LIVE REVIEW – Toseland @ The Sugarmill, Stoke-on-Trent

Classic rock seems to have been going through somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, with acts such as AIRBOURNETHE TREATMENT and WE ARE HARLOT all taking cues from various titans of the genre. Another of these bands is TOSELAND, the vehicle of former World Superbike champion James Toseland first revealed to the world in 2013. Having released their sophomore album Cradle The Rage earlier this year, and having recently signed a European record deal, the band are now back on the road for a second series of tour dates in support of the album across the UK and Europe.

Sertraline live @ The Sugarmill
Sertraline live @ The Sugarmill. Photo Credit: Jack Fermor-Worrell

SERTRALINE are the first band up tonight, and vocalist Lizzie Parry wastes absolutely no time in grabbing the room’s attention. With a voice capable of moving between beautiful melody and almost-demonic shrieking, she proves an impressively captivating front-woman. Packing several powerful tracks including recent single Change of Heart and fan-favourite Set The World Alight into their short set means the band certainly make a positive impression on those who make it in early enough to see them. Unfortunately, though as is often the case with opening acts, the band’s set draws to a close just as they seem to be hitting their stride. Nonetheless, this is a strong showing from a band who seem ready to make that step up to the next level in the immediate future, and will hopefully do so.

Rating: 7/10

Illustr8ors live @ The Sugarmill
Illustr8ors live @ The Sugarmill. Photo Credit: Jack Fermor-Worrell

Bristol five-piece ILLUSTR8ORS are up next, and do a fairly decent job of exciting the gradually-increasing crowd. With a bouncy alt-rock sound packed with huge (and at times almost-poppy) choruses, the group are a great fit to accompany tonight’s headliners, and seem genuinely overjoyed by the response they receive. Vocalist Scott Sharp has something of an 80’s classic-rock swagger to his stage presence, dancing around like Mick Jagger by way of a Topman store and singing with a similar attitude at times. With just a single EP to their name thus far, ILLUSTR8ORS might seem like a hard sell at the moment, but there’s certainly a lot of promise to their live show. In particular, it’s tracks Your Animal and Shush Shush that seem to garner the most enthusiastic response – the latter’s falsetto vocals and impressively funky guitar riffs proving the high point of their set. If they can keep up this momentum for a while longer, then it’s not outlandish to say that ILLUSTR8ORS could well become one of the next big things in rock.

Rating: 8/10

Toseland live @ The Sugarmill
Toseland live @ The Sugarmill. Photo Credit: Jack Fermor-Worrell

TOSELAND, by all accounts, have had a wonderful year. From signing a European record deal, to supporting classic rock titans DEEP PURPLE on a series of Italian dates earlier this year, the band seem to be on an impressive streak right now. Returning to The Sugarmill for the first time since April 2015, the band are on fiery form from the off – powering straight into bonafide anthem and recent album title-track Cradle The Rage. Vocalist James Toseland once again proves his considerable skill as a vocalist, with a range landing closest on the scale to Myles Kennedy of ALTER BRIDGE fame. Of course, this would be little more than the average celebrity vanity project without the songs to back it up, and luckily TOSELAND have them in spades. From the up-tempo hard-rock of Gotta Be A Better Way, to the pure anthemic pomp of anti-talent show track Puppet On A Chain, the band have a huge amount of great songs for such a small discography and are clearly aware of this – ten of the eleven tracks from Cradle The Rage get an airing tonight and not a single one feels like filler. Guitarists Zurab Melua and Ed Bramford are on excellent form throughout the night and, a few technical difficulties aside, enjoy near-perfect sound. The natural foil to all of the evening’s hard-rock soon makes an appearance though, as James wheels out a keyboard for some equally-colossal power-ballads. The first of these, Kingdoms, could almost have come straight from the 1980s such is the cheesiness but it’s delivered with such endearing emotion and talent that it ends up being a highlight of the set.

Fingers Burned soon follows, and sees a good portion of the audience waving their arms in synchronicity and singing along to its melancholy chorus. It’s in these slower keyboard-led tracks that the roots of Toseland’s musical endeavours become most apparent. A piano player from a young age, the front-man shows off a beautiful sense of melody and proves himself more than capable at bringing the pace down to a calmer level. Of course, this doesn’t last long, and the band are soon back at full speed, bashing out the likes of Living In A Moment and Waiting For The Answers. Perhaps the hardest-rocking tracks are saved for last though, as Melua and Bramford crank out the frankly ridiculous combo of Hearts & Bones and Crash Landing. These two seem to sum up the heavier side of the band best of all, with crunchy guitar riffs and soaring choruses, backed by Joe Yoshida’s ever-reliable pounding drum-beats and Roger Davis’ rhythmic bass guitar thump.

As the band leave the stage, it’s blindingly obvious that there’s still more to come though, and as expected, they quickly return for a final three songs. Singer In A Band is another perfectly-distilled rock banger, with autobiographical lyrics and a heartfelt delivery to match. Cheers then erupt from the audience as the keyboard is brought back out and the band launch into their final songs of the night – fan-favourites Renegade and We’ll Stop At Nothing. If tonight has proved anything, it’s that TOSELAND are pretty much at the point where they can be considered serious challengers to the established bands of the modern rock scene of today. For James Toseland and co., the future looks very bright indeed.

Rating: 9/10

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