It wouldn’t be the end of the year without The Virginmarys gracing stages across the country to see it off in style. With their unique brand of explosive hard rock, it’s very much a guarantee that they’ll deliver an incredible performance.
First off, it’s the support acts. It’s been years since we’ve had a good one open for the Macclesfield-based power trio. Since Naked Six opened for them in Brighton and smashing it, we’ve had everything from the downright awful (Hands Off Gretel) to the aggressively average Florence Black who were subsequently overshadowed by Blue Nation in February in Birmingham. So, needless to say, expectations are low – mainly so I’m either right or pleasantly surprised.
Kicking things off are Broozer, and after thirty seconds, it doesn’t bode well. Because the first thirty seconds then simply repeat for the entire set. The two piece mix sloppiness with boredom for an unengaging set. The noise rock duo are, on paper, a great fit on a sonic level but it’s frankly not good. Moreover, the most interesting part of the night comes when they ask the crowd if anyone likes Coldplay, the irony of which isn’t lost, mainly because the band lauded as the most boring on the planet, have now been overshadowed by a two-piece in Stafford.
Hopes suitably dashed, Haggard Cat immediately capture the room’s attention. Noisy, dirty blues, it’s a perfect fit for tonight’s headliners. And to add that extra bit of perfection – they’re actually good! Plus there’s a joke about Lars Ulrich at one point – sure, it’s low-hanging fruit but it’s still funny. Raw and feral, they’re the complete opposite of their predecessors. Given they’re the main support for the tour and I’m at the remainder of the shows, I’m more than happy to watch this for another three nights. Exuding power and heft, they fill the entire stage and their sound envelops the room. Raw and laden with a filthy tone, their set passes in a blur. Full of grooves and riffs, it’s primal and feral, a perfect antidote to the openers and suitably warms up the audience for what comes next.
Coming onto the stage with no pomp or circumstance as their mainstay one-man roadcrew, Azda, secures the setlists to the floor, The Virginmarys deploy an atmospheric opener, teasing the familiar strains of an old favourite before launching into “1000 Times”. As is their trademark, they’re pulling no punches from the get-go. There’s very little chance for the trio to let up as they batter their way through 18 songs, covering the entirety of their career.
Whilst they can never be accused of resting on their laurels and past glories, the first handful of songs are some of the longest-standing numbers. And just as welcome as ever. After the first few bouncy upbeat numbers, “You’ve Got Your Money, I’ve Got My Soul” is a haunting rendition, bluesy and grungy, evoking hints of The Doors. Meanwhile, the newer “S.O.S.4.U.N.I” has everyone dancing and joining in with the “Woah-oh” moments and repeated again as the faithful clap along to the intro of “Running For My Life”.
Having performed a number of one-off shows over the year since February, the trio are showing no signs of rust. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking this wasn’t the first night of the tour. But it’s The Virginmarys and they give nothing but their best, leaving it all onstage for the night. The three of them performing as one tight unit, drummer Danny Dolan hits his kit with more trademark ferocity than usual with the kick drum held in place with a weight to stop it moving. Elsewhere, bass man Ross Massey prowls the stage with fervour, owning the massive basslines and grooves as his own, working as hard as one of Santa’s elves presumably are right now. Meanwhile, frontman Ally Dickaty’s guitar work and vocals are on point, both loaded with emotion.
As the trundling “Eye For An Eye” signals the halfway point, it’s heavy hitter after heavy hitter until the end. “Into Dust” and “Just A Ride” brings the intensity to another level before the energetic “Motherless Land” has us bouncing and clapping once more. Then, brand new “Killer” takes the intensity to another level, it features the band at their potent best with its dangerous, jagged riff. Full of ferocity, it‘s a damning indictment for the modern age. However, it’s the finale which takes it to another level with “Ends Don’t Mend”. The bluesiest song in their arsenal, crammed with anguish and hurt, it takes the evening to its crescendo. Playing his licks with a passion matched only by Slash himself, Ally gets his moment to unleash his guitar prowess to its maximum.
“Blind Lead the Blind” and standard closer “Bang Bang Bang” ensure the band ends the night on a high. There’s not a single weak moment and a better way to start the tour would be impossible to find. The chemistry between the trio is as palpable as ever and the band and crowd feed off each other’s energy symbiotically. Passion and power in equal measure from all three members and as a unit, it’s them planting their flag once more for real, honest, unapologetic rock.