Many rock bands don’t last, indeed many bands despite their musical genre don’t have any kind of longevity these days. However, UFO have defied all the odds and trials/tribulations of the business and are now on their farewell tour jaunt after fifty years. The lineup has evolved and re-evolved many times but still have longstanding members the omnipresent Mogg, along with Chapman, Parker, and newer recruits, Vinnie Moore and Rob De Luca. Although very familiar with the bands musical back catalogue I have only seen them live on a couple of occasions in recent years. For whatever reasons they bypassed Belfast on their tour schedules until fairly recently. They are winding down and unlike other rock giants who embark on a series of farewell tours, I genuinely believe that it will actually be the final chance to hear these classic songs live.
Manchester Ritz was sold out, as indeed were many other dates in what these days was an extensive UK tour. Fans were queueing up outside the venue from early afternoon and wearing a range of past tour shirts from all eras of the band’s history. Early doors on a Saturday night usually means that the venue is holding a post-gig club night with a strict curfew of 10 pm. Unusually with only one support and no club night, it would be an early finish. Personally, I would have preferred a longer UFO set but that decision was not in my hands.
Opening for the rock legends was Tara Lynch, a new name to me, a multi-instrumentalist who sings and plays guitar. Early doors did, unfortunately, see her playing to a relatively small crowd until the venue security staff got to grips with the crowd filtration at the entrance and then the numbers gradually filled out. For guitar virtuoso fans her set became both a sonic and visual delight. However, for the majority of people, I think that the whole show passed them by as people around me sadly used the opportunity to gossip amongst themselves and drink even more alcohol. Sad state of the majority of gigs these days.
UFOs set was largely and unsurprisingly built around their classic songs and just the one new track from the Conspiracy of Stars album in “Messiah of Love”. To pick through the set list of veritable anthems and pick anything out would be like asking a parent to choose a favourite child. From the opening “Mother Mary” from the Force It album until the final notes of another track from that album, “Shoot Shoot”, the band rolled back through the years. Beautiful ballads lay comfortably and went perfectly hand in hand with harder-edged tunes like “Rock Bottom” and “Lights Out”. Vinnie Moore largely played within the song frameworks that were so familiar to many and yet was offered the artistic freedom to show off during his solo spots in the set.
A tight section was provided by the drums of stalwart Andy Parker and the youthful Rob De Luca on bass. Keyboard nuances and melodic touches were created by Paul Raymond – when he wasn’t providing the second guitar. The set was touched with many poignant moments and I did actually witness a few tears trickle down the faces of old and grizzled rock fans during the course of the evening. It was a somber affair when the final notes had died. The sound was perfect from start to finish, the band was right on the money, all the individual elements, and the crowd was up to make the bands farewell Manchester show a celebratory event. Farewell, UFO, it’s been a blast from takeoff to the final landing.
Review by Mark Dean | Photos by David Pickles