If ever there was proof that live music was back after a miserable couple of years, it’s the sight of Ricky Warwick standing front and centre, enrapturing a crowd. As tour packages go, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better one this year and as value for money tickets go, it’s one of the best this country has seen in many years. Not only that, tonight has the honour of all the bands having incredibly close ties to the city and the argument could be made for this to have been a triple header rather than the usual “opener, main support, headliner” format. It’s not a surprise there’s a great atmosphere in the room before the first band have played a single note.
Kicking off the early start to the evening, no strangers to our pages or the room, is the greatest band to come from Glasgow. Leading the charge in contemporary muscular hard rock, Anchor Lane are back with a new line-up since the last time they played here in the form of drummer Graeme Newbury and sans bass guitar (ably covered by an SPD) with a smattering of new songs alongside all the best numbers from debut album, Casino. Having previously upstaged headliners in the past, including upstairs, the power trio aren’t pulling any punches tonight and more than up for warming up the crowd, ecstatic to be home. Opener “Dead Run” now has a metallic sneer to it, sharper and even more of a heavy hitter than it was previously whilst the groove-laden “Honey” brings it down a notch but still provides the necessary power to keep the momentum.
Elsewhere, new songs “Ministry” and “Nitroglycerin” push the band’s sound forward whilst staying true to themselves. A touch darker and brooding, sonically, they fit in well and show the band’s growing maturity. Meanwhile, the highlight of the new material comes in “The Mistress Song”, bouncy and catchier than an Omicron variant, it allows Conor Gaffney to flex his muscles as a frontman, much more grown into his skin, and just as comfortable commanding a crowd without his Les Paul as he is with it. Indeed when he’s not strapped to his guitar, there’s shades of Aaron Buchanan to his performance as he works the crowd effortlessly. However, it’s still a joy to see him interweave his guitar work with Lawrence O’Brien with the latter also flexing his showman chops without devolving into needless posturing.
Likewise, the incredibly proficient Graeme Newbury never feels like “the new guy”, having been in the band for over a year now, he plays the material like it’s his own and the chemistry between him and Gaffney and O’Brien feels like he’s been there since day one. Whilst the band have encouraged the growing crowd to join in, closer “Fame Shame” steps it up a notch with the singalong moments. The trio leave everything they have on-stage, using the full space, more energetic and interactive than ever to deliver their greatest performance to date.
There’s only one band capable of following an Anchor Lane performance and after a quick changeover, The Virginmarys are back in the city they love as much as the natives and you’d struggle to find a band who enjoys playing Glasgow more. Recognising their predecessors are a hard act to follow, the duo play like a band possessed, intent to up the ante and pick up the gauntlet thrown down twenty minutes previously. Not many bands would have the audacity to perform a support slot comprised largely of new material but that’s exactly what they do, keeping only a couple of old favourites in “Portrait of Red” and “Sweet Loretta”.
Instead, Ally Dickaty and Danny Dolan want to show off the fruits of their labours as a two-piece, wearing the power duo format better than ever. Tighter as a band and individually upping their game as musicians, using much of the time shows their own belief this is their best material to date and whilst it may be new to most of the crowd, it doesn’t stop them from being as entertained as if they played a set full of classic numbers. However, “Free to Do Whatever They Say” has a welcome dusting off from the vault whilst “Northwest Coast”, their love letter to the North of England, a new song for this tour sonically bridges the gap between Divides and Sitting Ducks with its bouncy groove whilst also balancing grit and polish.
“Lies” continues to be aggressively filthy with razor-sharp teeth whilst “Devil Keeps Coming” starts off cool with its swagger before ramping it up several notches for its crescendo. It’s plain to see the band are more than pleased with the release of raucous new single “The Meds” coinciding with tonight. A perfect distillation of the band’s sound and ideals, every bit The Virginmarys as you’d expect but still pushing them forward with hard-charging riffs melding with furious drumming as insightful lyrics are belted out by throaty screams. And it wouldn’t be a Virginmarys show if they didn’t end with “Bang Bang Bang”, ensuring the band leave as conquerors, impressing fans old and new alike.
It’s a brave person or a fool who follows these two opening bands. Ricky Warwick has never struck me as a fool and for a man who has charged through the tour whilst picking up a head cold at the start of it and didn’t cancel a single show, it’s bravery he’s shown but also something far rarer: professionalism. Ricky Warwick and the Fighting Hearts have a hard task on their hands and it’s one they are more than prepared for. Personally, Warwick’s solo material isn’t something I’ve got in my music library and if I want to hear his honeyed vocal tones, I’ll stick on a Black Star Riders album. However, in a live environment, it’s engaging and unsurprising for anyone who has seen Warwick in his day job, The Fighting Hearts are also an incredibly tight live band.
Whilst a night like this could be treated like “An Evening With” show with full-blown stories between songs, Warwick’s short anecdotes are just as entertaining as the music itself as he pulls from all corners of his career. Indeed, it’s obvious from the audience’s reaction which sections of the crowd are here for specific bands and as all the songs are met with hearty cheers and applause. Naturally, it’s the cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” which the crowd are the loudest for but similarly, Motörhead’s “Iron Fist” is warmly received. As Warwick’s solo material makes up the bulk of the set, it’s classic rock with modern sensibilities whilst also allowing hints of punk and metal and folk to creep in. Masterfully bleeding together with the covers and a few dalliances with The Almighty creates a welcoming varied set. Towards the end of the set, Warwick stops mid-song to stop an altercation between members of the audience and breaks the ice with a joke before resuming the show, proving you can’t fake class. Despite the afore-mentioned head cold, Warwick’s voice is in fine form and having caught some of the earlier shows, there’s a marked improvement from last week and even then, it hardly sounded like he was under the weather.
Much like The Virginmarys, Ricky Warwick is incredibly appreciative of being back in the city he considers his second home, and it’s that which underlines tonight across all bands – authenticity. Both on and off-stage, that’s what these bands and people are known for. Warwick’s solo material may not have won me over and I’m still unlikely to delve into his solo catalogue but on the strength of the live performance, I’d happily go to the next tour. As classic rock meets modern sounds and the gap between the two is bridged seamlessly, each of the three bands share the load with definitive performances from each of them to create an “I was there” gig.