Back in the late seventies, when news travelled a lot slower than in today’s globalised world, the average British rock fan was mainly reared on home grown bands with the odd colonial interloper like AC/DC and Rush. American hard rock had less of a profile, but enlightened hacks on the likes of Sounds sang the praises of such acts as Starz, Legs Diamond and Angel in addition to better known names like Kiss.
By the time my generation came of rock age in the eighties and American acts began to predominate, many of those seminal pioneers were history, but over the years have attained iconic cult status. However it would be a brave man to predict that Angel would finally play on UK soil in 2018.
Strictly speaking it was only singer Frank Dimino and guitarist Punky Meadows, who for whatever reason are unable to use the band name, but this was an Angel show in all but name. Similarly to contemporaries Starz when they finally played the UK in 2013, there was a palpable buzz in the air with fans of a certain age who had waited over half their lives, and this meant that in spite of this being one of a series of dates around the country, the Underworld was encouragingly full.
To add to the all our yesterdays theme, the main support was recently reformed Scottish rockers Heavy Pettin, playing their own first London show by my reckoning since supporting Magnum in 1987.
At that moment they were fatefully chasing the Yankee dollar not least with the shark-jumping Eurovision entry of ‘Romeo’, but as they opened with the slashing, powerful riffs of ‘Victims Of The Night’ it was a reminder that they were once tipped to follow Def Leppard’s success with ‘Pyromania’ and had major backing to the extent that Brian May produced their ‘Lettin Loose’ debut.
In those days I, and many others, struggled with the helium-fuelled wheeze of singer Stevie ‘Hamie’ Hayman, but over the years his voice, while still raspy, seems to have acquired a bit more depth and was not in the least off putting. He was a lively front man and still recognisable with his fair hair and tartan scarf twirled around the microphone.
That debut album formed the bulk of the set and it was great to sing along to long forgotten gems like ‘Love Times Love’ and ‘In And Out of Love’. ‘Rock Me’ featured a singalong, and ‘Shout It Out’ some furious exchanges of solos between original member Gordon Bonnar, crouched over his flying V in a way which suggested that Michael Schenker’s influence went beyond the band name, and David Aitken.
As may be inferred from those song titles, clichés were never far from the surface yet it was hard not to warm to the band who were pulling some classic shapes that younger bands would do well to emulate, with the two guitarists almost forming a tag team as they swapped solos.
Their later more AOR influenced period was ignored, ‘Lost In Love’ being the most melodic number on view, but the title track of second album ‘Rock Ain’t Dead’ was another enjoyable live rabble rouser, and the rapid fire riffing of ‘Hell Is beautiful’ ended a highly enjoyable set. They would be welcome additions to any festival line up in 2019.
Far from the usual blasé London rock crowd, there was anticipation at the front among fans of a surprising variety of ages as the Angel members took the stage, with their six piece band. Punky Meadows at least was sporting one of the all white outfits that was the band’s trademark and maintaining a serene , if rather fixed, expression, while singer Frank Dimino, looking a cross between Ozzy Osbourne and Joe Lynn Turner in his granny glasses and thick black thatch, was less flamboyantly dressed but showing greater animation.
After opening with ‘On The Rocks’, the atmosphere was corking as people punched the air to the instant singalongs of ‘Can You Feel It’ and ‘Wild And Hot’, the latter with its ‘yeah-yeahs’ reminiscent of Poison and Danger Danger making me realise they were, Martin Peters-like, ten years ahead of their time.
However, at least early in their career, their pop-rock leanings were balanced by some progressive tendencies and ‘The Fortune’ was a classic example of this, and the first occasion when keyboard player Charlie Calv – who I remember from cult nineties pomp rockers Shotgun Symphony- was given full reign.
Though I used to find it a touch on the thin side, Frank’s voice was totally unaffected by time and for my money his genial reminiscences about the history of the band and the songs enhanced the atmosphere further.
There were more classics in the memorable chorus of ‘Don’t Leave Me Lonely’ and their near hit in the sixties cover ‘Ain’t Gonna Tear Out My Heart Anymore’, and there was only one misstep for me in a cover of ‘All The Young Dudes’ based on a tenuous recording connection with Bowie in his New York days.
They even played a couple of songs from each other’s solo albums (‘Lost And Lonely’ and ‘Never Again’ ) which fitted seamlessly into the set and throughout it all Punky’s unflashy but tasteful playing always suited the music perfectly.
Going into the home straight, the atmosphere reached new heights as people could not hide their delight at hearing the likes of ‘Got Love If You Want It’ while ‘Feel Alright’ saw Charlie’s keyboards and Punky’s guitar doing battle and ‘Rock n Rollers’ sparked a big singalong.
However, judging from the crowd reaction, the one song they wanted to hear more than any other was saved for the encore in the epic ‘Tower’, not least Charlie’s take on the synthesiser solo which defined the old Kerrang! (or was it Shades?) phrase ‘Total Pomp Death’.
It takes a lot to excite old rockers who have seen it all but, quite apart from the crackling atmosphere this was better musically than anyone had a right to expect, making the first appearance of Angel members on these shores a memorable night that it will be hard to repeat.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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