Sunday, 14 May 2017

Snakecharmer - Tavistock Review

Snakecharmer was originally formed by ex-Whitesnake members Micky Moody (guitar/vocals) and Neil Murray (bass guitar) in 2011 as a vehicle for playing some of the songs live again that they helped to create with the legendary British rock band in the early 1980s. Early shows featured Whitesnake material exclusively, but the guys obviously felt that the chemistry within the band was good enough to write their own material and turn Snakecharmer into a 'proper' new rock act. The band's self-titled debut album (which I reviewed here) was released in 2013 to strong reviews, and it has been an album I have played fairly regularly since. Obviously the early Whitesnake influence is strong throughout the album, but the other four musicians that make up the band all brought their years of experience and touring with many world-famous bands to the table and the result was a strong collection of bluesy hard rock songs that are backed full of strong riffs, soaring vocal melodies, and fluid guitar solos. While Moody and Murray were arguably the most famous names in the band, it was frontman Chris Ousey and Laurie Wisefield (guitar/vocals), who played with Wishbone Ash for a number of years in the 1970s and 1980s, that wrote the majority of the debut album. Rounding out the band was Harry James (drums/vocals), from Thunder and Magnum, and Adam Wakeman (keyboards/vocals) who has had a long association with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. Over the next couple of years the band toured sporadically, when their schedules allowed, to promote the album and I caught the band for the first time at the Cambridge Rock Festival in 2015. It was a great show, featuring plenty of their original songs along with some choice Whitesnake classics, and they went down a storm. A further UK tour followed in the Winter of 2015, which I sadly missed, and at the end of the tour Moody left the band. I feared this would be the end of Snakecharmer, as Moody had been instrumental in setting everything up, but last year it was announced that Northern Irish guitarist Simon McBride had been recruited to fill Moody's shoes. The announcement of a second album was also made around the same time, and the band has been busy since then working on what would become Second Skin, which was finally released a couple of days ago. This show in Tavistock is part of a fairly lengthy UK tour to support Second Skin, despite a few of the shows taking place before the album was actually released!

Before Snakecharmer hit the stage however the gathering crowd was treated to a set of hard rock by local band Departed who are starting to make a name for themselves in Devon (and further afield). I first saw the band a couple of months ago supporting The Fallen State in Plymouth and was really impressed by their high-energy sound. This set in Tavistock was made up of songs from their debut self-titled EP, new songs, and a rather rocking cover of Queen's Tie Your Mother Down. The songs during their early part of their set I was mostly unfamiliar with, so I presume they will make their way onto a release at some point, but towards the end they played the best cuts from their EP including the melodic Are You Ready? and the powerful Superstitious. Frontman Mark Pascall is a pretty captivating presence on stage and has a strong bluesy voice to match the material, and Ben Brookland (guitar/vocals) is a real star with his endless supply of catchy riffs and shredding solos. Departed are well worth seeing if you like great live rock music, and I suspect it will not be too long before they start seeing a bit more national exposure.

The changeover between the two bands was not a long one, and it was not long before the guys from Snakecharmer took to the stage. The 90 minute set comprised mostly of new material from Second Skin, but some choice Whitesnake cuts and songs from their debut album were also included throughout. I had heard a few of the new songs on Youtube, but with the album only being released the day before this show, I had not had a chance to even buy it let along hear it (I bought a copy at the merch stand during the gig)! They opened with a song I had heard though, Follow Me Under, which is an instantly catchy song with a soaring chorus which makes good use of Ousey's bluesy vocals. The new material is in the same vein as the first album, but the guitar pyrotechnics of new boy McBride are pushed right to the fore. He is an amazing guitarist and as soon as he starts playing you forget that Moody is no longer in the band. He had many chances to solo throughout and always impressed with his fast, but tasteful, playing. The Whitesnake classic Ready an' Willing certainly got the crowd going early on, but the single from their debut album Accident Prone was received just as warmly and shows that Snakecharmer are just as known now for their own songs and not just as a glorified Whitesnake tribute band. The slower Where Do We Go From Here from the new album was also warmly received, before then bluesy anthem A Little Rock & Roll from the debut really rocked and featured lots of funky keyboards from Wakeman. More new songs impressed in the middle of the set with both Hell of a Way to Live and I'll Take You as You Are impressing with big choruses and bluesy riffing. The new material seems to rock a little harder than the songs from the first album in places, and that shows McBride's heavier blues influence with some tougher riffs a bit more attitude. A monstrous version of Whitesnake's Crying in the Rain was a highlight late on too, and the song was stretched out to include lengthy solos from Wisefield, Wakeman, and finally McBride who really blew the roof off the place with his bluesy shredding. Wakeman's solo was great too, and it was really good to see him playing a proper Hammond organ during the set, as the growling sound basically epitomises 1970s hard rock for me! The new single That Kind of Love was well received towards the end too, and the main set came to an end with a powerful rendition of the Whitesnake mega-hit Here I Go Again which saw a large sing-along from the crowd towards the end conducted by Ousey. There was time for one more, and the band encored with another new song, the hard-hitting uptempo rocker Dress It Up which really impressed with another powerful chorus and a great solo from Wisefield. The band took their bows to loud cheers from the large crowd, and it was clear that everyone there had had a great night. The setlist was:

Follow Me Under
Are You Ready to Fly
Ready an' Willing [Whitesnake cover]
Accident Prone
Where Do We Go From Here
A Little Rock & Roll
Nothing to Lose
Hell of a Way to Live
I'll Take You as You Are
Fade Away
Crying in the Rain [Whitesnake cover]
That Kind of Love
Guilty as Charged
Here I Go Again [Whitesnake cover]
Dress It Up

After the set the whole band came out to the merch stand to sign autographs so I got my copy of Second Skin by all six members of Snakecharmer. I also took along my LP copy of Whitesnake's the Heart of the City, which I had got signed by Bernie Marsden previously, and Murray was kind enough to sign it for me which was really good of him! I'm really looking forward to spending time with the new album and after hearing many of the songs live in Tavistock I am sure I am going to really enjoy it.

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