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.
With Glasgow done and dusted and a failed breakfast meet up for a Scottish fry up with my friend Jenny behind me, I headed to the station grabbing a bite to eat for the train as well as the all essential cuppa tea. Arriving with enough time to write a quick postcard to my Nanny (yes people do still do this), before I caught the 11:09 to Manchester Piccadilly.
This unexpectedly busy Wednesday morning Trans Pennine Express train took me through the beautiful Lake District on the way to Manchester. Train travel is by far my favourite way to get around the UK to gigs and gave me a chance to look through my photos from the night before. I didn’t think the elderly lady next to me would have appreciated my watching an episode of Sons of Anarchy!
Manchester is a city I have been coming to for 17 years and I have seen it change so much in that time, generally for the better. Redevelopment has been sensitive to the industrial heritage that it shares with Glasgow. Yet despite all my years of coming here for concerts I have never been to tonight’s venue The Ritz. Built in the late 1920’s as a dancehall with a springy floor, The Ritz has adapted with the times musically and now hosts live music as well as club nights.
Somewhat unassuming from the outside, inside the venue is really rather beautiful, having retained its image through the 2011 refurbishment, just being given the necessary nip and tuck needed as a result of old age, it has a large stage and is wider than it is deep, enabling more fans to get closer to their favourite bands and creating a more intimate feel.
As with Glasgow there was a respectable queue outside the venue on arrival, eager to get that front row spot. Hovering at the back of the venue as the fans piled in in their droves, I saw t-shirts flying off the shelves and with some sizes (notably the bigger sizes) having sold out the night before, some fans were left a little disappointed at not being able to get one of the two nice tour t-shirt designs of the Union Jack patterned Cherry Bomb logo (a lesson in stock to be learnt here).
At all the shows Black Stone Cherry ran a raffle to win the cockerel emblazoned ‘Southern Hospitality Tour’ drum head on John Fred Young’s bass drum at the end of the show, which would be signed by the band on stage during the concert. Following this announcement by their Tour Manager, the already busy merch table saw another swarm of fans desperate to hand over their money (£5 per ticket or 5 tickets for £20) for a chance to win this exclusive piece of Black Stone Cherry memorabilia.
Manchester has always been a great location for a Black Stone Cherry concert and this time was no exception. As with Glasgow the night before, the number of fans who knew the words to Me and Mary Jane was amazing. In addition to which, the fans were in fantastic voice from the off. Next up was a song that, for many shows past, was the opening number on a Black Stone Cherry set list Rain Wizard. If Manchester wasn’t already excited enough, they lost it at this point and set that springy floor a bouncing! This song is such a great gage for how the night will be.
As with the Glasgow set list there was a heavy weight in song selection towards the re-release of second album Folklore and Superstition; an addition to the opening run of songs in Manchester was taken from this album’s second disc, the song Yeah Man. The opening build of this song into singer Chris Robertson’s “Yeah Man” followed by the solid chords and spattered with momentary drum fills, epitomises the groove of many Black Stone Cherry numbers, “Gonna party till the broad daylight, When the drums and the guitars play” Manchester sure felt like they could keep partying all night long. This was followed by the delicate In My Blood which talks (I believe) of the struggle of life on the road and being away from home. Black Stone Cherry have not enjoyed the same success in the USA as they have in the UK and Europe and so they find themselves coming over here more often, where they can make their money. Back in 2011 when touring with Alterbridge, their girlfriends came with them and got a chance to see what life is like for the Black Stone Cherry guys over here and why they keep coming, which was certainly an eye opener for them, to actually experience the fan appreciation over here.
In My Blood was followed by the first of the Question & Answer sessions. Black Stone Cherry had learnt lessons from the night before and started by saying that there was no need to ask for picks, drum sticks, photos etc. as they would be throwing such things out during the show and would be around after the gig for photos. This meant that some quality questions were asked. One person asked if fatherhood had changed their writing. Bassist Jon Lawhon answered that since the last album he had had another girl and Chris had had a son. He said that it had certainly influenced them and their outlook.
Another fan asked what song they enjoyed playing live the most, to which Jon answered Change, which led to an impromptu addition to the set list as they played it to the great enjoyment of the fans. It has such a heavy sound; it is great to hear live.
Black Stone Cherry retained the fantastic run of songs from Glasgow of Devil’s Queen, Soulcreek, Such a Shame, Blind Man and Peace is Free, but with the addition before Peace is Free of Big City Lights from the re-release of Folklore and Superstition. This grouping works so very well together in the live arena. The first three songs being more upbeat, before taking things back slightly with Big City Lights and then the complete simplification of the set up on Peace is Free with just Ben Wells on guitar and Chris not needing to sing any of the words. There is something about this collection of songs that sends shivers down the spine. The audience belted out the words to Blind Man as if their lives depended on it.
In the next run of questions, a young lady asked John Fred where he got his cow bell from “A cow of course!” was the witty retort.
A John Fred drum solo followed Backwoods Gold. Whilst I in no way question the talent of John Fred, I sometimes feel like an extra song would be better, but I guess we already got the bonus song in the form of Change at this concert.
Things My Father Said is guaranteed to pull at your heart strings, especially when one of the audience members not long before had shown that he had the lyrics tattooed on him in memory of his own father and even more so when it is sung clearly and loudly by the whole audience; another one of those moments where Chris barely needs to sing a word.
Perhaps the best surprise of the night was the inclusion of Rollin’ On in the set. This song is the last track on their debut album; it is such an upbeat positive song. That opening lead guitar line is a Southern drawl in itself, oozing the steady feel of driving in a Cadillac through “the Rocky Mountain sky” that Chris sings of, the music helps create in your mind a picture of that American landscape as he sings to you. This was undoubtedly the highlight for me that night.
Black Stone Cherry rounded the night off with their big singles White Trash Millionaire, Blame it on the Boom Boom and Lonely Train, in great style.
I really enjoyed the Q&A session tonight, a noticeable improvement on the night before and Black Stone Cherry made a point to repeat the questions asked, so we could all hear, which was great. It was a great venue, with a great crowd and a great band that resulted in a great night had by all.
Photos: February Photography – www.februaryphotography.com