The rise of British Lion is one of the most satisfying things to see in our current musical climate. A band born of passion, through constant touring and killer songs, the quintet have cut their own distinct swathe over the decade since their self-titled debut was released, and with the rightful acclaim attached to sophomore The Burning, they continue to gain pace.
British Lion – Islington Assembly Hall – 18 January 2023
Words: Paul Monkhouse
Photography: Steve Ritchie
Having leapt from the relative intimacy of Camden Underworld to Islington’s grand Assembly Hall within the space of tours speaks volumes about the quality here, and the throng wedged into the venue were soon warmed after the near sub-zero temperatures outside.
Shorn of the big production that accompanies every Iron Maiden show, British Lion still light up the venue like a supernova, the drive and commitment of Steve Harris never less than 110%.
Whilst gaining the reputation of the hardest working and most focused man in rock, the bass player never outshines this band of brothers, the outfit comprising five individuals whose passion and skill are plainly evident. With an ever-growing fanbase, the songs for their brace of albums are becoming as well known and received as any, the intricate riffs and patterns, along with frontman Richard Taylor’s distinct vocals and physical storytelling, winning hearts and minds.
There must be a temptation for Harris to take an easy route to push the band forward, but that has never been an option. Every step forward has been hard won and much deserved, dirt evident under their fingernails.
The fanaticism of Maiden fans who’ve followed the band for decades is starting to be seen here as British Lion grows in stature with every year, their triumphant set in a packed Dogtooth stage at Download last year showing just how much respect and affection they’ve garnered. It’s a heartwarming thing to witness.
Still, this should really be no surprise as the quality of tracks like widescreen opener This Is My God and an urgent City Of Fallen Angels show a deep class of writing that sounds at once fresh yet classic, taking the best from both worlds.
Having honed the set to a razor-sharp point, a juxtaposition of a well-oiled machine and the heart on sleeve and honest performances elevate things to a different level. The pain of Judas and Land Of The Perfect People is heartbreaking as scars are ripped open. It’s not all raw and battered hearts here, though, as rallying calls like The Chosen Ones and Us Against The World lift and energise the feeling of kinship that’s so immensely powerful when the healing power of music is shared.
It’s seemingly impossible for the crowd to stay still, the fervour similar to that found at a football match when the home team is winning. When the frankly earthshaking Legend is played, its skyscraping chorus and call, and response section see many just losing themselves in the euphoria.
Whilst the fretwork of David Hawkins and Graeme Leslie deftly mixes snarling leads with subtle harmonies, there are more nods to bands like UFO and Thin Lizzy than hell for modern leather Metal and that suits just fine. Certainly, there’s plenty of muscle here, but it’s controlled and focused, designed to sweep, not bludgeon, the thrill of a finely tuned Aston Martin rather than the earsplitting rumble of a drag racer.
Whilst Harris’s signature bass sound is always a force of nature, drummer Simon Dawson is another secret weapon the band has, his playing on his modestly sized kit showing that it’s the man that makes the difference, deftly bringing intensity and swing within a beat.
At times the band takes on a more stripped-back, blue-collar rock approach, and tracks like These Are The Hands and triumphant closer Eyes Of The Young have touches of Springsteen, The Who and Bob Seger, built for highways and stadiums alike.
Make no mistake, though, British Lion can roar, and the razor-sharp riffs of Last Chance and the Celtic battlecry of Spit Fire stir the blood and bring that heady rush that all great hard rock should. When Taylor sings “Share my dream with me” at the climax of the set, it feels like everyone is with him already, enjoying the ride.
Bigger and bigger venues continue to beckon, but irrespective of the size of the audience, British Lion are very much their own band, doing things their way and making glorious and timeless music along the way. You can’t say better than that.
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