Home Gigs Gig Review : The Answer with Kira Mac: KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton.

Gig Review : The Answer with Kira Mac: KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton.

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Review by Pete Finn for MPM

MPM Tog Manny ‘Statler’ Manson and I are heading in our ‘Tour Bus’ to one of our favourite venues, that being KK’s Steel Mill in the heart of Wolverhampton.

It’s got to be a favourite, as there would be nothing on earth that would make the constant battle with the traffic worth it. In order to try and retain some sanity, Manny decides to take us on an alternative route into Wolverhampton avoiding the dreaded M6, we travel ‘cross country’ through suburbs with lots of roundabouts, scattered like an Indonesian archipelago. The venue is not the only reason for our fortitude and perseverance, it’s also the bands that are playing tonight. They come in the form of Northen Ireland’s Rockers The Answer and one of the “Must see” newer bands, Kira Mac.

Our new route being significantly better, we park up, and after a brief wait outside, we’re ticked off the list and are in.

Kira Mac are fronted by singer Rhiannon Kira Hill, aka Kira Mac and are completed by guitarist/songwriter Joe Worrall, bassist Bret Barnes and drummer Chris Hopton. Hill met Worrall in 2015, when they were both studying at music college in Manchester, and they bonded over a shared love for Black Stone Cherry, Alter Bridge and Nickelback. Kira has had some TV exposure recently, having appeared on “The Voice” where she performed a cover of Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’, and her moody rendition of the rock classic was enough to persuade will.i.am to recruit her onto his team.

Kira Mac released their debut album ‘Chaos Is Calling’ almost exactly a year ago on 18th November 2022. Earlier this year Kira Mac won the “Best New Band” in the Planet Rock Awards.

The house lights go down and Planet Rock’s Paul Anthony takes to the stage to introduce Kira Mac, who arrive on stage smiling and waving to the crowd. They open with ‘Save Your Whiskey’ which is a sleazy blues driven number with attitude, Kira grabs the attention as her vocal cuts the atmosphere. The heads inside KK’s are nodding and toes are tapping along to Hopton’s steady beat. Worrall’s solo continues the blues vibe.

‘Dead Man Walking’ is the final track on ‘Chaos Is Calling’. The slow and deliberate riff has a grunge edge. Kira is chanting the lyrics with power and passion. Bret Barnes is spanking his bass as Kira stomps around the stage. The heads in front of me are moving like a field of wheat in the wind. The hall is now full, those at the bar have been drawn in. Kira Mac have got KK’s Steel Mill hooked.

Next, we have the title-track from the debut album ‘Chaos Is Calling’. First, we practice a singback under Kira’s instruction, apparently, we’re “Awful”. This is quicker with a Classic Rock riff. Kira’s vocal is rapid, the head-bangers are off. We join in with our scripted line, and we’re a lot better. The guitar sound of Worrall reminiscent of our host KK Downing. The track finishes as the band and crowd punch the air together.

Kira introduces a new song, possibly the title-track to the upcoming album, it’s ‘Play the Game’. There’s more quick beats and rapping lyrics, the guitar delivers a crunchy hook as Hopton pounds the skins. Joe Worrall moves to the edge of the stage as he plays his solo. Hill crouches down and sings to those in the front row.

‘Scorned’ is the single released in May earlier this year and was regularly played on Planet Rock. Worrall’s circular riff starts us moving. Kira’s scream is met head-on by Hopton’s drums, Barnes’ bass has the room shaking. Chugging guitars and hard beats make it impossible to stand still.

Hill tells us that Kira Mac tracks are a mix of Heavy and YeeHaw! and this one is more YeeHaw! Bret Barnes is now sporting a Cowboy hat with a feather in its band. The party tune ‘Mississippi Swingin’’ again from ‘Chaos Is Calling’ has edge. Kira’s vocal is quick, Barnes’ bass is grumbling and growling. Kira is up on the monitors coaxing the crowd into a down and dirty boogie. Joe Worrall eases his fingers over the strings to produce a great solo. That went down very well with the KK’s crowd.

We’re told the next couple of tracks will be on the new album. Barnes’ bass rumbles, Hopton hits the skins, and ‘Farewell’ begins. Kira’s voice is bluesy and sultry, it’s not too long before Hopton picks up the pace, it’s matched by Kira as she fires out the lyrics, the track evolves with a chugging beat. The band line up across the stage in a Quo-esque line grinning as they play to the crowd. A well-constructed track that the crowd really enjoyed.

It’s straight into ‘Climbing’, a song about building and evolving a band, lots of hard work and tears. Worrall’s heavy circular riff sets the tone, this is heavy. The wall of sound supports Kira’s angry lyrics. It’s punchy and aggressive, it has bite.

Kira wants KK’s to clap, the band begins the intro to ‘Downfall’. A fast beat and accompanying riffs aplenty as the track twists and spins the eardrums. Hopton launches salvos of drum-beats across the hall.

After saying “Thank you” to a few people and the audience, the final track from a thoroughly enjoyable set is ‘One Way Ticket’ the opener on ‘Chaos Is Calling’. Hopton’s fierce drum-roll launches those at the front the into a jumping mass. Hill’s vocal quick as she twirls around, Worrall is rocking out at the stage edge. Hopton closes the track, the band smile and wave as they leave the stage to great applause, saying that they will meet everyone at the merch stall for a chat.

Setlist: Save Your Whiskey; Dead Man Walking; Chaos Is Calling; Play the Game; Scorned; Mississippi Swingin’; Farewell; Climbing; One Way Ticket.

The Answer hail from Newcastle and Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland, and were formed in 2000 by guitarist Paul Mahon along with school friend Micky Waters, producing a classic rock sound with big guitars and even bigger vocals.

Obviously influenced by 70s hard rock artists like Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, singer Cormac Neeson’s powerful vocals are reminiscent of Robert Plant, Paul Rodgers or Ronnie James Dio. The band played at a Phil Lynott memorial benefit gig in Dublin, as Lynott’s mother is a big fan. So big in fact that she allowed bass player Micky Waters to be the first since Lynott’s death to open his case and play the legendary black bass within.

It’s the same instrument that appears in the music video for ‘Keep Believin’’. The band continues with the original and unchanged line-up of Cormac Neeson (vocals), Paul Mahon (guitar), Micky Waters (bass) and James Heatley (drums). However, they will have a keyboardist join them on their UK November and December shows. Cara Bruns, from Essex, is a pianist and keyboardist who is a huge fan of John Lord and Deep Purple.

The group have released seven albums, with their debut ‘Rise’ in 2006, to the most recent ‘Sundowners’ earlier this year.

Paul Anthony returns to introduce The Answer, the screen behind lighting up the stage with the band name. Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ comes over the PA. The excitement builds as the band take the stage in pairs, a quick wave and nod of acknowledgement and it’s into a jam intro before starting with ‘Blood Brother’ from ‘Sundowners’, Neeson’s strong vocal is the main feature, the beats are steady and supportive. The chanting tempo has the crowd nodding in time. Neeson is shaking his tambourine as Waters bass is shaking everything else. The track has a hint of blues entwined with funk, that combined with Neeson’s vocal produces a potent result.

There is an issue with Paul Mahon guitar, Neeson chats with the crowd before he’s encouraged to sing an Irish drinking song usually sung at the end of a night, it’s ‘Here’s A Health To Company’ which he sings with a beer raised to the crowd, who are reciprocating.

Mahon’s guitar is sorted. Taken from 2011’s ‘Revival’ is ‘Nowhere Freeway’, Mahon starts the track with a careful riff the band join in and then it takes off. The original had Neeson duetting with Lynne Jackaman, but his voice is powerful enough to cover both parts and fill the hall, he’s carrying his mic stand like a dance partner. Waters claps his hands above his head, the crowd join in. The squealing, tingling solo carries us to the close.

Cormac Neeson introduces the ‘newbie’ Cara Bruns to the Wolverhampton crowd, before we start ‘New Horizon’ the title-track of their forth album released in 2013. Mahon guitar is a wonderful dirty mix of fuzz and distortion. Waters and Heatley pound out beats, Bruns keys have the Hammond sound. Neeson wants the crowd to join in on vocals before taking his harmonica out and jamming with the band. The crowd are up and bouncing.

Without pausing, we travel back in time to the 2006 debut ‘Rise’ for ‘Under the Sky’. Paul Mahon’s riff keeps the crowd bouncing, Neeson follows suit. The quick then slow tempo changes are matched by the ebb and flow of the crowd, who are singing the words. Mahon’s fingers dance across the strings for the solo, leading to a chugging grungy finish. KK’s enjoyed that.

Neeson says this song is to shake out any bad vibes and negativity, to lose yourself in the music. It’s time for the title-track from ‘Sundowners’. There’s a jam style intro including Neeson’s harmonica. It’s slow, steady and deliberate. It has some of the clever elements U2 use in their songs. Mahon uses the slide on his guitar strings to great effect. Heatley has the ‘big’ stick out. I, like the crowd enjoyed that a lot.

‘Keep Believin’’ the single that was released earlier in 2023, which was actually a re-mix of the 2006 original. The rhythm section gets the crowd bouncing with their powerful beats, Mahon has his guitar slicing through the wall of sound. The fedora wearing Cormac Neeson is twisting and turning as he sings. Bruns electronic keys add to the modern update.

Heatley’s cymbals count us in. The 70’s funk inspired ‘Want You To Love Me’ from ‘Sundowners’ is next. Waters is slapping his bass as Heatley thumps the skins, it has hints of a Gospel/Blues feel. High tempo, it makes you want to clap, and many inside KK’s have given in to that temptation already. Bruns keys have a subtle nod of respect to John Lord. Neeson plays the harmonica as he bounces.

Neeson introduces Paul Mahon and he begins ‘Comfort Zone’ from 2008’s ‘Everyday Demons’. Neeson joins him on vocals then the rest of the band come in. Neeson’s crystal clear vocal carving through the heavy beats. KK’s is swaying as the passionate lyrics fill the hall. Waters slaps the strings as the track finishes to huge cheers and clapping.

‘Solas’ the title-track from the 2016 album, starts with drums, bass and lots of distortion, it’s bluesy, moody, slow and direct. Neeson is speaking the words, this track has attitude, the crowd are soaking it up as they nod slowly in time and appreciation.

Under Mahon’s riff and a blinding assault of strobe light, the well-known and well loved ‘Spectacular’ from ‘New Horizons’ released in 2013 is next. Mahon’s jangly guitar and Heatley’s quick beat has the Steel Mill rocking. Grungy riff’s and thumping bass keeps the momentum building. Neeson is spinning and bouncing, the energy inside the hall is enough to power a blast furnace. KK’s loved that one.

It’s time for the new single ‘Wild Heart’ released today. Heatley hits his kit hard. Waters brings more power with Bruns in support. Neeson has the tambourine rattling, Mahon plays a funk punchy riff before it morphs into a pure rock solo. Bruns leads the band to a big finish.

The Answer follow that with another big-hitter in the guise of ‘Come Follow Me’ from ‘Rise’. Everything goes straight to “11”, the tempo is phenomenal, KK’s is shaking, be it from the band or the crowd, two tornadoes have collided. Mahon has his guitar squealing for mercy. The sound is incredible. Spiralling lights are skating across the black tin roof above. Neeson invites KK’s to sing the chorus. Mahon points his guitar skywards for the solo. Superb.

‘Livin’ On The Line’ from ‘Sundowners’ is an upbeat party tune, quick with some fantastic sounds. Waters bass is burbling, Mahon guitar surfing the waves. It’s from the classic “Send them home happy and bouncing” stable. All the band provide backing vocal harmonies.

It’s a leap back to 2006’s ‘Rise’ for one of my favourites in ‘Preachin’’. Paul Mahon has the slide out making some great dirty sounds, Heatley brings the power, Waters the beat, and Neeson the swagger. The place is jumping, fists are pump, the atmosphere is brilliant. Neeson is down in the crowd, he wants those that can to kneel down and join in singing ‘Woah’s’ before releasing the coiled springs. He climbs back up onto the stage as the band play to a hard heavy finish. Neeson says “Thank you Wolverhampton” and the band leave the stage in darkness.

We get chance to recover our faculties and composure. The pace slows down, it’s a bit like a dragster deploying it’s parachute after the ¼ mile, as we go from the oldest album to the newest for ‘Always Alright’. Neeson’s vocal is controlled and powerful, the band in support allow him to demonstrate his incredible talent. The tempo quickens and slows, the band show they know their way around their instruments. This is a powerful piece.

Neeson wants to know, “Have you one more in you Wolves?” The cheers are affirmative. He thanks Kira Mac, the band start ‘Demon Eyes’ from ‘Everyday Demons’. The stage glows red, Mahon has the crowd clapping quickly with his heavy circular riff. Neeson chants the opening line before the rest of the band explode onto the scene. The hall is shaking. The band are rocking out as Neeson introduces each band member before they play to a big crescendo finish. The crowd are cheering, clapping and waving as they pose with the band for an end of show photo.

The Answer have been brilliant, everyone is leaving with a smile on their face and a spring in their step. The whole evening has been one of superb entertainment.

Setlist: Blood Brother; Nowhere Freeway; New Horizon; Under the Sky; Sundowners; Keep Believin’; Want You To Love Me; Comfort Zone; Solas; Spectacular; Wild Heart; Come Follow Me; Livin’ On The Line; Preachin’; Always Alright; Demon Eyes.

Photography by Manny Manson for MPM

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