Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
“Look into your mind’s eye,
See what you can see,
There’s hundreds of people,
Like you and me.”
Hawkwind – Hurry On Sundown (D.Brock)
With the final sundowning of winter we approach tomorrow’s spring equinox with hope renewed and re-energised. It’s a time of balancing light and dark with the life-giving strengths of the former gaining ascendancy as the frigid bony grasp of winters begins to relent.
A time to celebrate the return of Persephone – a symbol of life and the embodiment of spring – from her underworld constraints to the earth above for the period twixt the calendar’s two equinoxes. Her mother Demeter – goddess of the Earth – is rejuvenated resulting in the rebirth of both the sun and land.
Here in the heartland of Bristol’s former docks, aboard the city’s Thekla venue, we have two bands each navigating their very own resurgences following periods away from the music industry. It’s a timeous Greek myth with tonight’s opening act Oli Brown and his Dead Collective project just shy of a year back celebrating with the sumptuous debut EP ‘Prelude’. In a parallel of sorts headliners The Answer have recently regrouped too with a prestigious slot at last December’s Rockstock festival, having last played live back in the depths of 2017.
The iconic strains of Pink Floyd’s ‘Time’ burst out of the PA washing across a rammed to the gunnels hold down in the heart of the Thekla venue. The atmosphere is set as the lighting rig darkens just ahead of showtime. It’s as if somewhere a ghostly crew have cast-off from the quayside; a bass drone with serious intent upon heading out on the outgoing tide vibrates both port and starboard.
Silhouetted in the fractions of illumination granted Oli Brown and The Dead Collective position themselves at their respective stations for the coming 40 minutes or so. Stripped back to a three-piece we’re set upon in a mean, no holds barred manner by Oli and his compatriots the Les Paul slinging Sam Wood (Wayward Sons, Black Star Riders) and the metronomic percussive force that is Wayne Proctor (King King, Ben Poole, Sari Schorr).
Threading his six-string through an additional bass cab Oli edges some darkened riffs in the powered surge that is the blues-edged rocker ‘Father’ whilst a scintilla of bluesy notes sparks majestically from his strings within the down and dirty ‘Everything You Want.’
Spectres of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 timeless offering ‘The Chain’, whipped up by the raw energy, dart in and out ethereally of the obsidian shadows of ‘Sinking Ship.’ There’s an intensity herein and I recollect a good friend stating “This is the British Rival Sons!” just a couple of tracks into the Dead Collective’s first ever show supporting Florence Black at Cardiff’s Tramshed. Charley I’m still in complete agreement.
Debut single, the highly impassioned, ‘Haunted’ continues the foray into the ‘Prelude’ EP with Oli’s strength of delivery reminiscent of Those Damn Crows’ Shane Greenhall in part. Each and every note dances regally as, with tidal forces, the track surges back and forth. Goosebumps test passed with flying colours, tears edge close. In a recent interview with Oli, he stated to me his desire of bringing the delights of the Solitude Sessions very emotive version of this track to the stage in the future. Safe to say that’ll floor me for sure.
The beefy, carnivorous ‘Heard It All Before’ brings a 21st Century wall of sound. Oli glances across to Sam, both smiling knowingly. It’s a burgeoning partnership that is clearly flourishing; coupled with the closeness of Oli’s bond with drummer Wayne the future is seemingly assured. Raising a bottle of water Oli looks out at the Thekla’s packed hold “Thankyou very much everyone!” Sometimes the music does the talking, this is once such occasion.
Strings bent into the next dimension ‘Your Love’ drops tempo a touch with a Pink Floyd undercurrent; its phases of light and dark ebbing and flowing. Out in the crowd someone calls out an approving “Oh yeah!” Set-closer ‘Home Sweet Home’, in all its arcane beauty and esoteric glory, sees the Thekla take to the outflowing tide to engage the service of the favourable currents out in the channel. Moving stuff, no more need be said as Oli raises his ‘horns’ in salute to the gathered.
Somehow, come the moment that County Down hard-rockers The Answer take to the stage, the cargo hold in the bowels of the Thekla seems to have become even more rammed than previously. The ranks of the ensemble sing along with the refrains of Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind that poses rhetorical questions to the day. “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”
With their first studio set in some seven years released, most appropriately, a couple of days prior, on St. Patrick’s Day, The Answer raise the craic as livewire vocalist Cormac Neeson raises the obligatory pint of Guiness. Drummer James Heatley despatches a military rat-a-tat upon his cymbals and the bright guitar of Paul Mahon and bass of Micky Waters gate-crash the fun.
Winched aboard from the re-release of their 2006 debut long-player ‘Rise’ – the first of six releases in a ten year span – opening track ‘Keep Believing’ is felicitous in its positive proclamations of hope and belief. Qualities that abound in this amiable quartet. Raspingly the band romp through its punchy southern rock with a quirk of late 80s Thunder within.
Brought in by James’ glam-rock drums the luscious granularity of the rabble-rousing ‘Blood Brother’, the first track off the ‘Sundowner’ album to get the live treatment this evening, gets the boat a-rocking and a-rolling. Mic stand angled Cormac, soaking in every last second, towers over the front rows. Observingly noting “Give it up for James” to shine the metaphorical spotlight on the palatial six-string talents to his right.
Cormac dedicates the southern drawl of ‘Tonight’ to all the mamas in tonight whilst the groove of bassist Micky brings in the track. There’s throw-about Les Paul action aplenty, stage right (or is that port?), from Paul as the band demonstrate what Thunder soaked in a bourbon barrel of Bad Touch would actually sound like. Pretty damn tasty in the humblest of my opinions. Given the loud roar as the last notes reverberate I’m clearly in good company.
Saddled up on the thunderous steed, with a swift introductory 1-2-3-4, the buzzsawing ‘Oh Cherry’ juggernauts along. Cormac and his brothers are in fine form with the frontman relating, between songs, of their day in Bristol – promising not to mention a certain international sporting event – which culminated in meeting a full Welsh choir back at their hotel!
‘Under The Sky’, a fist pumping anthem if there ever was, roars before the black top melting ‘Nowhere Freeway’ is introduced with Cormac quipping “There’s only so much Welsh choir music you can take you know?!?” Harnessing the bad karma and tossing right back in the face of adversity titular track ‘Sundowners’ is high percentage proof southern rocker. The levee broils, afire with a gin-like flame, threatening to overflow but with exquisite control The Answer keep it red-hot to the brim but don’t let if overflow.
Brother James applies heralding cowbells for the highly infectious ‘All Together’ with its percussive forces and sidewinder kinetics. Pointing his left hand out over the crowd Cormac belts out the chorus whilst Micky executes some neat funky interludes. Having just released their seventh album is undoubtedly a big thing for The Answer but Cormac notes “But the most poignant thing is The Answer are on TikTok!” Complete with Guiness tasting service apparently.
Barking at the top of its voice the southern hound dog that is ‘California Rust’, a sabulous arenose desert-rocker that hotfoots like the proverbial feline atop that hot tin roof. There ain’t no stopping this express now!
Dipping into their extensive back catalogue were presented the summery vibes of ‘Spectacular’ which offers a new horizon. The Thekla is literally rocking with pleasure unbound as The Answer, straining every sinew to breaking point, rip through, what for me is their signature track, ‘Come Follow Me.’ Honestly it’s that good this track would nestle comfortably alongside the likes of Quo, Lizzy, Rainbow on those ‘Greatest Rock’ compilations.
The tempo drops a touch with the country-fringed ballad ‘Always Alright’ that notches up through the gears before rolling headlong into the blues-rock of ‘Want You To Love Me.’ Cormac despatches some fine Lee Brilleaux-esque harmonica as the band trucks along about him. We’ve had over 70 minutes absorbing a fine return to the stage but the packed Thekla crowd are not letting The Answer get away that quickly.
Stomping and roaring for more they rattle the boat with their ‘demands’ and, naturally, the quadrumvirate duly oblige. Continuing to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day (and why not?) Cormac raises a pint to the crowd. Out in the crowd someone bitterly observes “There’s no Guiness at the bar!” Chuckling the genial Cormac replies “We bring our own, this isn’t our first tour!” Then treating us to an a capella burst of ‘Health To The Company’ an Irish traditional song all the while holding his pint aloft.
‘Living’ On The Line’ is a ferocious beast with a Primal Scream resonance before the set is rounded off with a tasty ‘Preachin’’ with Cormac stepping into the ‘flock’ and bringing the crowd, quite literally, to its knees. It’s been a triumphant night of return and I, for one, can’t wait to catch The Answer in action up the mountain at Steelhouse come July.
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM