HOLLOWSTAR / FLORENCE BLACK / MATT MITCHELL & THE COLDHEARTS - Star & Garter, Manchester 31.05.19
PHOTO CREDITS: SHANNON LANDERS
People often refer to Manchester as a City of two halves – a Red half and a Blue half. This can be applied to music as well as to football, and for the purpose of this analogy I’m going to describe those who flocked to see the Spice Girls on 31st May as the Red half, and those who decided to spend their evening rocking out at the historic landmark pub The Star & Garter, as the Blue half (the fact that the Spice Girls held their concert at the Etihad stadium is irrelevant here, but bear with me and I’ll come back to this later).
The Manchester date of HOLLOWSTAR’s headline tour was presented by Lauren Hutchinson - better known as The Rock Fairy. She sprinkled her magic dust and waved her wand over the city (bringing plenty of delicious fairy cakes for us to enjoy too), resulting in a completely sold out show, with the place bustling even before the first band had graced the stage.
The opening act was none other than MATT MITCHELL & THE COLDHEARTS, whose first two singles have been championed by Planet Rock Radio.
Having opened for The Quireboys the night before and with his brand new self-titled album out that day, charismatic singer-songwriter MATT MITCHELL is undoubtedly riding the crest of a wave at the moment. The band, which includes Mauro Laconi on guitar, Dom Ladd on bass and Matt Cherry on drums, delivered a classy performance that was peppered with killer riffs and was resplendent with rich, gravelly vocals.
The energetic, blues-infused six-song set featured tracks from the new record, including the well-known and glorious ‘Black Diamonds’. Cherry’s strident drumming was masterful and the band had a real buzz about them, delighting the substantial crowd and setting the bar sky-high for the evening’s rock-n-roll-aganza.
Matt Mitchell – Vocals
Mauro Laconi – Guitar
Dom Ladd – Bass
Matt Cherry - Drums
Accompanying HOLLOWSTAR throughout their tour are the young Welsh power trio FLORENCE BLACK, who have been making big waves far beyond their hometown of Merthyr Tydfil. Bursting onto the stage with a hollering “How the fuck are we doing Manchester? I wanna see those hands in the air!”, frontman Tristan Thomas led his brethren through a set that included songs from all three of their EPs, starting with the full-throttle Budgie cover ‘Breadfan’, lifted from ‘The Final EP’.
With the steaming momentum of a runaway freight train, the band hurtled through their set at a relentless pace, with sweat dripping down the hair and faces of all three bandmates by the time the opening song was through. Perry Davies gave an almightily fierce and forceful performance on the drums, to the point where I found myself wondering what it must have been like living in the same house as him growing up and how his family and neighbours only coped?!
The last time I saw FLORENCE BLACK, which was in the Autumn of 2018, I made the following observation; “This is exactly how a rock concert should be – raw, untamed energy, bursting at the seams with bruising riffs, intense drumbeats and a bass that seriously threatens the foundations.” Now I don’t usually make a habit of quoting myself, but my feelings having seen them again tonight haven’t changed and this band just seem to be going from strength to strength, upping their game and growing in confidence and performance to emerge as one of the foremost rock bands to have emanated from the musically gifted Welsh valleys in recent years.
The one addition to their set compared to the last time I saw them was ‘Gunshot’, which features the vocals of Skindred’s Benji Webbe on the record. On the floor, foot stomping and moshing ensued with wild abandon, as the crowd lapped up the intensely heavy riffs and gnarly guitar solos that packed more than a punch.
Their brutal hard-edged potency together with a no-nonsense approach is what gives FLORENCE BLACK the edge over so many other acts on the scene right now.
Tristan Thomas - Vocals / Guitar
Fozzi – Bass
Perry Davies - Drums
Cambridgeshire hard-hitters HOLLOWSTAR have just released a scorcher of a debut album, which they’ve been taking on the road during their current UK tour. On the last two occasions that I saw them, they were special guests to Stone Broken and Dan Reed Network respectively, but as one of the UK’s brightest rising rock outfits, this headline tour couldn’t have come soon enough. To my surprise the band don’t jump straight into their first song, but wait patiently in the dark shadows of the stage whilst Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ plays out.
And then the real magic begins – the band pull out all the stops for opener ‘Take It All’, which is greeted by such a rapturous response from the packed crowd that the amiable frontman Joe Bonson (who often jokes about sounding like an East End market trader), shouts, “How are you doing Manchester? You win the prize for the noisiest audience so far, so thank you! We’re going to play every track from our new album, plus a few from our EP for you!” And that’s exactly what happened.
The talented quartet have unmistakable chemistry on stage, possibly aided by the fact that half of the band members are brothers and it’s obvious that they have all been playing together for a considerable length of time. Proficient guitarist Phil Haines manages a couple of ‘handstands’with his guitar thrust high up into the air resting in the palm of his hand, when he’s not unleashing deadly riffs like there’s no tomorrow.
A couple of songs were dedicated to special people in Joe’s life who are sadly no longer with us, including the first track written for the new album, ‘Think Of Me’, which was dedicated to a former friend who had given him a job and encouraged Joe to pursue his musical ambitions after a previous employer had fired him.
The latest, insanely catchy single ‘Let You Down’ went down a storm, and Joe’s soulful vocals shone like the sun. A highlight for me is always the deeply heartfelt and emotional ‘Feel The Burn’, which is the epitome of a rock masterpiece if ever I heard one and should go down in history as one of the classic rock ballads of our time.
The only cover of the night was ‘Wishing Well’ by Free, and according to the very modest frontman, “overrated” perfectly summed up how their stellar support acts had made him feel on tour. The second dedication of the night, ‘Good Man Gone’, was to a young friend who had tragically lost his battle with depression, and what people will take away from a HOLLOWSTAR show, apart from a performance that risks blowing the roof right off an old venue like The Star & Garter, is the moral of how we all need to look out for one another’s mental wellbeing and try to be better friends to each other.
As the final song is about to start there’s no doubt that it’s going to be ‘All I Gotta Say’, which is a superb way to conclude an utterly blinding show and has everybody singing along, smiling from ear to ear.
As far as up and coming rock acts go, HOLLOWSTAR are quite simply among the best of the best. With honest, relatable lyrics and a flair for writing raunchy riffs, catchy choruses and groove-laden melodies, the foursome inject an unparalleled freshness into today’s live music scene.
If I may return to my earlier analogy; while the Red half of Manchester were watching the Spice Girls, who have long since had their glory days, the Blue half were scoring a hattrick with a kicking, three-pronged, attacking lineup. I’d go so far as to say that this was the day that Manchester City really won the Treble… musically speaking.
Joe Bonson – Vocals / Bass
Phil Haines – Guitar
Tom Collett – Guitar
Jack Bonson - Drums
PHOTOS MUST NOT BE USED WITHOUT THE PRIOR CONSENT OF DOWN THE FRONT MEDIA. PLEASE DIRECT ALL MEDIA ENQUIRES TO LINDSAY@DOWNTHEFRONTMEDIA.COM HIGH RES IMAGES ARE AVAILABLE FOR FURTHER USE. PRICES ON APPLICATION.