Black Star Riders/Michael Monroe/Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons
The Tramshed, Cardiff, 21st Feb 2023
Review and photos Rob Wilkins
Changing to self-employed has given me a lot more freedom to move work around to facilitate gigs, so tonight was set up to be the first of three gigs in three nights. The logistics weren’t quite perfect, with a rush to Cardiff and then back to Bristol, but for three superb evenings of live music, it was worth it.
I don’t get to shoot at The Tramshed often, which is a shame as the stage is low and the lighting pretty decent! Tonight was a great bill of three class bands with very different musical styles, including one of my heroes!
Opening the evening were relatively local heroes Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons (missing one Bastard, Todd, due to illness). You know exactly what you are going to get with these guys and if you don’t, ‘We’re the Bastards’ leaves you in no doubt whatsoever as Joel Peters, with a most unusual style of microphone (somewhat like an old BBC-style news mic) stands tall centre stage whilst on his right Phil Campbell, with “Welsh Wanker” guitar strap and battered cap, takes on both solo and rhythm guitar responsibilities. Dane and Tyla provide the bastards on drums and bass respectively.
The class of PCatBS shows in that whilst the set contains a number of nods to his past (‘Going to Brazil’, ‘Born to Raise Hell’ and set closer ‘Ace of Spades’ from the Motörhead back catalogue), the band’s own material such as ‘Freak Show’ and crowd pleaser ‘Get on Your Knees’ are just as strong. The crowd responds well and their short set comes to an end far too quickly!
Now for my hero. I first saw Michael Monroe as part of Hanoi Rocks way back in my student days and they became an all-time favourite band of mine, with their back catalog often on my car stereo. How would he be now he is 60? A venerable and restrained elder statesman? Not A Chance! He explodes on stage in a blur of colour and activity. The mic stand is flung around nearly decapitating anyone in the first few rows. Before long he is off to the crowd barrier, simply leaping the photo pit, then back to the stage. A flying split makes my eyes water but he doesn’t miss a note.
Around him Sami Yaffa hasn’t aged a year since those HR days, ex-New York Doll Steve Conte rips out searing guitar passages and Rich Jones and Karl Rockfist complete the quintet on stage.
It is a real turn-the-clock-back set. A nod to when music was dangerous and unscripted. Nobody, least of all the man himself, seems to have any idea what he might do next. ‘I Live Too Fast To Die Young’ is an early stand-out from his own material, as is later track ‘Ballad of the Lower East Side’. We are treated to no less than THREE Hanoi Rocks classics, one of which, ‘Don’t You Ever Leave Me’ brings a tear to my eye as it would have featured the spoken passages from the much-missed Razzle. The other two, ‘Motorvatin’ and the superb version of ‘Up Around the Bend’ both roll back the years brilliantly. By the end of his set, my mouth hurts from smiling, my voice is wrecked from singing and I have had the best time in a long time. Sheer Magic!
Finally to the headliner.
To welcome them on stage there was the unusual sight of a comedian before Slade blasted out from the PA and the band took the stage. This is a very different band to the last time I saw them, with Sam Wood, now the single guitarist, and Jimmy De Grasso returning on drums for the tour alongside Ricky Warwick and bassist Robbie Crane. The set’s first segment is composed of songs from the latest album ‘Wrong Side of Paradise’, which didn’t feature Scott Gorham. The sound is a little less rich, with two guitars rather than three reducing the complexity a little, but the songwriting follows the same path as previous BSR tracks. ‘Pay Dirt’, ‘Another State of Grace’, ‘Better than Saturday Night’, ‘When the Night Comes In’, ‘Riding out the Storm’ and ‘Wrong Side of Paradise’ all feature Ricky’s snarled and very Lynottesque vocals. Then a rather wonderful version of The Osmonds’ ‘Crazy Horses’ raises the energy levels of the crowd further as it provides the lead in to Ricky welcoming on stage Mr. Gorham himself for part two and a greatest of song list.
This, for me, is when the set really took off, with the first songs almost a warm-up after the warm-ups! Scott brings a laid-back, cool addition to the visuals and thickens the sound. ‘Soldierstown’ grabs me amongst the next few songs before we head back to Lizzy days with ‘Don’t Believe a Word’ and the welcoming onstage of Phil Campbell. How many great guitarists can you get on one song? Awesome stuff! ‘Blindsided’ and ‘The Killer Instinct’ follow, before another cracker with ‘Before the War’. And then ‘Testify or Say Goodbye’. Another guest is welcomed on stage as Micheal Monroe joins for a rumbustious version of ‘Tonight the Moonlight Let Me Down’ then leaves the core to ‘Kingdom of the Lost’ and ‘Bound for Glory’. If I have one minor complaint, not being a superfan of BSR, it is that many of the songs tend to sound very similar and follow the same patterns on stage, but when it sounds this good and those on stage are having such a great time, that is soon forgotten and I am lost in the class of the musicianship like everyone else.
Time for two more before curfew and the crowd goes crazy for ‘Jailbreak’ before the set is closed and the evening ended with ‘Finest Hour’. This will mark an interesting point in time for Black Star Riders. The departure of some of the previous members, especially Scott Gorham, may mean that future tours become less attractive to those who are drawn by seeing someone that is a musical icon to many. It will be interesting to see how the music develops and progresses, but for now, the end of a great night of music and back across the bridge to Bristol to prepare for the next night’s, very different, entertainment.