Review by Darren Smith for MPM
I can honestly say that every gig I go to, whether it be covering it for Metal Planet Music or as a regular audience member is always special to me.
After all, you never know if it going to be your last, or the last time you see a familiar face in the crowd or if it is going to be the bands last.
You also never quite know what to expect, is it going to be one of those “I was there” nights, is there going to be a special guest that arrives on stage that makes it so memorable or are you going to see somebody in a venue that you just never ever thought possible.
Well tonight, the latter definitely happened as I meandered my way along the Kent coast to see a man who has played with some of the biggest artists on the planet, in some of the biggest venues and at some of the world most prestigious festivals play a two and a bit hour long set, that encompassed music from his glittering musical career to a crowd that fully appreciated the musical legacy that the man was part of.
The man I am talking about was born Christoper Slade Rees in Pontypridd in 1946 and goes by the stage name of Chris Slade. Yes, that Chris Slade, who is undoubtedly most famous for being the man who provided that insatiable beat on AC/DC’s ‘Razors Edge’ album and the world tours that followed.
To say that Chris has had a stellar and varied career is a complete understatement. He started his professional musical career out with fellow Welshman and worldwide legend Tom Jones in 1965 and played with him until 1969. He then went on to become a founding member of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and played on the bands eight studio long players released between 1972 and 1978.
The 1980’s saw him have a brief stint with Uriah Heep, join up to play with Paul Rodgers and Jimmy Page in The Firm, play live with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and then join the late great Gary Moore for his 1989 world tour. In November 1989, he then joined AC/DC and with them recorded The Razors Edge, an album that has just had its 31st birthday and has now sold over 5 million copies worldwide. World Tours obviously followed along with the bands ‘Live At Donington’ album and a further single release, ‘Big Gun’ in 1993.
After his tenure with the band was ended, Chris joined Asia at the turn of the century for around 6 years, with whom he recorded two albums. After that ended he eventually rejoined AC/DC for the bands ‘Rock Or Bust’ world tour and recorded the video to ‘Rock The Blues Away’ with them before he was once again replaced in the band when Phil Rudd rejoined in 2020. This is a man that has seen it, done it and quite probably brought the hypothetical t-shirt, so to see him play in front of between 150-200 people is quite something and as I said at the start, every gig is special for one reason or another.
Having a chat to the venue operator Stuart Cameron before the band took to the stage I asked him for a bit of background on how he got Chris to play here tonight. I was interested from a personal level as much as wanting to get some background for the review. I knew Chris was local to Kent and had a long standing history with the county but wasn’t sure if he had a tie to the venue.
It transpires that the venue had tried to book Chris when they first opened around 4 years ago but the booking/diary gods that were around at the time didn’t permit that to happen, but it was muted that it would at some point. Then of course Covid struck and the venue was forced to close it’s doors for nearly 18 months. During that time, and in a act of kindness that says so much about Chris Slade and his management, they actually contacted The Booking Hall management and offered to come down and play a gig for them when they reopened to help raise some funds.
If that wasn’t enough as clearly a household name in the rock fraternity like Chris, appearing at a small independent live music venue in Dover, would not generate a more than healthy amount of ticket sales, he offered to do it for free with all proceeds going straight into the Booking Hall coffers to help them out after 18 months of non-trading. A move of such generosity deserves a very large doffing of the cap in the direction or Mr Slade as without venues like The Booking Hall the grass roots music scene will cease to exist.
The gig tonight, had no support. Not because there wasn’t one available but because Chris had brought his full drum kit and it was without any shadow of a doubt, the biggest drum kit I have had the pleasure of seeing on this Dover stage. With a set up time of around two hours and the sheer size of the absolutely stunning kit, logistics meant that a support slot for anybody was gone. Never fear though as we were about to be treated to over 2 hours of live music during a live musical feast that was all about the musical legacy of Chris Slade and the iconic bands that he has been a part of since staring out on his professional music career as a teenager.
I cheekily managed to get a glimpse of the set list as the band did their final tunings before showtime. Not because I wanted to cheat, but just to make sure I didn’t miss a song title in my review, so as the lights went down I knew what a treat the crowd had instore. How you create a set list with so many legendary tracks to choose from, I do not know. Whatever you choose to leave out, you are bound to disappoint somebody but with the 18 songs that were about to be offered up to celebrate I think the nail was quite literally hit on the proverbial head. Anybody that would leave disappointed later on tonight, was quite possibly at the wrong show.
Opening up with crowd pleasing ‘Dirty Deeds’ from AC/DC was a masterstroke. It gave clear intent of what lay ahead and immediately it was clear that in singer Bun Davis, Chris has employed a frontman who knows his job. Bun not only has the Brian Johnson voice but prowls the stage in tight black t-shirt and camouflage style black cap with all the same moves and vocal prowess the affable Geordie does himself.
Close your eyes and you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking you were at an AC/DC concert. My chest is already pounding with the vibrations from the PA as Chris Slade lays down beat after beat with all the power of a man many years younger than him. They follow that up with 1993’s ‘Big Gun’ and I like many in the crowd were just lapping this up. I dare say from my vantage point, some 20 feet or so from the drum kit, I may well be closer than Brian, Malcolm, Cliff and Angus were when the five of them were playing those massive shows together.
After that opening salvo, we get the first dip into the history of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, with ‘Joybringer’. A change of vocalist for this number with Stevie Gee taking over on this prog-tastic delight that changes the pace of the evenings proceedings, but just for a few minutes. Next up is a powerhouse version of the AC/DC classic ‘High Voltage’ with Bun Davis back on vocals and getting the crowd to test out their singing voices early on. Mission quite clearly accomplished as they join in vociferously and put smiles on the faces of those on stage.
A really nice touch tonight, is the little stories and tales that Chris tells by way of introduction to most of the songs they play. He tells the crowd that in the early 80’s he was in Uriah Heep and that ‘July Morning’ the next song is “one of their bestest’. This is clearly a well though out set list as it not only includes so many tracks that everyone knows and loves but showcases perfectly the multi-faceted talents of the legendary drummer whose band this is. I quite like a bit of Uriah Heep and this song is indeed a beauty.
It has everything, time changes, some soft as velvet keys that just float through the venue air like a waft of expensive perfume, exquisite guitar work and soaring, mouth watering vocals. The guitar solo mid track from James Cornford is just heavenly and leaves an oh so sweet taste in the mouth.
The sound of pre-recorded bells ringing out through the PA, dong…..dong……dong, can mean only one thing, ‘Hells Bells’. This is a perfect rendition with Davis doing such a good job up front. My colleague for the evening Matt Hayward, whose photographs are within this review, commented that if ever AC/DC need to replace Brian Johnson again, they should ring Bun and not Axl Rose. High praise indeed but very apt as this performance warrants it. You can see how much fun the crowd and the band are having and they are driving each other on to give this a real party atmosphere.
Chris then tells us that “before he joined AC/DC in 1989 for the first time, he worked with Gary Moore and the next song is a tribute to the late great musician and to Phil Lynott as well’. It could be nothing else other than the wonderous, the almost other worldly track that is ‘Parisienne Walkways’. I stood there in awe and wonderment, as the band played this heavenly piece of music, that to me is like a much desired and sought after bottle of red.
It should be savoured and cherished and the whole majesty of it should be enjoyed without distraction. Something I and many others did tonight as the vocal talents of Stevie Gee along with guitarist James Cornford in particular paid homage to these two much missed musicians with more than suitable style.
As much as The Chris Slade Timeline is about performing songs from the bands that the drumming master has been involved in, it is also and quite rightly a celebration of him and his career and so he takes his own five minutes in the spotlight.
The other five band members clear the stage and leave the maestro to entertain the crowd on his own. “I’m gonna need some help” he proclaims as he taps his drumsticks together above his head and this gets the amassed throng clapping along in unison immediately.
He treats them to a wonderous display of his exceptional talents during a five minute drum solo where he not only plays to the crowd but with them as well. After all, this is why people are here isn’t it, to see a drumming masterclass as well as have a bloody good sing-a-long. He finishes, he stands, the crowd cheer and he says “Thanks for the help, I’ve not done that for a while”. Fanbloodytastic!
The audience, which, in a testament to the legacy of the music on offer is a real cross section of the ages, with teenagers through to the 60 and 70 year olds (I am guessing). It is a joy to see and makes you feel that the world of rock, that we love is safely being transferred to the next generation of hero worshippers and maybe, juts maybe the next Chris Slade is amongst them. They get to enjoy a bit of slow blues next, as the rest of the band reassemble on stage to blast through a quite delectable run through of ‘Black In Black’ after which Chris thanks Angus, Malcolm, Brian and Bon for writing these great songs.
On with the show and back to the Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. The track starts with “Madman Drummers” although Chris says he still does not know why and then when the sumptuous keyboards from Michael Clarke kick in there as a huge roar of approval as people realise this is going to be ‘Blinded By The Light’.
It induces a whole lot of dancing from the group in front of me, who then don’t stop for the rest of the set. A massive track, a massive hit and one that goes does down superbly well in Dover. Each track quite rightly has a bit of a story and that is one of the things that made this evening so special, coming away with little bits of knowledge that you never knew that increase your love in some way of these fabulous tunes. On this occasion, Chris advises the crowd “the track was written by Bruce Springsteen and it is still his only ever Number One single ever…..and he still hasn’t sent me a cheque”.
By way of introduction to the next track we are told that for the past 10 years, The Chris Slade Timeline have had a different bass player to the one on stage tonight, but almost like magic that former member, Andy Crosby, appears on stage and replaces Mark ‘Veitch’ Godden, who is making his live debut with the band and ably assists his former rhythm section partner and the rest of the band in a blistering hot version of ‘Shook Me All Night Long’. With Bun Davis giving it the full Brian Johnson treatment on vocals it is a real highlight of the set, the only thing that is missing is James Cornford doing the Angus duck walk as he belts out another delectable solo.
“I’ve not played this for a long time, so hold on to your hats” is the introduction to Asia’s ‘Free’. A new song on me as I’m not a fan of the band but a track that sits perfectly on the palette. It is a sublime yet heavy slice of prog pie that once again shows the versatility of the man and his band. Possibly the “greatest song no one has ever heard” according to Mr Cornford. Check it out.
As the set approaches its final third, Chris asks “Are you enjoying it” before playing one of my favourite AC/DC tracks ‘Sin City’. I am singing along with everybody else, this is just delicious and ramps the atmosphere up even more. You can see from peoples faces how much fun they are having, a real joy to see after those near 18 months of being starved of live music.
Apparently “Sin City is not all it’s cracked up to be, I should know, I used to live there” Chris tells us before going on to say that “in 1984 I was on tour with David Gilmour and we played the hell out of this every night”. That track was ‘Comfortably Numb’ and for this rendition we get a triple vocal treat from Stevie Gee, James Cornford and Michael Clarke. Maybe it’s because I’m only about 6 feet from the PA but this seems heavier than the Pink Floyd original, no complaints though as, like all the other songs in tonight’s set, it is played superbly and a real joy to hear another gigantic track to be able to rock out too.
‘Riff Raff’ follows. The power, the riffage is just immense and even after over 100 minutes on stage, Chris is still hitting the skins as hard as he was at the start, in a display of real vigor, that in many ways belies his age. It is an incredible display and a total delight to be able to witness this up close. It doesn’t even look like he has broken into a sweat yet. Brilliant!
I have to admit that until just before this gig, I was completely unaware that our bandleader had started his musical career with a certain Welsh icon, Mr Tom Jones and Chris tells us that he “started doing this (drumming) with Tom when he was just 17”.
What that meant though, was that tonight, we got to hear what is described as “the Welsh National anthem”, with a count in in Chris’s native Welsh tongue for full authenticity, that led to a beefed up, rocky version of ‘Delilah’ that had the crowd singing with nearly every pair of arms held aloft, swinging from side to side as they sang along with every well known word.
It even insights the two burly men in front of me to start dancing some kind of ballroom routine with each other as the alcohol took away any inhibitions they may have had. This is what live music is about, this is stunning, this is memory making and it just gets the endorphins flowing rapidly. That went down so well and created a real party atmosphere that would stay for the rest of the night with a triple decker of AC/DC classics to come.
First up, ‘Thunderstruck’ with that unmistakeable drum beat and insanely brilliant riff. It led to much frivolity, headbanging and boogieing on the floor with Stevie Gee conducting the audience sing-a-long like he was controlling a full orchestra.
This is where we usually go off and pretend to be rock stars” Chris says before they play a resounding and thunderous ‘Razors Edge’, the title track of the first AC/DC album he played on. Those two songs have taken the atmosphere level up another notch and it stays at stratospheric levels for the sets final number, the classic and instantly recognizable ‘Highway To Hell’.
Who doesn’t know that opening riff and from the first note it generates a frenzy of frantic air guitar playing around me. The crowd is jumping, people are duckwalking, there is not a man, woman or child in the venue who is not revelling in the moment. This is an electrifying and hair-raising way to finish a Saturday night party in Dover. There is even a failed crowd surf and shoulder lift involving Bun that just highlights the fun everybody, including the band is having. Just staggering and what an astounding way to finish. If the 17 songs that went before it didn’t get your juices flowing and put you in the happiest of happy places then that surely did.
What a night! That was so so good. I have been incredibly lucky to have witnessed some fantastic nights of live music in the last couple of months for MetalPlanetMusic since the lockdowns ended and that ranks right up there with the best. It wasn’t just the music, which was jaw-droppingly brilliant or the atmosphere, which was glorious but for me the reason for the gig, which was to raise money for The Booking Hall who have thankfully survived the Covid crisis and are back, putting on some nights of amazing live music.
Massive thanks must therefore be paid, to Chris Slade and the other members of The Chris Slade Timeline who gave up there night to play for us and help raise funds for the venue, starved of any income recently. If you get the chance to go and see them, do, as you will have one hell of a night.
The Chris Slade Time Line
Chris Slade – Drums
Bun Davis – Vocals
Stevie Gee – Vocals and Guitar
James Cornford – Guitar
Michael Clarke – Guitar and Keyboards
Mark ‘Veitch’ Godden – Bass
Photography by Matt Hayward