47 min read

Review & Photography by Manny Manson by MPM

In A smoke-filled room, not so far away, a little know venue is getting ready to host another night of stunning music. Tonight, is another solo venture as my good buddy is again caught up with pre bookings so can’t make it. Brother ‘Waldorf’ this one’s for you buddy!

The Queens Hall in sleepy Nuneaton, is, tonight playing host to both Kira Mac and her band, an up and coming southern fried blues rock sensation and the formidable Ricky Warwick & the Fighting Hearts. Ricky is back over from the States to finish off a few dates of his mighty ‘When Life Was Hard and Fast’ album tour.

Yesterday he stole the show at Lincolnshire’s ‘Call of the Wild’ festival and tonight it’s our turn for some hard and fast rock n roll. In his band tonight we have young Sam Wood from the Wayward Sons, he’s deping for Ben Christo who is away touring with the Sisters of Mercy.

Kira Mac is a new name to me so I apologise in advance for any howlers. Having passed her on the stairs to the venue, she immediately strikes you as a fun girl with a great personality.

She is at home doing solo sets with just a guitar but tonight we have a band driving her talent. Having watched a couple of her YouTube videos in preparation I know we are in for a stunning show. Getting in to the hall I see we have four chairs across the front of the stage, back lit in pink, the smoke machine dispersing the light giving it a welcoming glow.

I hear that one of the band is unwell so we have a stripped back set. This is going to be a great introduction to Kira and her tunes. With the absence of a Visible drum kit it would appear that Cal Casey is the poorly one, get well soon buddy.

Kicking off with ‘Back for More’ we get a great Southern rock vibe as the guitars drive out, the sound is great as a smiling Kira, sat in a white cropped tee shirt and leather jeans kicks off with a powerful bluesy rasp, her voice making many stand and take notice. The twinkle in her eye gives you a heads up that this is going to be a fun set.

“How We Doing” she shouts and gets a mixed response back, the lighting is in her eyes as she turns towards bassist Bret and says, ”Well That Was Shit”, she tries again and gets a better response this time. Kira explains that drummer Cal is isolating having gone down with Covid on Wednesday. Their dep drummer is away touring with another band so the acoustic set was born. It got its very first airing in Dover, it seemed to go down well so they are embracing it. She says it’s given her time to chat about the songs in between, as she carries on at a rate of knots.

“Joe came up with a line that made no sense at all, with a lot of work we got ‘Mississippi Swinging” she says as a Bluesy guitar cry’s out and Kira rattles her tambourine. This stomping tune has a swampy feel to it as the bass provides the backbone for the melody to embrace. This has a great feel as the Queens Hall are stomping their feet and nodding heads respectfully.

With more stories flowing Kira says she’s happier with a guitar in her hands, the guys gave her tambourine which she says she’s never played before, but having a Stevie Nicks tattoo with her playing one there is a connection. She goes on to say the set needed a soppy song from Kira so she wrote ‘Never Going to Stay’ about bad relationships. This has a big sound as a picked guitar leads the way. As it drops into the verse the song has an almost orchestral string feel to as Kira sings about running from a bad relationship. Her eyes closed as she delivers, the mighty tambourine hanging silent as she laments. This has certainly achieved a different dynamic to the set and a great addition showing off her song writing skills.

Kira says “we wanted to come in and blow your eye brows off with a drummer, maybe next time”, She goes on to say that if the band need rehab it will be down to her Dad, who is in the crowd to night. ‘Hellfire’, is another relationship-based song, about the bad taste it can leave when it all goes South. A Southern rock riff digs in as her voice powers through the wall of sound made by the gritty, twin, distorted guitars. This would have been a ‘hell’ of a song with a thunderous drum kit propelling it down the road. It gets another great response from the crowd.

Kira mentions the album coming out “Chaos Is Coming’ and from the album, Planet Rock have put the single ‘Dead Man Walking’ on its playlist. We’re told the song title this was a comment made by Kira’s dad about one of her ex’s, a song in the making, as the band strike up with a booming bass line from Bret Barnes’s electro-acoustic bass, Joe and Alex follow on the guitars as Kira, Who has now removed the mic from the stand in front of her digs deep and lets loose a powerhouse of emotion.

The song hurls itself forward as Joe slips in a nice, fat, little lick full of neck pick up blues, before Alex takes over with his scorching addition to this great tune. Kira joins back in with a monumental scream, boy, she has some great pipes as she brings this slightly country feeling song to a great finish and huge cheers from the Queens Hall massive. She finishes the story by telling us that Alex wanted to be set on fire for the video, which erupts into banter about who’s the coolest guitarist, Bret offers them both out with an arm wrestle challenge, the crowd are loving the relaxed banter as laughter pours from both sides of the stage.

Kira is buzzing, really enjoying herself as the crowd have warmed to this effervescent personality, she asks if we’re “looking forward to Ricky”, and goes’ on to stay that “they’re just really happy to be out playing live again”. A tale told by all the bands now we’ve got out of the lock down cycle. The bands have all bounced back bigger, better and keener to entertain, so maybe it helped them recharge the batteries.

The final song of the night is one about selling your soul to make it in todays world, about standing at the cross roads and making that trade so often sung about in blues anthems.

This one is called ‘One Way Ticket’, and it doesn’t disappoint as its bass punches out, the guitars dance around it, as they deliver their tasty licks. Kira’s voice is strong as she tells of getting the one-way ticket which only goes to hell. The guitars are rocking as the band clearly enjoy playing this one, the energy flys from the stage, the smiles continue, the crowd are foot tapping and head nodding in time to the beat as Kira closes the night with a final shake of her tambourine. The crowd loved it.

That was an opening set to be proud of, engaging, witty and very musical, I’m looking forward to the full electric set at the festivals coming up this summer.

As we wait for Ricky and the boys to arrive on stage, more fans filter into this stunning little venue. Standing looking at the stage now it’s ready for the main ‘turn’ the back light of red plays with the swirling ethereal nature of the smoke as it slides across the stage. The guys have it well controlled as it doesn’t over power the visual like at some bigger venues. This gives the nerds amongst us the opportunity to check out the kit on show. In front of me is a Marshall JCM 800 half stack, the settings on it are highlighted with orange tape. I’m glad I’ve got ear plugs because I know that’s going to be killer loud.

M&M’s ‘Lose Yourself’ starts to play over the house PA, the lights have dropped. The venue walls are throbbing to the bass being hurled at us from M&M, the band walk out greeted by a wall of cheers equal to M&M on the PA. The crowd are on form and here, wanting to be entertained.

With no words the band fire up immediately I to the Mink Deville cover, ‘Gunslinger’ Ricky’s guitar, into the JCM is effin’ loud as this grinding riff tries to peel your skin away from your bones. The combined guitars of Ricky and Wayward Sons, Sam Wood smash through this opening track. Both of them are all over the stage, Ricky has his drMarten boot on a monitor grinding the riff out at one point as Sam is weaving away on the opposite side of the stage, his blonde locks flailing away as he puts 110% into his playing.

What an opening song, but with no let-up we get the first of several Almighty tunes, ‘Over the Edge’, from the album Powertrippin’ rips out. Again, more grinding riffs fly from the hands of Ricky as his foot, back on the wedge, he tries to cut your body in half with this ferocious delivery. Ricky is on fire, tonight he’s out to destroy the Queens hall. The energy is flying as the hard and fast balls out approach continues.

Ricky shouts out 1-2-3-4 and we’re straight into 2016’s ‘The Road from Damascus Street’ three songs in without a break the onslaught, its relentless, the Queens Hall faithful are getting a show to remember. Sam has slotted in perfectly as he rocks out on an evil sounding Les Paul gold top, its delivery is crushing those stood in front of him as he smiles over at Ricky and shakes his hair, a shampoo advert moment yet again. Jumping to stage centre Ricky grinds out the final riff on his low slung Gretsch and brings the song to a dead stop.

Standing up smiling, the sweat rolling down his face, his eyes full of devilment, he says welcome to my County, we are in Warwickshire, he’s done his homework. He jokes about trying to get a discounted entry into the castle of the same name.

The crowd hang on his every word. There are fans in tonight who have travelled miles to see this man perform so not wasting anymore time he’s straight into ‘You Don’t Love Me’ from the latest album. Its punky riff smashes out as Sam throws a tasty lick over the top. The album track had Luke Morley of Thunder play the lead, which is handled superbly by Sam Wood. The chorus is sung back by the crowd as Ricky drops in his trademark pose before swapping sides as he delivers this crowd pleaser.

Ricky sticks his tongue out for camera as they go into Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back in Town’. With Sam and Ricky harmonising on their guitars like Gorham and Robertson or Moore, they face pull as they smash out this classic. The Queens Hall has never sounded better as the ‘boys are back in town’ is sung back at top volume’. Ricky’s Gretsch is killing it, the tone is of the wall just like the volume is off the scale!

Another 1-2-3-4 and a souped up version of ‘When Patsy Cline Was Crazy(And Guy Mitchell Sang the Blues)’ continues this veritable onslaught of powerful crushing Rock n Roll. Ricky is killing it; he has come along to entertain and by god it shows. Dancing back and forth, the sweat falling from his brow as he delivers this high-octane show.

Richard Vernon on bass is bouncing along just like his bass line, his thumping bass is tied in to Jack Taylors heart-beat of a kick drum and the crowd who are also bouncing along. Asking for the hands we get the ‘Whoa’ ‘Whoas’ as the roof is lifted of the Queens Hall with the combined guitars thrashing out to this right stomper of a tune.

‘Never Corner A Rat’ follows seamlessly, the pace of delivery has not dropped below ‘boss level’, thunderous drums smack you in the face at the high speed delivery of this song from the new album, ‘ When Life Was Hard And Fast’ as this song destroys your senses with its ferociousness, the crowd are loving it as Sam’s Les Paul screams over the top with a nasty solo lick or two. Ricky is low and bouncing, his face screwed up tight riffing out as Vernon’s bass thunders out to Taylors hard hitting drum line, stunning, bloody marvellous stuff, we love that one.

Dripping with sweat, both Sam and Ricky change their guitars, Ricky shouts out “everyone alright?” the crowd are getting their breath back at the relentless onslaught but answer back in a howling cheer to the affirmative. With guitars changed, both black this time, Ricky on a double cut away Yamaha, Sam still on an Les Paul.

Ricky introduces this next song by telling a tale of being in a recording studio in an old barn with two band mates, the band was called the Almighty” the crowd cheer loudly “and we borrowed Iron Maidens PA” continues Ricky, “the barn was stuffed full with a ridiculous amount of PA, which Iron Maiden very kindly lent us” “fuck it was loud man!” “farms from 4 or 5 miles away were calling up about the noise, sheep were needing psychological treatment, Cows were going missing, pigs had gone deaf, it was mental, it was fucking brutal” “getting up at the crack of 3pm, coz we were young, we start the day off with a ‘bucket bong’ and get as high as a fucking kite” his arms are spread out wide as he says it. The crowd are full of stifled laughter, a sign of ‘we know what you mean’.

Ricky goes on “we thought we were Led Zeppelin, we would start jamming for hours”, “record everything and then play it back the next day to see if there were any keepers. 9 times out of 10 it was absoluter shite, most of the recording was of the band trying to get in tune”. “But now and again you’d get a keeper, this next song was a riff that was jammed on for 5 hours”, continues Ricky, it turned out to be ‘Wrench” “This song is dedicated to the late Dave Carr a massive Almighty fan and a close friend to Ricky who sadly passed. His brother is in the Queens Hall tonight.

Screeching guitars and a heavy drum beats start and stop as this song stutters forward. It’s an evil song full of pent up frustration and attitude, the crowd sing back ‘Who’s Side Are You ON’. as It crushes all in its way. The crowd, shoe gazing in respect as they are slammed by the ferociousness of this great song.

‘Still Alive’ follows after another guitar change, it’s introduced as “a little ditty”. Sam leads over Ricky’s gritty desire to destroy our hearing. “Is There Anybody Out There Still Alive” Ricky asks, Not, at this rate mate, I can’t help thinking, as the raw beat smashes away, resetting everyone’s heart-beat. Hand clapping and singing at the mic, the sweat is pouring from every pore in his body, Ricky marches on. The tick tock drum beat thumps out as Sam on slide guitar, a Melody Maker if I’m not mistaken this time brings the song to a close.

Clean chords (what are they?) sound out as Ricky laments the intro to ‘Schwaben Redoubt’ from ‘Hearts on Trees’. This great sounding tune with a rebel tone and a massive back story to it, is a personal favourite of mine. A great foot stomping tune. The marching snare is loud, it’s pulsing drum beat sounding like a marching band full of Bodhrán players. A flourish of guitar from Sam brings a smile and a nod as the song kicks off. It’s a proper party song with a deep meaning as Ricky shouts out “ And now it’s time to go” marking the end of the song.

A quick fiddle with the JCM amp and a few strums to check his tuning, Ricky’s sings the opening to ‘Fighting Heart’. Standing stage right, he grinds out the power chords to this great tune before hitting the lyrics again. As guitar pics slide up the strings Sam flashes out a screaming solo, The Queens Hall are in fine voice tonight as they sing along. Feedback howls as this song gallops along like a spooked race horse with mustard slapped on its behind.

Sam’s on fire as he smashes out the opening riffs to another Almighty cover, ‘Jonestown Mind’. This brooding, dark riff sees Sam and Ricky locked in tight, hands are being thrust at them from the crowd as they cry out the words to the band. This hard hitting power house is full on, the sound coming back from the crowd is immense. There’s no cahance to catch your breath, as this song empties your lungs of any air in its aggressive delivery.

‘You’re My Rock ‘n’ Roll’ see’s the smoke machine kick back in, in in earnest. Bathed in blue light and swirling smoke, the song bounces along as Sam and Ricky strike the ‘Quo’ pose for the photos. Was there a nod to a Sigue Sigue Sputnik riff? (love Missile F1-11), stunning. The faithful in tonight continue to sing back ‘ You’re my Rock n Roll’, Yes You are is repeated as the song finishes.

‘Celebrating Sinking’ from the 2016 Patsy Cline ‘ album gets an airing next. Ricky introduces it as a song celebrating being Northern Irish. The steady riff, if there can be one tonight, everything so far has been at a Spinal Tap 11. Ricky is wearing War Machine as he rocks out. The solid back line carry this song forward whilst the respectful crowd are nodding along to the twin guitars as they howl like a pair of wailing Bean Sidhe, (banshee’s).

Ricky picks up the story telling with a tale about the first album. The fans all know that Joey Elliot helped Ricky back then, 20years ago, he introduced him to the legendary Scott Gorham whilst recording it. He tells us of “ looking out of the window of the castle there were 20 cows happily going nuts in the garden, Joey and Scott wanted to get the shot guns out, but being from Farming stock, ‘we’ herded them back up the country lane with a whoopin’ and a hollorin” Joey Elliot of Def Leppard, Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy and Ricky Warwick taking 20 cows for a walk, that must of been a sight to behold!

‘Tattoos & Alibis’ follows, the title track from the very first album from 2003. Driving drums and a salt shaker starts this song off as the jangling repetitive guitar riff joins in, delivering at the microphone, Ricky song pushes hard, a couple of the trademark Ricky poses are thrown in as he prepares for the next verse. This song is surrounded by green and purple light which pulses along to the beat. The crowd Queens Hall are again showing their support by singing along to this grand tune. The distorted guitar from Sam giving the song a dirty vibe as Ricky riffs out.

Jumping from the first solo album to the latest one we now have the title track ‘When Life Was Fast and Hard’. Again a steady driving delivery, no less fierce than those before rattles the senses. As Ricky delivers into the microphone, the eye that I can see reminds me of the eye of a big friendly whale seen on the likes of ‘The Blue Planet’. Sorry Ricky. The song builds as it twists and weaves, with a tempo/key change thrown in to catch the crowd, it doesn’t they are hot on the vocals as the Queens Hall sing to the songs end.

Another guitar change, there have been several and no doubt I missed a few while I had my head down taking notes.

The acoustic guitar comes out for the next one, this must mean it’s time for another ‘The Almighty’ cover, this is ‘Jesus Loves You…But I Don’t’. Ricky says it was played in Dover for the first time in a very long time, just the other night and it felt good so it stayed in the set.

This melancholy lyric delivered by Ricky has a simple soft chime on the cymbal as the song,

builds quietly at first before the kick drum and snare snap to life with a wallop. Sam’s subtle lead pushes the song along as the crowd again join in with the singing. Mid song the acoustic is swapped out for the Gretsch and in Ricky’s hands it instantly growls to life. Sam is on fire as his Gold Top sheds its restraints and goes bananas. The smoky red and green backdrops this crushing wall of sound, driven by the rumbling drums as they roll over you as Ricky finishes the song with “ Jesus loves you…but I don’t”. What a track as the Queens hall, united, cheer and whistle to this great tune from the Almighty years.

Finally, we get a tune from his day job, the Black Star Riders. I’m really looking forward to seeing the guys play live again, even though Scott has called time on his part in the project. Ricky and the boys have the Cajunas to take the band forward, can’t wait!

‘Finest Hour’ is straight up with hardly a missed beat. The lighting has changed to a soft pink, it backlights the band as they hit this banger of a tune hard. Immediately the floor is bouncing like a trampoline as the faithful give this song the beanz. Sha Na Na’s are bouncing off the walls as they sing back with gusto, “This Could Be Our Finest Hour” more like 90 minutes, the night has been electrifying so far and we ain’t finished yet. The song carry’s on, full of screaming guitar and thunderous bass akin to the heart beat of a sprinting Roly Poly.

Another guitar change and an acknowledgment to the Kira Mac for opening, Ricky introduces his band with a flourish of niceties, its Richard Vernon (the mission) on Bass, Jack Taylor (Tax the Heat) on drums and Sam Wood (Wayward Sons) on screaming lead guitar.

With a smile and that look, Ricky shouts “This One’s for Lemmy” at which point the band crash into ‘Iron Fist’. This has the crowd jumping and punching their arms into the air, looking around the Shoe Gazers are nodding their heads like a Churchill dog on an old allegro parcel shelf being driven at speed up a cobble street, what a sight lol.

The night is finished off with another The Almighty track and a banger of a final song. ‘Free ‘n’ Easy’ carries on the energy of the night. I’m bumped out of the way as the girls have amassed in front of Ricky’s microphone, hes smiling, he sees them, but continues to rip this banging anthem a new behind. Hair is flying round the room as a few of us oldies try to relive our youth with a gentle head bang, there’s gonna be a few sore necks tomorrow, mine being one of them. The room is on fire as the song finishes a great night.

Ricky says he’ll be at the merch stand shortly for free hugs, the Queens hall is still buzzing as Ricky looks at the guys and Wham, they’re off again with an unscheduled addition to the set. ‘Neil Youngs’ banger ‘Keep on Rockin In the Free World’ hits us all square in the face. The crowd has surged forward and has taken on a party atmosphere as the song and the crowd bounce around the hall.

Folk are singing and dancing, cheering and whistling as the band give this anthem the Spinal Tap treatment. The walls throb as this song draws to a close. The band leave the stage and the crowd continue to cheer, we’ve had 21 songs, all played at 11, there will be no encore that’s a certainty as the house music starts back up and the guys start clearing the stage. Moving to the back of the hall I can see Ricky is already at the merch stand, as fresh as a daisy? well maybe not, but he’s enjoying the crowd as they get photos and merch signed. A truly generous guy.

I message Sam Wood to tell him he’s played a blinder but he must be exhausted, he replies “Cheers Man, I’m fucking spent” “It’s been a lot of fun playing with Ricky, it’s been a blast!”.

Tonight, summed up by Sam! I catch my breath on the drive home, I realise that I’m still buzzing as I pull in on my drive at home. That’s what you call a great night.

Brother Waldorf, you missed a blinder tonight!

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