Photography by Darren Smith for MPM
They say that good things come to those who wait. They also say that good things come in threes. Well, both of these happened tonight as a full 21 months since my last gig review for MetalPlanetMusic.com, I was at Leo’s Red Lion in Gravesend for a sell out gig of what promised on paper to be a fantastic night of thumping music with Mason Hill headlining a line up that also included Hollowstar and Empyre.
The venue is legendary as it has been putting on live gigs for at least the past 43 years and the walls are adorned with pictures of bands that have graced the place. Among them is, Iron Maiden who played under the pseudonym of The Sherman Tankers, after establishing themselves as one of the biggest names in rock music. Like I say, legendary venue.
Tonight’s proceedings were kicked off by Northampton based quartet Empyre, who despite the pandemic haven’t eased up over the past 18 months releasing 7 singles, 15 music videos and an acoustic album ‘The Other Side’ which all followed the 2019 release of their debut album ‘Self Aware’. The boys didn’t mess about as they ripped into ‘Relentless’ and ‘Something Remains’ to the delight of those who had turned up early to see them.
They then moved onto 2 new tracks, ‘Walking Light’ and ‘Parasites’ – the former giving lead singer Henrik a chance to stretch his impressive vocal chords for the first time this evening and the latter allowing Grant and Elliot on bass and drums respectively, to show us what they bring to the band. With Did completing the band on guitars and vocals, Empyre showed that they mean business and I think we will be seeing more of these guys in the future.
The music is not just in your face hard rock as Empyre create an atmosphere around their sound with more than a hint of Prog Rock thrown in, as was proved when Henrik picked up his guitar again for the very impressive ‘Only Way Out’ before finishing their all too short set with the monster ‘New Republic’, complete with great riffs and thumping drums. I wanted more, the audience wanted more, but that was our lot for the evening, although I did pay a visit to the merch stand later to pick up the fantastic ‘Self Aware’ CD.
After a short break to re-arrange the stage our second act of the evening were with us. Hollowstar are no strangers to Leo’s, having played a gig on the outdoor stage earlier in the year and by all accounts, blown away those that attended that night, they were back to give us another dose of their high octane rock.
I don’t mind admitting, that these were the boys I was looking forward to seeing tonight, having come across ‘Feel The Burn’ a couple of years ago and bought every CD release since, they were high on my list of bands to see live when gigging was curtailed, so now I was getting my chance.
The band exploded onto the stage with ‘Take It All’ as Leo’s filled out and the volume was noticeably whacked up a notch or 7. A lot of the audience were wearing Hollowstar t-shirts with some presumably returning as a result of that night earlier in the year and they were not to be disappointed as the band worked their way through ‘Let You Down’ and ‘Invincible’.
Their recorded sound was good but this was something else, they were live and my God, they were sounding fantastic and seemed to be having the time of their lives. ‘Money’ soon followed to keep up the relentless pace before the band gave a big shout out to the staff at Leo’s and the audience for their support. The temperature was rising as the crowd and band were feeding off each other and the atmosphere was electric as the whole place started rocking.
A thumping (and quite possibly the best cover I have ever heard) of Free’s ‘Wishing Well’ followed which had the crowd bouncing and ‘Overrated’ kept them there. This was fist pumping rock at it’s finest and as with Empyre earlier, I was really impressed with the strength of Joe Bonson’s vocal and the hard working guitars of Phil Haines and new recruit Carl Ledger, complimented by the solid rhythm section of brothers Joe and Jack Bonson on bass and drums.
A very noisy crowd were loving every second of the set and Hollowstar were feeding off the energy as they tore into ‘Good Man Gone’ and the anthemic and quite frankly stunning, ‘All I Gotta Say’ giving the crowd a big finish to a fantastic set. I don’t think I have ever seen a support band ever given such a great send off and you just know that they will be welcomed back at Leo’s whenever they come next.
And so to the headliners and main act for the evening, who are riding a wave of good vibes at the moment thanks to their hard work and very impressive debut album ‘Against The Wall’ which was released earlier this year. They have already supported the likes of Ingloroius, Graham Bonnet, Airbourne and Gun and ticket sales for this tour in support of the album have been excellent – with Leo’s being the first to sell out – so expectations were high for Glasgow’s finest.
Mason Hill opened their thunderous set with ‘Reborn’ (quite apt after the Covid lockdowns) and ‘No Regret’ to the delight of the capacity crowd before rip[ping into ‘DNA’ which was one of the singles previously released from the album. Lead singer Scott Taylor was soon encouraging the crowd to get involved and they duly obliged, singing along to the delight of the band.
The tempo was slowed a little for ‘Out of Reach’ to allow all parties to catch their breath with Taylor genuinely touched when the crowd sang along word for word, before ratcheting it up for ‘Hold On’, when the crowd punched the air and raised the horns. The place was by now very loud, very sweaty and with one hell of a party in full swing. A slight mix up in the running order was quickly resolved, not that anyone cared and the place was soon once again bouncing to the beat of ‘We Pray’.
The boys from Glasgow have not been to Leo’s before and at times seemed gobsmacked at the love they were getting from their Southern audience, but great rock music knows no limits and Mason Hill produce it by the bucketload. This crowd knew they were seeing a band who could go all the way and were showing their support in the only way they knew how.
Once again things slowed down, but not too much, Taylor needing to wipe the dripping sweat from himself, as the band started up ‘Who We Are’, which is a new track that they only played live for the first time at the beginning of the current tour, before 2 singles from the album – ‘Find My Way’ and ‘Broken Sun’ – with the crowd continuing singing the words to the latter well after the band had finished, much to the delight of the band.
Breaking into a slowed down cover of the Foo Fighters ‘ Best Of You’, the beat was soon picked up and crowd participation was a given, as a very noisy choir of 180 joined in. The night was already hot, sticky and quite frankly breathless, but as we approached the final stretch there was no way Mason Hill were going to let up and no way the crowd were going to let them. The capacity for the night was around 180 people, but I’ve heard less noise and felt less atmosphere at a gig of 10 times that number, the audience were simply incredible.
‘Now You See Me’ which was the first song released by the band soon followed and then the title track of the album ‘Against The Wall’, by which time the whole place was jumping as the stack of speakers close to me, rocked back and forth as if it didn’t want to be left out of the party that was in full swing in front of it. Taylor was close to tears as the emotion of seeing the amazing response to the album and their live set was laid bare in front of the band.
The evening was rounded off with ‘Where I Belong’ as the band were all seated on the drums step, before James Bird who had been excellent all evening on lead guitar, was given a chance to shine with some extended solos. An excellent set and superb finale to send the Kent faithful home happy.
The theme that carried through all the bands tonight was that they were all enjoying their time on stage and that was reflected by the crowd who were noisy, sweaty and supportive of 3 superb bands who would have been worth the ticket price on their own. If these bands are the future of British rock music, then we are in safe hands.
Catch the tour before it ends at the O2 Academy in Oxford on the 9th October.
Review by Howard Whitelaw for MPM