Ten + Serpentine + White Widdow @ The Roadhouse, Birmingham – 30th May 2012

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Review By Woody Pics by Sean Larkin

This rather tasty melodic rock triple header kicks off with relative newcomers White Widdow, who have came all the way from Oz to fill our ears full of old school keyboard heavy melodic rock! These guys have really created a buzz since they appeared on the scene with their debut album, their follow up Serenade released just one year later and of course their appearance at least year’s Firefest.

I have to be honest here though and confess despite all the positivity I hear about the band I find the band a little too retro – yes I know, SHOCK! I can hear all the jaws smashing off the floor at my ‘air keytaring’ ass stating something is TOO old school! Don’t get me wrong I like the band and I love their attitude and love of ‘80’s rock, but they just don’t inspire me and capture me the way some other bands do. That said they play melodic rock with a real love and passion and I’d never miss a live show given the opportunity!

Tonight I don’t think was their best performance of the tour, perhaps a little bit of jet lag kicking in and end off tour burnout? I do have to give the guys a bit of slide though given the sound at the Roadhouse not been particularly good. Their brand of melodic rock really needs a crystal clear sound and unfortunately tonight their songs couldn’t shine the way they should. Front man Jules Millis probably suffered the most from the poor sound, and it seemed at times as though he couldn’t hear himself properly, frequently going out of tune and struggling vocally.

Jules is a pretty entertaining front man even though he was having an off night and it’s clear why people take to him and enjoy his stage presence. It was also ball-tingly awesome that Jules’s brother Xavier’s keyboards were nice and high in the mix! I definitely saw enough here to want to see the band again, not least because Enzo Almanzi’s guitar skills warrant checking out once more. Fingers crossed with a far better sound system to showcase their songs.

Amongst their set we heard ‘Reckless Nights’, ‘One More Day’, ‘Strangers In The Night’, ‘Serenade’, ‘We Got The Wings’, ‘Show Your Cards’, ‘Do You Remember’ and ‘Broken Hearts Won’t Last Forever’.

Serpentine have become image conscious since Matt Black’s appointment as front man, and as I said to a few people they have come on leaps and bounds in their stage appearance which will obviously help the band in their push and increase their fan base. The Serp’s have a bright future ahead of them and it’s only going to get better and better from here on in.

I don’t know how many sacrifices or souls had to be sold but Matt Black’s arrival to the melodic rock world has been like a gift from the gods to Serpentine! Fitting in nicely with the ages of the rest of the band and also having a true love of melodic rock will endear him to hardcore AOR nuts, for sure! He has very big shoes to fill in Tony Mills but this guy is such a talent I truly believe he is part of the next generation of melodic rockers!

I have championed the Serp’s ever since I heard their debut album, but despite their many live excursions in the past year this is actually the first time I’ve seen them live. Was it worth the wait? Oh hell fooking yeah!

I know both their albums inside out, so with every song they play I’m hoping for another favourite to be played. The Serp’s got the best of the sound tonight, although it wasn’t as good as they deserve. I have to make it plain even the world’s best sound man can only do so much and the Serp’s sound guy did his best! Hats off to Joe Lally!

As a unit it’s obvious these guys aren’t just musicians they’re mates too and their easy stage presence comes across really well and their youthful exuberance came across in spades! Gaz Vanstone on bass bops around like he’s playing in a metal band and Roy Millward bashes his drums giving the band a harder edged live sound. Chris Gould has a confident stage presence and interacts with Matt frequently whilst seemingly playing riffs and solo’s with total ease. Gaz Noon on keyboards wears a grin from ear to ear, as well as enthusiastically singing backing vocals. It isn’t easy to be entertaining behind a stack of keyboards but the live experience he’s gathered shows in his obvious joy of being onstage!

Having the right front man can make or indeed break a band in the live arena and Matt’s one of the best in the biz, I don’t know who we have to thank for his impeccable taste in music but THANK YOU!!!! His youthful energy is a godsend to a genre struggling to find new singers in the mould of all our favourite singers from back in the day. He has the passionate performance style of Danny Vaughn, the cheeky humour and endearing presence of Ted Poley and vocals that give Jeff Scott Soto a run for his money!

Matt’s obviously been performing for years at different levels as he seems a natural and confident performer and his vocals are near faultless, we couldn’t have asked for much more! This is the second time I’ve seen Matt this month and he’s also very good at adapting his stage presence depending on the crowd, something that obviously comes from the wealth of live experience he has had. Tonight Matt was in his element, he’s probably one of the most naturally funny front men I’ve ever seen and he indulges in banter with the crowd at every opportunity. His cheeky lad-ish humour may not be for everyone, but I spent most of the in-between song time laughing. Personally I think his very human unforced humour warms the crowd to him and the band.

We got a good mix of songs from both Serp’s albums and the show seemed to fly by too quickly. ‘In My Blood’ was without a doubt a stand out performance for me, probably song of the entire night for me! We also got ‘Deep Down (There’s A Price For Love)’, ‘Lonely Nights’, ‘Philadelphia’, ‘Heartbreak Town’, ‘Best Days Of Our Lives’, ‘A Touch Of Heaven’, ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Whatever Heartache’.

Tonight’s headliners TEN have rarely toured the UK over the years, so this tour has been met with a lot of excitement and anticipation. The last time I caught them was eleven years ago on their co-headlining tour with Uncle Bob Catley promoting the ‘Babylon’ album at the Burton Bass brewery!

As I told the boss, if they played half as well as they did that night I’d be a very happy boy! I knew the Roadhouse sound wasn’t going to do the band’s pomp fuelled epic style any favours and after initially sounding quite muddy, most noticeably on Gary’s vocals, this did dramatically improve as their set wore on.

Ten are a bit like Marmite and divide opinion with ease, a lot of this is down to the fact that they are not an AOR by numbers band and whilst they are most definitely a melodic rock band they play a more epic form of it. I love TEN, I always have and the fact they aren’t a stereotypical melodic rock band appeals to me. Tonight was a real treat, it was fantastic to once more witness the band perform and play some of my old favourites.

‘After The Love Has Gone’ caused an obvious ear-gasm, and new guitarist Dan Mitchell did a stellar job recreating those unforgettable guitar riffs. Yeah he may be a bit of widdler, but I really enjoyed his performance – he is an obviously talented guitar player with a confident easy playing style. Considering they don’t perform that frequently Gary Hughes comes across as a hardened live performer and his voice is impeccable. Long standing Ten buddies John Halliwell on guitar and Steve McKenna on bass also add to the bands strong and entertaining stage presence. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea but there ain’t no denying Ten simply ROCK live!

Amongst the set we heard ‘Endless Symphony’, ‘Spellbound’, ‘Book Of Secrets’, ‘The Robe’, ‘Love Song’, ‘Centre of My Universe’ and ‘Red’.

Other songs that captured the audience’s cheers were an epic rendition of ‘Ten Fathoms Deep’, the melodic beauty of ‘Hourglass & The Landslide’ and the classic ‘The Name Of The Rose’. We got Rose as the encore, where I appreciated Hughes deciding to not leave the stage but rather announcing it as the encore. I know it’s a very old tradition and many bands like to do it, but I think the band did the wise thing and capitalising on the euphoric atmosphere and just giving us what us we wanted!

It was a great evening of melodic rock, which has unfortunately become a rarity in these parts. Hopefully tonight’s loyal turn out will turn some heads and fingers crossed we’ll get a few more tours passing through the heartland again! I have to say as much as a real pleasure it was to get to see Ten once more, the Serp’s were my highlight of the night and here’s hoping they be back on the road later this year!

 

 

 

View the rest of the photos from the gig below: