Brian Downey’s Alive & Dangerous + One For Sorrow + Motorcycle Display Team @ The Underworld, Camden

Date: 29th September 2018
Review By Beandog

What do you call someone who hangs around with a group of musicians?..

…A drummer! (Ba-boom, tish!)

Yeah, yeah.. They’ve heard it all before – But come on, let’s think about this in a bit more detail. Would the hairs on the back of your arm stand up quite as rigidly without Ringo’s affable pulse or John Bonham’s monsterous stomp? – Can you resist a bit of air-drumming when Tom Sawyer comes on the radio. Do you not smile when Run DMC and Aerosmith join forces over Joey Kramer’s stuttering beat.

Drummers are important!

So with that being said, it’s good to feel a humble, yet palpable sense of respect among those at the Underworld in Camden tonight.

At the very least, people are here to enjoy a live performance of some of the greatest rock songs ever written; but more than that, we are here to celebrate the talent and contribution that one man made to one of the greatest rock bands of the twentieth century – That band is Thin Lizzy and that man, of course, is Brian Downey.

During Phil Lynott’s lifetime, Brian Downey was the only other permanent member of Thin Lizzy. He was a founding member of the band and held his position behind the kit throughout their career. Of the various line ups that toured after Lynott’s passing, Downey was involved in the Ricky Warwick fronted version of the band but ultimately left when they morphed into Black Star Riders – choosing as they did, not to write new material under the Thin Lizzy name out of respect for the legacy built by Lynott.

Fast forward to recent times and Downey has returned to the Lizzy catalogue; seemingly influenced by the opportunity to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their iconic 1978 Live and Dangerous album – which this current tour focusses heavily on – he has been joined by his friend Brian Grace along with Matt Wilson and Phil Edgar, who both played together in the Lowriders. All of whom were involved in Vibe for Philo event in Dublin around 2015, which is really where the momentum for this project began.

Before we get a chance to hear the fruits of this collaboration for ourselves, there are two support bands this evening – The first – Motorcycle Display Team – are on stage at the relatively early time of 18:30. Unfortunately for them, this means their set is delivered to a sparsely populated venue – which is a shame, because despite the low numbers they actually give a spirited performance of well-crafted, radio friendly rock music. Their songs roll by on a confident groove with some strong melodies that occasionally remind me of the Red Hot Chili Peppers at their most commercial. Those looking for a further comparison could use Feeder, Muse and Foo Fighters as a reference. It’s all very slick, but a little wholesome for my tastes. This is rock and roll with the crusts cut off.

In a contrast to the opening band, One For Sorrow have a rougher edge and are a lot more visceral and intuitive. Their sound is the heaviest of the night and clearly influenced by the Southern swagger of bands like Down and Corrosion of Conformity. There’s a swampy nineties vibe going on here that does well to charge up the growing crowd. Knowing their audience, or perhaps acknowledging the enduring appeal of 70’s rock and roll, they build their set up to a climactic, rag-tag performance of Black Sabbath’s The Wizard, which gets a rousing cheer.

Unsurprisingly, the venue has filled out by the time Brian Downey and the band take to the stage tonight. Certainly enough to give a mighty cheer as the band hit the opening chord to Jailbreak – which is left to hang in the air, just as it does on my battered vinyl copy – until that solid snare hit ushers in the groovy riff that sets us all off.

The smiles on the faces of the crowd seem to say it all and confirms that the three “non-Lizzy” musicians sharing the stage with the drummer are absolutely welcome tonight. They maintain their momentum by ripping into a storming version of Are You Ready? The two guitar players already trading licks and looking every inch as though they have time-warped in from the late seventies to be here.

On that note – If there is any potential controversy about tonight’s performance, perhaps it would be around singer/bassist Matt Wilson’s close adherence to Phil Lynott’s look; presented as he is, with a large afro haircut and a pencil thin moustache. In a situation like this, it feels like a difficult thing to get right – do you go the Ricky Warwick route, knowing how irreplaceable Lynott is – and risk people not accepting someone else singing these songs, or do you do what Alive and Dangerous have done, and have your frontman adopt a pretty convincing resemblance in a sort of “squint and it could be him” tribute to the great man himself?

Honestly? It doesn’t matter – because right from the start, Matt Wilson’s performance proves to be so good, and sits so comfortably in these songs that any doubts can just be cast aside. In fact all of the musicians are proving themselves completely up to the task of performing such a strong set of songs; and behind it all, Downey holds the groove like a man who has lost none of his spark.

Downey has a very musical style. His toms always tuned as if they could hold a melody, and he has a sensitive touch on songs like Southbound and Still In Love With You, but that is not to say he can’t provide the muscle when it’s needed. Massacre is as driving as it ever was, Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed is a relentless funk and Warriors positively snaps. It is clear that Downey’s chops have not diminished. His ability to maintain a relentless, vibrant energy should not be under-appreciated. This is a performance from a man who has evidently remained at the very top of his game and the crowd cheers their approval.

As a direct lift from Live & Dangerous and as a centre-piece to the set we are given the crowd-pleasing one-two of The Cowboy Song segueing beautifully into The Boys Are Back In Town; a song that carries so much rollicking energy it’s easy to forgive its ubiquitous presence on rock radio.

Brian Grace and Phil Edgar are in their element – effortlessly pulling off the trademark Lizzy solos and harmonised guitar parts. They appear to be having the time of their lives, laughing with each other and flashing smiles across the stage. Equally adept on the rolling boogie of Suicide as they are on the playful Dancing In The Moonlight.

This positive energy is maintained throughout the evening. Not just from the band, but the crowd too who are clearly enraptured by such a strong and well loved set of songs. Highlights being Emerald, Bad Reputation and – of course, while Bob Seger fans may disagree – what is arguably the definitive version of Rosalie.

Brian takes a brief solo before The Rocker brings everything to an extremely satisfying conclusion; however, unlike other bands, who look utterly spent at the end of an hour and half, Alive and Dangerous look like they could keep playing for another full run of songs. Fingers are crossed…

Sadly, it is not to be, and as the house lights come up we usher ourselves out of the venue, happy to have just witnessed a very credible performance of some amazing songs by a wonderful musician who deserves credit for putting this worthy project together.

Marvellous stuff.