Review by Paul H Birch and photos by Lisa Billingham
Worcestershire band Ronin open the night. British alternative rock played with modern grind, a melodic hook and the ability to hold onto a chord and have it prove its worth instead of race endlessly up and down a guitar neck. A lively young four piece, with a good singer, they give it their all, and are rewarded with whoops and applause.
Five-man strong Morpheus Rising deliver Euro-flavoured melodic metal but powerfully so, with a touch of fantasy reflected in their lyrics. With a heavy rock and soul voice and plenty of reverb in the mix their singer’s got the goods, looking suitably tall and macho with stage mannerisms akin to Tempest and Coverdale. Too much of the material is similarly mid-paced, but the guitarists offer variety in their sounds, and when it’s revealed that the rhythm section is only deputising for this tour the audience is suitably impressed. They conclude with the blustering power and harmony guitar melodies of the anthemic ‘Lords of The North’ followed by applause and more noticeably female whoops.
A rather Floydian musical overture has Bonnet, as the band are being referred to, take their positions; a young drummer, hairy-faced guitarist and attractive female bassist, issuing a distorted variation on a familiar riff that, come a big “Hello” as Graham Bonnet bounds on stage, takes full flight as Rainbow hit single ‘All Night Long’. Bonnet’s hardly changed; trimmer, the hairline receding a little, probably wearing the same old 80s skinny tie. There’s power in his voice and he can still hit the high notes, possibly higher, but there’s a roughness with a slight muffled cackle come the straighter delivery of the verses. The band put added weight behind the slow blues of ‘Love’s No Friend’ allowing the singer’s voice to settle in and explore the crooning R’n’B of his early work in The Marbles, but it’s still the power behind the higher end of his range that has the crowd singing along with him. “I’ve a bit of a croaky throat,” says the singer, and I’m reminded of a previous review from the MR parish where Bonnet wasn’t 100%. And it’s true there’ll be moments during the first half where I’ll cringe as muffled or gargled notes are sung. Fortunately, his bass player Beth-Ami Heavenstone adds vocal resonance alongside him during ‘Makin’ Love’ wherein guitarist Conrado Pesinato picks out Blackmoore’s original notes but imbues them with a pleasing fluid style of his own.
The next Rainbow track is ‘Bad Girl’ and they add a rather rude blues and up tempo pop beat to what, to my mind, was a predictable rock plodder on the Down To Earth album, with Bonnet singing well. Taking off his trademark shades, he straps on an acoustic, then scuffles about for a pair of reading glasses so he can read his lyrics for a new song and it’s at this point, amused by his ageing self-deprecating stage banter I begin to consider him as Bill Nighy’s naughty brother should they ever film Still Crazy Part 2. New song ‘Always Be There’ is a hard rocking shuffle with a Kinks vibe and Beatles’ harmonies that I rather like, and when they launch into The Beatles’ own ‘Eight Days a Week’ I’m surprised how well the songs work in this set, as are others judging by the screams at the end.
Removing his acoustic, Bonnet relates how on noticing Solstice worshippers nearby where he lived he came up with ‘The Witch Wood’. Not having heard this Alcatrazz number before I’m taken with its atmospheric lyrics, his singing’s sensitive and in the pocket, with sweet female harmonies and some metallic shredding on guitar over its symphonic slow blues that ends with controlled feedback. Keyboards are in evidence tonight, piped in via tapes over the mixing desk presumably, and are again present as Bonnet again strums his acoustic for what turns out to be an old schooled Uriah Heep styled romp rocker with regal chording on another new track that may well have been called ‘The Mirror Lies’ – blame my inaccuracies on Bonnet’s cold, something he claims he’s prone to touring at his age, and I’m inclined to believe him, but he has to weigh up how problematic that can be to his career. But then, our TV’s are currently belching out Christmas commercials for half-baked young pop-soul crooners’ CDs and not a track I’ve heard can offer either the power, subtlety or phraseology of Bonnet singing ‘Only One Woman’ over the transistor radio when I was a toddler, and those current chart faves are likely to be all but forgotten this time next year.
Bonnet and Heavenstone exit the stage for a guitar/drums duet going by the title of ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ to take place, a Gilmour/Blackmore amalgamation of prog metal via some melodic shredding, going into a Zeppy blues rock riff as intro for a drum solo that cuts to the chase to avoid us non-skin beaters retreating to the toilets and then everyone’s back for the singer’s solo hit single ‘Night Games’. There are some affecting chorus harmonies, and a lush richness heard in the rolling of his words during the verses, whereas the high notes don’t all make it this time. Maybe I’m just looking to find fault, the crowd are screaming onside with him and get taken back to their youth with the song he made a worldwide hit for Rainbow, ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’. Now me, I stand to the back at shows a lot these days, I like to take in the crowd as much as the bands, see what gets them going, and if I happen to see ladies shaking their ass I not only appreciate the floorshow but know the band on stage is doing its job. It’s faithful to the recorded version albeit extended into a sing along. And that’s it, short and sometimes bitterly sweet. They leave the stage returning for but one encore; a glorious rendition of the undervalued ‘Lost in Hollywood’ with its infectious riff, Bonnet crooning and claiming the song on its high notes, harmonies giving the song balance and the guitar solo adding colour.
Over too soon, Bonnet brings both support bands back on, thanking and praising them, and wishing everyone well as they take a collective final bow.
Three compatible bands, so value for money to the punter in that regard. When Graham Bonnet is on form, he’s got an incredibly formidable voice; but he needs to sort out his ongoing touring health problems because he’s got a good supportive band beside him who can help him find the wider audience he deserves.
1. All Night Long
2. Love’s No Friend
3. Makin’ Love
4. Bad Girl
5. Always Be There
6. Eight Days a Week
7. The Witch Wood
8. Mirror Lies
9. Seven Deadly Sins
10. Night Games
11. Since You Been Gone
12. Lost in Hollywood