First things first, I'm not going to bore you with my personal history of following Toby Jepson's musical exploits. Let's just say I've been a fan for years (and I have the faded tattoos to prove it...). But what I will say is that I'd been waiting for what seemed like forever for a headlining tour from his 'new' band, Wayward Sons. Yes, I'd met and heard the band already, and yes they had been performing up and down the country since, supporting Inglorious, UFO and Steel Panther but I was waiting specifically for their own tour, where they could play what they liked, how they liked it, and not be in any rush to leave the stage.
The 2018 tour (promoting their fantastic debut album, Ghosts Of Yet To Come) started off at the Diamond Rock Club in Ballymena, before hitting York, Sheffield, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Wolverhampton, London, Bristol, Nottingham and Brighton, ending at The Globe in Cardiff. As tempted as I was to hit the Wolves show as it's nearest to me, the offer of free accommodation from my best mate and gig buddy, Alun, meant that Bristol was my gig of choice.
I last visited The Fleece in Bristol in 2017 (back in July, with the mighty King King), and although the infamous pillars can be annoying, it's a fab venue where the people are friendly and the Jack Daniel's isn't extortionately priced. There's also a pub bolted on next door which comes in handy when queueing for gigs, but that's a story for another day.
We'd arranged to meet a couple of friends at the Sons gig, people from our 'King King family'. Jan and Dagmar are no strangers to the live music scene, and they'd cemented their places front and centre stage even before we'd been allowed into the building - Jan had won them both VIP access. Dagmar knew I was a huge Jepson fan, and during the VIP soundcheck, she'd asked Toby to sign a lyric sheet and dedicate it to me! Such a lovely gesture, and one which I'll never forget. Not only did I get to meet my gig buddies and watch my favourite band with them, I'd been given an awesome memento of the night!
Support for The Sons came not from a musical act, but somewhat surprisingly from stand-up 'Rock Comedian' Pete K Mally. While this might have been considered by many a risky move and a bit of a break from tradition, Toby has never been one to shy away from breaking the mold, and it really worked. I try to approach things with an open mind, and in my opinion Pete was perfect for this gig. He's obviously a Rock fan himself, and that showed in his quick responses to the (friendly) comments thrown at him from his audience. His set was funny, warm, topical and relevant. I won't go into details but his act included some unique audience participation which I will henceforth be repeating every time I hear the name of a certain glam rock 'Icon'.
So Pete did a short introduction, then we were treated to a twenty minute video (on big screens) of the zombie quadrilogy (which actually turned to out be a pentalogy) of Wayward Sons music videos, each one getting a cheer as it closed. The fifth instalment was screened exclusively for gig attendees, and wouldn't be publicly available until after the tour ended. Pete came back on stage to perform his twenty (or so) minute set which was warmly received and went down well. Then it was time to rock!
From the opening chords of 'Alive' the place was bouncing! Whoever was on PA duty must have turned it up to eleven! It was super-loud, and super kick-ass. The guys ripped through the opening number and tore straight into 'Ghost', much to the delight of the crowd. I was already singing my heart out, and I wasn't the only one! I did notice at this point that Toby's vocals were not quite as prominent in the mix as one would prefer, but being stage-front at any small-venue gig means you don't get the full benefit of the PA system, and the back line can be very strong when it's literally in your face, but that's the price paid for a premium view and something I'd expected. Don't get me wrong, it still sounded awesome, but at times I would have liked the vocals to have been a tiny bit louder. But hey, I was singing loud enough for both of us! (and as I write this, I have the sore throat and lack of voice to show for it).
Next up was 'Don't Wanna Go', one of my favourites from the album, and by the looks of people around me, it was a crowd favourite too. Song number four was 'Give It Away' and the band hadn't let up one iota. Seriously, jumping around the stage, singing, playing instruments, all while being in a hot room with hot spotlights glaring onto you, I honestly don't know how they do it. Yes we were occasionally sprayed with 'Rock Star Sweat' but that's part of live Rock music, right?
'Giving It Away' and 'Killing Time' were next on the playlist, and Toby mentioned that he was particularly fond of the latter. The guys performed both tracks flawlessly. When the opening riff of 'Crush' began, there was yet another huge cheer from the crowd, this one obviously being another fan favorite. Everyone knew the words, and everyone was singing! They slowed this tune down halfway through, gently fading out instruments until Phil Martini on drums played alone, crowd claps notwithstanding, with occasional Hammond stabs from the legend that is Dave Kemp. With perfect precision, the band eased it into a storming rendition of Blondie's 'Union City Blue' which I absolutely loved, having been a bit of a Blondie fan back in the day! After surgically merging back into Crush, the band didn't stop for breath before launching into 'Small Talk', yet another stomper of a track. I was absolutely loving this gig! I had expected Toby's daughter to maybe get on stage to help out with vocals on this track, as she was also there (her sister performed on the album version) but I think Nic Wastell's bass-weilding antics probably scared her off - the bloke is a maniacal dynamo on stage, with seemingly unlimited energy!
We were seven tracks in and the crowd were lapping it up! The guys on stage hadn't stood still for a second, and I'm not lying when I say this was one of the most vibrant and energetic shows I've ever seen in my 30-something years of following live music. 'Standby Heart' was next, a track which didn't make the album, but was offered as a download when pre-ordering the 'I Don't Wanna Go' limited edition record. I have it on rotation on my playlist, so it was another singalong for me! By now my throat was starting to protest but hey, rock'n'roll! They followed this with 'Be Still' which is one of those uber-catchy choruses that begs for crowd collaboration, and of course we were totally willing to help out. Next up was another track which didn't quite make the album (which I was a bit gutted about, as I'm singing backing vocals on it!) - 'Radio Denial' - again this was released as a special edition download. Even though this was one of the lesser known tracks, everyone still danced, and clapped, and joined in - this gig was seriously kicking ass!
Next up was another personal favourite of mine - 'Something Wrong' - which has such a catchy chorus that if you don't sing along with it automatically, you must be clinically dead. I absolutely loved this, and so did the audience given the roar of appreciation it brought. This tune lead on to an absolute classic from Toby's Little Angels days, 'Kicking Up Dust' - the song whose lyrics influenced the name 'Wayward Sons', itself giving a cursory nod to the Kansas classic. This went down a storm, and I never thought I'd get the chance to hear that track performed live again (at least by Jepson) and I'm so, so glad they included it. Bringing the set to a close was the fantastic 'Until The End', a fitting tune and another one which ensured the crowd were completely immersed in the experience.
Now up until this point, the more avid reader might have noticed that I haven't yet mentioned the lead guitarist. People who know me also know that I absolutely idolise Thunder's Luke Morley. His song-writing proficiency and guitar skills truly are a thing of wonder, I grew up with his music and I will always love him for what he does. But this new guy, this youngster, this polite and approachable bloke standing in front of me playing his heart out, well, he just blew me away. I wouldn't be so audacious as to compare the two, but Sam Wood, man, what a fucking revelation! Remember that name - Sam Wood - I think I've found a new guitar hero to worship! He's a legend in the making, and no mistake!
The set ended and as expected, the crowd were absolutely screaming for more. The Fleece is a strange old place in that it doesn't actually have a back-stage area, so instead of messing about, Toby and the guys launched into the encore. First up was 'Backslide', a track which originally appeared on Toby's 'Guitar, Bass and Drums' EP, and now forms part of the band's ever expanding repertoire of quality tunes. This was followed by an absolutely banging version of the Little Angels stalwart 'Young Gods'. Sing? I almost cried with nostalgic joy! I wished this gig would go on forever but as they say, all good things must come to an end, and the guys wound the evening down with the last few bars of Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody', which pretty much guaranteed every single person in the venue (bar staff included) joined in for one final singalong. Good, good times.
I knew coming down from such a euphoric experience would be a bummer, but to ease the pain, the guys came out (after towelling off!) for a meet and greet session with the fans. I know King King do this, and I love them for it, and to have Wayward Sons do it too was just the icing on the best cake ever. We met and chatted with the whole band (Sam remembered me from the studio session I attended in 2016), the girls had their VIP passes signed, we had hugs and photo's with the guys and I left the venue feeling on top of the world.
In conclusion, I can only say that this is how live music should be done. Ticket prices were way cheaper than they could have been, the band were ludicrously good live, and more than accommodating after the show. I met friends, we had a fantastic time, I got some amazing photo's and made some unforgettable memories. If you get a chance to see Wayward Sons, I strongly suggest you do so. Hell, make it happen. It will be so, so worth it. Outstanding!
I must say hi and thanks to my best mate Alun, my good friends Dagmar and Jan, Geoff Gibson and Damian Gore (who tirelessly admin the Wayward Fans Facebook Group), the Sons themselves - Toby Jepson, Sam Wood, Nic Wastell, Dave Kemp and Phil Martini (not forgetting the sixth son - Nige Crooks), and everyone I bumped into at the gig. You guys rock!