Tonight Michael Schenker plays the UFO favourite Rock Bottom. In 2007 he was occupying this very location. Booze and alleged road-crew mutiny aligned in an imperfect storm. At one show the guitarist was so drunk he sounded entirely like an on-line ‘shred’ video – those internet favourites where cyber-pranksters take footage of a guitar hero and add a new soundtrack of howling guitar-clown ineptitude.
Tonight, however, Schenker strolls on smiling and limbers into a little amplified étude. Then he and his band are off into the UFO classic Doctor Doctor, revving through this enduring piece of piratical rock rampage – a track Schenker co-wrote after the Brit rockers poached him from the Scorpions in the early 1970s. Hooray, then, for the Hannover Metall Maschinen Meister, the acknowledged Titan of Teutonic Topstring Torturing.
Schenker’s face is set to an infectious perma-grin as he reaches out to the outstretched hands of the audience. It’s all rather moving, free of routine, crowd-pumping rock gesture. Later he’s joined on stage by his son Tyson Schenker, whose band State Villains opened tonight’s bill. Father and son trade finely fretted filigree on UFO’s Too Hot Handle.
It’s fitting that tonight’s twin-Schenker action spans the generations. The setlist also traverses the decades – box-fresh new song Vigilante Man beside several selections from the Scorpions, the band Schenker is said to have first played with not just at an amp-setting of 11 but also at age 11. The Scorpions selections make eminent sense, of course – the Schenker rhythm section is an ex-Scorps tandem, bassist Francis Buchholz and drummer Herman ‘The German’ Rarebell. Your correspondent, too, has arrived here across the decades.
This writer can’t claim to be the world’s most experienced Schenker reporter. In my youth I only ever acquired a single Mad Mikey record – the 1980 single Armed And Ready, on clear-vinyl seven-inch with free Michael Schenker Group sew-on patch. I’d secured the funds for this key purchase with a hard-rock kind of Saturday job – supplying truck drivers with diesel and Drifter bars at a petrol station by the M6 in Cumbria. The single had been ordered at Smyths, the (long-gone) local record shop in Kendal. My dad collected the disc, to have it waiting after I’d cycled home from work. Some 35 years later I get to see Schenker live for the first time. It feels like it’s been worth the wait.
It becomes clear that this group far exceed your average hard-rock work-party. Buchholz and Rarebell are a delightful rhythm section, the bassist bringing a supple propulsiveness. Rarebell is a drummer so good you often almost forget he’s there. On the face of it Scottish singer Dougie White is your archetypal journeyman rock super-sub – a past, variously, with Rainbow and Yngwie Malmsteen, always there, never quite making the first team. With Schenker he’s maybe found his place – a voice of solid rock virtuosity and an unusually adept master of ceremonies. Physically he conjures an older, possibly even wiser, pal of the Three Musketeers. But his patter has the wry undertow of some famous countrymen – Billy Connoly, Rab C Nesbitt. White introduces second guitarist and keyboardist Wayne Findlay as Gimli son of Glóin, dwarf warrior from Tolkien. There is a resemblance.
The venue is clearly not full, but by the time Schenker is deploying his pyro-glissandos across Rock Bottom the place is full with bonhomie and excelsior rock music. They conclude with UFO’s Lights Out and the Scorpions’ Blackout. Next time Schenker’s in town attendance is highly recommended – on this form the Weltmeister of Wagnerian Wang-bar-barism is just a joy.