There are some venues that are synonymous with Rock and Roll. Donington Park, Budokan, The Electric Ballroom, but I suspect The Wharf, Tavistock, on the Devon/Cornwall border rarely features on any list of must-play towns. Tonight though, it is hosting Snakecharmer, a “supergroup” made up of musicians that have graced the stage with Whitesnake, Wishbone Ash, Black Sabbath, Thunder, and Heartland, to name but a small percentage of their combined heritage. The venue must be the most middle class, and middle aged, I have ever witnessed. The ticket is collected by a lovely elderly lady who informs me that the BBQ is on the left and the bar on the right. Sure enough, grilled meat smoke drifts across the courtyard, and the bar is stocked with a rather nice range of real ale, served in proper glasses rather than plastic. Remarkably civilised! The auditorium itself is compact, with a floor area in front of a decent sized stage and a small tiered seating section. I usually get to the front if there is no pit to shoot from, but as the doors open most people seem to be making a break for the seats so I wander down and get set up.
First up are local(ish) band Departed. Consisting of Mark Pascall (former vocalist with Empire Of Fools), who brings a fine pair of lungs and a commanding stage presence, guitarist Ben Brookland (ex The Treatment), Howie Spring on bass, and Connor Spring on drums, they wake the crowd up from their Wharfburger food comas and leave me seriously impressed. They have opened for some pretty big names already, and it is easy to see why. The songs are classic rock and they have all the moves backed up with musical ability. Hair is flying, strings are bent, and they look like they are having a fantastic time on stage. A cover of Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down” is outrageously good, and gets the crowd on side (the number of times I heard “They are rather good aren’t they?” from behind me peaked at this point – the Tavistock equivalent of a circle pit and stage diving to show appreciation). Their own songs are well written and familiar-sounding, which is no criticism. “Superstitious”, “Pretty Little Thing” and “Steal Your Crown” are all well worth a listen or checking out on YouTube. I look forward to seeing them again and having a another great time!
After a short break, the intro music starts up, the lights go down, and the collective might of Snakecharmer wander casually onto the stage and launch into “Follow Me Under” from the newly released album “Second Skin”. Vocalist Chris Ousey has an effortlessly wide range, full of power and delightfully melodic. He twirls the mic stand as he roams the stage, flanked by the win guitars of Laurie Wisefield and new member Simon McBride. Another new song, “Are you Ready to Fly?” follows, with a massive hook shared between the two guitars and Adam Wakeman’s Hammond organ, before the first Whitesnake song makes an appearance with “Ready And Willing”. Neil Murray isn’t the most extrovert of stage performers, standing at the back glued to his spot, smiling benevolently as he pumps in the beat to one of my favourite songs from that era, but somehow he just commands the attention of many of the crowd. “Accident Prone”, and then another new song, “Where Do We Go From Here” brings the tempo down and really gives Ousey’s voice an opportunity to shine before ripping to life with some scintillating guitar work.
The set is really well worked, mixing up songs from the band’s two albums. The fact that they can now replace so many of the Whitesnake songs, that used to feature in the set, with tunes with just as much bluesy class, is a real testament to the current line up. The two guitarists trade licks, Wisefield seemingly a little more ‘rock’, and McBride the bluesy edge, but then on another song, the roles seem to change. Just watching two craftsmen effortlessly showcase their talents is intoxicating. Good as the new songs are, the point at which the crowd really get going is when the chords of “Crying In The Rain” break out. Genuinely one of my favourite ‘Snake songs, it is given the respect it deserves, and the solos are simply breathtaking. Throughout the set, hidden amongst his huge drum kit, the trademark shaven head and sunglasses of Thunder and Magnum drummer Harry James are the only visible sign of the stickwork that keeps the whole thing together. “That Kind of Love” and “Guilty As Charged” follow on from “Crying”, and then we are treated to the final Whitesnake track of the evening, a beautiful rendition of “Here I Go Again” that gets even the Tavistock middle classes singing along with passion (and delightfully tuneful too!) An encore of “Dress It Up” and the band take a bow and leave the stage to enthusiastic applause.
It may have been a gig for us “oldies”, but sometimes skilful musicians, song writing craftsmanship, and years of experience can’t be beaten, and Snakecharmer epitomised that tonight.
Review and images – Rob Wilkins