I am surrounded by mostly middle aged men in leathers shouting longingly for ‘MSG, MSG!’ No, I’m not at the queue for the Big Wok all you can eat buffet, I have gone to see the Michael Schenker Group in Dudley. The German wunderkind guitarist, who debuted with The Scorpions at the age of seventeen and then shot to fame as guitarist for UK rock legends U.F.O, has returned to these shores with his band for what is reputed to be the ‘sober tour’. For a man who has a long history of personal problems, mostly alcohol related, including selling his own tour bus on an internet auction, and who once put an end to U.F.O reunion talks by hitting vocalist Phil Mogg over the head with a metal chair, this is a significant claim.
First, Fury UK warm up the healthy sized crowd with a set of solid and well crafted hard rock songs. The band have played at Bloodstock Metal Festival and supported many well established acts such as Tamworth boy, Blaze Bayley. They are gaining a growing following and becoming respected in the metal community. For a three piece they make a very full sound. The bassist fills in any lead passages with thick chordal runs and harmonises nicely with the guitarist/vocalist’s melodies. Dedicating one song to ‘everyone in the room’, their singer praises the audience for being part of a ‘brotherhood of rock’. This is a bit corny but well meant and leads nicely into the next song with its chorus of ‘Stand together, we are one blood’. Their set ends with ‘Death By Lightning’, a nasty prospect in real life, but a nice rock song. In the extended outro to this song guitarist/vocalist Chris Appleton shows off some fretburning solos that give Schenker a run for his money. Then, after an appeal to buy merchandise, they are off.
There is a big biker next to me called Dave. He is hoping tonight will be a good show. Shows as recent as 2007 have ended in near disaster after Schenker’s drinking sent him out of control. And German jokes aside, JBs does genuinely put me in mind of a Bierkeller with its high ceilings and big wooden carved ceiling beams. However, as he steps on stage tonight in trademark wrap around sunglasses and leather jacket, with his black and white flying V guitar slung around his hunched shoulders, it is clear that Schenker is a reinvigorated man. Clean and having lost the excess weight he had gained recently, Michael’s face is full of passion for the music he loves and you can see him mouthing Gary Barden’s lyrics all the way through. He shuffles around the stage like a joyous crab, casually reeling out supersonic guitar licks.
In actual fact, MSG start out a little lukewarm. The happy major key feel and slightly progressive undertones of the first few numbers don’t fully satisfy my ears. The crowd, though appreciative, are more static than ecstatic and I settle back to watch the musicianship. The Michael Schenker Group has been around in various incarnations since 1978 and has had over twenty different musicians pass through it. Michael has operated a bit of a revolving door policy, with the only real constant being himself. On these European dates he is joined by Gary Barden on vocals, ex AC/DC sticksman Chris Slade on drums (who I knew I recognised from their Donington live video!) Chris Glen on bass (who has one of the best rock gurns I’ve ever seen) and Wayne Findlay on keys and rhythm guitar. But who knows who will be in his band next!
It takes a song with ‘rock’ in the title to really get things going. MSG find their groove a few songs in with ‘Are You Ready To Rock’, ‘On and On’ and ‘Armed and Ready’. From here on they are unstoppable. It’s beautiful to watch them launch into the instrumental meisterwerk ‘Into The Arena’ with such gusto. The various sections of this track burst into life with just as much awe inspiring musicianship as a classical symphony and Schenker sets off on a beautiful cadenza of flurrying notes
to end the piece.
We get not one but two encores from MSG. The first track played is an obscure new track from Schenker and Barden’s acoustic album ‘Gypsy Lady’. This is a bizarre choice and impresses neither me nor biker Dave or any of the audience. I really fear that Michael is going to be true to his contrary nature and refuse to play any U.F.O material. I and many other critics and fans alike believe that his best work came from within this band. Then from out of nowhere MSG seem to cut the track and Schenker lashes out the opening riff from U.F.O’s classic ‘Rock Bottom’.
This is what I’ve come to see. The song builds from a swaggery riff into a monstrous chorus, then ebbs into a jazzy interlude. Michael unleashes some truly soulful playing, which in my opinion has always elevated him above other guitar virtuosos who may have technique but lack feel. After this track builds back up to its crescendo MSG exit the stage only to come back on for a final time. They play a masterful ‘Doctor, Doctor’, the crowd go apeshit and it goes from being a good gig to a great one.
Review – Adam Moffatt
Photos – Andy Whitehouse