Oh it’s a bitter-sweet sold out night at one of the country’s best small venues, the Fulford Arms. It’s the night we bid farewell to Lord Stuart Perry, erstwhile singer extraordinaire and genteel master of ceremonies for York’s mercenary band Sellsword. A sadly enforced retirement, but a wise decision on his part. His glorious pipes and dramatic delivery, his gently humorous and charismatic introductions, his undoubted trebuchet skills, have graced stages including Bloodstock for around six years. The entire history of Sellsword in fact since bass player Tom Keeley saw him singing Dio songs in an acoustic set in a pub and informed him they would be forming a power metal band called Sellsword.
So here everyone is, determined to give him the send-off he deserves. A celebration and demonstration of what he means to the faithful. It’s all about the joy.
It’s great to see the place nicely full by the time opening band, Mersyside’s Napoleonic Wars obsessive power metal band Forlorn Hope. A new band but with a 2019 debut Over The Hills already under their belts, I was genuinely eager to finally see them after the nice buzz I’ve been hearing. They take the stage and I’m alarmed by the drummer’s red leopard print spandex strides… The others are more restrained in attire and before a note has been struck exhort us to make some noise. We do and they attack ‘Talavera’ in force.
Wow. This is a full-on attack indeed; driving, powerful and catchy as Hell. The band are all huge grins and it’s infectious, and so easy to get into. Vocals are dramatic and full of expression, the riffs spot on and the drummer (who it transpires has had one rehearsal with them, sitting in for their normal gent who has injured himself wanking. Allegedly.) is rock solid.
Between songs we get a lot of very funny banter between front man and crowd, none of it forced and it is just a super start to a special night.
Badajoz’ is a battering, galloping triumph, the unexpected cover of the song ‘Over The Hills’ which I only know from the Sharpe TV series is genuinely emotional and rounding off with ‘Rifles’ and ‘Forlorn Hope’ they go down a storm and yeah I’m totally won over. Great songs, infectious humour and enthusiasm, and a super first raid on York.
I lay siege to the merch stall…
A little soft drink against the rising heat and it’s time for Leeds band Dream Troll. First time I saw them was at the Sellsword album launch show here, and I went home with their entire catalogue. They are known to the crowd and get a warm reception and with a greeting from their new singer they hit the wonderful ‘I Will Not Die Today’. A song that typifies their style; well used keyboards, a large bedrock of classic rock in the melody heavy riffs with for me a lovely touch of Blue Oyster Cult influence floating around but with a metal attack. I’m initially worried by the vocals as this is a song that requires some gymnastics from the singer but as they move straight into ‘Velvet Drawbridge’ the tightness in his throat vanishes and his true range and quality rises so maybe a little more warming up beforehand…? Ah, what do I know…He does a grand front man job though; putting himself about on the small stage without getting in the way, drawing in the crowd, throwing himself totally into the songs. The band again are totally enjoying themselves, determined to add to the evening and just as Forlorn Hope did, offer a heartfelt shout out to Stuart Perry.
There’s something truly different about Dream Troll from many metal bands as they dance us through ‘The Battle For Enki’s Tower’ and ‘Lost In The Pages’. They have a more laid back style than most, that inherent classic rock style of melody dancing through the guitar runs and vocal lines, the rhythm section steady but also easily and fluidly directing the tempo changes and the keyboard a nuanced eighties style in there.
It’s another fine set. With the soaring ‘Steel Winged Warrior’ and the crowd favourite and sing along ‘Chrome Skull Viper’ (check out the video. It’s worthy of…Alvero Passeri….) they leave a happy, sweaty crowd ready for the main event.
After a lovely intro from Stuart Perry’s sister regaling us with his childhood farting habits…
…Oh when Sellsword ride out under ‘Blackened Sky’ you can just feel band and crowd are throwing everything they have into this. Everything. That classic, massively impressive sound parts Bal-Sagoth pomp, Maiden gallop and neo-classical epic melody just hits like a heavy cavalry charge. Stuart Perry is commanders in chief; dramatic gestures and enunciation, mop of hair flying and just that voice rising. And the musicianship around him; honestly I defy you to find the like in another power metal band in the UK; all four are mesmerising and such a great unit. Choruses lift the crowd, swords are waved and that’s it… And now we ride off in a joyous non-stop charge …unto the breach.
The slightly heavier, a little, dare I say it, doomier ‘Sagaborne’ regroups us before “the happiest song you’ll ever hear about assassination” gives us crowd favourite ‘Rise And Take Command’. The drumming is tremendous here, precision and power to drive the riffs and the crowd upwards. Lord Stuart then offers a history of the land in six minutes as ‘ Pendragon’ calls forth with one of my favourite Sellsword guitar melody lines and Stuart’s finest vocal workouts. I’ll say it again; one of the finest singers in the country with not just range but such drama in his delivery.
The performance has its own momentum now. Wedged in the crowd with hair flying in all direction (ok mine is mostly beard…) and heat in thick layers no one is stopping and its feels, in there, like a self-fuelling feedback loop from band to crowd and back. The grim ‘Inquisitor’ punches into ‘Meet Your Maker’, a pounding and fiery number with enthusiastic crowd support. ‘The Warrior’ a song perhaps with added poignancy tonight stands the hairs in my arms bolt upright and the singalong of ‘Merchants Of Menace’ brings the set to a close….well, no, not really.
We get the chants of “Stuart, we love you…” a little presentation of a painting and. ..a Warhammer 40k Vanguard set ( “we’re all massive geeks in Sellsword as you may know” smiles Tom Keeley ) and the wonderful and telling surprise of Jack Mazur, original Sellsword guitarist joining the band for the encore having flown in from Poland just for this gig…!
And what an encore. First is a tick off Stuary Perry’s bucket list; a cover of Maiden’s ‘Hallowed By Thy Name’ which…oh lordy…seeing the band spread across the stage, beautifully delivering a flawless rendition is simply stunning, the kind of thing you want to go on and on and that, hopefully, memories are made of. The playing and singing is spot on brilliant, honest to Odin it is. The comes ‘Against The Wind’, possibly my favourite song from their debut. They end though on the one song they had to for Stuart I think, the glorious memorial of ‘Hardrada’, another real goosebump time as the audience stretches their voice as one.
And with a bow from all, it’s over. A huge presence to fill to be sure but as Stuart Perry himself urged them, “Come on lads, get it done.” This band is just far, far too talented to die. Messrs Keeley, Mahey, Stephenson, Warner take a goddamn bow indeed.
This was Stuart Perry’s night though. His stage, his crowd, his audience possibly in the palm of his hand but instead we gave each other a great metal hug with his performance and our response. Thank you Lord Stuart, for everything. It has been emotional.
As we sang to him until our throats cracked, ” All Hail The King…. ”
Photo: Lewis Perrin (with thanks)