One of the most anticipated gigs at this year’s Sweden Rock Festival took place on the 4 Sound Stage quite early on during Friday. Some bands come out at the right time but still do not seem to be in the right place at the right time or just don’t have the luck that is required to hit big commercially. It is safe to say this is the case for the Dutch veterans in Picture. The band came out around the same time as the NWOBHM movement gained momentum on the British Isles. They surely played a music very closely related to that movement. However, they were not from Yorkshire or Birmingham but rather from Hilversum in the Netherlands.
Picture formed in the late 1970´s and was soon picked up by Phonogram subsidiary label Backdoor and the debut album hit the shelves in 1980. The band was made up by lead vocalist Ronald van Prooijen, guitarist Jan Bechtum, bass player (and the one guy playing on all Picture releases) Rinus Vreugdenhil and on the drum stool was Laurens “Backie” Bakker. The debut album contained the band’s epic “Bombers”, a track that is a staple at all the band’s shows – past or present. Picture was picking up momentum with tours in Holland and Germany and soon the second album Heavy Metal Ears saw the light of day in 1981. This album contained classic cuts like the title track, “Night Tiger”, “Unemployed” and “No No No”. The band is not known for being lucky and disaster struck when lead vocalist Ronald Van Prooijen left the band for personal reasons and in came future The Rods shouter and Israel-born Shmoulik Avigail. He provided a new element to the sound with his heavy and strong vocal performance on the third outing, Diamond Dreamer (1982). Soon, however, he had a fallout with the band’s management and was out of the band just as quickly as he had arrived.
Diamond Dreamer is one of the classic Picture albums containing anthems like “Night Hunter”, “Lady Lightning” and the title track to name a few. At this point, more bad luck hit the band when original guitar slinger Jan Bechtum decided to leave and was replaced Henry van Manen. Just before that Chris van Jaarsveld had been added as a second guitarist. Picture also found a new vocalist in Jersey native Pete Lovell who moved to the Netherlands to join the band and still lives there today. This revamped line-up recorded, in my opinion, Picture´s “magnum opus” – the 1984 all time classic Eternal Dark. This is an album with updated songwriting, better production and filled with heavy metal classics like “Eternal Dark”, “Griffons Guard the Gold”, “Power of Evil” and “The Blade” just to name a few. After the release, more changes occurred when original drummer “Backie” Bakker left Picture and was replaced by Jaques van Oevelen (RIP). In 1985 Traitor was released and it had a slightly more melodic edge to it but was still a great heavy metal album.
The label was now starting to put pressure on the band to become more commercially viable as bands like Bon Jovi and Europe were making lots of noise and progress. The line-up was revamped yet again with both guitarists leaving the band and they were replaced by Rob van Enkhuizen. Pete Lovell did not like the direction the band moved and left. At this point, Vandenberg had just split up when Adrian Vandenberg joined Whitesnake so lead vocalist Bert Heerink was available. This version of the band released two albums, Every Story Needs Another Picture in 1986 and Marathon in 1988 (with the addition of Ronald de Grauw as a second guitarist). The commercial success did not happen and the band went separate ways in the late 1980´s.
Fast forward to 2007 and the band was asked by Sweden Rock Festival if they could get the band back together and play the festival. The original line-up got back together to try it out. In the end, Pete Lovell was the vocalist that went on to play the festival with the addition of Rob van Enkhuizen on guitar. The reunion also spawned the great comeback album Old Dogs, New Tricks in 2009 after a great appearance at Sweden Rock Festival in 2008. More membership changes were up ahead and the band seemed to have revolving doors as always and Jan Bechtum did not take part in 2012 album Warhorse. Anyway, it all came to a halt in March of 2016 when Pete Lovell and both guitar players left the band to form Lovell´s Blade. Soon thereafter the original line-up was back together and now they are here entering the stage at Sweden Rock Festival. As a longtime fan, I have to pinch my arm to realize this is actually happening!
A fairly large crowd has dragged their hung-over bodies over to and in front of the 4 Sound Stage. They are presented as a classic band and it is also revealed that the band for this gig will focus on the classics which surely means the first four albums. I would also count Traitor as a classic album but I know it will be left untouched this afternoon and I am proved right. They hit the stage to “You´re All Alone” from Diamond Dreamer which is a great opener and sets the pace from the start. The crowd is a little slow at the start, whether it is from the blazing sun or yesterday´s beer contest I don´t know, but after a couple of songs, they are already into it. I take a look around and there are lots of T-shirts and patches on jean jackets displaying Saxon, Angelwitch, and Diamond Head which is a clear sign of what kind of heavy metal that is pouring out from the stage. Picture belt out one classic after another as we get “Message From Hell” and “No No No” before it is time for my favorite “Night Hunter”. After that highlight, they go on with “Night Tiger” which is a classic cut but a little heavy on the chorus repetition. When they next kick into “Eternal Dark” my first reaction is “already? However, soon my fist is in the air and the performance sends chills up my spine and the smile on my face is hard to wipe out when they finish.
The tempo is slowed down a bit as we get a guitar solo from Mr. Bechtum but it is rather short which is positive. The momentum is back with two excellent tracks in “Heavy Metal Ears” (where Ronald asks the crowd if they have their ears in place before saying they will give the crowd “Heavy Metal Ears”) and then straight on to “Diamond Dreamer”. I feel fortunate to have witnessed this performance and “Unemployed” just follows suit when I am still catching my breath. For the Picture classic “Bombers” bass player Rinus van Vreugdenhill leaves the stage and plays bass in the audience which is appreciated by all the fans taking selfies with him whilst playing the song. The security guys don´t look too happy though as it makes their job so much more stressful. The band wrap things up with “Lady Lightning” from Diamond Dreamer. Considering this is a festival appearance with very limited time the setlist is no surprise (with the exception of “Griffons Guard the Gold” not being played). Personally, I feel it would have been great with one or two tracks from Traitor or the comeback album Old Dogs, New Tricks would have been cool. But this is always the case when you see your favorite band right? You wanna hear this and that song and there is always a time limit to think of.
I leave the stage with a big smile on my face and this was a top notch performance by the band which I would award 9/10 geeks. The music was tight and well executed, the band really did all they could putting on a good show and interacted with the crowd (Rinus in the crowd and Ronald talking to the crowd but never too much). At one point Ronald is climbing the left stage pillar and singing the song from high above the stage. This was a trick that Miljenko Matijevic of Steelheart tried out and got severely wounded in the process when it gave way and fell on top of his head. Luckily the pillar is securely fastened on this day.
For those of you not familiar with Picture, I strongly recommend to check them out and the first five albums have all just been re-released in North America through Divebomb Records. Personally, I am now hoping for the release of the Bert Heerink fronted albums as well through the same label. So come on Rinus – let us all have them to complete our Picture collection!