Caught Live: Alia Tempora (with Equinox, Forlorn Hope), EBGBs Liverpool 28th September 2018

Plenty of new ground broken for your correspondent on this night; I’d never been to this venue before despite the fact it’s in my own city and on the occasion I chose to come, it was to see three bands I’d never clapped eyes on before. EBGBs is a small basement venue set below the Heebeejeebies bar (hence the double pun in the name, intended to evoke thoughts of famous New York club CBGBs as well as being a reworking of the main establishment’s name). The stage is tiny and you find yourself ducking under arches to get to the bar, but it looked ideal for a night of rock/metal.  Headlining the event were the Czech outfit Alia Tempora, or at least some of them, but we’ll get onto that later.

First band up were Forlorn Hope; a local quintet who, despite the Pantera and Alice in Chains t-shirts sported by two of the members, were a traditional Heavy Metal band whose songs were all concerned with great historic battles of centuries gone by. That might evoke fears of a Merseyside Manowar (!) but any thoughts of that were soon dispelled (no furry nappies, thankfully) when they started up. There was plenty of humorous banter, mostly from vocalist/guitarist Chris Simpson, but when they struck up they meant business. If you like Heavy Metal as it was before the cookie monster took charge, and like it was when twin lead guitars were the order of the day, you will probably enjoy this lot. The frontman had this small but enthusiastic crowd punching the air and chanting all through their set, he comes with an impressive vocal reminiscent of NWOBHM greats of days gone by. Ones to look for again in future.

The next band were Equinox, another local group who were driven along by their female drummer Jess Stanley. She hit the tubs HARD throughout their set, so much so that the kick drum used by all three bands was starting to fall apart! The rim on the front kept falling off, so when it was spotted by singer Daniel Moran, he just unhooked it from the kit, untangled the wires and lashed it off the back of the stage! The youthful-looking singer turned out to possess a mighty roar, dare I say it but he reminded me at times of a certain Sebastian Bach. He also had quite the sense of humour, at one point running off the stage to buy a Forlorn Hope EP while guitarist Paddy Cummins noodled away on an extended lead solo! They were performing with a stand-in bassist, introduced as Chris Jones (‘he’s in about nine bands at the same time’, remarked the singer) he was impressive, almost acting like a third lead guitarist with his fancy fills. I was very impressed with this band and hope to catch them again very soon.

I’d given Alia Tempora the old ‘youtube test’ of watching three of their videos in advance, that was all I had to go on prior to this gig. I was therefore a little surprised to see only three of them appear on the stage; drummer Patrik Macháček and one of their two guitarists (Štěpán Řežníček) were all that accompanied singer Markéta Morávková for this set. To the side of the drumkit was a laptop, so the absent members’ parts would be coming from that device while the remaining members played around those. It turned out the reason for this was because their other guitarist Radek Žák is currently in hospital, forcing him to sit out their run of UK dates (this being the first of those). Presumably that was also why they were lacking a bass player too, as that role is filled by his brother Pavel.  With what amounted to only half of a band on the stage, that made it almost impossible to assess these as a live act and so instead, with due respect to the guitarist and drummer, it amounted to a self-contained performance from Markéta Morávková who had to carry the whole thing along.

Straight away the illuminated mic stand she had on the stage made me think of another symphonic Metal band who are now one of that genre’s leading lights; that impression was only reinforced watching this singer do her stuff. Her stage moves – the hand gestures, the poses, her habit of crouching down while holding the mic stand – were all straight from the Charlotte Wessels playbook. She is a self-confessed Delain fanatic (their guitarist Timo Somers even appears on a reworked version of ‘Mockingjay’ from Alia Tempora’s album ‘Digital Cube’) and must have studied the Dutch singer’s act closely, she has it all completely down.  Her voice is also reminiscent of the Delain frontwoman’s, though more akin to how she sounded around the time of ‘Lucidity’.

Musically, the band have more in common with Lacuna Coil with syncopated drum beats and numerous electronic embellishments,  though one thing which wasn’t on disk was the backing growls from Štěpán Řežníček, who cut a rather menacing figure with his muscular build and scowling expression. A true ‘beauty and the beast’ dynamic then, with the singer charming those who’d stayed around for their performance – including two members of Forlorn Hope who were headbanging away in unison all set!

For a fiver to see these acts, about whom I knew little to nothing beforehand, this was a very good night. The local groups are definitely on my list from now on, but I really need to see Alia Tempora again with their complete line-up to get a proper idea of what they are about. As it was, although they made the best of a difficult situation, we only got to see half a band live. I do like their music though so let’s hope whatever caused the hospitalisation of Radek Žák doesn’t keep him out of action for too long, so that he can resume his place in the line-up.

Forlorn Hope Facebook page

Equinox Facebook Page

Alia Tempora Facebook page

Alia Tempora setlist EBGBs

Alia Tempora setlist EBGBs

4 – Deserving

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Caught Live: Lifesigns (with The Blackheart Orchestra), Rebellion Manchester 27th September 2018

The slogan on Jon Poole’s bass was clear enough: ‘DESTROY ALL GENRES’ it read. There’s little doubt about which genre Lifesigns fall into, although part-way through the set frontman John Young regaled the audience of a tale where he was informed that his band ‘couldn’t be prog’ – the reason, he added, was that there was ‘a queue for the ladies’ loo!’ Cue much laughter from this audience, which it has to be said was definitely a prog one – comprised mainly of ageing gentlemen clad in the T-shirts of various progressive rock acts, some more obscure than others!

Lifesigns were here to promote their second full album (‘Cardington’) and the turnout was actually quite respectable for a Thursday night, especially since it clashed with a gig from Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets taking place across the city. That fact wasn’t lost on John Young either, as he praised this crowd for showing up and supporting his band, adding that there were many others out there deserving of support as opposed to the established stars of the scene. As ever, they split the set into two parts, with a short interval during which the musicians mingled with their fans. The playing was, as expected, straight from the top drawer. These guys are all virtuosos and their class just told, you find yourself looking all over the stage to see who’s playing that bit which caught your ear. One change to the ranks since I saw these last was that Dave Bainbridge has come in for Niko Tsonev on the lead guitar slot; he also adds extra keyboards  as required.  Not everything was long and epic – the ‘Cardington’ album does have a few shorter numbers, but they did delve back to the first album for ‘At The End Of The World’ and ‘Carousel’. The guitar work from Dave Bainbridge was exceptionally good, he elicited numerous cheers from this audience after his epic solos.

A terrific night of top quality music from some of Britain’s finest musicians, they have the pedigree (all have performed with some of the top names in rock) but with this band, not the brand recognition. By rights they should be in the Bridgewater Hall, as a musician who these guys all know well appeared at last year, as it was this small club near Deansgate station got to see a superb performance. John Young remarked during this set that he remembered the days when places like The Moonstone (a rock club in his hometown of Liverpool from many years ago, where bands would often play) would be full for whoever was playing on any given night. ‘What happened to that?’, he asked us. (We’re still here, we just got older, John!)

Openers were The Blackheart Orchestra, a duo comprising singer Chrissy Mostyn and multi-instrumentalist Rick Pilkington, they served up an enchanting blend of styles. Not hard rock by any stretch of the imagination, but once again high-quality musicianship with both flitting between instruments as they delivered their complex soundscapes. I was impressed enough to pick up their album at this show as well as ‘Cardington’.

Another gig where, the quality of what was on offer was such that I have to award all five inflatable guitars yet again!

5 – Delightful

Caught Live: Halestorm (with Avatar, REWS), o2 Academy Sheffield 22nd September 2018

The ticket said doors were 6:30pm, and I knew that was wrong after having checked the stage times online. Openers REWS were due on at 6:20pm with Halestorm themselves on at an unusually early 8:30pm. So I set out in what I thought was plenty of time, except the M62 had other ideas! By the time I’d battled through (Google advised me to take the motorway rather than the A628 Woodhead pass, the approach to which gets extremely busy since it is single file through a village) and found somewhere to park reasonably near to the venue, I’d missed all but the very final powerchord of REWS’s set! That was disappointing, as they got to play before a huge crowd (the floor was already pretty busy even before 7pm) and based on the cheer they got, went down well.  I have seen them twice before and intend to do so again, so know all about their worth.

So, having missed an act I was rather looking forward to, I found a spot somewhere in the middle for the next band, Avatar. (The front rows were long since occupied, there was a VIP package for those with enough lolly to indulge, which gave those people first shot at the barrier.) Yet another band about whom I had no previous knowledge, they first sent their drummer (John Alfredsson) out, clad in what looked like old-fashioned military dress, complete with greatcoats. He got the crowd cheering before starting up, then the rest of the band emerged led by vocalist Johannes Eckerström, whose appearance was a mashup of Gene Simmons, Alice Cooper and King Diamond – the makeup, flapping tongue, cane and top hat were all present and correct!  Their music is however much heavier, all buzzsaw guitars and big drums, alongside synchronised head-swishing, something which seems typical of European Metal bands.  Visually, they were striking in those colourful outfits, and the vocalist was pulling every cliche in the book to get this crowd on side, which for the most part (and to his credit) he succeeded in doing. An entertaining enough band, though there was a distinct lack of bassist on the stage. It turned out their four-stringer Henrik Sandelin was sitting out this tour for personal reasons, so it is to be hoped that whatever it was that caused him to miss this run is soon behind him. For me though, although they were eye-catching, their songs and the set didn’t grab me in quite the same way that their compatriots Ghost (who are similarly visual in their approach) have managed to do.

Halestorm’s pulling power in this country remains undiminished, this tour sold out rapidly once tickets went on sale in March of this year even though their fourth album (‘Vicious’) was only released a few weeks before this tour took place. Personally I wasn’t that excited by the new record when I heard it, although pleased that the guitars were back up front and central I actually thought previous offering (‘Into The Wild Life’) had a better selection of songs. Nonetheless the quartet must believe in this album, as they played seven from it in the set, opening with ‘Black Vultures’. Singer/guitarist Lzzy Hale sounded in form on this night, unleashing the roar frequently. ‘I Am The Fire’ came second song in which had her really shredding the vocal cords, and it didn’t let up for most of the night.

This set was one of the heaviest I’ve seen them play; there were few lighter moments as they went for the time-honoured ‘they like the hard stuff in Britain’ approach; only in the encore did they ease off a touch with ‘The Silence’ played as a duo with just Lzzy and guitarist Joe Hottinger, and of course ‘Here’s To Us’ (followed by ‘She Won’t Mind’; the acapella coda to ‘I Like It Heavy’ on their third album) which closed proceedings. There was a tip of the hat for their older fans though, as they played ‘It’s Not You’ from their 2010 debut and prefaced the raunchy ‘Do Not Disturb’ with an improvised extract of ‘I Get Off’. The crowd was raucous throughout the show, though I suspect a few around me whose reaction was a little more muted for that might not have known those numbers. No Halestorm show is complete without Arejay Hale’s drum solo, he really gives it some welly at the best of times (especially during an extended ‘Amen’) but his spot, with the big sticks unleashed halfway through, always gees up the crowd.

As a postscript, although I didn’t actually see REWS play I did at least get to say hello to them afterwards. I’d also met up with Libby and Charlotte from Nottingham noisemakers Desensitised, who’d been doing some street-team promotions for REWS beforehand and we all got to chat to Shauna and Collette, as well as get pictures. That made up in part for missing their set, but even so it was a fine night of hard rock from all involved.

4 – Deserving

 

Caught Live: Martin Turner, Tivoli Venue Buckley, 21st September 2018

I’d resigned myself to not seeing Martin Turner and his band this time around, since the nearest gig to me (St Helens, where I saw this band play a gig which was filmed for a DVD release 2 years ago) clashed with the Halestorm gig in Sheffield I’d booked for. However, when the opportunity came to get along to the Tivoli in Buckley I seized upon it, freed from domestic duty for the evening. The bassist and founding member of Wishbone Ash has been celebrating his legacy in recent years by performing his old band’s classic albums live and in full, and this time around he chose to base the set around Wishbone Ash’s 1970 debut. I got to the ‘Tiv’ to be greeted once again by venue manager Rokib, and having paid my entrance fee I entered the hall to find – a sprinkling of people watching opening band The Clan. The Wirral trio played old-fashioned hard rock with plenty of vigour and guitar soloing, with a sense of humour at what amounted to a rehearsal set for them. Their set benefitted from a very good sound balance, something I’ve noticed before at Martin Turner shows and partly why I wanted to see this show.

There weren’t too many more there when the main man himself came on stage, although those that were there soon filled up the barrier. Before the main part of the set (the complete performance of the first album) the quartet – made up of guitarists Misha Nikolic and Danny Willson, driven along by drummer Tim Brown – played the title track from ‘Written In The Stars’, an album released just a couple of years ago as well as ‘The King Will Come’. One difference from last time I saw Turner was that he was playing a different bass – the classic white Thunderbird has been replaced by a scarlet version. Not that it mattered – he played this bass with the same distinctive style. The playing was once again to an extremely high standard; those who for whatever reason didn’t come to this gig missed out on a top-quality performance. With them playing the debut, that meant a delivery of ‘Phoenix’ and that alone was worth the admission price – superbly played and sung, it really did justice to the version originally recorded almost 50 years ago.

There was still plenty more to come after that though, reaching into the back catalogue the band played ‘Silver Shoes’ from 1974 as well as the inevitable ‘Blowin’ Free’ from the classic ‘Argus’ album. After a long set, including the instrumental ‘F.U.B.B.’, Turner was ready to wrap it up with a closing speech. Mentioning that he had seen many posters advertising tribute bands at this (and other) venues on the tour, he went to remark that his band was a ‘tributary’ band but the pun rather fell flat as a ‘refreshed’ punter up near the back shouted (loudly) for them to play both ‘Warrior’ and ‘Throw Down The Sword’! Incredibly, they did just that as Danny Willson interrupted the chat with the opening riff to ‘Warrior’, and Turner just picked it straight up with the rest of the band.

Every time I see Turner I come away impressed with the care taken in doing things properly – the mix is always spot-on, the playing impeccable (although Willson remarked that the ghosts which reputedly haunt the Tivoli must have been responsible for his guitar going out of tune!) and the set is always lengthy, providing full value for the ticket. For a bloke who will be 71 in October, Turner is still in great shape. Hopefully there’s a few more years left in the bassman yet, if classic rock is your bag then it doesn’t come much better than this. So good, I’m obliged to award all five inflatable guitars!

Martin Turner ex-Wishbone Ash Facebook Page

5 – Delightful

Time to take a RISK

Risk: L-R James Ford, Mel Gaynor, Holly Henderson

Risk. L-R: James Ford (guitar), Mel Gaynor (drums), Holly Henderson (bass)

A new band was announced on Saturday (15th September); RISK is a trio put together by drummer Mel Gaynor, best known for his long tenure with Simple Minds (he was there throughout their glory years in the mid-80s, and still played with them up until 2017) as well as having had a stint with NWOBHM outfit Samson before then. Joining him are guitarist James Ford, who has been playing since the age of six years old and is a renowned session player, with the line-up being completed by none other than Holly Henderson who, for this project, has swapped her Telecaster guitar for a bass.

The group was only unveiled officially at the weekend and so there isn’t much else to go on as yet; the trio have already been working on sessions for an album (whose material is composed by the former Simple Minds man) and there are plans to take this outfit out on the road, hopefully before the end of 2018. What is known is that the musical direction is geared towards rock; whether that’s hard rock, progressive, or a fusion of styles is still to be revealed.

As someone who has followed Holly’s musical journey for several years now, from her time in a touring covers band, through her stint with all-girl rockers DORJA, then her own solo material, the prospect of seeing her line up alongside a real ‘name’ in the business is truly exciting. She is as accomplished on a four-string as she is on six, that plus the promise of some guitar pyrotechnics from James Ford should have music fans eager to hear what this trio bring to the table.

So far the band have only made available brief snippets of what they’ve been working on, there is a short video on their Facebook page which is a taster of what’s to come.

I look forward to hearing the finished album and seeing this outfit live in the near future.

RISK Facebook page

Mel Gaynor Facebook page

Holly Henderson Music Facebook page

James Ford Facebook page

Caught Live: Wayward Sons (with Doomsday Outlaw), o2 Academy Liverpool, 15th September 2018

The opening date of what Wayward Sons billed as a ‘winter tour’ actually took place before the Autumn Equinox, so (technically) it was still summer! Pedantry aside, it was good to see veteran rocker Toby Jepson back in our city for the first time in years, with his current band Wayward Sons.  The one-time Little Angels frontman has since carved out a career as a producer, but returned to the stage with this outfit a year ago. Their debut album (‘Ghosts Of Yet To Come’) gained a lot of airplay on Planet Rock, with their live performances (supporting the likes of Inglorious and Steel Panther) being warmly received.

Their ‘real’ tour comes in October/November, when they play a series of dates supporting Saxon and then headline their own run, so this one was a little bit of a bonus for fans at this end of the M62 (like your correspondent!) who often bemoan the lack of this kind of event here. It looked like it was going to be a ‘selective’ kind of turnout, but as so often happens the place filled up substantially five minutes before the headliners were due on stage. Those who preferred to stay in the pub missed out on Doomsday Outlaw, a five-piece from Derby who play old-school classic hard rock.  I caught the end of their set in Buckley recently (when they supported Graham Bonnet Band) and thought they were impressive. Here though, the sound was absolutely ear-splitting, a bit much for the smaller room at the o2 Academy. Above the din, it was clear they have a fine vocalist in Phil Poole, even if during their last number he failed to emulate Daltrey’s mic-swinging technique – the ‘clonk’ of his mic hitting the headstock of guitarist Steve Broughton. He almost ‘corpsed’ after that in embarrassed laughter but recovered enough to get through the song. Anyone going to the subsequent dates should check these guys out.

Wayward Sons came on fairly early at around 8:30 and the first thing that hit you was that volume – they were just as loud (if not more so) than the support! Opening with ‘Alive’ from the album, their sound is as heavy as any headbanger could want, plenty of meaty guitar from axeman Sam Wood as well as Jepson himself on rhythm. There is still enough melody in the mayhem to provide singalongs in the choruses, and the frontman took every opportunity to get the crowd involved.  All of the songs from the album were played, as well as two non-album tracks from their ‘Don’t Wanna Go’ single (‘Radio Denial’ and ‘Backslide’), plus two Little Angels covers later in the set. One of those was inevitably ‘Kicking Up Dust’, which spawned the name of this band and the other was set closer ‘Young Gods’. These were delivered with far more grunt than they were in the Little Angels days, and as an added bonus they even ended proceedings with the closing segment of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’!

Although he does take pains to make sure everybody else in the band is recognised, Jepson is one of those frontmen who just naturally grabs the attention. He seemed to have a permagrin all night, proclaiming he’d play a gig ‘every night’ if he were allowed to. He also seemed happy to be back in Liverpool after all this time, reminiscing with the audience about playing at the Royal Court. He does have impressive players alongside though, particularly Phil Martini on the drums. It was a little tough to hear Dave Kemp on the keyboards, since the PA was set to kill (!) however.

A fine night of old-fashioned classic hard rock then, performed with verve and enjoyment by all present. Hopefully it won’t be as long until next time Toby Jepson rocks up in Liverpool, but if I’m being honest the volume was a bit excessive all evening. For those who still insist that ‘if it’s too loud then you’re too old’ – well count me as ‘too old’ if you like but on this occasion I was glad of the improvised tissue paper ear defenders I had in all set!

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: L.A. Guns (with Jared James Nichols, Stone Trigger), Tivoli Venue Buckley, 8th September 2018

Confession time: I went along to this gig primarily to see Jared James Nichols. The Wisconsin blues/rocker has won a lot of friends on these shores in the past few years and has also gained a few famous fans into the bargain. One of those is Tracii Guns of tonight’s headliners, but more on that in a moment.  L.A. Guns were one of those bands that kind of passed me by in the 80s sleaze rock glory days; you couldn’t go to a rock club night without hearing either ‘One More Reason’ or ‘Sex Action’ but for whatever reason, I never got to see them live.  Recently the two mainmen, British-born vocalist Phil Lewis and the aforementioned Tracii Guns have reunited after many years fronting their own versions of the band and have been rebuilding their fan base by touring not just in the USA but also coming to Europe and the UK.

For once I got to Buckley in time to catch the first band; Ireland’s Stone Trigger were warming up the early arrivals with their own take on the late 80s Sunset Strip era. They looked the part, especially vocalist Tommy Rockitt in his shades, big hair and ripped (red!) trousers complete with obligatory studded belt. Vocally he reminded me of Spike, with a similarly throaty delivery, though they were more 80s LA than early 70s London with their material. They did play with commendable enthusiasm considering they started out before a sparse audience, but got those people rocking and ended before a considerably larger crowd.

Next up was Jared James Nichols, backed once more by bassist Greg Cash and drummer Dennis Holm. Just as he did at Chester earlier in the year, he set the stage on fire with incredible (fingerstyle) guitar playing. Performing tracks from his ‘Black Magic’ album alongside selected covers, he sprang a surprise when he introduced Tracii Guns to the stage. The even bigger surprise was the choice of song for them to jam on – Black Sabbath’s ‘N.I.B.’! A rendition that Iommi himself would have approved of, this was a real highpoint of the evening, and we hadn’t yet had the headliners! Greg Cash on the bass was a showman in his own right, throwing shapes, pulling grimaces and when given the opportunity, demonstrating his own dexterity.

The only L.A. Guns album I had back in the 80s was their second offering, ‘Cocked and Loaded’ and I suppose I should have given that a listen beforehand, instead I had come to this gig ‘cold’ on their material. Not expecting a great deal, what I got was a full-on rockin’ performance from an outfit that was much more than two old stagers reliving their glory days. Phil Lewis was a revelation; his voice has held up a lot better than many other veteran rock singers from the same era that are still doing the rounds. Not only that, he looked in great shape, bounding about the stage, geeing up the crowd and generally performing like he was in front of 20,000 not something like 200! Meanwhile his compadre Tracii Guns was on fire, unleashing blistering solo after blistering solo, and also doing his best Jimmy Page by playing guitar with a bow! They surprised me by playing ‘Sex Action’ fairly early in the set, which was understandably heavy on tracks  from the first two albums but also showcased some newer material including ‘Speed’ – a number that was more Speed Metal than Sleaze Rock!

The rest of the band (drummer Shane Fitzgibbon, rhythm guitarist Adam Hamilton and bassist Johnny Martin) gave the two frontmen plenty of room but also got a good share of the spotlight themselves – all contributed backing vocals, and Martin in particular stood out with his feet-apart stance and a hairstyle I can only describe as ‘overgrown moptop’! Near the end of the set, Tracii Guns returned the favour by bringing back to the stage Jared James Nichols for an instrumental jam, then for their closing number also reintroducing Stone Trigger guitarist Andi Andrews.

All told this was a fine night, this venue once held rock nights weekly where the likes of LA Guns would be played, and it’s great to see the old place well and truly back on the gig map putting on bands, even those who performed here first time around are now finding themselves back in Flintshire to rock us again. You could say L.A. Guns and their support acts got this crowd to party like it was 1989!

4 – Deserving