Written by George Hill
Photographs by Mac Kendrick
Bristol’s Thekla is a unique music venue aboard a converted German cargo ship that has been moored on the harbour side since 1984. Tonight sees North Somerset southern rockers Sons of Liberty play the venue, ably supported by special guests Ethyrfield.
Opening with an explosive start and a “What the fuck is up, Bristol?” from frontman Zach (Cornish, vocals/bass), the South Devon trio waste no time in ripping into the intoxicating and deliciously heavy Sunstroke from their debut album In Delirium, released a couple of short months ago.
The crowd moves to the front of the stage and what was a sparse area is now full, which is a great sight to see. Ben (Cornish, guitar/vocals) sails into his first guitar solo and I notice more than a few faces looking on in wonder. There’s the briefest of pauses for a quick “Hello everyone, we’re Ethyrfield”, from Zach as they launch into Free the Dog, from the Taurus EP
Zach’s huge vocal fills the hull of the Thekla and resonates off every nut and bolt, making for an incredible sound. His bass playing in this track is insane, as Ben’s riffs and Dan’s drums underpin what is perhaps one of their more bass led numbers. But as soon as I write this, Ben takes centre stage and pulls off another incredible solo. He then jumps and almost falls over but nobody notices the break in sound including his brother. Zach’s vocals border on soulful as they return to the chorus, proving how versatile a singer he is.
The Hunter begins with an epic groovy riff and thundering drums. Watching young Dan drumming, I am instantly mesmerised as he puts in ghost notes and fills on top of an already technically challenging arrangement. To think this young man isn’t even 18 yet is mind blowing and his technicality is already up there with veterans twice his age. This track is by far one of the most angst driven on In Delirium, and it finishes just as abruptly as it starts before the lads go into their first single from the album. A poignant song about dementia; Remembering is lyrically both haunting and beautiful. It builds nicely into a fierce crescendo with Ben pulling off a first class piece of guitar playing which echoes around the boat, much like listening on a premium set of headphones. It’s technically note perfect and the harmonies sound incredible, the song finishing beautifully after the huge build.
Introducing Laying on of Hands, Zach tells us that tonight will only be the second time the band have played this song live. Apparently the first time went without a hitch and to my pedestrian ears, this time sounds perfect and complete. During the breakdown the crowd is silent apart from the odd punter at the bar ordering another round, which is quickly drowned out as the music builds from the bridge into another blistering solo from Ben to rival the likes of Eddie Van Halen, underpinned by Zach’s soaring vocals. The band tend not to be too animated on stage except for the chugging bits when the Cornish brother’ long hair can be seen flying through the air in tandem. With such complex melodies, riffs and technical bits it’s understandable to ensure there’s no room for missed notes. It’s clear to see these boys are well honed perfectionists, having been playing as a band for almost ten years.
Serenity follows and is another angst driven track which takes a swift left turn into a beautifully broken down melody, giving Dan a break on drums for a minute. In come the harmonies again and this time the reverb effect gives an almost choral sound reminiscent of a grand cathedral.
Just as you relax, Zach screams the blistering chorus ‘You were my christ, I was your lamb’, finishing off with a groovy but abrupt end. The band take time to thank headliners Sons of Liberty for having them and urge people to buy their merch, with headline act’s Moose shouting back, “I think everyone already has!”
Penultimate track from the trio is Bitter Wishbone, which reminds me of the ’90s Seattle grunge bands vocally and the marching beat sets an ominous tone. At almost 6 minutes long, this track seems to fly by as it builds and breaks like a strong wave coming ashore and washing over the audience. Set closer is Bag of Bones from their debut self-titled EP; a balls out stoner rock tune with beefy bass and pulsating drums throughout. The set draws to a close and the crowd are clearly left wanting more as they hardly move, maybe hoping for an encore. In a way it is granted, as the boys thank the audience and then pick up the pace with Bag of Bones, Ben’s windmilling hair mesmerising as the song thunders to an ear shattering conclusion; the sound is hugely satisfying. The lights come on and the merch stand is quickly backed up with new fans thrusting their debit cards and plastic notes at the merch team.
If you have not been lucky enough to witness this band live, you simply must buy their debut album and don’t stop there. Grab their previous 2 EPs while they are still available because I sincerely believe that this Devon trio will be household names in years to come and you will want to own a piece of history.
SONS OF LIBERTY
After all that excitement, the heat on the lower deck of the Thekla has built up so we head up to the top deck to grab a bit of fresh air prior to the start of Sons of Liberty’s set. In no time at all, Rob’s (Crooksley, vocals) unmistakably massive “Hell yeah!” comes booming from below, and I quickly rush back down the uneven stairs to catch the beginning of Rich Man, Poor Man, Beggar Man, Thief, from the Animism album. I’m greeted with an unmistakable southern rock band, complete with feathers in caps, stetsons and a raccoon tail on the mic stand. The anthemic track has the crowd bopping along before they need absolutely no encouragement at all to participate in the call and response “Rich man! Poor man! Beggar Man! Thief!”
Without pause, the riffs are in full effect as guitarists Fred (Hale) and Andy ‘Moose’ (Muse) join each other on stage left, and the crowd erupts to Up Shit Creek. Rob struts around the stage like Chicken George before breaking out the harmonica. The crowd is more animated; it’s hard not too with such an upbeat and catchy chorus. Steve (Byrne) on drums makes it look easy as he beats the skins effortlessly; you can tell this guy is a seasoned percussionist.
Rob points out that this is the third time of asking for this rescheduled gig, and that they’re all thrilled that people are back enjoying live music after the enforced hiatus due to COVID-19. Without further ado, the band launch into Damaged Reputation, the first single from latest album, Aces & Eights. Rob howls like a wolf as Fred holds his guitar like a double barreled shotgun and fires both barrels during a soaring solo.
Rob pauses to speak before the next song, “I’m 62 years of age and I’m still doing this. My eyesight’s going and my hearing’s going. There’s nothing left to go, is there?”, he ponders, before pointing to his knob, “That’s still going!” Much laughter erupts from all around at this.
Not that he needs one, Rob uses a loudhailer to intro the next track, Snake Hips Slim from Animism. The marching beat brings to mind a civil war army marching to battle and the song has an energetic riff. This is followed with I Come in Peace from Aces & Eights. With a sombre riff from Fred, this is a slower track with a more laid back performance but nonetheless pleasing to the ears. With the excitement of the previous tracks, everyone could do with a short pause to get their breath back, but not Rob. He gives it his all and it’s clear this track is dear to him as he delivers it with passionate and powerful vocals. He mentions how great Ethyrfield were tonight and tells us that they played with them when they were a lot younger. He also says that it only took them half an hour to get to Bristol from where they played in Leicester last night…because he fell asleep!
Next up is Don’t Hide Behind Your Weakness which has a really full sound that hits me square in the chest, it’s particularly bassy with Mark (Thomas) making a big impact. Dixie Whiskey follows, as Rob starts pouring whisky from his bottle into peoples’ cups from the stage, as he proclaims “Cheers!” to the audience. Dead Mans Hand follows this, which is kind of the title track from the new album, Aces & Eights. With groovy riffs and a funky bassline underpinning this track, Mark joins Fred and Moose for the breakdown. With all the excitement, Rob lays down as if he’s been shot. He can’t get up again and is helped up by the rest of the band.
Rob takes a moment to implore us all to support the music scene, support gigs and support the venues, before Into the Great Unknown, which clearly means a lot to Rob. Full of honking, bluesy riffs, it’s a subdued performance with Moose and Fred jamming out towards the end
This track builds and builds and finishes with a truly mind blowing solo from Fred that is up there with anything that the likes of Clapton is capable of. The crowd whoop, whistle and a rapturous applause ensues. The fun, catchy and infectious Beef Jerky Boogie sees Rob bashing his jangly walking stick to the beat, and dancing like a man who’s been told to dance while having his feet shot at by an outlaw. Steve pounds his kit and the party is well and truly back in full flow, Fred and Moose are on explosive dual guitar duties and the crowd have their hands in the air, clapping along and singing to “I love my beef jerky”, as though they really do mean it.
Brotherhood is a feel good song which has Fred dancing and spinning around as he plays, the lyrics clearly meaning something as he puts his arm around his fellow Sons. It’s a great tune for the rhythm section as Steve spins his sticks and Mark falls to his knees as the chugging baseline and heavy drums fill the room. Crowd participation is still high in Damned if You Do, as Rob leaves the stage to get closer to the crowd as they all sing along together. He returns to the stage for the brilliant harmonica intro to If it Ain’t Southern, from Aged in Oak. Toe tapping and clapping along is in maximum effect as the band show they’re more southern than a crawfish supper, and Rob’s harmonica solo is outstanding. The band then leave the stage, but the crowd won’t let them get away with it that easily and shout for “More!”
We don’t have too long to wait until they return with Fire and Gasoline, the third release from their new album. Vocally Rob has excelled on this latest album and this track showcases that perfectly. There are more great solos from Fred, who is an amazing guitarist. He grins as he wails on the strings, you can tell he loves every minute of the set.
Ruby Starr follows, and looking around at all the heads nodding and toes tapping it’s clear that this track has been popular and it’s not surprising. As the second single from Aces & Eights it received a ton of airplay. Rob screams “Go Jim Dandy go!”, and if I’m honest, I wasn’t expecting him to match the pitch of the scream on the album, but my god does he ever! This guy has an amazing voice and must have been putting a lot of effort into honing it for the live shows or maybe he just started putting a glut of honey in his whisky.
The show ends with a request for peace and love and a bow. Humble, proud and thankful to everyone in the room. You can feel the warmth in every word. What we have witnessed at this remarkable venue tonight are two incredible bands that are very different, but that have come together to show the wealth of talent and musicianship that is coming out of the South-West.
Sons of Liberty: https://www.sonsoflibertyband.com/