Live Review : Dan Reed Network + Mason Hill + Hollowstar @ Academy Club, Manchester on November 25th 2018

It’s getting to the busy time of year for gigs, Johann is out most nights. We agree 2018 is a year we could both forget. March onwards, 2019 beckons and omens are looking good.  Transition is in the air. The countdown, the car & the traffic jams are all there. The European driving style is better suited to the city streets and tonight gets to the gig for the opening act. It’s dark all the time now, I see in perpetual orange and rain magnifies the colours in the windscreen. I’m a shit passenger, hanging on to the handrail on the passenger side for dear life.

I think the tall lad who works at the Academy recognises us by now. He didn’t even ask if I had a ticket. We wait with the rest of the photogs while the manager writes out handwritten passes, it’s a nice touch and the fella is genuinely lovely. 

Hollowstar are well into their set, the first thing that strikes you is how heavy they are for what sounds and looks like a classic rock band. The lead guitarist is tall and pulls all the right shapes.  They sound immense as you walk in, the drums are set to the side of the stage. The songs seem to all have a similar pace but are packed with dynamics and strong hooky melodies. The band themselves consist of the brothers Bonson, Phil Haines and Tom Collet. John Bonson sings and plays bass, he wears his fedora over a mop of curly hair and has a very bluesy but English voice.  Haines remains a statuesque lead and has a good standard of melodic licks to hand and some fiery solos. They end the set with much thanks to Dan Reed and to the people that came to see them.  We where a little sideswiped by the traffic so hopefully will get to see a little more of the polished, heavy rock from Hollowstar in the future.

Our minds as they do, move directly to the prospect of beer. I’ve stopped looking at the prices, they fluctuate with the wind and I’m thirsty. I make notes on my phone, the battery is low. I keep the brightness down so as not to distract the punters around me. Still, I nearly have the phone knocked out of my hand as a reveler flounces past, not even an apology, the arrogance of youth.  Mason Hill are ready and about to kick off.

Mason Hill are a five piece from Glasgow, a very heavy rhythmic band with strong vocal melodies.  From the outset it’s apparent that Scott Taylor on vocals has a huge vocal presence.  The band sound a bit idling from at first but over time grow into the set. James Bird on lead guitar seem a bit unsure on stage, his guitar playing is technically all there but there is a percent missing, a dollop of passion, I want him to throw himself into the notes, shake the bends. It’s not really a criticism but his guitar parts are excellent and he steals a little thunder from himself by being a little stage shy.

There’s a moment in some gigs, not very often sadly that one band member changes the gig on it’s head. There is a break, a timed stop in the music where Scott Taylor unleashes a withering scream, you can feel him shake the electrons, they vibrate right up my arms and into my skull where the music blows my fucking mind.  It’s now that I don’t really carry on reviewing and start nodding along, the foot starts tapping and I can recognise the choruses of songs I’ve never heard before.  The songs are strong. The whole crowd are rocking by now and these have been an unbelievable band. With strong singles like 'Hold On’ and ‘Out of Reach’ this band are likely to go on to bigger and brighter things. 

I’m staying firm, I’m on pint four and it’s usually this point that I buckle and grab a packet of ciggies.  Now I have not only the other half but Johann taking the piss I must stay strong.  The changeover is taking forever and Johann has started singing to me.  STAY STRONG!

Dan Reed Network set up done, start with a tribally, semi stomp style intro, it’s a bit messy but they gather composure quickly. Dan Reed is a stocky balding man, with a very pleasant demeanour. His voice isn’t powerful but has a lot of range and tone. Brion James on guitar, long grey dreadlocks and eternal smile is bouncing around the stage. His story, his life is something else more of that later. Melvin Brannon II is everything I though about America as a child.  He has a leather waistcoat, a trilby atop a headscarf. A huge smile with perfect teeth, plying a very distinctive style of bass, precise and funky. Dan Reed Network start to gather momentum, people are dancing around us, videos are being made & photos taken.  This is the first time in a while that the audience have thrown themselves into the night. ‘Rock you all Night’ is a great song to start, simple almost classic rock in it’s straightforwardness.  Dan Reed is often labelled funk rock, but the set is more akin to cock rock, simple verses catchy choruses and blistering solos. With occasional synth pop elements which place the music firmly in the eighties. The first song I recognise (I’m not as well versed with funk rock as I should be) is ‘Rainbow Child’.  It starts with a very eighties rock ballad intro, that muted arpeggio very much in the style of Joe Satriani. The song (written in the back of a van, in the parking lot of a gig) is a very uplifting piece of pop rock.  With simple elegant guitar lines and an almost Disneyesque backing drum beat. 

Tiger In A Dress takes things up a notch and the people around me are noticeably excited.  With pop synth stabs and a clean wah-wah guitar part this is by far the funkiest song so far.  The couple next to me have abandoned all decorum and are gyrating with the freedom of a newly released prisoner.  It’s refreshing, so many gigs the crowd take a monumental effort to warm up.   By the time ‘Champion’ begins the crowd are shouting requests. Dan Reed is genuinely at home on stage and talks back and forth with the throng.  He tells us about Brion James, the beekeeper living in a picturesque portion of Honduras, he teaches guitar on the island. Honduras’ forests where decimated by Gibson for forty years in order to build the Les Paul. Dan Reed himself lives in the Czech Republic.   Both Rob Dalker and Brion James get opportunities to sing their own songs, Rob Dalker sings a long, slow power ballad while Brion sings a funky almost reggae pop song called ‘Save the World

Ritual’, the penultimate song, is a pop rock tour de force.  With the woah, yee ah intro to the easy chorus. The music is infectious and as eighties as it gets. The band are rejuvenated and deliver the set with the spirit and verve of men who belie their ages. Testament to working and living a happy life. They call up the support acts, Hollowstar and Mason Hill.  Together they perform an amazing acapella version of the ballad “A Long Way To Go”.  It’s one of the best endings to a set I’ve have ever seen. 

It was just going to be another night, but in one moment Scott Taylor changed the whole night and Dan Reed Network elevated it.  It never ceases to amaze me the transportational effects of music. For a few more hours nothing seemed more important. I feel an itch in the back of my mind, start a band…start a band. Rock hard, rock long, start a band. The drive home, ‘Stronger Than Steel’ swirls around my mind, it’s been a tough year, things are in transition. Look to the horizon and you’ll see traffic jams and endless cones, it’s slow but we are all heading home inch by inch, minute by minute. 

Words by Paul Flett
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki