Gig review: MIKE TRAMP – The Black Heart, Camden, 8 March 2017

His accent may blend his Danish roots with the twang of Brooklyn where he had his greatest professional success, but former White Lion and Freak of Nature singer Mike Tramp is very much an Anglophile. This manifests itself in his faith in Arsenal FC, but more importantly in the manner in which in recent years he has been an almost constant touring presence, playing pubs and clubs up and down the country in a back-to-basics manner with a very approachable presence with his fans.

MIKE TRAMP- The Black Heart, Camden, 8 March 2017

For a while, the shows were just him and an acoustic guitar, but last year a young band Lucer backed him, and this time a more seasoned trio of Danish friends, dubbed the Band of Brothers, provided a full electric backing band. It seems the ideal compromise for a man whose show anecdotes over the years have always played on the fact he was a rootsy singer-songwriter who somehow got trapped in a hair metaller’s body.

The other change was that, after a series of poorly attended London shows, there was a significantly larger crowd in this admittedly small room above a Camden pub, I would estimate twice the size of the last gathering 18 months or so ago.

A set which opened with the almost Mellencamp-ish strains of ‘Better Off’ from his debut solo album ‘Capricorn’ focused more than ever on recent solo material such as ‘Trust in Yourself’ and ‘Wait Till Forever’.

MIKE TRAMP- The Black Heart, Camden, 8 March 2017

There will always be a number of old fans, myself included, squeezing into vintage White Lion T-shirts wanting to relive their youth, but ‘Tell Me’ showed this was a double edged sword- despite the great atmosphere engendered by the ‘who-o-oh’ chanting, like many of the faster WL songs it was unsuited to the lower, richer register of his current voice.

In contrast among the newer songs ‘High Like A Mountain’ had a great seventies feel with some meaty guitar work, unsurprisingly when I belatedly twigged that the six-stringer was the same Dane, Soren Andersen, whose sensitive playing made him such a great foil for Glenn Hughes only a few weeks ago.

MIKE TRAMP- The Black Heart, Camden, 8 March 2017

Initially there were fewer of the ‘An evening with….’-style stories that characterised previous shows though his laconic between song chats got longer as the gig wore on. Many of them were around the vain search for happiness during his years of stardom and now finding it on a smaller scale, and appreciating the chance to still be rocking in his mid-fifties, and a huge cheer went up as one such monologue led into ‘Why Even Worry at All’ from his brand new album ‘Maybe Tomorrow’.

White Lion fans were well catered for with a surprisingly good ‘Little Fighter’ plus, in response to public demand, a rare outing for ‘Lady Of The Valley’, the ‘epic’ from the ‘Pride’ album which had not dated as badly as some of the other WL material, and the band did it justice with some great improvisation. Another surprise was ‘What Am I’ from Freak of Nature days, slowed down and reimagined.

MIKE TRAMP- The Black Heart, Camden, 8 March 2017

The autobiographical, folky ‘Cobblestone Street’ really grew on me while ‘Give It All You Got’ was not the only song of the night to call to mind Tom Petty, with a touch of Mike’s beloved Thin Lizzy.  The band did a fine version of the White Lion classic ‘Broken Heart’ and ‘When The Children Cry’ (a US top 3 single in the day, it’s hard to believe now) was another interesting variation on a theme, as I’d never previously heard it with a smattering of electric guitar.

MIKE TRAMP- The Black Heart, Camden, 8 March 2017

After a lengthy closer in ‘Coming Home’ the 2 hour mark was tipped with a solitary encore, as ‘Radar Love’ was another to be rearranged with a slowed down treatment. There were one or two notable omissions such as ‘Hungry and ‘Wait’, yet this was perhaps the most satisfying Mike Tramp show yet. With his Band of Brothers this restless troubadour really seems to have found his niche.

Review and Photos by Andy Nathan

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