SF review scrollerWhen Stone Foundation returned to Under the Bridge as headliners, the day before Chelsea entertained the new champions Leicester City, it was impossible to ignore the football parallels. Stone Foundation might not have won the Premier League yet, but they’re a group of Midlands musicians who work hard at what they do and play as a very tightly-knit team: and they’ll be playing in Europe later this year. The evening’s host and DJ, Robert Elms, had to admit to a bit of embarrassment, as a QPR fan at Stamford Bridge playing the Chelsea theme tune “Liquidator”. But this was a night for putting aside local rivalries to celebrate Stone Foundation’s return to The Bridge.

Following Robert Elms’ first set, the Max Milner Community played a fine support set of soulful rock. The band knocked out some very funky and dirty grooves as Max powered through some originals and even “The Letter” as a Joe Cocker tribute. Great harmonies as well and definitely one to keep an eye on. Time for Robert Elms again for a short set before the main event. A quick check of the stage setup showed that the horn section had expanded again; four horn mics onstage and something you don’t see very often – two flugelhorns. Anyone would think it was a jazz gig.

Stone Foundation; the name’s important. The band’s built on the foundation of writers Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby, and original members drummer Phil Ford and keyboard player Ian Arnold. The horn section has seen a few changes over the last couple of years, but the lineup of Gary Rollins (tenor sax), Gareth John (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Adam Stevens (baritone sax) seems fairly well established, along with conga player Rob Newton, spicing up the percussion mix. They’re in the process of recording the new album and trying out some of the new songs in a live setting.

The band have built up a fanatical following in London on the back of high-profile support gigs and their own headline slots, and the response as they made their appearance made this feel like a home game for them (despite Neil Jones waving a Manchester United towel to the crowd). The set kicked off with “Bring Back the Happiness” from “To Find the Spirit” and the single “Beverley”; two songs in and the band were 2-0 up and playing a blinder. The pacing of the set was spot on, building up the atmosphere with songs from the last two albums (including “To Find the Spirit” and “Night Teller”) before introducing three new songs (“The Limit of a Man”, “Frame by Frame” and “Back in the Game”) which were all well received by the knowledgeable crowd. And then it was back to the crowd pleasers with the Studio 54-esque “A Love Uprising” (whistles and all) and the old favourite, “Tracing Paper” before ending the set on “Something in the Light” and “That’s the Way I Want to Live My Life”, complete with the obligatory mass singalong.

As for the encore, well, it turned out to be a jazz gig after all. The first piece, “Old Partners, New Dances”, was a four-in-the-morning, empty jazz club instrumental played by Gareth John on flugelhorn accompanied by Ian Arnold. The pacing of the encore was perfect as well; the second song, the new “Street Rituals” was played without horns before the full band joined in for a rousing “Speak Your Piece” deep into injury time. Even Roman Abramovich enjoyed it from the VIP area behind the sound desk. The unfancied Midlanders came to The Bridge and got a result; even Leicester City couldn’t top that.

Stone Foundation are the real deal. They’ve built up a fanatical fanbase (the kind that chants the keyboard player’s name during the encore and actually welcomes new material) by working very hard at their particular soul vision and they’ve done it all on their own terms. It’s still a work in progress; Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby are constantly looking for ways to tweak and improve on what they do (like adding a second trumpet, possibly only for this gig) and each year seems to bring fresh triumphs and fresh challenges. There’s a new album next year and we may even get a few surprises along the way as well. Whatever happens, it’s going to be an interesting ride. Who knows what next season will bring.

You can see the pix from the gig here, and apologies to Neil Sheasby for picking up his Foxes idea and running with it.

We always like a good live music picture here at Riot Towers and we even manage to publish one occasionally. When we asked Allan to pick his favourite five live shots this year, his first reaction was a hissy fit about only being allowed to choose five pictures because he wanted to choose six. It wasn’t a Spinal Tap thing but a bit of the old artistic temperament; apparently there’s no way of making five pictures look symmetrical, so we allowed him his bit of graphic licence. Here’s what he has to say about his choices:

The first unusual thing is that there are two photos of sax players, and both of them were taken on the same night, when Stone Foundation supported The Blow Monkeys at Under the Bridge. It’s a lovely venue and the team there pay a lot of attention to detail in their presentation which means that the sound and light are spot on. The lighting on the shots of Gary Rollins (Stone Foundation) and Neville Henry (Blow Monkeys) is very different; one’s very warm and the other’s quite cool, but they both work.

The Glenn Alexander shot (from a Southside Johnny gig at Shepherds Bush Empire) works because it has all the rock guitarist elements, but you can see him watching centre stage because he’s playing with Southside and anything can happen. As for Pete Kennedy (taken at a Kennedys show at Green Note), I loved the concentration, but how often do you see photos of an Ovation ukulele?

The shot of Nick Bowden and Paul Bowe of Federal Charm was another one from the Empire, when the band supported Ian Hunter on the final night of his UK tour. The band only had a thirty minute support set but they threw everything at it and I think this shot captures the energy they poured in to that set. I wish I could say that the shot of Keisuke Nishikawa (at a Vera Lynch gig) was carefully planned, but the downward look and the atmospheric lighting just happened to coincide with the click of the shutter.