One of the healthiest factors in the current music scene is that, alongside long-established and recently reformed names, a whole new generation of classic rock bands are coming through and growing in popularity. Indeed one of the fastest-growing Facebook groups is entitled the ‘New Wave of Classic Rock’.
Even better, many such bands are homegrown and following the likes of the Temperance Movement and Inglorious, the latest band to be gaining traction popularity-wise are West Midlands rockers Stone Broken. A series of high profile support slots – Glenn Hughes and Cheap Trick to name but two – and festival appearances have built enough of a following that on their first headline tour, the London date was at the 850 capacity Islington Academy, which was pretty full with a healthy mixture of ages.
As if to prove the health of the current scene, there were three rising acts on the bill, starting with the Bad Flowers who in their short life have quickly been making a name. This was my first sighting of them and while the band name might suggest a group of Stones-inspired wasters, in fact they are a power trio with a seriously dark and heavy sound, notably with Dale Tonks providing some adventurous and weighty basslines.
Yet the emotive vocals of sharply-dressed guitarist Tom Leighton could also carry a tune with the opener ‘Hurricane’ reminding me of The Cult and their sound a mix of the classic and more contemporary. ‘Secrets’ and ‘Lions Blood’ impressed while as the set wore on, the likes of ‘Thunder Child’ had me reaching for comparisons to the dirty wall of noise served up by the likes of Monster Truck.
A promising set ended with ‘City Lights’ which with its changes of tempo had a touch of the epic and was rapturously received including by some people near me who had followed the band down from Staffordshire.
Jared James Nichols is now a more familiar figure to many, having opened up big festivals like Stone Free and Ramblin Man. Fronting another power trio, who seemed much more dynamic and together than I remembered from previous shows, he is a charismatic figure, smile peering out from a mane of hair and pulling some entertaining poses. A heavy rock guitarist with a bluesy feel rather than vice versa, with his incendiary guitar playing, cut-off shirt and Native American tattoo he even has a look, and slight feel, of a young Ted Nugent.
My one reservation is that the songs of which originals like ‘The Gun’ and ‘Playing for Keeps’ stood out, are not the greatest and rather samey. However the boogie of ‘Can You Feel It’ was good for audience participation, and his cover of ‘Mississippi Queen’ is now a traditional set closer to the extent he has made the old Mountain classic his own.
As for headliners Stone Broken, the first impression was how much more assured their stage craft now is, with guitarist Chris Davis and bassist Kieron Conroy regularly stepping on raised platforms at the front of the stage. However, the backdrop of an open road looking uncannily like the cover art of Nickelback’s All The Right Reasons, and some very Black Stone Cherry-ish stage moves, right down to singer Rich Moss’s baseball cap, reinforced – unwittingly or otherwise – the musical comparisons that are repeatedly made.
Opener and new song ‘Heartbeat Away’ began with some darker, heavier riffing than I had heard before, but Rich’s warm, deep voice was as melodic as ever, but they were soon into now familiar territory with a punchy ‘Stay All Night’. However the fly in the ointment was that with bad timing their new album ‘Ain’t Always Easy’ has yet to appear, so the bulk of songs in the set would have been new to the audience.
Fortunately, not only were there enough familiar songs like ‘Broken’ with its catchy hook and positive lyrical message, but new songs like ‘I Believe’ and ‘The Only Thing I Need’ impressed, and were in a sufficiently similar mould to ensure the set did not feel too disjointed.
One of the things that makes Stone Broken an interesting proposition is that the accoutrements of many a young rock’n ‘roll band – spiky attitude, gratuitous swearing and tattoos – are largely absent, while Rich spoke of becoming abstinent from the drink since his younger days. Instead they seem grateful for their growing success and cultivate a down to earth, ‘folks next door’ feel.
The real highlight of the new numbers though was a heartfelt ballad, ‘Home’ about missing loved ones out on the road. Calling to mind the likes of 3 Doors Down and Daughtry, this confirmed my growing feeling that they could tap into a market that is huge in the USA for this kind of material.
After a drum solo from Robyn Haycock, a taped intro of glam metal classics led into ‘Let Me See it All’ which seemed to be a bit of an homage to those halcyon days, before the set ended in a tad heavier fashion with most recent single ‘Worth Fighting For’.
Having seen it go down a storm at their support slots, I was curious why the ballad ‘Wait For You’ was not in the main set but the encore saw Rich emerge just with acoustic guitar for a beautiful rendition and there was a great moment as he let the crowd take over the singing, at which point the full band returned to bring the song to a climax, before finishing in altogether rockier fashion with ‘Not Your Enemy’, with a group of people stage left jumping around and testing the Assembly Hall floor’s notoriously springy properties.
An honest, hardworking band with great songs, once the new album beds into people’s consciousness the future is bright for Stone Broken. With the news in the wake of this show that they have been added to a US tour headlined by Adelitas Way, my hunch that their sound is tailor-made to conquer the American market is about to be put to the test.
Review and Photos by Andy Nathan
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