Graham Bonnet & Don Airey Band

The Cellar, South Shields

16 November 2001

Tonight's concert was one of the year's more pleasant surprises.

I can't tell you how much Graham Bonnet's voice impressed me. The man has a monstrous voice. Judging by his performance tonight, I honestly don't think he has an equal for live range and power.

I really didn't know what to expect from the show. The ticket said "CLASSIC RAINBOW ROCK NIGHT Featuring Original Members GRAHAM BONNET & DON AIREY". I had some misgivings. First, I'll be honest, Graham Bonnet wasn't my favourite Rainbow singer. Second, £14 for what was basically a tiny club gig seemed a bit steep. And, most importantly, I just couldn't imagine Rainbow songs without Ritchie. I mean, that was the whole point, wasn't it?

So anyway, I thought, why not? So I went. And, oh boy, am I glad I did.

Let me just say this now in case I forget: Graham Bonnet has an absolutely incredible voice.

Bonnet looks exactly like he did 20 years ago. I mean, I don't think he's aged at all. It's spooky. And he still looks nothing like a rock singer. Image is NOT a priority with this man. But his voice! Oh my god, let me tell you about this man's voice. From the first song I was stunned. I really didn't expect anything so sharp, so melodic, or so powerful. I tell you, I think he was holding back on Down to Earth. Or he's got better. Or maybe he just sounds better live.

The club wasn't particularly full. The band came on stage unannounced; the background music didn't even seem to stop. I didn't know the show had started until I noticed the background music had started to sound a bit like Eyes of the World — and it was! Don Airey had just started playing the intro!

Here's the set list (as near as I can remember it — I'm terrible at set lists).

Eyes Of The World

Love's No Friend

Bad Girl

The instrumental from Difficult to Cure — the name completely escapes me at the moment, sorry. No, the other one...

Night Games (and his high range on this has to be heard to be believed)

Stargazer / Difficult To Cure

Stargazer opens with a guitar solo from Dario Mollo. I've never heard this guy before, but he's very good. He does a fair job of emulating Blackmore's style (but not his "sound", obviously) and his solos are always interesting. I would like to hear what he sounds like when he's not trying to play like Blackmore.

If you had told me yesterday that Bonnet was going to sing Stargazer, I would probably have groaned or laughed at the idea. But now I have to tell you, and I'm completely 100% serious about this: he sang it better than Ronnie Dio ever sang it. Swear to God. His voice is really that good.

Bonnet sings the first couple of verses of Stargazer (with a lot of reference to a lyric sheet), up to the guitar solo, then the guitar solo leads into Difficult To Cure.

Mollo's solo is spectacular. It follows the sense of Ritchie's classic Stargazer solo, without being really the same. Sometimes it veers off towards chaotic noise, but he always seems to rescue it and make it sound interesting rather than awful. He's a player well worth investigating.

Half way through Difficult to Cure, the band leaves the stage and Airey continues alone. And he somehow manages to emulate an entire symphony orchestra while he finishes the song. Then he wanders off into a lengthy keyboard solo which rambles through a lot of half-recognisable tunes and a variety of weird electronic noises. I think he started to lose the crowd, as the chatter in the room threatened to drown him out. I suspect he was being too clever for them. He's a fantastic player. In fact, as I watched him it occurred to me that if Deep Purple ever needed to replace Jon Lord at short notice, Don Airey would be a good choice ;-)

Anyway, on with the set list:

Night Of The Shooting Star

I think this must be an Alcatraz song. Bonnet plays acoustic guitar rather well. And although the song is a ballad, he screams his way through it in that totally impressive way he has.

The next song was a Beatles song, and I know the name, and it's... damn... it will come to me...

All Night Long

You know the bit where he goes "... wanna make you miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii--- iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii ii--- iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine..."


What can I say?

Lost In Hollywood

And for the encores:

Since You Been Gone

Instrumental (!) version of Spotlight Kid.

And somewhere in there should have been Making Love — I told you I was terrible at set lists.

The band seemed to have a good time. Bonnet clowned around, lead a couple of audience sing-songs, and even convinced the less-sober members of the audience to get onto the dance floor. Don Airey announced some of the songs, introduced the band members, and chatted quite happily with the audience. Airey and Harry James did a kind of comedy routine to draw people's attention to the merchandising store. And it was just a generally good atmosphere.

Overall a great selection of songs, a fantastic band (I haven't mentioned Harry James (drums) and Chris Childs (bass), because I can't think of anything to say about them other than "excellent") and an entertaining concert. I would watch it all over again. The only down side: too short. I think it came to under 90 minutes, including encores.