A warm summer’s evening saw a short trip up the M6 to Stoke to catch the opening date of the Mike Tramp Playing The Songs Of White Lion UK Tour at one of my favourite venues, a crackin’ little place called Eleven.
Eleven, Stoke-On-Trent – 17 August 2023
Words: Sophie James
Photography: Jason Samuels
The format for the evening was the duo of Mike on Vocals and Rhythm Guitar, impeccably assisted by the incredibly dexterous Marcus Nand on Lead Guitar, with the remainder of the instrumentation provided by backing tracks.
What elevated the whole event were the comprehensive inter-song recollections, very much in the tradition of great raconteurs like Fish and Spike. These enlightened us on the inspirations behind those songs, their evolution, or alternatively referencing the era from which they originated.
This approach, in this fairly intimate venue, made for a hugely entertaining, humorous and highly enjoyable evening. Needless to say, an early encounter with the aforementioned Mr Gray had to be included. Far be it from me to go into further detail on this or other tales and steal the Viking’s thunder.
Opening with the mid-paced Lonely Nights, Mike was in fine voice and, what’s more, amazing shape for a sexagenarian. Marcus wasted no time in demonstrating his agility, appearing to extract every last note out of his weathered cherry red Strat.
Hungry still retained that ’80s sound and feel, and if this didn’t loosen the larynxes of the legions, then the obligatory “Oh, Oh Ohs” of the introduction to Tell Me should have done the trick.
By the time we got to the eternal rock ‘n’ roll Cowboy spirit of Living On The Edge, this was a massive cue for a singalong and another opportunity for Marcus’ ‘Spider Fingers’ to fly all over the fretboard. Any budding guitarists watching, or even some experienced ones, must have been looking on in awe.
An eternal love song to a cherished partner or Mike’s football team? Til Death Do Us Part followed with Marcus explaining that due to his city of origin, he has a red and a blue guitar accompanying him on this tour.
Each song was given an equal introduction. The narratives served to set the context, enhancing the delivery and the experience. The meaning behind Little Fighter is more widely appreciated nowadays than when he misguidedly attempted to “become hard rock’s Bono” back in the day.
“Do you guys ever ask yourself where the years went? What’s the answer? Music creates the best memories.”
Cry Freedom not only articulates the cause but sets the mood whereby one envisions old newsreel footage regarding its subject matter. Here there is a vulnerability inherent in Mike’s tone that accentuates the emotional impact of the song.
“Our brothers in prison, but no crime was ever done. I call it racism, ashamed I face my fellow man.”
“Can’t you see we are enjoying this? I’m happy just when someone smiles back.”
The hits were rolling now. Even in this semi-stripped-back format, the bell-like peel of the guitars on Love Don’t Come Easy still strikes that intrinsic spot within that illuminates the heart and soul.
The fascinating story behind Wait followed and how its associated album release stalled as it ‘competed’ against a seismic release. A slow burner, and as Mike said, “The rest is history.”
Talking of hits, “This is a song about when the world is fucked up,” and saw the poignant When The Children Cry dedicated to the youth of Ukraine.
Only a portion of the next tale – the rest detailed a few days spent in the sole company of one of the greatest bands ever to have emerged from the USA – Mike explained that “This was the first song Vito (incomparable White Lion Guitarist) and I ever wrote together. The highest I’ve ever had to sing, and the next day I instantly regretted it.”
The Song was Broken Heart.
“This is your unrequested encore.”
The evening’s take on Radar Love had a distinct Personal Jesus feel to the riff. Different, for sure, but I loved it.
In what seemed like a second encore, what better way to close than with Farewell To You. Its recurring ‘Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah, Nah Fest’ ensued smiles and singalongs all around.
The whole performance was an uplifting, entertaining and rewarding experience. Mike radiated authentic humility and a generosity of spirit.
Overjoyed at the reception they received, Mike went so far as to tease us with the prospect of an enhanced return visit with his full band. That really is an exciting prospect. Please, somebody, make that happen.