Leo’s Red Lion in Gravesend is fast becoming one of my favourite music venues south of London. Since I made my first trip there in November last year to see Collateral launch their “4 Shot’s” EP with Dead Man’s Whiskey and Twisted Illusion, I have made the journey back up from my sleepy little coastal home town on the Kent/Sussex border to see Bad Touch, Gorilla Riot, Twisted Illusion (again), Kaine and Collateral once more.
Leo’s is a proper rock pub. It serves great beer, a lively atmosphere, friendly staff and photos and flyers adorning the walls of bands that have played there in the past and to help promote future events. The pub itself is separate from the live venue and the latter is so well sound proofed you can have a beer in the bar and not realise there is live music going on. I can speak from experience here as I have been caught out myself. It needs to be well sound proofed too as in Vic the soundman, they have an absolute genius in his craft and he gets every little bit out of the PA system and still gives great sound for the bands on stage and the paying revellers. The two bands I managed to speak to on Friday night, said how great the sound was coming across on stage and hoped that it was the same for us out front, which it was.
On Friday night I made the trip up for a brilliant three band bill who had been assembled to perform for 2019’s Stroke The Lion event, which was organised by Louise McIntosh in honour of her friend (and I am guessing many other attendees) Caroline Partridge who had a stroke 10 years ago. All proceeds from the night were to be paid to The Stroke Association to help them continue to do the great work they do in helping those affected. A very worthy cause indeed and it was great to see the venue filled with rock fans doing their bit to help Louise raise as much money as possible.
First up tonight, was Zac Vincent, who had the job, of can I say, warming the crowd up for the two bands to follow. After walking up the steps to get on to the Red Lion stage he picked up his acoustic guitar, and proceeded to entertain the early arrivals to an 8 song set of covers and a couple of original tracks that showed what a talented songwriter he is himself. I had asked him before, what we could expect from his set and how would he describe his music, he quite happily told me “I just make a quiet racket”. He does himself a disservice.
Opening with one of his own numbers, which I didn’t get the title of, he treated us to some bluesy acoustic guitar before ripping through (if you can do that on an acoustic guitar) versions of Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” and The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”. We then got another original which was once again a mellow number with a bluesy feel to it before getting the crowd singing and dancing with a brilliant version of the Rolling Stones “Jumping Jack Flash”.
Quiet and unassuming, he introduced himself to the crowd properly and said how happy he was to see so many people in “early doors” to watch him warm the place up for the rock bands before he said he was now going to play a “modern one” and gave us “Fade Away” by Oasis. He had a bit of humour about him and was appreciative that the crowd were there to support a great cause and to see the two bands on after him as he thanked Louise for inviting him to play and said “camp fire music can only last so long”.
With two songs left in his set, he asked the crowd to help him out on these numbers and they did that so well. Finishing with two classics, The Beatles “Ticket To Ride” and “Mr Blue Sky” from ELO was in it’s own way a masterpiece as he got everybody singing and dancing and he had done his job in setting the night up.
Sometimes, bands grab your attention from the first time you see them and Gallows Circus certainly did that to me in March when I went to the Harp Restrung in Folkestone on a whim after another gig I was going to was cancelled last minute. I am so glad that bit of fortune happened for me as I found a band that are captivating to watch, play great bluesy rock music that you can’t help but sing along to and are great company off the stage. What I didn’t know until the morning of this gig was that tonight was a special night for Gallows Circus as it was the debut show for their new member and 2nd guitarist Ben Attwood.
Gallows Circus took to the stage and tore into their 10 track set with a brilliant version of “Above Snakes”. Full of swirling guitar riffs and heavy, dirty, sleazy blues it has fast become a real crowd favourite and shows what the band are about from the off. Vocalist Ian Day is on top form and the now twin guitar assault from Jim Rycroft and Ben Attwell has instantly added a fuller sound to the bands live performance. Add into that the thundering rhythm section that is Richard Tonbridge, bass and Steve Kitchener on drums and Leo’s is well and truly rocking.
After that first opening number, Ian Day takes the time to quickly introduce Ben before they go straight into Game On. It is another superb bluesy rock number, that gives Ian the chance to show what an amazing vocal range he has. Using every inch of the stage, the band are clearly loving their performance as the go straight into Bones to Pick, a beautiful song that starts slowly and builds into a monumental rocker.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVMzR8VdEEo&w=560&h=315]
Run Though The Jungle, a cover of the Creedance Clearwater classic, is just mesmerising. The band are evidently all at ease with each other and having a fifth member doesn’t appear to have changed their dynamics, in fact it seems to have added a solid new element to their performance. They are almost jamming here and it is captivating to watch. Next we get “Good For My Fever”, a real soulful number, that is perfect for the mid point of the set. Jim and Ben are high fiving each other, which shows how the band feel tonight’s performance is going and it is hard to take your eyes off them. Ian Day, with dreadlocks swirling as he sings with such raw emotion and feeling is putting in another really engrossing performance.
The kick ass, fast paced What’s Yer Poison takes the tempo back up before we get Oh Well. This Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac classic is a staple part of a Gallows Circus set and sits in with their own material perfectly, after all they are about dirty, bluesy riffs and this has those in abundance. Ian Day, is nothing but a gentleman and takes his time to make sure he thanks everybody from the organisers, other acts, bar staff, and sound engineers before the band play the truly emotional and meaningful “Holding My Breath”. The powerful lyrics are put over so well and you can see the passion in Ian’s face as he lyrically pours his heart out to the crowd.
A high energy finish awaits, as the band leave us with “Shotgun With the Devil” and “Faith to Believe”. These have the ecstatic crowd clapping and singing and brings their scintillating performance to a rousing finish. The band have had so much energy on stage tonight and if you didn’t know that prior to tonight they were only a four piece, then you would have been none the wiser as fifth member Ben Attwood slotted in so well he looked like he had been playing in the band for years before. It is not often a support act gets the crowd shouting for an encore, but that is exactly what happened tonight, but alas, time constraints would not allow it. The performance was immense and was certainly deserving of that “we want more” shout.
Stonewire were, I am embarrassed to say a new band on me prior to their performance on Friday. I hadn’t had chance to check them out online at all before getting to Leo’s so was really going in blind as to what to expect when they took to the stage. I needn’t have worried as what I was about to witness, just blew me away. Playing a set of bluesy, classic rock with a hint of southern rock, Stonewire took the assembled crowd by the scruffs of their necks and shook them all night long, well, for about 100 minutes to be fair.
The band are a superbly talented 5 piece who have graced festival stages such as Stone Free, HRH Blues and HRH Crows as well as supporting Michael Schenker, Gotthard and the Cadillac 3. They hailed this gig as their return to Leo’s, which shows what high regard they hold this fabulous venue in. Tonight, the line up of vocalist Sky Hunter, guitarists Gaz Annable and Duncan Greenway, bassist Steve Briggs and drummer Rob Glasner were about to show the venue what it had been missing since the bands last show there.
What we were about to get was 14 track set with original material from their debut album, new music from their hopefully soon to be released 2nd album and some covers from bands they cite as influences. They kick their set off with “Walk The Line” which starts really nicely with four musicians on stage playing a riveting instrumental intro as vocalist Sky, stands in the crowd watching before climbing the stairs on to the stage and treating us to that wonderful raspy, gravelly voice she posseses. The crowd are into this from the get go and are clapping along immediately.
“River Blues” follows with it’s thunderous bass line and dark and moody groove. I am already in awe of the power in the vocals from the bands frontwoman and this mid tempo bluesy rocker gives her a real opportunity to show what a staggering vocal range she possesses. Next up, the band play a new, as yet unreleased song called “House Rules”. Another track with a huge amount of energy in it, it is heavy, riff laden with even more powerful vocals that gets the crowd dancing. After this Sky takes the time to thank the two acts who have played before and even talks about doing a tour with Gallows Circus. Now that would be a winner in my opinion so I for one hope that is becomes more than onstage banter.
I have been so impressed by the musicianship in front of me so far and that does not alter as Rob Glasner clicks the next song in with a few taps of his drum sticks. “Monkey Talk” is a real fast paced rocker that is full of harmonious backing vocals. It certainly adds a different slant to the music and shows how the band can easily slip from riff laden rock to melodic anthems at will. This continues with “Hero’s Journey”, a slower paced track with a wonderful melodic start that sees all 5 band members singing together on the tracks intro. The groove and the drumbeat on this scintillating number are just killer and I am already hooked on the bands brand of classic British rock.
In the band’s bio on their website, they list Led Zeppelin as one of their influences and next up we get treated to a remarkable Zeppelin ensemble the band call “LedWire”. These are Zeppelin tracks but done in Stonewire style. Sky’s vocals are just so suited to this little section as her vocal range lets her hit all those notes that Robert Plant sang with all those years ago. A real crowd pleasing section, for any rock fan, that started off with Whole Lotta Love, slipped into Rock n Roll and Black Dog before drifting into the mesmerising Dazed and Confused before finishing with Immigrant Song and a little bit of Stairway to Heaven. It also sees bassist Steve Briggs walk out into the crowd to do some of his bass parts from the floor as he interacts with the crowd.
After that brilliant section, the band bring on a 3rd guitarist, Stephen Jeffrey. I am told by frontwoman Sky Hunter that he is a good friend of the band who had previously helped them out so they could continue to gig for the last 5 months, This happened after guitarist Duncan Greenway who is South African, had his passport and visa stolen in Italy over Christmas. She says that the Home Office were unfortunately not interested that Duncan had a legal life in England with a job, girlfriend and the band etc so they didn’t reissue his visa, which meant he had to go back to South Africa and reapply for his existing visa and only returned in May. Stephen or Jeff as he is known to the band stepped in and helped them continue and getting him up on stage was the bands way of saying thank you to him as he loves playing with them.
Jeff was actually on stage for the next 3 songs and I have to say I thought this section of the set was just brilliant. The band say they play classic rock with a southern twist and the three guitarists really gave them the feel of being a southern rock band. It just seemed to fill the sound out even more and maybe the fact that one of those three songs was a Lynyrd Skynyrd track helped but to me it just made them even more complete than I thought they were before. “Southern Honey” and “When The Crow Flies” were the first two tracks of this segment, the first a really powerful song with powerful lyrics and the second was dedicated to Caroline Partridge, the lady who the whole night was in honour of. Then we got the Skynyrd track, which sees them onstage, with 6 members and looking like the band who wrote “Simple Man”, the track they are now playing. The track was meant to be played like this and they do it complete justice, with additional member Jeff, interacting with his bandmates and smiling from ear to ear. As he leaves the stage at the end of the song he gets a rousing round of applause from the Gravesend crowd.
At this point, Sky took the opportunity to plug the bands efforts to get the final slot on the Rising Stage at this years Ramblin Man Fair, as she explained how Planet Rock are running a competition using peoples votes to fill that slot. Back down to a 5 piece, we get “One for the Road” next, a really infectious rocker with a thumping bass and drum beat that you can’t help but clap along to. It brings bassist Steve Briggs, looking and moving like a young Scott Ian, front and centre at times through the song. This is followed by “Running with Ghosts”, a track I believe from their first EP which starts off with a nice easy slower tempo and builds superbly until it turns into a real rocking track with a proper headbanging finish.
We are now reaching the end of the night. “FTM” the penultimate song of the set is another brand new song that will be on the bands new album. I wrote two phrases down for this on the night, thunderous rhythm and Heavy Heavy Heavy. It sums it up perfectly. With thanks passed around again to the organisers, Vic the soundman, bar staff, and the fans the band play the final song of their set “All That Matters”. This song, a mid tempo rocker has a real swirling guitar sound to it and at this point I have realised I have not mentioned the magical talents of the bands two guitarists, Gaz Annable and Duncan Greenway. All night they have been laying down amazing guitar parts, whether it be rhythm or lead. They have switched between different styles with ease and create a lot of the sound and feel that the bands music is about. I cannot understate how fundamental their feel for the music they are playing is integral to the product that we are witnessing on stage tonight.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbyy3M55S2g&w=560&h=315]
As headliners, Stonewire get the time to play one encore track. They bring Jeff back on stage for “Fix You”, a superbly heavy, fast paced foot tapping, head nodding rocker that brings the night to a close. The band look like they have had so much fun on stage tonight and all 6 members take their bows to rapturous applause from the audience. I for one hope they come back and play the Red Lion again soon after that performance. I don’t know if being a six-piece is on their radar but the way they all gelled together on stage looked right and that third guitar gave their music an extra edge and in some ways will make them stand out. Food for thought maybe.
After all that, I found myself feeling so pleased with myself for making the journey up tonight. It was a pleasure to do my little bit for the charity, and know that I helped them reach their final total of £608 on the night. I am also glad that I have found Stonewire, another great new band. I will be catching them again in August at A New Day Festival in Faversham. There is also the possibility that them or Gallows Circus will make the Rising Stage at Ramblin Man, where so many more people will be able to witness first hand how great these bands are and have been tonight.
Review & photography by Darren Smith for metalplanetmusic