Review: Rockin By The River 4 – Livewire, Saltash

I have reviewed gigs in the “Rockin By The River” series before (although missed the last one due to a positive covid test), but for those new to the event here is a brief intro:

When a Bad Touch tour date a few years back in South Cornwall was cancelled by the promoter – after they realised it had been booked in a local youth club and they got cold feet – local rock fans, led by the New Wave of Classic Rock group, ran the evening themselves and it proved to be a huge success.

The venue – Livewire Youth Music in Saltash – is more than simply a youth club, it is a music phenomena in its own right, with major league patrons and sponsors, a huge stage, pro-level lighting  and sound rigs, and a library of instruments for youngsters to practice with. It provides vital mental health support across a major city and as with most such ventures, needs financial support to continue the outstanding work the dedicated team does. So, it made sense to start a series of gigs, with bands appearing for petrol money, merch donated from the NWoCR spectrum, and the ridiculously good value of £10 per ticket in order to raise money to allow the work to continue and grow.

This was the fourth such event with another sell-out crowd turning up for a five-band lineup that oozed quality and variety. As is tradition, the evening was kicked off with a drum roll from someone that has themselves benefited from the work done at the centre as young Rory took to the kit and was introduced by compere Mike Snook.

First of the bands onstage achieved a very singular honour as they were conceived within the Livewire project itself! Showing great maturity and no little musical ability The Outlanders delivered a set to be proud of. Scarily young, what was particularly impressive was not just that their set consisted of entirely original material, but that every song was complex, melodic, and classy. 

Set changeovers were swift thanks to the stage crew and minutes after The Outlanders left the stage, Circus 66 from Maidenhead exploded onto it. A band new to me, but straight in as one I would travel to see again! Fronted by the utterly dynamic Annabel Zaychenko, with a voice ranging from gravelly rawness to ear-bleeding screams and a stage presence that mesmerised, their set was one I could not take my eyes off. Matt Pearce on guitar produced some huge licks and the rhythm section of Luke Ward and Leigh Holley was an absolute powerhouse. There are some bands where you can instantly hear clear influences, but Circus 66 takes you on a musical odyssey with each song seeming to carry you on a journey. A little bit of one band here, then another takes its place seamlessly, in a style that should just be called their own. Annabel is a performer through and through. Chatting before and after the set she is a bundle of fizzing energy and when unleashed on an audience feeds off their applause like one of the vampires trick or treating outside over the weekend. Highlights of the set include the slinky and dark “Monster”, the Rawr of “A Thousand Miles From Home” and the riffs of “Jekyll or Hyde”. There is new music coming soon. I can’t wait!

Returning to their second home yet again, Essex trio White Raven Down bought their complex and layered sound to the stage. Previously a four-piece when I have seen them, they have parted company with ex-vocalist Will Taylor and now attack the audience as a trio. Stu Bailey now takes on both vocals and guitars and it works brilliantly. It isn’t easy taking responsibility for different elements of the band’s sound but he is a bit of an alchemist and gets the formula spot on. The vocals are soaring and clear, never straining at the high end, the guitars layered and complex, and then each solo thrills and excites. All of that is built on the most solid of foundations as Luke Chappell provides both huge basslines and additional layers of complexity to the sonic mix. All of that is kept on track by Tom Mrazek’s blend of power and groove on the drums and their set draws more and more people toward the front as it goes on. “Price you Pay” is a driven rocker that keeps the head bobbing and contains light and shade in abundance and “Roll of the Dice” is deliciously heavy. I find myself fascinated by the evolution from the first time I saw them play and look forward immensely to hearing more new music as they develop.

Now on to the band I was most looking forward to seeing again, having encountered them at Steelhouse Festival for the first time and being utterly blown away: Merseyside’s Ashen Reach. I was certainly not disappointed as their set was simply stunning. First, you have the music. It’s melodic. It’s heavy. It’s complex. It’s catchy. There are songs that grab you by the balls and squeeze, and songs that sidle in between your synapses and caress them. “Fighting For My Life” is an absolute anthem that opens the set and has vocalist Kyle Stanley leaping into the air and headbanging whilst guitarists Paddy Cummins and Joe O’Sullivan throw hair and riffs in equal measure. The beat keepers of Mike McCarroll (bass) and Jess Stanley (drums) put together the most solid of rhythms and neighbours must think that an eternally long train is crossing the bridge above as their walls shake. “Prey” is simply massive as Stanley’s face is contorted with angst and is followed by the contrast of “Hole in the Sky” with its huge soundscape. Set-closer “Homecoming” is immense, especially the soaring guitar solos, and the album of the same name is now a permanent fixture in my car. Looking for a band that are about to break through? Check out Ashen Reach, you won’t be disappointed.

Another quick change and the headliners, Scarlet Rebels finally appear on stage to a massive cheer. I think this must be the fourth or possibly fifth time I have seen the band play this year and as always the set is tight, passionate, and incredibly enjoyable. The contrast between band members is always striking. Lead guitarist Chris Jones is never still, leaping, hair-throwing, and wandering around whilst ripping out searing solos at will. Vocalist/guitarist Wayne Doyle tends to remain by the mic, filling the centre of the stage with vocal power and rocking rhythms. “Pricey” Esmonde lays down some massive basslines but tends to stay out of the limelight, and behind them all, Gary Doyle shakes the walls with sheer power with the sticks. 

“I’m Alive” opens and the place is bouncing. It sums up the Rebels’ music brilliantly, clever lyrics, catchy tunes, and then Jones’ skillful and soaring solos. Politics underpin many of the songs, but the anger is in the lyrics rather than the presentation. “Take You Home” simply rips along and gets the bounce going. Doyle engages often with the crowd, thanking them for getting recent album “See Through Blue” to number 7 in the UK charts, almost a year ago now and still as fresh as ever and the bands’ gratitude is still just as tangible. Another monologue gets the crowd clapping or, if “double parked” to become honorary Rebels. “Let Me In’ is a singalong classic that is impossible not to fall in love with and “These Days” is probably the song that for me most sums up the “Rebels”, at first glance a top-down summer drive anthem, but then the lyrics are cutting and powerful. Another superb set from a band that has achieved so much but also seems to have so much more ahead.

Updates since the evening have revealed the amazing generosity of those attending, with two guitars donated to the cause on the night and over £12k raised over the four evenings run so far.
The next date is 18th March 2023. Get it in your diary and head to the Devon/Cornwall border for a great night of music for a worthy cause!

Review and photos – Rob Wilkins/Celtography 

More information on Livewire Youth Music, Saltash – here.

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