Towards the end of June I went with a couple of pals to Clapham Common for Calling festival. (This is clearly a really late review, but seriously, this has taken me HOURS to do). Previously Hard Rock Calling, it used to be held in Hyde Park and even the Olympic Stadium, but the number of concerts held in Hyde Park has had to be cut due to too many local residents complaining (goodness knows why, if you can hear it from your house you’re basically getting a free gig!). Clapham Common was a nice enough venue though and bigger than I thought it’d be. I was super excited for Calling because I haven’t been to a gig since seeing Bruce Springsteen last July, and the line up for this was absolutely perfect for me. I was already planning on going when I knew Aerosmith were headlining and Thunder would be there, but when I heard later on that Richie Sambora had been added to the bill there was absolutely no way I was going to miss out.
We arrived pretty much as soon as the main gates opened, and headed straight for the main stage so we were really near the front. The first band on were called The 3 Dudes and were made up of three very young brothers. Normally I get quite depressed when I see people who are younger than me making a real success of themselves, but these guys were pretty endearing. They were like a rock Hanson, I was actually pretty impressed with them. They mostly played covers; there was definitely some Hendrix and maybe some Green Day, although I might have imagined that. I can’t remember exactly what they played, but I recognised all of the songs and could tell they were doing a good job. They also sang one original song which I think was about coming to London. They were obviously so excited to be playing at Calling and they were really well received, I think the crowd were just so impressed that such a young band was playing such a big festival. I think they went on to support McBusted at Hyde Park a week or so later at another festival, possibly British Summertime.
The Three Dudes were followed by Heaven’s Basement, who I’d heard of but didn’t recognise any songs. It wasn’t really my sort of thing to be honest, a bit screamy/shouty whereas I like a bit more melody, but they were quite good fun and the lead singer was quite a character. He looked very dapper in his braces and really tried to get the crowd going, despite the fact that it was starting to rain quite heavily and everyone was desperately rummaging in bags for waterproofs and umbrellas. At one point he even did a sort-of-crowd-surfing handstand in front of the walkway, which was quite impressive.
The next band to take to the stage were Radkey, who I’d never heard of before and apparently for good reason. I’m just going to say from the outset that I really did not like this band. Everything about them really bothered me, especially the guy who I’m just going to refer to as the main ‘spokesman’ or leading guy of the band because I can’t even remember if he was the bassist or the guitarist. He looked a bit like a young Phil Lynott clad in double denim with a mini afro, but his appearance was the only similarity. His attitude really annoyed me. Everything seemed like too much of an act. He really seemed like he was trying so hard to behave how he imagined a rockstar should behave, by swearing unnecessarily all the time and generally clowning around, but it all seemed too forced. By this time it was absolutely pissing down and he kept slipping over on the stage, I suspect not always accidentally, and then making a big deal of the fact that he kept falling over, which got really old really quickly. The singer, meanwhile, spent the whole time hiding behind his hair, seeming completely devoid of all personality and not making a sound unless he was actually singing a song. The songs themselves felt like the topics and titles were designed to be deliberately controversial or ‘edgy’ (songs about murder or getting it on with a teacher being prime examples), but in reality they all sounded the same (i.e. all pretty boring), and lyrically they all seemed pretty weak. I was not at all impressed, and by the sounds of it no one else was either, as there was a collective groan from the crowd when they announced they still had two songs left. I did feel a bit sorry for them in a way, playing such a big festival would have been a great opportunity for them, but they were a poor choice and definitely should have had an earlier billing (or not been billed at all).
Now, I was very excited to see Richie Sambora because, in case you didn’t know, Bon Jovi are my all-time favourite band. I’ve seen them ten times now, however two of those occasions were last year when they were touring without Richie which I was so super sad about, so I was really glad to have a chance to see him performing, even if it wasn’t with the band.
Richie opened with Lay Your Hands on Me, which was a great choice as more people in the crowd were likely to know a Bon Jovi classic than some of Richie’s newer solo stuff. It was a really good way to get everyone hyped up and feeling enthusiastic after the disaster that was Radkey, and it’s a really easy chorus to pick up and sing along to even if you’re not familiar with the song. Richie’s got quite a bluesy voice and his first two solo albums definitely have more of a blues feel to them, although his latest album Aftermath of the Lowdown is a real mix of stuff. Other than Stranger in This Town and two Bon Jovi songs, every other song was from Aftermath of the Lowdown, which was a real treat for me because it’s my favourite of his solo albums. They all got a pretty good reception as well, which was great. It must be a bit strange for someone who’s used to selling out huge stadiums to find himself billed early on during a festival with only a forty minute time slot, so it was pleasing for me to see that all the solo stuff was well received and appreciated. I would have liked to have heard Seven Years Gone, but it must be hard to choose a fairly short set list and I felt like every song that was picked should have been included. Apparently Livin’ on a Prayer was originally going to be Richie’s big finale, but they ran out of time and ended up closing on Wanted Dead or Alive instead, which definitely got the loudest singalong of the night (or at least the loudest that I could hear, I’m sure tons of people were singing along to the Aerosmith belters but I just couldn’t hear them over the band!). I’m quite glad he didn’t sing Livin’ on a Prayer though, I’m really not sure how I’d have felt about that. I found it quite weird to see Wanted Dead or Alive as part of a solo set, even though I really enjoyed it. Obviously Richie has every right to sing Bon Jovi songs as he played a major role in the songwriting, but I found it really weird to see Richie singing that song by himself without the rest of the band beside him, in exactly the same way as I found it weird to see Bon Jovi performing the same song without Richie last summer. It’s just an awkward situation that I can never feel happy or comfortable with, I just want the whole band back together like the good old days dammit!
There’s been an awful lot of hype about the fact that Orianthi was billed as the ‘special guest’ for Richie’s solo tour (leading to an awful lot of speculation about the nature of their relationship, which is neither here nor there and not really anyone else’s business). Anyway, because of this hype and the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a single tour photo or interview which doesn’t include her prominently, I was anticipating pretty great things. Now I’m by no means saying that I didn’t see great things, but I was surprised by how understated she was. I’ve seen her before playing as part of Alice Cooper’s band (I think it was through Alice that she and Richie first met), but her billing as a special guest led me to believe that she’d have a really stand-out role if you like, but she just got on and played her guitar with no fuss whatsoever – no theatrics or silly faces, actually not very much movement at all. All of that’s absolutely fine of course, and obviously she played really damn well (a fact I’d have liked all the guys next to us to have taken more notice of, instead of perving over her thighs). I suppose what I’m trying to say (and not very clearly or eloquently) is that I don’t know why such a fuss was made of Orianthi’s involvement over the rest of the band. Of course she’s amazing, but they were all amazing, so in a way it kind of seems unfair to single one person out. I guess I was expecting to see more of a show from her but like I said, that’s not to say that she wasn’t great.
It seems like this is a partnership that’s set to last a while though, as Richie and Orianthi are apparently planning to write an album together. I assumed that Orianthi would be rejoining Alice Cooper and touring with him alongside Mötley Crüe on their farewell tour, but that tour’s already well under way so it looks like she’ll carry on working and performing with Richie instead. I’m intrigued by the thought of this album because I haven’t heard any of Orianthi’s solo stuff yet but I do really like Richie’s, especially Aftermath of the Lowdown. What I’m less thrilled about is the implication that if he’s working on new solo stuff he’ll be unlikely to return to Bon Jovi any time soon, and I can’t tell you how upset I am by the thought of that. I am glad that he does solo stuff as well because it is quite different from what the band plays and I do really enjoy it, but as far as I’m concerned seeing this might be fun
Thunder were up next, which I was SO thrilled about. I really do think they have to be the most feel-good band in existence. I’m pretty sure you could go to a Thunder gig without having ever heard of them before, and still have the best time. A Thunder set is a party from beginning to end, and you can’t help but spend the whole time with an enormous grin on your face. The band announced a few years ago that they were retiring, but still got together for the occasional gig. Now they’ve given up all pretence and are working on a brand spanking new album, which is excellent news. Unfortunately Ben Matthews missed Calling because he was undergoing surgery to have his tonsils removed, during which cancerous material was discovered in his throat. He’s taking time off for treatment, but luckily he’s expected to make a full recovery and should hopefully be rejoining the band soon.
Now, if there’s anyone who knows how to really get a crowd going, it’s Danny Bowes. He’s brilliant fun, but also seems like a really genuinely nice person. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say “lovely” quite so much, and certainly not the singer of a rock band! Within seconds he had everyone clapping and waving their arms in the air, joining in with the singing and screaming on demand loudly and often. It was an amazing atmosphere, in fact I think the best atmosphere of the entire day was during Thunder’s set. They kicked off with Dirty Love, which is probably their most famous song, and followed it with belter after belter after belter. Everyone was having so much fun, and you could tell the band were having an absolute ball, it was just brilliant. Of course they included Love Walked In, which is my absolute favourite Thunder track and one of my favourite power ballads to sing along to ever (a high claim indeed). It was such a treat to get to see them again (and to see their whole set after my disaster last time I saw them with Whitesnake and Journey), and I’m so thrilled they’re bringing out a new album. They were a real highlight for me – despite how much I adore Richie Sambora and really love Aerosmith, I’d even go so far as to say that Thunder clinched the ‘favourite set’ banner for me that day. It was tremendous fun all round and they really got the crowd going, I just hope I don’t have to wait too long until I can see them again.
The atmosphere changed a bit when Joe Bonamassa took to the stage. Thunder had got everyone really hyped up and ready for a party, but it quietened down a bit once Joe started playing. I like Joe Bonamassa and I think he’s an incredible guitar player, but in a way he seemed like a bit of an odd choice for a festival. His music isn’t the kind of thing that a crowd can participate in or interact with; everyone was standing quietly and appreciating his guitar playing, but after Thunder had just had us all jumping up and down it seemed a bit strange. The excitement kind of dropped a level, and while it was really impressive guitar playing, I sort of wonder whether he was given the right billing slot. To me, it would have made more sense to have Thunder following Joe Bonamassa, so that the frenzy was maintained when Aerosmith came on. Instead, everything kind of calmed down during Joe Bonamassa’s set, so that it had to work its way back up again once Aerosmith arrived. Joe doesn’t exactly have the biggest personality either. He didn’t even say anything to the crowd until a few songs in, there just generally wasn’t a big level of interaction. I think he’s a brilliant musician, but it didn’t quite seem like the right time or place for his music to be enjoyed or appreciated in the way it should be (which doesn’t mean it wasn’t brilliant, of course).
Aerosmith were even more over the top than I expected them to be. I’ve seen them before, at the O2 a few years ago, but this time I really felt like I was getting to see them ‘up close’. Joe and Steven made quite a dramatic entrance by appearing at either side of the walkway accompanied by lots of dry ice. They made a lot of use of the walkway which was sideways on to us so a lot of my photos are of their backs, but we still had a really good view while they were strutting about and were a lot closer than I thought we’d be. Steven Tyler was even more flamboyant than I’d imagined. He was wearing all kinds of scarves and drapery, which he kept removing in layers and flinging into the crowd, so that some lucky devils have gone home with his coat (and harmonica!).
The set list was top notch. They kicked off with Mama Kin followed by a feisty version of Eat the Rich, and by the time they got to Love in an Elevator the crowd were well into their swing. The sound levels of Oh Yeah didn’t seem quite right though, I could barely hear Steven singing over the top of the rest of the band. During Livin’ on the Edge Steve went over to the side of the stage, and who should be standing there listening but Richie Sambora and Orianthi! I think they were there for pretty much the whole set actually, they’d obviously hung around to see everyone else’s sets and it clearly paid off, because Steve held the mic out to Richie and they sang the chorus together. Last Child and Rag Doll kept the tempo up, and then Joe Perry took the vocals on Freedom Fighter while a really weird video of him pretending to busk in London played in the background. I’m generally not too keen on the songs with Joe’s vocals, I’m not really sure what it is exactly but I just don’t particularly like his voice. At the same time I like that he was given a chance to sing one of the songs though, it just wasn’t one that I was particularly keen on. They steamed through Same Old Song and Dance and Rats in the Cellar before it was time to bust out a belter in the form of I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Aerosmith set without that song. It’s one of those songs that seems to be loved by loads of people who normally wouldn’t even listen to Aerosmith, while the real die-hard fans dislike it because of its popularity with everyone else. I have nothing against it, I enjoy singing along to it as much as any other power ballad, but I do find it funny that it’s the song everyone seems to know when it’s not even one of Aerosmith’s best power ballads as far as I’m concerned (but then Cryin’ is one of my favourite power ballads ever, and I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing just isn’t a patch on it in my opinion). Still, it’s a brilliant song for really getting the crowd choir going, and we all really went for it. The lady next to me was so overcome with emotion (and probably cider) that she actually started sobbing! It was good fun, but it was the last run of songs that really stood out for me. Next was apparently No More No More (which I don’t think I know), and then things really kicked into motion for me.
For the big finale there was a brilliant run of Come Together, Dude (Looks Like a Lady and Walk This Way, all of which the crowd went absolutely wild for. That was definitely my highlight of the set, everyone was partying and having a great time, and I was really surprised by how popular Come Together was. I suppose even the people who didn’t know Aerosmith too well could recognise it and were able to join in, and Dude and Walk This Way are both so fun that it was a great way to wrap up the main set. For the encore a white piano was wheeled out onto the walkway and Steven Tyler played Dream On while Joe Perry stood on top and played guitar, and then they wrapped everything up with Sweet Emotion complete with pyrotechnics and huge amounts of confetti that was falling out of my coat the whole way home.
It was a great set list, although I would have liked to have heard Janie’s Got a Gun, but then you can’t have everything and I think they more than made up for that with Dude (Looks Like a Lady) – such fun! Steven Tyler’s such a good showman, he’s so fabulously flamboyant and he has all the dance moves and mic tricks to keep everyone entertained and ensure the spotlight is always on him. There was a lot of love for Steve and Joe (although I’m personally not a fan of Joe Perry, but he’s a great guitar player and I’ll admit he knows how to put on a show). I could almost feel their egos battling it out at times, it was kind of funny. I felt a bit sorry for the rest of the band though, they were more or less ignored by the crowd and at times the crowd didn’t even notice when they were stood in front of their noses on the walkway because everyone was too busy trying to get photos of Steve gyrating at the other end of the stage. It must be quite hard when you’re trying to compete against such big onstage personalities though, but I did feel a bit bad for the other band members – it was clearly the Steven and Joe show.
I had a really great time at Calling and I was actually really surprised by just how positive and upbeat the atmosphere was, considering that it was pissing with rain until at least halfway through Thunder’s set. It was a brilliant line up for me and one that I was really looking forward to, so I’m glad that everyone was so enthusiastic despite the crappy weather. I really, really enjoyed Richie Sambora and Aerosmith’s sets especially, but I do think that Thunder were the overall highlight for me. I think because they’re such an under-hyped and often overlooked band, I’m always really surprised that they put on such a great show. It’s a shame that more people don’t know about them, because I’m sure they’d bring a lot of joy to a lot of people.
The 3 Dudes: Mainly covers that I can’t remember, definitely included some Hendrix, one original song about being in London (maybe?)
Heaven’s Basement: Welcome Home, Can’t Let Go, Fire Fire, I Am Electric, Jump Back, Nothing Left to Lose, Executioner’s Day (Pink Floyd’s Sorrow as intro).
Radkey: Out Here in My Head, Cat & Mouse, Feed My Brain, Red Letter, Le Song, Romance Dawn, Little Man, N.I.G.G.A. (Not Okay).
Richie Sambora: Lay Your Hands On Me (Bon Jovi song), Nowadays, Every Road Leads Home to You, Stranger in This Town, Learning How to Fly With a Broken Wing, Burn the Candle Down, Wanted Dead or Alive (Bon Jovi song).
Thunder: Dirty Love, River of Pain, Higher Ground, Low Life in High Places, Backstreet Symphony, The Devil Made Me Do It, Love Walked In, I Love You More Than Rock ‘N’ Roll.
Joe Bonamassa: Oh Beautiful, Story of a Quarryman, Song of Yesterday (Black Country Communion song), Slow Train, Love Ain’t a Love Song, Sloe Gin (Tim Curry cover), The Ballad of John Henry.
Aerosmith: Mama Kin, Eat the Rich, Love in an Elevator, Oh Yeah, Cryin’, Livin’ on the Edge (with Richie Sambora), Last Child, Rag Doll, Freedom Fighter (sung by Joe Perry), Same Old Song and Dance, Rats in the Cellar, I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing, No More No More, Come Together (Beatles cover), Dude (Looks Like a Lady), Walk This Way.
Encore: Dream On, Sweet Emotion.