I think that to start with I should declare that I have something of a soft spot for The Railway in Bromley Cross, Bolton. When they first opened four and a half years ago, the thought of what Jon and Hilary were hoping to achieve were totally mouth-watering – great music in a place that just felt like home. Who would’ve guessed that this Victorian pub with its proper stage, lighting and full sound system would start to attract some of the best musical acts around? The atmosphere, welcome and, let’s be honest, perfect attention to detail has created a home from home for EVERY musician and music lover – one that I now measure every other one by. Frankly, they very rarely even come close. The musical key, without a shadow of doubt, is Jon – amongst other things, the man for whom the sound system has an almost organic connection to his body and soul. Here is a man who not only has probably heard every song worth hearing in history, you also have a man who has worked with a plethora of bands that you know and adore – and he works that desk as if it was a musical instrument itself. In terms of this little piece, perhaps the most immediately pertinent point to note is that he worked with Queen …. no, not her Majesty what lives at Buck. House – I mean Dr Brian, Roger, John and, of course, Freddie. Where is this going, I hear you ask? Well, keep with me and all will become clear.
Last Saturday The Railway played host to only the second ever live show by Space Elevator. Their self titled, debut album was released earlier this year to rave reviews. A genius blend of the best bits of Queen, ABBA, hard rock, pop, musical theatre (oh come on, you must have realised about me and musicals by now?) was launched with the video to “Elevator” – and straight away we were hit by the be-catsuited wonder that is The (rather mysteriously titled) Duchess. Much was made of the fact that Neil Murray (yes, he of, amongst others, Black Sabbath and Whitesnake) plays bass, but don’t be fooled – it is the songs and all round musicianship that makes this such a great record. You might not know the names, but co-founder and guitar player David Young, drummer Brian Greene and Elliott Ware on keyboards have done a few gigs. Let’s put it this way, as members of the band for the Queen musical, “We Will Rock You”, between them they played over 4000(!) shows on the West End. Add to that, Mr Ware was UK Musical Director for “Rock of Ages” (I know, it would be wouldn’t it?) they clearly know a thing or two about playing.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nPXlRym5JMQ]
The album contains some great songs – their homage to a certain Queen song “We Are the Losers”, “I Will Find You (Gallifrey Dreams)” was written around some of the themes from Doctor Who and his relationship with Rose Tyler and the ode to OCD, “Oils and Bubbles” – all of which have given me songs to smile about and soundtrack my summer. This is an album not just for AOR (whatever that is?) fans but for anyone who enjoys well crafted, produced and performed songs that are played with a hint of a knowing wink, a touch of tongue in cheek but mostly classy musical ability that really does highlight the combined talents of the crew of the Space Elevator. The album is available now on CD and vinyl via the band’s website and also digital download via i-Tunes.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pnbi7L-xOSQ]
However, back to the other Saturday. Given my enduring love of the album, the prospect of Space Elevator’s second ever show being at my favourite venue had filled me with excited anticipation. What would they be like live, would the songs fit the live arena and, frankly, would The Duchess be as (beautifully) crackers as she appears?
I had nothing to fear. As the band took the stage to the intro tape of the opening to “Elevator”, the anticipation was pronounced throughout the crowd. At the perfect moment, the band hit the ground running. Immediately we were hit by the power, passion and wonder that was The Duchess in her catsuit … er, sorry I meant the incredible sound. I caught the eye of Jon at the sound desk and there was a man clearly moved by what we were hearing. For song after song, The Duchess enthralled us with her vocals and her rapport with the crowd would be obvious to a blind man on a fast horse. telling jokes, interacting with the crowd – here was a lady having as much fun as the audience. David Young’s guitar sound was incredible, building up the atmosphere and proving just why he got the gig playing Dr Brian’s parts! Mr Greene’s drum sound was immense – hitting the kit with such intensity that it was moving towards the audience – obviously, being Panto season it was all about getting the crowd involved. Not long after the gig was announced, the band had reported that due to a prior engagement Neil Murray wouldn’t be at the show. Oh ‘eck, we thought – who could fill the shoes of a veritable leg-end? The answer was Chas Maguire – note perfect, he clearly was able to put the bottom end into the show (bringing to mind one of The Duchess’s song introductions … at least I think she mentioned bottom end). Even more importantly, Chas provided a third backing vocal that truly brought the set to life.
Most of the album was played, a new song was more than a match for the songs we knew and loved and, just for fun, the band “threw in” a cover of “Daytripper”. A great version that put their own stamp on such a well-known song. All too soon the show was over …. except for one more. The encore was another cover … it had to be a Queen song, but not one of the usual suspects. Clearly having a great time Space Elevator hit us with “Fat Bottomed Girls”.
Oh yeah, back to that sound. Just occasionally, bands decide, in their infinite wisdom, that the Railway’s “House” engineer couldn’t possibly do their sound justice and pay someone. I have yet to experience a show at The Railway where this pays off for the band. It is probably my ears (along with, I must add, quite a lot of other “Railway Children”) but why do these people think that we need to be battered by a bass that makes you need the toilet and means you can’t hear a guitar for the first 45 minutes of a set? Space Elevator didn’t make this mistake and trusted Jon. They had an amazing sound, were immensely talented and Jon’s musicality made this even better. The Duchess commented at sound check how great the sound was for the guys on stage (surely everything a musician would want in the live forum?) and for the crowd the sound was incredible. Crystal clear, powerful and we could hear every last nuance. This was EVERYTHING a show with a powerfully voiced female singer and great musicians should be about – trust the “House”, there’s a reason you want to play there?
Space Elevator are without doubt a force to be reckoned with and forget the rest, The Duchess is the rightful heiress to Freddie – and the best female vocalist I’ve heard live! I can’t wait until they come back. Oh yeah, the Twix went down well too!
Check out more, and buy the album at www.spaceelevatorband.com[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWKMzd15v54]
Live photography: David Wilson