Screaming Eagles with support from Baleful Creed, St. Hellfire & Roscos Riot
7th June 2013 – Comrades Rock, Ballyclare
All fans of local Rock music plus the bands themselves should laud what Phil Horner is doing with Comrades Rock. Based in the Ballyclare Comrades Social Club, it gives music fans from outside Belfast a chance to hear some of the best of local talent without the added expense of a trip to the city. For the bands, it gives them another venue to play, another group of fans to reach and means they get a break from playing the same two or three venues to the same small group of fans every few weeks in Belfast. So, that the crowd is sparse tonight is a disappointment to me, although it could simply be down to a combination of the first decent weather this year, the Scott Ian show in Belfast and the T.T. races possibly keeping would-be punters otherwise occupied. I hope this is the case, as I wouldn’t like to see Comrades Rock disappear from the roster. I was here to check out two bands that I have grown to like over the past few months but not yet had the chance to see live – Baleful Creed and Screaming Eagles. The £5 door tax was more than worth it for the chance to see these two acts alone, but as a bonus there was a new band in Rosco’s Riot and another band I’d heard of but never seen – St Hellfire. So I got there early enough to see these other two bands.
This was only Rosco’s Riot’s second gig, so fair play to them for a decent set of original material. What I heard was an encouraging start to a band’s career. The three piece were pretty tight and have a frontman who is handy on guitar, has a pretty good blues-rock growl and looks like a young Scott Gorham, which means he doesn’t have to do too much to look the part, just strut around and look cool. Their music is a version of the modern take of Southern Blues. It’s basic, based around low-down-n-dirty riffs and a pounding rhythm section, almost like a heavy rock version of the White Stripes. Lyrics are sparse and what lyrics there are tend to be sung through gritted teeth or howled. It’s not without a certain amount of appeal and songs like ‘Gypsy Eyes’ and ‘Lie, Lie’ have potential. However, their sound was too muddy and too often the guitar lines were the same as the bass guitar lines, making it overpoweringly ‘bass-y’. When the guitarist played a solo, there was no increase in volume so it was lost in the mud, apart from one occasion where a wah-wah pedal was used. Between this and the paucity of lyrics, it was hard to find a ‘hook’ in their music to make it memorable. That’s where the band needs to look to improve for future gigs. But this was a good enough start.
St. Hellfire was a surprise to me in that it is basically a punk band. Sometimes it is the New York punk of the likes of the New York Dolls (‘Porn Star Rock Star’), sometimes it is the English punk of the Clash (‘Cheap F**k’) sometimes the 90’s punk of early M.S.P., but the common denominator is Punk and I’m not a Punk fan, I have to confess. So this was hard going at times for me. Two guitars and a bass guitar too often playing the same basic root notes, and shouty vocals on top is just not my thing. But, to the band’s credit it does have a certain Millwall-esque ‘no one likes us but we don’t care’ charm to it, and front man, Mark Fanjo, has roguish charisma. They got a warm reception from the crowd so, all I can say is, one man’s meat and all that.
I’ve been into Baleful Creed for a few months, via the usual online mediums, but never managed to check them out live. They play a brand of grunge/doom rock with Sabbath-esque riffs and dark lyrics that is as right up my street as St Hellfire’s punk anthems aren’t. So I was really looking forward to hearing if their live work matched up to their excellent recorded work. It only takes a few bars of their set opener (‘Hex’?) and already I’m into it. After the previous two bands’ muddy sound, the beautiful sounds coming out of John Allen and Greg Finlay’s guitars were balm to my wounds. Baleful Creed is a band of, let’s say, ‘seasoned’ musicians and it shows. They have good equipment and they know how to use it to good effect. It is a lesson to younger bands, like Rosco’s Riot, in how to make sure that the audience don’t go away from your show unsure of what it’s heard.
What follows is a masterclass in riffing. The three standout songs from the set are ‘Autumn Leaves’, ‘Illumanati’ and ‘Thorazine’, unsurprisingly given that they are the best songs from their excellent ‘III’ E.P. ‘Autumn Leaves’ has a vibe about it that is as melancholy and disturbing as a wet weekend in Seattle watching ‘Hannibal’. ‘Illuminati’ comes in on the back of beautiful work between Stephen Fleming’s bass and Mark Stewart’s drums, before the monster riff kicks in. I feel my head nod instinctively in time to the groove and as I look around, I am not alone. Everyone is in rapt attention. The words are angry, vengeful, scary and totally in tune with the music. And then, as if the glorious riff isn’t enough, the song breaks down into the solo and end section as the unassuming Allen once again gives us a lesson in wringing glorious notes from his guitar and amp, while behind him the band keep the beat steady and uncompromising. Fantastic stuff. I love a band that isn’t afraid to just rock out and not feel the need to cover every piece of music with words. ‘Thorazine’ is introduced as the band’s tribute to the nutcase that is Charlie Sheen. It starts with a riff that is the long-lost brother to ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ (the scary brother no one talks about) and just blasts along and yet has a wonderfully melodic chorus, almost at odds with the main riff and yet, it works. Once again, during the guitar break, Allen does his thang, illiciting strange sounds and notes in those ways that are totally amazing to me, a non-guitarist (I can’t play guitar but I know what I like). A thoroughly enjoyable, if doom-laden, set ends with ‘Suffer in Silence’, which was a totally unsuitable song title, because the crowd did not suffer and, at the end, the cheers were loud and genuine for a great set. If I have any quibble at all, it’s that – at times – Greg Finlay’s gutteral vocals do not match the power of the songs. There’s no tuning issue, it’s a matter of power and cutting through the music. This is not apparent on their recorded work, and I will wait to see them again to make full judgement.
Vocals is not an area that Screaming Eagles is lacking in, having one of the country’s best Rock singers in Chris Fry. A singer myself, though admittedly not in Fry’s class, I was eager to hear if he was as good live as he is on ‘From The Flames’ – Screaming Eagles’ excellent debut album. His voice is a classy mix between being a Rock screamer and soulful Blues man. I hear a touch of Ricky Medlocke (Blackfoot/Lynyrd Skynyrd) and Paul Rogers (Free/Bad Company) in his voice and, as ‘All The Way’ kicks the set off, I hear echos of ‘Good Lovin’ Gone Bad’ from Bad Company’s ‘Straight Shooter’ album right down to the ‘stolen’ lyric ‘one day she’ll love you, the next day she’ll leave you’. It’s immediately clear, Fry’s work on the album is not studio trickery, he’s just a damn fine singer (blast him). But, whether it’s the lack of a big crowd or the distance between the band and what crowd there is, something just isn’t firing. The guitar sound is weak-ish and I instinctively put this down to the band having a two-guitar sound on the album, but actually being a one guitar band, and coming after the heavier Baleful Creed.
It’s to the band’s credit and a sign of their experience that they pull this situation around in the space of the song . ‘Down The River’ follows with it’s ‘DC-inspired riff, Kyle Cruickshank beats the skins with fervor and Fry is now warming to the task. Adrian McAleenan seems to have found some extra boost in his guitar sound and by the time the awesome riffs for ‘Take My Time’ and especially ‘Fight The Fire’ are cranked out, I’ve forgotten all about my concerns about the lack of a rhythm guitarist, Ryan Lilly’s fine bass playing is filling that hole. Everything is firing now and the band are enjoying themselves, with the chunky, funky ‘Devil In The Dust’ allowing the lads to really get a groove on. It’s a surprise to me that the band choose to do a cover version now, in the middle of the set and especially now it’s finally hitting its stride, but that’s taking nothing away from a frankly breathtaking rendition of ‘Immigrant Song’ which has heads shaking in wonder in the crowd. The band get back to original material with the excellent ‘Hungry For More’, which is one of the highlights of the show for me (see youtube clip below). By this stage, some punters from the public bar have joined us, perhaps a little the worse for wear and perhaps come to jeer rather than cheer. But, again to the band’s credit, the lads play along with it in good humour, Fry even getting off the stage to join the newcomers on the floor as he belts out the words with gusto. ‘Vampire’ follows hot on its heels, with its bluesy opening which then bursts into life and into some serious heavy rocking. Fry’s voice once again reigns supreme backed up well by the rest of the band, especially drummer Cruikshank, on backing vocals. When a band plays the kind of ‘nuthin’ fancy,’ straight-ahead, high voltage Rock ‘n’ Roll Screaming Eagles do, it has to be tight obviously, and then the little extras like backing vocals, stage movement and all around positive attitude are what add the extra touch of gloss which separates the men from the boys. Screaming Eagles has that extra gloss.
Again, I have to question, with their album being as strong as it is, why they play another cover, even when it is as well done as this version of The Doors’ ‘Roadhouse Blues’ is. My theory has always been, once you set your stall out as a band that does original material, then cover versions are your little treat to give to the crowd at the end of the show for giving your material an ear. It is my one and only negative thought about tonight’s performance. Up next is the fabulous ‘Blood’ and, in a move that I do agree with, they stick a little homage to their main influence, AC/DC, in the middle of the tune by playing a verse and chorus of ‘It’s A Long Way To The Top’. The band rounds off a magnificent set with a fittingly raucous version of ‘Rock n Roll Soul’.
And that’s our lot. A thoroughly enjoyable evening with four quite different bands and, as I said at the top of this piece, I hope that Comrades Rock endures. I’ll certainly be back, and sooner rather than later.