Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
On a pleasantly warm Sunday evening two of the finest exponents of rock in the Westcountry have been brought together for a gig in the maritime heart of Bristol.
Two very different styles and two different age brackets but one common goal; that is to rock the hell out of the Thekla. Whilst most venues are within four walls of a building the Thekla is a touch different; she’s an ‘old lady’, a virtually living and breathing entity.
Built in 1958 in Germany she measures just over 50 metres stern to bow and a shade under 9 metres port to starboard. She is, as no doubt you’ve correctly guessed, a ship; a coastal trading vessel, to be precise, who plied her trade in Northern and Western Europe for over 20 years before being brought to Bristol in the early 80s.
Now firmly established as one of the leading lights in the Bristol live music scene Thekla is resplendent, under the evening sunshine, in what appears to be a fresh coat of paint. All ship-shape and Bristol fashion, pardon the pun, alongside the charmingly named East Mud Dock.
Rescheduled several times from the original date back in March this evening’s main course is the celebration of the recent release of Bristol’s finest Southern rockers Sons of Liberty’s second album ‘Aces and Eights’. Not content with this tasty offering the Sons have cordially invited the burgeoning talent that is Devonian powerhouse prog-metallers Ethyrfield to the party.
Brave folks these Bristol gents; these youngsters have been ripping up wherever they have played since their return from lockdown with the new material from their recently released album ‘In Delirium’ going down an absolute storm.
The Thekla’s stage nestles for’ard, just behind the bow, with what would have been the cargo holds playing host to the crowd. Given that this date has been rescheduled so many times there is a healthy crowd gathered by the time Ethyrfield take to the stage.
Many are good friends from the yearly January frolics in Minehead otherwise known as Giants of Rock; a festival in which both bands have performed on the main stage following winning through from the festival’s Introducing stage.
Tonight is Ethyrfield’s fifth gig since lockdown was lifted and the tightness within their ranks is definitely returning. Something clearly epitomised when, midset, they slot in the vast praerie-skies sized sounds of ‘Laying On Of Hands’; clearly buoyed by how well they had performed this song, at the first time of asking, the previous weekend up in Cannock.
The track goes down a storm with most in the crowd caught unawares that it had made the live set. Out front (or is this aft of the drum kit?) bassist and vocalist Zach Cornish synchs seamlessly with his brother Ben who wields his six-string with consumate ease. The connection between these two is strong none more so in the delicious harmonies in such rapidly developing favourites as the evocative ‘Serenity’ and the emotionally charged ‘Remembering’.
Behind the brothers, a little closer to the bow, sits skinsman Dan Aston who neatly combines the power of John Bonham with the technical prowess of Neil Peart in seemingly effortless fashion. He provides a solid foundation upon which the maelstrom afront of him can leap skywards from.
The trio phase seamlessly from crunchingly hard-hitting riffs, elastically fluid bass notes and chest-thumping beats of set-opener ‘Sunstroke’ to gentler moments such as the heartfelt guitar solo of the aforementioned ‘Remembering’. There is a classical feel to songs with passages of serene light and grungy darkness complementing one another within; this is a band forging ahead with their own identity.
They take their influences – wide and varied – and meld them into a fresh sound that is identifiable as their very own; something that with the passage of time is becoming increasingly difficult. As the last ferocious riffs of set-closer ‘Bag of Bones’ echo around the hold one and all are left in no doubt that there is a very bright future full steam ahead for this talented bunch.
Following Ethyrfield is no mean feat and many have faltered in their aftermath. However, the hugely experienced and top-notch rocking local city gents that are collectively known as The Sons of Liberty are more than a match for this task. Entering stage port (no rights or lefts aboard) to one almighty ‘Hell Yeah’ The Sons get the ball rolling with a swift 1,2,3 from their debut album 2019s ‘Animism’.
Set-opener a hard rocking balls-to-the-wall ‘It’s My Bad’ is undeniably southern but listen and there’s more than an element of AC/DC therein. Sticking to the ‘Animism’ theme drummer Steve Byrne thumps out a delicious military-beat to herald the coming of the singalong crowd favourite ‘Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief’ before the twin Gibson Les Paul attack of brothers in arms Fred Hale and Andy ‘Moose’ Muse, glancing crowdwards from under their cowboy hats, growls into life.
The midsong crowd participation, with Byrne’s drum and Mark Thomas’ bass providing a metronomic backing, garners a great response as charismatic vocalist Rob Cooksley, prowling stage-front, roars the chorus with much aplomb.
With the cobwebs suitably blown away and the gathered posse warmed up in an incendiary manner The Sons continue with the third of their 2019 album opening hat trick as firm fan favourite the humoursly-tinged ‘Up Shit Creek’ truly rocks the boat from bow to stern. Ever wondered what Lynryd Skynryd would sound like blended with AC/DC? Wonder no more; The Sons are cooking up a storm about Cooksley as he springs into a fine harmonica section with raccoon tail flying proudly.
No paddles needed here as there’s a fine German-built engine down below should we require its services!
After this fine salvo The Sons draw breath but don’t let up as they partake in a high-paced mosey through their catalogue with a finely balanced set featuring five tracks from the recently released, and very well received, ‘Aces and Eights’ long-player interlaced with a couple more from ‘Animism’ accompanied by a selection from Eps ‘Shinola’ and ‘Aged In Oak’.
Featuring an absolutely banging solo from Fred Hale, out on the starboard side of the stage, it’s evident why Planet Rock play-listed ‘Damaged Reputation’ the first single lifted from ‘Aces and Eights’. It’s got a ballsy sashay with a tasty solid edge; if this were your opponent in knocking back the Jack contest you know you’re on your back under the table.
Furry band mascot Marvin has consumed several of the aforementioned Jack by this stage, but he’s a mean hard-drinking son-of-a-gun and there’s always room for ‘Dixie Whiskey’. A trademark SoL track with Cooksley’s gravelly vocals complemented well with an Aerosmith-fueled swagger powered by his fellow musical vigilantes.
The Bristol rocking prospectors are mining from a rich vein and are able to throw in a swerve ball with the foot-stomping ‘Beef Jerky Boogie’. There’s bluesy riffs that take the listener down to the devil’s very own crossroads whilst proclaiming that “It puts hairs on your chest!”. From recollection, I can safely say that whilst I’ve heard a good few ‘boogies’ none of them have extolled the virtues of beef jerky! That is until now.
The main body of the set is closed with a trio of EP tracks with Cooksley chatting, prior to the closing onslaught, about how the 18 months of lockdown had panned out and laughing about finding a mars bar in his pocket as he went to find his harmonica the night before in Leicester. No such confectionery based problems tonight as the quintet blast into ‘Brotherhood’ before lifting the Thekla’s deck with the ‘Aged In Oak’ brace of ‘Damned If You Do’ and the quintessential Son’s anthem ‘If It Ain’t Southern’.
Roared back on to stage for a thoroughly deserved encore we are thoroughly treated to the other two singles from ‘Aces and Eights’. The Sons rip through a volcanic rendering of the ‘Fire and Gasoline’ before they pay respectful tribute to the late singer of Black Oak Arkansas with an emotional set-closing ‘Ruby Starr’.
Aboard this evening we have witnessed a band with much youth play with the maturity and experience of their nautical compatriots for the night; whilst those salty old sea dogs have ripped the place apart with the youthful exuberance of their shipmates. They share a mutual respect of one another, expressing this during their respective sets, and this scribe for one would love to witness this unlikely but extremely well-matched pairing share another stage some time real soon.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM