in black sporting a black top hat with steampunk goggles and his L. A. Guns sleeveless jacket whilst Guns sports a battered old Harley Davidson denim cut down, both sporting tattoos showing a lifetime of Rock and Roll heritage. Tracii - a true professor in the arts of guitar work - sports a worn Les Paul played through the obligatory Metal Marshall stack. Hamilton, in contrast hides his short grey hair under a natty black hat whilst sporting a Siouxsie and the Banshees t-shirt under a smart black jacket. The Union Flag badge on the jackets lapel was a nice touch too. Welcome to the UK lads. Johnny Martin again sports all black with matching straight black hair whilst Fitzgibbons seems to be wearing a large drumkit. He's in there somewhere.
Opening track Is the rocking 'The Devil Made Me Do It' from their 2017 'The Missing Piece' album followed by 'Electric Gypsy' which gets the now full auditorium well and truly moving. Lewis is an experienced, charismatic and talented frontman both effervescent yet cool at the same time. And Guns is just on fire. He is a truly iconic guitarist, followed via social media by adoring guitarists, like students learning at the feet of a master. Yes, he plays a Gibson, but tonight he is playing through a Headrush multi effects pedalboard. He's more pedal god than pedagogue though. These modern gadgets are not usually the domain of our master musicians but Tracii Guns has always been one to innovate when it comes to equipment. And he drags some impressive tones from them too. During the awesome 'Over The Edge' he wields a violin bow, a la Jimmy Page, to get some interesting variations from an otherwise slow, sludgy track. Tracks alternate between balls out rock like 'I Wanna Be Your Man' to slower power Metal tracks like 'The Floods The Fault of the Rain'. For 'Speed', Guns changes his trusty Les Paul for an unusual striped Chubtone guitar which lifted the slightly muddy sound with its brighter pickups, although it clearly couldn't keep up with the master as a broken string during 'I Wanna Be Your Man' sees the LP back where it belonged. In the hands of a man who knows how to use it. For 'One More Reason' he takes centre stage, torturing the instrument whilst performing a true guitar masterclass, on his knees.
One of my favourite tracks - 'Hellraisers Ball' - has one of those chuggingly addictive riffs that epitomises everything that is great about this genre of rock. Lewis is nonchalant almost to the level of indifference as he relinquishes the track to the guitar guru. But he's back with a bang, and a tambourine for 'Malaria'. Not very Rock and Roll but very good. It's during 'Malaria' that Guns now breaks into physics teacher mode by 'playing' with a Theramin - a quirky sound altering device which changes pitch when Guns moves his hands towards it. It probably ranks as the only thing more dull during a gig than a drum solo. No wonder I used to skive off physics - usually to listen to L. A. Guns. Thankfully, the maestro's fingers were returned to his guitar fretboard to wow us with a guitar solo with every skill on display. Ending the solo with AC/DC's 'Hells Bells' it's just what we needed to get back into the groove. And with 'Never Enough', the crowd were happy to sing their little hearts out like the school choir at the Christmas carol concert. Ably conducted by Mr. Lewis, the choirmaster.
A break in the set sees Jared James Nichols return to the stage, this time with a full fat Gibbo around his neck. The resulting jam was a master of Blues Rock, with JJN towering over the relatively diminutive Guns, trading licks with all the joy of the great masters and prodigies. Spine tingling stuff. Penultimate track 'The Ballad of Jayne' sees a slower lament with Guns playing some excellent solo work whilst Lewis again conducts a heartfelt singalong. Closing track is, in contrast, the angry 'Rip and Tear' which ("My name is Phillip") Lewis uses to introduce the band and bid adieu to our hearing as they sign off with a bang. Leaving the stage to the strains of 'So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, good night' from The Sound of Music, the boys head off to headline at the HRH Sleaze festival. Well who else is better qualified? The gig over, we did what all kids do after class - head out for a quick grout and a cheap lager before heading home. Those of us taking guitar class are already pondering our homework. Something i was never any good at doing years ago. But then i never had such excellent teachers. The school of cock Rock is back in session. And L. A. Guns are a class act.
L. A. Guns setlist:
The Devil Made Me Do It
Over The Edge
Kiss My Love Goodbye
The Flood's The Fault Of The Rain
I Wanna Be Your Man
One More Reason
Never Enough (with Jared James Nichols)
The Ballad of Jayne
Rip And Tear
O2 Academy Islington, London
Wednesday 12th September 2018
I have to come out as a bit of a Marcus Bonfanti fanboy, after seeing him over the years, on his own, and with Saint Jude, The Ronnie Scott's Blues Explosion and The Boom Band. So tonight’s set with new band Jawbone on their first proper tour was keenly anticipated.
Those that arrived early for this gig were treated to a stunning acoustic performance by Cairo Son frontman Magdy Addel-Rehim. All chat was immediately stifled and you couldn’t hear a pin drop for the half a dozen or so songs in his set including a passionate tribute to Chris Cornell. There may have only been 20 or so punters in the room but Magdy played like it was a packed Royal Albert Hall. Those unaware of Cairo Son should check them out - I bought the 'Storm Clouds' CD and it’s a great Sabbath-meets-Soundgarden-meets-Tool mashup.
Next up was an acoustic duo featuring ex-Dunwells man Dave Hanson. Sadly Dave wasn’t greeted with the same could’t-hear-a-pin-drop respect as Magdy, as by then another 50 or so punters had turned up and it seemed most of them seemed intent on trying to drown him out with chat about what happened at work that day. A pity as had they listened they would have heard a lovely warm set of acoustic Blues with personality and humour. Sorry Dave, but I was listening!
Fortunately by the time Jawbone came on, the crowd remembered they were there to see a band and duly S.T.F.U. If you’re familiar with the Boom Band you’ll know what to expect from these guys as Jawbone has two key members of that band - the world class keyboards of Paddy Milner who has a CV that includes Jack Bruce and Tom Jones - and Marcus Bonfanti, who along with those bands I mentioned earlier has also been a sideman for Jack Bruce, Eric Burdon and Buddy Whittington. They were joined by drummer Evan Jenkins, who you’ll recognise from Matt Schofield’s band, and if you’re floaty-ambient-jazz inclined, the Neil Cowley Trio. He’s also recorded with some bloke called Eric Clapton of whom you may have heard. Lurking on the right hand side of the stage is bass man Rex Horan who’s Evan’s colleague from the Neil Cowley Trio. So, hold your breath, these four blokes with all this experience and chops are about to perform in front of you, in the tiny space of the Islington Academy Upstairs.
Jawbone’s album has been in gestation for quite some months and we get ALL of it tonight. Every song. And it’s a treat. They kick off with 'Leave No Traces' - the first song on the album and that sets the formula of Paddy’s sweet call and Marcus’s gravelly response. Half a dozen songs in and you’re thinking to yourself - wow, this band reminds me of Little Feat and The Band. And just to prove that point, Jawbone pull off stonking covers of 'Willin’ and 'Rag Mama Rag'. Everyone in the room is a fan now. Next up is another song from the album 'Sit Round The Table' - a song Marcus introduces with a story of a house share in London from years ago and sitting round the table with old friends sharing stories and problems - and some of those people were indeed in the audience which made it all the more special. It reminded me of Cold Chisel’s classic track 'Flame Trees' with that song’s lyric about “..happy just to sit here a table with old friends and see which one of us can tell the biggest lies.”
Then were treated to another inspired cover - Stephen Still’s 'Love The One You’re With'. Sublime stuff. Another highlight from the set was 'Two Billion Heartbeats' - something we all have in common apparently. “Two hundred have gone just singing this song” goes the lyric. Well, at the end of this gig myself and another 100 or so humans had spent about 7,000 heartbeats each in the company of Jawbone and every single one was well spent.
Pete Elphick (photos courtesy of Al Stuart)
Mike Vernon & The Might Combo
The Borderline, London
Friday 14th September 2018
Sari Schorr steam rolled her way onto the European Blues-Rock scene in 2016 with her hard hitting debut album ‘A Force Of Nature’, produced by the legendary producer Mike Vernon (Blue Horizon founder) and released on the Manhaton record label. Originally from New York, Schorr served her apprenticeship singing in the Blues and Jazz clubs of the Bronx and Manhattan’s Lower East Side, later going on to perform at the prestigious Carnegie Hall. With a dedicated determination to succeed this operatically trained tornado stood her ground as a phenomenal Blues-Rock singer who would not be denied. Over the years Schorr has gained wider exposure and increased popularity by touring with the likes of Joe Louis Walker, Poppa Chubby, Walter Trout and Robin Trower.
Sari's much anticipated sophomore album ‘Never Say Never’ will be released on Friday 5th October again on the Manhaton record label and produced by Henning Gehrke (Starworks Music). Through regular touring around Europe and the UK over the last couple of years, Schorr has built up a highly respected reputation as one of the finest Blues-Rock singers of our time! Her vocal talent and performance skills are most definitely up there with the likes of legendary singers Bessie Smith, Etta James, Janis Joplin and Tina Turner.
This concert at the Borderline was her album launch/showcase, which was also the second night of a ten date UK tour to promote the new album. This was a gig I was very much looking forward to, as I had never seen her perform live before. Unfortunately every time she played in London previously, I was either unable to attend, or at another gig across town! Luckily I was able to be present on this very special night, and wow what a night it was! The one thing I can say for sure is that she did not disappoint! It is fair to say Sari Schorr blew the roof of the Borderline with her powerhouse voice and dynamic performance!
The evening’s entertainment kicked off in style with a very prestigious guest in the shape of none other than Mike Vernon and his Mighty Combo! The legendary Blue Horizon producer now fronting his own band of merry men, consisting of himself on vocals, Kid Carlos on guitar, Matt Little on piano/Hammond organ, Ian Jennings on double bass, Mike Hellier on drums and Paul Tasker on tenor/baritone saxes. They stormed through an enjoyable set of Swing and Jump Blues style songs, some original and some covers. Most of which feature on his newly released album, ‘Beyond The Blue Horizon’, which was released earlier this month on the Manhaton record label.
It was very clear to see that Vernon was having a ball up there on stage performing and singing his heart out. His natural exuberance shines through, complete with enthusiastic ‘Dad’ dancing to match! The guitarist, Kid Carlos, has an uncanny resemblance to a 1969 Peter Green! He also played a few tasty Les Paul guitar solos too! The band stomped their way through an eleven song set including ‘Okie Dokie Stomp’, ‘We're Gonna Rock The Joint’, ‘Kiddio’, ‘Heart & Soul’, ‘Be On That Train’, ‘But I Do’, ‘I Can Fix It’, ‘Old Man Dreams’, ‘Jump Up’, ‘A Love Affair With The Blues’ and ‘Hate To Leave’. During the last song Vernon descended the stage and danced and sashayed his way through the audience before exiting the floor, only to resurface moments later at the merchandise stall to sign copies of his new CD.
After a short break came the main event we were all waiting for, time for Sari Schorr and The Engine Room to entertain us! The current incarnation of the ‘Engine Room’ features Ash Wilson (Sean Webster Band/Jesse Davey's Big Blues Band) on guitar/backing vocals, Bob Fridzema (King King/Joanne Shaw Taylor) on keyboards, Mat Beable (Stevie Nimmo Band) on bass and Roy Martin (Connie Lush Band/Modern English) on drums.
As the lights dimmed, the ‘Engine Room’ entered the stage, cranked up their gear, gathered their focus and charged into the groove laden intro to ‘The New Revolution’, a blinding new song from the ‘Never Say Never’ album. The band gradually built up the momentum and tension before Sari made her spectacular entrance to the stage and launched straight into the opening lines of the song with veritable gusto! What a voice! Truly magical! A powerful opening to the ninety-minute set, which continued to escalate with ‘Damn The Reason’, a monumental track from the ‘A Force Of Nature’ album. The band is locked in and grooving, Sari is immersed in the lyrics and the emotion is pouring out from her lungs like fire! Her facial expression says it all! She's giving it everything she’s got! We are truly gobsmacked and hypnotised!
A couple of brilliantly well-crafted and stand out songs from the new 'Never Say Never' album, ‘King Of Rock And Roll’ and ‘Thank You’, thundered in with total conviction and were performed with pure adrenalised energy and fervent passion. Volcanic vocals erupted and poured from Sari like molten lava! Spell binding stuff! It is plain to see that Schorr is at one with the music, inhabiting every song. It is also abundantly clear that she means every word she sings, her honest and sincere delivery exemplifies this.
Hotfooting it up next were two tracks from the ‘Force Of Nature’ album, ‘Demolition Man’, a down and gritty Blues shuffle, followed by ‘Ain't Got No Money’, a Funky groove laden Blues. Both were performed with pounding determination and exuberant attitude. Soaring high-pitched vocals with perfectly controlled vibrato exquisitely executed by Schorr, and some classy Blues guitar licks played by Wilson complimented each other flawlessly. Schorr and Wilson clearly have musical chemistry going on, gelling seamlessly together, a great musical partnership very much in evidence. Long may it continue!
The first cover song of the evening, ‘Ready For Love’, followed, a Mott The Hoople/Bad Company song written by Mick Ralphs and recorded by Sari for the ‘Never Say Never’ album - a superlative rendition that oozed intense emotion and vulnerable sincerity. Storming in next was ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You’, a 1954 Blues song written by Willie Dixon, first recorded by Muddy Waters and covered by many others thereafter. A perfect cover song to showcase Sari’s vibrant and gravely Blues voice. ‘Kiss Me’ from the ‘A Force Of Nature’ album, kept the mood flowing along nicely. Another couple of tasty tracks from the ‘Never Say Never’ album, ‘Maybe I'm Foolin'’ and ‘Valentina’ rattled in like a freight train, both songs being galloping Heavy Rockers delivered with raging fire and stony grit!
One of my favourites came next, the title track of the new album, ‘Never Say Never’, written by Ian McLagan (Small Faces/Faces) and originally featured on McLagan’s 2008 ‘Never Say Never’ album. This is a sublimely beautiful song with fountains of emotion pouring from each and every word. A sensational and breath-taking performance from Sari! Being a fan of McLagan’s work and having seen him perform several times (Sadly McLagan passed away in 2014 at the age of 69 due to complications after suffering a stroke), this song has etched a deeper resonance for me, and as a result when I hear Sari’s version it has me welling up every time!
If that wasn't enough, there was even more to come! ‘Freedom’, from the ‘Never Say Never’ album, is a mid-paced Rocker with an up-lifting chorus that rolled along with blazing energy! There’s no stopping this woman, Schorr keeps the atmosphere flowing and the energy levels elevated! The applause from the gathered throng remained consistently enthusiastic, and rightfully so!
And so to the encore and time for ‘Black Betty’, an old American folk song adapted by Leadbelly in 1939, later covered by many musicians including Ram Jam who had a hit with it in 1977. Sari’s take on this song is unique and her performance is absolutely enthralling. Can it get any better!? The final song of the set was the sensational ‘Aunt Hazel’ from the ‘A Force Of Nature’ album. A hard-hitting Rocking stomper of a track with belting raw snarling vocals and balls of steel attitude! Let’s Rock! And Rock we did! A fantastic climax to an incredible gig!
Steven C. Gilbert
The Royal Albert Hall, London
Monday 17th September 2018
I’m going to try to get one key message across in this review. Anyone seeing them on their current tour will already realise that Camel have significantly raised their game i.e. they sound better than ever. Yes, I mean ever, despite touring for well over 40 years. That comes as a surprise for those of us reaching a certain age where some of our favourite bands are reaching the ‘old age’ bracket and can no longer, understandably, quite capture the glories of the past. Even if equipment has improved down the years, Camel’s wonderful performance at The Royal Albert Hall demonstrated a remarkable ability to overcome major challenges and emerge literally stronger than ever.
Camel’s 1976 fourth studio album, ‘Moonmadness’, was the focus of this tour (having majored on their most famous album ‘The Snow Goose’ more recently) and the band played this in its entirety as the first part of the show. The band have had and tragically lost some fine keyboard players but by the end of ‘Song Within A Song’ you already knew that the new addition to the band, the young Pete Jones on keyboards but also vocals (and later saxophone), was considerably enhancing the overall sound of the band. Andrew Latimer, the only remaining original member and driving force behind the band admits that vocals have perhaps not been their main strength, but Jones actually sounds like he’s got Camel’s own DNA in his genes. At times, he was singing the lead where Colin Bass (the band’s long-standing and solid bass player since 1979) used to sing. What really worked was how Bass and often Latimer sang harmonies together to deliver a really powerful vocal sound.
After ‘Unevensong’ had finished the opening of the second set, we need to highlight Andrew Latimer’s development too. As someone who must have been to hell and back to overcome life-threatening illness and then had to adapt his guitar playing because of the after-effects to his hands, Latimer keeps developing both technique and feeling in his playing. An additional guitar solo at the end of 'Unevensong' really took it to a new level, one that I’d never seen before. Considering Camel are considered by many to be a Melodic/Soft Rock band, the material from the relatively newer ‘Dust And Dreams’, ‘Harbour Of Tears’ and the classic track ‘Ice’ really rocked along in every sense. This was carefully balanced by the atmospheric ‘Rajaz’, as its mesmerising sound-stage tracked through the desert landscape accompanied by Jones’s beautiful saxophone solo. The four of them, including Denis Clement on drums, looked as though they were simply having a great time.
‘Long Goodbyes’ was a nice surprise ending of the second set before the audience demanded an encore. I think Latimer was understandably looking somewhat emotional as he shared the band’s thanks for the marvellous response before ending with ‘Lady Fantasy’. After all, you had to go back forty-three years to find a time when they could command an audience at The Royal Albert Hall. Their long ‘come back’ from 1992 onwards has involved playing a lot of much smaller venues in the meantime. I’m pleased to say that this time though, they didn’t even need to play anything off ‘The Snow Goose’.
Big Boy Bloater & The LiMiTs,
Jack J. Hutchinson
The Black Heart, London
Wednesday 19th September 2018
Halfway through their current 'Pills' UK tour - Big Boy Bloater and The LiMiTs certainly delivered their meds at a packed and appreciative Black Heart in London's Camden last Wednesday night. Supported by his old mucker Jack J. Hutchinson, Bloater's trio, including Matt Cowley (drums) and Steven Oates (bass), are on the road from September to October, following the release of their latest critically acclaimed album ‘Pills’ in June. We were also lucky enough to grab a few words with the big man before his set, so watch out for that audio interview shortly.
Regularly paying his dues on a thriving Blues Rock circuit, unbelievably this was the first time I had caught Jack J. Hutchinson since he graced BluesRockFest with his band at The Red Lion in Gravesend exactly three years ago. Preferring a fedora to his trademark bowler hat, Hutchinson, clutching his acoustic guitar, quietly arrived on stage, without any fanfare, as part of his 'Paint No Fear' tour, and proceeded to open with two songs from his 'Paint No Fear' album, released at the end of last year which reached #1 in the Amazon Blues chart and the iTunes Blues top 5. Despite being on his tod, Jack opened with his first single from the album 'Rattlesnake Woman' - originally a Psychedelic Space Blues track featuring a duel guitar solo between Hutchinson and Mike Ross - of course a stripped back version tonight, as was 'I Got Your Number' which Jack could have quite easily dedicated to the punters who continued to chatter at the back of the venue. #shutthefuckup. Fair play to Jack as he warmly greeted the audience with a "How the fuck are you?" - and if that didn't get the Black Heart's attention then his next song 'Hip Slickin' most certainly did.
A swampy Cajun delight thanks to Hutchinson's foot stompin' slide - the third single from the album which understandably received a fair slice of Planet Rock airplay. Jack's amusing Italian beard anecdote led us to the pure Rock n' Roll of 'Rapture' and the lovely 'Solemn Song' - two of three songs that Hutchinson has written for RHR's 'Mahogany Drift' - due to be released on Thursday 1st November - a new powerhouse band featuring the triple guitar-frontman line-up of Hutchinson, Troy Redfern and Mike Ross, heavily rooted in the jam band scene, mixing the best of Southern Rock, Americana and Blues. Cue a Jack hand clapping anecdote from the Darlington Blues Festival a few days earlier, followed by the opening track and single from the album 'Deal With The Devil', which truly showcased the strength of his vocals. Indeed, given his final taxi story, this song might have inferred that Jack had taken a ride down to those Mississippi crossroads at some stage! The London based guitarist's eclectic tour continues into October with the Jack J Hutchinson Band, solo acoustic, Hutchinson, Ross & Redfern plus the Space Blues Extravaganza! On this evidence, whatever the format, I promise that I won't leave it another three years till I catch Jack again!
Unlike Jack, the last time I caught Big Boy Bloater and The LiMiTs was at Ramblin' Man Fair in early July. Following their storming Ramblin' Man set the previous year, Bloater was asked back to perform in the VIP tent on the Saturday, although, at the last minute, the band were asked to deputise for Chas and Dave as Chas was too ill to perform. Sadly, when writing this review, I heard of Chas Hodges's death, and therefore would like to dedicate this review to the legend that was Chas. Suffice to say, on that day, despite being totally unrehearsed, the band proceeded to totally blow away the uncovered Blues Stage on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon.
In contrast to JJH's entrance, Big Boy Bloater and The LiMiTs entered the stage to the strains of 'Blake's 7' (yes really) with Bloater in his trademark Hawaiian shirt and ten gallon hat with Steven and Matt manfully bringing up the rear as they opened with the title track from their excellent new album 'Pills'. BBB then adjusted his mic stand and with a vociferous 'Are You Ready?" launched into ''Robot Girlfriend’ from their previous 'Luxury Hobo' album - Bloater's thoughtful lyrics intertwined with a mean Blues guitar solo. "This is a hot one for the slackers", the Surrey Cockney announced - cue 'Slacker's Paradise' - another new one from 'Pills', as was 'The Digital Number Of The Beast', Bloater complaining it was "so fuckin' hot" as he raised his pint to the audience, with both the song title and the big fella's fine chops suggesting that he had also jumped into that taxi with his special guest down to those crossroads!
Dedicated to those paranoid people in the audience, the delightful 'I Got The Feeling Someone's Watching Me', with its divine tango beat and rhythm, further emphasised Cowley's superb drumming, whilst 'Pills' 'Friday Night's Alright For Drinking' (check out the official video), with its great chorus, showcased the big man's undoubted slide prowess. Oscar Wilde once said that "work was the curse of the drinking classes" - so once Bloater had enquired "How are we doing - has anyone died yet?" - we then got onto to the subject of hangovers, which quite appropriately took us back to Bloater and The City Shakers and ‘Messin With The Booze’, with another awesome Bloater guitar solo and a mighty nod to that riff from Booker T. & the M.G.'s. Classic! Back To 'Pills' and BBB's swipe at the music business or as he put it - "How shit the music industry is!" - and 'Stop Stringing Me Along' (another funny video), although he did take the opportunity of pointing us in the direction of his lovely better half Lisa, on the merch desk, plus also a shout out for 'Pills' backing vocalist Carly Greene who was also in the audience.
Three more newbies followed from 'Pills' - 'Unnaturally Charming', with a great opening riff and its slide guitar, all about a seriously disturbed individual - think "Dexter", said the American lady standing to the left of me, and then from psychopath to sociopath, the equally disturbing lyrics, but brilliant Rock n' Roll of 'Oops Sorry', and then finally, to complete the morbid trio, the brilliant guitar shuffle of 'The Saturday Night Desperation Shuffle’ - "for all the over 40's in the audience". As we said at Ramblin' Man - it’s nice when you are made to feel special, although if it's any consolation, at least this time he didn't dedicate it to all the ugly ones in the audience! Anyway, it was now time to feel 'Insanely Happy', and this Reggae track from his 2012 album 'The World Explained' certainly did what it said on the tin!
Bloater’s distorted guitar intro signalled the foot-tapping 'Devils Not Angels' with its killer Rock n' Roll guitar plus Bloater’s distinctive gruff but great vocals, although the Church Of Big Boy Bloater had to be seen to believed as he conducted the volume of his congregation in various shouts of "Oi!". Very funny. The brilliantly entitled 'I Love You (But I Can't Stand Your Friends)' - also from ‘Luxury Hobo’ - with its 70's Rock n' Roll style, big guitar and lyrics was followed by the fast mover ‘Leonard Cohen’ from ‘The World Explained’, although, I hold my hands up and admit that I actually missed this number, given that Bloater had made an appeal for another beer, which I duly obliged. Anything for a plug for the WRC and this time the big fella duly obliged, as well as plugging his merch for a final time and thanking JJH, the bar staff plus everyone else for coming out on a school night!
The band were joined for their 'Luxury Hobo' barnstormer 'It Came Out Of The Swamp' by Paul-Ronney Angel, the colourful Urban Voodoo Machine frontman, with Oates' brilliant baseline and imaginative lyrics, which Bloater delivered perfectly as usual in a very George Thorogood-esque manner, with Bloater's mean slide guitar duet with Angel's harmonica, thrown in for good measure. There was just time for one encore, 'This Ain't Rufus', from the latest album, and if you closed your eyes you could just imagine Chuck Berry jumping around on the stage to this one, although when I opened them, my abiding memory was Paul Ronney's head poking out of the dressing room door with a drink in his hand! Once again, this literal larger than life performer had truly rocked the Blues, with his trademark dirty strat Roots and R&B, totally complemented by his humorous lyrics and banter. Yes, we were insanely happy!
Devon Allman Project
+ Duane Betts
Islington Assembly Hall, London
Tuesday 4th September 2018
For fans of the Allman Brothers Band and Southern Rock in general, the names Allman and Betts will be forever inextricably linked and a guarantee of quality. This despite the fact that few of the ABB’s British fans would ever have seen the original line-up, with the twin lead guitars of Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, in person; Duane died in a motorcycle accident in 1971 and the band’s UK debut was not until the Knebworth Festival of 1974.
Subsequent London visits were restricted, I believe, to the Rainbow in Finsbury Park in 1980 and Hammersmith Odeon in 1991. Tensions between Betts and Gregg Allman led to the former leaving the ABB and any hopes of reconciliation were extinguished by the deaths last year of both Gregg and drummer Butch Trucks. Betts himself, who has never played in the UK other than with the ABB, resumed touring in the USA last year, but was recovering from a mild stroke at the time of the Islington gig (he subsequently underwent life saving surgery to relieve swelling on the brain, following a fall at his home).
So, it was against this backdrop that we welcomed the next generation of Allman & Betts this summer; Devon Allman (son of Gregg and nephew of Duane) has been a regular visitor, but it was our first sighting of Duane Betts (Dickey’s son). Press releases told us to expect a half hour support set from Duane, then an hour of Devon’s music, followed by a half hour encore of ABB classics featuring them both.
Duane, looking uncannily like his father as a young man, complete with cowboy hat and drooping moustache, opened his set with Betts Sr.’s ‘California Blues’. However, on this number and the following ‘Silver Train’ Duane seemed reserved (and maybe a little nervous) and was rather outshone by his fine slide guitarist Johnny Stachela.
During the middle part of this mini-set R. Scott Bryan joined the band on keyboards, sticking mainly to organ effects, and this seemed to encourage Duane to extend his solos during ‘Autumn Breeze’ and ‘Taking Time’. The tight rhythm section of Justin Corgan (electric bass) and John Lum (drums) joined Bryan in creating a very ABB feel to the latter part of the set, which culminated in a fine version of ‘Hot ‘Lanta’, with Betts and Stachela in full flight.
(DB setlist: California Blues; Silver Train; Autumn Breeze; (unannounced); Taking Time; Hot ‘Lanta)
During the interval I managed to buy one of the few copies of Duane’s debut CD ‘Sketches Of American Music’ (although £15 for what turned out to a half hour EP was a bit eye watering!), while overhearing many positive comments about Duane and, especially, Johnny Stachela.
As if to reaffirm his own guitar credentials and assert his headline billing, Devon came out blazing with an extended workout on ‘Mahalo’ from his early days with Honeytribe. After ‘Alive’ we got the first of several references to Devon’s musical influences, with a nice workout on The (Detroit) Spinners’ ‘I’ll Be Around’, complete with a few slightly cheesy synchronised dance steps by Devon, bassist Corgan and rhythm guitarist Jackson Stokes.
Then Duane rejoined the fun surprisingly early (Stokes would also alternate with Stachela during the rest of the gig) for the ABB’s ‘Blue Sky’, before matters took an unexpected twist or two. Devon switched to acoustic as seats were brought on stage for all the six-stringers and we were treated to the Grateful Dead’s ‘Friend Of The Devil’ and Gregg Allman’s ‘Multi-Colored Lady’.
Whether the tribute to his late father had affected Devon emotionally, I don’t know, but Devon was then absent from the stage for over 20 minutes of his own set, as keyboardist Nicholas David (a dead ringer for Dr. John in appearance!) sang Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’, which was serviceable while being at odds with the rest of the setlist, before Duane stormed through a lengthy version of his father’s classic ‘In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed’ (which replaced two songs from the printed setlist, suggesting that it may have been unscheduled and making Duane’s solo even more impressive).
Devon returned to hit us with another surprise, as he romped through a great version of Don Henley’s ‘Boys Of Summer’, which sounded remarkably fresh for a song from such an over-produced decade as the 80’s.
With Bryan moving to percussion for this set and locking in tightly with Corgan and Lum, the rhythm section was building up a head of steam for the ABB finale and they didn’t disappoint: storming runs through ‘Dreams’ and ‘Midnight Rider’ sent us home well satisfied and wondering what it must have been like to stand in front of a stage when the ABB was in its prime. It’s good to know that the torch has been passed on to safe hands, though.
(DA setlist: Mahalo; Alive; I’ll Be Around; Blue Sky; Friend Of The Devil; Multi-Colored Lady; What’s Going On; In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed; Boys Of Summer; Dreams; Midnight Rider)
Gary Smith (photos courtesy of Tim Russell)
The Kris Barras Band
+ Matt Edwards
The 100 Club, London
Monday 24th September 2018
One of the joys of the Blues/Rock productions at this venue is the quality of the support acts and tonight was no exception. Guitarist Matt Edwards’ trio may not be the first name on anyone’s lips, but it’s bands like this which are the bedrock of the scene and which always reward the effort it takes to get to venues an hour or so earlier.
I’d only caught Matt live once before (at the same venue), but was impressed enough with what I heard to buy his debut album ‘Follow The Plan’ (now only available as a download). Somewhere down the line I’ve managed to miss the follow-up album ‘Four Berry Jam’, as the band is currently promoting Matt’s third and most recent CD ‘Backward Roots’.
Given a generous 50 minute set, Matt was able play seven songs from ‘Backward Roots’ (there are ten in total on the album), with only the opener ‘Picking At The Bone’ and ‘Behind The Wall’ taken from ‘Four Berry Jam’. Pennies In The Dirt was my personal favourite and Matt’s playing reminded me a little of another under-rated guitarist, Mitch Laddie (who, coincidentally, guests on one track of Matt’s debut CD).
Matt was ably supported by Stuart Dixon (bass) and Gareth Batson (drums) and, while there was perhaps little variation in tempo across the nine songs, they ensured that our hearts and feet were warmed up before the main event.
(ME setlist: Picking At The Bone; Why Do You; Pennies In The Dirt; Nowhere Else To Hide; Aim High; Behind The Wall; Always Going To Fool A Few; Before The Sun; Two Faces)
That main event was the Kris Barras Band’s biggest headline gig in London so far. In the six short months since the album release gig for ‘The Divine And Dirty’ at Thousand Island (formerly Upstairs At The Garage in Highbury), which was witnessed by a few dozen of us, this band has fast become the new “big thing” on the Blues/Rock scene.
In that time Kris has also found the time to tour with the Supersonic Blues Machine, having replaced Lance Lopez as the band’s frontman, and confidently shared stages on that tour with the band’s special guest, ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons. The KBB’s own reputation increases by leaps and bounds and it was no mean achievement to draw 300 people to the 100 Club on a quiet Monday night.
From the opener ‘Heart On Your Sleeve’, taken from the self-released ‘Lucky 13’ album, the energy level felt greater than before the interval and that is intended as a compliment to the headliner’s, rather than as any criticism of the support act. Perhaps Elliott Blackler (bass) was holding his notes a fraction longer or maybe Will Beavis (drums) was driving the beat a bit quicker; perhaps the presence of fourth musician in Josiah J. Manning (keyboards) made the sound fuller or maybe it was the fact that the band used its own sound guy. Probably it was a combination of all these factors, but whatever it was certainly grabbed and kept everyone’s attention.
Understandably the band was there to further promote ‘The Divine And Dirty’ and the next three songs (‘Kick Me Down’, ‘Stitch Me Up’ and ‘Blood On Your Hands’) were taken from it. Although all three titles could be connected to Kris’ former career as a successful mixed martial arts fighter, I’m not sure that any of them are!
The following pairing of ‘What A Way To Go’ and ‘Fortunate Son’ do not appear in the bands CD’s, so are presumably new songs; if so, they lost nothing by comparison with the recorded titles. ‘Propane’ set the crowd up nicely for a sing-along to the infectious ‘Hail Mary’, which scored from it’s acapella vocal introduction through to last notes of its scorching guitar solo.
‘Small Town Blues’ and ‘Nothing To Hide’ took us back to the ‘Lucky 13’ album, before the less familiar (and possibly new?) ‘I Don’t Want The Blues’ set up another trilogy from ‘The Divine And Dirty’. ‘She’s More Than Enough’ and ‘Lovers Or Losers’ sandwiched what was for many of us the highlight of the night: the extended guitar solo on Kris’ heartfelt tribute to his late father, ‘Watching Over Me’.
‘Lucky 13’ provided the closing ‘Rock ‘n Roll Running Through My Veins’, although no KBB gig would have been complete without the leader’s tip of the hat to Hendrix, so the guitar was played behind Kris’ head and with his teeth to the obvious enjoyment of the large crowd.
There surely won’t be many more opportunities to enjoy this band in smaller venues (their next London show will be at The Garage on 23rd February), so catch them when you can!
(KB setlist: Heart On Your Sleeve; Kick Me Down; Stitch Me Up; Blood On Your Hands; What A Way To Go; Fortunate Son; Propane; Hail Mary; Small Town Blues; Drum Solo; Nothing To Hide; I Don’t Want The Blues; She’s More Than Enough; Watching Over Me; Lovers Or Losers; Rock ‘n Roll Running Through My Veins)
Gary Smith (photos courtesy of Tim Russell)
The Bad Flowers, Federal Charm and Those Damn Crows
The Borderline, London
Sunday 30th September 2018
It maybe the final night of the joint headline UK tour, but to the naked eye surely it would be more appropriately billed as a triple header.
This intimate venue in the heart of London’s West End is packed as Those
Damn Crows take to the stage. First on they maybe, but with so many TDC t-shirts in the crowd, it’s obvious who many fellow Rockers have come here to see. With one of the best debut albums released over two years ago and re-released this week, the South Wales quintet have certainly put in the road-work to know how to make the most of a criminally short thirty minute slot.
Opening with ‘Don’t Give A Damn’ and powering through fan favourites
‘Fear Of The Broken’ and ‘Someone Someday’, the new single and current Planet Rock favourite ‘Blink Of An Eye’ has everyone singing, before the fist pumping anthemic ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Dead!’ brings it all to a premature end. The words “going places” do not even begin to describe the future of this great band.
Next up it’s the revitalised Federal Charm who have also recently released a fantastic new album in ‘Passenger’, and with two new members, vocalist
Tom Guyer and drummer Josh Zahler, from the minute they hit the stage it’s obvious they are in no mood to mess around.
The opening track from the new album ‘Swing Sinner’, with its rising
anthemic chanting, kicks off a powerful hour of great songs and excellent musicianship. As the set progresses it’s hard to believe that just an hour before we were chatting to a guitarist with a bad leg, a drummer with a bad finger and a singer trying to save his voice by not talking!
New tracks ‘Can’t Rule Me’, the brilliant first single ‘Choke’, along with
‘Death Rattle’, ‘Nowhere Is Home’, ‘Halo’ and ‘Parting Words’, all make an appearance. It’s clear to see just how much the band are enjoying this, none more so than Paul Bowe, who makes the lead guitar look effortless, with great solos and minimum fuss, he typifies the fact that tonight is all about the music, the fans and enjoying the occasion.
Not solely relying on the latest album, new life is given to older songs in
‘Masterplan’ and ’Concrete’, and before we know it, another hour has flown by. With only ten minutes break, the guys are back out at the bar and merch stand for a beer and a chat. Top guys and a lesson in perseverance - surely the next stop will see larger venues and bigger audiences.
After alternating the headline slot on the tour so far, tonight the closing hour belongs to The Bad Flowers, and if there is one thing that rewards endless gigging it’s the ability to close shows such as these.
It seems to be an unwritten rule that bands with just three members always make the most noise and Tom, Dale and birthday boy Karl are certainly no exception. Relying heavily on the latest ‘Starting Gun’ album (ten out of the eleven tracks are brought out to play here), it’s a blisteringly powerful hour with just three older songs to keep the die-hard fans happy.
The opener ‘Hurricane’ perfectly sets the scene for some great riffage to come. ‘I Don’t Believe’ and ‘Lions Blood’ keep up the storming pace as the crowd lap it up. Maximum rock out mode is put on hold for the slow burning brooding of ‘Let’s Misbehave’. It’s a short hold though as things are rocked back to the max with the excellent ‘Who Needs A Soul’.
‘Yonders Wall’ opens a three-song break from the album, but keeps up the breathless pace, and with the evening heading towards its inevitable conclusion, ‘Rich Man’ and ‘City Lights’ bring the curtain down on a truly memorable night.
So with the evening and tour over, this really does feel like one of those “I was there” moments. Surely if the “Those Federal Flowers” bandwagon were ever to roll into town again, The Borderline would not be big enough to park the bus. A truly great night, and one, probably, not to be repeated.
Phil C. (photos courtesy of Robert Sutton)
Steve Hackett's Genesis Revisited
The Royal Festival Hall, London
Thursday 4th October 2018
Some might say that it must be a reviewer's dream not only to attend a gig without a support band, but also to review a gig where the Prog genre dictates that you only get to see ten or so songs at most! Well last Thursday night's Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited gig at London's Festival Hall was a case of a dream come true - an evening of outstanding quality rather than quantity, spanning the ex-Genesis guitarist's rich musical career.
This was the third night of his eight date UK tour, and as Steve rightly said in his introduction, "We have a slightly bigger band than usual tonight!" Step forward Nad Sylvan (vocals), Roger King (keyboards), Rob Townsend (clarinet, flute and keyboards), Gary O'Toole (drums) and Jonas Reingold (bass and guitars) plus a 41 piece Heart Of England Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Bradley Thachuk, thrown in for good measure! Understandably, the jury was out for the Genesis fans present as to the choice of such a sterile/classical venue plus the possible orchestral dilution of some of their treasured classics. Indeed the setting was so different to London's Lyceum Theatre back in 1971 as some Festival Hall late arrivals annoyed us Proggers by making their way to their seats well after this gig had kicked off!
Anyway, rightfully taking centre stage, Hackett effortlessly opened with 'A Trick Of The Tail's' delightful 'Dance On A Volcano', in immediate harmony with Townsend's clarinet, with the baton wielding Thacuk already leaping around in the background and the pony-tailed Reingold meaning business on his multi-necked guitar. O'Toole's driving drums heralded Hackett's instrumental 'Out Of The Body' from his 2015 solo album 'Wolflight', which nicely led straight into another instrumental - the power and depth of the Philharmonic never being more evident than on 'The Steppes' - from another solo album 'Defector', released way back in 1980 - with both Townsend's clarinet solo and the booted and suited O'Toole's pounding drumming embellishing its mystical feel.
King's spine-tingling keys from Genesis's 'Selling England By The Pound' on the classic 'Firth Of Fifth', saw the larger than life Sylvan continue to step very nicely into Gabriel's very large size 9's, although Hackett's guitar solo had to be seen to be believed, complemented by another stand-out clarinet solo by Townsend. "Still love lots of these songs" Hackett enthused. "So do we" came the reply from the cheap seats. "Cheques in the post" Steve replied as he continued with another from 'Selling England By The Pound', in fact its beautiful/magical opening track 'Dancing With The Moonlight Night', Nad's a cappella intro setting the scene as Hackett picked up the pace with another guitar masterclass. Steve's acoustic flamenco intro on 'Blood On The Rooftops' from 'Wind & Wuthering' not only reminded us that there was indeed a regenesis after Gabriel, but also O'Toole's cool vocal whilst tubthumping (how do they do that?) brought back glorious memories of said Mr. Collins. 'Shadow Of The Hierophant', from 1975's 'The Acolyte', wrapped up the first half, and if any song affirmed the natural synthesis of the band, the orchestra and the venue, then this was it. Joined by Amanda Lehmann, the fusion of her delicate vocal, the power of both the band (particularly Reingold's bass) and the orchestra, and some great lighting, produced a spellbinding ending to a splendid first half - of course, the silver Proggers as well, are always grateful for a comfort break!
After the interval, they returned with another brace from 'Wind & Wuthering' - namely the oriental flavoured intro to the instrumental 'In That Quiet Earth' - a real opening loosener - melded with 'Afterglow' - Hackett's distinctive opening riff leading the way for Sylvan to dispatch it with another class vocal. Indeed, talking to Nad afterwards about dealing with the conflicting vocal styles of both Gabriel and Collins, Nad said that he just interprets things his way - making it his own. Well, on the evidence, Sylvan certainly keeps these songs alive and kicking. Hackett then introduced 'Serpentine Song' from his 2003 album 'Watch The Storms' - Steve reminiscing about family times spent by Hyde Park's lake - particularly fitting as his flautist brother John made it a family affair on this moving number with Amanda joining in again on some really delicious vocal harmonies. The opening to the instrumental 'El Nino' from last year's 'Night Siren' always has me thinking of Jeff Wayne's 'War Of The Worlds'. Not at all a criticism, more the fact that it immediately smacks you round the chops, even more so given a 41 piece orchestra, with O'Toole's bouncy drumming keeping tabs with Hackett's out of this world fret work.
Hackett then sat down with his acoustic guitar - cue the defining moment of the evening and the final song. Indeed if any track totally defined 70's Prog then I defy you to find anything more poignant than 'Supper's Ready' from their album 'Foxtrot'. It really has everything. The combination of Hackett, Sylvan, Reingold (guitar) Townsend (flute), O'Toole, King and Thacuk's orchestra, in the early construction of this masterpiece, was truly breathtaking. The audience of course then chipped in in unison shouting "A Flower", before it was "All Change" as they all took us to that promised land with THAT mesmerising keys solo from the exceptional King before Hackett and Sylvan left us with tears of joy with THAT outro! It was indeed the mighty one. Well worth dining out on. 26 minutes of perfection. So, how on earth do you find an encore to follow that? Well 'Nursery Cryme's 'The Musical Box' made a good fist of it - guaranteeing that the faithful hit the long road home as merry old souls after a wonderful night of good old Prog. Suffice to say, that in the end Thacuk's outstanding orchestra and the excellent venue did indeed complement Hackett's outstanding trusty musicians and music. It was truly immense. And despite the promise of a live DVD (the gig was filmed) and the fact that Steve returns with his 'Selling England By The Pound' tour in November 2019 - I can't wait that long! See you then at The London Palladium tonight!
Primal Fear/Riot V
The Dome, Tufnell Park, London
Thursday 11th October 2018
Last Thursday I was in Baden-Wurttemberg strolling around the breathtaking Black Forest; this Thursday Baden-Wurttemberg came to London in the shape of Primal Fear. These long-established Metal commandos, initially all from the same area of South West Germany, were here to play their unique blend of the genre at the Dome in Tufnell Park. This remarkable coincidence could only be a portent, a psychic signal to make my way to the Dome to see if Primal Fear’s music could match the staggering natural splendour of their homeland. Well, that was my excuse, and I stuck with it as I headed to the Dome on Thursday for another evening of explosive live music.
First on stage were New Yorkers Riot V, initially formed as Riot way back in 1975, when they were one of the innovators of Metal music in America. Although some personnel changes are to be expected over 43 years, Riot has experienced more than most, featuring a total of 25 musicians over this period. The band has also suffered more tragedy than most, with the deaths of two ex-members, vocalists Rhett Forrester and Guy Speranza, and, early in 2012, that of their only surviving founder member, lead guitarist Mark Reale, mid-tour, from complications relating to Crohn’s disease. After completing the tour without Mark, the band had a two year break and when it reformed, out of respect to Mark, it was renamed Riot V. The new line up remained true to Riot’s legacy, fallen band mates and their fans. So much so that, in January this year, Riot was inducted into the prestigious Hall of Heavy Metal History. So far Riot V has shown more stability than Riot’s previous incarnations with a consistent line-up, unchanged after nearly five years: Todd Michael Hall (lead vocals), Mike Flyntz (lead guitar), Nick Lee (rhythm guitar), Don Van Stavern (bass) and Frank Gilchreist (drums).
Riot V’s set was selected from across their huge 43 year back catalogue - in one sense they played as a tribute band to their previous incarnations. However, the current tour is partly to promote their latest album, ‘Armor of Light’, and the set included three songs from the album. Opener ‘Victory’ had clear links to the band’s Metal roots. It allowed Todd to demonstrate his ability to reach, and maintain, high-pitched notes as well as featuring Melodic guitar leads, backed by power Metal drumming. ‘Caught in the Witch’s Eye’ reflected the band’s Hard Rock influences and ‘Angel’s Thunder, Devil’s Reign’ was a tribute to the Heavy Metal lifestyle. Interspersed with these new tracks were several old favourites, notably ‘Flight of the Warrior’ and ‘Take me Back’. The set finished with three Riot classics that had the audience pounding the air and singing along to every chorus line: ‘Swords and Tequila’, ‘Warrior’ and ‘Thundersteel’. Overall, Riot V had played a loud, pulsating set of Melodic Metal, with the skill and professionalism that comes with experience, combined with the enthusiasm of musicians who love what they’re playing.
Next up were headliners Primal Fear, founded in Germany in 1997. Primal Fear’s members have undergone remarkably few changes during its 21 years existence; three of the five band members on stage were in the original line-up: Ralf Scheepers (lead vocals), Tom Naumann (guitar) and Mat Sinner (bass). Relative newcomers Alex Bayrodt (guitar since 2011) and Francesco Jovino (drums since 2015) completed Thursday’s line-up.
As 9pm approached, Primal Fear hit the stage running with an explosion of sound that immediately raised the Dome’s aura to a new level. Ralf Scheepers, sporting a chin-strap style beard, was the last member to take the stage, preceded by a hair-raising screech as the band burst into ‘Final Embrace’, rapidly followed by ‘Chainbreaker’. Both songs were well known: the audience knew exactly when they were expected to clap, punch the air, sing the chorus lines or whatever. Remembering that this is the ‘Apocalypse’ tour, timed to promote the band’s similarly named latest album, five of the next eight songs came from said album. ‘Apocalypse’ maintains Primal Fear’s lyrical traditions of fantasy, religion and political ideals, leaving much to the imagination. Often songs from new albums give the audience a chance to relax, recover and quietly take in the new material - not with Primal Fear who, despite recording thirteen studio albums, have the enviable distinction of never having released a weak one. Starting with the aggressive vocals of ‘Blood, Sweat & Fear’, and continuing all the way through to the Melodic hooks in ‘King of Madness’, the new songs maintained the barrage of riffage and adrenalin-fuelled Metal that characterise the Primal Fear sound. Following the leads from the charismatic Ralf, the crowd were soon joining the chorus lines and rocking with the band. New songs out of the way, the band focused on crowd favourites. ‘Nuclear Fire’ saw Ralf controlling his guitarists like a snake charmer and, by the time ‘Metal is Forever’ was in full swing the atmosphere was electric - including the first proper, heaving, bouncing mosh pit I've seen for a couple of decades. Though, back in the day, I never heard a plea to the moshers from the stage along the lines of “Great to see you enjoying yourselves - but please be careful not to bang into the people around you”!
So, overall, an excellent evening of live entertainment. Riot V’s enthusiastic presentation of Melodic Metal set the scene for a power Metal free-for-all from Primal Fear that shows what five committed, skilful musicians can achieve when coming together to perform music in this bright genre. Ralf’s vocal capacity was complemented by Tom and Alex’s compellling guitars, and all held in place by the sound rhythms from Mat and Francesco. This gave the audience an eclectic evening of Primal Fear’s trademarks: Ralf’s outstanding voice, twin guitar solos, killer riffs and infectious catchy choruses.
Flight of the warrior
Caught in the Witches Eye
Take Me Back
Angel's Thunder, Devil's Reign
Swords and Tequila
Blood, Sweat & Fear
Face the Emptiness
Hounds of Justice
Under Your Spell
Eye of the Storm
King of Madness
The End Is Near
When Death Comes Knocking
Metal Is Forever
Fighting the Darkness
Running in the Dust
Glenn Hughes Performs
Classic Deep Purple
Electric Ballroom, Camden, London
Monday 15th October 2018
Glenn Hughes brought some Californian Sun to Camden's Electric Ballroom on a miserable evening in good old London town last Monday night. The final gig of his nine date Glenn Hughes Performs Classic Deep Purple Live UK tour, saw the former bassist and singer, known to millions as the Voice of Rock, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, and the current front man for Rock super group Black Country Communion, perform a dynamic, turn-back-the-clocks, two-hour live extravaganza homage to his tenure in MK 3 and MK 4 incarnations of Deep Purple - one of music history's most seminal and influential Rock and Roll groups.
An added bonus on the night was Laurence Jones as support, who we not only saw smash London's The Borderline nine months ago, but we also had the pleasure of interviewing Laurence beforehand. Once labelled as “the future of the Blues”, the 25 year old prodigy's latest album 'The Truth' was released in March and he’s toured with Buddy Guy, Walter Trout, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, the legendary Johnny Winter and many more. Over the past five years, Laurence has come into his own, and with his new album, he has now developed his own creative skin by writing and performing songs that are distinctive to his unique sound and identity plus he was hailed by Planet Rock Radio as one to watch.
Despite obviously being a much shorter set to when he headlined The Borderline, Laurence had in fact added to his trusty ranks on the night, with backing singers Tizzy and Christina joining ex-King King keyboard player Bennett Holland plus his ten year musical engine room partnership of Phil Wilson (Ash's brother) on drums and Greg Smith on bass. Jones once again opened with 'What Would You Do?' one of the stand-outs from the new album - the additional dimension of Bennett's keys immediately adding depth with Laurence throwing in his first guitar solo on the night for good measure. Wilson and Smith's opener on Laurence's favourite track from the album - 'Gone Away' - with its palpable Stevie Ray Vaughan/Jimi Hendrix influence, saw Jones stepping back and connecting this time with a much larger audience on this ballad, thanks to a tremendous rockin' chord guitar solo.
And talking of Jimi - if the former hadn't already warmed Laurence to those seeing him for the very first time - then his next two tracks most certainly did. Wilson's intro on Jones's Dylan staple 'All Along The Watchtower', lead to another unbelievable execution of a classic that I will never get tired of seeing, but even that was bettered by 'Thunder In The Sky', the title track from his 2012 album. Holland's hammond intro ultimately seeing Jones blowing away those Gary Moore Blues with one of the first numbers Laurence ever wrote, an eleven minute monster which at one stage saw the pine-stripe suited and booted Jones crouching on the stage, in front of his Orange Amps stack, straining every sinew to get that last perfect note out of his guitar. "London let me hear you say yeah" demanded Laurence as the band belted out 'What's It Gonna Be', the title track from his 2015 album, before another "London put your hands in the air", as Jones's audience duly surrendered, even throwing in a few "hey" "hey's", on the appropriately named 'Live It Up' - taken from his 'Take Me High' album. And if the crowd did need any encouraging, Jones asked "Have you all had a good time?" as he simultaneously pointed towards his merch stand at the back of the Ballroom, before he finished his fab set with his latest single and his Creedence Clearwater Revival cover of 'Fortunate Son'. Indeed there were more than a few fortunate sons (and daughters) in the Electric Ballroom tonight who had witnessed Laurence for the first time and, no doubt, on this evidence they would be back for more!
Just ten month's ago we were walking towards the Hammersmith Apollo with our 2017 WRC Best Reviewed CD award tucked under our arm to present it to Black Country Communion. After that awesome gig, a picture of a beaming Glenn Hughes, clutching said award, was posted on social media. Turn the clock back even further to October 2016 and the release of Hughes's brilliant album 'Resonate', plus gigs we saw supporting said album at London's Islington Assembly Hall three months later and at a very wet Ramblin' Man Fair in July 2017, and all this totally reinforced the fact that the 66 year old's zest for life and Rock is still undiminished. Indeed those bass guitar pinkies and that incredible voice are still willing, despite some of his contemporaries falling by the wayside. However, to Hughes's credit, it's a case, most importantly and understandably, of quality rather than quantity, hence this project to take Classic Deep Purple Live on a World tour, which unbelievably began back in September last year in Sydney!
The sound of the Californian radio airwaves intro no doubt made the Cannock born Los Angeles based Hughes feel at home as he made his way onto the Electric Ballroom stage. "Thank you so much" as the crowd welcomed the flowing red hair, sideburns and shades of Hughes with rapturous applause. Joining Glenn on lead vocals and bass guitar, were new drummer for the project Fernando Escobedo plus the 'Resonate' tour duo of Soren Anderson (guitar) and Jesper Bo Hansen (keyboards). Opening with the title track of 1974 album 'Stormbringer', not only saw Hughes go straight for the jugular with 'that' incredible voice, but impressive mid-section solos from Anderson and then from Bo Hansen, duly endorsed Jesper's undoubted Hammond dexterity to my "Lord is God" Deep Purple buddy standing next to me. And to further rub it in, Bo Hansen's pounding keys on 'Might Just Take Your Life' were on the verge of extracting the Michael, although, not to be outdone, flat capped new boy Fernando was well and truly keeping up with the, ahem, Paice on this gem from 1974's 'Burn'. "Are you ready?" enquired Hughes as he launched into another extraordinary vocal on 'Sail Away' - again from the aforementioned 'Burn' - with its familiar infectious riff and beat.
Hughes's enthusiasm and emotion was already palpable. "It's good to be home. I want to thank you all for coming and standing by this old dude" was clearly sincere, as was his introduction to late Deep Purple guitarist Tommy Bolin. Cue 'Getting Tighter', a track that Hughes co-wrote with Bolin and also sang lead vocals on 1975's appropriately named 'Come Taste The Band' album - its fourteen minute execution not only left us licking our lips but was also a fitting tribute to Bolin, who Glenn described as one of the greatest guitarists of his generation in the mid-seventies". After 'Getting Tighter' it was now "getting hotter" added Hughes. "How are you feeling?" as Glenn proceeded to tell another anecdote about another track he co-wrote on 'Come Taste The Band' with David Coverdale - namely 'You Keep On Moving' - on which they shared lead vocals on the album. No need though for Coverdale tonight as Hughes's opening bass solo, complemented by outstanding solos from Bo Hansen and Anderson respectively, kept us moving including a sing-along chorus, before Hughes rounded off an exceptional vocal with an a cappella. Eat your heart out David!
Despite still feeling "damn hot" Hughes "Could still feel the love in the room" as Bo Hansen's awesome keyboard solo including a snippet of Mikis Theodorakis 'Zorba The Greek' plus inevitable shouts of "Oi" saw Glenn demand "Let's take this home" before the hand-clapping led us to the brilliant 'You Fool No One' which included a guitar solo, Blues outro, the first bars to 'High Ball Shooter' and a drum solo from Escobedo! Hughes's sermon from the heart that "Rock music is not dead' was well appreciated by his troops, particularly as he added that he intends in future to concentrate more on gigs than album work. Although just to ram the message well and truly home, Anderson's meandering intro eventually resulted in perhaps the most famous Rock riff of all time, that took us to that Lake Geneva shoreline and the classic 'Smoke On The Water'. And if we needed further proof of Hughes's vocal dexterity (which we didn't), his outro on a cover of Hoagy Carmichael's 'Georgia On My Mind' - perhaps not everyone's cup of tea - was true to the version à la Deep Purple, Mk IV and brought the set to a close.
With some more Deep Purple big hitters waiting in the wings, the band deservedly returned for their encore, Hughes's welcome "I know where your live and your midddle names" of course more a message of peace and love rather than war. It's fair to say that Anderson's opening riff on 'Burn' runs 'Smoke On The Water' a very close second classically speaking, but for mine this was the stand-out so far on the night - the musical components of this title track coming together perfectly in all its glory. In fact this performance of 'Burn' was on a par with Black Country Communion's take at High Voltage just over seven year's ago so just imagine our surprise as Glenn welcomed his BCC brother Joe Bonamassa on to the stage for his last two numbers 'Mistreated' and 'Highway Star'.
To cries of "Hey", Joe rocked back and forth with his guitar in his GB jacket and baseball cap as the starstruck crowd joined in with "I've been mistreated". Well not this time as we were well and truly treated to the outstanding combination of Hughes's vocal and Bonamassa's virtuosos guitar work on this thirteen minute spectacular. Soren returned to the stage as Glenn handed over his bass guitar and duly grabbed a mic before Fernando's thumping intro for 'Highway Star' saw another Jesper solo before Hughes joined his guitar trio striding in unison towards the front of the stage. With his new found freedom, Glenn leapt around the stage with mic in hand as Joe and Soren finished the set with some amazing guitar harmonies. Wow! "London, thank you so much" Hughes cried out at he left the stage, once again to rapturous applause. As Staffordshire's finest so eloquently put on the night: "Stand up for Rock music. It's not going anywhere. It's in this room. It's living, breathing, feeling it, sweating it. Seeing it, talking it, playing it and forever hold its peace." On tonight's evidence Glenn, thanks for practicing what you preach and for keeping Rock music very much alive and arse-kicking!
The London Palladium
Tuesday 9th October 2018
Procol Harum are an English Rock band formed from the ashes of Southend’s Paramounts in 1967 by pianist Gary Brooker and lyricist Keith Reid. Gary Brooker originally founded the Paramounts along with guitarist, and future member of Procol Harum, Robin Trower in 1962. Mainly an R&B band playing the hits of the day, they had moderate success in 1964 with their version of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller's ‘Poison Ivy’, before disbanding in 1966. Brooker and Reid went on to recruit organist Mathew Fisher, guitarist Ray Royer, session drummer Bill Eyden (Bobby Harrison joined on drums at the time of the recording, but unfortunately for him, his drums were not used on the released version!), and bassist David Knights for their spellbinding debut single, ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, which subsequently turned out to be their biggest hit reaching no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart in May 1967. With a structure reminiscent of Baroque music and a counter melody based on J. S. Bach's Orchestral Suite N° 3 in D Major played by Fisher's Hammond organ, Brooker's vocals and Reid's lyrics.
Procol Harum have released twelve studio albums and eight live albums over their fifty one year career, with twenty six different members having passed through the ranks at one time or another. Their musical style ranges from Progressive Rock, Classical, Baroque, Soul and Blues. Apparently the band name has been said to have come from Guy Stevens, their original manager, who named the band after producer Gus Dudgeon's Burmese cat! Their debut album ‘Procol Harum’ was released in 1967 on Regal Zonophone and saw the arrival of guitarist Robin Trower and drummer B.J. Wilson to the line-up, replacing Ray Royer and Bobby Harrison respectively. The line-up of Brooker (piano/vocals), Trower (guitar/vocals), Fisher (organ/vocals), Knights (bass), Wilson (drums), and Reid (lyricist) lasted for three albums including the excellent ‘Shine On Brightly’ in 1968, and arguable their best album, ‘A Salty Dog’ in 1969.
Fisher departed the band in 1969 to be replaced with former Paramount Chris Copping for the ‘Home’ album in 1970. After the release of the fifth album ‘Broken Barricades’ in 1971, Trower left to form his own power trio and was replaced by Dave Ball (Big Bertha and future Bedlam) for the album ‘In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’ in 1972. From late 1972 until 1977, the group's guitarist was Mick Grabham (Plastic Penny, Cochise), he featured on the next four eclectic and rather interesting albums, ‘Grand Hotel’ (1973), ‘Exotic Birds and Fruit’ (1974), ‘Procol's Ninth’ (1975) and ‘Something Magic’ (1977). The band broke up in 1977 due to dwindling album sales, and the musical shift towards Punk rendering Prog Rockers redundant!
Triumphantly the band reformed in 1991 with Brooker, Fisher, Trower and Reid (Wilson died of pneumonia in 1990), and released ‘The Prodigal Stranger’ album. The drum stool was occupied by Mark Brzezicki (Big Country) and bass guitar duties were provided by Dave Bronze (Dr. Feelgood, Eric Clapton). Trower bailed before the tour commenced to be replaced by Tim Renwick (Al Stewart, Pink Floyd) and then by Geoff Whitehorn (If, Crawler & Roger Chapman). Whitehorn continues to be Procol’s guitar player after twenty seven years of service!
In July 1997 a special concert was arranged by Procol fans to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the success of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. Procol Harum reunited to play at the Harlequin Theatre, Redhill, Surrey. The role call that night included; Gary Brooker, Chris Copping, Peter Solley, Matthew Fisher, Mick Grabham, Alan Cartwright, Graham Broad, Matthew Pegg and Dave Bronze.
Since 2001 the band, comprising Brooker (piano/vocals), Fisher (keyboards), Geoff Whitehorn (guitar), Matt Pegg (bass) and Mark Brzezicki (drums), has toured consistently. In 2003 the band released the well-crafted studio album, ‘The Well's On Fire’. Their momentous concert at the Union Chapel in London on Friday 12th December 2003 was released on DVD in 2004 as ‘Live at the Union Chapel’. Fisher then left Procol Harum in 2004 to become a computer programmer of all things! Josh Phillips (Diamond Head) replaced Fisher in 2004, leaving Brooker as the only original performing member. Geoff Dunn (Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Van Morrison) replaced Brzezicki on drums in 2006. In July 2007 the band played two concerts at St John's, Smith Square in London to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the success of ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. In November 2014 Procol Harum appeared at the Dominion Theatre in London with the BBC Concert Orchestra and the Crouch End Festival Chorus in an event recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 2's Friday Night is Music Night.
The band's twelfth studio album, ‘Novum’, was released in April 2017 on Eagle Rock Entertainment. It was the first album to not feature the lyrics of Keith Reid, instead Pete Brown had that honour. During the bands concert at The Royal Festival Hall in London in March 2017, Gary Brooker fell of the stage at the end of the first half and was seriously hurt, but reappeared for the second half with his head bandaged and nursing a broken hand. In July 2009, Matthew Fisher won a British court judgment awarding him 40% of the music royalties from 2005 onwards for 1967's ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, which had previously gone 50% to Brooker for the music and 50% to Reid for the lyrics.
This special Procol Harum concert at the prestigious Palladium Theatre London on 9th October 2018 featured the English Chamber Choir and The Senbla Orchestra, conducted by David Firman. The Procol line-up included Gary Brooker on piano and vocals, long-time member Geoff Whitehorn on guitar, Matt Pegg on bass, Geoff Dunn on drums and Josh Phillips on keyboards. The concert was billed as ‘Procol Harum: Still There’ll Be More’, named after the new compilation box set ‘Still There’ll Be More’ An Anthology 1967 – 2017', released in March 2018 on Esoteric Recordings.
It seems the trend these days is for veteran Rock bands to hook up with orchestras and go out and play their best selling album in its entirety! Procol Harum are no exception, but what sets them apart from most veteran Rock bands is that they are old hands at this, having worked with orchestras on and off for almost fifty years. They even had chart success with the release of ‘Procol Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’ in 1972, of which the entire album was played at this concert. Procol’s leader and only original member, Gary Brooker MBE is now at the ripe old age of 73! And still doing it! This year he had the prestigious honour of being awarded with the ‘Outstanding Contribution’ at Prog Rock Magazine’s Progressive Music Awards.
Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Procol Harum! Their mammoth two and half hour, seventeen song set was a game of two halves, bookended by the exquisite and beguiling ‘Conquistador’, from their 1967 debut album ‘Procol Harum’, also featured on their 1972 live album ‘Procol Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’, from which the song was lifted and released as a single that went on to be their third biggest hit!
Brooker clearly had some kind off throat infection going on, which was quite evident in the delivery of the first few lines of the song, but once he got going and hit his stride his voice evened out and the notes began to ring true. ‘All This and More’ from the classic 1969 album ‘A Salty Dog’, also featured on the Edmonton live album, flowed nicely over us like a warm breeze, with everyone in the band, orchestra and choir settling in and finding their groove. ‘Luskus Delph’ from the 1971 album ‘Broken Barricades’ gently enveloped the auditorium with its lush strings and gentle piano tinkling. Brooker keeping it together and leading the show with his charismatic and commanding presence, occasionally stopping to medicate his throat with Ricola throat lozenges!
The opulent and grand ‘Shine on Brightly’, the title track from the eclectic 1968 album ’Shine On Brightly’, also featured on the Edmonton album, stormed in like a tidal wave and was performed with panache and celestial grace, pure divine! Next to greet us was the enchanting and epic ‘A Salty Dog’, the title track from the classic 1969 album ‘A Salty Dog’, also featured on the Edmonton album. This is one of Procol's best loved songs and the performance transcended the realms of the imagination! Just phenomenal! Despite suffering a throat infection Brooker seemed full of beans and in great spirits! His voice was still very powerful and the cracks were few and far between.
The first set concluded with the monumental Psychedelic Prog Rock masterpiece that is ‘In Held 'Twas in I’, their magnum opus from the 1968 album ’Shine On Brightly’, also featured on the Edmonton album. This piece is constructed of five separate parts, ‘Glimpses of Nirvana’, ‘'Twas Teatime at the Circus’, ‘In the Autumn of My Madness’, ‘Look to Your Soul’ and ‘Grand Finale’. In a nutshell the nineteen minute piece is basically about the meaning of life and the journey through it. “And the Dalai Lama smiled and said, Well my son, life is like a beanstalk, isn't it?” So there you are! Well it was written in 1968! The atmosphere in the Palladium was electric and there was much love in the room. The standing ovation was much deserved.
The second half opened with ‘Businessman’ from the 2017 album ‘Novum’, a tasty little rocker for the band to warm up with before the orchestra joined them for the gentle and melodic ‘Holding On’, from the 1991 album ‘The Prodigal Stranger’. The horn section got to blast and rasp a bit more on the up tempo ‘Into the Flood’, a 1991 single and extra track on ‘The Prodigal Stranger’ album. A couple of left of central choices there considering the vast catalogue of material that Procol have to offer. Sadly there were no songs played from the highly under-rated 1970s albums ‘Grand Hotel’ and ‘Exotic Birds and Fruit’. Brooker's between song patter and streams of consciousness were quite amusing, witty and very entertaining. He could have had a successful career as a stand-up comic if the music thing hadn't taken off!
Next in line was ‘Within Our House’ from Gary Brooker’s 1996 solo live album ‘Within Our House: Recorded Live at St. Mary and All Saints Church’. This was the first performance of this song by Procol Harum and featured soprano Rosalind Scott-Douglas, alto Karen Bloomfield, tenor Mark Roper and bass Ken Wharfe. A delightful ballad with delectable piano accompaniment and heavenly voices from the choir.
As Brooker says, “you'll like this one!”, ‘Pandora's Box’ from the 1975 album ‘Procol’s Ninth’, came pounding in with much cheer from the attentive and excitable audience! A definite crowd pleaser and classic Procol fan favourite. Another odd one next, given the endless choice of repertoire that could be picked, ‘Symphathy for the Hard of Hearing’ from Gary Brooker’s 1982 solo album ‘Lead Me To The Water'. The orchestra and choir augmented and embellished the performance to great effect as the song build up to an almighty conclusion!
Two tracks from the 2017 album ‘Novum’ greeted us next, 'Neighbour’ a humorous little ditty with some sweet acoustic guitar strumming from Whitehorn, who also gets to do a bit of singing on the chorus. Delectably followed by the exquisite and charming ‘Sunday Morning’, a beautifully elegant ballad performed with much charm and sincerity. Brooker does us proud! He then comments that, “we forgot to play this one in the first half”, enter the dramatic and chilling ‘Whaling Stories’ from the brilliant 1970 album ‘Home’, also featured on the ‘Edmonton’ album. With its repeated ascending eight note phrase building up the tension and suspense, added to the overall dramatic effect! A captivating performance that mesmerised us all and sent shivers down our spines!
The time had come for the one, the piece de resistance, the hit! 'A Whiter Shade of Pale', what it means, we just don't know!? Before the song started Brooker paid a very touching tribute to Allen 'One-Eye' Edelist, a long time Procol fan who sadly passed away, and whose ninety-ninth concert this would have been. The famous Hammond intro was substituted for a lush string arrangement before Brooker came in with “we skipped the light fandango...etc.”, the rich Hammond accompaniment eventually rolled in for the chorus. Unfortunately original member and composer of the Hammond parts in the song, Mathew Fisher, is no longer in the band, but current keyboardist Josh Phillips does a fair imitation. A most seraphic and exquisite performance that had the entire audience enraptured!
Finally, to conclude the evening’s performance we are back where we started with a reprise of 'Conquistador'. A highly spirited and sprightly performance from the band, choir and orchestra. With Brooker's energy never waning, he rose to his feet to throw some moves, air trumpeting and air guitaring when band solos were taken, fervently encouraging the audience to join in with the clapping and the freak outs! Brooker looks slightly unsteady on his feet these days, and with a reputation as one of the most accident prone Rock stars in the business (having fallen off stage on several occasions at various gigs and severely injuring himself!), you can't help wonder “is he going to fall over or trip up tonight?” Thankfully he remained vertical and all's well that ends well! We skipped the light fandango and turned cartwheels across the floor, well maybe not quite cartwheels, but the crowd did call out for more!
Steven C. Gilbert
ULU Live, London
Friday 26th October 2018
Well, it’s my first time at this venue and although the stage and area nearby feel ok, the rest of the venue does make you feel like you’re in the canteen area of the University. That apart, once Snakecharmer take to the stage you’re hooked in.
They have two albums - the debut self-titled ‘Snakecharmer’ from 2013, last year’s ‘Second Skin’ and the early Whitesnake catalogue to play from, hence the big numbers are in. From the first album, the must play ‘Accident Prone’ and ‘A Little Rock and Roll’, from the second album ‘Follow Me Under’ and ‘That Kind Of Love’ along with the Whitesnake classics ‘Ready & Willing’, ‘Crying In The Rain’ and ‘Here I Go Again’ are all executed with pure muso precision.
This set is pretty faultless, obviously due to the experience of this collection of musicians with the Paul Rodgers/Eric Martin style vocals of Chris Ousey (Heartland), Neil Murray on bass (Whitesnake etc.), Laurie Wisefield (Wishbone Ash) guitar, Harry James (Thunder etc) drums, Simon McBride (Own Band) and tonight replacing usual keyboard man Adam Wakeman we had Rob Lindrop who pulled the Jon Lord sound back to life.
They may be restricted by their various projects, but another album could see less Whitesnake songs, although the odd one would always be welcome! Also a band of this quality deserves a better turnout, even if some punters, like me, only found out about the gig on the musical grapevine at the last minute.
The Borderline, London
Tuesday 6th November 2018
Following her Ladies Of The Blues appearance with the Connie Lush Band and Kyla Brox at London's Under The Bridge in March this year and her London gig way back in September last year, Finnish slide Goddess/guitarist and singer-songwriter Erja Lyytinen triumphantantly returned to The Borderline on Tuesday night as she kicked off her UK tour to support the release of her new studio album in March 2019 on her own record label Tuohi Records. Lyytinen has also recently been nominated for the second year in a row as Guitarist of the Year 2018 by the European Blues Awards and her new album will feature guest performances from both Sonny Landreth and Jennifer Batten (Michael Jackson).
In fact Erja opened up with two songs from her critically acclaimed last album 'Stolen Hearts', released in April last year. 'Lover's Novels' not only saw a text book Lyytinen slide guitar solo but also a great duet with the dreadlocked Juha Kuoppala on hammond organ. "London, England, it's been a great year for us! Are we ready to Rock?" the charismatic Lyytinen enthused to a well attended Borderline, as her band launched into 'Black Ocean', a more down to earth Blues track with its heavy bass line, a nice funky repetitive riff with a full blown guitar solo complemented by both Erja's crystal clear vocal and more awesome organ.
Indeed it was all change from last year's Borderline line-up as Erja introduced her new band, with the aforementioned Kuoppala on keys, Iiro Laitinen on drums plus Tatu Back with his Gareth Bale man bun on bass, before the great riff of the predominantly keys influenced 'Everything's Fine' from her 2012 album 'Song's From The Road'. With a seemingly permanent smile on her face and an amazing solo on her green guitar, Lyytinen oozed real Blues, and with a snippet of Ella Fitzgerald's 'Summertime' - once again confirmed the fact that you can take the green Goddess out of Finland but you can't take the green Goddess out of the girl.
Cue her second single released last month off of her forthcoming album 'Another World' - the slickness of its execution more than a match for Erja's great new look. The song, written and composed by Lyttinen, describes a fictional love story in a parallel universe - given Erja's love of sci-fi movies! With its mix of a big guitar sound, a guitar solo clearly influenced and inspired by Gales/Hendrix and Heart's Melodic 80's Rock music - this was certainly a delicious appetiser for what we can expect in March next year.
The downbeat 'Stolen Hearts' Blues burner 'Slowly Burning' featuring Lyytinen's a cappella "Can You Feel My Pain Now London", despite the constant chatter at the back of the venue (#STFU), was another opportunity for Erja to take it out on her Fender Strat, with a smooth controlled vocal delivery, given the song's emotional context, plus a delightful 'Parisienne Walkways' outro. Erja then managed to get some audience participation in singing title track 'Stolen Hearts' before she once more demonstrated both her strong vocals and fret board skills that effectively turned into a very tasty little jam.
Lyytinen then teased us with a mouthwatering Mississippi Delta Blues medley. "Would you like some Muddy Waters? Robert Johnson? How about this girl from Finland?" Of course the answer was a unanimous yes as Erja mesmerised us once again with her side prowess before asking "Are you ready?" as she rounded off her superb set with the unusual time signature of the head banging 'Rocking Chair' - another from 'Stolen Hearts' - essentially a true Blues track with trademark in yer face slide guitar plus a nice grooving riff and vocal that made way for both a fantastic Laitinen drum solo and Back bass solo. Before finishing off the night with an excellent encore/cover of Hendrix's 'Crosstown Traffic', Erja deservedly gave a plug for her forthcoming album, mentioning Mr. Landreth of course! Well why not?
On a night of real Blues Rock quality, not quantity, Lyytinen once again proved that she is not only the Goddess of the slide guitar, but also has the voice, charisma, banter and looks as well. And if you missed Tuesday's gig - you might be lucky and snap up a last minute ticket to see Erja supporting Focus at London's iconic 100 Club tonight or failing that, the European Blues Award winner is playing the The Bude Blues Rhythm & Rock Festival tomorrow.
Given that 'Stolen Hearts' had a mix of songs that defied the ability to label it as a Blues album, plus the fact that Erja excluded from her set tonight the only other single/track from the new album 'Without You', we are understandably licking our lips in eager anticipation for the release of her new album. The good news is that all should become clear when Erja returns for a 12-date UK tour in March 2019. The tour will include shows in Brighton (March 18th), Sheffield (March 21st), Glasgow (March 23rd), London (March 26th) and Birmingham (March 28th). Tickets for all dates are available now via or from the Box Office (no booking fee): 01472 349 222 (Monday - Friday: 9am-5pm). See you there.
Hard Rock Hell 12 Day 1
Pwllheli, Gwynedd, North Wales
Thursday 8th November 2018
18:00 - 18:40 Eden's Curse
19:00 - 19:40 Myke Gray
20:00 - 20:55 Rock Goddess
21:15 - 22:15 Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons
22:35 - 00:15 Michael Schenker Fest
Hard Rock Hell is 12 years old this year and a lot has changed in those dirty dozen years. Starting in the relatively tropical climes of Minehead, the three day festival of Rock has moved locations a couple of times and evolved into a smooth running familiar feeling format that the faithful masses flock to every year. It shows how popular this festival is with its faithful fans that 2019 has more or less sold out before 2018 has begun. One huge factor might be that the current location in Pwllheli really is the arse end of nowhere to get to and, as usual, we are being subjected to the worst that Mother Nature (no relation) has set aside for North West Wales in November. Next year is the far more accessible paradise resort that is Great Yarmouth. We look forward to not travelling ten hours to get there.
So to HRH 12. We fight our way through the wet and cold from our accommodation at this Haven holiday park to the main arenas where all the action happens. The great thing about festivals in holiday camps is that you get warm, dry comfortable accommodation with some kick ass purpose made venues with great sound and plenty of bars. Day 1 is a relatively low key day with only one of the two stages open and just half a dozen acts. But it is no throw away day - we get some top Rock with some stellar names. As usual, we are treated to the 'opening ceremony' which this year was a notably unimpressive. Previous years have seen some lavish productions whilst this year we had our ever lovely fire juggling girls, dressed as a raft of Harley Quinn's cavorted to the strains of Marilyn Manson's 'Mobscene'. Short but sweet.
Opening act are the Glasgow based Eden's Curse, a multinational quintet with sounds reminiscent of bands like Europe and Journey. The keyboards really shone through as the guitar was struggling with technical issues which soon resolved to bring some more Metal vibes. Guitarist Thorsten Koehne plays a guitar that is the bastard love child of a flying V and an SG which proved to be the vital ingredient. Their short set was watched by a small but growing crowd and was appreciated as a fine start to the weekend.
Following on, and now playing to a full house are Myke Gray. For those unfamiliar, the namesake guitarist was an integral part of nineties rockers Skin. His current incarnation is a vehicle for the Joe Satriani lookalike to play like a Joe Satriani soundalike. For this festival however, the instrumentalist has had the inspired idea of recruiting Kim Jennett, from Voodoo Blood, for vocals. What a powerful little powerhouse she is. With only a week or so to learn a back catalogue of Skin tracks, she - and the band - really kicked it in. Classics like 'Take Me Down To The River', 'Look But Don't Touch' and 'Shine Your Light' were belted out with the force of a West Wales weather forecast. Great band, great set, easily the find of the day.
Seasoned rockers Rock Goddess took to the stage to give the now packed auditorium a tour of classic NWOBHM style Metal. Whilst only a three piece they pump out some loud and lairy Rock through the ubiquitous Marshall stacks. Great sound. Finishing with Girlschool's 'Heavy Metal Rock 'n' Roll', the level of testosterone increased manyfold.
The penultimate, and for me, the most eagerly anticipated band is Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons. Mr. C., once of Motorhead for over 30 years, has put together a band including his three sons, Tyla, Dane and Todd who play some kick bottom Rock and Roll. Whilst having their own distinct sound, they are made from the same straight up Heavy Rock and Roll material of the aforementioned Motorhead. With an hour long set, the playlist was a well balanced mix of their own material and Motorhead classic covers. When we saw them a few years ago they had limited material of their own but following the release of their album 'The Age Of Absurdity', they have some really strong material. 'Freak Show' and 'Get On Your Knees' being good examples. But it was covers of classics like 'R.A.M.O.N.E.S', 'Ace Of Spades' and 'Silver Machine' (dedicated by Phil to all past Motorhead heroes sadly no longer with us) that got the crowd properly pumped up. Finishing with a cover of 'Bomber', the boys show that they have evolved into a class act that deserves to be headliners at any festival.
Headliners and closing out day one is Michael Schenker and his Fest - a celebration of all the incarnations of bands that the German axeman has graced. The stage saw luminaries such as Graham Bonnett, Gary Borden, Robin McCauley and Dougie White taking turns on vocals, bringing their own flavour. It was indeed a fest for the Schenker die hard singing along to everything from the Scorpions to his latest 'Take Me To The Church'. Not a bad way to end a wet and wild day. Back through the starry Welsh evening, assisted by the local branch of the RNLI, we reflected on what had been a great opening day. Roll on tomorrow. Bring on the Paracetamol.
Michael Schenker Fest setlist:
Holiday (Scorpions song)
Doctor Doctor (UFO song)
Vigilante Man (Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock song)
Take Me to the Church (Michael Schenker Fest song)
Captain Nemo (Michael Schenker Group song)
Night Moods (Michael Schenker Fest song)
Assault Attack (Michael Schenker Group song)
Coast to Coast (Scorpions song)
Messin' Around (Michael Schenker Fest song)
Armed and Ready (Michael Schenker Group song)
Into the Arena (Michael Schenker Group song)
Bad Boys (McAuley-Schenker Group song)
Heart and Soul (Michael Schenker Fest song)
Warrior (Michael Schenker Fest song)
Shoot Shoot (UFO song)
Natural Thing (UFO song)
Only You Can Rock Me (UFO song)
Rock Bottom (UFO song)
Lights Out (UFO song)
Stan Webb's Chicken Shack
The Half Moon, Putney, London
Sunday 28th October 2018
Chicken Shack are a British Blues band, founded in 1965 by Stan Webb (guitar and vocals), Andy Silvester (bass guitar) and Alan Morley (drums), later joined by Christine Perfect (McVie) (vocals and keyboards) in 1967. Stan Webb, lead vocalist, lead guitarist, principle writer and leader of Chicken Shack turned seventy two in February 2018 and is still doing it after fifty three years in the business! Stan is regarded by many as one of the great un-sung heroes of British Blues music, an exceptional Blues guitarist of the highest order who is up there with the likes of Clapton and Green. The name "Chicken Shack" came from an old Blues expression meaning "road house". Drummer Alan Morley soon left to be replaced by Dave Bidwell in 1967. The band were initially signed to Mike Vernon’s Blue Horizon label where they released four excellent albums including the vibrant debut ‘Forty Blue Fingers Freshly Packed And Ready To Serve’ in 1968, ‘OK Ken?’ in 1969, ‘100 Ton Chicken’ in 1969 and ‘Accept’ in 1970. The band had their biggest chart success with the release of the Etta James cover 'I'd Rather Go Blind' in May 1969, making it to number 14 in the British singles charts.
Christine Perfect left in 1969 to join Fleetwood Mac. Paul Raymond from the group Plastic Penny was chosen as Christine Perfect's replacement, appearing on their hit single ‘Tears In The Wind' which reached number 29 in the British singles charts, and the brilliant albums ‘100 Ton Chicken’ and ‘Accept’ before leaving to join Savoy Brown along with Dave Bidwell and Andy Silvester in 1971. Webb continued with a new Chicken Shack line-up that included bass guitarist John Glassock from Jethro Tull and Paul Hancox on drums. They released the much heavier and highly under-rated albums ‘Imagination Lady’ in 1972 and ‘Unlucky Boy’ in 1973 on the Deram label. Unfortunately due to poor album sales the band disbanded at the end of 1973.
Webb then went on to join Kim Simmonds and Miller Anderson in Savoy Brown releasing the fantastic ‘Boogie Brothers’ album in 1974. He then formed a new line-up called "Broken Glass" featuring Robbie Blunt, Miller Anderson, Mac Poole and Rob Rawlinson. They recorded an album for Capitol Records in 1975, before reviving the Chicken Shack name soon after and going on to record another couple of fine albums ‘That's the Way We Are’ and ‘The Creeper’ in 1978. By the early 80’s Webb decided to take time out from the music business for a few years before reviving the band yet again in the 90’s, releasing another couple of top quality albums ‘Changes’ in 1991 and ‘Plucking Good’ in 1993.
Webb continued to gig solidly throughout the 90’s and on into the 2000’s, going onto to release a fine solo album ‘Webb’ on the Indigo label in 2001. One of the more noticeable changes to occur with Stan’s live performances over the last twenty or so years is the development of his singing voice. Never really known for his stand out vocals in the past, these days Stan has developed an expansive vibrato, having honed his voice to not only reach extremely high and low notes, but also to sustain notes for long periods of time. Quite remarkable to witness. Another significant release in the 2000’s was the spellbinding live DVD and CD ‘I’d Rather Go Live’ filmed in Lyme Regis in 2004. This live documentary is quite thrilling and captures Stan at his best. Stan always raises his game when there is a good crowd in and especially when the cameras are rolling!
2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Chicken Shack’s debut album ‘Forty Blue Fingers Freshly Packed And Ready To Serve’. With approximately forty-one members passing through the Chicken Shack ranks over the last fifty three years, Webb has been the only constant throughout. Without Stan there would be no Chicken Shack! He remains a much-respected guitarist whose contribution to early British Blues music continues to gain recognition. In January of this year Webb went on to sell out the 100 Club in London during the annual Blues festival held there.
The current line-up consists of Webb on lead guitar and vocals, Neil Archer on rhythm guitar, Rob Newell on bass and Steve Atkins on drums. The gig at the Half Moon, Putney, was the band’s first visit to the venue since 2013. A good crowd of Chicken Shack enthusiasts gathered to witness 'Stan The Man' do his thing! The set kicked off in style with the beguiling ‘The Thrill Is Gone’, featured on the 1993 album ‘Plucking Good’, originally written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951, going on to be a huge hit for BB King in 1970. A mesmerising performance from Webb and band. Next up was the tasty shuffle of ‘Going Up, Going Down’, from the 2004 Castle Music compilation album ‘Going Up, Going Down... The Anthology 1968-2001’, originally written by Texan Blues songwriter Juke Boy Bonner. Stan's in-between song banter is always quite amusing with his deadpan dry humour coming to the fore. He is another of those musicians that could have been a successful stand up comic if the music thing hadn't work out!
‘Broken Hearted Melody’ from ‘Plucking Good’ greeted us with intense and chilling bottle neck slide guitar from Webb that cut straight down deep into our souls. Played with fountains of emotional intensity, and sang with much painful yearning and vulnerability! Magnificent stuff! The stellar ‘Tell Me', from the 1969 album ‘OK Ken’, originally written by Chester Arthur Burnett (better known as Howlin' Wolf) in 1960, showcased Webb's amazing vibrato vocals to great effect. The longing in his voice was emoted to perfection, truly awe-inspiring!
Next to overwhelm us was the haunting and epic ‘Sweetest Little Thing’ from the 1991 album ‘Changes’, written by Webb about his mother. A fantastic moody and dark song that builds in intensity and allows Webb to stretch out and show us what he can really do on his Les Paul guitar, which he executed with pure elegant style and the coolness of a true seasoned pro. Hypnotizing stuff! What a privilege it was to witness this virtuosity up close and personnel. The newest member of Chicken Shack, having only joined the band a few months ago, rhythm guitarist Neil Archer is clearly still finding his way around the song arrangements, occasionally over playing his rhythm guitar parts on certain songs, but we forgive him as he can obviously play guitar exceptionally well!
Onto the heavy section of the set with the towering ‘Poor Boy’ from the 1972 album ‘Imagination Lady’, a monumental riff with a catchy melody and energetic rhythm section. This is one of Webb's best-loved songs that goes down a storm with the attentive crowd. The inquisitive ‘Dr Brown’ from the 1978 album ‘The Creeper’, originally written by Buster Brown, is another heavy weight track that shuffles along nicely. The band were locked in, grooving and swinging! The main set concluded with the dark and wild ‘Daughter Of A Hillside’ from the ‘Imagination Lady’ album. A dirty and gritty riff that grumbled and snarled like a demon! Extremely loud and incredibly heavy, cracking stuff! A nice contrast to the shuffle Blues that came before.
You can tell Stan is having a good night when he finishes the set with spellbinding 1969 hit single ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, written by Ellington Jordan and Etta James in 1967. Christine McVie originally handled the vocals on the 1969 Chicken Shack version. These days Stan handles all the vocals, which he executes superlatively. You can also tell when Webb feels there is a good crowd in because he likes to go for a walk about through the audience with mic in hand serenading people on his journey, before snaking his way back to the stage to bring the song to a triumphant conclusion. Top quality gig!
Steven C. Gilbert
Hard Rock Hell 12 Day 2
Pwllheli, Gwynedd, North Wales
Friday 9th November 2018
14:00 - 14:50 Vambo
15:10 - 16:10 Thunderstick
16:30 - 17:30 Blitzkrieg
17:50 - 18:50 Vintage Caravan
19:10 - 20:10 Dan Reed Network
20:30 - 21-45 Girlschool
22:05 - 00:05 Saxon
12:50 - 13:30 Dead Man's Whiskey
13:50 - 14:35 Blind River
14:50 - 15:35 Renegade Twelve
15:55 - 16:40 Voodoo Blood
17:00 - 17:45 VA Rocks
18:00 - 18:45 Sinside
19:00 - 19:40 City of Thieves
20:00 - 20:45 Anchor Lane
21:00 - 21:45 The Dust Coda
22:00 - 23:00 Witchfynde
23:15 - 00:15 SNEW
00:30 - 01:30 Everyday Heroes
Day 2 awakes to find a change of weather. Yes, it's got a lot worse. Stormforce hurricane Blodwyn, or whatever the bleeding thing is called, has clearly purchased late tickets on StubHub. So we battle our way back to the stage areas for today's helping of sonic delights. Today's format sees two stages with 19 acts between them. Nestled between the two stages is a ski-bar allowing the punters to break the grueling 30 metre journey for liquid refreshment as well as a haven for the nicotinely challenged. A brief word of praise here for the staff who worked long hours in frankly horrible conditions. Service was always good and usually with a smile. Or grimace if Blodwyn was ordering.
Opening act on the smaller stage two are London 5 piece Dead Man's Whiskey who started the day with their excellent Doomy Blues Rock set. Despite everything, stage 2 was pretty chocka and were very appreciative of the boys act. Notable tracks included an unusual but enjoyable Rock cover of Seal's 'Kiss From A Rose' and a very poignant track dedicated to singer Nico Rogers mum. Great start to the day lads.
Openers on stage 1 are Epsom's Vambo. Having seen this 4 piece powerhouse perform on the tiny Orange stage at the Stone Free Festival, it was great to see them spread their wings across the expanse of the main stage. The small crowd arousing from the previous night’s revelries grew as did their appreciation of Vambo's 70's inspired Rock. Frontman Jack Stile cavorted around the stage like a madman, despite suffering from 'proper man flu' blasting out powerful lyrics on a set that included a cover of Zeppelin's 'Good Times Bad Times' as well as their last single 'Why, Why, Why' and next release 'Misery'. Which it wasn't. Drummer Steve Price and bassist James Scott keep the powerful groove going whilst axeman Pete Lance shows his awesome chops, not least of which on the closing cover of Deep Purple's 'Burn'.
The day was then spent yoyoing between the two stages, via the various bars, deciding which of the acts to choose from. Thunderstick are a 5 piece from London fronted by vocalist Vixen who changed outfits between every song. Everything from dominatrix to a teddy bear hugging girl whilst belting out Toyah Wilcox like vocals. The NWOBHM style band, who have been around since the early eighties, kept the now crowded stage 1 arena entertained with chugs and squeals. And that was not just the guitars. Not sure what the coffin was doing on stage. Maybe that was where Vixen kept her props.
Back on stage 2, Kim Jennett who fronted for Myke Gray yesterday, appears as her full time persona The Voodoo Woman fronting the excellent Voodoo Blood. Again her powerful vocals shone through the Heavy Rock Blues with a theatrical flourish and a kick in the cochlea. Crowd participation included Kim getting the crowd to all sit down and then jump to their feet. Less a jump and more a gradual creaking raising of the dead. The audience loved them.
Other notables include the almost Punk Blitzrieg, famous for their eponymous track covered by Metallica, who wowed the stage 1 faithful. VA Rocks, a three piece female trio from Sweden brought some young rocking fun to stage two and the Dan Reed Network brought much voiced praise from stage 1 visitors.
First of the headliners on stage 1 are veteran girl Rockers Girlschool, still performing an excellent hour plus set from 40 years of material. Opening with 'Demolition', the set included newer material like 'Come The Revolution' from their 'Guilty As Sin' album, 'The Hunter', 'Never Say Never' and 'Screaming' with classics like 'Hit And 'Run', 'Race With The Devil' and closing favourite 'Emergency'. As long term friends of Motorhead it came as no surprise that they paid tribute when they played 'Take It Like A Band' as a dedication to their friends. A fine set.
Headliners on stage 1 for the night are the mighty Saxon. No strangers to the HRH Festival, the lads who are celebrating their 40 years in the business next year, had collected a number of awards at the HRH awards ceremony and still managed to squeeze in a gig at Bath before returning to wow us with a 2 hour set of professional smooth arena Rock. Because Saxon are the epitome of a smooth professional and class act. The arena was packed with barely enough room to sweat. Opening with 'Thunderbolt', the band seamlessly wove their fabric of awesomeness. Then a setlist including 'Sacrifice', 'Nosferatu', classics like 'Motorcycle Man' and 'Strong Arm Of The Law', got the crowd jumping and pumping. They also paid tribute to Lemmy and co, who greatly supported them in their early years, by playing their Motorhead tribute track 'Rock And Roll'. The well received track resulted in a member of the crowd pitching his denim waistcoat, adorned with Motorhead patches, onto the stage. Frontman Biff picks it up, don's it over his trademark trenchcoat, and precedes to sing 'And The Bands Played On' and 'Crusader' adorned in it. A remarkable touch from Biff was the trouble he took to sign the waistcoat before returning it to the delighted owner. Class act. The tracks kept coming from the stalwart Yorkshireman including 'Wheels Of Steel' before closing with the anthemic 'Denim And Leather'. The closer included the ever joyful crowd participation with Biff and bassist Nibbs Carter both wearing crowd donated denims which were again signed and returned. A fantastic band that never fails to deliver and sound as fresh as ever despite their forthcoming anniversary.
As we left the arena, and accompanied Blodwyn back to our accommodation for a nightcap, and arrange baling precautions, we reflected on another fine day of music. HRH XII is doing mighty fine so far. Tomorrow has a lot to live up to. Now bugger off Blodwyn, you have outstayed your welcome.
Nosferatu (The Vampires Waltz)
Strong Arm of the Law
Power and the Glory
Solid Ball of Rock
The Secret of Flight
Dallas 1 PM
They Played Rock and Roll
And the Bands Played On
747 (Strangers in the Night)
Sons of Odin
Princess of the Night
The Eagle Has Landed
Heavy Metal Thunder
Denim and Leather
Hard Rock Hell 12 Day 3
Pwllheli, Gwynedd, North Wales
Saturday 10th November 2018
13:40 - 14:25 Kaleb McKane
15:00 - 16:00 Hawklords
16:20 - 17:20 Massive
17:40 - 18:40 Tygers Of Pan Tang
19:00 - 20:00 John Coughlan's Quo
20:20 - 21:45 Femme Fatale
22:05 - 00:00 The Dead Daisies
12:00 - 12:30 The Bad Flowers
12:45 - 13:30 Ryders Creed
13:45 - 14:30 The Dukes Of Bordello
14:45 - 15:30 The Rising Souls
15:45 - 16:35 Stand Amongst Giants
16:45 - 17:30 Black Star Bullet
17:45 - 18:30 Walkway
18:45 - 19:30 Smoking Martha
19:45 - 20:30 The Loved & Lost
20:45 - 21:30 Riders To Ruin
21:45 - 22:30 Red Hawk Rising
22:45 - 23:45 Demon
00:00 - 01:00 The Wild!
All hail day 3. More rain than hail. As we make our way to the venue, Noah is spotted in the car park breaking pallets for his building project. Save us a space mate. Day 3 follows day 2's format with the two stages and 20 acts shared between them. Again it was a hokey-cokey between the stages, by way of the excellent bars. In, out, in, out and shake it all about.
Opening act on stage two are the marvellous Bad Flowers. The three piece fronted by blonde Tom Leighton with his blonde Tele get the party started with their fast paced Bluesy Rock. With Dale Tonks providing some fast paced bass and Karl Selckis battering the drums it was a great way to blow the cobwebs away as the Flying V through Orange amps proclaimed it was business as usual for the day.
The acts come thick and fast with Ryder's Creed up next (more cowbell.....) The Staffordshire 5 piece produced some more Hard Rock with a hint of Pearl Jam about it although the Classic rRck vein was strong. These lads were award winners at last year's HRH awards and are clearly a force to be reckoned with. The packed crowd enjoyed them. And then madness came to town as the Metal\mental Rockabilly experience that is The Dukes of Bordello from Southern Sheffield took to stage two. As they describe themselves, they are the Rock and Roll trashcan troubadours from the seedy side of town. Well this town hasn't got a good side so they fit right in. A 3 piece of vocals and guitar, full double bass and drums, they got the crowd rocking 'All in the name of Rock and Roll'.
Meanwhile, over on stage 1, opening act Kaleb McKane was cut from an entirely different cloth. Mainly tie-dyed and trippy as far as I could tell. Playing tracks from his 'Universe In Reverse' EP with early Bowie influences mixed with a Classic Rock edge. He's one of those artists that is difficult to pigeonhole, which I guess is just what he wants. Intricate guitar skills are displayed through unconventionally structured songs.
And so begins a day of contrasting styles on the main stage. HRH have always looked to mix it up with the acts that they book, although always within the boundaries of Classic Rock and Metal. Following acts like Hawklords, a Space Rock band formed and frequented by ex Hawkwind members give us, well, Hawkwind style Space Rock. And Massive, the hard working Rock band from Melbourne, although they cite their home town as 'the tour bus'. Like a number of the bands today, they are rising Stars and a familiar sight around the festivals and venues of Britain.
Back on stage two we are treated to Smoking Martha and their full on Aussie Punk come Rock performance. Front woman Tasha, dressed in the tightest shortest leopard skin number left us in no doubt about her credentials. A strong voiced wonder she mesmerized the fans with her Amy Lee sound.
Stage 1 gets our interest as we live the delights of our youth, or even our parents youth, as John Coghlan's Quo take to the stage. The eponymous Coghlan, long time drummer for the denimed giants, has put together a 4 piece that brings a raft of Quo classics back to enjoy again. Opening with 'Caroline', the band play some near note perfect renditions of 'Roll Over Lay Down', '(April), Spring Summer and Wednesdays', 'Break The Rules' and 'Paper Plane' as well as the original 'Pictures Of Matchstick Men' which is 50 years old this year. Emerging from behind his drumkit, Coghlan addresses the raptured crowd and remembers the much missed Rick Parfitt with a heartfelt round of applause from the audience. And in his memory they played the festival defining 'Rain' before raising the bar again with 'Big Fat Mumma', 'Rocking All Over the World' and closer 'Down Down'. Great songs that I defy anybody not to "shake it all about" to.
Penultimate act on the main stage are Femme Fatale, the 1980's girl power band still going strong today despite a couple of sojourns. Frontwoman Lorraine Lewis is one of the originals who has kept the Rock alive thanks to her latest troupe of metal maidens providing the powerful Rock backing to Lewis's vocals. Flanking her are the duo of guitarists Courtney Cox and Nikki Stringfield who are also 'Troopers' in the fantastic Iron Maidens. Opening with 'Fortune and Fame', the Femmes cranked out tracks including 'Rebel' and 'One More For The Road', with Lewis prancing around the front of the stage bantering with the audience and shaking her thing. The set finished with 'Cradle's Rockin', 'If' and 'Big One'.
Closing act, headliners, and the reason I booked the festival last year, are my favourite current Rock band - The Dead Daisies. A collection of proven talent, the Daisies released their third album earlier this year, to critical acclaim and considerable radio airplay, and have been touring almost constantly since. Indeed, the five piece had only just returned from the Kiss Cruise, via a week off in New York, where they were pumping out their brand of classic and classy Rock music in 30 degrees of sunshine off the Florida coast. So similar to Pwllheli....
Entering the stage to Rose Tattoo's 'Rock and Roll Outlaw', frontman John Corabi launches into the opening track 'Midnight Moses' with Marco Mendoza assisting on vocals whilst playing some pumping bass, Rhythm guitarist, and driving force behind the Daisies is Aussie Dave Lowy who plays some sumptuous SG's - I particularly like the matt black one. Dave also happens to be a qualified pilot who flew across the Atlantic at the controls of his own plane. So Rock and Roll. Lead guitarist Doug Aldrich is the fretboard wizard with all the skills and thrills that makes everyone want to pick up a six string. Annoyingly cool, he plays a Les Paul like a God wielding a hammer, smiting any naysayer who dare declare that Rock is dead. And behind all is newboy drummer Deen Castronovo, a self confessed Kiss fan. Guess he enjoyed the cruise then. The band have only been together since 2012 but are so tight, and look and sound like they have been playing top quality guitar Rock forever. But what makes them stand out is how fresh they sound too. They play a near two hour set from across their albums but also include covers of the Stones 'Bitch', The Who's 'Join Together' and Deep Purple's 'Highway Star' to highlight the British influence which has shaped their sound. In addition, each member of the band was introduced with a small snippet of some Classic Rock covers. But it's their own material that I am singing in my head hours after the set - 'Make Some Noise' and 'Leave Me Alone' being just a pick of a fine crop. With an encore of 'Mexico' and the Beatle's 'Helter Skelter', they closed stage 1 with the intensely satisfying flourish that a great festival deserves. Top, top, stuff.
Leaving Stage 1 for the last time we look in on stage 2 for closing act The Wild, who had the honour of closing the festival. A Canadian Rock act that lives up to it's name - wild by name and wild by nature. Loving some of the dance moves fellas. So for the last time, we head back to our accommodation with the bands of the day still ringing in our head. Mainly the Daisies 'Last Time I Saw The Sun' which seemed to sum up the weather. And the Daisies 'Long Way To Go' when i thought about the journey home again. But it has been worth it. It has been another triumph for the HRH team. So goodbye Pwllhelli, and thanks for all the great memories over the last six years. Now lets see what Great Yarmouth has to offer. With Dee Snider, Michael Monroe, Buckcherry, Gun and Toseland already named, amongst others, it looks like it will be a blast.
Dead Daisies setlist:
Midnight Moses (The Sensational Alex Harvey Band cover)
Make Some Noise
Dead and Gone
What Goes Around
Last Time I Saw the Sun
Join Together (The Who cover)
Burn It Down
With You and I
Intros: You Shock Me All Night Long / I Love Rock 'n' Roll / School's Out / Long Live Rock 'n' Roll / It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like it)
Leave Me Alone
Bitch (The Rolling Stones cover)
Song and a Prayer
Long Way to Go
Highway Star (Deep Purple cover)
Michael Schenker Fest
The Forum, London
Saturday 10th November 2018
Michael Schenker is a German Rock guitarist who was an integral member of UFO and leader of the Michael Schenker Group. He was also an early member of the Scorpions, featuring on their 1972 debut album ‘Lonesome Crow’ at the age of sixteen, before joining UFO in 1974. He was offered the position of lead guitar player (taking over for Bernie Marsden, who was a temporary replacement for original guitarist Mick Bolton) after the Scorpions supported UFO in Germany. Schenker featured on five classic era UFO studio albums, ‘Phenomenon’ (1974), ‘Force It’ (1975), ‘No Heavy Petting’ (1976), ‘Lights Out’ (1977), ‘Obsession’ (1978) and the excellent live album ‘Strangers in the Night’ (1979). He left UFO in October 1978 due to musical differences and went on to found the Michael Schenker Group. Despite quitting UFO, Schenker has rejoined the band three times, recording an album each time; ‘Walk on Water’ (1995), ‘Covenant’ (2000) and ‘Sharks’ (2002). He also briefly re-joined the Scorpions in late 1978, featuring on their ‘Lovedrive’ album.
In 1979, Schenker founded the Michael Schenker Group (MSG). The first two studio albums ‘The Michael Schenker Group’ (1980) and ‘MSG’ (1981) plus the ‘One Night at Budokan’ live album featured the, at the time, relatively unknown vocalist Gary Barden. In 1982 Barden quit and was replaced by Graham Bonnet (Rainbow/Alcatrazz). Bonnet lasted one album ‘Assault Attack’ (1982) and a single gig, at Sheffield University, where he drunkenly exposed himself and was subsequently fired from the band! Barden was brought back for the rest of the tour and subsequently appeared on the 1983 studio album ‘Built to Destroy’ and the band's second live album ‘Rock Will Never Die’ (1984). Barden left for a second time to be replaced by Robin McAuley (Grand Prix). Schenker renamed the band the McAuley Schenker Group and released three albums, ‘Perfect Timing’ (1987), ‘Save Yourself’ (1989) and ‘M.S.G.’ (1992) before parting company with McAuley.
Over the next ten years the Michael Schenker Group had a revolving door of musicians with four different singers appearing on each of the next five albums; ‘Written in the Sand’ (1996), ‘The Unforgiven’ (1999), ‘Be Aware of Scorpions’ (2001), ‘Arachnophobiac’ (2003) and ‘Tales of Rock'n'Roll’ (2006). Barden rejoined again for the 2008 album ‘In The Midst Of Beauty’, which was a positive return to form. Then in 2010 Barden, Schenker, Simon Philips, Neil Murray and Wayne Findlay embarked in an extensive 30th Anniversary tour, which was recorded and released in 2010 as ‘The 30th Anniversary Concert – Live in Tokyo’.
In 2011 Schenker then formed the Temple Of Rock with Herman Rarebell on drums and Francis Buchholz on bass, both former members of the Scorpions, and Doogie White (Rainbow/Yngwie Malmsteen) on vocals. They released three fine studio albums including, ‘Temple Of Rock’ (2011), ‘Bridge the Gap’ (2013) and ‘Spirit on a Mission’ (2015). In 2016 Schenker put together the 'Michael Schenker Fest', a reunion with former MSG singers Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley, along with band members Chris Glen (bass), Ted McKenna (drums) and Steve Mann (guitar/keyboard).
The original idea for the reunion was to tour in Japan only. This resulted in a CD/DVD ‘Live - Tokyo International Forum Hall A’. However, the gigs proved to be such a huge success that they decided to extend the tour into Europe through 2017. With the success of the tour and the good feeling amongst the band members they then went on to record an album of all new material, with the addition of Temple of Rock singer Doogie White. The result was the ‘Resurrection' album, which was released in 2018 and features vocal contributions from all four singers.
The subsequent tour to promote the 'Resurrection' album stopped off in the UK in November 2018 for six dates including this gig at The Forum in Kentish Town, London. The band featured Schenker on lead guitar, Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet, Robin McAuley and Doogie White on vocals, Chris Glen on bass, Ted McKenna on drums and Steve Mann on second guitar and keyboards. The band kicked off the evening’s entertainment with the Scorpions instrumental 'Holiday' from the 1979 'Lovedrive' album. A bit of a slow start, but things soon heated up with the monumental UFO classic 'Doctor Doctor' from the 1974 'Phenomenon' album. Normally held back for the end of the set, this time being unleashed near the start. All four singers got to take turns at belting out the lyrics. A fantastic building track with a powerful and infectious rhythm that got everyone in the mood to Rock!
The rest of the set was structured into four main sections allowing each of the four singers a chance to take centre stage. With exuberant and jubilant introductions from Schenker, first to step up to the mic and show us what he could do was Doogie White. Opening with the excellent 'Vigilante Man' from the 2015 Temple Of Rock 'Spirit On A Mission’ album, galloping on to the superb 'Lord of the Lost and Lonely' from the 2013 Temple Of Rock 'Bridge The Gap' album, which was seamlessly followed by the catchy and melodic 'Take Me to the Church', one of the stronger songs from the 2018 Michael Schenker Fest 'Resurrection' album. Next up was the immense thumping heavy 'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead' from the 2011 'Temple Of Rock' album, before ending the mini set with the stellar UFO song 'Natural Thing' from the 1976 'No Heavy Petting' album. A superb performance from Doogie, and, to be honest, the best singer of the evening. His voice is strong and muscular, with a rich tone, immense power and deep resonance. A potent force to be reckoned with!
Before Graham Bonnet gets his chance to shine, another instrumental was played in the form of 'Captain Nemo' from the 1983 Michael Schenker Group 'Built To Destroy' album, which bookends the previous set nicely, before more enthusiastic and buoyant introductions from Schenker. I've never heard him talk so much at a gig! He is clearly more comfortable talking on stage these days and seems to be having a ball playing to his devoted fans. Bonnet stormed in with 'Dancer', from the volcanic Michael Schenker Group 1982 'Assault Attack' album, going on to thrill us with 'Searching for a Reason', also from the 'Assault Attack' album, before tackling the monstrous 'Desert Song', another track from the 'Assault Attack' album. A new one 'Night Moods' from the 2018 Michael Schenker Fest 'Resurrection' album greeted us like fresh breeze, before Bonnet concluded his short set with the momentous 'Assault Attack' from the album of the same name. Bonnet is going through a very lucrative creative period these days, particularly with his solo ventures as well as with Schenker. His voice still has the power and range and on a good night he excels, but unfortunately he did sound slightly strained at this gig. Perhaps over worked a bit recently.
Time for another instrumental interlude, with the melodic 'Coast to Coast' from the 1979 Scorpions 'Lovedrive' album. Schenker with his trademark flying V guitar played with fluidity and discipline. A joy to witness. Schenker's other trademark these days is his Beanie hat with goggles over it that he wears right down over his forehead and almost covering his eyes. It must get hot under there!
The time had come for original MSG vocalist Gary Barden to entertain us. He kicked off with 'Ready to Rock' and then onto the gritty and thunderous 'Attack of the Mad Axeman', both from the 1981 'MSG' album. The mediocre 'Rock My Nights Away' from the 1983 'Built To Destroy' album washed over us before the brilliant new song 'Messin' Around' from the 2018 Michael Schenker Fest 'Resurrection' album greeted us with interest. This track has an infectious swagger to it and Barden does a good job on it. The anthemic 'Armed and Ready' from the 1980 'The Michael Schenker Group' album lifted the spirits and satisfied our souls. All four vocalist got turns on the awesome 'Warrior' from the Michael Schenker Fest 'Resurrection' album. Overall a reasonably respectable performance from Barden. He gave it his best, but unfortunately his voice is mostly shot these days! He was struggling to be heard at some points with many cracks showing in his vocals. The crowd showed their appreciation for his efforts, as he is well loved by the fans, and rightfully so. The obligatory instrumental came next to bookend Barden's set, 'Into the Arena' is another well structured and dexterous piece from the 1980 'The Michael Schenker Group' album and was played to perfection.
On to the last of the four vocalists to show us what they can do, step up Robin McAuley. McAuley has aged well and he obviously looks after himself, being fit, bronzed and toned. His voice is also fully intact and he gives a quality performance. Along with White, McAuley was definitely the other best singer of the evening. His set mostly focused on UFO classics, but before that he tackled 'Bad Boys' from the 1989 McAuley Schenker Group 'Save Yourself' album, then going on to belt out the rip roaring UFO song 'Shoot Shoot' from the 1975 'Force It' album. The dramatic and stirring 'Heart and Soul' from the 2018 Michael Schenker Fest 'Resurrection' album was delivered with growling attitude by McAuley, with the other three vocalists joining in to raise up the bar. Ted McKenna and Chris Glen did a sterling job keeping the rhythm flowing.
The last part of the show was UFO territory, with the monolithic 'Only You Can Rock Me' from the 1978 'Obsession' album satisfying the senses, before hot footing it into the seductive 'Too Hot to Handle' from the 1977 UFO 'Lights Out' album. Time for the big one, the epic, the earth shaking monster that is 'Rock Bottom' from the 1974 UFO 'Phenomenon' album. A great big voluptuous track that is the perfect vehicle for Schenker to stretch out and indulge in some tasty extended guitar heroics, hedonistic string bending and luscious fret noodling! Hypnotising and mesmerising stuff! The encore delighted us with the bombastic 'Lights Out' from the 1977 UFO 'Lights Out' album, which rounded the show off in style. A mammoth and entertaining gig, with many decadent highlights to satisfy the ears.
Steven C. Gilbert