April 8, 2024

Photos by Graeme Stroud

Having flown back from Australia literally the previous day, Finnish powerhouse Erja Lyytinen commenced her Diamonds On The Road UK tour at the Old Brewery Store venue, in the beautiful market town of Faversham in Kent. If there is any jet lag, it certainly doesn’t show, and with no support band, we get two sets of bluesy rock from the power trio consisting of Erja on guitar and vocals, Sami Osala on drums and Heikki Saarenkunnas on bass. They kick off the first set with a couple of slide numbers, starting with Diamonds On The Road, which appears on Erja’s current live album of the same name, but also on the studio set from last year, Waiting For The Daylight. This is followed by the riffy Rocking Chair, in 7-8 time, a highlight track from 2017’s Stolen Hearts.

The audience seems a little slow on the uptake at first, but it doesn’t take long to win them over. A change of guitar brings out a raw, crunchy sound for the lead single from Waiting For The Daylight, the mid-tempo Bad Seed, which is followed by the heavy, slow backing riff of Black Ocean, highly reminiscent of Demon’s Eye by Gillan-era Deep Purple. There are not many ballads in tonight’s set, but the heart-wrenching Never Really Had You starts that way at least, with vocals over picked, open guitar chords. The band comes in after a couple of minutes, but they retain the low-key vibe for a while, before subtly changing both chord structure and rhythm for a big solo.

We won’t hear many songs like ‘Väinämöinen Tuonelassa at UK gigs; it was inspired by a painting by Finnish artist Pekka Halonen, and tells the story of the Finnish epic saga, Kalevala, in which a shaman called Väinämöinen goes to the Underworld. As Erja herself describes it, “the song is slightly folk metal and sung in Finnish.” Fortunately the rest of the set is in English, but this is an epic piece, opening with ominously atonal opening chords over sparse drumming, but morphing multiple times. It ends on a bit of a bass solo, which segues into the Last Girl, the second single from the previous album. This one is more of a pop-rocker, reminiscent of Sheryl Crow, heavier in the solo but with a serious message about bullying and exclusion. Sung from the standpoint of a young girl, the plaintive entreaty “Play with me”, comes through loud and clear.

The second set opens with the excellent Waiting For The Daylight, with its heavy, electric rocking riff straight from the ‘70s. This drifts off into a moody, ambient piece, which builds back into the riff, with an overall flavour of Bon Jovi. You Talk Dirty, also from the same album, features another retro riff recalling Hold Your Head Up by Argent, but it cycles through a rapid rhythm after a while, into a fast, heavy rocker with a crash ending.

Erja Lyytinen at the Old Brewery Store, Faversham

Lover’s Novels is another highlight, a traditional, riffy, slide guitar, 12-bar pub blues. Yes, I love all that stuff, and the super-tight ending doesn’t hurt either, but the set builds to a finale with Wedding Day, the best number of the evening in my opinion. It’s a great, manic rocker, tongue-in-cheek I guess, dropping into a section of retro rock guitar over a rapid rim-shot rhythm. The band unexpectedly plays an extract from La Vie En Rose near the end, then powers back into some proper heavy metal. Epic! A huge crash ending brings the main set to a close.

The encore consists of two numbers, the first being a pretty faithful rendition of Hendrix’s Crosstown Traffic, except played on slide guitar. But rather than finishing the evening on a power-rocker, they slow things down a little with The End Of Music, a beautiful ballad with a nifty bass solo, then a strident, soaring slide workout. It kind of slides to a halt with a tasteful, gentle false ending, then picks up again for a few seconds before the genuine finish. A great way to conclude the gig, in any case – and a great gig to start the tour.