Black Star Riders Bring Edinburgh Under Heavy Fire
Date: 11 November
Venue: Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
Support: Blues Pills, Tax The Heat, Dirty Thrills
They say that in order to know where you’re going, you need to know where you’ve come from. And if ever a band appreciated exactly where they came from it’s Black Star Riders. An evolution of the legendary Thin Lizzy, BSR honour their legacy in the best way possible: by writing and performing kick-ass heavy rock music. At the end of an extraordinarily successful year, Ricky Warwick and the band hit the road for one more tour, landing in Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall on 11 November.
After a pretty early kick-off and three storming support bands, the expectant Edinburgh crowd was more than ready to rock by the time BSR took to the stage. You’d almost forgive the band had they betrayed a hint of weariness after the demands of such an intense year. But as they launched into first song All Hell Breaks Loose, any notion that they might even slightly lift their foot off the gas was instantly blown away.
With three studio albums now under their belt, BSR have a wealth of killer material to choose from when it comes to putting together a show. The setlist for this gig was a blast through some of the best from each of those albums, with a couple of Thin Lizzy classics thrown in for good measure. Needless to say the Queen’s Hall roof didn’t stand a chance, since it was well and truly blown to bits long before BSR even got to Whiskey in the Jar…
There are many reasons why BSR are so likeable. And one of those reasons was rammed home by this performance. They play every gig as if it’s gonna be their last, leaving absolutely nothing onstage. Much of that drive and intensity comes from frontman Ricky Warwick, who is surely one of the best frontmen in rock music right now. He’s got the rockstar looks, the rock ‘n’ roll swagger and charisma by the bucketload. But crucially, he also has the vocal and songwriting ability to back it all up.
And then you have guitarists Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson. I’ve been trying to think of a suitable simile or metaphor to describe their performance here, but can’t come up with anything that really does it justice. So instead I’ll keep it simple. In terms of a rock guitar performance, this was just about as good as it can get. How Gorham and Johnson do what they do without some kind of direct telepathic connection is beyond me. Sure, as individual guitarists they can wheel out the heavy riffing artillery and shred with the best of them. But it’s when they snap into that familiar twin lead guitar sound pioneered by Thin Lizzy that you realise that you’re listening to something truly special.
The band’s lineup was completed by bassist Robert Crane and Chad Szeliga on skins. Although most of the audiences attention focussed on the three guys at the front of the stage, it’d be downright rude not to doff one’s cap to the guys in BSR’s engine room. Powerful, precise and dynamic in equal measure, these guys drove things along relentlessly and ensured that the rest of the band had the opportunity to shine.
Bear with me on this next bit. I’ve recently taken to wearing Elacin earplugs when I’m in the photopit at gigs, because I came very close to doing some permanent hearing damage at a show during the summer. So you can be sure I’m not taking any chances with my hearing anymore. But the reason I mention it here is that while I was taking photographs at this show, my earplugs (obviously) did a tremendous job of reducing the noise level from the venue’s PA, but in doing so they brought about an unexpected side-effect. This became apparent when I stood near Scott Gorham or Damon Johnson – I could clearly hear their stage monitors. Effectively this gave me an isolated guitar feed for Gorham and Johnson as I photographed them in action. As you can imagine, it was extraordinarily cool to watch and listen to guitarists as good as these guys at such close quarters, in semi-isolation.
This was one of those nights when picking out one single song as a highlight is damned near impossible. Do you chose a BSR song? Would it be rude to choose a Thin Lizzy song? Where the hell do you start??? I’m gonna cop out slightly on that one and choose two. Jailbreak has always been my favourite Thin Lizzy song and the band more than did it justice here. The song may be over forty years old, but jeez, BSR kicked a hole in the sky with it! EPIC doesn’t even come close. Of the original material, opening song All Hell Breaks Loose ticked all my boxes. Combining all the power and drive we’ve come to expect from a BSR song, with a little twin lead guitar nod to their Thin Lizzy heritage, it had the audience bouncing from the get-go. This song set the pace for the rest of the night. And it was a pace that BSR didn’t let up until the curtain came down.
We’ve been lucky enough to see a few top quality rock performances in 2017. I can’t think of one better than this.
All Hell Beaks Loose, Finest Hour, Heavy Fire, Testify or Say Goodbye, Soldierstown, Before The War, Dancing With the Wrong Girl, Hey Judas, When The Night Comes In, Cold War Love, Bloodshot, Jailbreak, Ticket to Rise, Blindsided, Killer Instinct, Kingdom of the Lost, Bound For Glory, Whiskey in the Jar