The Civic Hall at Wolverhampton isn't a large venue, perhaps a capacity of 1500 or so. Tonight it was filled to bursting and the atmosphere was electric!
As many of you already know, during the reunion tour of '95 my pages were overflowing with rave reviews of the US gigs which were leaving my mouth watering with anticipation of a UK tour which, as history shows, never happened. I must admit to being a little worried as they toured mainland Europe that again, they may not make it to these shores but finally here I was, at the venue, ready to see first hand UFO's first tour here for nigh on six long years, Schenkers first advertised appearances in the UK since his problematic support slot for Whitesnake over 10 years ago and, needless to say, this line-ups first tour of the UK for 20 years.
Arriving with plenty of time to spare I managed to secure a prime spot at the front-left, in what would turn out to be a perfect spot to watch the Maestro weave some Flying-V magic ... the only drawback was to be the fact that this position also allowed me to be a shield for everyone elses ears as the sound from the speakers to the left seemed to vibrate through me first before continuing on into the hall. My ears were to still be ringing two days later, but boy was it worth it!
First on were the support band 'Dirty Deeds', who apart from phenomenal success with their debut album in Japan are largely unknown. This was not helped by the released of the album, `Danger of Infection' being delayed from before, to well after, these string of dates. This delay did not help their rapport with the crowd, since they were forced to play an entire set of unfamiliar tunes, but I think it's fair to say that the crowd response, although subdued, was on the whole appreciative. This did not stop the band going ahead and enjoying themselves anyway - they were certainly under no illusions that people had come to see them (to quote the vocalist Pete Franklin "Wake me up when UFO come on!") but still played with an enthusiasm that you don't often see in a support band. The bassist, Tony Newton, would possibly have put Pete Way to shame in the 'running around like a mad dog' stakes if on the same stage, and I don't think I ever saw any of them stop smiling. The lead guitar work by Barry Fitzgibbon was always going to be upstaged by the following band, but was certainly not to be sneezed at and the drumming ... let's just say that the state the drummer, Dave Cavill, was in after the show explains how he could keep that ferocity up for the full 45 mins!
Their style of music, it must be said, will probably go down better with the Maiden crowd when they tour the States with them after these gigs, but I still think that they helped get the crowd fired up for the main act .... during the support slot the hall had certainly filled up from half empty to near capacity ... I've seen many support bands who have done exactly the opposite!
And so to the main event of the evening. After a LONG wait, or at least it felt intolerably long, the lights went down and the show began .....
For those reading this from the Midlands, you will appreciate that "Hello Wolverhampton, will you please welcome from England, U-F-O!" doesn't quite have the same ring as "Hello Chicago ..." or "Hello Tokyo ..." but I guess they had to say it anyway. The band then launched immediately into `Natural Thing' and `Mother Mary' before going into a `new' song `Self Made Man'. This song is of course no longer new to the initiated of us, and fits in so well with the classic songs that you hardly notice that they've jumped a couple of decades in songwriting. With the way the whole band were putting everything into it you couldn't help but to be impressed .... and yet, I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed. This was THE concert I had been waiting all my adult life to see, here I was on the front row, with Schenker, complete with his newly revealed image (which I must admit does look pretty cool), a couple of meters away from me and Way bounding effortlessly all over the place. Mogg was putting everything into the vocals, Raymond, although playing the role of rhythm guitarist so far, was on a roll, and Simon Wright was just beating the drums to an inch of their lives, as he did flawlessly for the rest of the night. I guess I'd been somehow expecting more, had I been fooling myself? Then `Electric Phase' was off at full pace, as fresh as if it had been written yesterday ... one guitar fill, and then, out of nowhere, Schenker pulled out the most AMAZING guitar solo. You could see the faces of everyone within sight of the guy, pure disbelief. Pure ecstasy!
This WAS now the concert I had been waiting for, and the guys knocked out song after song with such conviction and energy that it was hard to believe that they are (supposedly) getting on a bit!
Although difficult to tell sometimes due to several thousand decibels thundering through my ears, the sound seemed pretty well mixed. Despite Mogg tapping his transmitter throughout the show, the vocals came across well (but then we all knew all the words anyway!) and it was nice to be able to hear the keyboards clearly too, so often a forgotten component of live concerts such as this.
Highlights of the main set, trying not to sound cliched, must have been `Love to Love' and `Lights Out', but it's hard to single out any particular song from the blur of excellence that we have all come to expect. These guys could turn these tunes out in their sleep, and yet still managed to make them come alive. Tonight we were treated to classic UFO in every sense of the word.
Much has been made of tensions within the band, and who's not getting on with who, but tonight you would have dismissed such talk as idle gossip. True Schenker and Mogg kept a respectful distance from each other, but the Way/Schenker interactions really were something special, two guys just having fun. In fact the whole band seemed relaxed, were enjoying themselves and it showed. Whatever happens off-stage, which quite frankly isn't any of our business anyway, once these guys are together under the lights, there is just an unbelievable chemistry which brings out the best in everyone.
As a sidenote, for those of you who really resent the security guys sitting in front of the stage with their back to the band staring at the front row ... tonight was a night to remember as Way liberally, and often, showered them with sweat as he bounded from stage-left to stage-right and back again. Although to one of their credit, he found it hard to resist turning round when Schenker hit one of his many incredible solos.
Then came the two encores `Doctor, Doctor' and `Rock Bottom' for one, `Shoot Shoot' for the next. Needless to say, Rock Bottom was, as always, a showcase piece for Schenker to go totally over the top. Then it was all over, with everyone wanting more...... I'm just glad I'm going to catch them again before they finish off in the UK!
Bad points? The show finished too soon, they could have played at least a couple more (`Cherry' and `I'm A Loser' spring to mind), and it would have been nice to have a couple of Chapman era songs. But I guess nobody's perfect!
As a final note, I managed to get backstage after the show and met up with most of both bands and it has to be said that they are all real gentlemen, and thoroughly deserve the fantastic support the fans are giving them. Don't forget that apart from a few adverts in the odd music magazine they have managed to sell out, or at least substantially fill, most of the UK venues with next to no media coverage. Luck? I don't think so.....
Long Live UFO!
A Self Made Man
Out In The Streets
One More For The Rodeo
Pushed To The Limit
Love To Love
Too Hot To Handle
Only You Can Rock Me