Graham Bonnet has always been one of rock’s most singular characters. The man with the short hair, Hawaiian shirts and musical background far removed from your traditional metal belter who gave Rainbow their commercial breakthrough. The man whose self-destructive tendencies made his tenure with Michael Schenker a short one. And a man who after a long period under the radar has been a prolific tourer for the last couple of years as he approaches his seventies.
He has also returned to hard rock with a new band and a very well-received album ‘The Book’, and yet the tour opened with a very thin crowd, possibly not even three figures, in north London. The venue was a disappointment too, particularly a lighting rig that meant bands and crowd viewed each other in virtual darkness.
Three bands were on the bill. I arrived too late to catch openers Void but there was the bonus of an appearance by Chrome Molly, the hard-working Leicester rockers who never quite made the big time in the eighties but are now enjoying a second honeymoon.
Affable singer Steve Hawkins- now one of two remaining members – got the crowd on side, while a number of songs from a forthcoming album ‘Hoodoo Voodoo’ were significantly heavier, not least as Andy Barrott and Michael Schenker-lookalike Jon Footitt now give them a two guitar attack.
There were a few oldies to bring back memories for those of us who remember their original incarnation in ‘Take It Or Leave It’, ‘Thanx For The Angst’ and most impressively of all, the Noddy Holder/ Jim Lea-penned ‘Shooting Me Down’ with its air of a should-have-been-hit.
Ending with ‘Corporation Fear’, they may never reach the heights they failed to scale first time round, but their energetic set will have won friends.
As Graham Bonnet came onstage it was endearing that whereas many singers his age have adapted their singing style, he still adopts the same no-holds-barred, full throttle approach. Unfortunately sometimes he can pull it off but not always, and on an otherwise inspired opener in ‘Eyes Of The World’ he sounded dreadful, though ‘All Night Long’ was a great improvement – other than the off stage added keyboards which were already annoying me.
He was given good backing vocal support by bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone and excellent guitarist Conrado Pesinato, even if in one of Graham’s few comprehensible remarks he bizarrely described him as a terrorist.
I went into the gig fully expecting the new album to be heavily showcased, but they just played a solitary song in the hard rocking ‘Into The Night’. Though he delivered a great bluesy performance on ‘Love’s No Friend’, which I always think of as a younger cousin to the more famous ‘Mistreated’, Rainbow material also formed a lesser part of the material than at previous shows.
Instead we were treated to long overdue airings of his other projects from the first half of the eighties, beginning with ‘SOS’ from his ‘Line Up’ album, a neglected classic in the Purple Rainbow family tree, which was also the first time I have heard Morse code sung at a gig! There were at least a couple from Alcatrazz days in the rapid-fire ‘God Blessed Video’ and ‘Jet To Jet’, while I was delighted to finally hear ‘Night Games’ live after all these years, singing along to what was a top 10 single in the day yet somehow seems to have been airbrushed from history.
A further treat was to hear a couple from his brief tenure in MSG and though he sounded frankly awful on ‘Dancer’, the classic ‘Desert Song led to outbreaks of air guitaring from those of us of a certain age.
The gig was now boiling up nicely – it is always good to hear the overplayed ‘Since You Been Gone’ sung by the voice that popularised it, and it led into a rattling ‘Lost In Hollywood’. Unfortunately he was then suddenly lost in the dressing room, with no encore or even a goodbye. As at previous gigs, his full-throated style meant that he had run out of steam after little over an hour.
It was a fun night out with a revamped setlist to delight those of us who cut our rock teeth in the first half of the eighties, but not one which in all honesty would have attracted any new admirers.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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