Thomas Wynn And The Believers, The Horn, St. Albans, 26th June 2018

If this review were being written by one DJ Trump then you’d hear how this was an all time record crowd for The Horn, which is a pretty unsubtle way of trying to soften the blow that the music room at The Horn was at maybe five per cent of capacity for Thomas Wynn and The Believers, and less for the opening acts. Which is – putting it mildly – a shame as opener Pat Dam Smyth deserved more. Playing solo electric guitar to accompany his songs of full of regrets, bad luck and bad decisions, the Northern Irish singer-songwriter showed himself to be cut from a Cohenesque cloth both with his mournful growling baritone and the bleak outlook of his lyrics. Particularly on the slow burning ‘Goodbye Berlin‘ which oozes along an autobahn of pain: “And everyone’s got pain, you know / The trick is how to let it go / I got mine but it’s not yours to see / Only when you get to know me“. Several of the songs look back to County Down, and in particular to a pub/club that has a twenty-four hour licence, making it an “interesting” place to spend time in.

After a short break Stone Thieves too the stage at The Horn – they’re a four piece band fronted by a pair of longhaired and bearded guitarists. And if you’re thinking Southern Rock then you’d be on the right lines – with maybe a little Creedence swampiness thrown in on the side.

Stone Thieves sing songs that have plenty of angels giving their hearts and men with souls full of roguery that leads them inevitably  to the wrong side of the law.  Pretty typical Southern Rock themes to be sure, and in the great tradition of such bands the songs are, more often than not, a ready frame to fit around the extended guitar solos. With blues holler vocals, plenty of guitar changes and even a cloud of dry ice it’s the full guitar band package. Standout song was probably ‘Rosalie’ which went from fast to really fast as the drummer shifted the pace up a gear halfway through. Tambourines are shaken and tossed aside, guitars riff, the bass booms and the drums pound like the proverbial horse-beats. What more could one ask of an Americana tinged rock band ?

And finally, around 10PM it was the turn of the headliners, Thomas Wynn and the Believers all the way from Florida. They may only number six band members, but on The Horn’s stage they looked as if they’d barely got enough room as a good portion of the space was reserved for Thomas – and his sister Olivia – to express themselves in the wild frenzy of hard boogieing Southern Rock. Predominantly that, anyway. There’s a strong psychedelic rock feel to some of the songs, the defiant ‘You can’t hurt me‘ becomes a crossfire of duelling – Thomas and Olivia’s vocals fighting for dominance (it’s about a draw), Thomas’ lead guitar jabbing against the stabs of Colin Fej’s Hammond keyboards and the whole just blown away by Chris Antemesaris’ storm blasts of harmonica. This is righteous stuff, dark moods embodied in the lyrics, hard playing from the band for a joyous outcome of swaying and rapturous rock. Thomas Wynn may be rocking that antebellum look, but he rocks the electric guitar equally hard.

Thomas Wynn And The Believers are no one trick pony though – they can do quiet as well if it’s required. ‘My eyes won’t be open’ is as gentle a ballad as anyone could ask for – it’s all about familial legacy and setting a good example through one’s life and ensuring that the most important aspects of one’s life are recalled…later on: “the kind of love that matters / don’t give that away / when my body’s laid down / my love it will remain.“. All this back-lit by gospelly lines on the keyboards, lifting to a hallelujah of crescendo in the last few bars. To say that throwing in a cover of ‘Atlantic City‘ went down well would be an understatement. It did exactly what a good cover should do by bringing a different spin to the song – still bleak and hopeless but also launching skyward for a final blaze of glory. Hopeless glory, of course, but it’s that one last shot that a desperate soul has to take. Going down  equally well was Thomas Wynn’s enquiry as to whether or not there was an eleven o’clock curfew – discovering there wasn’t ensured that the band would stay on past their nominal set end-time. Cue some longer solo’s on the throat ripping ‘We could all die screaming‘ which kicks off like a long lost Thin Lizzy song, but ends by digging deep into a heavy stop-start throbbing rock arc.

Stumbling out into the still warm evening, ears ringing but otherwise just uplifted by a thunderous performance, it was time to reflect on what a band this good was doing playing this somewhat off the main beaten track venue. After what is surely a profile raising UK tour – with some festival appearances – they surely’ll be returning to greater acclaim next time.

Author: Jonathan Aird

Sure, I could climb high in a tree, or go to Skye on my holiday. I could be happy. All I really want is the excitement of first hearing The Byrds, the amazement of decades of Dylan's music, or the thrill of seeing a band like The Long Ryders live. That's not much to ask, is it?

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