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Lee Small & his Band Of Brothers @ The Robin, Bilston, Wolverhampton (12/8/12)

posted 15 Aug 2012, 20:00 by Paul Woodward   [ updated 18 Aug 2012, 08:48 ]
Review By Woody
Photo's By Rob Stanley
The Robin is probably one of the most popular venues in the Midlands region not only with music fans but with bands too. From anyone’s first visit this is easy to see and hear why with stellar sound and premium facilities. So if you’re into Blues/Roots, Prog and indeed a smidgen of Pop you probably live at the Robin! The venue is also a popular destination for party goers attending cover and tribute bands. With the ever increasing popularity of the venue the genre’s represented at the Robin have increased to include a little bit of Punk and Classic Rock. Unfortunately with how popular and busy the venue is it makes it heartbreakingly hard for new or bands with a small following to get a gig at this highly desirable club venue. So with that in mind I was a little gobsmacked when this last minute addition to Lee’s summer dates was announced, obviously I was overjoyed at the prospect at seeing Lee at such a quality venue, but I feared a low predicted turn out would discourage the venue from putting the gig on. Thankfully all went ahead, with a small but very happy and vocal audience and turn-out was far better than anyone could have predicted!

I made a big boo boo with tonight’s support act, having seen an advert for a local venue which featured a cover band called Shyne, I had wrongly predicted that’s who we were getting tonight. So obviously disappointed I didn’t bother to dig any further information out, thankfully, this Shyne were not a cover band! This did mean I was witnessing the band totally blind (or should the read deaf? But you know what I mean!).

They played a short but sweet set of LA strip circa the 80’s inspired hair metal. Now based on the little info I gathered from the lead singer, this was the bands first gig and his first appearance on a stage in eighteen years. If I’m honest that did show a little bit with some obvious nerves as the first two songs were a little ropey but once they settled into their set they were flowing really well and were very enjoyable. As musicians you can’t really fault them, the very young rhythm section were scarily impressive given their obvious youth. The guitarist and vocalist were obviously a little older and of course the driving force of the band, having decided to start the band after getting fed up with the state of the current mainstream rock scene. I have to say this is commendable and although they still need to work on their material it is great to see the passion and drive to get out there and perform and create music regardless of its popularity in the mainstream! Hats off to the guys, keep it up!

I think they would benefit from introducing some backing vocals and keyboards to their sound, I think this would enhance their songs and I don’t think it would distort the sound they are going for. The vocalist didn’t go down well with a mate of mine but as I pointed out the style of music he’s trying to create his voice fits in with it – the dude was wearing a Ratt t-shirt who are an obvious influence and good idea to give you the style of his vocals. A promising start for a new local band, would I go and see them live again? Oh hell yeah!

These few summer dates Lee Small has organised are to support his latest solo album Jamaica Inn, his show tonight at the Robin is the last of the current live dates. It’s great to see Lee who hails from the Black Country getting a gig here also, whilst we have a glut of venues in the region, quality ones that’ll give the time of day to original artists are few and far between. Although I have become a fan of Lee’s over the past 5-6 years his career dates a lot further back and I still can’t get over how Native Cain passed me by back in the late 90’s with them been a local band and especially with them been Bob Catley’s backing band for a few years!

Lee’s band of brothers featured ex- Native Cain members Connor Emms (The New Saints) on Guitar and Dez Wooton (New Saints) on Drums as well as Jamaica Inn cohort Carl Anthony Wright (Phenomena) on guitar, Pete Emms (V Rats / New Saints) on bass and Paul Bradder of Saracen on Keyboards. I have to admit the sense of brotherhood and camaraderie shown on stage was really heart warming to witness and add to that the vocal and loud responses from a loyal audience it made for a great and stirring atmosphere. Also I have to mention sound engineer Mark Stuart who was working his magic on the sound desk, you may know him as Magnum’s in-house sound man and chief producer at Mad Hat Studio’s in Wolverhampton. Great to see him coming out and giving his time and support to a great local artist.

During the set Connor get’s the crowd revved up by mentioning they had all worked their asses off to get this gig happening and he felt that Lee deserved to perform at a venue as good as this, this was met with a rousing and loud cheer of agreement. I couldn’t agree more! It’s not an easy venue to get a gig at and I’m sure it caused a lot of hard work and worry making sure it was a success.

Lee’s set was a game of two half’s, or at least that’s how it came across to me, The first half been full on melodic rock and then dipping into the bluesy classic rock style as displayed on his latest opus for the second half. This worked seamlessly and far better than you would perhaps think on paper and I enjoyed the set as a whole immensely. I have to admit as a relative newbie to Lee’s musical history there was quite a few songs played tonight that I was hearing for the first time, this didn’t affect my enjoyment so it was obviously a well selected set list!

As a massive fan of Shy’s last album which features Lee on vocals, I was hoping for a tune from that album. I wasn’t disappointed with ‘Over You’ getting aired early on in the set! Actually that’s my favourite song from my album of 2011! So I was a very happy dude when I recognised the intro to this amazing future AOR classic! I was simply stunned with how well the song came across so big thumbs up to the entire band for bringing this amazing song to life!

I normally find songs that stick out as highlights but given the musicianship on offer and the whole hearted performance by all the members of the band the whole night was a highlight! Any nerves the band may have had weren’t shown and certainly didn’t affect their playing. Lee’s vocals were faultless throughout; I can’t name many vocalists of this quality who can maintain this type of performance up for 90 minutes. The guy is too good for pubs and it’s a real shame he has to fight so hard for the right to perform at a venue befitting his talents.

Connor made a great right hand man performing with a confident swagger and his easy stage presence makes him a pleasure to watch. With Dez, Pete and Carl all performing with huge smiles as they rocked around the stage it was easy to see how much they were enjoying themselves and although he was lurking in the shadows key’s man Paul’s contribution was exceptional.

Lee spoke to the crowd between every song exposing a very humble musician who was appreciative of the turn out and their vocal responses. I think he may have prepared himself for a far smaller crowd as he seemed pleasantly surprised that a Sunday night and the Olympic closing ceremony hadn’t deterred people from coming out! He is a very likeable front man with a great attitude and topped off with amazing voice.

Amongst the set we got the emotive and highly melodic ‘Children Of A Lesser God’, Native Cain’s ‘Ghost In You’, ‘Jamaica Inn’, ‘Heartache’, the beautiful ‘Shine A Light’, ‘Dead Man Walking’ and the tongue in cheek Led Zep homage ‘Walk The Plank’. We also got a cover of Gamma’s ‘Voyager’ which was dedicated to Ronnie Montrose. The encore’s were two classic rock classics starting with ‘Fool For Your Loving’ dedicated to Mel Galley and Jon Lord but final song ‘Carry On Wayward Son’ was dedicated to the memory of New Saints bass player Spon who tragically passed away this year. There was a nice touch of slipping into Led Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ to close tonight’s performance.

There may not have been a full house tonight, but the music was awesome, the musicianship stunning and the atmosphere was fantastic. I actually thought during the break before the encore what a wonderful atmosphere there was almost like a sense of brotherhood and mutual appreciation for this talented group of musicians. I love gigs like this, ones that send me home with a huge smile upon my face!

I can’t wait to see Lee perform with Shy at the Steve Harris tribute concert on the 28th October at The Asylum in Birmingham. From tonight’s performance its obvious Lee is going to do justice to all those great songs!