Blackberry Smoke and Biters have been firing up crowds across the UK this spring. HRH Mag’s Simon Rushworth caught the B-Team in action.
At first glance Blackberry Smoke and Biters appear to be uncomfortable bedfellows. On the one hand there’s the former’s laid back, Southern Rock swagger and on the other the latter’s glam-fuelled stomp rock, fusing T-Rex with the Ramones. It was almost as if the promoter had stuck a pin in a list of bands beginning with B and thrown the first two together (at least Gary Barlow wasn’t supporting Blackberry Smoke).
However, the truth is that both bands are bonded by more than an Atlanta upbringing and the same UK label. They share a common appreciation of what makes an incendiary live show and a keen understanding of their musical heritage. Looking for a lesson in supreme stagecraft? These two bands are the best.
Nevertheless, unsuspecting Blackberry Smoke fans might have been surprised when Biters’ Tuk – a Noel Fielding lookalike who’s just too cool for school – strutted onto the stage as if he owned the place. But the charismatic singer songwriter doesn’t just walk the walk. He talks the talk. Even when he’s grappling with an uncertain future.
Prior to the show Tuk told HRH Mag that he was ‘through with playing for other people’s crowds’. It was by no means a disrespectful swipe at the Blackberry Smoke massive and Biters went into this tour buzzing at the prospect of playing alongside their Georgia buddies. However, the feverish quartet have become a serial support act and there’s a burning desire to go it alone.
Intoxicating new album The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be could be the catalyst for Biters to break free from the cycle of special guest slots: new tunes Gypsy Rose and Stone Cold Love have the feel of glorious glam rock classics given a 2017 tweak. And if swathes of the capacity crowd still weren’t convinced then sprawling set closer 1975, from the band’s blistering debut Electric Blood, must have given the most sceptical of onlookers serious food for thought.
Blackberry Smoke spent the afternoon strolling along the coast at Whitley Bay before feasting on the al a carte menu from Marco Pierre White’s Newcastle eaterie. If there are wilder ways to warm up for a rock and roll show than a breath of sea air and a salmon steak then the unconventional build up proved to be the perfect preparation for the chilled-out headliners.
Atmosphere is everything at a Blackberry Smoke show and where Biters are all about energy, angst and riff-fuelled posturing, their label mates prefer a more measured approach to live music. Painstakingly creating the perfect vibe, meticulous frontman Charlie Starr knew when to up the ante and increase the pace but there was always time for a meandering jam and a self-reflective step back.
Fire In The Hole and the fantastic Six Ways To Sunday set the tone for a fabulous night of brutally honest and refreshingly frank countrified Southern Rock. It’s still difficult to look beyond Pretty Little Lie and One Horse Town as the obvious highlights within a mesmerising two-hour set but Free On The Wing, from latest long player Like An Arrow, is fast making its move to be considered as a future classic.
Starr – who cited Newcastle’s very own Quireboys as a huge influence on his early career – found time to pay tribute to Chuck Berry and celebrate the birthday of Muddy Waters as if to further underpin the history at the heart of his classy band.
Blackberry Smoke might be dedicated students of rock and roll but the pupil is fast becoming the master. And this tour marks the graduation of one of the best live bands in a generation.
*Exclusive Image By John Burrows