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Gig Review: PLANET ROCK ROCKTOBER O2 Academy, Sheffield

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Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

There are worse ways to spend a Saturday night. Travelling up the M1 to Sheffield to catch the final Planet Rock ‘Rocktober’ event sounds more fun than being sat at home watching ‘Strictly’.

With me in the tour bus tonight is my good lady, again brother ‘Waldorf’ is busy so has to give this prestigious occasion a miss.

Tonight, promises to be fun, as we weave our way towards the heart of the Steel City. Parking up beneath the venue is great although when we return to the car, the astronomical charge for the privilege was the reason why we had such a big choice of parking places, mind you it goes hand in hand with the sky-high drink’s prices inside the venue. Come on O2 Academy, charge less and sell a lot more!

We get inside with not bother at all, in fact the boys and girls on duty are a breath of fresh air compared to some venues around the country. Walking into the venue, the stage is brightly lit in red and orange. ROCKTOBER clearly illuminated on the back wall. The overall stage has a haze to it from the over indulgence use a fog machine. This is going to be fun.

Tonight’s, ‘round’ of ROCKTOBER has four bands. Canadian psychedelic rock band ‘The Damn Truth’, English blues rock band ‘When Rivers Meet’, The mighty ‘KING KING’ and tonight’s headliners, 70’s Glam Rock sensation ‘THE SWEET’.

THE DAMN TRUTH’ are up first and are a band I’ve wanted to see again since the toured with KING KING back in February this year.

This four piece from Montreal, Canada made a big impression on the UK and now, with a week left of their second UK tour this year they get to play the O2 Academy, a venue they say they didn’t know existed until today. With a 7hour journey behind them they hit the stage firing on all cylinders.

‘This Is Who We Are Now’ kicks the night of with its hard-hitting high energy 70’s feel. Lee-La’s voice is on the money as she takes no prisoners with her Joplinesque delivery.

The ‘fog’ swirls about them first blue and then orange as Tom Shemer, dressed all in red and white snakeskin boots, rips out a sonic maelstrom of sound from his boutique guitar. Dave Traina is hitting the toms hard as PY Letellier, is throwing himself and his bass into shapes no normal man should make.

This flows nicely into ‘Full on You’. The fun factor hasn’t dropped at all. The guitar is making the running as Lee-La’s voice swirls around it, the bassline is punching hard as we motor along. Lee-La’s voice is full of a dirty vibrato from a by-gone era.

The solo firmly punches you back to when hot pants were all the rage along with free love and when a care free society made life simpler.

There is an almost Beth Hart vibe to ‘Lonely’, as the voice, full of honey rich tones, oozes effortlessly from Lee-La. Tom jumps up front with a screaming, compressed solo, it fits into the song perfectly. The song finishes with an almost spoken respite.

A jangly guitar and soft voice now start into ‘Only Love’ which picks its ‘bare’ feet up and bounces along with a ‘poppy’ feel good texture. The drums thumping, and the bassline cruising as this great ‘happy tune’ soothes all by telling us “it’ll be alright”. Another searing guitar solo helps wrap the song up.

‘Look Innocent’ takes us back to the summer of love. Lee-La’s deliberate delivery is on point as the band yet again set their stall out in that ‘Hippie’ vibe of the late 60’s and early 70’s. This tune is about Heart Break is a real belter and ticks every box.

The final song of their far too short 30minute set is ‘Tomorrow’. Another 60’s banger that brings back the feel-good factor of those by gone years. There is a ‘Shocking Blue, Mama’s and Papa’s’ vibe with this band that just puts a smile on your face.

Stunning vocals and dirty fuzz ridden guitar hark back to this by gone era and make it current, modern and fresh. With only three albums behind them they have already gotten a great following in the UK. The latest album ‘Now or Nowhere’ from which tonight’s set was entirely taken from, is a worthy addition to your collection. Better still go and catch them on the remainder of the UK tour. Money well spent, and I have to say they are the band of the event for me.

The Damn Truth are

Lee-La Baum – Vox and Guitar, Tom Shemer – Guitar, PY Letellier – Bass, Dave Traina – Drums

https://www.thedamntruth.com

With a quick change over we get the ever-smiling Grace and Aaron Bond of the phenomenally successful ‘WHEN RIVERS MEET’ up next. This great Blues Rock band from Essex have been playing to sell out venues throughout 2022. This four piece includes Roger Inniss on a Bass guitar with too many strings and James Fox on the throne, tub thumping, as a band they have had quite the busy year.

Having seen this dynamic duo back in May playing to a sold-out Asylum venue in Birmingham, I know the crowd are in for a breath taking 45minutes. Sadly, the stage is still full of ‘fog’, and it makes the lights diffuse like crazy, so at first glance it looks good but, sadly for us photographers it makes getting sharp images almost an impossibility, but hey ho we don’t grumble…. Much! Its nice to see my mate Howard on guitar tech duties, the mans a phenomenal player in his own right.

Bursting straight onto the stage and into ‘Did I Break the Law’ with is bluesy fuzz filled slide guitar. Aaron is up front and for a moment I thought he was going to end up in the crowd, its dark in front of the monitors as well as ‘foggy’. Grace’s vocal is clear and on it as she swans about the stage smiling at the crowd as she grooves out. ‘Walking on a Wire’ is up next, again a dirty guitar slides behind the vocal, Grace has a mandolin in her hands as she slides the bottleneck up and down the short neck as she tries to add to the layers of slide.

Roger quickly sorts out a connection problem before the Mandolin is exchanged for a different one that works. This is a great tune from the 2021 ‘We Fly Free’ album.

James Fox is smiling away as he beats Dave Traina’s kit along to ‘My Babe Says the He Loves Me’ from the 2020 EP Innocence of Youth. It’s a dynamic punchy number enjoyed by the crowd.

‘Don’t Tell Me Goodbye’ from 2021’s Saving Grace, slows things down to a shuffle. This song shows perfectly how good the songwriter and vocal dynamic between the pair are. A laid-back ballad which has the crowd moving back and forth slowly, even the guys in cuts and tats, but we won’t tell anyone.

‘Freeman’ picks it back up with its sleezy southern vibing intro. Grace’s voice cuts through over Aaron’s fuzzy slide guitar riffs. The back line is grooving with a metronomic pulse. Grace and Aaron are singing to each other as much as to the crowd, the dynamic between the two is palpable, the crowd are loving this one.

‘Never Coming Home’ continues with a slamming drum beat and a sleazy slide guitar over the top as Grace pours on the coals as she shows how good her pipes are.

This is followed up with ‘Lost and Found’. A more determined drum beat kicks out, some nice ghost snare in the mix. Grace’s vibrato is on point as she gentle slide into a higher note, a diphthong thing. 2020’s ‘Innocence of Youth’ has a clap along moment and as Grace delivers the words, Aaron is sliding dirty, his fret hand is at times by his side, hoorah for open tunings.

The song ramps up as Grace grooves along and points to the sky as a way of showing she is building the song to a finish which is full of cheers from a very partisan crowd. The final track of the night is a banger of a tune ‘Want Your Love’. Another from the 2020 Innocence of Youth EP.

With a bit of fiddle thrown in, it gives another layer to an already formidable sound. Grace’s stunning voice goes on walk about again, as she belts out the Whoah Whoah’s to bring the song and set to a close. The crowd love it and show their appreciation with a huge round of applause, I would say they gave it a standing ovation but it’s a non-seated event and we’re standing anyways, worthy of one mind.

When Rivers Meet are Grace Bond – Vox, Mandolin, Violin, Aaron Bond – Guitar, BV’s, Roger Inniss – Bass, Smiles, James Fox – Drums

https://whenriversmeet.co.uk

Again, the crew work their magic on stage, clearing the equipment and bringing on Jonny’s huge organ! Yes, the Mighty KING KING are next to grace this ‘Jack the Ripper, Whitechapel and Spitalfields’ themed stage. Yes, I know, but I’m a photographer, we don’t like heavy fog!

Anyways before too long the simply brilliant KING KING are ready to rock. The crowd has swelled to a comfortable amount. It looks like the shoppers have been home, had their tea and have now ventured out to finish the night off.

Alan walks on in his trademark kilt and boots, smiling at the crowd, his arms outstretched and a big big smile on his face. Kicking off with the staple, (She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’ from 2017’s Exile and Grace, the band and crowd are on it straight away. The unmistakeable KING KIG sound is there in spades, that swirling Hammond and distorted guitar punching through the fog as the band kick in, Zander and Stevie joining in with the backing vocals.

There is a massive fan base out there and quite a few are in tonight having travelled around watching the band on their current tour.

Alan reminds us later that tonight is the last night of their current tour so they are going out with a bang.

‘Fire in My Soul’ quickly follows on from the 2020, Evel Knievel fronted Maverick album. The walking drum beat from Andy Scott drives this one forward. Jonny’s swirling Hammond is a blanket around Alan’s vocal as this bouncing number has the crowding joining in as one.

I’ve seen KING KING countless times before but they always manage to put a smile on your face, the band are great songsmiths, and great live. A note to myself about booking for their Christmas bash in Lincoln, I’ve not done it yet.

I remember the first time I heard ‘Rush Hour’ and being totally blown away by the just how brilliant a tune this is. OK the band was different then but even so it still sends shivers, it’s one of those songs that I seem to have a connection too.

Alan’s solo is sublime, but then they all seem to be, he has a touch that just oozes feeling and warmth. Lovely song.

Back to 2013 and the Album Standing in the Shadows for this next banger. Swirling Hammond and cross stick snare herald ‘A Long History of Love’ which has me and the wife swaying together, I’m not a dancer, but this one I just have to be close to my lady.

Another absolutely stunning song. Subtle and laid back, the Hammond is comforting as Alan’s vocal is sublime, another ridiculous display of great song writing, the emotion in the solo has yet again got me teary eyed. For how it makes me feel, it gets my stand out song of the set.

From one moving song to another, 2015’s ‘You Stopped the Rain’ follows. A song written about Alan’s big brother Stevie, is now dedicated to Thunder’s front man Danny Bowes.

Danny, unfortunately, met with a horrible accident in which he need to use the air ambulance and undergo severe surgery on his head. He now has to face the long road to recovery.

Thunder have started a ‘Just Giving’ page to help raise the funds needed to help in his rehabilitation. The link is here should you wish to be benevolent and donate to his well-being. There is a story behind the reason on the page.

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/dannybowes

‘I Will Not Fall’ picks it back up with its hard driving bass line. The band are rocking as they pose together for those dynamic moments. Alan introduces brother Stevie, who finally let’s go on his Strat as he rips into the solo, Stevie also possess that magical touch as he caresses his guitar of choice, a fender Stratocaster. Alan later joins in to help bring the solo down and the band back in for the final song of the set ‘Stranger to Love’.

As the meaty riff bellows out, the soothing voice of Alan pics up the story. This song has Alan move to the front of the stage for his party trick during the solo. As the band drop in volume Alan slowly reduces his guitar volume to a point where he’s picking it acoustically. In past gigs, the crowd have been respectfully quiet, not tonight sadly as Alan laughs and brings it back up. It’s a cracking end to another KING KING performance, surprisingly they’ve played for an hour but only managed seven songs, although they have all been extended bangers. As they pack up and exit the stage there is a noticeable reduction in the size of the crowd. In fact, the pit security comment on it when we jump in ready for the headliners, The Sweet.

KING KING are Alan Nimmo – Vox, Guitars, Zander Greenshields – Bass, BV’s, Andy Scott – Drums, Jonny Dyke – Keys, BV’s Stevie Nimmo – Guitars, BV’s

https://www.kingking.co.uk/

The SWEET have been around for years. I remember them being on Top of The Pops back in the early 70’s. I had posters of them on my bedroom wall bought from Woolworths with my pocket money back when I was 8, 50years ago just to help you.

They have inspired many a band over the years. Having undergone several line changes over the years, Andy Scott is the only founding member left in the band today. The band are here tonight as the original headliner Kenny Wayne Shepherd couldn’t make the date due to the uncertainty with international travel. Some say he called it too soon as plenty of American artists are now hitting the boards in the U.K. and Europe. He has since scheduled a solo tour in April 2023 for fans of this Southern Rock maestro.

Darren Redick introduces the band with a cheeky reference to a little Willy, a nod to an early song by the band not on the set tonight. The Sweet Hit the set, at an amble, Andy is over to his guitar tech’ who straps him into his favoured red Johnson ‘Strat’ style’ guitar. It’s had a life as the worn paint and dings along its bottom curve indicate, irrespective it sounds ‘Sweet’ (pun intended). Starting off into a set that reads like a greatest hit’s compilation “Now That’s What I Call SWEET”, we get ‘Action’.

A storming song to start any set with. This 1976 classic has the crowd onboard, singing along with Paul Manzi as he croons this one as they follow straight into the Russ Ballard cover ‘New York Groove’. This is stirring stuff, 2songs in and I’m 10 again, I dare say there are a few in the room having the same experience. Bruce Bisland on the drums is having his best life, his cheeks rosie, as he thunders out the steady beat to ‘Hell Raiser’.

The crowd are singing hard as this one scorches along. This was a single released in 1973, the B side was ‘Burning’. Another of my purchases from the mighty Woolworths back in the day.

‘The Six Teens’ is introduced from 1974’s ‘Desolation Boulevard’. With its laidback groove, Manzi has a chance to show that he’s not all curls. His voice soars with this classic, the song builds, riffing guitars and thundering drums race headlong to the songs finish.

‘Windy City’ from 1977 is next with its dynamic guitar riff having more than a passing nod to Deep Purple. ‘Set Me Free’ carries on the with this trip down memory lane.

Fast and furious riffs chopping cleanly through the crashing drums, a solid bassline holds it all together.

As Manzi patrols the stage, his voice clear and deliberate, he points and smiles at the crowd. The break down is fast and provides a respite for Manzi who has a rub down. The bass ripples and guitars fly as the song is brought to an end.

No SWEET set can be complete without Teenage Rampage. Again, the opening riffs transport you back to watching Top of The Pops as the band played live hosted by Kid Jensen or was it the Hairy Cornflake. There are hints in the song to songs to come.

Up next is the almost, Noddy Holder and Slade sounding, ‘A.C.D.C.’ again from Desolation Boulevard it’s a quick bouncing number, a quick bit of slide guitar gives the tune some colour. The stunning ‘Love Is Like Oxygen’ follows on. Back in 1978 I was at boarding school and I remember this one hitting the charts.

A friend had bought the only copy of ‘Level Headed’ in Woolworths so we all gathered around his record player to hear this one play out. I can remember us talking about how the band had sold out on this one, 40+yrs later it’s one of my favourites from the band. Funny how thoughts change with age.

You can’t say that about ‘Fox on The Run’ another from the slammin’ Desolation Boulevard. A classic sound that just hits you firmly on the jaw, the vocal harmony makes this one another classic, as the sizzling keys, again, adding yet another dimension to the record.

The band save the best to last. Before they leave, they hit us with the two songs that made the band a house hold name. ‘Blockbuster’, which has the crowd on their toes as they sing along. Which is followed with ‘Ballroom Blitz’ with its crazy intro snare shuffle and band call out.

This has lost none of its appeal. The crowd are enjoying classic SWEET. But sadly, like all good things it must come to and end. And with that the band say their farewells.

With a new album out called ‘Isolation Boulevard’ available on all popular formats available for Christmas, no need to hunt it down you can buy it from their website.

THE SWEET are. Andy Scott – Guitar, BV’s, Paul Manzi – Vocals, Bruce Bisland – Drums, Lee Small – Bass, BV’s, Tom Corey – Guitars, Keyboards, BV’s

https://www.thesweet.com/

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