Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
Way below the steelwork furnaces, fed by the Valley collieries, burn incessantly. Storm clouds brew out on the western horizon.
Towering upon high the smokestack, a lofty edifice of industry, stretches skywards. Lightning crackles seeking a conduit to earth via. The smokestack, dynamically electrifying, is struck drawing the cloud bound energy to the ground. Thor’s hammer, Mjölnir, rejoices.
The electrifying current radiates outwards in three directions. Anew, the contract is signed, irreversible. A streamlining to a triple-pronged powerhouse is the progressive evolution. From the foundry to stage the hard-driving blues of Laurence Jones is pure molten majesty and for 2023 the Liverpool-born guitarist is veering, bravely, into a realm of difference.
First up this evening there’s the most welcome return of former Revival Black vocalist Dan Byrne. Through his two albums with the much-lauded RB via his exploits, since parting ways with RB, with Myke Gray (Jagged Edge, Skin + Red, White & Blues) Dan has rightfully endeared himself to a loyal following. Having hit the Patriot last November, in support of Kira Mac, this affable Scouser is much-loved in these here parts; in fact a good few have travelled on the strength of him opening up this evening.
With his luxuriant long brown hair flowing over his shoulders Dan steps up to the mic, just him and an acoustic guitar. If he’s nervous he masks it well; onstage his voice is such that he can fill any sized venue. Over the next half hour, or so, we’re treated to a neatly balanced six-track set. Something old, something borrowed, something new.
Although there’s no music on sale yet there are a couple of new tracks to whet the appetite. Dan explains that he now has a full band assembled and that there’s plans afoot for a trip in the direction of a studio. Having followed from his career from the early days of Revival Black this is fantastic news. ‘Step In Line’ remains one of my personal favourite debut albums.
With his trademark soaring control Dan sets off the first of his new tracks ‘Easier’, never fails to captivate. Following on with ‘Control’ the Patriot faithful are rallied into voice. Grinning as wide as the Ebbw valley Dan assesses the first response. “That was shit” he cheekily observes. Up for it the crowd raise their level to Dan’s pleasure.
‘Hemispheres’, taken from last year’s ‘Under The Light’ long-player has taken on a life-force with Dan. With his voice cracking ever so slightly with genuine emotion this signature track works so well in the acoustic arena. Spellbinding wizardry that the incumbents of Rowling’s Hogwarts or Pratchett’s Unseen University would be legitimately fulfilled by.
The other RB track to fly tonight is ‘Wide Awake’, put simply a number I, along with a large chunk of this room, will never tire of. Forgetting the first line Dan cracks some banter with Sadie and Hannah on the barrier, in that moment it really doesn’t matter that a few words fall between the cracks. What’s important is that Dan is on track for a full-blooded 2023!
Sandwiched in between these two numbers Dan despatches a raw, beating heart rendition of Lynyrd Skynryd’s ‘Simple Man.’ Complete reverence is given, it’s one of those moments that will live long after the actual, with the profound words “All that I want for you, my son, is to be satisfied” taking on a sort of biographical feel.
The set-closer, an emotive cover of Skin’s ‘Tower Of Strength’, is a Patriot anthem of sort that fills the Valley with song. It’s held in high regard around these parts and rightfully so. “We’re in the church of Wales, let’s sing!” cajoles Dan to raucous response. It’s been a coming of strength for Dan and it’s with much anticipation that his return, with band alongside, is awaited.
It’s very much a Liverpool theme going on this evening. Our headliner Laurence Jones, very much like Dan Byrne, was born on Merseyside. Jones, however, moved away, aged 8, when his family relocated to Warwickshire the rest is, well, history! From forming his own blues trio aged seventeen to releasing last year’s ‘Destination Unknown’ on Marshall Records it’s been quite the escapade. Compared to a young Eric Clapton, supporting the likes of Sir Van Morrison, Jeff Beck and, last year, Status Quo there’s a damn fine pedigree.
This year has seen Laurence streamline his band to a powerhouse trio, all the punch and then some coming in a more concentrated form. Midlands-based Bassist Jack Alexander Timmis (formerly with Virgil & The Accelerators) continues whilst drummer extraordinaire Ash Sheehan (Glenn Hughes, The Twang) ensures the Brummie theme is expanded upon. It’s a potent combination that is a sharp as one could wish, delivering a spinetingling output that is inversely proportional to their numbers.
Taking to the stage the first thing Laurence does is offer sincere praise to his opening act. “Before we go any further, please put your hands together for Dan Byrne!” That’s the sort of guy Laurence is, genuine to the core.
A thundering, howling intro roars ahead of opening track ‘What’s It Gonna Be.’ The triumvirate despatching a top-dollar blues intro that features some fiery shredding emanating from Laurence’s fretboard. Dropping his raised right hand Laurence gives the signal to roll right into the title track from his 2015 album.
Lightning strikes with an articulate solo offered as mellifluous sacrifice. Jack and Ash combine well in the low-end department, unruffled and well attuned.
There’s minimal fuss, a swift “Alright? How ya doing?” enquiry as they roll into ‘Anywhere With Me,’ one of just two choice cuts selected tonight from last year’s ‘Destination Unknown’ album. If this was cricket, then this hard-edged trio would be utilising the straightest of bats; totally down the line the band grabs their music by the very scruff of its neck and propels it in an astral direction. It’s a hard-driving juggernaut with Laurence ‘throttling’ his PRS guitar to within the merest fraction of its life yet, conversely, there’s room for subtleties too.
It’s down the conflagrant, rocking blues groove that ‘Don’t Need No Reason’ inhabits for some no-nonsense 12 bar rocking that Quo themselves would happily dispense. Last year’s support slot has had an effect for sure.
The last time we saw Laurence live, at Frome’s Cheese And Grain, we were treated to the entirety of ‘Destination Unknown’ plus a few of the back catalogue. Tonight, the set’s been mixed right up with some fascinating reflections of the back catalogue along with a couple of new ‘uns for good measure.
Latest single ‘Thunder In The Sky’, reworked live at the Marshall Studio, is one of Laurence’s earliest within which he dovetails the touches of greats such David Gilmour and Peter Green with soulful passion. Eyes closed he strikes a precise solo that sails right over the boundary.
Bending strings into the next dimension in ‘Destination Unknown’ it’s apparent that Jones has had more than the daily recommended dose of Weetabix this morning. Introducing a couple of new tracks, the enigmatic guitarist jests “So if it all goes wrong, you’re to blame!”
There was never an element of doubt, though, as the growling, snarling ‘Don’t You Leave Me This Way’ coupled with the hard-driving blistering rhythms of ‘Women’ go down a storm.
Hendrix’s classic ‘Purple Haze’ is given a near quarter of an hour work-out with sweat dripping off every note and beat. There are solos across the board with Ash enthralling whilst his compatriots exit stage right. Got to say witnessing a drumstick being nasally inserted is a first!
Raising his ‘horns’ to salute the crowd at the end of a particularly tight knit ‘Foolin’ Me’ Laurence asks “Do you want one more?” We’re given two more (others are available at the merch table!) with the blues-drenched rendition of Leadbelly’s ‘Good Morning Blues’ as lively as a crocodile landing in a snake pit. The ink has barely dried upon the crossroad parchment, blues rarely, if at all, thunders this loudly.
Closing out with the Quo drenched rocker ‘Stop Moving The House’ the rafters are firmly rattled with freight-train seismic forces. This is one mean son of a gun boogie romp! Guitars and victory V’s raised the curtains are brought down on a subliminal 90 minutes right out of the very top of drawers. Once more the Patriot has delivered a top evening of musical entertainment.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM