Sadly Survivor never made it to UK shores, the sad death of Jimi Jamison scuppering a scheduled show in 2014. However original singer Dave Bickler, who by that stage was back and sharing vocal duties, did play Rockingham Festival 18 months ago. I had expected that to be a glorious one off so was delighted when a short run of UK dates was announced.
However this delight was not shared by the paying public: on a Monday night, and in the middle of a busy time in the gig season not least with many keeping their powder dry for HRH AOR, where he was due to appear later in the week. Even the billing as ‘the voice of the Eye of the Tiger’ could not persuade out more than a crowd of diehards whose passion made up for the fact there seemed to be fewer than 100 of us.
In what did not initially seem an obvious pairing, support came from Chrome Molly, who were part of my eighties gigging youth as Marquee Club regulars, and unexpectedly reformed more recently. It was well over two years since I last saw them and with energetic bassist Nic Wastell now in Wayward Sons they have been relatively quiet since.
Bolstered by a small but extremely enthusiastic following of long time fans, they opened with ‘Short Sharp Shock’ and ‘Cut Loose’, epitomising how the set was a mix of old and new, or in the case of ‘Pillars of Creation’, a new song name checking the great bands from the eighties Monsters of Rock, a bit of both.
In a two guitar line up there were some fine solos from the Flying V-wielding John Footitt while Steve Hawkins is still the engaging, confident frontman that I remembered back in the day. In hindsight, in those days they were searching for a niche and didn’t easily fit with the then prevailing trends, but they now seem more comfortable in an unapologetically heavier skin, even though there was an unexpected ballad in ‘Now Those Days Are Gone’.
Both the Holder and Lea-penned ‘Shooting Me Down’, which as Steve reminded us was their shot at fame flunked by their record company, and ‘Thanks For The Angst’ took me back to those late eighties days. ‘Corporation Fear’ was the heaviest song on view but also sadly ended a set that at just 30 minutes had flown by.
Dave Bickler came on stage with trademark beret long confined to the dressing up box, looking a youthful 65 and more importantly, after a classic keyboard intro to ‘Feels Like Love’ it was clear he was in good voice. He has also just released a first ever solo album and soon dropped in a song from it in ‘Home’ though he was modest enough to beg the indulgence of his new bandmates.
The home grown band gave each other a number of tentative glances early on in what was their very first show together but soon warmed to the task, notably a very impressive guitar pairing of Glenn Quinn and Jim Kirkpatrick, moonlighting from FM, the two often swapping solos within the same song and giving the likes of ‘Summer Nights’ and ‘Chevy Nights’ a harder edged, guitar-based sound than on record.
Dave had a typically laid back mid-western persona but told us the story behind several songs, many tinged with sadness – he paid tribute to recently deceased Survivor bassist Stephan Ellis before ‘Caught In the Game’ with its great riffs and a chorus many of us were punching the air to, before dryly recounting how close he became to Jimi Jamison after initially hating him when he took his job -and chose one of the songs he sang in Survivor in ‘Burning Heart’, imo the superior of the two ‘Rocky’ songs.
The excitement of seeing him that time at Rockingham had been dulled by a set packed with standards from the likes of the Beatles and Free. Lessons seemed to have been learned as there was just one cover, an acoustic runthrough of Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’.
The only other solo number aired, ‘Always You’, was very impressive, building from quiet beginnings to a strong hook filled chorus. All there was to complain about was an unsatisfactory lighting set up in red monochrome, and that he did not introduce the band members by name, possibly owing to having only recently met.
The set was largely Survivor-based but steered clear of some more obvious choices, instead including some harder edged tracks like B-side ‘Rebel Girl’ and ‘Children Of The Night’. However when he said we might know this one, the keyboard intro heralded a classic, albeit from the Jimi era in ‘I Can’t Hold Back’. The title was apposite as throughout the set he bravely stretched his voice to the limit, as he admitted on occasion. The main set closed with another deceptively muscular rocker from Survivor’s pre-hit making days in the bluesy ‘Take You On A Saturday’.
Of course there could only be one encore and there was a mass of fist punching and shadow boxing poses to ‘Eye Of The Tiger’- Dave himself wisely avoided hamming it up, though Jim was clearly having fun as he moved around the stage playing an extended solo and combining with Glenn.
Though on the short side at an hour and ten minutes, the missing hundreds missed a great show which was in a different league to his UK bow at Rockingham. Post-Survivor, he took on a new role as the voice behind the Budweiser adverts ‘real men of genius’, celebrating unfairly neglected heroes. The diehards here were the lucky ones to celebrate the rebirth of a man who exactly fits that description in the AOR world.
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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