Review by Paul H Birch and photos by Rich Ward
As the backstage screen changes from promotional videos for upcoming acts to a sea of flames flickering devilishly, Stetson-attired “King of the slide guitar” Troy Refern, steps on stage to play the role of a duelling diablo. A guest on many a major tour, since covid fled to the wings, he’s often just one man and a six-string, tonight he’s got a drummer seated stage left.
Said drummer is rhythmically adept, he’s also loud and I’m standing across the other side of the hall. More concerningly, Redfern’s guitar is low in the mix, and much as he sings “Now the tables are turned” during opening number ‘Scorpio’ I don’t think he had himself being jinxed personally on the agenda.
He changes guitar with ‘Sweet Caroline’ adding a reggae meets Bo Diddly element, then with new album track ‘Come On’ and its sturdier paced blues boogie, the balances level out a little better. ‘Dark Religion’ and its quieter psychedelic folk aspects benefit, but it’s with ‘Waiting For Your Love’ he casts a spell on the demons plaguing the sound – Swinging into a fuller body rock of sweet noise, the frenzied workout he gives his guitar reverberating nicely.
A short set, with only ‘Sanctify’ to go, he gallops at a considered pace with the tune. A deeper cut, with dashes of Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’ heard as passing notes during the more epic unravelling he gives the number; its feedback-infused climax met by healthy applause from the audience, and quite possibly new fans garnered along the way.
Opening with the title track to your latest album isn’t the wisest of moves in today’s music business where it shouldn’t take demographic polls and pie-charts to suggest you go for a golden-oldie and get the audience on side from the get-go. As it stands, ‘Born In The Storm’ proves rather apt as a new mission statement. Marc Roberts’ keyboards eliciting appropriate thunderous sounds, Vinnie Burns’ guitar screams out like lightning tearing across the sky and on bounds frontman Darren Wharton and they’re off and running with a meaty number that’s got Whitesnake and a little Lizzy wrapped in its palm musically, while aiming for more spiritual verbalisms than any down-in-yer-crotch machismo. Burns effortlessly shreds a solo, Kevin Whitehead packs in the first of several fine-sounding hefty drums rolls and the audience is clapping along, confirming they’re established fans and have access to the new album.
They follow through with another new one in ‘Cradle To The Grave’, its gently bounding arpeggios issuing forth with an assurgent AOR Celtic rock vibe, and for those of us unfamiliar with Wharton, or Dare in general, it’s interesting to take stock early.
But a nipper, when brought into Thin Lizzy as keyboard player, Wharton formed Dare with Burns in the late 80s. That TV presenter Brian Cox also played keyboards with the band of note when mentioning to a work colleague what you were doing over the weekend. Receiving good press, strong support slots and even the unlikely patronage of the late Terry Wogan on Radio 2. Dare has suffered the slings and arrows many bands face over a long career; shedding members, calling time for a while, then clawing back with more than an air of credibility.
For those of us, who know the band only from column inches in the music press of times gone by, and a passing track played by some mate or other, aside from this new album I don’t really know what to expect. Wharton doesn’t play keyboards live, which I found surprising – Not that Roberts needs any help filling out the sound. That he proves not only a more-than-capable singer, but an enthusiastic front-man is impressive, and that he’s able to keep this momentum going for much of the night to be admired by lads half his age. He spends some considerable time with his left foot planted on the front monitor, but Iron Maiden comparisons end there. Frankly, he looks more like Ian Hunter merged with David Coverdale, what with his long dark frizzy hair and sunglasses, while having a shirt unbuttoned to the chest. His voice a warm Northern croon with range.
Bass player Nigel Clutterbuck ensures the frontline’s kept active, tall with guitar slung low, he adds backing vocals when not throwing shapes. Guitarist Vinnie Burns is seemingly happy to stand on his side of the stage for the first few numbers, becoming livelier as the evening progresses. His smile seems genuine, and they’re all often grinning away, seemingly having a good time in each other’s company as well as playing to their fans. The music throughout will be played confidently, Whitehead laying down an impressive beat, and Roberts all-but hidden behind keyboards can infrequently be made out between the gaps adding some essential backing vocals.
Dipping a few years back to their Sacred Ground album, ‘Home’ is next, church-like initially with bass underpinning keyboard arpeggios, it builds towards an anthemic chorus and more strident rockier chords all powered by orchestrated tribal drumming. ‘Volunteer’ follows from the same album, Burns’ chugging guitar drives this one, and so proves distinct from the studio rendition that I’ll later check out, while Roberts’ keyboards still affect melodious bagpipe-like refrains.
Upbeat Celtic-flavoured melodic rock is most decidedly the name of the game here tonight, and while a few of the numbers share similarities those of us not among the faithful may find harder to decipher, we’re among the latter in number. In fact, looking around the audience there are a number of couples who seem to have brought young grown-up daughters along with them based on the facial familiarities. That has to say something about the kind of life-affirming songs Dare sing about; not only that the couples are still together but their kids share similar values, and as it should with all good music, it passes on in the hearts and minds of the next generation. ‘Days Of Summer’ captures those sentiments quite beautifully – The song does the season justice, looking back and rejoicing in what was, with some major applause at the end, showing the crowd’s appreciation.
Keyboards affect acoustic guitars for the AOR ballad that is ‘I’ll Hear You Pray’, audience members swaying side-to-side gently, their rights hands raised in the air doing likewise (I’m not familiar with these gestures, have they supplanted Dio’s horns?). New number ‘Lovers And Friends’ follows at only a slightly brisker tempo, Clutterbuck’s bass urging the change, Burns’ soloing tonally reminiscent of both Michael Schenker and Brian May’s sustained work. Continuing with the Road To Eden album we get the title track next, and again it’s apparent the crowd knows the new record well, clapping along from the start on this bouncy feelgood track.
“We’re getting warmed up now!” declares Wharton as vibrant broken chords introduce ‘Fire Never Fades’, the frontline working the stage, faces all beaming smiles as the crowd’s clapping intensifies; mind you, the guy to my left is patting his partner’s leather-clad backside and I presumed that was his singular interest except they later enthusiastically moved closer towards the stage.
Wharton proceeds to tell more tales of yesteryear, praising Terry Wogan playing their records, damning the current national radio network, and amid some pretty cool drum rolls and a scouring guitar we get ‘Sea Of Roses’. Folkish if brought to its most basic elements it’s given a commercial sheen, Burns standing centre stage when soloing. Ever animated, Wharton’s now telling us the names of various fans down the front, what other shows they’ve been to on the tour, and tall stories they got up to. That he’s able to fit all this in while giving us a lengthy musical show, and probably a longer one than other dates on the tour, mean those at The Robin, Bilston are getting their money’s worth. It should be noted that earlier in the set, Wharton, like Troy Redfern earlier, was having problems with the sound, often giving signals for mixer and sound board, with ‘Silent Hills’ there’s a lovely echo added to his vocals, hymn-like initially it ventures forth into sturdy AOR, with a Highlands fling of a guitar solo to send it home.
Phase three of the show kicks off next, and will see us through the encores too. ‘Wings Of Fire’ will take them back to what Wharton calls their “heavy rock” days. Amid airplane noises, Burns’ guitar scratches out riffs leading into a wailing intro and the song starts shaking its hips to a heavy groove. As the audience join in, this time it’s a dark-haired lass stroking her fellow’s ass I notice to the side of me (It’s only 24 hours later I consider that later that evening there may have been a Black Country orgy I didn’t get invited to). Meanwhile, on stage, Burns is letting rip on guitar.
“Vinnie and I wrote this a couple of years ago now,” jokes Wharton of ‘Abandon’ from 1988 debut album Out Of The Silence. Punctuated with all the AOR drama of the period its was conceived but with a forceful edge appropriate for our current times, its bigtime hookline chorus appeals greatly. Clutterbuck and Burns rock side-by-side centre stage during the solo, swiftly returning to their mics thereafter to add backing vocals as Wharton take the song to its climax. The rocky drive of ‘Into The Fire’ follows in hot pursuit.
“You have been absolutely bloody awesome for our first time here at Bilston, and this is only our third gig on the tour,” exclaims Wharton wearing the same warm smile he had over an hour ago, from which his Oldham-derived vowels utter. With this, we kind of know what’s coming; the last number, prior to any encores. ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ is the tune as guitar bleeds through soloing through as we move from ballad to hymn before warlike drums peddle in and the guitar glides towards a steady rock drive, still hidden-but muchly heard on backing vocals for this one is Roberts, as they conclude their main set.
Returning to the stage Wharton asks if it rains much in Bilston. My mate’s already mentioned the weather’s spoilt a Wolverhampton game, but instead of causing a bunfight among the warring football fans who may be gathered here in harmony, he’s simply enquiring as a lead-in to telling us they’re going to encore with ‘The Raindance’. Another from their debut album, it tends to marry a slower Men Without Hats’ ‘Safety Dance’ to a rockier version of Genesis’ ‘We Can’t Dance’ but maybe I’m just clutching at straws with such comparisons, what I do recall vividly of this one was Wharton’s soulful singing even as he was crouching down and shaking hands with those at stage front, that and Burn doing some rather flash stuff on guitar.
“This next one’s dedicated to my first boss, the wonderful Mr Phillip Lynott,” the singer exclaims. Born in The Black Country, he’s as dear to most of those here tonight. Wharton relates how on Thin Lizzy’s Fighting album each member was visually referenced alongside a playing card, and Lynott was assigned the spade. With deep throbbing bass lines through its melodic sections, Clutterbuck throws back his head and gives us a few poses not seen since Lemmy and Way left this mortal coil.
It is ironic that while Wharton is still giving it his all he is actually now looking deservedly knackered. He doesn’t stay put though and keeps moving while singing (No doubt because that what his “first boss” taught him). There’s a big AOR feel to this one, with some particularly sweet and proud keyboards tinkling away in the latter sections. Within the song, Burns plays sections from ‘Black Rose’ over a slow blues metal groove and Wharton gets his iPad out taking photos of crowd before focussing it on the guitarist as he solos.
If we had a pound for every time Wharton asked “How are you feeling?” we’d ensure Blighty never see another recession. However, he tells more than a handful of corny jokes and some true wide-boy life-stories along the way, so he’ll be forgiven; I also think he’s become aware that he keeps asking it and is now making an extended further joke of it.
When he asks, “What Next?” We can lipread Burns’ suggestion, and they add Thin Lizzy classic ‘Emerald’ to the set. Wharton tells us that he “Played this to Scott and he liked it” thus with Gorham’s approval we have piano and synths gently entreating us with an almost dark Celtic soul rendition of the number. The vocals are impassioned in their delivery, so that whereas the original’s, under Lynott, were delivered with blood and thunder, pre-empting the whole fantasy power metal genre; here the evocative poetry of the man’s words are imbued with a different form of potency, Roberts’ backing vocals again adding to the overall spirituality of the piece.
The music shifts towards a more blues-based form towards a half tempo version of Lizzy original as Wharton pushes Clutterbuck towards a centre stage Burns soloing away. With a long sustain time is called on the gem, and Wharton parks up: “You’ve been fantastic – We will return!” Only, they ain’t going anywhere…. There’s one final number in ‘Return The Heart’. Stirring, upbeat, from the lyrics I’m hearing it sounds like the right kind of curtain call for what’s been a rather impressive and joyful experience.
- Born In The Storm
- Cradle To The Grave
- Days Of Summer
- I’ll Hear You Pray
- Lovers And Friends
- Road To Eden
- Fire Never Fades
- Sea Of Roses
- Silent Hills
- Wings Of Fire
- Into The Fire
- Thy Kingdom Come