Aptly named the ‘Southern Hospitality Tour’, as rock bands go, they don’t come much more hospitable than Black Stone Cherry. These four young men are the humble torch bearers for Southern rock today and have been taken to the hearts of the UK rock fraternity. All 6,144 tickets for the four special shows sold out within 45 minutes of going on sale, leaving many fans wishing lady luck had been on their side. I was one of three (that I know of) extremely lucky people who got to see all four shows and I want to bring those shows and my journey to you, the fans, as best I can through my words and photographs.
The 5.30am train from London Euston to Glasgow Central sped me away from the big smoke, across the breadth of England and into Scotland and its heather covered hills over five swift hours, during which the topic of conversation was Scottish Independence for the five young men sat in front of me, on their annual lads’ weekend away.
On arrival at Glasgow Central the first striking thing is the architecture both of the station and the centre of the city, the grandeur of a former industrial city. An early hotel check in thanks to the kind girl on reception, followed by a quick visit to the Riverside Museum and it was time to make my way to Glasgow Barrowlands.
From the front with its large neon sign, Barrowlands is more befitting of being placed on the Blackpool seafront. Here you cannot miss it, unless you are my friend Chris who, stood right outside it, asked someone where it was!
Doors opened and there was the expected rush, up several flights of stairs, by passing the merch, toilets and bar, to get that front centre barrier spot. As I had a photo pass there was no rush for me, but I found myself in the most bizarre photo pit that was an obstacle course in itself. The crowd barrier was shoulder height on me and it was locked into the stage with dual bars that I had to duck under and simultaneously step over, to move about. Clearly the Glaswegian crowd are not to be messed with.
With no support band, there was a wee wait for the Kentucky lads to come to the stage, but they did so to a rapturous cheer. Scotland had waited a long time to see Black Stone Cherry again and all that patience evaporated when the opening lines of new single Me and Mary Jane were played. This song is taken from their forthcoming album Magic Mountain out on 5th May. It was a credit to the band and a demonstration of the dedication of the fans to see just how many people knew the words to this song already. This song opens with the wonderfully subtle growl that Chris Robertson has to his vocal on their heavier songs, and Me and Mary Jane is like an amalgamation of some of the best bits on their last album Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, picking up on the heavy nature of songs like Change and the talk box of White Trash Millionaire. A truly exciting example of what is set to come on the new album, as fans loved the heavier sound of the last album and Glasgow sure loved Me and Mary Jane.
The special thing about these shows is that the set list was chosen by the fans that were at the show, which made each night unique. There were the expected big hits like Lonely Train, but also some old songs which the band themselves said that they had had to go back and relearn as they hadn’t played them for years. Third song The Ghost of Floyd Collins was one such song. This is one of those magical songs that appear on every Black Stone Cherry album, that have a true southern story to them (you can read more on Floyd Collins here) and went down a storm with the fans, many of whom it seems were not expecting to hear it.
One of the great things about Black Stone Cherry is their ability to break from the heavy riffage to more delicate songs like next song In My Blood. Here Glasgow was in good voice singing along to all the words. Next up was the first of three question and answer sessions. Having pondered how best to do this, Black Stone Cherry had opted to allow fans to holler out their questions, which required getting the audience to be as quiet as possible and in Glasgow also meant trying to understand some staunch Glaswegian accents, which at one point had Chris having listened intently saying “I don’t understand a word you just said!”
It being the first night of them ever trying this, they didn’t know what to expect. The most notable question asked about how Chris became the singer, which we were told was because they couldn’t find anyone they liked and a little reluctantly he stepped up to the mark. I am so grateful that we have not lost out on such a beautiful rock voice, when things could have been quite different. Sadly from here on throughout the Q&A sessions, the questions became “Can I have a pick?” “Can I have a drumstick?” “Can I sleep with you?” “Can I have a photo with you all?” and although Black Stone Cherry kindly obliged apart from the “Can I sleep with you?” question, I felt that sadly Glasgow had missed a great opportunity to ask good questions like getting the story behind certain songs and having a chance to learn more about the band. It was their chance to interview them effectively, none of it was rehearsed. Lessons were certainly learnt by the band for the following nights.
Following the first Q&A, there was a fantastic run of songs Devil’s Queen, Soulcreek, Such a Shame, Blind Man and Peace is Free. The latter of which was broken down as always to just Ben Wells on guitar and Chris helping the Glasgow audience sing the words as loud as they possibly could back at him. Glasgow is definitely a fan of the re-release of second album Folklore and Superstition with seven of the seventeen songs played coming from that album.
Next it was back to their first self-titled album with Backwoods Gold. Classic Black Stone Cherry that sees Ben and bassist Jon Lawhon leaping fervently around the stage and still managing to play all the notes, as John Fred Young attacks his drum kit with overt aggression.
Sticking with that album initially with Hell and High Water followed by Things My Father Said, gave the audience contrasting sing-a-long moments. Next up was another new song called Fiesta Del Fuego. This song picked up on the heavy rock sound of their last album, but with a distinct lead guitar line that certainly makes it sound noticeably different from other Black Stone Cherry material, in the form of a development of sound and discovery of other musical styles, which they have moulded into their classic Southern rock sound to make it their own.
One of my favourite Black Stone Cherry songs was up next and from what Chris said in his introduction to the song, they were rather surprised that is was requested on the lists for all the shows that they were playing, the surprise being that it is not an album track, but instead is on the second CD of the re-release of Folklore and Superstition, the song is Big City Lights. It is a song that I have only heard them play once before at a show in Oxford. The reason they don’t play it is that as he himself admitted, it is hard for Chris to sing. This was therefore a very rare treat and one which the fans didn’t take for granted, but instead lapped up, absorbing every note.
Our two hours were almost up, but not before we had had the two songs off the last album that have become anthemic hits White Trash Millionaire and Blame It On the Boom Boom, rounded off with the song that started it all for Black Stone Cherry, Lonely Train.
Glasgow on this occasion was a more sedate audience that I had been lead to believe and which the monstrous crowd barrier implied they could be and they certainly lost out on a once in a lifetime opportunity on the Q&A session, but that said, it was a great opening night. Black Stone Cherry were warmly received by the Scots who revelled in the return of one of their favourite bands and with promises of a return bigger than ever before later in the year, they knew they would not be left wanting quite so long this time for their next fill of good ole Southern rock.
Photos: February Photography – www.februaryphotography.com