Gig review: BRIAN DOWNEY’S ALIVE AND DANGEROUS – Nells Jazz and Blues, West Kensington, 25 November 2017

BRIAN DOWNEY'S ALIVE AND DANGEROUS - Nells Jazz and Blues, West Kensington, 25 November 2017

If Philip Lynott was the creative force and public image of Thin Lizzy and their twin lead guitars their defining musical sound, Brian Downey was the rock on which the band was based. His understated but effective drumming style was the only constant presence alongside Philip all the way through the band’s original incarnation, and a few years ago, when Scott Gorham assembled a new line-up under the Lizzy name, it was his return that lent the project some authenticity.

When they mutated into Black Star Riders, he withdrew from the spotlight but even at pensionable age still has the bug, so has assembled a bunch of fellow Irish musicians to keep the music of Lizzy alive. Such is the respect in which he is held that a first London date soon sold out and this second date was added.

There was also the bonus of a very promising support set from dapper-looking blues rockers Federal Charm. Since the release of their album ‘Across The Divide’, they have a new, long-haired singer in Tom Gyer, but he had a strong, commanding voice and Paul Bowe laid down some heavy and at times dark riffs. While songs like openers ‘Master Plan’ and ’King Of The World’ owed a debt to Led Zeppelin, the set was pleasingly varied.

Though ‘Silhouette’ had an earworm hook, the material was not overly commercial yet was original enough to suggest they have a bright future in a crowded field.

As seems to be the fashion these days they played a  tribute to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but to choose surely their heaviest ever riff in ‘I Should have Known It’ was an off the wall choice that paid off handsomely.

BRIAN DOWNEY'S ALIVE AND DANGEROUS - Nells Jazz and Blues, West Kensington, 25 November 2017

As Brian Downey led Alive and Dangerous on stage, it was hard to credit that this spry figure in a smart shirt and cropped hair had been a mainstay of a band legendary for their hell raising antics, but there was huge warmth for him with chants of ‘Brian, Brian’ regularly breaking out between songs.

As they opened in traditional Lizzy style with ‘Jailbreak’ singer and bassist Matt Wilson cut a striking figure with a big Afro pitching him somewhere between Phil and Jimi Hendrix while ‘Are You Ready’ and ‘Southbound’ saw Phil Edgar and Brian Grace soon replicate those classic guitar harmonies.

BRIAN DOWNEY'S ALIVE AND DANGEROUS - Nells Jazz and Blues, West Kensington, 25 November 2017

The two had different but complementary styles- the former crisp and clean, the latter with a heavier tone and a rawer, more ragged feel. However even from my spot by the mixing desk it seemed the former’s guitar was significantly louder in the mix. For much of the first half of the set Brian Grace was playing second fiddle but his mid-song solo on ‘Still In Love With You’ was so good people burst into applause mid song.

Within a few songs it was apparent that, give or take the odd tweak in the order , this was the classic set of the ‘Live And Dangerous’ album, as might be implied by the band’s name. The crowd needed no invitation to participate in such well-loved songs,  whether chanting the riff to ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ mid-song or howling Coyote-like during the intro to ‘Cowboy Song’.

BRIAN DOWNEY'S ALIVE AND DANGEROUS - Nells Jazz and Blues, West Kensington, 25 November 2017

My one reservation was that at times on some of the more lyrically intricate songs Matt struggled to articulate all the words that tumbled out of Phil’s mouth on the originals, but he can hardly be alone in that.

After evergreen favourites like ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ and ‘Cowboy Song’, Brian himself got a well-deserved moment in the spotlight with a brief drum solo during ‘Sha La La’ while the set became increasingly heavier with Brian G taking an increasing share of the solos on the likes of ‘Warriors’ and ‘Suicide’, culminating in a blistering ‘The Rocker’.

BRIAN DOWNEY'S ALIVE AND DANGEROUS - Nells Jazz and Blues, West Kensington, 25 November 2017

The encores gave an opportunity to depart from the ‘Live And Dangerous’ template, but a fellow reviewer and I almost spat out our beer in shock when they began with ‘Angel From The Coast’, one of the underrated, lesser known songs from side 1 of ‘Jailbreak’ but one I could never remember hearing live by any variant of Lizzy or a cover band.

The more familiar ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ had a Saturday night crowd roaring along, then appropriately ‘Bad Reputation’ put Brian in the spotlight with his drum fills in the spaces between the guitars being such a huge part of the song, before ‘Emerald’ brought the night to an end, completing a Live And Dangerous full house, with the exception of ‘Baby Drives Me Crazy’.

BRIAN DOWNEY'S ALIVE AND DANGEROUS - Nells Jazz and Blues, West Kensington, 25 November 2017

2018 is the 40th anniversary of that iconic album, so it was encouraging to hear they plan to tour the UK more extensively. With Black Star Riders leaving their origins further in the rear view mirror, there is a very welcome gap in the market for those who want to celebrate the continuing Lizzy legacy, especially with such a distinguished part of their history behind the kit.

Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Andras Paul


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