Gig review: TOSELAND/Chrome Molly, Islington Academy 2, 11 December 2013

Rock and speed (on wheels, that is) are natural bedfellows, from heavy metal’s long association with motorbikes to the guitar dabblings of Formula 1 figures like Damon Hill and Eddie Jordan.  To be a success in both fields is as far as I know unprecedented, but former World Superbikes Champion James Toseland, with his eponymous band, may break the mould on this evidence.

Having had to retire from motorcycling competition through injury, his return to his first love of music has really picked up pace over the past year with appearances at Download, a tour supporting Reef, and now this headline tour including  respectably attended London show. It was interesting that many of them seemed to be fans from his racing days, and my friends there tended to be those into motor sport as well as music.

I was tempted away from my original plan to see Gun in town that night, by a mixture of wanting to check his promise for myself and to relive my youth by watching the reformed Chrome Molly in support. Back in 1985 they were the first band I ever saw at the Marquee and while never in the premier league they were never less than a whole hearted and entertaining live act.

What hair left is now short and grey but their enthusiastic if rudimentary style remains much as I remember them.  They mixed songs like ‘Short Sharp Shock’ and ‘Stop Love’ from the new album ‘Gunpowder Diplomacy’, with stuff I had long forgotten that had me singing and tapping my feet at rediscovering like ‘Take it or Leave It’ and ‘Cut Loose’, not to mention the Noddy Holder and Jim Lea penned ‘Shooting Me Down’, which singer Steve Hawkins reminded us could have been their big breakthrough but for record company politics.

His larger than life stage persona gradually won over a sceptical crowd, including getting a singalong going to ‘Thanks for the Angst’, amongst newies ‘Billion Dollar Heart Attack’ and ‘Corporation Fear’, both songs with an anti-capitalist message. It is great to have Leicester’s finest back on the scene and enjoying a second chance at fame.

From the outset the strong and instantly catchy songs ”Gotta Be a Better Way’, ‘Burning the System’ and ‘Singer in a Band’ left  no doubt that Toseland are a serious proposition. The five piece band rocked hard, with tasty solos from both guitarists, and indeed if I had a criticism is that some of the subtleties of the songwriting may have been lost.  James has a smiling stage presence, and a distinctive, slightly quavery voice, with echoes of his mentor, Little Angels’ Toby Jepson or even at times Myles Kennedy or Faith No More’s Mike Patton.

A keyboard was wheeled centre stage for him to deliver a few songs including a superb power ballad, ‘Just No Way’, but the set rocked harder with songs like the single ‘Life is Beautiful’, ‘Good Eye Blind’ and ‘Crash Landing’, and as it progressed an increasing number of seemingly fanatical supporters were dancing at the front.  Fittingly for a keyboard playing rocker, the final song was an enjoyable cover of ‘Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting’.

He returned with his other single, ‘Renegade’, showing off his Toby Jepson influence, which has to be one of the best songs of 2013, before capturing the early Christmas party mood with very respectable covers of ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ and ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’.

Often seeing someone famous in another field branch out into a band has a novelty value that can soon wear off. However don’t be deceived by the fun he had with the cover versions – James Toseland and his band are a serious proposition deserving of further investigation when their debut  album appears early next year.

Review and photos by Andy Nathan

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