On this day in 2011, on a hot July evening, a packed O2 Academy in Glasgow witnessed a Rock Masterclass. Only five days after ripping London a fresh one at the High Voltage Festival, rock royalty in the form of Anglo-American super-group Black Country Communion came to town, supported by a back from rock bottom Michael Schenker and his band. For the uninitiated, the seeds of Black Country Communion were sown in Los Angeles at the Guitar Centre’s King of the Blues event in November 2009, where ‘The voice of Rock’ Glenn Hughes (Trapeze/Black Sabbath/Deep Purple) joined forces with Joe Bonamassa (arguably the finest blues rock guitarist on the planet today) for an epic performance. An excited Kevin Shirley (Producer - Black Crowes, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and many more) rushed backstage and suggested they put a band together. Jason Bonham (Led Zeppelin/Foreigner and son of Jon Bonham) was drafted in on drumming duties, along with keyboardist Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater/Billy Idol/ Alice Cooper).
BCC have released two critically acclaimed albums in the space of a year – the self-titled ‘Black Country’ (‘Communion’ was added to the name after a threat of legal action from another band of the same name) and Black Country Communion 2. The freshly written material is unashamedly retro 70’s classic rock, stamped with their own unique style. The songs are epic masterpieces, dark and autobiographical in places. There is more than a nod to Led Zeppelin in the writing style and you would be excused for thinking you had put an early 70’s classic piece of vinyl on the turntable.
Glenn Hughes still has the voice of a rock god and his bass playing is phenomenal – solid and pounding, but with tasteful melodic flurries, at the same time harder rocking than some of his previous funk/R&B influenced playing, all brought to us on his worn to the bone 1957 Bill Nash Precision bass. Joe Bonamassa, although not yet a mainstream household name, is very well known and respected in the blues-rock world, and brings a heavier style than his norm to BCC. Jason Bonham’s drumming is monstrous and I would suggest taking a safety helmet to any BCC gig to avoid falling plasterwork. Derek Sherinian fills the sound magnificently on keys and Hammond, providing a wall of sound for Joe to let rip over. We have seen so called ‘super-groups’ come and go, solo touring commitments and egos standing in the way of longevity. Each member of BCC has earned the right to a large ego, but there is no sign of jostling for position on-stage. Each member is committed to the success of the band despite hectic solo touring and they are clearly excited about the beast they have spawned.
So, as if this backdrop didn’t warrant the £40 per ticket price tag, the gathered audience were also treated to a stellar support slot performance by the Michael Schenker Band. I spoke to a number of audience members who were present just for Michael Schenker’s performance.
Rock enthusiasts will know Michael from his time with UFO and the Scorpions. His band tonight consisted of ex Scorpions drummer Herman, bassist Elliot "Dean" Rubinson, guitarist/keyboardist Wayne Findlay and Michael Voss on lead vocals. We were also treated to guest appearances by ex-UFO bassist Pete Way and Chris Glenn, bassist with The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. At one point, there were three bassists playing on stage at once, which worked surprisingly well! Michael proved beyond all doubt that he is back on top form and I picked up comments that his performance alone was worth the ticket price, but the best was yet to come . . .
Following a short break to reset the stage, BCC walked on stage to a huge cheer, opening with ‘Black Country’ – the opening track on their first album. Glenn Hughes, sporting a thigh length blue velvet jacket and shades immediately owned the stage, and did so for every minute of the set – Glenn is the ultimate showman. ‘One Last Soul’ followed, again from the first album, then ‘Crossfire’ from BCC2, the guitar and vocals reminding me slightly of Lenny Kravitz. Gold velvet suited Joe Bonamassa, who is normally content to be ‘just the guitarist’ in BCC took over lead vocal duties for the next two songs – The Battle for ‘Hadrian’s Wall’ and ‘Song of Yesterday’, returning the baton to Glenn for the pounding straight ahead rocker ‘I can See Your Spirit’.
The next two tracks were probably my favourite songs from the band. ‘Save me’ was brought to the band by Jason Bonham as an unfinished piece, semi-written with Jimmy Page and polished up by Glenn. The Zeppelin influence is very evident here with eastern hues of ‘Kashmir’ from Derek. The next song, ‘Cold’ was dedicated by Glenn to all the friends he never got a chance to say goodbye to - a beautiful ballad with truly heartfelt vocals from Glenn, passionately sweet lead playing from Joe, and classic powerful rock drumming from Jason. This song had Jason Bonham in floods of tears when it was first presented to the band, and I have to admit I had a lump in my throat when witnessing the powerful live performance. This is usually the point in a live show that my attention span starts to wane, but not tonight. The next song was the first non-BCC track - one of Joes’ own called ‘The Ballad Of John Henry’ from his solo album of the same name – a blues-rock riff driven track with Joe again taking over lead vocals. The pace was picked up again, and back to Glenn for ‘Outsider’ – opening track of the second album. “I am the keeper, you know my name” yes you are, and yes we do, Glenn!
Derek Sherinian is now left to shine as Glenn and Joe leave the stage for a huge rafter shaking keyboard solo, the guys returning for another of my favourites ‘Faithless’ from BCC2 – an autobiographical, dark song of differently flavoured sections -led by Joes’ riff, Derek builds up the power to an anthemic chorus, then more eastern hues during Joe’s solo. The set concluded with ‘Sista Jane’ – an out and out rocker, with Joe and Glenn sharing lead vocals, Jason pounding the kit (close your eyes and you would swear Bonzo was playing) and a section with the band breaking into ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ by the Who. Jason Bonham’s’ playing wasn’t the only threat to the old plasterwork, as the feet stomping commenced from the ecstatic crowd, hungry for more. The guys returned with their new single ‘Man In The Middle’ and went out on the classic Deep Purple song ‘Burn’ from the album of the same name, one of Purples classic albums featuring Glenn.
Glenn has been to a very dark place, and he freely admits he is very fortunate to be still alive to tell the tale today. He has picked up the broken flag lying on the battle field and is carrying it high and proud. He turns 60 very soon, but still has the excitement, passion and energy on stage that would put performer’s a third of his age to shame. If you are a young rock player or fan, I suggest you check Black Country Communion out as part of your apprenticeship. If you are older in the tooth like me, you will be reminded of the glory days of classic rock – and be given the privilege of witnessing it being reborn through BCC.