Well, it’s been some time coming! Francis Dunnery back on the electric guitar and with his 6 piece band. This first night of a week-long tour kicks off in his hometown of Egremont. Fittingly it’s in the more rock venue of the Market Hall and not the plush, refined setting of the nearby Rosehill Theatre, his usual haunt for the last few years of acoustic gigs. I do love his acoustic gigs and house concerts but I also loved the way this gig made me feel. The kick in the stomach of the sheer volume and the rib-cage-vibrating intensity of the bass gave me an excitement and heart-racing anticipation of a great night ahead. I was not disappointed.

The tension was raised as a drum solo started proceedings on a still-dark stage. Cheers went up. We had all waited a long time for this! The opening chunky, staccato riff of Welcome to the Wild Country! The crowd roared its approval. Francis the rocker is back! The band kicked in and we were away on a rollercoaster of musical virtuosity, thrills (hardly any spills!) all with an emotional attachment that showed between band and audience, band and songs. Francis’s voice was on top form as he soared to the high notes and growled the low ones. No hesitation as the band moved from song to song. Pretty much all of the ‘Wild Country’ record was played. It was good to hear ‘Heartache Reborn’ fast and rocky again. We all sang along. In fact we all sang along to every song. The mood slowed a bit for ‘Jackal’ – a very moody and dynamic piece. A very emotional song that builds in a crescendo. Some lovely interplay between the band and stunning guitar from Francis. It’s one of those songs that stirs me to the core. An unplanned and instinctive emotional response that comes from a combination of the moving music and heartfelt words. Fantastic.

The band are steaming…the rock-steady beat of Tony Beard’s drums and Nathan King’s confident and spot on bass playing and vocals. Peter Vetesse is brilliant on keyboards and the swapping of solos between him and Francis is just amazing. It’s as though they are joined as one as they duel in a call and response swapping of solos, sometimes inviting Swedish guitarist Flamman in who slots easily into the sound and groove of the band. Francis takes off on flights of guitar supremacy as he trades solos on the new download single ‘Feels like Summertime’ a song that I love. It has a beautiful quality, very melodic, until you’re lulled into a false sense of security and then shaken out of it as some powerchords come crashing in! The band don’t seem too sure how to end the song until Francis takes control and reels it all in. Not bad for a band with only a few days rehearsal under their belts.

Of course the gig wouldn’t be complete without a couple of It Bites songs! Underneath Your Pillow meanders in during the middle of the set. It gets a huge response and we all join in with the words. It’s one of my favourite songs of theirs and takes me back to 1989 and the Cambridge Corn Exchange! But that’s another story! ‘Midnight’ is stunning and the crowd go wild. Francis’s guitar playing has lost none of its flair and style and is even more melodic if that’s possible. What a first night. It bodes well for the rest of the tour. I stumble out of the hall dazed and happy not realising that in a few minutes I will be sitting in a farmyard courtesy of my SatNav! Keep the House Concerts and acoustic gigs coming Francis, but don’t let the dust gather on your new guitar and Marshall stack! A fabulous night!

By David Baalham
Published in Egremont Today

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