Review by Paul Quinton, photos by Lisa Billingham
After the, shall we say, disappointment of the Midlands being completely left off the Eclipse tour earlier in the year, Midlands melodic rock fans were more than compensated by this enticing package arriving at The Robin on the second date of FM’s UK tour.
I didn’t know much about No Hot Ashes before this gig other than the fact that they’d originally split several years ago before getting back together again only recently. They entered the stage with very little fanfare, bang on the advertised start time of 8 o’clock, and proceeded to give the rapidly growing crowd half an hour of very listenable melodic rock. Considering their ‘hiatus’ had lasted around 25 years, they were a pretty tight unit, and even if they weren’t the most visually dynamic live unit, and are probably at their best on CD rather than on stage, that’s not to decry the quality of their songs or how easily they conveyed their own enjoyment in playing live to the crowd and how enjoyable a set this was.
Like the headliners, Romeo’s Daughter are enjoying a new lease of life since reforming for Firefest in 2009. They’re now on the verge of releasing their second album since reforming, and just seem to be getting better all the time. From the moment they opened with ‘Trippin’ Out’, from their first album since getting back together, the band looked to be in good form and enjoying themselves, responding to what was a sizeable crowd who gave them a great reception. There were songs from their new album, Spin, which carried on the band’s tradition of writing smart melodic songs with infectious hooks, particularly ‘Touch’ and ‘Radio’, but the highlights were the closing salvo of ‘I Cry Myself To Sleep’ and ‘Wild Child’ were superb. Singer Leigh Matty was as lively as I can ever remember her, urging the other band members on, and the band as a whole played probably the best set I’ve seen them do since they got back together. A headline show in the West Midlands next time, please.
If FM were hailed as conquering heroes by a packed Robin crowd, it should have come as no surprise. Their new album, Heroes And Villains is a cracker, we actually have a British melodic rock band getting played consistently on BBC national radio, not just Planet Rock, they really are at the top of their game at present. This was their first ever gig at The Robin, and if tonight is anything to go by, it possibly won’t be very long before they’re back. From the first bars of the opening song ‘Digging Up The Dirt’, the band were on fire. Although this was only the second show of the tour, and despite having changed the set significantly since their momentous appearance at HRH AOR in March, they were as tight as you could wish, and not only gave the crowd a string of crowd pleasers, they also managed to include several surprises from their back catalogue.
The new songs already sound like they’ve been in the set for years, ‘Life Is A Highway’ in particular getting a great response, but it has to be said it was some of the older songs that really got the best response, and not just the tracks that seem to be fixtures in the set. Including the monster ballad ‘Closer To Heaven’ only four songs into the set proved to be too much for one fan at the very front, as first aid had to be called when they appeared to be fainting, although being fair, The Robin was a very packed, hot and sweaty place for this gig, and a pairing of ‘Only The Strong Survive’ and ‘Blood And Gasoline in the middle of the set brought the crowd to an even higher pitch than before. Best for me, though, was ‘Let Love Be The Leader’; a track that never made it onto an album in the early days, but which never fails to deliver. But then highlights in this set came thick and fast, Jim Kirkpatrick’s slide playing in ‘Only The Strong Survive’ was a joy, and with all respects to Chris Overland, Andy Barnett etc, surely he’s the best guitarist the band have ever had?
‘Crosstrain Train’, possibly the best track the band have recorded since they reformed and which never fails to lodge itself in your brain for days after a gig, lifted the show to even greater heights before a closing quartet of songs guaranteed to induce a mass singalong closed the main set. There were two songs in the encore; Steve Overland began by singing ‘The Story Of My Life’ with only Jem Davis’ piano accompaniment, before the rest of the band came in for the big finish, and ‘The Other Side Of Midnight’, featuring the welcome appearance of Davis’ keytar, brought a tumultuous show to a close.
And finally, I should mention that voice. I’m becoming more and more convinced that Steve Overland has some strain in his DNA that renders him incapable of playing a bad show, but the band as a whole were absolutely on fire on this particular night. I’ve rarely seen a better show in The Robin, and I would mark this down as the best show I’ve seen the band play since they got back together. I’ve always considered them as the UK’s greatest ever melodic rock band, and nights like this just confirm their place at the top of the tree.
1. Digging Up The Dirt
2. I Belong To The Night
4. Closer To Heaven
5. Let Love Be The Leader
6. Shape I’m In
7. Tough Love
8. Only The Strong Survive
9. Blood and Gasoline
10. Life is a Highway
11. Crosstown Train
12. Tough it Out
13. Burning My Heart Down
14. That Girl
15. Bad Luck
1. The Story Of My Life
2. The Other Side of Midnight