Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
What better on a chill evening than the company of three great bands in the warm confines of Portland Arms back room, the chance to just glory in the power of up close and personal rock ‘n’ roll impossible to resist.
For such a small venue, its reputation has spread far and wide, the list of artists playing there an impressive one, a quality sound system and well stocked bar making it an ideal place to play, along with a dispenser for free ear plugs for those of a more delicate (or wise depending on your viewpoint) nature.
First up were local boys The Forsaken, their punky take on hard rock as invigorating as throwing yourself into a bath full of ice cubes.
There’s a real sense something special going on here, a rough-edged magic that speaks of adrenaline and raw, bleeding edges. Key to all that is singer/bass player Daniel Hunsdon, his ragged voice saying more in one song than many do in a career. As they tear into a set with echoes of Alter Bridge and Bullet For My Valentine, the waves of sound like a tsunami and at the centre are lyrics of a life that’s had to fight for every step forwards towards victory.
With his son Jack on guitar by his side, lead guitarist Stuart Isteed and drummer Adam Cheverton completing the line-up, Hunsdon and band bring a feral intensity to what they do and opener ‘Wonderlight’ immediately sets the bar high.
Full of arena sized riffing and pounding rhythms, this is as in-your-face as you could hope for and could easily see them grabbing the hearts and minds of both veteran rockers and new generations of Metal fans. Very open about his past as an addict, the Alcoholics Anonymous prayer that starts ‘Serenity’ is key to the redemptive quality of the journey to Hunsdon and is just as powerful as the storming, Iron Maiden style intro to ‘Bring the Fire’ and its heavy, mid song breakdown.
With the flurry of fretwork and dynamic bass and drums that gives ‘Pain’ its thrilling textures pointing to an accelerated future for the band, The Forsaken set themselves out as a band determined to triumph over the odds and deserve our support for that reason alone.
Following that, Stonepit Drive had a big mountain to climb but did so with humour and undeniable passion. Leaning more into Alt-Rock than straight forward heavy metal, the Northampton quartet taking up grungier elements but adding a little extra sharpness to its edges.
It’s a mix that works for them and their swift, six song set contains enough punch to satisfy any fan of deliriously played hard rock.
From the off, singer Ant Howley battles with a seemingly sentient microphone that is set on dipping down just as he’s about to sing into it but to band plough on as ballsy opener ‘Too Late’ gets everyone’s attention.
The riotous ‘All I Wanted’ and muscular anthem ‘Louisiana’ continue the party, bass player Ricky McClurg running the length of the venue and mounting the steps to the dressing room at the rear.
The band certainly throw their all into their time on stage, guitarist Gareth Howley and drummer Matt Curchin adding their not inconsiderable talents into the heady brew.
By the time the band finish on the frankly feral ‘Set In Stone’, it’s game set and match for the outfit, their job done and a roomful of new fans added to their ever growing legion of supporters.
Headlining the night, it’s impossible not to be impressed with the amount of work Loz Campbell puts into every move she makes, her toil reaping dividends that sees a mass of t-shirts and hoodies bearing her name everywhere you look in the Portland.
With a lot of column inches written about the diminutive Yorkshire singer, it’s not just well-crafted hype that draws people in but the fact that Campbell and band have the chops and done things the hard way by travelling across the country to reach as many as they can.
Joined onstage by bass player Steve Pickles, guitarist Alice ABomb and Tom Kirby on drums, the singer/guitarist displays a laser focus on entertaining with big songs with huge choruses.
There’s a wilfully hard-edged bubblegum rock to her set that manages to blend grit and accessibility in perfect portions, the songs equally at home on the radio as they are in a sweaty club. It’s a difficult line to walk but one Campbell does with aplomb.
Making the most of every inch of the stage, the four-piece launch into opener ‘The World Was Made To Destroy You’ like their lives depended on it, the blast of pure rock ‘n’ roll like being strapped to a drag car.
Constantly throwing shapes, Pickles plays like a man possessed as on the opposite side of the stage, ABomb is wreathed in a permanent smile as she tears the notes out of her guitar and it all adds to something as visually compelling as it is musically.
At the centre of this storm, Campbell looks and sounds like she lives and breathes this music, her voice and playing full of attitude and swagger, the venomous ‘Green Eyes’ a prime example as she spits fire.
The urgent and heavy ‘Beautiful Liar’ rocks hard and the contrast provided by the near psychodelia of ‘What Are You Doing It For?’ with its scuzzy guitar and rattling bass, provides a taste of the range of the material on offer, Campbell and band not afraid to push a few envelopes.
Having toured with The Runaways Cherrie Curry earlier this year, the cover of ‘Cherry Bomb’ was one they’d earned to put in the set and their take on the classic captured something of the fiery D.I.Y. spirit of the original.
With the snotty punk of ‘Organised Confusion’ and ‘Generic Girl’ closing the set in a rush of adrenaline, it was a fine end to an evening where loud guitars, good times and hearts on sleeves ruled.
Forget massive festivals, stadium or arena shows, it’s in the pubs, clubs and small halls that rock ‘n’ roll is at its most vital and thrilling.
Photography by StuartIsteedPhotography