Maverick supported by Gasoline Outlaws
Saturday 17th January 2015 – Diamond Rock Club, Ahoghill.
We music lovers will often have friends who are into the same music as us; maybe that is even what brought us together in the first place. No matter how or why, such friends exist. And we trust them as friends about many things, but especially music. So, when they say ‘Hey, I’ve just heard a new band and they’re great’ or ‘such and such are playing in town, they’re supposed to be great, let’s go see’, you trust their judgment. In the space of a couple of years, The Diamond Rock Club, Ahoghill, has become just like such an old friend to me. The personification of promoter Derwin McFarland, I have now come to trust his judgment on music. Preconceptions I previously had about some of the acts he brought from oversees to the club – former big stars like Kip Winger (Winger), Michael Tramp (White Lion, Freak of Nature), Dan Reed (Dan Reed Network), Eric Martin (Mr Big), to name but a few – that they would be jaded, cynical and not a patch on their heyday have proved completely unfounded. Nothing could be further from the truth in fact.
And then there are the local acts he brings to the club. When not at his club or not at a big name concert, McFarland is up in Belfast etc watching local bands at the other, sadly dwindling, number of venues. And when he sees a band he believes has promise, he gives them a slot at his club; not out of charity though, the band has to show they deserve that chance (and making the odd visit to the club as well never does any harm). So, when I see a local band listed on an upcoming poster, I can be sure that they are half decent – quality -wise, even if perhaps they are not always my cup of tea.
So, get to the point Al! Well, tonight is a night that encapsulates all of the above to perfection.
Let’s do this review in reverse order, because headliners Maverick have had a lot of coverage on CB of late and are one of our bands to look out for in 2015, so I hope they will forgive me if I cut their review a little shorter than my average headliner review. But Maverick are a perfect example of what the patronage of the D.R.C. is worth to a band. I first saw the Balfour Brothers and cohorts here, about 18 months ago, supporting Million Dollar Reload. They were promising but by no means the finished article. But through the numerous chances Derwin (and others) have given them to play, they are now a band that has improved tenfold since that debut appearance. They are now polished musically with great backing vocals. They are confident performers with superb Heavy Rock style stage presence, non moreso than frontman David Balfour, new recruit Ric Cardwell and effervescent bass player Richie Driver. With an album (‘Quid Pro Quo’) already released to very favourable reviews, including that from our own Melanie Brehaut (here), and constant high profile support slots to ‘name’ bands visiting these shores, Maverick are going places. But it wouldn’t happen if they didn’t have places like the D.R.C. where they are almost guaranteed a decent, receptive crowd, but where they also get to meet and play with seasoned musicians who they can learn from and see exactly what they have to do to improve.
The rest of course is up to them; to do the hard yards which, all credit to the lads, they have done in spades. Just as footballers need gametime to get their match fitness and match rhythm, so too musicians need stage time to hone their craft, to feel at home up there, to make what they do feel natural as opposed to a conscious act. This is the level Maverick are now reaching. Without places like the Diamond how would local Rock acts get this stage-time? Simply put, they wouldn’t. McFarland’s quid pro quo (see what I did there) is that he now has a band that he helped promote become a genuine crowd puller for his club. This was Maverick’s first headline show at the club and, despite a clash with another gig at Voodoo which would have unavoidably drawn away some regulars to that show, there was a very sizeable crowd. The crowd itself was a who’s who of local bands with members of Stormzone, Million Dollar Reload and Ajenda in attendance, no doubt to support Maverick on their big night and also Gasoline Outlaws on their debut gig. Highlights of Maverick’s superb 90 minute set were the rabble rousing call-to-arms of ‘In Our Blood’ and the politically incorrect but wonderful ‘Top Heavy’ which, Guardianistas be aware, seems to be just as popular with the ladies as the gents. A truly excellent rendition of Bon Jovi’s ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ was a brilliant encore.
Continuing my reverse order review and also another perfect illustration of the points I have been making about the trust I now put in my new best friend’s judgement, is opening act Gasoline Outlaws. Ok, admittedly this is not a band of spotty teenagers fresh out of their garages. Lead singer, Matt Fitzsimons, is a regular D.R.C. performer, both as a solo act and with his previous band, Black Freeway (which included Adrian McAleenan, now of Screaming Eagles). But still, this is a debut live performance anywhere for the band, so for it to be at the D.R.C. – the country’s premier rock club – shows the faith McFarland has in the band. And if Derwin believes, I believe and so do the D.R.C. faithful. They don’t sit at home till they know the main band will be on before arriving, and they don’t sit on their hands while the opening act are on. No, they are there, primed and ready for both acts and are right down the front from the second Gasoline Outlaws make their first, but very definitely not their last, appearance here.
Any band with the pocket rocket Matt Fitzsimons fronting it is already halfway to being a good band. This lad has an amazing voice. Admittedly it might not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a voice full of power, range and definitely a heavy rock edge. It’s not a million miles from Vince Neill (Motley Crue) or Blackie Lawless (W.A.S.P.) in terms of tone, but used far, far more effectively than those two ever have. The remaining members of the band are no let down either. Adam Parkin cranks out the riffs and sleazy solos, while the rhythm section of Chris Fitzsimons (Bass) and Adam Callaghan (Drums) betray no sense of opening night nerves. The sound is coherant, tight and well played.
We are a couple of songs in when I am already casting my mind back a few weeks previously at the Club, when I took a chance on coming to see a band I had never heard of, called Electric Mary. An Australian band embarking on a UK tour, they used the D.R.C. to rehearse for the tour before playing a gig to kick the tour off. And all I can say is ‘Wow’. It was without doubt one of the best gigs I have ever attended anywhere. A real privilege to be at and, once again, another band added to my collection thanks to the D.R.C.. Seriously, check them out. I knew Matt had connections with the band from his sojourn in Australia last year. He no doubt had a big hand in getting them to the D.R.C., and even got up and did a number with them on the night. So, the penny really did drop as to where Gasoline Outlaws see themselves musically – real, low down and dirty hard bluesy rock, full of riffs a mile wide and spiteful lyrics. I had no sooner thought this than Matt introduces an Electric Mary song, the unbelievably good ‘Let Me Out’ which the Outlaws more than did justice to.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving new listeners (and reviewers) a signpost as to your direction musically. It does not imply slavish imitation – just a tip of the hat and a ‘hey, if you like them, you’ll like us’. I like Electric Mary, and I like Gasoline Outlaws. They already have a few good tunes – ‘Nothing On Me’ was a great opener, ‘Lie’ is full of vitriol, ‘The Shrouded Wolf’ had, aptly enough, a real feral edge to it and, as band theme tunes go, ‘Outlaws’ is right up there. So, all in all, Our Wee Country looks to have yet another band with talent, drive, energy, image and commitment on its hands – and they already have T-shirts! An album is already in the planning stages, which is amazing for a band in its infancy really, although I hope they just take their time and keep the song quality high. As I said, I like this style of music, be it Electric Mary, Zakk Wylde etc but there can be a tendency for style to outweigh substance, for the sound to get ‘samey’ (a criticism I’d have of Wylde) – all riff – no song at times in other words. But what I hear so far from Gasoline Outlaws is very, very promising and I can add them to the other new band I saw a week or two earlier at the D.R.C. – Irontown Diehards. Two bands I think we are going to hear a lot more of in 2015.
PHOTOGRAPHS – Melanie McNair