Review by Paul H Birch and photos by Rich Ward
A pulverising metal grind shakes The Institute’s Library venue, and hesitant looks stretch out along the aurally assaulted crowd as a diminutive lady dressed in black wanders centre stage, mic-in-hand. Expecting her to grunt deeply over some death metal tirade they let out a collective sigh of relief as the scream that issues forth is silver-throated: she’s not only got a voice, it’s goddamn powerful and it sings like a bird.
The band is playing loud but it’s become the discerning strut of a double-barrelled riff in a song called ‘Burning the Candle’. They follow it up with more in a similar vein with titles like ‘Let it all Burn’, ‘Games U Play’, and ‘Far From Grace’ and somewhere in between announce their name to be 4Bitten and that they come from Athens in Greece. No one’s making any balalaika jokes. They offer hard and heavy metal that rolls unexpectedly with some nice grooves and is sung by a confident, charismatically voiced woman whose delivery falls somewhere between Babe Ruth’s Jenny Haan and the young blues-soaked Elkie Brooks. It’s hardly your usual Sunday songs of praise and as a number of the crowd will find out later their Delirium CD is more than worth checking out.
I made my covenant with the main act long ago. I stood in the pulpits as they rose from the town halls to theatres, hung my head and prayed as they snorted their way towards oblivion, and have been around for several prodigal son tours from them since. Apparently ticket sales weren’t brisk, but the place is packed now, which might explain why I’ve had to try and walk on water to get to the gents. Some things never change, rock ’n’ roll = bad plumbing.
I’m waylaid by my younger brother and a bunch of his mates I’d not seen gathered together since they were school kids down Birmingham Odeon’s front row during UFO’s Chapman guitar-fronted days. They look decidedly older, but no less excitable. Then, as spotlights spin out from the stage, the crowd surges forward for the adrenalin rush of ‘Light’s Out’.
Decked in black himself, his voice rich in the mix, Phil Mogg is looking and sounding good. There are a few early squeaks from Paul Raymond’s Korg synthesiser but in between his swopping to chop away on rhythm guitar it’s all sorted, Vinnie Moore is living the song rather than getting clever with it, even when they follow with the techno-flash of ‘Mother Mary’. But the musician most notable in the early part of the set is Andy Parker who’s back on drums and beating the living daylights out of them, throwing in rolls you’d forgotten from your old vinyl collection that come toppling forth with precision and power to propel the band along; none more so than on new number ‘Fight Night’ from last year’s Seven Deadly CD.
Most of the night’s set is culled from the classic Strangers in the Night double album and while that adds predictability there’s no denying the songs are played with conviction. The crowd may not be as familiar with ‘Hell Driver’, ‘Wonderland’, or ‘Burn Your House Down’ but the applause afterwards is genuine.
You could be at a football match the way Mogg’s name is chanted out between songs, and while initial fears are that with pint glasses in hand he might be horizontal halfway through the show they’re only there to lubricate tonsils that haven’t sounded so good in years. On record he’s turned to wry bluesy crooning, the piece-the-jigsaw lyrics of his youth having matured into unrepentant observations and dark thrillers set to music. Tonight he’s also telling tall tales and joking aplenty with the crowd. His former partner-in-crime might be absent but there’s a Gibson Thunderbird on stage. The guy attached to it looks too young to be Peter Pichl, who played on The Visitor album, but whoever he is he adds a new dynamic to the band; not only does his bass grunt unapologetically throughout ‘Cherry’, he’s got his poses down pat, and when Moore and Raymond go into the long widdly bits in the middle of ‘Rock Bottom’ he’s inserting jazz phrases that actually work.
By then of course, it’s all over, save the encores: ‘Doctor Doctor’ and a tremendously in-your-face rendition of ‘Shoot Shoot’. Out into the cold night air everyone’s rabbiting ten-to-the-dozen exchanging war stories about previous UFO gigs, pontificating why the band never became huger than they did (I can picture Mogg mimicking Sinatra with ‘That’s Life’ to that one), but all declaring they’ve had a great evening. There’s fight left in the old dogs yet and if everyone continues to spread the word UFO might just come into land this way again.
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