Review by Woody, photos by Rich Ward
I was really looking forward to seeing tonight’s support act Black Country rockers Band Of Brothers. The band formed after vocalist Lee Small gathered a group of friends to be his backing band as he played some live shows to promote his solo album Jamaica Inn a few years ago. This led the group to quickly kick start a whole new band and they have been hard at work writing new songs and solidifying themselves as a live unit.
Besides Lee on vocals there is Guitarist Carl Anthony Wright, Drummer Dez Wotton, Guitarist Connor Emms, Bassist John Hayward and Saracen keyboardist Paul Bradder. As a fan collectively of all the musicians’ individual bodies of work I’m very excited about hearing what they create together, the fact most of them are Black Country born and bred means they suffer with the heavy burden, just like me of having been born awesome, so I have high expectations of them!
As a five piece they don’t get much stage space, but they have a headline show ready for the Rock for Spon charity night, so they’ll be able to have more freedom to move that night. Small is an amazing versatile vocalist but tonight sees him singing his own songs with confidence with no trace of the nerves or timid-ness which I have seen in the past. As a live band, they came across as tight unit and I’m sure they won plenty of new fans tonight and leaving many people wondering how the hell such a collective of talented musicians are not household names!
Of the Lee Small tracks from his solo album Jamaica Inn they stay faithful to the style and sound of those songs, they had cherry picked the ones they thought would sell them best in the live arena. The commercial flavour of ‘Dead Man Walking’ made it an obvious choice. For me the real highlights were the new tracks; Ballsy, driven melodic hard rock with a glossy sheen which I was shocked but delighted to hear. Bradder’s keyboards were never overpowering but always added a cool melodic sheen to the songs. Small, although in his element, seemed caged and dying to have more room to move which gave some real fire to his stage presence. Carl and Connor both exchanged rhythm and lead guitar duties, flitting with ease from big powerful power chords to intricate and intensely melodic guitar licks – to say I was impressed is an understatement.
The opening duo of ‘Middle Man’ and ‘The Holy’ made a massive impact and definitely grabbed and maintained the crowds’ interest. I had expected good things but even I was left a little ‘oh bugger me, this is a little bit special ain’t it!’. ‘Death On The Nile’ maintained the bands impressive presence mid-set and they closed with the riff-tastic and sing along awesomeness of ‘The Devil’s Daughter’ a song set to get future crowds fist pumping and joining in! After this short but amazing set, I could have quite easily gone home with a big grin on my face.
If these guys don’t at least make some noise in the world of melodic rock there is no justice in this world – NONE! These guys make many musicians in the genre look like amateurs and if a band like H.E.A.T can get everyone squealing like girlies than surely the Band of Brothers will get us roaring!
Now where do I start with Graham Bonnet in the man’s own words ‘You Know my Reputation’, so obviously everyone here tonight was fully aware that this could either be the best thing since sliced bread or a total train wreck. It’s been 14 years or so since I last saw Bonnet and I have very fond memories of that show over in Stourbridge when Bonnet was very much on fire performing to a sold out audience. I had heard rumours that Bonnet’s recent live performances have been inconsistent, but I hoped tonight would be one of his good nights! It wasn’t….
Bonnet stormed the stage like a man possessed out to prove he’s still got it and the opener ‘Eyes Of The World’ hit us all in the face, his backing band giving us an amazingly accurate performance as Bonnet gave a full on and highly theatrical and wild stage show as he belted out those big booming vocals. It looked like tonight was going to be a good night indeed. Things steadily got worse though, the following songs ‘Love’s No Friend of Mine’ and ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ saw Bonnet struggle vocally but he was still making a passable performance – after that though it became obvious Bonnet wasn’t going to last much longer.
His voice cracked and we saw him struggle which lead to him frequently singing out of tune as he tried his hardest to get back on track. His speaking voice had become in his own words ‘Croaky’ so we knew his voice was gone for tonight and needed rest to recover. He struggled on for a few more songs but it became obvious when the backing band did an instrumental and Bonnet left the stage he really didn’t want to come back. What the problem was I don’t know, he assured us it was just one of those things but became overly apologetic and the excuses flew thick and fast which did not endear the ever increasingly frustrated crowd to him. Whilst he was honest about his voice, his reasons varied from dehydration to a late night, hell it could have been a throat infection for all I know BUT from an audience point of view it came across like he’d blown out his voice on the first couple of songs, so it would seem age may have caught up with Bonnet.
The guitarist did at one point say to Bonnet shall I bring Lee (Small) out, there may have been a proposed duet planned. That would have been really interesting and would have helped Bonnet out but may have only highlighted more how much he was struggling. Bonnet’s sound tech cracked me up though at one point waving frantically at the sound engineer and crawling round the front stage monitors frowning and shaking his head ear pressed to them. It was clear he was trying to blame Bonnet’s struggles on a faulty sound system and get the crowd on side. Although considering the immense sound the Band Of Brothers had and even how awesome Bonnet’s own backing band sounded made it scream of desperation to deflect blame from Bonnet himself.
It must be said Bonnet’s backing band were spot on, if these guys are not in a Rainbow cover band I’d be highly shocked as they delivered faithful and almost CD quality performances. I tried to do some research on the backing band and other than gathering they are local – as in West Midlands based musicians I don’t know a lot about them, expect of course about Drummer Bob Richards of Shy who played on an old kit of Cozy Powell.
So what had fast become a painful show to watch was brought very quickly to an end as Bonnet addressed the audience and it was clear to everyone there was no point dragging this out. Even so everyone lingered for an encore and it took the venue to switch the lights on and crank the PA for people to realise it was over. Not a great show to report on and doubly sad if indeed Bonnet’s live performance days are behind him. This was the first night of the tour with no time to rest so it will be very interesting to hear how the rest of the tour goes hopefully a lot better than this and this was just a little blip as Bonnet eases himself back into the live performance machine.