Michael Schenker and Tokyo go hand in hand. Not many artists would release a live album so soon in their solo career, but Schenker is not your average artist. Recording ‘One Night In Budokan’ in 1982 merely served to highlight how big Michael Schenker Group had become in their first two years as a group. The fact that Schenker could book the world famous Budokan after only two studio albums is a testament to his legacy with two of the biggest rock bands in the late 70’s/early 80’s – UFO and Scorpions. Four decades, and numerous line up changes down a tumultuous road later, and Schenker again turns to Japan to record another live album, this time proving that time is indeed a great healer by involving three of MSG’s best known vocalists.
Gary Barden was an unknown when he first appeared on the self-titled ‘Michael Schenker’ album in 1980, and the early part of this CD/DVD package focuses on the Barden era of 1980-1982. The instrumental ‘Into The Arena’ opens up ‘Michael Schenker Fest’, and a few things become immediately apparent. Schenker looks amazing first of all, as healthy as I’ve ever seen him, and his playing is still jaw-droppingly sublime. Simply put, he makes it look easy. After the last strains of the track fade out, he welcomes Gary Barden to the stage and launches, head first, into ‘Attack Of The Mad Axeman’ from 1981’s ‘MSG’ album. Barden looks in great shape too. The hair is shorter, but the voice is still strong, ‘Victim Of Illusion’, ‘Cry For The Nations’, ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’, and the classic ‘Armed and Ready’ are all rattled off in quick succession. The playing from Schenker is immense, especially on ‘Attack Of The Mad Axeman’, where he whips out a bottleneck for some sweet slide guitar. The chemistry between Schenker and Barden looks natural and unforced, a couple of old mates happy to be playing together again. As ‘Armed And Ready’ comes to a close, Barden takes his leave, as the band head into ‘Coast To Coast’ in the only nod to Schenker’s time with Scorpions.
Graham Bonnet had a short lived time with MSG, one studio album, ‘Assault Attack’ from 1982, and a very brief live run with the band. His firing his well documented, and came as a great shock at the time. Especially for those, like me, standing in the dark waiting for the band’s headline slot at Reading Festival in 1982. Peering through the darkness and waiting for Bonnet to start singing, all the while thinking “I don’t remember Bonnet having long hair?”… turned out it wasn’t Bonnet in a wig, it was Barden, back in the line up at the 11th hour. History lesson over, it’s great to see that Bonnet and Schenker have put everything aside and sharing a stage again. Bonnet features on three songs, ‘Assault Attack’, ‘Desert Song’, and ‘Dancer’. His voice might sound a little rough around the edges, but his joie de vivre helps him over the finish line. As passionate as ever, Bonnet clearly loves his legacy with every band that he has featured in, and this is no exception.
Third and final guest vocalist is Robin McAuley, who of course formed McAuley Schenker group in 1987. A much more melodic rock sound ensued, as McAuley was arguably one of the finest melodic rock vocalists of the time. Check out his band Grand Prix, the biggest band that never was. His voice is as powerful as ever as he storms through ‘This Is My Heart’, ‘Save Yourself’, and ‘Love Is Not A Game’. No bones about it, this guy deserved to be the finest Irish export since the black stuff. He stays on stage as Schenker steamrollers into a trio of UFO belters, ‘Shoot Shoot’, ‘Rock Bottom’ (complete with epic guitar solo from Schenker) before finishing on ‘Doctor Doctor’ which features all three vocalists together. Three belters from a band that never get the recognition that they deserve. How many classic rock documentaries mention UFO?
Ably supported by Chris Glen on bass, drummer Ted McKenna, and Steve Mann on keyboards and rhythm guitar, this is a glorious testimony to someone truly befitting of the often overused phrase “guitar god”.
‘Michael Schenker Fest Live’ is released on March 24th, and is available to preorder from Amazon.
Review: Dave Stott