Around this time of year there are cries around the country of ‘Christmas gets earlier every year’ as the first decorations are spotted and every TV ad features snowy scenes and perfectly wrapped presents. Manchester took this a step further by deciding to switch on their Christmas lights on the same day as Schenker Fest hit town, cue traffic chaos in the centre of town and our 20 minute commute taking well over an hour, Ho bloody Ho!
As a consequence of this festive hold up by the time we got into the Ritz support band The Departed were about to live up to their name and vacate the stage. I did catch the last song which sounded good and the reaction the guys received as the last chords rang out confirmed that they had gone down a storm with the capacity crowd. I also noted that the guys were doing a roaring trade in signed flyers at the exit after the show, always a good sign.
The ‘sold out’ signs were out for tonight’s show which demonstrates the level of interest in the Schenker Fest dates. The current tour has seen the reformed MSG crew hit many countries to rave reviews but these dates were the first chance to sample the roadshow on UK soil. The fact that the ‘sold out’ signs also signalled an uncomfortably rammed venue with little room to breathe was another matter…
As the strains of AC/DC’s Highway To Hell faded Schenker stepped into the spotlight to a huge cheer and launched into an impressive solo guitar intro. He was soon joined by the rest of the band and the solo piece morphed into ‘Into The Arena’, an apt opener. Chris Glen and Ted McKenna provided a solid rhythm section whilst Steve Mann ably supported on guitar and keyboards.
The first vocalist of the night was Gary Barden who looked overjoyed to be back in the spotlight at this level. For most, Barden is the voice of MSG having featured on the bulk of the band’s early albums, the voice may not be quite what it once was but he certainly put in the effort. He took the vocals in five tracks including gems such as ‘Victim Of Illusion’, ‘Cry For The Nations’ and ‘Armed And Ready’ instantly transporting everyone back to the ‘One Night At Budokan’ live album released in 1982.
Another instrumental interlude followed in the shape of the Scorpions’ track ‘Coast To Coast’ which then heralded the arrival of vocalist number two, Graham Bonnet. This section of the evening kicked off with ‘Desert Song’ with Bonnet giving it his all. His recent solo tours appear to have been good for his voice as he hit the high notes when required.
Bonnet then invited Barden and tonight’s other vocalist, Robin McAuley, on to the stage to sing backing harmonies on ‘Dancer’ to great effect. An excellent run through of the driving ‘Assault, Attack’ rounded off Bonnet’s section of the night and he left the stage to a huge cheer.
Michael then led the band into another instrumental, this time we were treated to the excellent ‘Captain Nemo’ with some blistering fretwork from the maestro. Robin McAuley then returned to the stage for his stint and proved that he had lost none of his vocal prowess in the intervening years. I have been a fan of McAuley since his days fronting Grand Prix in the early 80’s and was looking forward to hearing tracks from this period in Schenker’s history.
Opening with ‘No Time For Losers’ it was clear that Robin is still a class act. He did spend number of years fronting Survivor and has been involved in a few rock projects in Las Vegas to keep him match fit so to speak and it showed.
Other choice tracks from the McAuley/Schenker era followed including ‘Bad Boys’ and ‘Love Is Not A Game’ before Michael cranked out the familiar opening riff to the UFO classic ‘Rock Bottom’. With McAuley on vocal duties this was a real tour de force with the usual extended guitar solo from Schenker in the mid-section which held the crowd enthralled and brought the main set to a blistering climax.
After a brief interlude Schenker returned to the stage, a bit too brief for the rest of the band who took another minute to gather along with all three vocalists , and struck up the intro to ‘Doctor, Doctor’ sending the crowd into a bouncing frenzy. The three frontmen took it in turns to take the vocal lead and were clearly having a ball. ‘Natural Thing’ followed with Schenker swapping solo licks with Steve Mann who was allowed to step into the limelight for a bit.
Things were then rounded off in fine style by another UFO classic ‘Lights Out’ a bit ironic given my issues earlier in the evening with them being switched on! Again all three frontmen were to the fore and soaking up the crowd reaction. As Ted McKenna brought the proceedings to an end the sardine like capacity crowd made their appreciation felt. This may have been an evening of nostalgia but there is many a good tune played on an old Flying V.
2018 promises to bring further developments with Schenker Fest including the addition of Doogie White to the vocal line up and the possibility of new material. For now however I don’t think there were many in the 1400 strong crowd who didn’t think that Christmas had indeed come early to Manchester.
Footnote – A special mention for a couple of door security men outside the venue who were top notch and assisted above and beyond during a bit of a personal crisis, cheers guys!
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Power Plays w/c 2 April 2018
TAX THE HEAT Taking The Hit (Nuclear Blast)
BLACKBERRY SMOKE Nobody Gives A Damn (Earache)
THE DEAD DAISIES Resurrected (SPV)
CATTAIL BREW Fool’s Gold (Capital City Music Factory/Cargo Records)
Featured Albums w/c 2 April (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 FRONTLINE State Of Rock + 2 (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 GUS G Fearless (AFM Records)
14:00-16:00 TRACK DOGS Kansas City Out Groove (Mondegreen Records)
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