Review By Woody
Photo’s By Sean Larkin
I have to admit I had a bad feeling about the turnout tonight, given that us Midlanders had been given a midweek date on this tour as well as the venue not been centrally located in Brum. So I have to admit the exceptionally healthy attendance tonight was a true shock, albeit it a grin inducing one! Melodic Rock and AOR bands playing the Midlands in the past year and half has taken a massive down turn, so not only am I extremely grateful that the tour organisers this time have done their best to get a midlands date, the crowd here points out there is an audience here or at least a crowd can be gathered here easily. Here’s hoping the organisers have taken note and will perhaps spread the word, JB’s may be long gone but the fans aren’t ready to retire just yet!
This rather tasty melodic rock triple header kicks off with relative newcomers White Widdow who have came all the way from Oz to fill our ears full of old school keyboard heavy melodic rock! These guys have really created a buzz around themselves since they appeared on the scene with their debut album and their follow up Serenade released just one year later and of course their appearance at least years Firefest.
I have to be honest here though and confess despite all the positivity I hear about the band I find the band a little too retro – Yes I know SHOCK! I can hear all the jaws smashing off the floor at my ‘air keytaring’ ass stating something is TOO old school! Don’t get me wrong I like the band and I love their attitude and love of ‘80’s rock, but they just don’t inspire me and capture me the way many other bands do. That said they play melodic rock with a real love and passion and I’d never miss a live show given the opportunity!
Tonight I don’t think was their best performance of the tour, perhaps a little bit of jet lag kicking in and end off tour burnout? I do have to give the guys a bit of slide though given the sound at the Roadhouse not been particularly good for them. Their brand of melodic rock really needs a crystal clear sound and unfortunately tonight their songs couldn’t shine the way they could. Front man Jules Millis probably suffered the most from the poor sound, and it seemed at times as though he couldn’t hear himself properly, frequently going out of tune and struggling vocally.
Jules is a pretty entertaining front man even though he was having an off night and it’s clear why people take to him and enjoy his stage presence. It was also ball tingly awesome that Jules’s brother Xavier’s keyboards were nice and high in the mix! I definitely saw enough here to want to see the band again as I thought Enzo Almanzi’s guitar skills warrant checking out once more, fingers crossed with a far better sound system to showcase their songs.
Amongst their set we heard ‘Reckless Nights’, ‘One More Day’, ‘Strangers In The Night’, ‘Serenade’, ‘We Got The Wings’, ‘Show Your Cards’, ‘Do You Remember’ and ‘Broken Hearts Won’t Last Forever’.
Amongst tonight’s crowd were some of my Midlands Rocks buddies, designated Tog Sean Larkin, fellow Black Country man Paul Quinton, Harry Patterson and of course ‘he who must be obeyed’ the boss, Peter Keevil. Whilst it’s always great to chat and catch up with colleagues and friends, it does also mean many other people state their opinions and that opinion may not be the same as mine, so I’m trying to write this review un-guided by those who know far better than I do! Haha!
Although this did lead to Harry defending some comments he made in his review of last year’s Firefest which I didn’t like namely his comments about keyboard players all looking like geeks and momma’s boys! Whilst I know his comments were meant tongue in cheek, it’s this sort of stereotyping that derides the genre and panders to those who belittle the genre’s integrity and does nothing to encourage younger listeners to enjoy the rock n roll party that is melodic rock! I know it was meant jovial and I know many keyboard players played straight into Harry’s stereotype at Firefest, bar James Martin of Vega of course! So ironically much to Harry’s disbelief and cussing, all the keyboard players tonight were well out of the AOR stereotype in their stage apparel! Cue big fook off grin from me!
I have always been very open about the fact image, looks and bands dress sense is totally secondary to the quality of a song to me. If Quasimodo, The Elephant Man, Iain Dowie and Steve Buscemi took to the stage wearing shell suits and sporting nifty off kilter pudding bowl haircuts and played songs that made me want to get naked and rock the night away I wouldn’t give a crap what they looked like! Although I fully accept that image is of primary importance before a note is heard by 99.9% of the world’s population.....hang on I think I just called the entire world shallow......yeah you bastards.....oh hang now they’ll all think I’m ugly.....ahhh oh well if the shoe fits, best don my Keytar, shell suit and join Quasimodo’s band! ROCK ON!
So this leads me to Serpentine who have become image conscious since Matt Black’s appointment as front man, and as I said to a few people the band have come on leaps and bounds in their stage appearance which whilst be beyond unimportant to me will obviously help the band in their push to get their music out there and increase their fan base. The Serp’s have a bright future ahead of them and I personally think it’s only going to get better and better from here on out.
I don’t know how many sacrifices or souls had to be sold but Matt Black’s arrival to the melodic rock world has been like a gift from the gods to Serpentine! Fitting in nicely with the ages of the rest of the band and also having a true love of melodic rock which will endear him to hardcore AOR nuts! He has very big shoes to fill in Tony Mills but this guy is such a talent I truly believe he is part of the next generation of melodic rockers! Not sure about the Hitler haircut mind....I’ll have to take his word if it’s trendy though, as I’m currently gluing my hair back on and spending every day down the sperm bank to collect enough money to get a ‘Rooney’. My fellow folically challenged friends will know what that is.
I have championed the Serp’s ever since I heard their debut album, but despite their many live excursions in the past year this is actually the first time I’ve seen them live, apart from an aborted road trip to Bristol, which was just a bridge too far for my black country ass. Was it worth the wait? Oh hell fooking yeah!
I know both their albums inside out so with every song they play I’m hoping for another favourite to be played. The Serp’s got the best of the sound tonight, although it wasn’t as good as they deserve. I have to make it plain even the world’s best sound man can only do so much and the Serp’s sound guy did his best! Hats off to Joe Lally!
As a unit it’s obvious these guys aren’t just musicians their mates too and their easy stage presence with each other comes across really well. Their youthful exuberance came across in spades! With Gaz Vanstone on bass bopping around like he’s playing in a metal band and Roy Millward on drums bashing out not only a decent rhythm but also giving the band a harder edged live sound. Chris Gould has a confident stage presence and interacts with Matt frequently whilst seemingly playing riffs and solo’s with total ease. Gaz Noon on Keyboards wears a grin from ear to ear and as well as singing backing vocals enthusiastically, It isn’t easy to be entertaining behind a stack of keyboards but the live experience he’s gathered shows in his obvious joy of been onstage!
Having the right front man can make or indeed break a band in the live arena and Matt’s one of the best in the Biz, I don’t know who we have to thank for his impeccable taste in music but THANK YOU!!!! His youthful energy is a god send to a genre struggling to find new singers in the mould of all our favourite singers from back in the day, he has the passionate performance style of Danny Vaughn, the cheeky humour and endearing presence of Ted Poley and vocals that give Jeff Scott Soto a run for his money!
Matt’s obviously been performing for years at different levels as he seems a natural and confident performer, his vocals are near faultless, and a vocally spot on performance we couldn’t have asked for me! This is the second time I’ve seen Matt this month and he’s also very good at adapting his stage presence depending on the crowd and turn out something that obviously comes from the wealth of live experience he has had. Tonight Matt was in his element, he’s probably one of the most naturally funny front men I’ve ever seen and he indulges in banter with the crowd at every opportunity. His cheeky lad-ish humour may not be for everyone, but I spent most of the in-between song time laughing. Personally I think his very human unforced humour warms the crowd to him and the band.
Although I wouldn’t want to go on tour with the Serp’s as Matt tells us tales from the road which mainly revolved around tormenting the guys in White Widdow, remember don’t pass out till Black’s gone home! He also told us about one of White Widdow dropping a bomb at the bands previous gig in Bolton and stinking the venue out, he wouldn’t reveal who it was but I’ll not rest till I find out who shit!!
We got a good mix of songs from both Serp’s albums and the show seemed to fly by too quickly. ‘In My Blood’ was without a doubt a stand out performance for me, probably song of the entire night for me! We also got ‘Deep Down (There’s A Price For Love)’, ‘Lonely Nights’, ‘Philadelphia’, ‘Heartbreak Town’, ‘Best Days Of Our Lives’, ‘A Touch Of Heaven’, ‘Dreamer’ and ‘Whatever Heartache’.
It was quite interesting to note the change of crowd in between bands with different fans appearing down the front for each band, although all three of tonight’s bands sit in the melodic rock bracket, it was interesting noting the change of guard. Tonight’s headliners TEN have never really toured the UK very often over the years, but this tour has been met with a lot of excitement and anticipation as it’s been a long time for many having the chance to see the band live. Personally it was eleven years ago on their co-headlining tour with Uncle Bob Catley promoting the ‘Babylon’ album at the Burton Bass brewery!
As I told the boss, if they played half as well as they did that night I’d be a very happy boy! I knew the Roadhouse sound wasn’t going to do the band’s pomp fuelled epic style any favours and after initially starting quite muddy most noticeably on Gary’s vocals but this did dramatically improve as their set wore on. Ten are a bit like marmite and divide opinion with ease, a lot of this is down to the fact that they are not an AOR by numbers band and whilst they are most definitely a melodic rock band they play a more epic form of it. I love TEN, I always have and the fact they aren’t a stereotypical melodic rock band appeals to me. Tonight was a real treat for me, it was fantastic to once more witness the band perform and play some of my old favourites.
‘After The Love Has Gone’ caused an obvious ear-gasm, and new guitarist Dan Mitchell did a stellar job recreating those unforgettable guitar riffs. Yeah he may be a bit of widdler, but I really enjoyed his performance he is an obviously talented guitar player with a confident easy playing style. Considering they don’t perform that frequently Gary Hughes comes across as a hardened live performer and his voice is impeccable. Long standing Ten Buddies John Halliwell on guitar and Steve Mckenna on bass also adds the bands strong and entertaining stage presence. They may not be everyone’s cup of tea but there ain’t no denying Ten ROCK live!
Amongst the set we heard ‘Endless Symphony’, ‘Spellbound’, ‘Book Of Secrets’, ‘The Robe’, ‘Love Song’, ‘Centre of My Universe’ and ‘Red’.
Other songs that captured the audience’s cheers were an epic rendition of ‘Ten Fathoms Deep’, the melodic beauty of ‘Hourglass & The Landslide’ and the classic ‘The Name Of The Rose’. We got Rose as the encore, I also appreciated Hughes deciding to not leave the stage but rather announcing it as the encore. I know it’s a very old tradition and many bands like to do it, but I think the band did the wise thing and capitalising on the euphoric atmosphere and just giving us what us we wanted! I tip my hat to Hughes for been a rebel and not bowing to tradition and leaving us with big cheesy grins on our faces, rather than sore hands and debating whether we’ve got time to get to the bar and back!
A great evening of melodic rock, which has unfortunately become a rarity in these parts, hopefully tonight’s loyal turn out will turn some heads and fingers crossed we’ll get a few more tours passing through the heartland again! I have to say as much as a real pleasure it was to get to see Ten once more, the Serp’s were my highlight of the night and here’s hoping they be back on the road later this year!
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