3 Englishmen, an Irishman, 3 Scotsmen, and a German walk onto a stage…
What sounds like the set-up for a poor joke is anything but, as it’s the Michael Schenker Fest – a show featuring no fewer than 4 different lead vocalists who have worked with guitar-whizz Herr Schenker (amongst others) over the years, plus other musicians from the (former) mad axeman’s illustrious past. The fact that such a set-up can work in the rock world, where egos can be legendary, is remarkable in itself; many of the artists here have at some point parted on less than amicable terms, and yet here they all are, working together in perfect harmony, with good humour all around. Not that they make it appear like work – an infectious bonhomie and camaraderie emanate from the stage, with plenty of good-natured joking around between the performers.
Support act Eden’s Curse did an admirable job of warming up the sizable Manchester crowd before the main attraction, and it’s a grinning Michael that walks on stage to introduce the show. The first surprise of the night is that he actually sings the old Scorpions song ‘Holiday’ himself. The second surprise is that one-time show closer ‘Doctor Doctor’ follows, the UFO favourite being sung in turns by all 4 lead vocalists. The show then broadly follows a pattern of consisting of mini-sets by the vocalists from different eras of Michael’s post-UFO career, with his most recent singer, Doogie White leading the way. New material from the recent ‘Resurrection’ album is well received, as are tracks from ‘Bridge the Gap’ and ‘Spirit on a Mission’, and his dedicating of the older ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’ to Ronnie James Dio draws a raw of approval and a sea of horns from the crowd. A rollicking version of UFO’s ‘Natural Thing’ brings the Doogie set to a close. The title track from the ‘Assault Attack’ album heralds the arrival of Graham Bonnet, appropriately enough, and like Doogie before him he proves to be in great voice, belting out the material in a way that belies his years. It’s good to hear the rarely played ‘Searching for a Reason’ along with ‘Dancer’, ‘Assault Attack’, ‘Desert Song’ and the recent ‘Night Moods’.
The aforementioned lack of egos is demonstrated as the other 3 vocalists pop-up to provide backing vocals as appropriate. The Scorpions instrumental ‘Coast to Coast’ precedes the Barden-era MSG set, with Gary singing early-80’s favourites ‘Ready to Rock’, ‘Attack of the Mad Axeman’, ‘Rock My Nights Away’ and (of course) ‘Armed and Ready’, along with ‘Resurrection’ track ‘Messin’ Around’ and an all-vocalists-to-the-stage moment for a rousing rendition of ‘Warrior’. The instrumental ‘Into the Arena’ from MSG’s debut album provides the link into the Robin McAuley fronted set, which also contains a few more UFO classics, ending with a tour-de-force version of ‘Rock Bottom’, which features all 4 vocalists and some jaw-dropping playing from Michael. An encore is inevitable, and a rousing ‘Lights Out’ with everyone on stage just about brings the roof down, rounding off an incredible evening.
Top-notch playing from everyone, with Steve Mann providing second guitar and keyboards as required, and the rhythm section of Chris Glen and Ted McKenna laying down a solid heavy foundation. And bassist Chris Glen’s laser-firing sunglasses have to be seen to be believed! It’s difficult to imagine anyone else putting on a show like this, a wonderful rocking combination of the nostalgic and the modern, and an event that certainly put a big smile on my face.
Review by Tim Summers | Photos by John Gilleese