0 6 mins 2 mths

Black Smoke Trigger

Initiating proceedings tonight is a four-piece hard rock outfit from New Zealand. Straightforward, driving mid-tempo guitar with stomping beats was the vibe, and they achieved this well, the Sunday night crowd quickly warming to them during their solid but brief set. At times it was clear to see Chris Cornell’s influence on Baldrick’s vocals; between songs he comes across as a charismatic and amiable character, and It was good to see the band mixing with the fans at the merch table after their set. They open with “The Way I’m Wired” (on record this featured a guest spot from none other than Mick Mars), and the rest of the setlist was split between 2019’s “Set It Off” and the as yet unreleased new album.

  1. The Way I’m Wired
  2. Proof Of Life
  3. The Way Down
  4. Blindfolds & Rattlesnakes
  5. Caught In The Undertow
  6. Perfect Torture
  7. K.M.T.L

Bruce Dickinson

For many years I’ve been an avid Maiden fan, but until now I haven’t had the opportunity to see Bruce’s solo band. Newly released record ‘The Mandrake Project’ is his 7th solo album, and has been written and tweaked over the best part of two decades, so Bruce and longtime collaborator/guitarist/production mastermind Roy Z have done well to not let it sound like different songs simply cobbled together. ‘Mandrake’ achieved Top 5 status all over the world, hitting the No.1 spot in many countries, making it his most successful solo effort to date, and it’s this and 1998’s ‘The Chemical Wedding’ that make up the bulk of the songs tonight. So it’s safe to say that expectations are high for his set. Also, I looked forward to the smaller, more intimate setting, instead of the pomp and grandeur of a Maiden gig.

The intro tape finishes, and the pounding first bars of ‘Accident of Birth’ ring out. The main man arrives, snatches the mic and prowls around with his trademark high energy. It’s a fantastic track to open with, especially considering Bruce’s absence as a solo artist in recent years; the crowd thunders the very apt lyrics to the chorus: “WELCOME HOME, IT’S BEEN TOO LONG, WE’VE MISSED YOU!!!”.

It’s a sweltering evening in Manchester. Seemingly unaware of this, Bruce has turned up in a zipped-up leather jacket and woolly beanie, both adorned with the ice blue ‘M’ logo from his new album. But straight from the off it’s clear that he’s on top form. He details in his autobiography how it’s much easier for him to sing post-cancer, without a tangerine sized mass getting in the way of his vocal chords, and tonight his voice is as powerful as ever.  Bruce and his ‘House Band of Hell’ are sounding fantastic, and they’re a joy to photograph. Unfortunately Roy Z is not present for this tour – he has prior commitments with his studio/production work, so we have Chris Declercq stepping in. Chris features on one song from the new album, and so is a natural fit.

Bruce loves being on stage, and as always we are treated to some between-song banter. Firstly we have a bonkers, slightly rambling preface to ‘Doors To Hell’ about the nocturnal romantic pastimes of female vampires – which probably made more sense inside his head. Then comes the more mysterious introduction… “Who are Dr Necropolis, Professor Lazarus & Senator Kelley, and why are they the Resurrection Men?”. This question will have fans googling the themes and meaning behind this track off the new album, but don’t worry, you won’t find any spoilers here, as this reviewer is still none the wiser! I’m sure anyone who purchases the comic book accompaniment will discover the answer.

Halfway through we have “Jerusalem”. Over the years Bruce has not been shy about his admiration toward poet William Blake, and last week became patron of the charity working to save Blake’s cottage where his literary work was conceived. Towards the end of the set we have a cover – Frankenstein by The Edgar Winter Group. Not a track I was previously familiar with – turns out it’s a groovy, Deep Purple-esque instrumental that serves to showcase the talents of all the band members, whilst giving Bruce a few minutes to take a breather, retreating to the rear of the stage to play some bongos and theremin.

After crowd pleasers “Tears of the Dragon” and “Darkside of Aquarius”, there is a short break before a 3 song encore. Set highlight “Navigate the Seas of the Sun” is a sublime semi-acoustic number, then the gig ends with more straight up rockers “Book of Thel” and “The Tower”, but not before his trademark cry “SCREEEEAAAM FOR ME MANCHESTER!!!”

Tonight will likely be a contender for my favourite gig of 2024, and has served to remind us that Bruce is still very much a force to be reckoned with, his solo work equally impressive as any Maiden performance. ‘Welcome Home’ indeed Bruce.

  1. Accident of Birth
  2. Abduction
  3. Laughing in the Hiding Bush
  4. Afterglow of Ragnarok
  5. Chemical Wedding
  6. Many Doors to Hell
  7. Jerusalem
  8. Resurrection Men
  9. Rain on the Graves
  10. Frankenstein (The Edgar Winter Group cover) (with drum solo and Bruce Dickinson on theremin)
  11. The Alchemist
  12. Tears of the Dragon
  13. Darkside of Aquarius

Encore:

  1. Navigate the Seas of the Sun
  2. Book of Thel
  3. The Tower

Review and photography by Rob Lindesay

Instagram: @rock.the.lens