Brave Rival’s previous visit to Wolverhampton back in the Autumn was my personal Gig of the Year for 2022 and saw them signed up to return within moments of departing the stage. Needless to say, I had a huge sense of expectation regarding this event. Could they match their performance that evening?
Brave Rival – The Soul Revival – Sunjay
The Giffard Arms, Wolverhampton – 11 February 2023
Words: Sophie James
Photography: John Inglis
However, before we do, please allow me to give you some background on the band. Hailing from Portsmouth, they describe themselves as “The South East’s Rip-Roaring Rock and Blues Machine.” Featuring the twin vocals of Chloe Josephine and Lindsey Bonnick, Ed “The Shred” Clarke on guitar, and the self-proclaimed engine room of Billy Dedman and Donna Peters on bass and drums, respectively.
Their exceptional debut album, Life’s Machine, has caused none other than Joe Bonamassa to say, “They’re a great band. I love the music. I love what they are doing…one of my favourite new discoveries this year.” What an invaluable compliment from one of the genre’s luminaries.
And so to Saturday Night. The subdued lighting, dry ice and Ed’s haunting slow slide set the perfect scene for the opener, What’s Your Name Again? before the full band launched into its glorious When Rivers Meet/Troy Redfernish blues stomp. Like so many of their songs, the lyrics describe experiences we can all relate to, “I’ll never know what I did last night (last night, what happened last night?).” It was immediately apparent that, in the intervening period, they had upped their game.
Secrets is a brisk lament to the wasted time of a doomed relationship. The first singalong in “Three years, three years, three years, I’ve wasted” rammed home the feelings of hurt and anger. Guilty Love showcased the dynamic musical theatre-type interaction between Lindsey and Chloe, a glorious feature that continued throughout.
If there is one artist a female fronted group blues rock group should cover, then it’s the late great Etta James. Time will tell, but I consider their take on Damn Your Eyes is on par with Beth Hart’s version of I’d Rather Go Blind. The first of many soaring solos of the evening from Ed. Songs like this deserve nothing less, and I wholeheartedly suggest they lay this one down in the studio.
Introduced as “A happy song for a change”, Magnetic was the first new song aired. With a wonderfully catchy chorus of “Woooooahh, your energy is magnetic”, it describes the type of person who is a joy to be around.
Thin Ice is an ode to doubt. What can possibly say more about a doomed relationship than “I’m always questioning the things you do ’cause you’re not someone I can trust.” Its staccato rhythm saw Lindsay lead the sing and clap along in ‘You’re-No-Good-For-Me-You’re-Temp-or-a-ry’.
The second new number, Fairytale, was described as “real serious” with a memorable “down we go, going deeper, sliding down this rabbit hole.”
Upon seeing Ed tweaking his guitar, Chloe remarked, “Oh, oh, we’re doing a tuning song.” Break Me is a tale about being ‘the other woman’. The paradoxical line “I’m damned if I let you control me, and I’m damned if I don’t” underlines the writer’s dilemma. Cue Ed unleashing his inner Meniketti.
Donna’s bass drum heralded Run And Hide, probably the speediest number of the evening, with another earworm in “you said it’s love, but I disagree”. As one friend remarked, “I had to stop listening to Brave Rival for a while as there are far too many earworms.”
Only the second outing for the final new song, Insane, dealt with taking time out to prevent the loss of one’s own mind.
For a band that doesn’t do many covers, the second of the evening was Whole Lotta Love. To take a bona fide classic, perform it in a couple of the original artist’s backyards, and then make it their own was utter class. Chloe’s mid-section enactment was reminiscent of that infamous Donna Summer vocal. When she sang, “I wanna give you my love”, such was the passion and conviction in her delivery that you believed it. Almost carnal, totally mesmerising and truly unforgettable.
Last time around, they omitted pièce de résistance Come Down, and I was barely able to contain my squeals of delight when I noticed it at the bottom of the main setlist. This is a song that is so huge it stands shoulder to shoulder with the Hart/Bonamassa and May/Beck collaborations. One day this should be performed with a full Gospel Choir. “Sometimes you gotta come down from the high, enjoy the ride”, perfectly described my feelings the day after.
The previous set opener Heart Attack had done a complete 180° and was tonight’s encore. Here, it was dedicated to a good friend who, less than a fortnight earlier, had suffered such an occurrence. It is a testament to his treatment that he was able to attend and enjoy this event.
To say Brave Rival left you with a warm glow is doing them a major disservice. Seeing all those songs brought to life is an almost spiritual experience. Given the right backing, promotion, opportunities and that most valuable commodity, luck, they have the potential to become major players, which is no less than their collective talent and abilities deserve.
The Soul Revival
Equally anticipated were the evening’s special guests, The Soul Revival. The band consist of powerhouse vocalist Steve Nunn, shredder Jeff James, ace of bass Matthew ‘Higgy’ Higgins and former Bad Flowers/Wolf Jaw sticksman Karl Selickis.
The moment they struck up the chords into their intro piece, the room was like, ‘OOH HELLO!’ Your interest and attention were well and truly grabbed before I’m Done kicked things off properly in a raucous fashion.
Take Back What’s Ours, with its powerful impassioned vocal, contained the line “create a world of hate, the world is ours to take.” This would be a perfect inclusion in any Bond Theme, and it was probably no coincidence that Chris Cornell flashed up in my mind’s eye each time it was repeated.
Outlaw had the most atmospheric midsection extended solo from Jeff.
There was a most delicious groove to We’ll Fall Again, with the guitar phrasing at times containing hints of a riffed-up Pink Floyd. With the energy he put into this, Steve stated, “who said a gig was like a Cardiac Session? Let me have a break for a minute.” Who could deny him that before Breaking Free.
Genuinely humbled by the reception they received, they promised that there is plenty more to come. The first single and final number was Only The Start.
Difficult to categorise their sound, but soulful, blues-influenced energetic grunge would be my initial gambit. I can already visualise them tearing up a bigger stage. Wish I could have rewound the whole set to let it soak in just that little bit more.
The final word, however, must go to Lindsey from Brave Rival, who said, “when we invited The Soul Revival to warm up for us, we didn’t expect them to blow the roof off.” This being only their second gig, consider it a job well done.
Solo Acoustic Bluesman Sunjay was the evening’s opening act. Those early arrivals unfamiliar with him or his work may not have been quite sure what to expect. Not an unfamiliar situation for the man and he soon recounted the tale of when he was booked to appear at a typical club. He was ‘welcomed’ by a member of the committee with. “I don’t like you, but I was outvoted.” In an instant, the ice was broken and he had the audience in the palm of his hand.
Proclaiming himself to be nervous as this was his first gig of the year, any anxiety was quickly dispelled as his fingers flew along the fretboard. His raw, rootsy sound was reminiscent of Johnny Cash on the opening number, Make Room For Me, musically if not vocally. At other times, it was very much in the mould of classic blues artists. Growing in confidence, he even introduced a snippet of Mr Blackmore’s most famous riff in the second number Big Road.
Other highlights included a “medley of his hit”, Love You Like A Man, a song his Mother didn’t approve of apparently. A spiritual number entitled Faith Healer referenced various local characters during his formative years in Wolverhampton.
The biggest crowd responses of the evening were, firstly, his recounting of an email reply from Jools Holland. This does not transfer into print very well, besides which, it is unprintable, and secondly, was the musical punchline of the penultimate number Bob Dylan? For his final number, his stompbox initiated that unmistakable beat that introduced Bo Diddley’s Who Do You Love?
A genuine all-round entertainer whose witty inter-song quips and observations endeared him to the audience.