@ Newcastle O2 Academy II, June 12 2011

It’s a measure of the importance of Ronnie James Dio’s contribution to the world of rock music that when he died prematurely from cancer last year the sad news was carried as the front page lead story by the Independent newspaper.

Dio Disciples, comprising of Ronnie’s former Dio bandmates, augmented by Dio’s rock star friends and admirers, were formed earlier this year in tribute to Ronnie and to raise money for the cancer charity formed by Ronnie and Wendy Dio. 

The one piece of bad news, given the proceeds were earmaked for charity, was that the gig, originally slated for the main Academy, had to be transfered to the smaller, club-sized, Academy II due to the low ticket sales.

The timing of the gig, on the weekend of Download – indeed Dio Disciples themselves haf played a Donington set the previous day – and sandwiched between the Journey/Foreigner/Styx gig at the Arena and Whitesnake’s City Hall gig, undoubtedly didn’t help in this regard.

However the decision to switch to the Academy II actually proved a masterstroke, creating an ideal, sweaty, passionate atmosphere that only club venues can provide.

Opening with Stand Up And Shout, the Disciples took to the stage with Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens handling lead vocal duties. The former Judas Priest man was in fine voice, prowling the stage like a dominant silveback gorilla and delivering the lyrics of Holy Diver – arguably the ultimate Dio song – and Don’t Talk To Strangers with relish.

Ripper then introduced erstwhile Little Angels frontman Toby Jepson, who took over singing duties for Egypt (The Chains Are On) and King Of Rock And Roll. Prior to the tour I wasn’t entirely sure if the Scarborough screamer’s vocal style was suited to Ronnie’s songs but I needn’t have worried as Jepson’s voice has matured and deepened over the years and it melded seamlessly with the Dio material.

It was when Owens and Jepson combined their vocal abilities that the gig was lifted to another level – the element of friendly competition bringing out the best in both of them. Their duet on a shortened Catch the Rainbow, which then segued into Stargazer, during which Scott Warren’s swirling keyboards were suitably majestic, led to moist eyes in the audience.

As Ripper remarked, “it takes two to sing Ronnie” and the two combined again to make Chidren Of The Sea another of the evening’s highlights.

Guitarist Craig Goldy may have an understated stage presence, but his fretwork was a joy to behold. While his mastery of Dio material was to be expected, his playing of Rainbow and Sabbath classics was equally as effective, and where else are you going to hear Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll and Man On The Silver Mountain now Blackmore has morphed into a tights-wearing minstrel?

Goldy was ably supported with some powerhose drumming from Simon Wright and the fluid basslines of ex-Megadeth four-stringer James Loenzo, standing in for Rudy Sarzo who had to fullfil touring commitments with Blue Oyster Cult. One wishes bands playing the Arena could get as good a bass sound as was evident here, rather than the muddy morass that has been all too prevalent at the former venue of late.

Dio Disciples had certainly given their all in memory of Ronnie as the show climaxed with an encore of Rainbow In The Dark followed by a rousing We Rock. Throw in a surprise guest appearance from current Whitesnake and former Dio guitarist Doug Aldrich, in town for the following day’s ‘snake gig, and it added up to a perfect evening. Ronnie would have indeed been proud of his former bandmates’ efforts in keeping the flame alive.

Martyn Jackson