Caught Live: Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts (with The Amorettes), Waterloo Music Bar Blackpool 22nd June 2019

Much as I would love to say I came along to check out a band I’d never heard of before, that’s only partially true. I had only heard of this band a few days prior, but the impulse decision to come to this show was based on the fact that The Amorettes were support. The band as we knew it actually split earlier this year with the departure of the McKay sisters (drummer Hannah and bassist Heather) leaving singer/guitarist Gill Montgomery to rebuild. In one of those strange coincidences you get from time to time, at around the same time Aussie trio Tequila Mockingbyrd had just parted company with their own singer/guitarist. So, two bands of a similar style, one needing a rhythm section and the other needing a frontwoman, it only made sense that these should join forces especially since it was heavily suggested by fans of both bands that this should happen. The hybrid Tequila Amorettes have announced they’ll honour previously booked dates by both, and in addition to this they have just expanded the live line-up to a foursome with the addition of second guitarist Laurie Buchanan.

As it turned out this was only the second full show performed by the new line-up, at this converted pub in the southern end of Blackpool. A dedicated rock bar and live venue with a reasonably big stage and a decent viewing area for a pub, this was also only the second time I’d ventured to this place for a gig this year. The T-Byrd/Amorettes came on led by drummer Josie O’Toole, who sat at her kit and just slammed it for the next hour. Any concern that this merged band wouldn’t be quite the same was soon dispelled as the T-byrds drove along this material with just as much oomph as the McKay sisters did, powering through a set of around ten songs – all of which were designed to get fists pumping and heads shaking. O’Toole really has some motor in her, giving it the beans and locking in superbly with bassist Jacinta Jaye. The addition of a second guitarist proved to be useful mid-set when Montgomery lost the low E string of her guitar while playing, she demonstrated impressive dexterity in getting the errant string off while still singing her lines! The fact she had a rhythm guitarist covering the parts helped of course but it was amazing to see her playing, singing and being guitar tech all at the same time. Proof that women are much better at multitasking than we fellas, then (!)

I’m not sure whether this arrangement will continue beyond the tours booked for both acts, but if you go to see either ‘The Amorettes’ or ‘Tequila Mockingbyrd’ this year you’ll get these four ladies, and you’ll get a hard-hitting, hard-rocking set in either case. I’d hope that this line-up will carry on past this year, whichever name they choose to go with as the Aussie pairing fitted in like they’d always been there. I see no reason why they can’t play a set combining the two band’s songs whether they continue as The Amorettes or Tequila Mockingbyrd. Excellent stuff and we hadn’t had the main act yet!

When you’ve not heard a note from a band before seeing them for the first time it’s difficult to write much about them, so to cut to the chase I did enjoy Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts, but it took me a few numbers to get into it. All of the band came on wearing suits and ties, Hamilton himself also in a hat, and they played a set which to me was like a harder Blackberry Smoke with added infusions of humour. A five-piece band with a potent lead guitarist in Dave Winkler, and Carol Hodge on keyboards and backing vocals, rounded out by drummer Mickey Richards and bassist Rob Lane, I’d assumed that because Hamilton is American (Texan, to be exact) that the rest of the band were too. Not so, all bar Hamilton are British and between songs, he made much of the cultural differences between his country and ours. He had this crowd give several ‘yeeeeehaaaawww’ chants, much to his amusement, and made many jokes about British slang words not known in the US. In addition, he was amused to have it pointed out what the acronym of their latest album ‘This Is The Sound’ spelt out (has anybody mentioned this to Swiss prog-metallers Cellar Darling, by the way?) 😀

Though there is a clear country influence to their sound (Hamilton himself does sound like Charlie Starr vocally) they’re probably a bit too far over to the rock side to appeal to country fans, not that this mattered to a pretty decent crowd, all of whom had me at a disadvantage since they all knew this stuff!

I’d certainly go and see these again if they came near me, but it was the Amorettes now powered by Tequila (Mockingbyrd) which led me to jump in the car and head up the M6, and I look forward to seeing more of this merger in the near future.

Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts Facebook page

The Amorettes Facebook Page

Tequila Mockingbyrd Facebook Page

 

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

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Caught Live: Cellar Darling (with Diamond Black), Rebellion Manchester 3rd April 2018

A nice surprise awaited me as I entered Rebellion, having got there early enough to queue up before doors opened. Inside was Jordan Quinn, singer from Midlands metallers The Loved And Lost, accompanied by two members of her band (bassist Jack, and guitarist Dan). They played a show themselves on Easter Sunday but as I was at the Steven Wilson gig the same night I couldn’t attend (‘fair enough’, shrugged Jordan with a chuckle!)

I saw Cellar Darling last year in Utrecht, opening for Delain on their special run of shows featuring Marco Hietala of Nightwish, and was intrigued by their sound, fusing Metal guitar riffs with a hurdy-gurdy played by singer Anna Murphy. I’d already been made aware of them via the track ‘Black Moon’; played on a rock show broadcast by a local community radio station, which sadly is now no longer on air, so wanted to get in early enough to check them out. They captured my interest enough to pick up their album ‘This Is The Sound’ at that show, and I got the chance to tell the band how I found out about them. This date was one of only three British dates, as well as one in Dublin which was of special significance to Anna Murphy, since she is of Irish extraction. (Which helps explain how a Swiss miss ends up with a surname like ‘Murphy’!)

There weren’t that many present in the hall when openers Diamond Back came on stage. At least one fan in the queue was here specifically to see them, although yours truly (not for the first time) knew nothing about them beforehand. Formed by current Sisters of Mercy guitarist Ben Christo, he has a sort-of Glenn Hughes role in this band, adding vocals alongside frontman J.I.Turunen. They sound little like Deep Purple Mk 3 however, the initial impression they gave me was of a heavier Queensryche. They played and sang well, particularly drummer Jan-Vincent Velazco, but the sound was a bit too bass-heavy for me. The set included a cover of Nine Inch Nails’ ‘We’re In This Together’ (presumably not dedicated to the Conservative party!), and they closed with their own current single ‘Sorrow’, probably their best song. The bass player (Adam Lightspeed) probably won’t thank me for this observation, but the way he was posing with the bass upright, and playing with the hand over the neck sometimes, reminded me of a certain Rudy Sarzo!

When I saw Cellar Darling last year I rather frivolously dubbed them ‘Bus Conductor Metal’ because of that hurdy-gurdy (which to me resembles a giant ticket machine!)  and I speculated as to whether ‘BCM’ would be the big thing in 2018. Based on this performance, there’s a good chance it will be! They came on after a lengthy period of setting up, which involved all the band members (drummer Merlin Sutter, guitarist Ivo Henzi and touring bassist Nicolas Winter, besides Murphy herself) – none of that rock star nonsense here – opening with ‘Black Moon’ which got this small but enthusiastic crowd rocking from the word go. It rapidly became clear to the singer that the audience not only knew their material but were singing it back at her word-for-word, and she was visibly surprised at that. With just one album out to date, they played pretty much everything off it, with their best-known song ‘Avalanche’ coming surprisingly early in the set. When Murphy told the crowd that they were working on the second album, a shout for a ‘teaser’ was laughed off, as she replied that ‘you don’t want to hear those songs in their present state!’ Their material is quite dark in places, but there was a lot of humour on the stage. During ‘Six Days’, she actually burst out into laughter when attempting to play the flute part in the middle. That of course only brought this crowd out into even bigger cheers, as she eventually composed herself and restarted the song.

Most of the soloing in their material comes from her hurdy-gurdy; Ivo Henzi is essentially a rhythm guitar player and the music (driven largely by Merlin Sutter’s beats) does owe something to the nu-metal era of the early 2000s. Nicolas Winter positions himself towards the rear, almost as though he’s trying to keep out of the others’ way – even playing bass with a shawl over his head which makes him look like a Jedi Knight, to a geek like me at least! Ivo Henzi did venture over to his side of the stage briefly, though.  The encore included their cover of Queen’s ‘The Prophet’s Song’, which is done complete with a vocal interlude faithful to Freddie Mercury’s original performance. That was the highlight for me, they did a great version of this on the digipak edition of ‘This Is The Sound’, and live it knocked this crowd for six. Their final song was ‘Challenge’ and they were soon off the stage and at the merch stand for an instant meet and greet.

There’s nobody else in Metal quite like Cellar Darling, they have a splendid singer and a unique touch with that hurdy-gurdy, but they also have the songs which stick in the mind which cannot be said for everyone else out there presently. The reaction they got was a genuine surprise to them; I grabbed a brief word with Anna Murphy following this show and she told me that they don’t get that sort of reception even in their Swiss homeland. If the crowd at the other dates was like this one (many had travelled from across the country to attend), then they should be back sooner rather than later. When they come back, they will almost certainly find themselves in larger venues than this.

To conclude then, Bus Conductor Metal is not only a thing, but is definitely the next big thing! 😀

Cellar Darling Facebook Page

Diamond Black Facebook Page