Quite apart from being one of the best of the current crop of bands, there can surely be no harder working outfit than Black Star Riders. A Spring tour, Summer festival appearances and opening for the Def Leppard and Whitesnake arena tour would be a punishing enough schedule for most. Yet they even filled their days off on the latter tour with a couple of solo dates.
This one was originally slated for the Shepherds Bush Empire, only for cracks in the roof to be discovered and gigs hastily rescheduled. This was moved to the much smaller Scala, which may have been a signal of disappointing ticket sales, but proved a blessing in disguise as the smaller, more cramped Kings Cross venue made for a sweaty, club-type atmosphere for the faithful.
There was also the bonus of a quality support act in the once again Rumour-less Graham Parker, a neat piece of symmetry as he supported Thin Lizzy in the seventies. In his outsized shades, and playing acoustic guitar and occasionally harmonica, the man from Camberley, Surrey came over as a vocal cross between Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello.
He was accompanied by another cult legend in Brinsley Schwarz who took a low key role other than a tasty wah-wah guitar solo on ‘Stick to Me’. Songs like ‘Stop Crying About The Rain’, ‘Under The Mask of Happiness’ and ‘Back To School Days’ made their mark on me as a fair few of his t-shirt wearing devotees sang along. One of the cult underappreciated heroes of the British music scene, this set whetted my appetite to belatedly discover him more.
This was my fourth Black Star Riders gig of the year and it reinforced several reasons why they are second to none as a live act at present in my book. One was the sheer pace of the show – nineteen songs shoehorned into 95 minutes with barely a pause for breath and no boring solos. A second was the uncompromising commitment they bring to their craft with Ricky Warwick in particular giving everything on stage.
The third is the extent to which they are now so much more than Thin Lizzy under another name. Sure, they drop in Lizzy classics throughout the set, as opener ‘Bloodshot’ gave way to a forest of clapping and air punching during ‘Jailbreak’, but their own material now gains as much, if not more, of a reaction. Highlights included ‘Soldiers Town’, coming over like a metallised version of Irish folk bands like The Dubliners, the more restrained ‘Charlie I Gotta Go’ and ‘Hey Judas’with Ricky on acoustic guitar even if a couple of their numbers were run of the mill.
The set was also shaken up for the fans and a treat for me was to hear one of my favourite Lizzy songs ‘Waiting For An Alibi’ during which I am sure at one stage Ricky joined with Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson to make a brief triple twin lead.
After ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ brought the gig closer to the boil, the proof of the extent to which they have escaped from Lizzy’s shadow was the way ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ was almost casually slipped in mid-set, but the following songs were received even more raucously. It helps that many have such elements of trademark Lizzy – the twin guitars of ‘Bound For Glory’ coming over as a cross between ‘Got To Give It Up’ and ‘Waiting For An Alibi’ and ‘Kingdom Of The Lost’ with the rocked up gaelic jig feel of ‘Emerald’.
Meantime ‘Blindsided’ was a surprise set choice and saw Damon stretch out on some longer, tasteful solos while ‘Finest Hour’ is now treated as a modern day classic. After another slight surprise from the Lizzy catalogue in ‘Bad Reputation’, thankfully devoid of any drum solos, and the title track of latest album ‘Killer Instinct’, most bands would have disappeared for the pretence of an encore.
But whether to avoid the cramped walk to and from the dressing room, or to ensure they beat the venue curfew, the Riders merely stormed on with their traditional last two songs- ‘Rosalie’ and ‘Whiskey In The Jar’, both to a raucous atmosphere at the front.
A week later I was to scheduled to see them at Wembley Arena on the Def Leppard and Whitesnake tour, but I and others present disappeared into the Kings Cross night in the knowledge that could never eclipse this very special, intimate night, the venue perfectly suiting the no holds barred passion that Black Star Riders bring to their shows.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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In this two hour special David Randall plays a selection of the GRTR! reviewer choices for ‘Best of 2019′ and announces the results of the popular poll. First broadcast Sunday 22 December 2019.
Featured Albums w/c 6 January (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 JESSE DAMON Damon’s Rage (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 STORMFORCE Age Of Fear (Escape Music)
14:00-16:00 GARY FLETCHER Rivers Keep Flowing (indie)
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