Atomic Rooster first formed after Vincent Crane and Carl Palmer left the psychedelic band The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and teamed up with vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Nick Graham. They went through several line-up changes before breaking up in 1975. When they reunited in 1980, keyboardist and main songwriter Crane was the only original member, but this second incarnation only lasted three years.
Crane passed away in 1989, and for a long time it seemed he’d taken Atomic Rooster to the grave with him. However, in 2016 two early members, guitarist Steve Bolton and vocalist Pete French decided to resurrect the band’s music. They are joined by Adrien Gautrey on keyboards, Shug Millidge on bass and Bo Walsh on drums.
Bolton and French were both members of Atomic Rooster briefly in the early 70s, during the group’s most commercially successful era. To the delight of fans of late 60s, early 70s rock music, this new line-up brilliantly channels the spirit of the time and performs the band’s classic songs with the energy they demand.
They played at London’s Under the Bridge venue on Saturday 20th January. The band’s signature heavy rock tunes are defined by powerful and catchy guitar riffs that you can’t easily get out of your head, and a similarly captivating Hammond organ sound. Watching Bolton play inevitably makes the viewer build a time machine inside their head and try to picture being in London at the turn of the 60s and 70s – arguably one of the most exciting times in music history. His solos have the strength and fire to do justice to the original recordings. Gautrey’s playing also combines precision and passion; he helps recreate the unique atmosphere of the material with an extraordinary spirit, even though, like many in the audience, he’s too young to remember those amazing days.
Walsh and Millidge have some big shoes to fill, which they undoubtedly succeed at. Atomic Rooster had always had extraordinary rhythm sections, often creating unusual time signatures to provide the foundation for their progressive sound. And, finally, French’s powerful and expressive vocals make the hard rock vibe complete.
The set list mostly consisted of songs from the group’s two most famous albums, ‘Death Walks Behind You’ (1970) and ‘In Hearing of’ (1971). Some of the highlights were the singles ‘Tomorrow Night’ and ‘Devil’s Answer’, as well as the dark psychedelic ‘Black Snake’, the majestic instrumental ‘VUG’, the groovy ‘Save Me’, the contemplative ‘Nobody Else’, and, of course, the iconic ‘Death Walks Behind You’ with its memorable main riff and chorus.