When I was younger I went to quite a few gigs. Admittedly, not as many as I find myself going to now. However, back then they were, for the most part, larger venues than I go to now. I started my gigging career at the now demolished Queen’s Hall in Leeds but quite quickly moved up to stadium concerts, both indoors and outdoors. I saw the likes of Queen, Genesis, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, U2 and many others. Big names at big venues. As time moved on, I got bored of being constantly on the phone, trying to get through to buy tickets for the next big draw and, in hindsight, feel a little privileged that I managed to get to see some of the bands that I did. With ticket prices moving towards the somewhat extortionate, I practically gave up live music for a few years, until the opportunity to join up with the weekend group came along and I discovered the relative joys of smaller venues and smaller bands. There are still some big names that I would try to get (reasonably priced) tickets for (and some, sadly, where the opportunity will now never arise again) but, in the main, I’m enjoying seeing up-and-coming bands with little or no recorded material behind them.
Until tonight’s visit to The Duchess…
Firstly, a mention for the support act. Yes, just the one. This was no three band, thirty-minute-a-set line-up but the more traditional main act with one support band. Maccara are a band of undetermined locality – the only detail I can find is that Boanecker Illy (lead guitar and main writer) is Sri Lankan. Vocalist Hollie Evans, singing with extreme clarity and sounding just a notch down from Amy Lee (Evanescence), speaks with the kind of lilting Scottish accent that makes me go weak in the knees. The rest of the band are Andy Brook (guitar), Klaus (bass) and Tom Kirkham (drums). Their musical style was heavy/melodic rock with a sprinkling of pop and a small smidgen of reggae – unusual to say the least. But they really were extremely good, putting lie to my theory that you never properly hear lyrics of live songs, but that your brain fills in the words from the recorded version, assuming you have heard it. Although there were a couple of weaker songs, the set overall was excellent, certainly good enough to entice me to shell out cash for a copy of their debut CD (or, at least, the advance copy that was on sale). Holly and Illy were signing as many copies of this as was put in front of them and, Holly told me that she thought the sound was a bit on the loud side. I had to disagree as I thought it was top notch and kudos should be heaped on the sound engineer for tonight’s gig.
In my past gig-going experiences, it wasn’t often that I saw a support act that was as good as the main band. Maccara, however, were certainly getting there tonight.
That main band was, in fact, twenty-one studio album veterans Uriah Heep. Formed in 1969 and almost constantly recording since then (although with many line-up changes), Heep somehow bypassed my musical radar in the 80s when rock and heavy metal were my main “things”. However, I had heard of them and when I found out they were playing York I didn’t hesitate to buy a ticket. Flipping glad I did as well. As good as Maccara were, the youngsters were put to bed by these old-timers of rock.
Scintillating guitar-playing, superb drumming, melodic keyboards and powerful vocals (although not quite as clear as Hollie’s) all added up to a performance that met, exceeded and then soared past my expectations. The set list comprised of the whole of the latest album (Wake The Sleeper, released earlier this year) together with older songs which, judging by the reaction of the majority of the audience, are considered classics by the fans. Listening to the songs, I could hear similarities between them and other bands – most notably Asia, Yes and Deep Purple – but, while the sound might not have been unique, Uriah Heep have been around long enough for it to be coincidence rather than plagiarism. After all, two of those bands were recording at the same time as Heep and the other pretty much formed from the remnants of Yes.
As the set went on, and the years seemed to fall away from lead singer Bernie Shaw, I found myself enjoying the music more and more. I’m told that, for most of the time, my jaw was on the floor.
Overall, this was easily the best gig I’ve seen in years and definitely the best I’ve seen in York. This really was stadium-sized rock played in the heart of our fair city.