Midway through last year Phil Mogg confirmed that UFO’s ‘Last Orders’ 50th anniversary tour was to be his final stand as frontman of the longstanding hard rockers. It’s difficult to believe, but this really is Lights Out in Leamington.
It’s an early start at the Assembly tonight; a 10pm curfew, DJ’s and a club night takeover, mostly for an audience whose parents were only a twinkle in the eye of their procreators when UFO themselves were being formed. The advanced time slot doesn’t appear to have caught out any of the old rockers in town for this one, and the anticipation of a bittersweet experience is palpable. With the venue heaving at full capacity – as it should be – we’re all here to celebrate a great British rock institution.
Looking as sharp as a tack, the shaven-headed, energetic 70 year old Phil Mogg is flanked by guitar maestro Vinnie Moore and bassist Rob De Luca as they head into ‘Mother Mary’ and ‘We Belong to the Night’. With Paul Raymond impressively switching between keyboards and rhythm guitar, co-founder and drummer Andy Parker provides the solid foundation and the drive into a more recent ‘Run Boy Run’, from the 2015 ‘A Conspiracy Of Stars’ album.
Having developed into one of the finest rock vocalists of all time, it can’t be denied that from the outset of tonight’s show, Mogg’s distinctive voice remains strong and unwavering. During ‘Only You Can Rock Me’ a good proportion of those around me are clearly transported back to their youth; the late seventies; the vintage Mogg/Schenker/Way group, and I’m pretty sure it’s not just me stood here wondering why he would choose to retire, particularly when others of the same generation struggle to find such good form.
It was no great surprise that Pete Way and Michael Schenker both issued statements last year to confirm neither of them wished to be involved in this UFO 50th anniversary tour. I guess some fans really wanted to see and celebrate the classic lineup, but nothing should be taken away from their present day counterparts. Rob De Luca is a talented and solid bass player, while Vinnie Moore brandishes dazzling virtuosity and sheer command of the guitar.
A passionate ‘Baby Blue’, the strutting ‘Messiah Of Love’ and back to ’78 with the multi-layered, melodic rocker ‘Cherry’. It’s a career spanning set of sorts, although notably and understandably reliance is heavily placed on tracks from ‘Strangers In The Night’ – the UFO live album recognised as one of the greatest of all time. As we head into the latter part of the show, those classic, crowd-pleasers come thick and fast.
The groove-laden ‘Too Hot To Handle’ and an all out hammering of ‘Lights Out’ both include hair raising solos from Vinnie Moore. There’s a change of pace for the hauntingly timeless ‘Love to Love’, before that riff and an extra-extended version of ‘Rock Bottom’. As ladies and gentlemen of a certain age become carried away, fist pumping, singing along, hero worshipping as they did all of those years ago. I’m wondering how many of the kids coming into the venue later tonight will be doing the same thing in three or four decades time.
It’s possibly an all too obvious encore of ‘Doctor Doctor’ and ‘Shoot Shoot’, but it’s a finale of passion, gratitude and connection between band and audience. It sends us all happily into the night asking the inevitable question – is this really it for UFO? Even though Mogg has given the current lineup his blessing to continue with the name, it’s almost certain they will be no more at the end of this tour. It’s a sad prospect, but perhaps he’ll change his mind – you never know.
Review & Photography: Steve Johnston // Rock Music Photographer