It’s no secret …. I’ve been a huge admirer of all things Gary Hughes & Ten since 1996. In my humble opinion he is one of the finest singer/songwriters the Melodic Hard Rock/AOR genre has ever known.
That said, and putting my partisan views aside (briefly), it is common knowledge that the band have always polarized opinions – very rarely has there been middle ground.
However, since 2010, when their self-imposed 5 year hiatus came to an end, Gary Hughes and the band have taken stock, and firstly produced the impressive Stormwarning album; then, despite several forced changes in personnel, they have kept the momentum going, culminating in an unforgettable 2 hour set on the 5th November 2011 at Fleetwoodstock. That line-up now appears to be as settled as anyone could wish for.
A combination of old blood (sorry Gary, Steve and John) and new blood in the form of Darrel Treece-Birch (keys), Max Yates(drums) and the guitar revelation that is Dan Mitchell have now, through numerous well-received gigs and the very impressive 2012 album Heresy & Creed ( my album of the year, without question ), become arguably as tight-knit as any previous manifestation of Ten.
So, HRH AOR Day 2 was to become yet another benchmark for the band – could they recruit yet more admirers? It was going to be a difficult task, as previous band H.E.A.T had set a very high standard!!
As the lights dimmed, and the now familiar keyboard intro of ‘The Gates Of Jerusalem‘ filled the venue, there was an expectant hush, followed by a huge cheer as the band made their entrance.
‘Arabian Knights‘ then exploded into life with such verve and intensity, and despite Mr. Hughes slipping, stumbling and briefly falling (c’mon guys, who hasn’t at one time or another fallen foul of the dreaded ‘damp patch‘?), he didn’t miss a syllable, and the band definitely looked in the mood to deliver!!
I’m not a musician, or a sound technician … I’m just a humble fan; but if I’m being hyper-critical I personally think that if the intensity of Ten in the live arena, especially from the rhythm section of the band, was reined in just a modicum it would allow the keyboards and lead guitar to come more to the fore and thus further enhance the lush, intricate melodies of the songs. My suspicions would be that this is more of a sound tech issue, not the musicians.
‘Gunrunning‘ was up next, and was met with huge approval and vocal participation. It certainly is one of the most commercial songs ever written by Gary Hughes, and with a foot firmly planted in the 70’s Glam Rock era, it should be a permanent fixture for quite some time to come. ‘Spellbound‘ delivered its customary hammer blow, and whilst Gary, looking every inch the military General patrolled the stage, his trusty axe lieutenants: John, Steve and Dan lost themselves in riff heaven!!
Ever since Dan Mitchell debuted at Fleetwoodstock, his quality of guitar playing has been held in the highest regard, and, to see his fingers moving up and down the neck of his guitar like a spider with St Vitus dance it is a joy to behold!! But what is even more pleasing these days, is that he is no longer a static genius, but one that is relaxed, expressive, and in more ways than one, upwardly mobile.
Another Ten classic, ‘Ten Fathoms Deep‘ brought the tempo down somewhat, and allowed us to catch our breath and enjoy the stunning, audio/visual storytelling that Gary Hughes is so good at. From a personal point of view, I would have liked to have seen an acoustic version adopted here – how captivating would that have been?
The biggest problem Ten face when performing live, is which songs to include, and which songs to omit – So it was quite a surprise to me that ‘The Robe‘ was the next song, knowing what song they would be finishing with. With a 90+ minute set, there is ample time for multiple epics such as this, however, as pleased as I was to hear it (especially the spoken intro done by Gary himself) I felt that two shorter songs could have been used instead ……. again, just a selfish observation.
A similar problem, albeit a nice one, is which ballad to adopt, as each one is a timeless classic – but there is little doubt that ‘Valentine‘ is up there with the best. The main protagonists: Gary, Darrel, and a blistering, heart-wrenching solo from Dan took the song up into the sonic stratosphere ….. divine !!!
‘After The Love Has Gone‘ followed, and was received with immense warmth and appreciation for the old friend that it is. It must never be omitted!!! ‘Unbelievable‘ was, for me, the highlight of the set. Ever since I received my copy of Heresy & Creed I thought this song was good, but live it is a totally different beast – a hybrid of rock, blues and jive that injects a party atmosphere in to both audience and band alike.
The fan-favourite ‘Red‘ was the penultimate song, and was executed with customary Celtic charisma, especially by John Halliwell and Steve McKenna, who’s flowing manes were dancing manically to its beat.
All good things must come to an end, and everything that can be said about ‘Name Of The Rose‘ has already been said – It is Ten’s signature dish; it is the National Anthem of Lancashire; it encapsulates everything that is Ten: an epic soundscape, storytelling of the highest order, power, drive, melody, and more class than you could shake a stick at – THE only way to end what was another memorable display of musicianship, by a band that will forever have a place in my heart.
If you’ve never seen them ……. you simply must!!!
Gates Of Jerusalem/Arabian Knights
Ten Fathoms Deep
After The Love Has Gone
Name Of The Rose
Review by Dave Crompton
Photographs by David Wilson