- 21 Aug 17
Rock and metal road warrior Blaze Bayley is the last of a dying breed. After first cutting his teeth with that rabid band of hellions Wolfsbane, he went on to stride across the stadiums and festival stages of the world as frontman for the little known (!) group known as Iron Maiden.
Solo since '99, the former “Tamworth Terror” has been a man on a mission recently and that mission is decapitation by guitar and gargantuan melodies. Inspired by his hero Ronnie James Dio, Bayley's aim is to mirror his mentor's career by releasing records and touring the world until he too breathes his last breath. Unconcerned if the crowd is made up of 50 or 500 people, he's been relentlessly on the road ever since the release of his creative comeback record Infinite Entanglement and tonight he makes his way to a sleepy village in County Down to give them a rude awakening.
But before we get to the self-described “Man Who Would Not Die,” we've got the explosive rock powder-keg that is Screaming Eagles to enjoy first. Hailing from nearby Banbridge, the hometown heroes are of course no strangers to the road themselves and they deliver an electric sermon steeped in the gospel of Bon Scott. The likes of 'Ready For The Fall' is a robust rocker and in singer Chris Fry they have a frontman with both bags of charisma and an impressive set of pipes.
Another man with a serious set of pipes is our headline act and he cuts an intense figure as his band begin to play an extended opening intro. Keen to kick-start this (relatively) fledgling festival off with a bang, Blaze Bayley wastes little time delivering the one-two punch of 'Endure And Survive' and 'Escape Velocity' (the latter is an absolute knock-out thanks to a monster, NWOBHM-infused chorus).
Performing material mostly culled from his recent records Infinite Entanglement and eighth solo LP Endure And Survive it's a brave move ignoring songs from the critically acclaimed The Man Who Would Not Die and Promise And Terror, but Bayley's always been blessed with plenty of courage. His faith in his current albums is also justified, as, while his War Of The Worlds-esque space opera is admittedly a bit bonkers (at least at first), it's also often quite brilliant and deliciously cheesy too. 'Calling You Home' is a beast of a track and has a booming chorus which Blaze belts out into the night with his famous baritone, while 'Dark Energy 256' draws from his punk roots and has plenty of bite.
There's also a smattering of songs from his tenure in Maiden tonight and 'Futureal,' 'The Clansman' and the critics-bashing 'Virus' in particular are a treat for this faithful follower of Steve Harris' mob. Bayley also drops an old Wolfsbane classic ('Manhunt') into the set, much to the delight of the die-hards around me and then proceeds to indulge in a fun piece of pantomime where his backing band do their best to take the spotlight as their frontman feigns annoyance. It should also be added that guitarist Chris Appleton does a great job performing that fret bothering riff too.
“Fun” is an important word tonight, as despite the darkness in some of Bayley's lyrics that's what a Blaze show is all about. His eternally beaming smile onstage is infectious, his indefatigable antics to include his audience, which this evening ranges from six to 60, is hard to ignore and his set-list is an impressive salvo of melodic metal, delivered with passion and precision.
With the third instalment of Blaze's trilogy of concept albums centred around the saga of cyborg/AI war machine William Black due next year, consider Hot Press more than a little bit excited to see where the journeyman of rock turns up next. Once thing's for sure, we'll be front and centre in the pit wherever it is.