untitled@Newcastle O2 Academy, March 7 2015

What do a Glaswegian bass player, a guitar slinger from Georgia and an introspective Swede have in common? On a night when the focus was supposed to be fixed firmly on a slew of rock’s most charismatic characters this unassuming trio stole the show as God-given talent trumped well-honed stagecraft. 

First to take her place on the Rushonrock podium was Heather McKay – one third of all-girl trio The Amorettes and playing the Academy’s main stage for the first time.

The bass players in the house quickly spread the word that this lass was something special and come the conclusion of a gutsy set the admiration had segued into pure adulation.

Alongside sister Hannah (drums) and frontwoman Gill Montgomery, Heather cut an imposing figure – never missing a beat and putting the ‘heavy’ into spirited set closer Hot N Heavy.

It was only their second show in the Toon but The Amorettes (signed to the same label as the Quireboys, Bonafide and Pig Iron) will be back to promote debut album Game On. Bring it on!

In silver medal position was the glue that holds Black Star Riders together. Scott Gorham might boast the pedigree, Ricky Warwick the wow factor and Jimmy DeGrasso the credit as a Wayne’s World extra.

But it’s Damon Johnson who is worth the admission money alone with the former Alice Cooper axeman in the form of his life at 50-years-young.

Gorham’s intro to Emerald was spine tingling but Johnson’s scorching solo earned one of the biggest roars of the night. The laid-back attitude belies an acute attention to detail and he no longer plays second fiddle to one of the biggest names in the business. In fact Johnson is taking on more and more of BSR’s wide and varied workload – excelling as much on the Thin Lizzy classics as he does on the band’s brilliant new material.

If Finest Hour proved the lowest point of the night (think Bowling For Soup doing classic rock) then Warwick and co. saved their set with rousing renditions of Soldierstown, Killer Instinct and Through The Motions. Forget through the motions – Johnson flew through the gears to lay down the gauntlet to the ultimate gold medal winner.

Joey Tempest had insisted before this tour that John Norum would finally get the credit he deserves as Europe dig deep into new album War Of Kings and complete their remarkable transformation from pop metal kings to blues rock overlords. He could well be right.

It takes a special song to punctuate Rock The Night and The Final Countdown but Days Of Rock N Roll is that song. And the reason it ranks alongside the very best of this band’s anthemic back catalogue to take its place second from last on a hit-laden setlist? A quite remarkable Norum riff.

It’s up there with the signature sequences that underpin Sweet Child Of Mine, The Boys Are Back In Town and Smoke On The Water. And it promises to provide the soundtrack to Europe’s Indian summer.

But Norum had already wrapped up victory long before an intoxicating closing sequence sent the screaming hordes home happy. It was possible to hear a pin drop as the assured Swede introduced Girl From Lebanon in signature style – oozing pure blues cool. No wonder Rival Sons producer Dave Cobb told Tempest that Norum was the best guitarist he’d ever had the pleasure of working with (Scott Holiday look away now).

A lot’s been made of the retro feel to this big-hitting double-header tour. But McKay, Johnson and Norum offer plenty that’s new, exciting and reassuringly rock n roll.