Caught Live: Glenn Hughes, Picturedrome Holmfirth 25th October 2015

Following the demise of his most recent band project (California Breed) in early 2015, which in turn followed the split of Black Country Communion, veteran rock legend Glenn Hughes has decided to revert to performing under his own name again. This appears to be a wise move, as he can recruit players as needed rather than become dependent on their availability, as was the case when drummer Jason Bonham unexpectedly quit California Breed on the eve of that band’s tour. That forced Hughes and his young hotshot guitarist Andrew Watt to recruit another drummer hastily, in order to fulfil the dates already pencilled in (including high-profile opening slots on Slash’s European tour of 2014). Feeling somewhat let down, the former Deep Purple man opted to draw the curtain on that project upon completion of that tour and took some time out to contemplate his next move.

Having made the decision to fly solo once again, he set about contacting his old comrades and quickly restored drummer Pontus Engborg to the kit. However, his regular guitarist Søren Andersen had committed to another project and was unavailable, so Hughes called up another of his old friends for the lead guitar slot, a certain Douglas Aldrich. The former Whitesnake axeman had been performing with the Las Vegas show ‘Raiding The Rock Vault’ for about a year, and was a popular performer with his image being projected onto huge billboards advertising the show. He took a leave of absence from the show in order to play this tour, which started out in South America and following a short break, resumed in Europe and finally the UK.

Glenn Hughes at Holmfirth Picturedrome

Glenn Hughes at Holmfirth Picturedrome

The band format this time was as a trio; no keyboard player, just guitar, bass and drums. Not to mention those pyrotechnic vocals! Coming out to the strains of ‘America: What Time Is Love?’ by the KLF (a song Hughes appeared on over 20 years ago, and credits with giving him the impetus to put his demons behind him once and for all). The trio opened with ‘Stormbringer’ and although this track was written for five, the three did a rollickin’ version with guitar substituting for the keyboard ‘twiddly bits’ on the original, and a lot of interplay between Glenn Hughes and Doug Aldrich, something that occurred frequently through this set. An early treat came when Hughes performed ‘First Step Of Love’ from the classic Hughes/Thrall album; prefacing the song he candidly admitted that he didn’t remember anything of the 1980s! This rendition was somewhat harder than the record, with thunderous drumming, heavy guitar and even heavier bass – there was a lot less of the funk this time, and much more of the rock.

A surprise came mid-set, when the trio performed a cover of Whitesnake’s ‘Good To Be Bad’. This track was of course co-written by Doug Aldrich with David Coverdale, and it was at the request of the guitarist that it be put into the set. I thought this was a very generous gesture from Hughes as he has plenty of his own material to pick from, and I’d be interested to see what his (and Doug’s!) old colleague made of that cover. Another cover was of Trapeze’s ‘Touch My Life’ complete with touching dedication to the late Mel Galley, who wrote that song back in the 1970s.

Doug Aldrich at Holmfirth Picturedrome

Doug Aldrich at Holmfirth Picturedrome

Much of the set was given over to crowd-pleasing covers, including a drawn-out ‘Mistreated’ featuring Doug Aldrich, a hard-hitting rendition of ‘Sail Away’ which was done in the 1974 style, as opposed to the interpretation Whitesnake have given it in 2015! A couple of Black Country Communion songs made the set (‘One Last Soul’ and ‘Black Country’) before the inevitable closer, ‘Burn’.

This was the heaviest live performance I’ve seen Glenn Hughes give, he has some heavy artillery behind him of course but his own bass playing was a joy to behold, in particular during the many periods of interplay between himself and Doug Aldrich. There’s more space for the guitarist in this setup than he had in Whitesnake as part of a six-piece, dual-guitar line-up and he is clearly relishing that opportunity to stretch out more. Hughes pledged to devote the next few years to touring, as he has issued a lot of recorded material in recent years and stated a desire to get out there and play more. He already has a 2016 US tour lined up and with festival dates already coming in, 2016 looks to be another busy year for the Cannock man.

Support was from up and coming blueser Jared James Nichols; he also plays as part of a trio with just bassist Erik Sandin and drummer Dennis Holm for company. It was the drummer’s birthday this night, something the frontman made sure we all celebrated (!) and the trio warmed up the crowd nicely with some fiery power blues, very much steeped in a 1970s tradition. He even threw in a couple of covers: ‘Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo’ (originally by Rick Derringer) and ended with Mountain’s ‘Mississippi Queen’. Playing without a plectrum, his is the sort of guitar music that’s felt and not just heard.

Jared James Nichols at Holmfirth

Jared James Nichols at Holmfirth Picturedrome

Many (including myself) were unfamiliar with him before this set, but he rapidly won over the crowd and is definitely one to watch in years to come.

Caught Live: Delain, Academy 2 Manchester 24 October 2015

Back in the spring, Dutch symphonic metallers Delain announced a short run of four UK dates (in actual fact, all took place in England) as part of their autumn European tour. Having been a fan of this band for some years now, I was eager to get tickets and booked for both the Birmingham show and this one at Manchester, the next night. Fast-forward several months and I find myself actually skipping the Birmingham date, something that appeared unthinkable back in April. Reason? The gig scheduling gods had clashed this show with at least three others that tempted me on the same night, but the one that lured me away was by punk covers act The Sex Pissed Dolls, who were playing a special show at Warrington which was to be shot for an upcoming live DVD.

So the supreme sacrifice was made to miss out on Birmingham, but with the prospect of this show at one of the better halls in Manchester University the blow was softened just a little. The last two times Delain have performed in this building, they have been put in the ‘Club Academy’ basement, a small bar venue with dreadful sight lines and pillars in inconvenient locations. If you aren’t at or near the front, this is a poor experience. However, this time they were booked for the Academy 2, or the Main Debating Hall as I know it from many years of attending shows at this building. Along for the ride were fellow Dutch act The Gentle Storm, and for this show local act A Mouth Full Of Matches were selected as openers, following a contest run by Delain in the weeks leading up to this tour where they would select a different opener for each UK show. Shortly before the tour took place, Delain announced that Merel Bechtold, who had been touring with the band providing additional guitar, had been elevated to full band member status making them a six-piece band. This meant that she would be pulling ‘double duty’, as she is also regular guitarist with The Gentle Storm.

For the first time on a UK tour Delain offered a ‘VIP’ package to a limited number of fans. I’m not usually keen on this kind of thing, as it incurs additional expense if you want to meet the band (Delain are normally very good for coming out to meet punters after their show) but I caved in on this occasion. For one thing, it gave you first access to the front and so you had a chance of getting the all-important barrier, and for another thing the band (or at least two of them: guitarist Timo Somers and singer/face of the group Charlotte Wessels) were to perform two songs acoustically exclusively for VIP holders. The rest of the package included the usual photo for the band to sign, a laminate pass to show off and the meet & greet/photo opportunity with the band members. Following this, we VIP holders were permitted to remain in the building while a massive queue started to build outside. (We later learned that there was another queue, for legendary synth-rocker Gary Numan who was playing the main Academy 1 the same night). There was little to do but wait, and chat to pass the time until the staff lined us up for the promised priority entrance to the venue in the meantime.

A Mouth Full Of Matches opening for Delain

A Mouth Full Of Matches opening for Delain

Sure enough, we did get onto the front of the hall and on the barrier, which was needed in my case following the energetic gig the night before (!) and I settled in my spot for openers A Mouth Full Of Matches. Knowing absolutely nothing about them beforehand, I was surprised somewhat to see a mixed-gender line-up with a female drummer and guitarist. Even in 2015, that’s an unusual thing to see and it does give them something of a unique selling point. (Usually, women in bands are lead singers – as was the case with the other acts on this bill (!) or bassists.) They are a five-piece band, with sisters Jane and Helen Hebenton on guitar and bass respectively, second guitarist Mark Holden, drummer Laura Cornell and lead vocalist Tom Buxton. They looked to be a very young band, although the vocalist came across as being a little more experienced, a bit more accustomed to a big stage than the others. They played anthemic alternative rock and Buxton was an impressive frontman, handling the difficult task of warming up this crowd expertly. I treated myself to their two EPs following the show and chatted briefly to Tom and also Helen Hebenton, whose self-designed ‘satanic’ style top had caught my eye! I’d see this outfit again if they came anywhere near Liverpool, which is likely given that they all hail from the Manchester area apart from the vocalist, a Midlander.

The Gentle Storm at Manchester

The Gentle Storm at Manchester

Next up were The Gentle Storm, fronted by Anneke van Giersbergen and as mentioned earlier, also featuring Merel Bechtold on guitar. A lot of fans in the hall were eager to see this act, as the singer is not often seen in the UK and is regarded as one of the big names in the European symphonic metal scene. They were good live, but not really my kind of thing – a little too operatic and the songs a bit too drawn-out for my taste. I found myself observing the pedal board Merel Bechtold was using during this set, and how she got several effects (including a string section emulator) from her guitar (a red Bo-El) with this setup! The band also featured Streams of Passion singer Marcela Bovio on backing vocals, who occasionally got to come to the front to join van Giersbergen. The set went down well with the majority, but it wasn’t for me.

Delain's Charlotte Wessels at Manchester Academy 2

Delain’s Charlotte Wessels

Martijn Westerholt of Delain

Martijn Westerholt of Delain

I was eager to see Delain again, as it had been a year since their previous visit to this city. Then, the band were forced to play without bassist Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije, as in a well-documented incident, he sustained an injury in an unfortunate place the previous night (and on that occasion I was at the show in question!). To get around that problem, guitarist Timo Somers had hastily put down a bass track to use in that night’s show. This year, with the bassist fully recovered, he resumed his place in the line-up and this time, the group had pledged to perform a few songs that they hadn’t done in some time. When the group came out it was to predictably huge cheers, and Merel Bechtold had swapped her red guitar for a natty purple number for this set!

Merel Bechtold during Delain's set

Merel Bechtold during Delain’s set

Timo Somers of Delain

Timo Somers of Delain

Opening with ‘Here Come The Vultures’, singer Charlotte Wessels sounded excellent as usual, but the sound I was getting from my position was noticeably bass-heavy. I put that down to early teething troubles, expecting it to settle, but it never did. One punter near me even shouted ‘Turn The Bass Down!’ as it wasn’t just ‘The Baron’ who was louder than everyone else, Ruben Israel’s kick drum was also thudding its way into my skull. Consequently, although this set was indeed a mixture from all their albums as promised, and even though they played ‘Start Swimming’ from the ‘April Rain’ album (one of my favourite songs and one that had been much-requested prior to the tour), because of that bass-heavy sound I wasn’t enjoying this gig anything like as much as I have done on previous occasions. They unveiled a new song ‘Turn The Lights Out’ in this set, but it rather sailed over my head since I was being juddered into a blancmange by that bass. Otto did stay well clear of the streamer cannons this time during ‘The Gathering’ (I did notice they were much less powerful this time, Delain!) and despite my skull being shaken and not stirred, they were going down very well with the Manchester crowd, with the singer having to pause to take in the loud cheers.

Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije of Delain

Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije

Delain's Otto and Timo

Delain’s Otto and Timo

‘Mother Machine’ and ‘We Are The Others’ closed out the show, and I was actually struggling to hear Martijn Westerholt’s electric piano intro to the latter song, so muddy was the sound I had been getting all night. I have since had reports that the sound was better a few rows back, but I’ve seen this band from the front row many times before and have never had such a shuddering experience as I got at this venue. Whether it was the room, my position or just a duff sound mix I don’t know, but it did take the gloss off this show for me.

Delain Manchester Academy 2

Delain at end of show, Manchester Academy 2

My next Delain show will be in Holland in the New Year, as they play a special set to wrap up this touring cycle, I hope for a better sound mix there, as their undoubted quality was definitely spoilt for me by the sound on this occasion.