(PHOTO CREDITS: MB PHOTOS SCOTLAND)
Dreadnought Rock in Bathgate proudly claims the title of Scotland’s longest running rock club and the busy schedule of bands is testament to the hard work of the team who run this welcoming venue. Planked midway between the competing cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, their stage has seen some greats and their approach of supporting up and coming bands from across the UK and beyond has made it a firm favourite with bands and punters alike.
The prospect of seeing the much admired Newcastle outfit Saints of Arcadia has been given extra attraction tonight as (relatively) local band Stoneface are supporting. Both bands have a healthy pedigree and the early buzz amongst the early punters is made all the more special by the support act mingling and saying their hellos to the faithful who have followed the band since their early days.
Stewart Storrie (Vocals), Grant Walsh (guitar), Rick Walsh (bass) and Al ‘Bear’ McMenemy (drums) are an amiable group with their feet firmly on the ground in an endearingly humble sense. Their music is powerful, well constructed and passionate - three qualities that translate well on stage. The band don’t rely on a theatrical stage show with the Walsh brothers quietly going about the business at hand while Storrie fills the stage with tattoos, beard and an almost menacing grin.
The band’s set of nine songs kicks off with a modest audience that deservedly grows as they play. The tracks are mostly new and this reflects the bands growth since their earlier recorded works. Indeed, their plans are to record in the coming months as they take a break from gigging to pour their efforts into capturing new material in the studio. Chatting before the show, Storrie revealed that Walsh was a writing machine and it was difficult to keep up with his new ideas. Not a bad place to be.
The opening track ‘Breathe’ is punchy and Storrie opens his pipes early displaying his range. McMenemy’s kick drum is sublime when he lets loose and this gives a dynamic to the tracks that works tightly with the Walsh power duo. ‘Food For The Crows’ has a feel of Judas Priest with a sneaked injection of steroids to lift the intensity.
Cover ‘Slither’ has this reviewer lift his head from his notepad as the song fits so well with the rest of the set and there was a moment where I fleetingly questioned if it was a cover at all. The band clearly understand the value of entertaining an audience and sliding a rarely covered track near the end of the set was intelligent and worked in keeping the attention up.
Closing track ‘Fight’ is a massive track and Storrie warmed the community feel of the crowd by dedicating the track to the recently cancelled Wildfire Festival, and to those that ‘keep rock alive’. The track was a particularly strong full stop on a short story that was well written, had twists and importantly, was memorable.
The after-show chat was buoyant and the band themselves captured the night perfectly in their self-deprecating assessment on social media, “We played a rather boisterous and rambunctious set (even if we do say so ourselves - and even if we don’t really even understand the meaning of the words”.
Stoneface’s setlist was -
Food For The Crows
You can have look at their stoney faces at -
Those glancing away from the stage during the last few Stoneface tracks would have noticed the main act enthusiastically providing encouragement a few rows back. Arriving at the venue all the way from Newcastle (in the nick of time), Saints of Arcadia wasted no time in congratulating there support act evidencing their growing relationship on the live circuit.
Saints are widely accepted among their peers and fan base as ground breaking in sheer musical talent. Their material is technically wonderful and melodic in every riff and bass line. Nick Jennison (guitar and vocals), Jon Page (guitar), Anna Jones (bass) and Dan Wakenshaw (drums) must surely have red ears as the gathered musos in the room whisper to each other about the level of skill about to be witnessed. One such punter reminded their friends that Jennison is known particularly for his contributions to the Lick Library. These are pros!
As the band climbed on-board the stage to construct the array of guitar effects and backline, it wasn’t too long to wait before the lights sparked to life and the show started with a Queen intro tape of ‘Princes of the Universe’. What follows is a master class in rock prowess with intricate solos swapped between Page and Jennison.
‘Set You Free’ continues to be one of the band’s showcase tracks with a groove on drum and bass that underpins a melody that reminds of the ‘90s wizards Living Colour output. The band employ a mature approach to this track where they don’t flood the song with guitar - instead dropping out to emphasise Wakenshaw and Jones’ talent.
Page shares a surname with the legend that wrote the second track of the night - a cover of Zeppelin’s ‘Immigrant Song’ - a track that allows Jennison to unleash his high register vocal quality. Choosing a cover so early in the set is bold and says a lot about the band’s confidence and wish to put on a show.
The band have a special dynamic onstage and nods and winks are exchanged often during songs where there is a generally happy feel to the band. These are no menacing metal heads despite Jennison looking like he has stepped off the sunset strip. Instead, there is a quirky feel to the band who are obviously individuals not conforming to the stereotypical ‘look’ of most bands in the industry.
The tracks slither and slide across blues, rock and even funk with tracks like ‘The Masquerade’ opening solidly before morphing into a groove-monster with a fantastic vibe that has every head rocking back and forward and one punter unsure whether to dance or headbang (they opt for the latter - it is the Dreadnought after all).
As the band reach what appears to be the end of their set, an almost awkward message from the engineer encourages them to continue with the clear direction they (can/should) play for another 25 minutes. The band laugh and quickly begin an instrumental bluesy number that gives them time to think of what to play next. Whether this is rehearsed stage craft or indeed unexpected is difficult to gauge but the band rolled with the situation and faced it head-on with more magnificent tracks.
Covering ‘All Along the Watchtower’ is a beautiful moment and captures the feel of the original track with Page and Jennison swapping licks and the band capturing a vibe that is pure Hendrix. This isn’t the final cover of the night however, as the band return to the track they often play. ‘Message in a Bottle’ is often a go to track for aspiring players who want to move to the next level. Jennison casually rolls through the signature riff whilst holding the audience in the palm of his hand. His ability to endear himself to the crowd is all about his engaging manner and charm behind the mic between songs.
As the band eventually gained the approving nod from behind the sound desk, they receive a thunderous applause from the now healthy numbers in the club and those attentive musos turn to their friends and say “told you so”.
Saints of Arcadia may have little recorded material available but they must surely be one of the bands that to experience properly, you must see live. I did and the next time I do, will be able to say to my friends “told you so”.
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