We seem unable to manage to get all together for one gig at the moment. This weekend work and family commitments mean that Roj was at the Duchess on Friday (reviews usually appear sometime on Monday) while I was there on Saturday. The only constant was Andy. I’m fairly certain that I got the best night.
I was a bit late arriving at the Duchess and the first band, $lash Vega$, was already on stage. Indeed, I could hear them outside the venue. First impressions weren’t good (the lead singer’s covered in tattoos, has spiky hair and is that eye-liner he’s wearing??? Yes, folks, I’m turning into my Mum…) but once I got a pint and started listening, I realised that you really shouldn’t judge a band by what the lead singer’s covered in. Hailing from Selby and Leeds and billed as Rock / Alternative / Metal, their output was a little too slash metal (the clue’s in the name, I guess) for me to consider purchasing their album but, as a live act, they were a good opener. Ginna’s vocals were strong but if I had to pick a stand-out musician it would be the guitarist in the hat (Robbie G or Oz, I don’t know which) whose solos bordered on the incredible. This was the band’s last gig with current drummer, Holmes, who is leaving after two and a half years and they are still without a replacement.
Next up were even more local lads – York based Morpheus Rising – and the band on tonight’s bill that I knew most about. Their vocalist, Graeme Tennick, is a follower of this blog and one of my Facebook friends. We’ve even been to at least two gigs together. Well, I say “together” but I actually mean we’ve been at the same gigs. Aaaah, the wonders of social networking. Anyway, that begs the question of what I would write if I didn’t like their set.
Thankfully, we’ll never know. The guys produced a top-drawer performance that far-exceeded my expectations. Mind you, there’s a bit of pedigree within the band – the bassist Andy Smith (yes, that Andy Smith, from Mostly Autumn) and we’ve seen Pete Harwood (guitars and guitar tech for Marillion) and Gibbo (drums) play with Freeway. Grae has been a member of several bands and I can’t find any information about Daymo Sweeting (guitarist) – so it should be no surprise that this was a polished performance. Nor should it have been a surprise, given the band’s influences, that I was immediately and powerfully reminded of listening to the likes of Saxon and Iron Maiden all those years back.
Grae has an incredibly raw voice which, the first few times I heard it (listening to their tracks on last.fm) didn’t do a great deal for me. After I while, though, I realised that his voice fitted the style of music perfectly and live he seems to put his whole body behind it, producing an incredibly powerful sound. Again, though, it was the guitars that ruled the set. MR may be Pete’s brainchild but, from where I was standing, it looked as though Daymo took the lion’s share of the intricate solos (correct me if I’m wrong, guys), even if his playing was lost for most of one song. Anyway, whoever it was, they were superb. It has to be said that, for their biggest gig so far, the whole band played well. It was a very solid, very entertaining performance. Stand-out tracks were Fighting Man and Lord of the North. After their set, I bought a copy of their CD, introduced myself to my “friend” Graeme and had a quick chat with Pete. The band hope to get some proper recording done later in the year and that’s another CD I’m going to have to look out for.
…and so to tonight’s headline act, the newly reformed Scottish rockers Gun, with ex-Little Angels frontman Toby Jepson joining new drummer Gordon McNeil, original guitarist Giuliano Gizzi and nearly founder member Dante Gizzi on bass. I’m going to have to stop thinking that I know a fair amount about rock because it seems that everybody that I mentioned this gig to remembered Gun or, at least their cover version of Word Up and Wikipedia says about Little Angels “They were arguably one of the most successful and popular British bands of their time” (in the entry for Toby Jepson). I had never heard of Little Angels and couldn’t remember Gun, although I do now remember Word Up.
Anyway, as with last year’s Uriah Heap gig, this one was to take me completely by surprise. Full-on quality rock (which, I have to admit, sounded a little familiar) with great playing and superb vocals. It sometimes amazes me that a band with one guitar can produce such a good sound, but Joolz manages it. His brother is definitely not one of the inanimate school of bass players and new guy Gordon’s drumming provided a good solid backing to the songs. As far as I can tell, all the tracks played were from the band’s back catalogue, except one new one (Let Your Hair Down) which saw Jepson also take up a guitar. That was one of the best tracks of the set. With their vast experience, Gun are a band who know how to build a set to a close and this set definitely reached a crescendo with the second encore song, the aforementioned Word Up. I have to admit that both Andy and I noticed that the sound was a bit muddy during this set, but it was only when the band tried to quieten it down a bit.
Every so often, the Duchess excels itself. All three of tonight’s bands, although performing slightly different versions rock/metal, complemented each other and combined to create a near-perfect gig. Best of the year so far.