That time of year again, and it’s been another busy gigging year. A frustrating ankle fracture stopped me going to see several shows I’d planned to, so let’s hope at least some of those bands I was forced to miss come around again. I didn’t get to write about every gig I did see on here, so this post will cover those briefly.
The year started off with a gig I only found out about the night before, a Bristol collective known as The Blue Aeroplanes stopped off in Liverpool. My main reason for going along was the fact that iDestroy’s Bec Jevons was part of this band; it was a rather different experience than her normal ‘power trio’ act but this group were actually quite enjoyable, if a bit ‘art-rock’ for my usual taste. They had a ‘Bez’ in dancer Wojtek Dmochowski, who must be around 60 but is exceptionally nimble, he had to be to avoid three guitarists, a bassist and a vocalist on the small stage in the o2 Academy’s lower floor! A week later and I found myself in the back room at Frederiks in Liverpool, normally a restaurant and bar but on this night there was a three band bill showcasing locally-based bands. First up was duo Dangerously Canadian, exactly as they said they were a Canadian guitar and drum duo who played a powerful set with plenty of energy. I was there to see Indigo Moon, who were up next, having been told many good things about them. Their set was trippy and psychedelic, something not a lot of others do and I had hoped to see them again this year. It’s all gone rather quiet on that front since the middle of the year, however, so I have no clue whether they’re still going. Their singer (Ash Colley) was enchanting, and I hope she at least is still on the scene somewhere. The third band was Big Bear, another power-rock duo – for the most part – whose drummer really hit like he meant it! For just £3 that was a good night of local music.
Two days later it was back to the o2 Academy for veteran melodic rockers Tyketto. Fronted by Danny Vaughn still, he delivered the goods yet again with a fabulous vocal performance. His band still features original drummer Michael Clayton Arbeeny but also now includes Brits such as Chris Childs, of Thunder fame, Ged Rylands and Chris Green. The turnout was very good and encouraging for bands of this style who might consider playing in our city. The next gig I saw this month was in the same building, but in the larger upstairs hall. US rockers Rival Sons squeezed in this date as a headliner, in between their arena dates supporting Black Sabbath on their ‘The End’ UK tour. This was a return to Liverpool and in my view a huge improvement on their previous appearance, mainly because unlike in 2015, vocalist Jay Buchanan had come out of his shell and actually addressed the rapt crowd he had at his command.
Closing out the month was a gig by Cannock’s favourite son, Glenn Hughes. The gig was moved from its original venue at Manchester University, from Academy 3 to the Club Academy. That didn’t go down too well with yours truly, who isn’t a fan of the basement venue owing to its poor sight lines. However I and a friend who attended this gig got there early enough to get a reasonable spot close to the front, where you need to be in order to have any hope of viewing the bands! Support was from Walsall foursome Stone Broken, who were very good if a little reliant on the downtuned guitar sound. Glenn himself gave his usual stellar performance, with guitarist Soren Andersen back in the ranks alongside hard-hitting drummer Pontus Engborg and keyboardist Jay Boe. At one point in the evening the drummer had a problem with his kit which took several minutes to deal with; as the tech worked feverishly he continued to play on, while the rest of the guys improvised a jam. It’s always a privilege to see Glenn Hughes, he is now back with Black Country Communion of course.
This month saw me venture out to Stalybridge, where a new venture run by two guys I know from Facebook had started to put on bands at the Stalybridge Tavern. The place is a pub a stone’s throw from Stalybridge station, which is accessible by rail from Liverpool. The first gig of the year they put on featured iDestroy, the Bristol power trio fronted by Bec Jevons and also featuring Becky Baldwin on bass, a popular performer who is in several bands, and drummer Jenn Haneef. Also featured were Gdansk81, a Manchester-based outfit influenced by the post-punk era and particularly Joy Division, who were good but not my cup of tea. However iDestroy gave a knockout performance, they have energy, passion and above all, songs. Bec Jevons has that magic knack of writing a catchy, pop-punk anthem that will stick in your mind after one listen, and with a strong rhythm section behind her, it’s easy to see how they have grown in popularity over the past year or so. A week later, back in Liverpool and at the o2 Academy yet again, I encountered the ‘all-Metal tribute to the Bee Gees and beyond’, Tragedy. These crazies from New York take 1970s disco-pop classics and twist them into Metal ditties, the most amusing transformation being their take on The Weather Girls’s ‘It’s Raining Men’ – prefaced by the doomy intro from Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’! They were supported by up-and-coming Brit hard rockers Bigfoot, who have been widely tipped for success in the next year or so.
The spring is almost as busy a time of year as autumn for gigs, and this year was no exception. Starting off at Manchester’s Band on the Wall, one of the better small venues in that city, was Northern Ireland’s finest The Answer. They’d taken a musical left-turn with their sixth album ‘Solas’, introducing many elements of traditional Irish music to their rock sound, though their live shows remained as heavy as ever. This gig was roughly evenly-split between songs from that album and older tracks from their back catalogue, as the group set out to demonstrate that the latest album didn’t mean they’d turned their backs on hard rock for good. The ‘Solas’ material actually sounded harder live, in particular the title track with which they opened the show. Liverpool band Black Cat Bones supported, their retro look was clearly inspired by Guns ‘n’ Roses but they did a good job warming up the crowd, and that was only the first of several occasions I’d see them this year.
The very next night it was over to Chester Live Rooms to see Dan Reed Network. Many years ago I passed on seeing them at Liverpool, when almost everyone else I knew went along. They weren’t ‘heavy enough’ for me as a young Metalhead then, y’see! What won me round was seeing Dan Reed himself play acoustically with Danny Vaughn on tour a few years ago, he showed himself to be a warm, engaging live singer. The band played a set that seemed to be made up on the hoof, they took several requests and discussed among themselves what they would play next. Although it’s Dan Reed’s name on the ticket he was willing to give the stage over to other members, who all got extended spots. A very good gig, which left me 30 years’ worth of catching up to do!
Barely pausing for breath or even sleep (!) the next gig came up quickly; it was back to Liverpool for a triple bill of hard rock headlined by Swedish outfit Bonafide, with Aussie all-girl trio Tequila Mockingbyrd and another Swedish band (Killer Bee) opening proceedings. This being a Monday night with three, shall we say ‘obscure’ bands, turnout at the o2 Academy was far from packed but those that came got a great night of old-school rock. Bonafide were very much old-school hard rock not far removed from AC/DC, while Tequila Mockingbyrd rocked it HARD. They were in the middle of a transition at this point, with a stand-in bassist (Keira Kenworthy of Syteria played and fitted in so well, I would never have known she wasn’t full-time had they not told us!) and with frontwoman Estelle Artois playing her last tour with the band before stepping down from the group. Killer Bee also played a good set, for those who showed early.
At that time I was working in Chester, which came in handy for the next gig – Stevie Nimmo Trio who were on at the Live Rooms. Stevie, elder brother of King King’s Alan Nimmo attracted some fans of his brother’s band and quite a few who were more familiar than I of his own material. His music is more ‘purist’ blues than the more radio-friendly King King, but he gave a great set, excellent in both vocal and guitar department and ably backed by bassist Mat Beable and drummer Craig Bacon. That was the first of two occasions I’d see Stevie Nimmo here, but more on that later!
The next gig saw a return to the o2 Academy in Liverpool, for American pop-rockers Against The Current. This is a band I knew little about, other than they were favourites of Kerrang! magazine and so I expected a more youthful turnout than normal. They packed out the lower floor of this place (and perhaps should have been given the larger floor) and it was indeed a young audience in the main. They are similar in style to Paramore, with ATC singer Chrissy Costanza openly citing them as influences. For what it was, this was a good live performance and she was particularly energetic and engaging. Not strictly my cup of tea to be honest, and I went mainly because they bothered to come to our city, as one of the most vocal complainers that bands miss Liverpool off such tours!
With many bands on the road at the same time, the inevitable gig clashes started to happen (or ‘Same Night Syndrome’ as I call it!) and one cropped up mid-March as I had inadvertently double-booked the 18th March. I originally planned to go and see Thunder in Sheffield, but had grabbed tickets to see Canadian rockers Monster Truck play in Manchester, before realising that was the same evening! Fortunately I found a taker for my Thunder ticket; though a huge fan of those guys I’ve seen them many times, and this Monster Truck show was too enticing to pass up after seeing them play a stormer of a support to Nickelback previously. It was once again in the unfavoured Club Academy basement but this was a marvellous show, the Canadian quartet really do take you back to the old days of denim, leather, meaty guitar riffs and raucous vocals. They’ve got the songs and the style to really break through in the next couple of years. I was still a bit miffed at missing Thunder, mainly because they had the excellent 70s-flavoured band CATS in SPACE as support and I knew that they’d win fans off the back of that tour. They did that and then some, which I’ll get back to.
A week later it was another trip to Liverpool o2 Academy to see 90s survivors Feeder; I got in to find an all-girl trio bounding across the stage on the main upstairs floor. The Tuts were the band in question, a power-pop outfit with plenty of energy and attitude who told the crowd on several occasions how thrilled they were to support Feeder, a band they grew up idolising. Feeder themselves weren’t the trio I expected but a five-piece, as Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose were joined by an additional guitarist and keyboard player, as well as drummer Geoff Holroyde who sat in for usual incumbent Karl Brazil. The expanded Feeder were very good, better than last time I’d seen them when for me they tried a bit too hard to emulate Nirvana. For their encore, two members of The Tuts appeared in the crowd and I found myself bouncing along with singer Nadia and drummer Beverley!
This mad month continued with another run to Stalybridge in order to see Scream of Sirens. An all-female trio hailing from the North East who play hard rock with a dash of punky attitude, they are a band worth catching if in your area. I got to chat to them and found that their guitarist Ruth is a fan of Y&T, which instantly endeared me to her! Meniketti’s troupe had themselves just announced the dates for their regular autumn UK tour and that tour included a return to Liverpool. At around this time, Metallica announced their own UK tour dates which were slated for the huge arenas of the country. That didn’t include Liverpool, which didn’t surprise me, but the cost of the tickets I thought were prohibitive in any event. Which didn’t stop them from selling out instantly!
Mad March finally came to an end with a run down to Bilston and the Robin 2, for a show headlined by LiveWire (an AC/DC tribute which features two singers to emulate both Bon and Brian material), but I’d gone there to see DORJA, an all-girl hard rock band who I’d been supporting since their formation as I knew three of the girls from a previous band. That was another frustrating gig clash, as my planned trip to Manchester on that date to see Blackberry Smoke went up in, er, smoke! Because of the fact that DORJA’s singer Aiym Almas is based in LA, they can only get together and perform in short stints and so the chance to see them had to be taken. Their 45-minute set went over very well, especially since Aiym herself was firing on all cylinders this time (she was suffering with a throat ailment on their previous appearance in the UK) and showed us all what a soulful, rich voice she has. Their set drew people from all over the country, many of whom I knew personally, but after their performance some left in order to catch Hands Off Gretel who were playing in Whitchurch, also on that night. I stayed around, partly to see LiveWire, but also to take the chance to spend a little time with the DORJA girls who I hadn’t seen in months. I didn’t realise then that’d be my only chance to see them this year however!