Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
“So spin that wheel cut that pack
And roll them loaded dice
Bring on the dancin’ girls
And put the champagne on ice”
Sin City – AC/DC
We’re gonna win in Sin City. Why? ‘Cos there’s two of the brightest rocking prospects playing in one of Swansea’s largest independent venues, that’s why. Midlanders Stone Broken have, to kick-start 2023, switched to the second phase of their ‘Revelation’ tour with thirteen shows of an intimate nature.
In a recent interview with Classic Rock frontman Rich Moss explained “We hit all of the big cities with the first leg, this time we wanted to fill in the gaps. To visit some places we hadn’t seen in a while.”
Providing more than able tour-support are Llanelli’s history-makers Scarlet Rebels. The year had started on a downer for the band with their tour supporting Voodoo Six was suddenly postponed following the headline band’s acceptance of going on tour with British Lion. A few weeks later and that adversity had been rebalanced when their participation on this tour was announced. Well, until the eve of the tour when a personal situation struck the band resulting in Wayne striking out on the opening four dates, with the blessing of Stone Broken, doing a solo acoustic set.
So it’s now tour night five and we find ourselves parking up on the West side of Swansea’s city centre virtually in the shadow of the concrete block that houses Sin City. A wholly unremarkable slab of late 20th century architecture it appears as a hybrid cross-over of a multi-storey car-park and office block. All’s not lost however as we can indulge, if we so choose to, in some axe-throwing thanks to an entrepreneurial business who share the ground floor of the block.
The second largest city in Wales Swansea, or Abertawe to the locals, was once the world leader in Copper smelting. Dubbed “Copperopolis” the furnaces burn no longer sadly and it’s a city undergoing redevelopment or whatever local government wish to describe it this week. The opening of a brand-new arena last year seeks to take the city out of Cardiff’s shadow. With Royal Blood opening the venue and gigs from Bullet For My Valentine, Those Damn Crows and Hollywood Vampires line up there’s room for cautious optimism.
Back to the gig and a full 80 minutes after doors open Scarlet Rebels, in lowkey fashion, take to the stage. The house crew seemingly taken by surprise as the PA is still blasting out. The atmosphere builds palpably with Sin City’s stage two healthily packed. With a single power chord frontman Wayne Doyle announces their arrival.
With a rapid-fire “Hey, hey, hey!” it’s all systems go as charismatic guitarist Chris Jones nails the familiar intro of crowd favourite ‘I’m Alive.’ Bouncing like a hot-fried Mexican bean CJ sets about some fiery fretwork whilst Wayne rapidly toggles his Les Paul’s switch. Wayne’s brother Gary threatens to send himself and his kit through the floor; coupled with the ever-slick Pricey on bass it’s a fearsome low-end section. One track in and it’s already hot and sweaty.
In now trademark style Wayne’s right hand shaking aloft brings in a thundering version of ‘Take You Home.’ Hands and horns, alike, are raised aligned perfectly with the lyrics. Given it’s near enough a hometown show there’s a healthy percentage of Rebels within the assembled ranks. “For those who feel alone, raise your hands” instructs Wayne. The Llanelli lads are not alone.
A sleek opening 1-2-3 is rounded off with a rousing ‘You Take My Breath Away’ with CJ and Pricey cajoling the crowd’s participation. Wayne banters with his bandmates, clearly happy they’re back alongside. The set has been reworked a touch since their last outing with the mountain stream purity of ‘Let Your Love Go’ and Wayne’s favourite off ‘See Through Blue ‘I Can Sleep Now’ being deftly slipped in.
It’s hard to believe it’s virtually five years to the day that V0id, as the Rebels were then known, played their first Welsh show with this current line-up at Abertillery’s Doll House. They’ve grafted their proverbials off with the deserved fruits of smashing right into the top 10 of the UK Official albums chart. It’s the championing underdog story that everyone loves.
Passion and character abound in ‘These Days’ before the rules of ‘Rebel Club’ are explained to this evening’s inductees during the rumbustious ‘Save Me.’ Transitioning seamlessly into AC/DC’s ‘Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock n’ Roll) ensures structural damage to the roof before set-ending ‘Let Me In’ arena ready ‘Phonics vibes shoot to the heavens.
In musical terms this evening’s headliners, Stone Broken,can be discovered nestling comfortably somewhere midway between the fields furrowed by Nickelback and Those Damn Crows. Formed in Walsall a decade ago this tightknit quadrumvirate have three albums under their collective belt including last year’s ‘Revelation.’ A well-received output which grabbed a top 30 position in the UK Album charts eclipsing, by 10 placings, 2018’s ‘Ain’t Always Easy.’
Progression for sure reflecting that within the album itself. Employing electronic layers that add a deeper, bottom of the mine-shaft feel it’s safe to state this is a band not content to rest upon its laurels. Rich, in the previously mentioned Classic Rock interview, stated “The third record was always the one we wanted to experiment a little on” adding “And then when we couldn’t be in the same room together we wrote four more songs for the album which were the ones that changed the dynamic of the record.
Naturally the balance of the set is tilted towards ‘Revelation’ with the titular track being brought ‘out to play’ straight off the starting line. An eerie, haunting intro accompanies the band as they file, one by one, into the shadowy environs onstage. It’s loud and emboldened, an expansive sound for sure which is lapped up by the assembled ranks of the Broken Army.
With chuggage turned up to the maximum permitted we’re taken back to 2016 with ‘Stay All Night.’ Somewhat akin to a fine needle with a golden gossamer thread attempting to pierce chainmail Chris Davis’ precision solo struggles to pierce through. Perhaps it’s a questionable sound mix but the solid wall of rhythm being output alongside him is a behemoth no doubt.
A beating heart, the appropriate precursor, brings in ‘Heartbeat Away’ as the band gather about Robyn Haycock’s Animal-adorned drumkit. It’s a rich sound and the band are on-point with their clinical precision. Stepping up on to the higher portion of the stage, mic in hand, Rich emotes “It’s amazing to be in South Wales. The first two records were recorded in Wales, we feel a connection.” Up close and personal with their loyal followers there is a tangibility to those well-chosen words.
Lifted from ‘Revelation’ the wrecking-ball of ‘Black Sunrise’ and the Those Damn Crows-fringed unrepressed tones of ‘Make It Out Alive’ neatly bracket a pair of select cuts from ‘Ain’t Always Easy’, the album to first take SB into the charts. Hooky hard-rocking ‘Let Me Go’ and ‘Save Tomorrow’, all teeth and claws, strain at the tether. The latter not being played for a good few years Rich informs the crowd.
Switching deftly, at song end, Rich takes an acoustic guitar in hand. “Usually when the acoustic appears everyone disappears” he quips. Stage left bassist Kieron Conroy is joined, out of the shadows by Robyn whilst Chris has replaced his Strat for an acoustic on the opposite side. Stripped back the ethereal ‘Over The Line’ and the variant ‘This Revival’ bring the delights of varying shades to proceedings. Bringing flesh to the digital reissue of ‘Revelation’ that features reworked versions.
A firm favourite, and truly lodged in the Stone Broken live set, the anthemic ‘Wait For You’ is sung loudly by the Broken Army, word perfect. A wag, somewhere in the depths of the crowd, shouts “I told ya the Welsh could sing!” The stirring resonance of recent single ‘Stronger’ transports us towards the latter part of the set. Whether consciously or completely coincidentally Stone Broken end the set the way they began with a track from each of their three studio releases. Either way a rather neat book-end effect.
The rumbustious mischief of ‘Worth Fighting For’ leads into the thundering drone that takes us along the highway to Hades with ‘The Devil You Know.’ A brief pause and it’s into the thundering herdlike ‘Not Your Enemy’ to bring the house down. The band grab a time-honoured photo as they take the applause of the Broken Army.
Stone Broken have been tight this evening to the point of surgical precision but with this, inevitably, follows a clinical sterility sadly. This isn’t a question of their technical ability, far from it in fact. They’re gifted no question of it, however their foray into garnering an expansive sound with the harnessing of tech comes at, this evening, a slight cost in the humblest of my opinions.
What is given in one hand, in terms of a truly huge sound and rich tone, is taken in the other with a decrease in spontaneity, character and seemingly, dare I say it, a touch of soul. Of course these qualities remain present, just from my perspective there appears to be a degree of diminishment. To me it’s the ‘golf course syndrome’ – yes it’s green, leafy and natural but, and it’s a sizeable but, it’s not the raw, unfettered fully beauty of the untamed wild.
However beauty is in the eye of the beholder and for the Broken Army and the absolute majority of the Sin City crowd the headliners have entertained royally and it’s a happy crowd that files out into the Swansea night air. I will keenly watch Stone Broken’s journey in the coming months as they take their music to another level with the ambitious course they are navigating.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM