Sometimes you see a gig announcement and you just know that it is going to be a special night! This night definitely fell into that category. How could it not when you know you are going to see the amazing guitar talents of Doug Aldrich up close and personal along with his sidekick, vocalist Keith St John doing a set of Burning Rain numbers as an acoustic duo.
I arrived in Camden Town with plenty of time to spare, after all I didn’t want to miss a minute of the night ahead. It gave me time to sample some of the local ale, pay a visit to one of the many many eating establishments that lie around the venue, have a little look around the famous market and just take in the buzz and atmosphere that is 21st Century Camden town.
It was apparent from the moment that I got into the venue that this was going to be a night exactly how the promotional photo described it, Stripped and Naked (well hopefully not the naked part). All there was on stage was a lone acoustic guitar, a drum kit and a single amp. There was no big merch stand, just a few t-shirts and patches laid out across some tables and everybody just seemed to have a real laid back vibe.
I have to say that I had no real knowledge of either support band apart from the little bit of research I did before I left home. I needn’t have had any worries or concerns though as both acts were superbly good and really helped build the atmosphere for the headliners.
First up was Polish guitarist Voytek Golbiak, who wandered on to the stage all alone, picked up his guitar and opened the nights proceedings with a very mellow version of the Black Label Society classic, Bleed For Me. His haunting voice and undoubted skills on the guitar were there for all to see from the off. Golbiak, who cites a range of great rock and metal acts such as the aforementioned BLS, Led Zeppelin, Motorhead, Ozzy, Alice in Chains and the Rolling Stones as influences normally plays guitar in two London based heavy metal acts, namely Death Valley Knights and Metasoma but tonight was just their with his acoustic guitar and had captured my ears and eyes with that incredible start.
After that solo performance, he was then joined on stage by his three other band members, Jakub Labanowski on guitar, Marek Funkas on bass and Mariusz Noskowiak on drums. After some tuning and getting settled, the band treated the
unfortunately small crowd to an amazing acoustic version of the Black Sabbath classic War Pigs before playing one of their own numbers, which I unfortunately did not get the title of. What was clear so far is that this quartet were all quality musicians who had really got the vibe of the night spot on. Next up was a superb version of Ozzy’s Crazy Train, which was made to work perfectly as an acoustic number and Golbiak dedicated it to two of his friends in the audience who were celebrating their anniversary. He even took time to wish the great man a speedy recovery from his current illness which has forced him to cancel his 2019 tour commitments. Last, but by no means least and bringing an end to this quite exquisite 40 minute set was a cover of the Deep Purple track Perfect Strangers. It brought an end to what had been a very enjoyable start to the evening. I for one thoroughly enjoyed the set and hearing some great songs played so eloquently was a real pleasure.
After a brief changeover, London Blues rockers Big River hit the stage. The bands bio says they play modern heavy blues rock with no frills, no nonsense, great riffs and hooks with melody and groove. That was more than apparent tonight in this stripped back format as three of the four members of the band treated us to a 9 song set that perfectly showcased the talent they all have. I found myself captivated by singer Adam Bartholomew, resplendent in grey waistcoat and looking like Tyson Fury. His soulful, bluesy voice really suited this acoustic night perfectly and flanked by band members, Damo Fawcett on guitar and Ant Wellman on Double Bass they set about entertaining a growing crowd to 45 minutes of sublime acoustic blues. You could certainly see why they have supported artists like Little Caesar, Marco Menodoza, Kriss Barras and John Corabi before getting tonights gig supporting Burning Rain.
During their nine song set, the band treated us to eight of their own numbers and a perfectly adapted cover version. Up for openers was the brilliant Devils Whiskey which was quickly followed by Mama, the first song that Adam ever wrote and it obviously holds a special place in his heart. Third song up in this chilled out set of acoustic British blues was Hometown Hustler and this was followed by Who Do You Want Me To Be, and I guess, from the introduction, that we have Adam’s wife to thank for inspiring him to write this great tune. As we reached the mid point of the set, the band played Dancing With the Devil, a song penned by bassist Ant Wellman, who had so far gone somewhat unnoticed as he plucked away on his double bass on the far side of the stage from me. With the quality of that track, I for one hope that he decides to write some more. So far, so good, I found myself drawn in by the feeling and emotion that the band was playing their set of stripped back acoustic numbers with and by the response they were getting from the ever increasing crowd in the Underworld, I was not the only one.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6XlvUHQrCU&w=560&h=315]
Sometimes things happen in your life which change the way you perceive certain things and as Adam introduced You are my Son, he told us how the passing of his Dad at the end of last year, had given this song a real meaning to him which it had never had before. Now I have never seen the song played live before but the emotion and feeling that it was played with tonight made it a real highlight of what was a great set. After that we were treated to Blues for my Baby with Adams soulful bluesy voice filling the Underworld with such ease. For the penultimate track of their set, Big River departed from their own, rather brilliant material and played one of my favourite Deep Purple tracks, Blind Man. The emotion ringing out in the vocals and the feeling in the guitar work really made this track something special and got the crowd singing along throughout. After a brilliant rendition of that Deep Purple classic, Big River drew their set to a close with Blackened Rain. If I heard correctly, this was their newest song and is about depression. Like all the 8 tracks before this, it was heartfelt blues at it’s finest and led me to believe that the band could really go on to playing for bigger audiences in bigger venues. A superb 45 minute set and a great warm up for the headliners who were now due on stage in about 20 minutes.
All evening, it was clearly apparent that this was a low key, stripped back affair so it was no surprise to see Doug Aldrich and Keith St John on stage setting up their own gear before they hit the stage for a 70 minute set packed with career spanning tunes, stories and witty banter. I am not sure, in fact I know, I have never been to a gig before where the singer had a little side table next to his stool, stocked with 3 cups of tea (maybe coffee) and a bag of carrot sticks. It was however, just perfect for the vibe of this wonderful night in Camden.
There was no big introduction, no fanfare of arrival, both Doug and Keith when they had set their own gear up, got their guitars tuned and supplies laid out, just sat down and away we went. Before any music was played, they commented on what a great venue and watering hole the Underworld was and said how much they were missing their rhythm section of Brad Lang and Blas Elias. Formed in 1998, Burning Rain have so far treated us to 4 albums, their self titled debut in 1999, Pleasure to Burn in 2000 before a hiatus and then 2013’s Epic Obsession. They have recently released the superb 4th album Face the Music. Tonight we were treated to a set consisting of songs from all 4 albums and more, including some awesome cover versions and some tracks from one of Doug Aldrich’s old bands, Whitesnake.
Kicking off proceedings with an exquisite cover of Jumping Jack Flash by the Rolling Stones was just brilliant. It set the tone for what was going to be a really good, fun set perfectly. Keith’s voice sounded amazing through the venue’s pa, crystal clear and full of melody and Doug quickly showed that whatever wizardry he can perform on an electric guitar he can just as easily do on an acoustic. Keith even eluded to that later on in the set when they were chatting about getting the songs ready for this all too brief acoustic tour, played out to a handful of lucky venues in the UK. After a quick toast, with Keith’s tea and Dougs Saki being proudly held aloft, they go straight
into Runaway Train (I think that was the song title) and then give us the first track of the night from the new album, namely Midnight Train. The relaxed feel of the whole evening sees lots of jollity between the two artists and the audience and smiles between Aldrich and St John as they are perched on their stools at the front of the stage.
Cherie, Don’t Break My Heart was up next, the power ballad from the 2nd album which as we were told got the band some interest in Europe. Like all the songs played so far tonight this wonderful track was converted superbly into it’s acoustic format and was just played exquisitely. The song was introduced with a great tale of how Keith’s wife and told him it would be warm in the UK in April! Oh dear, I am guessing he has already told her the error of her ways! From there, we were taken into Smooth Locomotion, the first song the band ever wrote together on the first day they ever met and then back into cover territory with a very mellow version of Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower. This mixture of covers, band tracks and storytelling really was making for a special night. Both Doug and Keith had smiles a mile wide and really looked like they were having the times of their lives.
I don’t think it would have mattered what these two fantastic musicians played tonight as the crowd were enjoying every single minute of their time in this intimate little venue, being treated to a real “I was there when” night. Next up was a foray into album number three with Our Time is Gonna Come before Beautiful Road, another track from the new album. Another cover followed, the Stones You Can’t Always Get What You Want and we were really able to see the vocal talent that Keith has here as he really gave those fabulous pipes a proper testing…just fabulous! Two thirds of the way through the set and Doug thanked the press for their support and in particular gave thanks to Powerplay magazine for the encouragement they have given the band. A nice touch I thought and it was a shame more people were not paying attention as all you could really hear were people at the back of the venue talking away to each other.
So we hit the final stretch of a fabulous night with Heaven Gets Me By, a song about chicks and life, what else, and then a food discussion, from which it would appear that both Doug and Keith are partial to some of the UK’s finest cuisine, namely Shepherds Pie and Bangers and Mash. Maybe they will spread the word when they get back home. If It’s Love came next, another track from the latest Burning Rain album and the intricate, delicate solo from Doug Aldrich during this number was just so impressive! The man just oozes talent of which I would quite happily have just 1% of.
It was now time to dig into the history of one of those famed bands that Doug Aldrich had been part of during his illustrious career and cue the Whitesnake choir. Could there have been a better song for this than Crying In the Rain, I am not sure. The
crowd loved it, Doug and Keith loved it. One guy at the front loved it so much Keith likened his exuberance to that famed scene from the movie Rockstar. Delicate, intricate, full of emotion, just amazing really and after thanking the audience for singing their arses off whilst patting his heart we moved on to another Whitesnake track, Forevermore, which Keith explained he is still learning. Time was now drawing an end to this remarkable night but there was still just enough of it left for the duo to perform the title track from the new album. A fitting end to a great night as after all this little tour was about promoting Face the Music.
It really was a special night and completely fulfilled my expectations and more. The show may have finished but the nature of these two musicians meant they came off stage and spent time mingling and chatting with their fans. Lots of memorabilia signed and lots of photo’s taken until security called a halt to it or say they thought. There was still photo’s to be taken and gratitude to be passed between fans and artist and as I made my way to the tube, a crowd were still outside the venue getting their chance to shake the hands of their idols who had made their way out into the chilly April London night, and thank them for a great night. I said my thanks on the night too and made my journey home, one very happy fan
Review & Photography by Darren Smith for metalplanetmusic