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Southern rockers really smoking on North debut.

Blackberry Smoke, Newcastle O2 Academy There ain't no smoke without fire and, on the night Tyneside's skies lit up to mark Guy Fawkes' infamous failure, an explosion of raucous southern rock provided the fitting soundtrack.

The smoke was Blackberry Smoke - all the way from Atlanta, Georgia, and playing their first gig in the North East. It proved to be some debut.

Celebrating their 15th anniversary and with four albums in the bag, it's not as if Rival Sons' laid-back label mates are new to the game. It's simply that the UK has arrived inexplicably late to the Blackberry Smoke party.

Experienced players and consummate performers, theirs was a set rooted in classy musicianship and heartfelt emotion. When the songs are this good who needs a gimmick? And with a mix right on the button, the band's sumptuous back catalogue was given ample opportunity to breathe.

Digging deep into breakthrough British release The Whippoorwill and top 20 follow-up Holding All The Roses, the breathtaking quintet delivered a set rich in substance and understated style. It was a show that will go down in the annals of Newcastle rock history - at times achingly simplistic and yet benefiting from genuine depth and authenticity, evoking Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, Blackfoot et al.

Whether teasing his way through the cheeky Six Ways To Sunday, holding back the tears on the reflective One Horse Town or delivering the cheerful boast of Everybody Knows She's Mine, frontman Charlie Starr proved himself the consummate storyteller.

Bright-eyed and busy, Blackberry Smoke's singer is the glue that binds this brilliant collective together - his knowing glances and authoritative nods sparking intuitive creativity and old-school jams.

Just why it's taken the new flagbearers for southern rock so long to pitch up on Tyneside is a mystery. But Starr's blink-and-you-missed-it line from Humble Pie's 30 Days In The Hole - "Newcastle Brown, I'm tellin' you, it can sure smack you down" - was the mark of a musician who knows how to forge a lasting bond.

Canny without being self-confi-dent, Blackberry Smoke's main man is a glorious throwback to an era when casual cool trumped arrogance and angst. Transfixing the masses, his lesson in unflashy showmanship proved compelling.

Complemented by the most relaxed rhythm section in rock, Brandon Still's brilliant tinkling and the ever-jovial Paul Jackson, Starr marshalled a band on a mission to fire the imagination and fuel ambition.

As a Smoke-filled room rose in unison to hail the Blackberry boys, this felt like Rock And Roll Again.

Simon Rushworth

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 7, 2015
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