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Russ Ballard


Artist: Russ Ballard

Venue: Hull, Wrecking Ball Arts Centre

Date: 17 November 2023


"Musicians like Russ Ballard are few and far between, there aren’t many artists who can put together a show as entertaining and familiar as this one – he could have done another set out of all his other well-known songs he didn’t play! "

 
Concert

There are a few venues in Hull, varying in size from the Bonus Arena to the City Hall, but for smaller, more intimate shows, one of the very best is Wrecking Ball Arts Centre. A wonderfully welcoming room situated above the equally excellent Wrecking Ball record shop and café, the Arts Centre is a cosy place with plush drapes, a nice stage, bar and plenty of seating. Not only is it a great place to witness a gig up close, it seems to be striking a chord with artists as well. They appreciate how well it’s run, and how good the sound is for both the audience and the performers themselves on stage. One such artist who, and I quote “just loves the vibe of this place and I couldn’t wait to come back” is the songwriting legend that is Russ Ballard. This, his second visit to Wrecking Ball in as many years, saw him put together a fantastic band with a singular mission – to blast through a collection of Ballard penned tunes, many of them hits for other artists. Indeed, as Ballard said just as the show began, he wrote everything in the set with just one exception.


I have always respected Ballard as a songwriter and when I was tasked with doing a career spanning interview with him in issue #90 of Fireworks Rock & Metal Magazine, I had to refresh my memory on some of his work and in some cases explore it for the first time. That interview resulted in not only a great feature but also saw me bolster my collection with purchases of an Argent compilation and four of Ballard’s solo albums – not to mention a new found appreciation for him as an artist. So I decided to attend the concert expecting to know a reasonable amount of material.


To my absolute delight, I knew all of it, with Ballard kicking things off with one of my favourite Argent songs, the hard rocking ‘It’s Only Money (Part II)’ which sounded fantastic. At 78, Ballad looks and sounds like a man half that age, vocally extremely strong and with great enthusiasm for his art. We’d barely recovered before it was into ‘New York Groove’ which Ace Frehley enjoyed a hit with.


I really liked Ballard’s 1984 self-titled solo album, and it was a joy to hear Russ dust off no less than six songs from that throughout the set, spanning ‘In The Night’, ‘A Woman Like You’, the fantastic ‘Two Silhouettes’, ‘I Can’t Hear You No More’, ‘Playing With Fire’ and mesmerising ‘Voices’. The follow up album ‘The Fire Still Burns’ was also represented via the title track and ‘Dream On’. It wasn’t all about the past though, nestled in amongst these great songs was the soaring ‘Time Machine’ from his latest effort ‘Good To Be Here’, which live sounded even better to me than the album version.


Mid-way through the set we reached the one song Ballard didn’t write, but he did sing, namely Argent’s pounding Rock anthem ‘Hold Your Head Up’ which resulted in a boisterous singalong with the audience, who were completely won over. Special mention must also be made to Ballard’s band, consisting of Marc Rapson on keyboards, Roly Jones on guitar, PJ Phillips on bass and John Miller on drums. They were a rock-solid unit and provided superb backing vocals, meaning there wasn’t a single song from Ballard’s back catalogue that wasn’t delivered to the highest of standards.


Things just kept getting better with a magnificent rendition of Argent’s ‘Liar’ (which was also recorded by Three Dog Night and later Graham Bonnet) and the singer then wheeled out the, in his words, “Punk influenced” ‘Rene Didn’t Do it’ from my personal favourite Ballard album ‘Barnet Dogs’. Then came one of his most famous songs, ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’. While several acts have recorded it, included Russ himself, Rainbow’s version is the definitive and while Ballard’s original was more Pop in style, and his 2020 reworking on ‘Good To Be Here’ was more of a ballad, here he performed it in the same style as Rainbow and it went down a storm.


Most people would have been satisfied with that, but he still had ‘God Gave Rock N’ Roll To You’ up his sleeve to bring the evening to a hugely satisfying end. I missed his first show at Wrecking Ball, but I’m so very glad I came for the return. Musicians like Russ Ballard are few and far between, there aren’t many artists who can put together a show as entertaining and familiar as this one – he could have done another set out of all his other well-known songs he didn’t play! Go and see him if you get the chance because he’s still at the top of his game.

 

Reviews: James Gaden

 

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