Finally, it happened. It’s been just over a year since the excellent The Screwtape Letters was released, and from that point, I had always marked Leader Of Down on my ‘must-see live list’. Tonight at The Black Heart in Camden, calendars aligned and with a big smile on my face, the marker pen was out, and the list was updated.
Leader of Down
The Black Heart, Camden – 11 April 2023
Words and Photography: Steve Ritchie
A Tuesday evening, after a four-day UK Easter bank holiday weekend, is always a challenge. Virtually all the beer pumps at The Black Heart had a glass on them, showing that, while times may be hard and a cost of living crisis is on us, the bar staff at this Camden gem had their work cut out serving the weekend revellers.
But I’m flexible and armed with a lager, we were ready. Status Quo’s Down Down was blasting out, a nod to the choice of band name from Würzel’s misheard lyric, and anticipation was in the air.
Right from the start, you knew this was going to be an excellent night. An opening trio of People Say I’m Crazy [from Cascade Into Chaos], Say What You Will [Fastway] and No Voices In The Sky [Motörhead] was more than enough proof of why I fancied this gig. Say What You Will was exceptional and proof that this four-piece work together as a great tight-as-hell team.
Serial Killjoy followed with vocalist Matt Baker dedicating the song to his ex-missus, “hopefully at the bottom of a pond.” The tongue-in-cheek comment masked as a fantastic Alex Ward solo. This is a great song live, and it was met with enthusiasm by the crowd.
Children Of Disease was the perfect post-Easter chillout. There is a musical interlude here, which leads to another screaming solo. It just stomps along. The back end of the song features a magnificent extended solo, the type that virtuoso air guitarists embrace.
The title track from last year’s album was all I had hoped for. When you are playing a track live when the studio version has layered guitar parts, there is always a risk it will not come across well. No problem here, though. Leader Of Down through in some vocal harmonies, and there is not a whiff of any Mötley Crüe messing around.
Motörhead’s All For You comes across superbly with its great singable chorus. Matt Baker has a great stage presence which shines through. He smiles, frowns, points and waves his arms in the right places, and even shares a joke with Alex mid-solo.
Cascade Into Chaos follows, with its wonderful middle section, thumping, distorted bass and wah guitar. Hats off to drummer Daniel Akaoui. He is immaculate all night, but the way he leads this finish to this track is something else. Just really cool.
Akaoui shines again on Here’s Johnny. The double-bass drum and fills are a masterclass. It’s loud – you can feel it in your bones.
Tim Atkinson encouraged the crowd to cheer for Würzel’s memory as the band launched into Midnight In London. With its beautiful guitar intro, this is a great track and really emphasises how great this four-piece are live.
Into the home straight, and Cat’s Eye Night finds Alex Ward shining again. I loved the tone in his solo, and you can see he loves playing this song. And again on Holloway Motel, with that vocal and that riff. This works wonderfully well live, and my notes read, ‘I fucking love this guitarist’.
To close, Leader Of Down celebrate their musical connections. Too Good To Be True [Motörhead], Paradise Turned Into Dust [with Lemmy, from Cascade Into Chaos], and Würzel celebrations with Hitman and Feel Good. All that was left was Hawkwind’s Master Of The Universe.
Leader Of Down does a great job embracing the legacy of Würzel. They do him proud. This was a great musical show. They exceeded my hopes, and I hope to god there is more to come. Inspired.
Leader Of Down play Bradford on 13 April and Swansea on 14 April. Catch them at the Call Of The Wild Festival in May.