Review by Paul H Birch, photos by Rich Ward
The generation that saved a record industry by buying its vinyl collection several times over on constantly re-mastered CD editions is feeling the pinch of austerity. With mortgages nearly cleared they were enjoying going out again catching live gigs, now they’re topping up their kids’ education fund or stuck in babysitting grandchildren. For those of us who can make it out to the Black Country tonight the early start means we still miss out on seeing Birmingham’s Redline, but park ourselves in our seats and study the local faces on the scene mingling throughout for what’s a small and intimate gathering.
Bounding on stage, Broken Chords offer the sugar rush of power pop swirled by a stick of Blackpool rock. Initial impressions have them pitched between Cheap Trick and early Who, the latter assisted visually by their Gibson SG wielding guitarist/lead vocalist’s visual appearance whereas his overt camp hand gestures and hair flicking would be more in keeping were he Kenneth Williams fronting Sparks. Some deadpan derisory comments are heard from behind me, but the same folk applaud earnestly. A good band, but not as good as they themselves probably think they are.
Long term reputations are built on past achievements but mean nothing if you can no longer deliver. Bernie Tormé tore onto the music scene looking like a bleached-boy renegade from The Damned. Hardly a poster boy for the new wave of heavy metal but he helped Gillan regain credibility and a batch of hit singles before dashing across to the USA to save Ozzy’s career after Randy Rhoads died. Subsequent stints with Desperado, Silver, GTM and others in between fronting his own power trios have seen Tormé appear on over 20 albums. Tonight he’s going to be playing to a small crowd but they’ll still want their money’s worth.
Sauntering on stage as if they’ve come to audition for a play by Roald Dahl come two of the lankiest beggars known to mankind and a squatter bearded bloke who perches himself on a drum kit. It’s as the guitarist turns and his cavalier jacket is revealed that a warm shout goes up for a now brown-mopped Bernie and the band kick off with the speed-spiked rock of ‘Wild West’. His singing will never win him any competitions, but it does the job, his guitar playing however continues to serve him well; punching in military precision riffs, some patented screeching feedback with hammer-on trills galore. Wearing a smile he launches into ‘Ball ‘n’ Chain’, a blues rock number with lots of tremolo to the fore, like a heavy metal Duane Eddy at times. “Bob Dylan time now, sorry!” he jokes strapping a harmonica round his neck, but it’s another bluesy rocker and if anything the contraption’s not designed for guitarists who’ve a tendency to perform Chuck Berry duck-walks across the stage.
My familiarity with his solo material relies strongly on him calling out the names of numbers but it makes listening all the more involving an experience. On ‘Turn Out The Lights’ he pulls out a bottleneck giving the sound a more psychedelic edge and that continues with the next, slower, dare we say, more poppy number that follows. There’s more psychedelic metal blues shred-festing with ‘Star’ the pace slowing down half way through as he falls to his knees still playing. It’s followed by a great number that opens with an octave jumping speed riff with splashes of psychedelic bottleneck colour and some sweet rocking going on by the whole band.
A charismatic performer, sure Tormé has that punk ethos going on and some ants in his tight pants too; maybe he no longer runs from side to side but he’s good for a stroll and the odd pogo jump before posing legs astride. The way he slaps his string with his right hand or concludes a barrage of riffs with an altogether musical back-flip as grace note puts me in mind of Rory Gallagher, his use of tremolo and feedback adds Hendrix firepower to his arsenal, and bluesy as he is some might venture there are jazzy runs that blur out as metal fusion now and again. But whatever the sound, he’s packaged it as his own, there’s no confusing who’s playing the six-string here.
‘Lightning Strikes’ opens with chords played arpeggio followed by a driving rhythm over which sustained notes and riffs play out before going in to a long instrumental passage where he rages up and down the fretboard offering some major swoops and hammer-ons, finally rubbing his Stratocaster strings against the mic stand in conclusion. A jazzy intro, slow harmonics and atmospheric blues with sustained squeals introduce one of the evening’s highlights ‘Stoneship’, from his latest Flowers & Dirt album. At turns improvising or posing he holds his guitar aloft, playing it one-handed and concluding with a near-Arabic scale filtering in amidst the wall of sustained sound he produces. Then, after drummer Neil Harris takes a solo, he returns jacket less, revealing a paisley flower power shirt that allows movement for some Townsend arm swings, a bit more pogoing and the anthemic celebration of ‘Can’t Beat Rock ‘n’ Roll’, the kind of song Neil Young might’ve done had he been an Irish rebel.
Next up are the Gillan hits. He handles the vocals on ‘Trouble’ well, wearing a manic grin borrowed from the late Alex Harvey. Gesturing for everyone to clap, Neil Harmon’s bass rides on a single chunky rhythm chord as Tormé sings out ‘New Orleans’, drenching it musically in some heavy blues wailing. Returning for an encore, Tormé looks earnest as he thanks everyone and then rocks Gillan single B-side ‘Boney Maronie’ into a right frazzle while playing the guitar behind his head.
Amidst the clapping it’s hard to hear, but the name sounds like Chris Howell being introduced, possibly a local, and apparently they’re going to jam on ‘No Easy Way’. For a guy who’s fond of power trios Tormé looks happy as hell trading riffs and solos with the guy who’s not bad, but the song tends to veer off track and lacks that final punch to end a show on. Not that anyone seems overly bothered. This may in all honesty be a pitifully small crowd but they’d all happily pay testament to a player who can stand his own on any sized stage.
Bernie Tormé Bandcamp: www.bernietorme.bandcamp.com/track/devil-and-the-deep-blue