If it went purely on talent, Graham Bonnet would have been a star now, performing on much bigger stages than the small downstairs one at Liverpool’s o2 Academy. A rock singer of astonishing range and power (even today), who has had what’s best described as a chequered career. He is of course best known for his time with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, having sung on their best-known hit ‘Since You Been Gone’ and the album it came from, ‘Down To Earth’. However, since parting company with Blackmore and company after their headlining appearance at the inaugural Monsters of Rock festival at Donington Park in 1980, his career took several twists and turns. He enjoyed a solo hit with the single ‘Night Games’ in 1981 before linking up with guitarist Michael Schenker. That partnership yielded the album ‘Assault Attack, but soon hit the buffers after a well-documented onstage incident in Sheffield. He then founded Alcatrazz, a band which brought guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen (and his successor Steve Vai) to the attention of the wider rock fanbase. While both went on to bigger things, Bonnet seemed to be left behind somewhat as personal issues began to get the better of him.
In recent years he has put his past troubles behind him, and has now put together a band under his own name featuring some excellent – if unknown – musicians. The Graham Bonnet Band, as it’s billed, is a four-piece with himself out front, flanked by bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone and guitarist Conrado Pesinato with the engine powered by drummer Mark Zonden. All are experienced players from the Los Angeles area, although the focus is on the British frontman. The set delivered was very much a case of ‘give ’em what they want’; a mixture of songs from his Rainbow days, some from the Michael Schenker Group, some Alcatrazz and a couple of solo tracks. They even played ‘Only One Woman’, a song Bonnet scored a hit with as singer of The Marbles, almost 50 years ago!
Opening with the Rainbow classic ‘Eyes Of The World’, the singer showed during this set that he very much still possesses ‘the pipes’, as he ran through this set packed with fan favourites, drawing plaudits from many in the audience who were knocked out that a guy his age (68) could still belt it out like that. He looked in good shape too, throwing many poses and even getting on his knees at one point. He got a big cheer even for informing us that he’d been sober for fourteen years as of 2016 – from what I could see tonight, he was singing as well as he ever has done in a live setting.
With such a mixed set, comprising songs written and arranged by some of rock’s most celebrated guitarists, there was a lot of focus on Conrado Pesinato. He doesn’t try to copy the style of a Blackmore, Malmsteen, Vai or Schenker; he keeps enough elements of their original solos while putting his own stamp on the material. One particularly challenging number was the Alcatrazz song ‘God Blessed Video’ which involves a lot of finger-tapping – he performed that while still delivering backing vocals! Over the other side of the stage, Beth-Ami Heavenstone was solid and dependable, playing with discipline and locking in well with Mark Zonden. Of course the hits were delivered, ‘All Night Long’ came early, as did his solo hit ‘Night Games’, while ‘Since You Been Gone’ came towards the end allowing the singer to encourage some audience ‘whoa-wo-wo’ chants.
The band have been working on new material, showing that they’re not intending to just play the hits forever, but this set definitely gave the audience what they craved, a nostalgic look back through the classic rock era from the perspective of one of the major players of that scene. On the evidence of tonight, Bonnet and his crew still have plenty to offer.
The show was actually a four-band bill, unbeknownst to me so I missed the early openers (Matchstickmen). The band that were on when I entered the venue (The Sonic Revolvers) were a local act, hailing from nearby Frodsham. Although their vocalist tried hard to get things going, they were merely competent and didn’t do a lot for me. They probably weren’t helped by the overly-bassy sound mix, though their guitarist had little in the way of tone – it was a wall of noise.
Main support were London band Evyltyde who are doing all dates on this UK run; they also suffered from a much too bassy mix, though at least the bassist (with his illuminated fretboard) gave plenty to listen to with his dextrous runs! I wasn’t too taken with these either, the guitarist and female singer were somewhat overwhelmed by the mix but there was little in the singer’s voice to really grab my attention anyway.