Over the past three decades or so, Darren Wharton has been a regular visitor to these shores, both as a member of Thin Lizzy – into whose ranks he was recruited, at the tender age of 17, by the late, great Phil Lynott, and with whom he remained until the band effectively called it a day at the end of 2012, making him the third longest serving member – and as frontman with the band he refers to as his “baby” (see our interview: https://planetmosh.com/dare-interview-with-darren-wharton/). However, it has been nigh on two-thirds of that time since Dare last trod the boards of a Belfast stage – a situation rectified with this first of a brace of gigs back on Irish soil.
Wharton’s affection for Ireland, and its people, is clear: despite somewhat convoluted travel arrangements meaning the band arriving late for soundcheck for the early doors show, he still finds time to share a couple of beers and some banter with local fans before ‘curtain up’ – and then immediately joins them afterwards for yet more of the same. It’s an affection that also comes across in Dare’s songs and sound, which has always had a harder, grittier (and darker) edge than many of their British melodic rock contemporaries.
It’s an affection which is displayed early in the set with the Celtic-influenced ‘Silent Thunder’, which addresses Wharton’s time with Lizzy and does so with suitable adoration and a passionate delivery – the latter of which characterizes the set as a whole, with only guitarist Vinnie Burns appearing laidback and nonchalant, although he later too got into the mood for the evening. The importance of Lizzy, and in particular the band’s charismatic frontman, is also heavily referenced with a brilliantly updated version of the classic ‘Emerald’, and respectful and beautiful paean ‘King Of Spades’.
With the band currently lacking a bass guitarist, for the first half of the set the bass lines are triggered from Marc Roberts’ keyboards (which Wharton cannot resist the occasional wander behind for a wee tinkle on the ivories), before rhythm guitarist Nigel Clutterbuck (standing in for Richard Dews) switches to the four strings for the third quarter of the set, starting with ‘Abandon’ and ‘Into The Fire’, both of which have fans from the front of the stage to the back of the room singing along with every word. Wharton is obviously enjoying himself and is comfortable enough to crack a few jokes, firstly about not being able to reach the high notes on ‘Abandon’ and other earlier songs any more, and then about the use of sound effects, such as on the soaring ‘Beneath The Silent Water’.
Other set highlights include the majestic and heartfelt ‘Darkness Calls’ and the suitably climatic ‘I Will Return’, which sees Wharton leaving the stage promising to do just that, before both he and the rest of the band are applauded all the way through the crowd to their dressing room…
All in all, a great night and a terrific, impassioned set from a band who perhaps have not received the same level of recognition that other of their (dare I say less deserving) contemporaries have attained. The only disappointing aspect of the entire evening was that the logisitics of the event resulted in the PM missing what we are assured was a tight if all-too-short opening set by local rock revolutionaries WorldsEnd.