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.
There was a day off between the Manchester and London shows. Black Stone Cherry spent the day doing press from dawn to dusk and I had returned back home to London, with the plan of catching up on a little shut eye.
The London concert was at one of my favourite venues KOKO. In 2004 this venue (formerly the Camden Palace) underwent an astronomical refurbishment to the tune of several million pounds and lasting six months. It has frankly been worth every penny that they spent. Originally opened in 1900, this building is now one of the most striking and opulent live music venues in London, if not the UK. Its walls are painted a dark red with the décor in gold. It might sound gaudy and maybe a bit seedy, but it is far from it. The venue has a grand bar at the back, bathed in lights glowing red and gold and four chandeliers adding grandeur to the scene. The main hall is not very deep but it is three levels high, creating a dramatic sweeping view down on the stage, with box style balconies jutting out at the sides. It makes it possible for almost everyone to have a good view of the stage, unless you are short and have a tall person in front of you. They also have what must be one of the best views from a disabled seating area of any UK live venue, although I don’t know for certian.
As the fans waited outside, the rain was pelting it down, which meant that the choice of opening song couldn’t have been more apt “Here comes the rain” sang Chris Robertson. This song is a truly fantastic opening number. All the fans know the lyrics and as they sing the first four words of Rain Wizard with Chris, you can tell by the volume whether it will be a good concert or not and all I can say is I have only heard that line belted out this well once before in Birmingham. It seemed we were all set for a great night, I just hadn’t realised how great it would be.
Mary Jane was next on the list and as with the preceding nights, the fans knew the words. I could hear them clearly as I snapped away in the photo pit, revelling in the best lighting rig of any London venue of this size. I was one happy photographer. During one of the questions and answer sessions, someone in the audience asked “My wife is pregnant, what should we call our child?” Someone in the audience suggested “Mary Jane”, I wonder if they know what it is slang for?
The Ghost of Floyd Collins and Yeah Man followed and by the time we got to In My Blood, you knew there was something unique about tonight. It is no secret that I have been to a lot of Black Stone Cherry concerts, (although not as many as a guy called Chris Jones who was celebrating his 100th Black Stone Cherry concert at KOKO) so I would like to think therefore, that I have a reasonable gage on a good Black Stone Cherry crowd and concert. I have never heard a London crowd like it at a rock concert that I remember. They were word perfect to In My Blood, the lyrics resonating around the building and from the stage Chris had a beautiful crisp white smile that beamed back at all the fans. You could tell that for him, guitarist Ben Wells, bassist Jon Lawhon and drummer John Fred Young, they too felt that there was something special about tonight as they looked out on the 1,410 people in front of them.
The first of the question and answer sessions followed this wonderful moment and fans asked questions like “Which bands have you most enjoyed touring with?” to which John Fred answered “Whitesnake, Def Leppard and Nickelback”. He also answered the question “Which is your favourite Led Zepplin album?” “All of them!” he replied.
Devil’s Queen with its swampy Hammond organ intro had us all rocking around KOKO as if on the old steamer herself cruising down the Mississippi river, taking us metaphorically over the edge of alcohol consumption and fun, as we hear the Hammond solo break to a guitar solo and then John Fred and Jon come in with deep, solid and beautifully muddy bass lines; all this before a duo-guitar solo from Chris and Ben in which they trade off each other before playing in perfect unison. A truly immense moment.
As with any Black Stone Cherry concert, key audience sing-a-long songs are Peace is Free and Things My Father Said. I heard one fan comment that as wonderful as such moments are, she would have liked to just hear Chris sing Things My Father Said with his gentle tone and who could blame her when the song means so much to her, as it does to many fans. That I understand, but I would think it very hard to describe what it must feel like to have songs that not only have you written, but which are very poignant for you, sung back to you, so why wouldn’t you enjoy absorbing the moment, storing that feeling away in your memory and heart. It is as much Black Stone Cherry’s show as it is their fans.
I had heard from friends as to what song Black Stone Cherry had run through in sound check and much to our delight a rare performance of Drive was played after Peace Is Free and the second Q&A session. The lyrics seemed a befitting description of tonight’s show.
Drive this road with the pedal to the floor.
We’re gonna go for the ride of our lives.
It starts right here but it won’t end tonight.
Nothing could be more true, Black Stone Cherry had their musical pedal to the floor in London, we as an audience and I believe the band too were having the ride of our lives and with promises of returning bigger than ever before in the autumn it certainly won’t end here tonight!
We had come to the end of the line in London; Lonely Train had everyone’s arms in the air, singing as if their lives depended on it and then it was all over, two bloody fantastic, thoroughly enjoyable, exuberant hours that I will treasure forever in the pocket of my memory bank reserved for Black Stone Cherry.
Photos by: February Photography – www.februaryphotography.com