Francis Dunnery's It Bites - Live From The Black Country

Francis Dunnery’s It Bites – Live from The Black Country

I’ve declared my love for the ’80s on these pages before, some kind of guilty pleasure. I’m mainly talking about Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Simple Minds, Level 42 and others. But of course, there was more to this decade: what about neo-prog making its debut with Marillion, IQ, Pallas and Pendragon, also cult heroes It Bites? A band from the northern county of Cumbria, where a certain Francis Dunnery made quite a name for himself, supported by his buddies Bob Dalton, Dick Nolan and John Beck. The quartet released three reasonably successful albums between 1986 and 1989, after which the story got stuck for various reasons. They scored a minor hit (Calling All the Heroes) and a form of cult status. The group presented a mixture of neo-prog and ’80s pop, with catchy tunes, multi-harmony vocals and razor-sharp guitar work, packaged in concise songs packed with melody. Without a doubt to be classified as progressive rock, composer/singer/guitarist Francis Dunnery personally made sure of that. I was an instant fan and recognised Dunnery’s talent almost immediately.

After that, the band and its frontman kind of disappeared from sight. I came across his name again on the (large) list of musicians who collaborated on Anderson Bruford Wakeman & Howe’s debut album in 1989, quite surprisingly. But that was it. Until sometime in the late 2000s and early 2010s, It Bites suddenly released new material, my interest was immediately aroused. Dunnery’s place as central figure, however, appeared to be taken by another Cumbrian musician, John Mitchell. Although both albums, The Tall Ships (2008) and Map From the Past (2012), were of very good quality, I still missed the special voice and characteristic guitar playing of Dunnery. It was highly unlikely we would ever hear anything from him again in the context of It Bites, I thought…

… until I recently stumbled upon the release of a double live album by Francis Dunnery’s It Bites. Blood is thicker than water, it seems. Dunnery had apparently decided to revive his beloved ’80s band through a small series of live performances in early 2023. He would do so without his old buddies, but with the help of a few friends, all talented and very capable musicians as well: what about guitarist Luke Machin (Cyan, Maschine, The Tangent) and keyboardist/singer Pete Jones (Tiger Moth Tales, Red Bazar, Cyan, Camel)? Also featuring Björn Fryklund on drums, Paul Brown on bass guitar and multi-instrumentalist Quint Starkie. The show that would eventually end up on the album Live from The Black Country took place on 20th January this year at KK’s Steel Mills in Wolverhampton. And it’s a real trip down memory lane, lasting two hours.

No Calling All the Heroes, unfortunately, but classic It Bites songs such as All In Red (the first single ever), Positively Animal, Yellow Christian, plus Kiss Like Judas and Still Too Young to Remember, (also released as a single). And what about the little instrumental gem Charlie? Fortunately, the monumental Old Man and the Angel and especially the epic Once Around the World, clocking in at approximately 17 minutes, are not missing from the setlist. It all puts a big smile on my lips.

The almost four decades old music is brought to life by the excellent band, with Jones and Machin in leading roles, one with his rich keyboard sound, the other with his impressive guitar playing. In addition, the multi-harmony vocals in particular, often four-part and high pitched, are well cared for. Not too many people know that Dunnery once auditioned as a singer with Genesis after the departure of Phil Collins in 1996. The humorous announcements from the bandleader (“Welcome to the greatest show on Earth!”), and the enthusiastic response from the audience singing along loudly, enhance the festive spirit. Not a concert but a true party, as Dunnery rightly calls it.

There is also a Blu-ray version, unfortunately it wasn’t made available to me, however based on videos on YouTube and the trailer for the album, you can get a good impression of the quality and atmosphere of the show. The long blonde hair has disappeared, what remains is a bald head under a cool hat. But still the same mischievous appearance and flamboyant attitude of the now 60-year-old musician remains.

Anyone who wants to know what happened to Dunnery after It Bites’ last studio album should just turn to Wikipedia, you will be amazed at the activities that he has undertaken on both sides of the ocean in recent decades. And with whom: from Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, guitar legend Carlos Santana, Stone Roses frontman Ian Brown, R&B superstar Lauren Hill, to former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. And that’s just a small selection. But the musical jack-of-all-trades is back at the old nest. An album with new material is reportedly in the pipeline, recordings have been planned for December, that would be the real icing on the cake. Fingers crossed.

01. All in Red (5:05)
02. Positively Animal (5:12)
03. Yellow Christian (6:59)
04. Sister Sarah (6:11)
05. Plastic Dreamer (4:05)
06. Underneath Your Pillow (7:14)
07. Old Man and the Angel (10:42)
08. Charlie (4:27)
09. Hunting the Whale (5:43)
10. Turn Me Loose (7:18)
11. Leaving Without You (6:55)
12. People of America (8:01)
13. Screaming on the Beaches (7:08)
14. Kiss Like Judas (5:31)
15. Still too Young to Remember (7:36)
16. Once Around The World (17:11)

Total Time – 114:31

Francis Dunnery – Guitar, Lead Vocals
Björn Fryklund – Drums
Paul Brown – Bass Guitar
Luke Machin – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Quint Starkie – Triggers, Backing Vocals
Peter Jones – Keyboards, Backing Vocals

Record Label: Tiger Moth Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 6th October 2023

Francis Dunnery’s It Bites:
– Live From The Black Country (2023)
It Bites:
– Map of the Past (2012)
– The Tall Ships (2008)
– When the Lights Go Down (2007)
– Live in Montreux 1987 (2003)
– Thank You & Goodnight (1991)
– Eat Me in St. Louis (1989)
– Once Around the World (1988)
– The Big Lad in the Windmill (1986)

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