I had to make a choice tonight – a more-than-established but perhaps not-yet-veteran rock guitarist or an up-coming Blues guitarist about whom the former says good things (and also produced his EP). It really was a last minute decision as to which venue I was heading to, a decision that could have changed en route when my usual ATM was out of action and the only alternatives were closer to the other venue. In the end, though, I went with the established, if only because the new guy is more likely to come back to York.
Support tonight came from local band BastRad, who admitted they had been quiet recently. “You had to go and buy a f***ing house,” drummer Martin Durrant admonished frontman Martin Drury. The last time I saw these guys, over eighteen months ago, a fellow gig-goer described them as “young lads having fun” and tonight I could see what he meant. The band try to put on a performance rather than just playing a set and, sometimes, it came across as a bit too much “larking about” – for example, when guitarist Lee Kavanagh ran across stage to stamp one of Drury’s effects pedals, it was almost as if he suddenly thought, “wouldn’t it be a laugh…” At other times, such as when Drury and bass-player Steve Bull “machine-gunned” the crowd, it looked a lot more polished. Musically, BastRad wear their influences on their sleeves (and, in the case of Bull and Durrant, on their t-shirts as well). Heavy riffs, screaming guitars and pounding, frantic drums brought to mind Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, although their was lots of variation both within and between the tracks of their too short set. Highlights were One Thousand Tears Of Pain, whose slower, more atmospheric opening gave the audience a chance to catch a breath after the frenetic first two songs, and the title track of the band’s EP, Riff Propelled Grenade, which started off dark and gloomy before a short drum section livened it up. At just five tracks, this may have been a short set, but the songs were musically ambitious, the sound huge, the playing tight and, overall, it was a big, very enjoyable performance. After each of the three previous times I have seen BastRad, I have enjoyed their performance and their music more. Tonight was no exception. They may have been quiet recently, but they have come back better than ever.
I’ll be honest, I had heard of Bernie Tormé – in fact, when I still owned vinyl, I had two Gillan albums that he played on – but, until I saw that he was playing Fibbers, I had no idea that he had a solo career and didn’t know what to expect from tonight’s gig. Tormé and his band appeared nonchalantly on stage, almost seeming surprised to hear applause as they did so. With a smile, a brief “hello” and a jump that proved that, even at 62, his body is still agile, he launched into his set. The out and out rock of Wild West was followed by something with a hint of Blues. Tormé’s vocals were strong, if a little swamped. “This is my Bob Dylan impression,” he quipped, slipping a harmonica round his neck for Blood Runs Cold. “Bye, then,” shouted one audience member. He needn’t have worried – the harmonica was sparsely used and the song nothing like Dylan. The opening chords of the next song saw a small hardcore group of fans at the front bouncing in anticipation. As it went on, a middle-aged woman, somewhat incongruously dressed compared to the rest of the crowd, could be seen swaying along. A technical instrumental section saw intricate guitar work backed by powerhouse drumming and rumbling bass (apologies, I didn’t catch the names of his band). Throughout it all, Tormé’s right hand seemed to play every inch of his guitar strings, while his left barely left a fret untouched. So engrossing was the music that Party Town seemed disappointingly short and sharp compared to what had gone before. There was little chat between songs and, yet, rock performance staples abounded – Tormé cavorted across the stage, his right arm windmilled. “This is a song for the South Shields posse,” he announced before playing another Blues-based track, this one an epic, atmospheric song that seemed as though it might be ending the set. At one point Tormé played his guitar while holding it above his head, at another he held it even higher and scraped the strings along a metal bar above the stage. As Tormé and the bass player left the stage, we were treated to an energetic drum solo which, with the pair returning, led straight into another track. A seemingly refreshed Tormé, now jacketless but still in the same sweat-soaked shirt (he had earlier mentioned how hot it was on stage and suggested swapping places, if anybody played guitar) encouraged an audience clap-along before his most animated song, then thanked the crowd for coming out and supporting live music. “You can’t beat rock and roll,” he enthused before playing a song of, almost, that name. After another Blues based song, an energetic version of New Orleans, complete with audience shout-along, brought the main set to a close, with Tormé holding out his guitar for those at the stage barrier to “play” at the very end.
After a very brief break, the trio re-emerged and the first song of the encore saw the boys from BastRad rushing forward, devil’s horns aloft. Sadly I didn’t recognise it. Both songs in the encore were, he told us, written by heroes of his but, even with the title of the second – Same Old Story – I can’t tell you who they were.
Before the start of the set, I had been told that it was unlikely that Tormé would be playing right up to the ten-thirty curfew. He didn’t, but he did play am hour-and-a-half set of blistering rock and roll and Blues, with some incredible guitar work. He also promised that the band would be out front almost immediately after the set to sign merchandise and that’s nearly always worth an early end.