Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Southern Rock came storming into Leicester tonight in the shape of the 6th date on this co-headlining tour (labelled The Old Country Ramble Tour) featuring top Bristol (UK) based Southern Rockers Sons of Liberty and the incredible North Carolina based Preacher Stone.
Preacher Stone were headlining tonight’s show so Sons of Liberty hit the stage first in a whirlwind of crunching Southern Rock riffs, wailing Les Paul guitars and a powerful, melodic set that reminded me of classic Southern Rockers Blackfoot, a heavier Lynyrd Skynyrd and a not-so-mightily-downtuned Black Stone Cherry, with a healthy dose of AC/DC thrown in just for good measure.
The band (guitarists Fred Hale and Andy Muse, Bassist Mark Thomas, Drummer Steve Byrne and charismatic lead vocalist Rob Walker) tore The Musician apart with an absolutely blistering opening set that had the small but perfectly formed (and incredibly enthusiastic) crowd roaring their appreciation and singing along from the get-go.
It was quite frankly difficult to pick highlights from such an explosive set, but the colossal hooklines and synchronised guitar swinging moves of ‘Rich Man, Poor Man’ and the utterly irresistible chorus of ‘Up Shit Creek’ certainly set the band’s stall out in emphatic fashion, while ‘Texas Hill Country’ kicked in with one of the filthiest riffs of the night which by all rights should have come roaring out of Mississippi or Georgia, not Bristol!
Lead guitarist Fred Hale played the proverbial blinder throughout with some absolutely stonking solos in classic 1970s and 1980s Southern Rock tradition while fellow six-string gunslinger Andy and bassist Steve supplied quite superb backing vocals, giving even more weight to Rob Walker’s fiery lead vocal performance.
After several more cracking tracks, vocalist Rob then had us all chuckling by introducing ‘The Beetroot Song’ (actually entitled ‘I Come In Peace’, but its throat shredding melody had apparently turned the poor fella’s face so bright red in his first rehearsal that ‘Beetroot Song’ name had stuck!)
The real highlight of the set for me was the stunning ‘Damned If You Do’, which has an absolutely cracking sing-along chorus with awesome 4-part harmony vocals, along with the excellent and very hard-rocking ‘Beef Jerk Boogie’ and the Southern Rock meets AC/DC romp of ‘Fire & Gasoline’ which ripped The Musician a new one in the very best way possible!
This really was an absolute rollercoaster rocket-ride of an opening set from a band about whom I knew nothing at the start of the night but who I now definitely want to check out further!
After the very briefest of changeovers (both bands were using Sons of Liberty’s backline and drumkit), the headline act Preacher Stone took to the stage. If the crowd had been impressed by the opening act, they were sure as hell going to be impressed by these boys!
Formed in 2008 and hailing from North Carolina, Preacher Stone came to prominence by having their song ‘Not Today’ featured in Seasons 3 and 5 of the TV show Sons of Anarchy. This led to them being invited to join the Lynyrd Skynryrd and ZZ Top cruises which, in turn, has enabled them to play more and bigger shows supporting a wide range of acts including Blackberry Smoke, Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Molly Hatchet, The Outlaws, Steve Earle, Charlie Daniels and Black Stone Cherry and now here they are in the UK for this, their debut UK tour.
I was fortunate enough to chat with some of the band members prior to the show (courtesy of my gig buddy who has seen the band upwards of 30 times and is great friends with them) and I was immediately struck by the warmth and friendliness of them and of the honesty, integrity and realness in them and their approach to their music and their lifestyle: it is clearly an absolute labour of love for them and it was so good to see them plying their trade here in emphatic and devastatingly efficient fashion.
Preacher Stone clearly have their roots in Southern Rock (they are from North Carolina, after all) but their sound has more to it than that and while it is true that their set is filled with some fabulously filthy and stunningly swampy Southern riffs in the best Skynyrd, Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet tradition, there are also hints of the Classic Rock of Free, Bad Company and Led Zeppelin in the mix too. As such, they sounded like the perfect fit following the onslaught from Sons of Liberty, but also had enoughdifferent elements in their sound to add an extra layer of interest.
Right from the off, vocalist Ronnie Riddle had the audience in the palm of his hand with a charismatic performance, owning every inch of the stage and demanding the punters’ attention with a superb vocal display and engaging between-song banter.
Guitarists Marty Hill and Ben Robinson were absolutely on fire, with incredibly tight unison riffing, chordal interplay and incendiary pyrotechnic solos, with Ben pulling out a fabulously OTT sparkly mint-green guitar that he had bought in the UK to play on the tour – very rock ‘n’ roll indeed! Bassist Jim Bolt also impressed with some fabulously grooving bass lines and superb harmony vocals, while drummer Josh Wyatt commanded his kit with military precision, even pulling out a rather cool drum solo midway through the set that did nothing to slow the momentum.
The band played a stunning selection of songs from their back catalogue and a few from their yet to be released fifth album. As with Sons of Liberty’s set, it was difficult to identify highlights in the Preacher Stone set because everything was so very good! From the first chord to the last, the set roared into life with the irresistible momentum of an out of control juggernaut and the crowd roared their rightful appreciation in response as ‘Mother To Bed’ and ‘Lazarus’ opened an incendiary set characterised by whiskey-soaked swampy Southern riffs and warm, honey-sweet vocals very much in the classic Van Zant mould.
‘Old Fashioned Ass-Whoopin’ Sum Bitch’ won the ‘song title of the night’ award with no opposition and current single ‘Damage is Done’ upped the Classic Rock quotient with a healthy dose of Bad Company-esque guitar harmonies and gargantuan mountain-levelling hooklines.
New song ‘My, My, My’ has an absolutely colossal riff and a ridiculously catchy chorus that had the audience enthralled before the sheer majesty of ‘Save My Soul’ which reminded me of classic Blackfoot and had some of the best guitar solo trade-offs of the entire night, topped off with twin guitar harmonies – utterly glorious stuff!
Vocalist Ronnie introduced the final three tracks as “The Unholy Trinity” and thus it was proved, as Preacher Stone unleashed a veritable barrage of filthy down-tuned heavy Southern riffery to end an excellent night on a massive high!
This really was an excellent show in a fabulous little venue. The tour rolls on into Nightrain, Bradford on 29th March, The Victoria, Swindon on 30th March and concludes at Leo’s Red Lion, Gravesend on 31st March.
If you’re in the vicinity of any of these shows, I would urge you to go check them out! Tickets are only £12 in advance and for that you get two absolutely brilliant bands playing an excellent show. Very highly recommended indeed!
Photography by John Armstrong