WORDS & PICTURES: ADRIAN HEXTALL / MINDHEX MEDIA
There was a time when the prospect of going to see a Michael Schenker concert was tinged with an element of uncertainty. Tickets may have been booked, the dates set but there was always a nagging thought that it might not happen. Tours have been cancelled in the past, rumours of issues rife that even suggested Schenker might not keep playing and more. Then, a corner was turned. Over the last few years, with Temple of Rock proving a successful medium for the German guitar wizard, someone then came up with the brilliant idea of pulling together Michale Schenker Fest. A career retrospective covering both Schenker’s time with UFO as well as his solo work and reuniting him with the three key vocalists that have graced the MSG albums over the years, Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley.
Opening the evening, Departed. The classic rock act from the South of England are gradually gathering momentum, with some great songs and the sort of swagger that only comes from years on the road the band were set the impossible task of getting a dyed in the wool Schenker crowd to accept that new music exists in the world and that something written after 1985 is worth listening to.
Opening with some of their perfect radio material, Superstitious, an initially cool crowd were worked hard by Mark Pascall whose moves were probably inspired by some of the people that would be following him on stage later in the evening.
The turning point comes when the band play Steal Your Crown. Uplifting, energised and a noticeable swell of nods of appreciation are exchanged amongst the die-hard MSG fans. Smiles become wider and the crowd really ebgin to get into the groove during the latter half of the set. Fair play to Departed as, by the time the set finished, they had the crowd warmed up and ready for the arrival of the Mad Axeman.
Superstitious / Don’t Follow Me / All I Want / Dreaming / Pretty Little Thing / Steal Your Crown / Soul Shaker / Come On / All the Way / Tie Your Mother Down (Queen cover) / Are You Ready?
Michael Schenker Group
With a smile as wide as the Rhine river, Schenker looks fit, healthy and more importantly, on fire. His signature Flying V guitar, lodged on his thigh, the riffs and solos come thick and fast. On stage with him, another treat for fans. Familiar faces from the ‘good’ old MSG era. Chris Glenn on bass, Ted McKenna on drums and Steve Mann on keyboards.
Covering multiple eras of Schenker’s career, Gary Barden comes on first. Looking sharp, sporting a waistcoat and hat, he reels off tracks from the classic early era of Schenker’s solo career. The classics are delivered thick and fast with a crowd happily lapping up every moment. Attack of the Mad Axeman and Armed & Ready being particular highlights.
Next up is Graham Bonnet. With only one album with MSG under his belt and that ‘incident’ that saw him leave the band, modern day Graham has had a bit of resurgence that has seen him performing from his own impressive career with Alcatraz, Rainbow, The Graham Bonnet band and more, culminating in him opening Ramblin’ Man Fair this summer. The regular gigs are clearly paying off as he’s on fine form and it’s great to hear him perform Dancer and Assault Attack with Schenker having never had the chance previously.
A small incidient that saw the power go bang part way through did little to dampen people’s spirits and once restored, the gig continued with the appropriate flourish that saw ‘my era’ MSG on stage with Robin McAuley front and centre.
With a voice in the kind of condition that most people can only dream of, Robin McCauley just tears the roof off the Empire. Again, another era in time that I never managed to see first time around, this part of the set is exactly as I thought it would have been had I had the chance to see the band back in the day. My all time favourite MSG track, ‘Save Yourself’ is aired and the video for that performance can be seen below:
The encore is a rock fan’s wet dream with the gig turning into UFO Fest. McCauley, Bonnet and Barden all come back on stage for Doctor Doctor, Shoot Shoot, Natural Thing (with Schenker’s son Tyson joining his father on guitar) and, to close, Lights Out.
Three great vocalists, one of the world’s greatest guitarists back where he should be, original band mates and a setlist of rock classics, this was definitely one of our highlights of 2017.
Yin and Yang
Searching for Freedom
Into the Arena
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (Gary Barden on vocals)
Victim of Illusion (Gary Barden on vocals)
Cry for the Nations (Gary Barden on vocals)
Attack of the Mad Axeman (Gary Barden on vocals)
Armed and Ready (Gary Barden on vocals)
Coast to Coast (Scorpions song)
Desert Song (Graham Bonnet on vocals, mike failure near end of song)
Dancer (Graham Bonnet on vocals, assisted by Barden and Mcauley)
Assault Attack (Graham Bonnet on vocals)
No Time for Losers (Robin McAuley on vocals)
Save Yourself (Robin McAuley on vocals)
Bad Boys (Robin McAuley on vocals)
Love Is Not a Game (Robin McAuley on vocals)
Rock Bottom (UFO song) (Robin McAuley on vocals)
Doctor Doctor (UFO song) (McAuley, Bonnet and Barden on vocals)
Shoot Shoot (UFO song) (McAuley and Barden on vocals)
Natural Thing (UFO song) (McAuley and Barden on vocals, with Tyson Schenker on guitar)
Lights Out (UFO song) (McAuley, Bonnet and Barden on vocals)