Francis Dunnery at Bush Hall, London - live review

Former It Bites frontman teams up with Luke Machin, Paul Brown and Peter Jones for top solo show

live shot
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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There’s real love here in a completely rammed Bush Hall for Francis Dunnery and his band, and the anticipation generated by the promise of hearing the whole of the Eat Me In St. Louis album is palpable.

While Dunnery still seems to have a nuanced relationship with his It Bites past, fans demonstrably suffer from no doubts or cynicism in their enthusiasm for the music as the opening salvo of a storming Positively Animal and Underneath Your Pillow, a highlight of the night for many, washes across the room. It’s clear that Dunnery has lost none of his astounding abilities on guitar, and his voice is in good shape too.

Musically, it’s as fine a demonstration of great ensemble playing and respectful interpretation as one could ask for. With guitarist Luke Machin, bass player Paul Brown and the hugely talented Peter Jones on keyboards and backing vocals, you know you’re in safe hands. Special mention for drummer Donavan Hepburn, though, who plays throughout with a real sensitivity to the original recorded versions yet injects a character, energy and excitement all his own.

If meeting audience expectations is a measure of overall gig quality, Dunnery and co are scoring high tonight – not only do we get every track from the aforementioned It Bites classic, but we’re also given solid extras like bonus tracks Having A Good Day, with its gorgeous keyboard intro from Jones, and a fantastically frantic Bullet In The Barrel. There’s an acoustic rendition of Plastic Dreamer, for which the audience enthusiastically provide massed backing vocals, and songs from 2013’s Dunnery solo album Frankenstein Monster, including the title track and Marijuana Make Those Eyes At Me For.

Interspersed with all this are the requests for volunteers to come up from the audience to sing; female backing group The Eatettes (who are lovely, we’re sure, but simply can’t be heard!); a surreal and extremely brief moment with a pantomime horse; a couple of anecdotes from Dunnery delivered in his own ebullient Cumbrian manner; a beautiful rendition of the powerfully fragile The Ice Melts Into Water; outings for Dunnery’s Tapboard; and a blindsiding digression into Frank Zappa guitar piece Black Napkins!

Well over two hours of the band onstage simply flies by, and a deeply satisfying evening finishes, as could be predicted, with The Big Hit Single from the album, Still Too Young To Remember, and a half-promise from Dunnery that he’ll be back next year performing The Big Lad In The Windmill. He’ll need a bigger venue…

Gary Mackenzie

Gary has contributed reviews and news features for Prog Magazine for over a decade now. A fan of prog and heavy rock since childhood, his main areas of interest are classic and symphonic prog, prog-metal and modern acts bringing in fresh influences to the genre. He has a professional background in youth and community work, he teaches drum kit in schools and is a working musician. Gary was the drummer in semi-legendary NWOBHM band Praying Mantis for a couple of years and has been a member of indie-prog-pop-art-rock combo The Mighty Handful for more than twenty years. He loves cats and skiing, and has a Blue Peter badge.