Gig Reviews

Joanne Shaw Taylor/Dan Patlansky

Royal Festival Hall, London

15th November 2017

 

When is a gig not a gig? When it's at the Royal Festival Hall. Built in the 1950's, the RFH nestles on the trendy Southbank area of London and is the home to The London Philharmonic orchestra and host to a wide variety of arts. What was once a modern design is now both looking dated and space age in equal measures. It's wide main concert hall seats 2,500 in relatively plush surroundings with the main seating flanked by obliquely situated boxes, including a large Royal box, facing the stage. So as the crowd were delicately ushered to their seats it felt rather more like a performance of the Royal Variety show than a gig. As the lights go down Keyboard player Tom Gatza, bassist Jonathan Murphy and drummer Felix Dehmel take to the spartan stage to herald the entrance of South African blues sensation Dan Patlansky. The nattily dressed 36 year old from Johannesburg soon showed why he is touring with the likes of Joe Satriani. Sporting a fancy weskit and jacket, Dan is clearly aware of his surroundings. The stage lighting is minimalist but very effective and, although somewhat dated, the venue can boast an excellent sound system and sound engineers. The sound was clear, well balanced and at good levels. So nothing like most gigs.

 

Opening track 'Sonova Faith' gives Patlansky a chance to air all of his licks and skills on his battered old Fender Strat. What appears to have been a beautiful sunburst colour is now worn beyond recognition. No doubt on the list of some guitar relicer somewhere. One thing that becomes apparent from the start is that the tracks are less faithful recitals of the album tracks and more a chance for the quartet to jam around the structure of a song. So it also becomes clear that the four are extremely tight and obviously enjoy playing off of each other. 'Stop The Messin' has Patlansky growling out the lyrics in his raspy, almost nasty voice. I say almost because it's not nasty, it's enjoyable, giving the vocal edginess to his blues to match is fret skills. The interplay with the keyboards is exciting and it's clearly a more commercially minded track that pleases the audience. Not that you could tell as the audience sit in their regal splendour absorbing the performance with all the English reticence that you would imagine from such a high brow location. Whereas 'Stop The Messin' is an upbeat Blues, 'Heartbeat' brings the tone down to a more melancholic level with more virtuoso guitar and dark vocals. The new album 'Perfection Kills' is released in February 2018 and we are treated to a preview of the opening track 'Dog Day'. This does appear to be a recital of the track, rather than a lengthy jam, with Patlansky showing off his wah skills and Dehmel providing some excellent percussive accompaniment. It's a short song with Hendrix overtones that makes me eager to hear the rest of the album. 'Still Wanna Be Your Man' slows things down again with a tender song interspersed with searing solos and a voice that had me thinking of Alice Cooper. Not quite sure why but there you go. Closing track, and extended glorified jam is 'My Chana' which gives Patlansky to show off and showboat in equal measures. Jamming with his band the South African shows off every skill with the battered guitar played in various positions. This guy has it all and is not afraid to show it. The set ends with a round of applause from the crowd and a rush to the ice cream sellers lining the aisles during the intermission. You don't get that down at The Underworld.

Dan Patlansky setlist

 

Sonova Faith

Stop The Messin'

Heartbeat

Dog Day

Still Wanna Be Your Man

My Chana

Photos courtesy of The Wrinkly Rockers

As the intermission bell rings and the lights go down the audience take their seats for the main event, we wonder what we are going to get. I'm no stranger to a Joanne Shaw Taylor set but the Black Country sensation had to cancel her previous Bristol show due to ill health. That fact that she was here at all was a result but how would she sound. For those that do not know of her (shame on you) JST is another of our country's young Blues geniuses with a sultry, almost husky voice. Tonight, it had extra huskiness but lost none of it's strength or delight. Taking to the stage, to the sound of ZZ Top's 'Jesus Left Chicago', in her regular black attire, with her silky soft long blond hair falling around her shoulders, the usual red shoes were tonight replaced by more sparkly silver boots. A nod to our regal surroundings I suppose.

 

With her trusty blond Telecaster plugged into an array of Fender Amps, Joanne greets her loyal following, apologises for the state of her voice before launching into a superb rendition of her 'Dyin' To Know' track from the 'Wild' album. This is one of the tracks she performed so well on that Jules Holland show last year. Joanne is a well known devotee of Stevie Ray Vaughan which is reflected in her powerful Rock Blues. In earlier days, at less imposing venues, JST was know to have played the odd SRV or Hendix cover. These days, with six albums behind her, she has plenty of her own fine material to be entertaining the crowds. Supporting Joanne on stage are regulars Oliver Perry on drums and the iconic Luigi Casanova, replete with dreadlocks, on bass. With the addition of keyboards, JST's back line provide a fuller sound to compliment her exquisite guitar skills. Watching Joanne lose herself in the beauty of the music, with her face contorting as rapidly as the strings on her trusty Fender, you are drawn into the rapture of her world. How can you not enjoy watching someone enjoying themselves as much as she evidently does.

 

'Nothing To Lose', also from the latest 'Wild' album, is a heartfelt lament of a love lost which Joanne salves with some electric guitar playing with a warm keyboard side order. Switching to a beautiful Les Paul, the sniffing JST unleashes the third track from the 'Wild' album - 'No Reason To Stay'.  There are few finer sights than an unleashed JST with a Les Paul. Easy tiger, remember where you are. The Les Paul remains too for 'Jump That Train' from the 'Diamonds In The Dirt' album, whose, title track follows thereafter. With a proper heavy Blues riff it has a funky lilt to it which Italian icon Casanova provides his own lesson in love. The excellent sound quality again shows itself as the Gibson provides a beautiful melodic chime to counter the almost soft husky vocals. And with the sultry 'Tried Tested And True' to follow we really are getting the full (royal) family of tracks. All interspersed with regular sips of honey and lemon to keep the voice going. It sounds fine to me.

 

When I first saw Joanne play at my local small club, The Beaverwood Club, it was to see a young artist learning her trade by touring the pubs and clubs up and down the country. With her parents in tow as support and management, she toured her debut album 2008 album 'White Sugar'. As well as being impressed by her guitar skills, and exquisite covers, I was also impressed with her own material. But the one song that caught my interest was her cover of The Hoax's 'Bones'. What was a staple track for years has fallen out of circulation in recent years so it was the highlight of the night for me when my favourite track was included. It's a bouncy track with a great groove to it and is a fine showcase for another JST trip around the fretboard. I'm a happy man. I quietly applaud to ensure that i don't spoil the regal ambience. I don't want to get carted off to The Tower for a short back and sides.

 

And this wasn't to be the only cover, as the set progressed we get a continual honours list of Blues excellence from her back catalogue as well as a cover of Johnny Mathis 'Wild Is The Wind' which she dedicates to one of her recently departed heroes David Bowie who recorded it for his 1976 album 'Station To Station'. Although a faithful rendition, this version went from a lament to end in a full blown Blues jam. If you like Blues, you will love this. Set closer is rockin' Blues track 'Tied And Bound' from the 'Almost Always Never' album. A tired and weary JST signs off with a flourish to an audience who politely request more. Although struggling she duly obliges with the regular closer 'Going Home'. Back on her trusty Telecaster she wrings the last of her energy, and every last note from her considerable repertoire of skills to the finally clapping accompaniment of the audience. With a final goodbye, and an acknowledgement to how far she has come from such humble beginnings (The Beaverwood Club gets a mention), she melts into the background to rest an recuperate before her next performance at Birmingham's Symphony Hall.

As we exit the red carpeted halls, with the assistance of the finely honed ushers, via some excellent bars, we are left to muse the evening. Great music, great entertainment in a different type of venue. In these days of live music where the Joe Bonammasa's of this world think it acceptable to charge exorbitant prices, JST invites us to share in the love of her superb blues in a high brow establishment for under thirty quid. Having played pubs, clubs, rock venues and iconic stages, you can forgive the girl for trying something different. For me, whilst I loved the performance, and enjoyed the music immensely, it wasn't a gig. It didn't have that feel if intimacy and excitement that you get from small clubs, or even some of the larger venues. It did feel like a stage performance watched from afar. Although the Royal Box was unoccupied tonight, the Royal Festival Hall was pretty full, and although no members of the Royal family had dropped in to groove, our very own Queen of Blues very much commanded the stage. We are amused.

 

Mother

JST setlist

 

Dyin' to Know

Nothing to Lose

No Reason to Stay

Jump That Train

Diamonds in the Dirt

Tried, Tested & True

Bones

(The Hoax cover)

Time Has Come

You Should Stay, I Should Go

Just Another Word

Wanna Be My Lover

Wild Is The Wind

(Johnny Mathis cover) (Dedicated to David Bowie)

Tied And Bound

 

Encore:

Going Home

Hard Rock Hell

Pwllheli, North Wales

9th – 11th November 2017

 

On a cold Thursday morning in November, it was time take the annual pilgrimage to the North West coast of Wales for the rock fest that is Hard Rock Hell. In its eleventh year, the festival has evolved from humble beginnings to become a staple fixture in the rock calendar. And where there was once one HRH, the franchise now boast half a dozen or so spin off events specific to genres of rock – AOR, Sleaze etc. And eleven years in, the HRH community has become family, with strong friendships being formed across the events. All good then? Well yes but there are some downsides. First and foremost has always been the location. Pwlheli is only easy to get to if you are a Gwynedd sheep. The rail links are hardly local, so driving is the only practical option. And that took the best part of nine and a half hours. Secondly, the increase in the numbers of HRH events, and the fact that the faithful family members pre-book the next year’s event before the line-up is announced has lead to arguably a reduction in the standard of the line-up. So it was with some trepidation that we (finally) entered to hallowed gates of Hafan Y Mor caravan site.

 

The format over the years hasn’t changed much. A short, single stage, themed opening Thursday night with a handful of young bands and a smaller costumed crowd out to reacquaint themselves with each other, and the local brews. All very low key. First change to this year’s event was the introduction of an awards ceremony on the Wednesday night. Heaviest drinker may be added to next year’s list of awards if this years was anything to go by….

 

This year’s Thursday night theme was ‘The Knights of the dark order’. Very few people donned fancy dress this year so it must be a very exclusive order. One of the reasons may have been that the normally low key line up was probably the best line up of the three nights. Which may also explain why it was considerably busier than normal and on the larger stage 1.

 

Openers Ryders Creed from the Midlands set the scene for what was to be another eclectic weekend of rock and roll from around the world. If I were to have a festival I would choose Ryders Creed as the perfect band to get the heads nodding and the toes tapping as they launched into their 45 minute set of stoner come classic rock. Followed closely by Califonia’s Idlewar with their doomy sludge metal, the festival was setting itself a high bar to maintain. Idlewar’s CD was subsequently purchased. New Yorkers Killcode blasted the masses with their excellent southern style rock (from Northerners…?) followed by Aussie stalwarts Black Aces. Fresh from touring with fellow Aussies Tequila Mockingbyrd, the young four piece will inevitably be likened to AC/DC. Not surprising as they cite them as an influence and is evident in their sound. Nothing wrong with that. So if you want to see a young enthusiastic irreverent AC/DC in a small and intimate venue, go check them out. Penultimate band of the night are Toby Jepson’s new crew called the Wayward Sons. Having been, for me, the notable band of the Ramblin Man festival in July (there were a number of bands who played both festivals) I was keen to see them play a larger stage. And they made a fine fist of it. The Wayward Sons have had an amazing year so it was good to see them well received.

The final act of the opening night for me was going to go one of two ways – either really well or really badly. Dee Snider, once frontman for Twisted Sister (who headlined HRH 1 all those years ago) is hardly a shrinking violet. In the States, the New Yorker is known as much as a personality as a singer. What were we going to get? A showman or a show off?

We got a showman, and what a showman he is. The 62 year old looks as ripped as a 21 year old gym bunny but with the stage skills of a man who has been entertaining for 40 years. Although struggling with a heavy cold, so sounding huskier than usual, Dee absolutely kicked bottom. The crowd instantly warmed to him and were mesmerised by his singing and amused by his banter. Hugely entertaining, he had everyone in the palm of his hand. When playing new material he playfully requested we don’t all take that opportunity to slope off for a beer – save that for the drum solo he quipped. No-one was going anywhere. New tracks were as well received as old favourites from the Sister back catalogue.  But it was the openness of his emotions that resonated so much. Having flown in that day from the States when on the Monday his mother was taken seriously ill, and his friend’s son tragically took his own life the previous night, Dee was an emotional man who was so visibly moved by the love and support showed by the fans. Rock and roll is how he deals with it and he dealt it to us in spades. What an act, What a night.

Photos courtesy of John Bull at Rockrpix

So how was Friday going to follow that? Back to the regular format of a two stage venue (both indoors thankfully) with a twelve hour day of flitting between stages to see different bands, by way of the various bars. As always, many hours are spent trying to organise the logistics of seeing the must see bands but this year the list was pretty small. So wandering from one venue to another became the modus operandi of the weekend.

Those Damn Crows opened the smaller stage two and set the scene perfectly for the acts on that stage throughout the day. Young rock bands with new ideas and new energy. If anyone tells you that Rock is dead, tell them to get off their arses and go and see some of these bands. It’s live and kicking butt. As the day progressed, yours truly would spend more time in stage 2 than stage one as the bands were extremely entertaining. In no specific order, Kingbreaker, Fire Red Empress, Blind River and Chasing Dragons all got added to the list of see again bands. And that’s not to say that the others aren’t worth a second look.

The main stage 1 saw a more eclectic line up with openers Goldray bring their own fragrant brand of flower power to the not so fragrant masses. What is it about large quantities of beer drinking, fast food eating rock fans that causes such offense to the Nasal Fossa? Beats me but pass another Guinness. Syteria, featuring Girlschools Jackie Chambers, brought some all lady loving to the masses with good old metal for mothers (and daughters) before the duo that are The Graveltones brought their London based Heavy Blues to play. Jimmy O plays guitar and provides the vocals whilst man mountain Mikey Sorbello provides the ‘Drums and Noises’. A fantastic groove for a two piece, and with the tightest drumming you will ever see.

Probably the find of the festival for me were German rockers The New Roses. Fronted by Aragorn from Lord of the rings (aka Timmy Rough) the quartet has been extensively touring Europe including as guest of my current favourite band The Dead Daisies. If only The Dead Daisies would come to HRH…. And The New Roses are definitely of that sound. Great rock.

 

It was about this time that the main stage started to get exceedingly crowded. Whilst always well attended, the venue has been able to cater for the numbers. This year, it looks like the usually smooth running HRH machine has had a few hiccups with its organisation and it became clear that numbers were up beyond comfortable levels. Tyketto, took to the stage to keep everyone Forever Young with their brand of New York melodic rock and catered amply for a crowd singalong to be followed by Californians Y&T. By this time the sardines were struggling for fin room although the temperature was baking them nicely. With limited ingress/egress to the venue the security struggled to maintain a steady flow of punters so were obliged to close the venue to traffic. A problem if you felt the desire to visit stage 2. Or were an Airbourne fan on the outside. By the time headliners Airbourne hit the stage for their 2 hour blast of high octane mayhem, the situation got silly with the ever raucous crowd in danger of crushing itself. Social media the following morning was awash with comments to that effect. Come on HRH, sort it out. Nevertheless Airbourne put on their usual great show and the fans left with ringing ears and sore throats to head back to their caravans and a well deserved pot noodle.

One of the notable things with HRH is how the bands seem to get better as the weekend progresses. This year that was less so although still of a high calibre. Saturday’s line up was similar to Fridays with a Stage 2 line up of younger enthusiastic talent showcasing their wares whilst stage 1 catered for the established acts. Stage two provided some great bands including Western Sand (with cowbell), the hairy Bad Touch, Black Whiskey and Wicked Stone being the stand out acts that I will seek out again. Tax the Heat had the honour of closing out stage 2, and indeed the festival, as their set started as the stage 1 closed. Again, it was a night where stage 2 got my interest.

On stage 1 openers Buffalo Summer brought some Zeppelin style rock to the (hung over) masses as the lads from South Wales strutted their stuff. And they looked like they felt they were at home too.

Next up were Toseland who get better every time I see them. Front man James Toseland is a good looking ex World Superbike champion, who can sing and play keyboards as well as being a thoroughly nice chap. Makes me sick… They played a great rock set including their hit ‘We’ll stop at nothing’ which was used as the official anthem for this years special Olympics team GB. Toning it down after Toseland were Finnish proggers The Von Hertzen Brothers. Sandwiching their radio friendly rock set was an opening and closing number from their new album War is Over. A dramatic and epic album, it gave the three brothers the chance to air their more spiritual side and was well received. Attendance numbers were starting to soar again as were those temperatures. The crowd were getting basted and wasted in equal measures.

Scottish veterans Gun took to the stage with a set that really got the crowd going. As age does to you, they started slow but soon enough, when the creaking limbs got moving, they showed those young whippersnappers how it’s done. They are just the sort of band this festival needs. More.

Following Gun were Lynch Mob, formed by ex Dokken guitarist George Lynch. At least I think they were there as frontman Oni Logan repeatedly stated his pleasure at being at Hellfest. I think the Argentinian could be forgiven for mistaking the windswept November Welsh coast for the French summer metalfest. So similar after all…

Penultimate band of the night were Glastonbury’s own Reef. Perhaps more Britpop than rock they nevertheless entertained the crowd and got them jumping with great songs like Place Your Hands and Precious Metal. And amazing to watch too. Go Google barefooted giant bassist Jack Bessant. You should have a Jack Bessant in every band.

Headliners, and stage 1 closers were Black Star Riders. Another band that has gone from strength to strength, they are slowly shaking off the Thin Lizzy ties and really shining with their own material. Of course you have to have the odd Lizzy track with the likes of Scott Gorham, Damon Johnson and Robbie Crane in the band – the obligatory Whisky in the Jar (o) – but their own catalogue of material is easily strong enough to stand up by itself. Frontman Ricky Warwick is just tre cool and a perfect frontman. This could be his finest hour, this could be his Shangri La, if only they can keep it together they will find their way. A great band to finish the evening.

 

Heading home we mused over the weekends entertainment and line up issues. As ever, although not strong on paper, the line up still managed to please with act of the weekend going to Dee Snider and new band for me being The New Roses. Although Thursday night for me was the strongest night, the rest of the weekend was still an enjoyable tour de force of rock music. With HRH 2018 selling out fast did we want to commit to all this again next year? Would the line up be worth travelling a lifetime to see? With the announcement of Saxon, Girlschool and The Dead Daisies as next year’s headliners, our wallets were thinned accordingly and places booked. It’s a great all round weekend, whatever the names, and if the Dead Daisies will be there, so will I. I wonder who else will be added to the line up? And what other great new bands we will discover? Regardless, we will still be there to see the familiar HRH faces. It is family after all.

 

Mother

LA Guns

The Underworld, Camden

2nd November 2017

 

Now I'm not one for pre event hype or the sales pitch for a bands latest album but when I read the promo for LA Guns latest incarnation it piqued my interest. As a guitar nerd I'm a big fan of Tracii Guns. He's a guitarist's guitarist with a strong following on various social media (facesnapapp thingy) as well as being an integral part of the whole LA rock scene from the 80's. He and I were also born but a few weeks apart so are of the same vintage. But I'm also the most cynical being on the planet so when I read the following press release I had my usual 'Yeah right ....' moment:

 

As the revival of the classic 80’s hard rock and heavy metal scene continues unabated in the 21st century, one reunion has long been top of the wishlist of many a fan: the combination of Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis under the L.A. Guns banner. Now, what once seemed like a distant memory with no hope of return has finally come about and those supporters of the band have been amply rewarded for keeping their fingers crossed and hopes up. 

 

L.A. Guns never looked like pretty poster boys, unlike many of their peers, but rather the sort of band that you would be terrified of bumping into in a dark alley. Yet, despite having songs to back up that image, they could also write powerful ballads (such as ’The Ballad Of Jayne’) that displayed serious songwriting chops. Those chops are on show again on ‘The Missing Peace’, the band’s brand new album and arguably one of the most vital releases in their catalogue. 

 

The story of how we got from the powerful early years of L.A. Guns to here has been well documented already. What is important to know is that the driving force behind all the band's classic songs, Tracii and Phil, are back in a major way. As inspired and excited as when they first started out, but now with the benefit of years of wisdom and experience behind them,  ‘The Missing Peace’ will please fans of not only their classic albums (the self-titled debut, ‘Cocked And Loaded’ and ‘Hollywood Vampires’) but also their heralded comeback releases (‘Man In The Moon’ and ‘Waking The Dead’). In fact, the new record feels like the next logical step after ‘Waking The Dead’ and sees the duo newly invigorated with this diverse set of crowd pleasing dynamic sleaze rockers and epic, slower songs.

 

They have a point. Tracii Guns and Phil Lewis are the integral ingredients of what was one of the best bands of their time. So to see them back together again did get my cynical pulse moving. They performed two gigs at London's excellent and intimate Underworld with the Thursday night that I attended being a greatest hits evening with the Saturday evening being a night to promote their new album. Sandwiched between the two nights was a not insubstantial trip to Bradford. What was the tour manager thinking? Anyhow.

 

Thursday saw a my favourite venue open their doors to sadly too few people for the opening act Burnt Out Wreck. Fronted by Gary Moat, once drummer of Heavy Pettin', the skin jockey is now displaying his vocal talents whilst leaving the snare smashing to Paul Carnevale who does a fine job. Squashed at the front of the stage, between the backline and the stage edge, the five piece play some classic rock music. Twin guitars - a Gibson Flying V and a Washburn through Marshall JCM800's - of Adrian Dunn and Miles Goodman create that great squealing Marshall growl fronted by the voice of Moat that is a mix of Biff Byford, Bon Scott and Noddy Holder. Does that give you and idea of how classic they sounded? And let's not forget bassist Alex Carmichael adding a strong bass line with added mirrored shades. Bass always sounds better with sunglasses. Their short set was well received and I look forward to seeing them again at the Hard Rock Hell festival.

Photos courtesy of John Bull @ www.Rockrpix.com

Burnt Out Wreck Setlist

Swallow

She's A Dirty Love

Flames

Pullin' It Out

She's The One

Rockin' Man

Burnt Out Wreck

Medusa

The crowd swelled further as the evening wore on, and the Worlds End pub above us started to empty, to the benefit of our second band, Dublin's Stone Trigger. Unleashed from the confines of a cramped stage, this 5 piece were allowed free reign over the whole stage - about 2ft more than before but it all helps when you are a band that likes to be active on stage. Formed in 2011, Stone Trigger are heavily influenced by bands of the LA Guns 80's era. Entering to the soundtrack from 80's film Terminator, the four piece seemed to produce a larger sound from the larger stage. Front Man and vocalist Tommy Rockit could have been a young Axel Rose - Tracii's one time bandmate who went on to form a quite well known band. Rockit has the voice and the front man skills to entertain. And they have that sleaze sound too. Contrastingly clean cut guitarist Andii Andrews plays a beautiful Les Paul Traditional through the Marshall JCM800. Initially I was impressed that his lead playing was both restrained and tasteful. But then I was even more impressed with his ability to shred when the band went all Anthrax on me. Word up to bassist Peter Jordan and drummer Moyano El Buffalo as well. They had a great time with a warming crowd, one of whom presented Rockit with a gift wrapped bottle half way through the set. It's nice to be appreciated. The set was short but exciting and included a cover of Backstreet Boys 'Larger Than Life' and ended with their new single 'Edge Of Insanity'. Good rocking.

Stone Trigger Setlist

 

Children Of The Night

Rattle Your Bones

Black Venom

I Declare War

Masquerade

Gotta Get It On

Show Your Hands

Larger Than Life

Edge Of Insanity

Lights down and up fader with Ozzy's Diary of a Madman to herald the entrance of the main event. The pre event hype got it right, there is a real sense of excitement amongst the crowd as the Tracii and Phil combo take to the stage to relive a set of mostly classic tracks from their back catalogue of rock excellence. As the 80's track reached it's triumphal conclusion, with Randy Rhoads exquisite guitar tones ringing in our ears, one guitar genius gave way to another as Da Man took to the stage with his four compadres. Sporting an unusual Chubtone GT350, plugged into the ubiquitous Marshall JCM800, Guns was the only member of the band not sporting leather and studs. He still looked the mutts nuts though. Tracii takes stage left whilst Phil moves to centre stage, quite rightly, announcing to the bouncing crowd how it's good to be back, it's good to be home - he's a Londoner you know. But as LA as the rest of them. And the chemistry between the two of them is back at it's best. They really play well off each other and enjoy themselves immensely.

The band launches into opener No Mercy, from their inaugural album Cocked and Loaded. Which pretty much sums them up. It's raunchy sleazy cock rock that's loaded with power and riffage. I love it.

Backing Guns is Michael Grant on what looked like a Zemaitis A24MF through a Marshall JCM900, a shredders amp if ever there was one. Grant has all of the required swagger and all the chops too. Both Guns and Grant also appeared to be using Friedman pedals to boost their sound. On bass is 'the missing Ramone' Johnny Martin, with legs as far apart as is humanly possible, knackers dusting the stage. He's one of those bassists who doesn't take front of stage yet always catches your eye. The Underworlds stage isn't he most spacious, so you are hardly likely to lose him, but with the front of stage trio hogging the limelight, he still manages to be a giant amongst men. Not bad at playing bass either. And back of stage driving the band is clubbist Shane Fitzgibbon from Guns prior band Gunzo. Together, the five piece managed to notch the volume up yet further leaving the ears ringing for days. In a small low ceilinged sweat pit like the Underworld, you would expect, and want, nothing less.

Having shown us No Mercy, the hits started coming. Electric Gypsy gave Guns a chance to show why his guitar skills are so revered using every tap, slide, pick and technique you could ask for whilst classics like Hollywood Tease and Over The Edge added interesting nuances including use of a bow a la Jimmy Page. Great stuff. The audience were in raptures, singing along to some real classic rock anthems. The audience were an interestingly broad church of ages. Not the sole domain of 5o somethings, there were many of younger, and older vintage (in their 80's?), singing with equal enthusiasm. Lewis was having a ball with them. Guns needed no encouragement but revelled in the adulation of the crowd whilst Lewis really did look like he had come home.  Grant, resplendent in classic sleaze peaked cap, controlled stage right and more than held his own in the popularity stakes. He even took centre stage when Guns and Lewis left him to front and sing the unusual choice of his cover of Prince's Purple Rain, a staple amongst many bands sets following the unfortunately premature death of the 80's star. It was an interesting cover though well received by the majority. A real singalong for all the family.

Hit followed hit with a couple of newer tracks getting a show, including The Flood's The Fault Of The Rain which is a future classic. Malaria gave Guns the chance to show some subtler skills although he also chose to use a Theramin - a sound altering device of a bizarre nature which seems to enthral guitarists like Guns an Joe Bonamassa. Doesn't work for me. What did work for me was Guns launching into AC/DC's Hells Bells riff  into his classic Never Enough. That's like having Ben and Jerry's with Haagen Daz. Tasty. Which led to the Jelly Jam - Guns excuse to indulge himself, and the crowd, in a jam of assorted riffs and solo's that left all with a satisfied feel. What's better than watching the master at work?

The gig drew towards closure with the epic Ballad of Jayne, complete with microphone failure that was handled with all the experienced indifference that you would expect from consummate professional Lewis, before Lewis ex bandmate, and rock legend Bernie Torme joined them for closing track, and set must have, Rip and Tear. Torme handled his Strat with great skill. There was a lot of love up on that stage, matched by the adoring audience happy to see their heroes back together and as good as ever.

 

So did the band live up to the hype? No. They exceeded it. In an era where we have bands from the 80,s reforming or disintegrating, the hype rarely reflects reality. Many of those bands just can't do it any more. Voices have gone, drug fuelled lifestyles have taken their toll. But not with the Guns. They are still firing on all cylinders and hitting the bull. If you can impress an old cynic like me you must be doing something right. Must be an 80's thing.

 

Mother

LA Guns Setlist

 

No Mercy

Electric Gypsy

Hollywood Tease

Over The Edge

Bitch Is Back

Sex Action

The Flood's The Fault Of The Rain

Speed

One More Reason

Kiss My Love Goodbye

Don't Look At Me That Way

Purple Rain

Malaria

Hells Bells Intro to Never Enough

Jelly Jam

The Ballad of Jayne

Rip And Tear

Iron Maidens

O2 Islington. 29th October 2017.

 

It was a cold dark night on a Halloween weekend and the streets of Angel, Islington were filled with devils, demons and various decomposing corpses. And that was just inside the venue. Because tonight we are here at the O2 Islington to watch the excellent Iron Maidens, complete with assorted versions of Eddie. An oh-so appropriate band for the occasion.

 

For those of you not familiar with the band (yet, I expect you will be…) Iron Maidens are an LA based all-female tribute act to one of the biggest rock bands on the planet. It’s no small feat to carry off a good tribute act, let alone one that is at the top of their game and still currently touring. And if said tribute act are also endorsed by the band and have been known to have played with various members of the band, you start to get a picture of how good this lot are. More of that later….

The line-up is Kirsten “Bruce Chickinson” Rosenberg on vocals, Linda “Nikki McBURRain” McDonald on drums, Courtney “Adriana Smith” Cox and Nikki “Davina Murray” Stringfield on guitars, and Wanda "Steph Harris" Ortiz on bass. Whereas the originals are all gentlemen of near bus pass vintage, our heroes of tonight are neither. Yet they manage to visually display enough similarity that is expected of a tribute act. The outfits are broadly similar, although they provide a far more eye pleasing rendition of spandex strides than do the originals, along with touches like West Ham sweat bands, bass stickers and replica Steve Harris shorts. Thankfully Linda bore no physical resemblance to Mr McBrain (sorry Nicko….)

But where the Maidens excel is in their rendition of a string of Iron Maiden classics. Near note perfect, the twin guitars of Courtney Cox and Nikki Stringfield really catch the sound. Courtney plays a signature Schecter Nikki Stringfield A-6 FR S guitar through a Mesa Rectifier whilst Nicki plays a Caparison through Peavey Valveking. Sandwiched between the two is little powerhouse Wanda Ortiz providing a thumping bass that, at this venue at least, was almost overpowering. And keeping the groove together at the back on a drum kit of no small size is Linda McDonald, arms just a blur.

Front and centre, and leading the line is Kirsten Rosenberg. An animal rights advocate, she is also a devoted Iron Maiden advocate too. Aside from Bruce Dickinson, Rosenberg's musical influences include Geoff Tate, Ann Wilson, Doro Pesch, Robin Zander and Pat Benatar, as well as Karen Carpenter, Barbra Streisand and Christina Aguilera. That’s quite a mix. Now Bruce is renowned for the quality and range of his voice. He has an estimated vocal range of 4.25 octaves (B1-F5(-B5), started out as standard tenor, a singing voice between baritone and alto or countertenor, the highest of the ordinary adult male range, but eventually his voice lowered into lower tenor. So what better way to replicate that range than with a woman’s voice of both power and clarity, backed by the passion for his music. You would struggle to find a fella to do so. The only thing she failed to do tonight was land a jumbo jet on stage. Come on Kirsten, get that in the set.

 

So the Quintet burst onto the stage to the rather surprising intro music of UFO’s Doctor Doctor. Even more surprising was that there was no support band to warm the crowd. That may have been why the initial look of the crowd was of extras from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. I suppose it was Halloween but there was more life in between the roadies toes than amongst the audience. That soon changed when the opening bars of Aces High were sounded. The audience awoke as necromancer Rosenberg exhorts them to ‘Scream for me London’ to the meticulous rendition of the Powerslave classic. And scream they did with pleasure. Many of the now enlivened crowd were sporting tour t-shirts from the May 2017’s Book of Souls tour so were a tough audience to please. But I heard no dissenting voice. Added to that the fact that this was a tour of Maidens greatest hits in a small venue and you wonder if this may be the way to go in the future. There are O2 gigs and there are O2 gigs…

So the hits kept coming. Infinite Dreams from the 7th Son album followed and then Wasted years from the Somewhere In Time album. It was here that we got our first visit from Eddie, upholding the Halloween theme with his Somewhere In Time psycho cyborg look. I’m not sure what animatronics these guys use but Eddie almost looked human in the way that he moved…

Giving Rosenberg a break (not that she needed it) the band launch into the instrumental Losfer Words (Big Orra) from the Powerslave Album, probably one of the best driving tunes around. If you don’t mind being nicked for speeding.

And back into the fray sporting a redcoat and waving a Union flag comes Rosenberg for a powerful rendition of The trooper from the Piece of Mind album. We are getting the full gamut of top Maiden tunes tonight. The crowd erupt for this one as the LA Femmes get the chance to wave the flag in its home town. As they declare, they are so honoured to be playing London, the home of Iron Maiden. We’re honoured to have you.

Flash Of The Blade from Powerslave and Can I play with Madness from 7th Son are despatched with near note perfect precision – a huge feat of skill when you realise how many notes we are talking about here.

The Dance of Death album was given some love when they played a superb rendition of Montseur. A much underrated album, Rosenberg assigns us all homework to go and revisit the album whenever we can. Yes Miss. I might chance detention. Sigh.

Now you can only follow that with Number of the Beast. So that’s what they did. Rosenberg donned suitable studded wrist bands to accessorise her booming vocals for a huge crowd favourite. I was so wrapped up in the singing that I almost failed to spot a poor bedraggled old gentleman who seemed to have got lost and wandered onto the stage. My mistake, it was the Devil from the album cover who had appeared. He pointed at me in what looked like an accusing glance for not respecting my elders before shambling off stage left. Must be a mind reader. Scary stuff.

Slowing the tempo down the Maidens launched into the atmospheric Children of the Damned from same album, showcasing Rosenbergs great voice and gaining huge applause before taking things back to the beginning with Purgatory from the Killers album. You could really feel how raw that sounded as a track and how polished latter tracks felt in comparison. Rosenberg promises us a real treat later (is that trick or treat material? My mum warned me about accepting sweets from strangers) before announcing that they will play a song that Iron Maiden have never played live. Surprisingly this turned out to be Alexander the Great from the Somewhere In Time album. Hate to mention this, but I saw them play this when they toured the Somewhere in Time album in November 1986 (I would only have been 1 year old at  the time…. Ahem). They still made a fine job of it though and the audience participation showed that everyone else thought so too. And audience participation was the name of the game as Rosenberg led a standard Bruce Dickinson crowd clapathon to Running Free from their original eponymous album. Clichéd? Maybe. Fun? Definitely.

And to close out the set is my personal favourite, and apparently every other Maiden fans favourite Hallowed Be Thy Name from their be(a)st selling Beast Album. Those who had been in attendance at the May 2017 shows had missed out on their classic track due to an ongoing lawsuit so it was doubly enjoyable to hear the best track of the night. The band left the stage to a huge applause and obvious chant for more.

 

Photos courtesy of Trevor Reynolds

The obligatory encore ensued. I expect that they did so because Iron Maiden do encores so a good tribute act should do so too. And it was here that we learned of our special treat. Yes, lets welcome to the stage a former member of Iron Maiden perform with them. Will it be Bruce? Or Steve? Or maybe Nicko will batter the tubs? Oh, it’s Paul DiAnno….. Wheeled onto stage (literally, he’s convalescing from an arthritic leg condition) the once frontman joined the band in a final rendition of Wrathchild and Iron Maiden in his own East End style. As Eddie makes a final zombified appearance DiAnno proclaims ‘You never told me my wife was coming’. Class.

Our special Treat came to an end and the Maidens exit stage left to huge applause. As tribute bands go, these are the best. And a tribute to the best live rock band on the planet. Do yourself a favour. If you like a bit of Maiden, go see what all the fuss is about for yourself.

 

So we had zombies, devils, demons and cyborgs. A scary night. Although nothing was as scary as the bar prices. And it was an obvious night for Fear Of The Dark but I guess there is only so much you can do in an hour and a half. So what did you do on your Halloween Sunday evening? Get dressed up in a costume, painted a smile on your face and went out knocking on old ladies doors, extorting their last Worthers Original out of them? I went to see the Iron Maidens do their thing and my smile was real.

 

Mother

Photos courtesy of John Bull @ www.Rockrpix.com

Walter Trout

Under The Bridge, London

11th October 2017

 

Under The Bridge is a bit different from your average dive gig venue. Yes, it’s a dark underground cavern and yes it’s up front and personal with the bands on stage but it’s also underneath the Chelsea FC football stadium so has that Roman Abramovich whiff of plentiful cash about it. If I had Mr Abramovitch’s spare Roubles, I would build a music venue exactly like this. It’s clean and modern (the toilets worked for a change which is always a nice touch) and has all the authenticity you would want to make it feel like it has pedigree, yet no expense has been spared with the layout, the sound and the beautiful framed pictures of legendry musicians lining the walls. With a capacity of 250 for gigs it is intimate but still has the atmosphere of larger venues.

 

Opening tonight’s proceedings are a group of musicians who are too good to be opening for anyone. Regular headliners themselves are Sari Schorr and her collection of artists known as The Engine Room. New Yorker Schorr came to prominence when she was spotted at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis by producer Mike Vernon who offered produce an album with her. The debut album A Force of Nature was released in 2016 featuring guitarist Innes Sibun and guest spots from Oli Brown and Walter Trout. Alongside the electric wizardry of Sibun on guitar – a wonderful vintage Gibson ES335 played though an even more wonderful 20W Friedman amp – are keyboardist Anders Olinder on Funky organ, bassist Kevin Jeffries and Kevin O'Rourke on drums.

Schorr is a great vocalist with a strong piercing sound, she dances around the front of stage with the smiles of a woman at one with her music and her voice. It’s sometimes quiet and beautiful, sometimes powerful and strong, but always enthralling. You can imagine her conquering any music genre that she might choose – rock, blues, opera, soul. In short, a classic. The short set showcased the range of her talents and included a number of her own excellent tracks. It also included the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll, with Sibun giving the iconic Mr Page a run for his money, and the closing track Black Betty, Schorr’s interpretation of Ram Jam’s ebullient, rapid fire, air guitar staple. But Schorr’s version starts slow, stays slow and ends slow, with her voice powerful enough to fill the room, even whilst not using the mike.  The quintet leave the stage to a rapturous applause, although they would be back shortly.

 

Sari Schorr setlist

 

Ain’t Got No Money

Demolition Man

Where Did You Sleep Last Night

Rock ‘N’ Roll

Oklahoma

Damn The Reason

Aunt Hazel

Black Betty

Photos courtesy of John Bull @ www.Rockrpix.com

Wilko Johnson & Friends

Royal Albert Hall

London

26th September 2017

 

If you are going to have a party, have it big. And it doesn’t get much bigger than the Royal Albert Hall. Whilst the 5200 odd seats weren’t all taken, the Victorian concert hall was a busy place to be for the celebration of Wilko Johnson, his life (literally), his 70th birthday and the 30th anniversary of the Wilko Johnson band. The Spartan stage was minimalist in stark contrast to the grandeur of its surroundings. A drum kit, some small amps and a mic stand were forlornly huddled together in the centre of the stage that is regularly home to the great and the good of the musical world, It was a sixty’s pub or club scene backed by the grandeur of ‘Father’ Henry Willis pipe organ, once the largest in the world, looking over them like a grandfather over his grandchildren.

 

To celebrate his life, Wilco Johnson had invited an eclectic group to entertain a faithful following in the pub rock style that he has become famous for. First up, and with no suggestion of nepotism whatsoever, were Eight Round Rapid, a 4 piece blues come mod band containing one Johnson Junior on bass. With sharp suits and even sharper shoes, this clean cut quartet opened the proceedings with a short but fun set of blues with twangy telecaster sixty vibes mixed with mouth harp melodies. Gone was the Royal Albert Hall and in its place was the small clubs of the 60’s replete with bouffants and Brylcream. Just needed some Lambrettas to complete the scene. It could have been Wilco himself up there 50 years ago. Probably the largest arena these lads have played, but they weren’t overawed by the occasion.

 

So how do you follow that? With a French one man band. Obviously. Did I mention it was an eclectic night? The minimalism ramped up a notch as the unassuming looking Benjamin Tehoval, looking more like a subway busker in his shirt of many colours than an artist at Mr Claptons regular residence, proceeded to entertain the crowds with a mix of folk, country and blues whilst accompanying himself on guitar, mouth organ drums and high hat cymbal. He has a strong solid voice, with a touch of the Loudon Wainwrights. You can get a cream for that. He entertained with a set that got the toes tapping yet was a gentle and pleasing to the ear and mind. It was no surprise that he got a standing ovation after his farewell track, a cover of Dylans How Does It Feel. He would have been there longer if he hadn’t been moved on by the stage manager. RAH has its rules you know.

Photos courtesy of Paul Hine

 

If you are going to sing and play the blues, you need to have been around a bit, you need to have lived. Walter Trout has been about a bit and he’s lived. And he has died a couple of times too. Four years on from his traumatic liver failure and replacement, the once prolific six string demon had to learn to walk and talk again, let alone find his way around a fretboard. But years of relearning the instrument again from scratch has returned Mr Trout to the shoal of top guitarists in the world. His cathartic 2015 album Battle Scars saw Walter put his traumas into words and music with such skill as belied his tortuous ascent from the depths of disability and despair and the man taking the stage today shows only remnants of his life altering experience.

 

Walter Trout has a CV that reads like a who’s who of the last 50 odd years of rock and guitar music. Trout's career began on the Jersey coast scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s. before he relocated to Los Angeles where he became a sideman for Percy Mayfield and Deacon Jones. He also worked in the bands of John Lee Hooker and Joe Tex. He became the guitarist for Canned Heat and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers where he shared the stage with fellow guitarist Coco Montoya. He went on to form the Walter Trout Band where he has made an international career and loyal fanbase stretching back to the 1980’s. In 2002, he was featured on the Bo Diddley tribute album, Hey Bo Diddley – A Tribute! performing the song "Road Runner" and many more guest appearances on other recordings. His latest album, We’re All In This Together sees Walter looks to put his recent past behind him and focus on a positive future by way of collaboration with some more musical glitterati including the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, John Mayall and Randy Bachman. And tonight’s show mixes old and new as Walter invites guests on stage to play with him some of those new collaborative tracks along with some faithful classics.

 

Although looking older (don’t we all…) he has regained some of the lost weight and has that twinkle in his eye that perfectly complements his mischievous sense of humour and sheer love for life. I guess you get that after a near death experience. I have been lucky enough to meet Mr T a number of times in the past and always found him to be a hugely positive guy. He gave me some great advice years ago as a novice six string wannabe, as well as one of his signature guitar picks which I treasure to this day, and I particularly remember how he did so with genuine interest. He cares about his fans. And they went some way to repaying him by helping with the funding of his liver replacement. Now that is real world love right there. A wondrous thing in this troubled world of ours these days.

With his trusty vintage white Strat, played through a Mesa head, Walter launches into what will be the format for the show. Down and dirty blues, with each song containing an exquisite display of guitar artistry, extended to a 10 minute jam. No 3 minute pop fix here thank you very much. With Slammin' Sam, Sammy Avila accompanying him on the Hammond Sk1 organ the tempo was upped from the start resulting in Walter breaking a string. Handed a replacement sunburst Strat guitar by his tech, Walter comments ‘I don’t remember owning this guitar?’ – he is very much a one guitar/one woman man. It doesn’t stop him launching into the slow funky blues that is Saw My Mama Crying with any less delight. His voice is as strong as ever and he delights in chatting with the audience. ‘I’m happy to be in London. I’m happy to be anywhere these days’ he quips. And follows it up with some nasty blues in the key of A minor with Cold Cold Feeling on his repaired white Strat. This one has him calling to his bandmates ‘Let’s play some blues’ before launching into another 10 minute wonder that can only be described as blues shredding. Which results in another broken string – he’s tough on that nickel.

With back up Strat again in play we get to hear the new track Got Nothing Left where he is joined by Innes Sibun for some duel guitar goodness. The addition of a rhythm guitarist adds another layer to the sound, and this track had a beat that reminds me of the riff to ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man. Followed by the title track We’re All In This Together, a lovely heavy dirty blues track, the new album is a must buy. Sibun carries off the roles of Bachman and Bonamassa respectively with fine style whilst having a ball jamming with the man. Great dual play between them with Walter fast picking, heavy bends, although no use of a whammy, it was a Monster jam.

Walter again turned to Sammy for assistance playing the slower blues of The Other Side Of The Pillow with Mr Avila providing a keyboard solo in place of the Charlie Musselwhite mouth organ parts from the record. ‘I always write about my life’ calls Walter, ‘But not on this track’ which laments the problems with women. Impressive to be able to fit that subject into a ten minute song. With Sibun leaving the stage to great applause, the quartet launch into the bass heavy Broken Heart before they are joined by their next guest, Steven Dale Petit, who takes the role of Kenny Wayne Shepherd on Gonna Hurt Like Hell. The Les Paul wielding journeyman is another who is no stranger to collaborations with the great and the good and is happy to duel with Walter, but sadly only for a single song. He is replaced by the Force Of Nature that is Sari Schorr to sing a track from her first album Work No More. Walter performed on the original track. It is proper squealing blues guitar and powerful female vocals. Lovely stuff.

Next guest? Well he’s part of the crew. Andrew Elt is drafted to play the only Acoustic part in the set as Walter takes the time to talk briefly about his illness and how his wife helped him through a terrifying ordeal. It is to her that he dedicated and wrote the track Please Take Me Home, the only track taken from the Battle Scars album. A soulful lament, Walter is visibly moved by the end as are the audience. But tonight is about moving on, so the now composed Walter launches into a Hendrix style shredding blues jam to introduce his band members as they individually solo into what became his classic rendition of Going Down. First to take centre stage, and on his inaugural European tour, is Danny Avila on bass. Son of Sammy, he is a whirl on the four string with some fast fretting and lead lick playing. Reminded me a bit of Rob Trujillo. He’s a master in the making. Dad was rightly proud. Then drummer Michael Leasure took his turn with a drum solo that was both intricate and entertaining – a rarity in drum solo’s these days. Each took a turn with the vocals with Elt returning to provide a short burst of his own vocal talents which can only be described as awesome. Sign him up as a front man somebody. The song and set ended with a heartfelt appeal to the crowd on the need for organ doning – he wouldn’t be here today without it, before a final fingerboard flourish. He returned briefly for an encore of Prisoner Of A Dream and his day was done.

 

As the crowds drifted away happy, I managed to get a quick word with the man himself and to chat to the band. The years of playing together, and the wealth of people they know and have played with, just oozes out of them in an assured but very humble manner. Nothing much will surprise these hardened veterans, as new boy Danny is discovering. As the man himself disappears into the night, he palms me a pick from his back pocket with a smile. Just like old times.

Mother

 

We’re All In This Together track listing:

 

“Gonna Hurt Like Hell” featuring Kenny Wayne Shepherd

“Ain’t Gpin’ Back” featuring Sonny Landreth

“The Other Side of The Pillow” featuring Charlie Musselwhite

“She Listens To The Blackbird Song” featuring Mike Zito

“Mr. Davis” featuring Robben Ford

“The Sky Is Crying” featuring Warren Haynes

“Somebody Goin’ Down” featuring Eric Gales

“She Steals My Heart Away” featuring Edgar Winter

“Crash And Burn” featuring Joe Louis Walker

“Too Much To Carry” featuring John Nemeth

So, where next? How about a bit of irreverent modern punk poetry? Dr John Cooper Clarke is a bit of a phenomenon these days. The once underground voice of the people (with a strong Salford lilt) has become mainstream. He’s been on The One Show for heaven’s sake! But unlike some of his punk peers, he hasn’t toned down his act. The One Show would have been hard pressed to find a couple minutes of broadcastable material from the hours delights we heard. Self-deprecating but as cutting of the world as you would expect in a world that is in need of a snip or two, Clarke’s opening rhyme was a guest list recitation that was as amusing as it was bizarre. The fast tongued, rhyming genius them proceeded to enthral the audience with rhymes on such subjects as Questions I can’t answer, Existentialism, Hire car benefits, why he should ‘Get back on drugs you fat fuck…’, Elvis Presley, Beasley Street, I wanna be yours, Chimpanzee butlers, motorists and why he loves his wife. Did I mention eclectic…

He left to a standing ovation but only after reciting his final encore, at the specific request of an audience member of his famous ‘valentine poem in reverse’ – Twat. What entertainment.

 

With a seamless shuffle of amps and tech, the birthday boy took to the stage in his customary black outfit with matching black and red Telecaster. Alongside Norman Watt-Roy (bass), Dylan Howe (drums), they are The Wilko Johnson band, celebrating 30 years together. Wilko is famous for many things – he was an integral part of Doctor Feelgood and Ian Dury’s Blockheads, has appeared in various acting roles in such luminary productions as Game of Thrones and Oil City Confidential, and his successful battle against terminal pancreatic cancer. But it is as a guitarist and showman that he has made his name. Hugely influential for his guitar playing style, his influence was felt in bands up and down the country, notably in the punk movement (Joe Strummer of the Clash bought a Telecaster after seeing Wilko play). Heavily influenced by legendary guitarist Mick Green from ’60s rockers Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, Wilko employs a finger-style, chop-chord strumming action that allows for chords and lead guitar to be played at the same time, giving a fluency and a distinctive sound very unlike the cleaner swat of a pick. In later years, his health issues have pushed him into new projects including 2014’s amazing collaboration with Roger Daltrey on the hit album Going Back Home. The cavernous RAH seemed to shrink to an intimate club as the trio launched into a string of Wilko classics. Wilko strummed his jangly bright sounding telecaster whilst hopping around the stage in his trademark jerky strut, stabbing at the audience with the pointy end of his beloved fender then seemingly springing back under the tension of his coiled guitar cable. The supposedly recuperating septuagenarian showed no signs of either as he pranced around the stage like the teenager still inside his head. Its rock and roll, its punk, its blues, its fun. He is ably assisted in that department by ex-Blockheads Watt-Roy. What a dynamo that man is. He doesn’t stop rocking for one moment during the entire set and provides the strong irresistible rhythm behind Wilko’s cutting lead. Also driven by the tight Howe on drums, the years of playing clearly show the passion these three friends have for their art. The set was a mix of Wilko’s many years in the business with track’s like Roxette, Going Back Home and Paradise. But as the set progressed it became more of a jam with friends as each song became a longer and longer with improvisation and solos from each of them. And the crowd loved it. Average ages were somewhat high and the auspicious surroundings favoured the seating position (as probably did the arthritis and lumbago) but that didn’t stop the clapping, cheering and dancing in the aisles as the set closed with the classics Back In The Night and She Does It Right.

 

A rightly demanded encore saw him return to the stage with Dr John joining them on guitar (another of his many talents) for a birthday rendition of Johnny Be Good and Route 66 ending the night on an appropriately rock and roll theme. With an emotional dedication of the night to a fellow cancer patient, Wilko left the stage to huge applause and much cheering. Hopefully to meet up again with Mr Daltrey for another round of recording. So that’s Roger Wilko and not out then.

 

Mother

Photos courtesy of Paul Hine

Richie Kotzen

Salting Earth World Tour

1st September 2017

Assembly Halls Islington

 

What is the definition of a musician who has made it? Being in a famous band? Being part of a Super group? Releasing top 20 hits? Having your own signature guitar and amp? Well LA’s Richie Kotzen has done all that and more. Richie Kotzen began playing piano at the age of five. At the age of seven, he was inspired to learn the electric guitar by the band Kiss. He joined local bands and at the age of 21, Kotzen joined glam-metal band Poison, co-writing and performing on the album Native Tongue. In 1999, Kotzen replaced Paul Gilbert as guitarist in the mainstream rock band Mr. Big, performing on their album Get Over It and went on to form the Winery Dogs, a super group that includes such luminaries as Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheehan. But spanning all the aforementioned, and towering above them all, is Richie’s solo career which he describes as a mix of rock, blues, jazz, fusion, and soul music. Citing influences as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Van Halen, Jason Becker (who produced his first album), Allan Holdsworth, and many other jazz and fusion players, he has released over 20 albums with a broad mix of genres proudly defying any pigeon hole you may try to post him into.

 

The current Salting Earth World Tour sees Richie playing South America, Japan, Singapore, Australia and now Europe. Tonight’s feast is at The Islington’s Assembly Halls and we are lucky to have him as the gruelling schedule has taken its toll. The previous night’s gigs in Germany and Holland have required stand-in singers as a bout of the flu (the proper Man Flu variety obviously) has robbed him of his voice. What he needs is to stay nice and warm. So a night in the warmest room in the world (Gas mark 17 by my reckoning) must surely have helped? No bug could have survived that heat.

 

The fabulous Assembly Halls in Islington was nicely full for warm up acts Tidal Concerts and The Konincks. They obviously did a fantastic job as the aforementioned cooking levels clearly attested to. So come 9 o’clock, and the entrance of the main man, and the floor was packed. The long haired, leather clad, vest wearing rock star look has gone to be replaced by a cleaner look. Sporting a white t-shirt with a stylish blue scarf, his shorter hair and trimmed look smacks of a young Bruce Springsteen. Along with that change is a change of amp too. Rather than playing through one of his signature Cornford amps, tonight we are treated to the beautiful tones of the Victory V40 Duchess amp. With signature Fender Telecaster in hand he launches into a set list that is immediately scattered to the four winds as the Orthomyxoviridae nasties do their worst. He’s not a healthy bunny. It’s a testament to Kotzen that he manages to complete 90 minutes of performance as he struggles with his voice, the heat and a few technical gremlins to boot.

 

But help is at hand. Supporting on bass, and stepping in on vocals whenever needed, is Dylan Wilson who swaps between a regular Fender bass and a funky upright electric bass. If it hadn’t been for DW, the gig would have been over before it started. And completing the trio is percussionist Mike Bennett on both drums and cajon.

 

Playing a collection of hits, Kotzen and Wilson swap funky rhythms and rocking riffs with amazing dexterity, speed and finesse. Kotzen is famed for his fingerstyle playing but switches between blistering licks with a pick and exquisite finger picking with a deftness of touch that is glorious. The jam moves with Kotzen onto the Wurlitzer keyboard as the revered guitarist shows his ivory tinkling roots. It’s jazz, it’s rock, it’s funk, it’s soul.  His clear voice is showing the strain as he is clearly singing at a lower pitch than normal.  And monitor problems aren’t helping either. But launching into the melodic My Rock gives his voice a rest whilst displaying his keyboard prowess.  Cannon Ball brings back the funky keyboards, with a clean piano sound, that reminded me of something you might hear from Luther VanDross.  Wilson is back on the upright double bass for High and also takes on the singing duties to give Kotzen a break. The crowd are also happy to lend a hand.

A change of tempo again with I Would sees Kotzen playing acoustic guitar and Benett on the cajon box drum – with a cajon drum solo to boot.

Not content with that Bennett launches into a regular drum solo, probably to let Kotzen cool down and recover his strength for the finale.

Kotzen returns for to play Fear on his signature Fender Strat, a strong display of guitar skills which morphs again into a jazz style jam with Wilson. And as a change of style and pace again, Julia Herzog from the Konings joins them on stage to sing Remember. She has a great voice. Finishing of the set, Kotzen is back on the Telecaster for a funky  finale with Wilson slapping the bass like a new born baby on Help Me.

 

Even in his weakened state, Kotzen is back for an encore on keyboards with This Is Life before switching to the trustee Strat for a final flurry of what we came to see – six string perfection. With a final wave to the audience he virtually falls off stage looking like an extra from The Walking  Dead.

 

It was an evening of surprises on a number of levels. Not what we were expecting. We came expecting  the showmanship, skills and artistic brilliance of a true craftsman. What we got was a new looking stalwart who refused to be beaten. The show must go on and it did. Not the usual polished production, but a delightful feast for the ears, in some ways all the better for the fact that it was unpredictable. We may not get that again which made it a gig to treasure. When you are a musician who has made it, you can do what you want and still please the crowd. It was a brave decision to go ahead with the gig, but I’m glad he did. Get well soon Richie.

 

Mother

Setlist

1. Hold Tight 
2. Velociraptor 
3. When I drive 
4. Dirty little lies 
5. Pride 
6. I Want More 

Go Primitive

Surya, Islington, London

25th August 2017

 

A warm Bank Holiday Friday in Islington sees the streets and bars crowded with revellers starting a long weekend of fine weather and partying. Across town, final preparations are being completed for the annual Notting Hill Carnival. Running between the bustling Angel and New Cross areas is the relatively suburban Pentonville Road. And nestled amongst the houses and offices is Surya, an unassuming wine bar looking to attract passing customers. At first I thought I had got the address wrong but hidden below stairs of this otherwise unremarkable bar is a small but perfectly formed den of iniquity. Doubling as a club music venue from 11pm until the early hours of the morning, it is also home to a showcase, live music stage of up and coming talent of assorted genres. Barely large enough to hold 100 people, the stage is right on top of you, and the bands are freely accessed as they transition from backstage to the arena of sound. And talking of sound, the sound is excellent – a small nod of approval is hereby given to sound man Simba who manages to produce fine work for 4 different bands in the confines of a small venue – no mean feat. Take a bow sir.

 

Although my mission, which I had chosen to accept before the instructions spontaneously combusted in true MI style, was to review Go Primitive, I did also enjoy the short performance of Scout Killers, a 5 piece Alt-Rock band from Bristol/Bath. Lead vocalist Scott Cox is the only member without a beard, tattoos and a jaunty haircut. Julien Morrez (guitarist and backing vocalist), Beau Stevens (guitarist), Josh Ellis (bassist), and Chris Phillips (drummer) all do. Nice to see Morrez sporting a t-shirt from headlining band Seasons. Always great to see bands supporting each other. The band were very animated and clearly enjoyed themselves. Sound wise, there was overtones of Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers which is no bad thing. I would have liked to see more of them. And I shall endeavour to do so.

 

Which brings me to the primary target of my mission – Go Primitive. And to uncover exactly what Alt-Rock means. 

 

Go Primitive are a four piece Alt-Rock band from Warwickshire UK. Consisting of Tomm E. Williams (guitar/vocals), Adam White (guitar), Dan Teale (drums) and Andy Dove (bass) – they have been rapidly gaining recognition for their attitude-fuelled, modern rock style with a slot at this year’s Glastonbury underlining their success. They have been getting some radio and TV airplay too. Citing such diverse influences as Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Dave Grohl, The Offspring, Blink 182, Don Broco, Biffy Clyro, Yellowcard, You Me At Six,  A Day To Remember and Of Mice & Men, you can see that they are aficionados of classic and modern rock and metal and their sound reflects that. Williams is not averse to a bit of EVH tapping and shredding but they are not a shred band. There’s a cutting edge to their sound, metal but with a musical rhythm too and Williams voice stays clear, avoiding the guttural screams of so many current purveyors of modern rock.

Williams plays a beautiful red Yamaha Pacifica (guitar geek alert…) with a humbucker/P90 pick up combo (and again…) through a 5150 head (geek overload…) giving us that EVH American rock sound whilst White sports a black Gibson 335(?) – Through an Orange Rockverb head (geek saturation…) giving a classic British Rock slant. Together they make a blend of old new British American sound of wonderfulness. With Ellis strumming like a good un’ on the bass and Phillips battering for all he is worth, I wasn’t sure how long they would last. Long enough it turns out.

 

I had expected to hear the small back catalogue of hits from their 100 Ways EP but instead we were treated to a short 6 song set from their new first Album, Choices, which is due for release in early 2018. Produced by Romesh Dodangoda (Bring Me The Horizon, Bullet For My Valentine, Funeral For A Friend, Mötörhead) this is some seriously good rock. Had they been headlining the night, I expect that we would have heard a lot more but what we got was excellent.

 

Ironic it probably wasn’t that they started their short set with Hold Tight – probably a requirement from the Health and Safety department to put us on notice of what to expect. Elements of all of their influences shone through their set. Williams reverence for Mr Grohl showed in his ability to front a powerful band yet remain the focus. Anyone not joining in the overall fun and frolics (there were the odd one or two) were roundly accused of being Bieber fans – how cutting can you get? But all in good fun though. His interaction with the crowd was both friendly and enthusiastic, joining the crowd off stage in a headbanging frenzy as he thrashed his way through the rifftastic final song, I Want more. Prophetic indeed. I did. If you like any of the above mentioned bands, give this lot a listen on YouTube, or any other of your preferred media choice. You are bound to hear something you like. 

 

So apparently, Alt-Rock is any underground based rock that isn’t Mainstream rock. My next mission, should I choose to accept it, is to work out what the difference is. Buggered if I know – they all sound good to me. Ethan Hunt, move over, I’m on the case.

Mother

TOSKA

O2 Academy, Islington

27th June 2017

“Toska - noun /ˈtō-skə/ - Russian word roughly translated as sadness, melancholia, lugubriousness.

 

"No single word in English renders all the shades of Toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”

 

― Vladimir Nabokov

 

Well that has cheered me up no end and got me in the mood for some music. So a wet Tuesday night in June saw me visit the upstairs part of the O2 Academy in Islington to do something I hadn’t done before. I feel a bit guilty, so don’t tell anyone, but I went to see and review the act who weren’t headliners. Mortal sin, cast me down into damnation. Or don’t. I just like Toska, who were appearing before the headline act Drewsif Stalin’s Musical Endeavours.

 

For those who haven’t been to London N1, the Angel of the South, you would be forgiven for thinking you had arrived at a shopping centre. Because you have. But tucked away in a small mall of shops and fancy restaurants, is the much underrated O2 Academy. The downstairs main venue will hold about 800 whilst the more intimate upstairs will fit 250 at a push. Or maybe 275 skinny goths. It’s a great intimate venue with a good atmosphere and good sound. Although sound levels tonight were on the high end of distorting which, for a band like Toska, can detract from the intricacy of their sound.  But tonight’s line up were a fairly broad church of music , within the metal catalogue, so suited some bands better than others.

 

Openers were Faces Of Eve a metalcore/prog band from Hertfordshire. The four piece were minus one tonight as apparently the bass player had gone on holiday. Not to be deterred the remaining Faces soldiered on with the aid of a backing track. Well done lads. At least that increased your earnings by a third. 

Following on are London’s  Sentience, a five piece progressive tech metal group. With twin guitars, it was a heavier riff sound with some ear splitting screams , they could have powered the whole gig with the energy that they put out.

 

And so to the reason for my visit. First impression of the guys from Toska can be deceptive. Guitarist, and YouTube legend Ra(bea) Massaad is a gentle giant with a very warming personality, quick to smile and as friendly as they come. Drummist Ben Minal seems intense in comparison, very serious with a point to make. And bassist Dave Hollingworth comes across as almost painfully shy, although whilst he is quiet, he has good stuff to say. Put them on the stage and things change. They become three animated virtuoso who are lost in the passion of the playing and the music they clearly love. The three friends, originally from Yorkshire, have been playing together for ten years now and are as tight as a very tight thing (insert your own non-PC comment here). As three quarters of the internet sensation Dorje, where they play a mean metal rock with short punchy songs, Toska enables them to get more in touch with their lengthy progressive side. Dorje has it’s proggy slant but Toska takes it firmly into that genre.

Most notably, all Toska’s tracks are instrumental. And long. But don’t think Gabriel era Genesis, Rush or Yes. Think Incubus (a huge influence on the band) or bands like Sikth or Karnivool who are firm favourites of the now Brighton based trio.

Tonight gives them a chance to play some of their new material. In an all too short 50 minute set, they showcase 4 new tracks whilst including two tried and tested tracks, Illumo and Chalk Teeth, from their 2015 EP Ode To The Author. Which is available free from their bandcamp website. Or you can donate some money. Go on, go give it a listen and send them some (financial) love. The new material is a progression of their old songs. Well it would be wouldn’t it. It’s excellent and I can’t wait to hear the studio versions to fully appreciate the intricate sounds I heard played live.

Whilst they only played six tracks, each track was as good as two songs in their own right. In true prog style, the tracks were varied in tone, intensity and genre, all within a single 8 minute or so hit. You might think that 50 minutes of vocal-free music would pale. It doesn’t. Each track, although similar, has its own distinct edge. Moving from hard chugging djent metal to gentle harmonic playing, you are lost in their world. One minute you are lost in the fineries of an intricately picked lick. The next you are battering your head to a down and dirty djent chugalong. And whilst this is prog in the true sense of the word, it is heavy. With the afore mentioned high sound levels it’s verging on the brutal. Bea displays guitar skills that make him an idol of the YouTube world, whilst providing the crowd interaction between tracks. His choice of Chapman guitars, through the iconic Victory Kraken amp head, firmly puts him in the high gain, freight train camp of guitar sounds. He rates in my top 5 favourite guitarists of all times. Ever. Nuff said. Ben batters an impressive drum kit with the ferocity of a hardcore band but with the taste and delicacy where needed. This is technical drum playing at its finest. Dave is transformed from the quiet mild mannered man to the wild stepping, finger repping bass god. As you would expect from a three piece, all of the instruments are evident but Dave’s bass is so strong, battering its way through your chest to pummel your inner organs to mush.

There is a lot of love in the room for these guys. With a growing audience across the world wide webby thing, this is their chance to see their online heroes in the flesh and performing without the backup of computer based refining technology. 

 

So as a band, Toska doesn’t properly describe them if you take the literal meaning above. Far from being sorrowful or dirge like, they are vibrant and absorbing. No drug induced mind wanderings into the ether, this is a delightful wallowing in the raptures of intricate music played at virtuoso standard by three guys who have studied their art and honed their skills to perfection. Maybe they should have called themselves Tonka, after the indestructible toys of our youth. Strong, powerful and likely to last forever. And to bring you hours of joy.

 

Mother

Toska Set List

 

A Tall Order

Congress

Illumo

When Ghengis Wakes

Abomasum

Chalk Teeth

Slam Dunk Festival

29th May 2017

 

Hatfields University of Hertfordshire is the host for 2017's Slam Dunk festival.  Now in its eleventh year, the southern event is the final leg of a three day festival that sees the same line up play Leeds and Birmingham on consecutive days. Today the University is a school of rock. And punk. And Goth. And Emo. And Skaters, Haters and First Daters too.

As the lineup shows, it’s a festival aimed at a younger audience, so a university campus is both fitting and effective. With 8 stages, both indoors and out, the music is varied and interesting. The younger audience revels in an atmosphere that is buzzing, but also feels safe. 14 year olds can feel free to wander as they please and parents can feel free to let them. And the parents can also find something to their taste. Handy if the youngsters need to borrow some money from bank of Dad. The bars were doing a roaring trade.

Each of the stages highlights something different. With the Jagermeister, Fireball and Monster stages outside showing the headline acts (have you spotted the drink theme yet?), the Key Club stage does so indoors. The Signature Brew stage is a smaller outside bundle of fun whilst the indoor Impericon stage is a nice punk collection of aggression. With new talent on the Rock Sound Breakout stage and the eclectic Uprawr stage battering the earholes, the only escape to tranquility is the bar with small intimate acoustic sets. Any one of these stages would be excellent venues in their own right, we are lucky enough to get 8 of them Topped off with the obligatory merch, food and booze venues, this is a nice self-contained event. The sound and production is first rate. Each of the venues has their own acoustical challenges but the techs do their work well. And the organisation was also top drawer. Everything seemed to go off like clockwork, with the bands appearing when and where they were advertised. Entry and exit to the festival were good, although getting out of the car park at the end of the gig was a nightmare with local taxis blocking the only entrance into and out of the event. A well placed traffic warden would have alleviated that problem, and earned a bob or two as well.

Rocking the 10 thousand strong crowds are bands like Neck Deep, Bowling For Soup and headline act Enter Shikari. Not necessarily the 'big names' that you might find at Download or Rock am Ring but the fans are as dedicated and the festival is just as much fun. Which is what festivals should be about.

It feels busier this year as the predominantly dry weather allows everyone to chill around the bars and stages. Queues as always for beers and burgers but they move fairly quickly. Security are hi-viz and everywhere, as would be expected, but are friendly and helpful. Although busy, I saw no trouble. Which is refreshing for a festival of youthful drinkers.

Musical highlights are many and varied across the festival. In no particular order, Madina Lake battered the Impericon stage. Chicagan Lead singer Nathan Leone got into the crowd, literally, by crowd surfing whilst tethered (just) to a large security man. It was touch and go that he didn’t get washed out to sea on the tide.

Zebrahead grooved the Fireball stage with their own anarchic brand of punk with hints of ska and hip-hop. Surrey based Homebound brought some strong rockier punk music to the Rock Sound stage.

Cute Is What We Aim For rocked the Monster Stage with an enjoyable set and Florida’s We The Kings staged a fantastic set, as did The Maine from Canada, both having fun with the Monster stage crowd. Three bands that I shall make sure I see again.

Welsh rockers Neck Deep headlined the Monster stage and took to the stage to the sound of MCR’s Welcome To The Black Parade. That got the crowd singing and raised the expectation levels which Neck Deep more than met. Influenced by bands like Sum 41 and A Day To Remember they are a great pop-punk band whose strong following jumped, sang and partied the closure of the Monster stage. Excellent stuff.

 

Bowling For Soup were headliners on the Fireball stage, following on from the trombone infused Less Than Jake. BFS spent as much time joking with the crowd as actually playing but were a hit. Somewhat of a Tenacious D feel about the whole thing which was a good thing. Plenty of toilet humour. A testament to them then that they were able to attract and entertain a huge crowd whilst Enter Shikari were on the stage next to them.

 

We Are The Ocean performed their last ever performance on the main stage. They are calling it a day after 10 years much to their fans disappointment. A sad and joyous performance in equal measures.

 

St Albans band Enter Shikari headlined the 2017 main stage,  bringing to an end their special shows to mark 10 years since the release of debut album Take To The Skies. Although not a ‘Big Name’, they really ought to be. With dry ice and a fine laser show lighting up the night sky they attracted a huge crowd who were loving what was a polished and professional performance. These guys closed what was again an impressive event and sent the fans home tired but with some great memories.

 

It's another fine event this year. I will be back again next year to watch the young and beautiful people enjoying the best times of their lives. A heart-warming sight. And an ear warming sound.

 

Mother

JAGERMEISTER STAGE

ENTER SHIKARI 9:25 - 10:45

DON BROCO 8:00 - 8:55

DEAF HAVANA 6:45 - 7:35

BEARTOOTH 5:40 - 6:20

BURY TOMORROW 4:35 - 5:15

WE ARE THE OCEAN 3:30 - 4:10

CROSSFAITH 2:30 - 3:05

ANDREW MCMAHON IN THE WILDERNESS 1:30 - 2:05

 

FIREBALL STAGE

BOWLING FOR SOUP 9:45 - 10:55

LESS THAN JAKE 8:20 - 9:20

REEL BIG FISH 6:55 - 7:55

GOLDFINGER 5:45 - 6:30

MAD CADDIES 4:35 - 5:20

ZEBRAHEAD 3:30 - 4:10

THE ATARIS 2:25 - 3:05

FENIX TX 1:25 - 2:00

 

MONSTER STAGE

NECK DEEP 9:40 - 10:50

THE MOVIELIFE 8:20 - 9:10

WE THE KINGS 7:05 - 7:55

THE MAINE 5:50 - 6:40

CUTE IS WHAT WE AIM FOR 4:35 - 5:25

WSTR 3:35 - 4:10

TROPHY EYES 2:35 - 3:10

LIKE PACIFIC 1:35 - 2:10

 

THE KEY CLUB STAGE

TONIGHT ALIVE 9:30 - 10:30

SET IT OFF 8:20 - 9:00

SEAWAY 7:20 - 7:55

WATERPARKS 6:20 - 6:55

WITH CONFIDENCE 5:20 - 5:55

BOSTON MANOR 4:20 - 4:55

BLACK FOXXES 3:25 - 3:55

DECADE 2:30 - 3:00

FORT HOPE 1:35 - 2:05

SIGNATURE BREW STAGE

AGAINST ME! 9:45 - 10:45

THE BRONX 8:25 - 9:20

FRANK IERO & THE PATIENCE 7:15 - 8:00

CITIZEN 6:10 - 6:50

TURNOVER 5:05 - 5:45

CRIME IN STEREO 4:05 - 4:40

MILK TEETH 3:10 - 3:40

SORORITY NOISE 2:15 - 2:45

PUPPY 1:20 - 1:50

 

IMPERICON STAGE

MEMPHIS MAY FIRE 9:50 - 10:50

MADINA LAKE 8:40 - 9:25

STRAY FROM THE PATH 7:35 - 8:15

I PREVAIL 6:30 - 7:10

COUNTERFEIT 5:30 - 6:05

ICE NINE KILLS 4:30 - 5:05

OCEANS ATE ALASKA 3:35 - 4:05

SHVPES 2:40 - 3:10

TOO CLOSE TO TOUCH 1:45 - 2:15

 

ROCK SOUND BREAKOUT STAGE

OCEAN GROVE 8:50 - 9:20

THE GOSPEL YOUTH 7:55 - 8:25

SYLAR 7:00 - 7:30

AREA 11 6:05 - 6:35

HOMEBOUND 5:10 - 5:40

MAKEOUT 4:15 - 4:45

VUKOVI 3:20 - 3:50

CASEY 2:25 - 2:55

COMPETITION WINNER 1:30 - 2:00

 

UPRAWR STAGE

UPRAWR DJS 5:00 - 11:00

I AM THE AVALANCHE 4:20 - 4:50

NIGHTMARE OF YOU 3:45 - 4:15

GRUMBLE BEE 3:10 - 3:40

LOUISE DISTRAS 2:40 - 3:05

THE LION & THE WOLF 2:10 - 2:35

LIZZY FARRALL 1:40 - 2:05

​​​​​Inglorious/Mason Hill

Assembly Halls Islington

19th May 2017

 

The end of a sad week found yours truly at the fabulous Assembly Halls in Islington to see some young old rock. A sad week as we come to terms with the untimely loss of Chris Cornell - singer, songwriter and inspiration to a whole generation of younger musicians. Young old rock because those young musicians inspired by the Seattle frontman are now producing some great old style rock. Something we should be eternally grateful for.  In these days of industry produced music for the masses it’s great to see young musicians doing it for real. None of this lot would be seen dead on a TV music competition……

 

Opening the evening’s entertainment are Glaswegians Mason Hill, a quintet of youngsters who have made their way through a European battle of the bands competition, ‘Surface Festival’, winning the Scottish section beating 12,000 other bands. Entering the stage alone, to launch the opening track Broken Son, is lead singer Scott Taylor giving us no doubt that we are in for a good night. Immediate thoughts of a Highlander reference had to be dismissed on purely geographical grounds. Following on are twin guitarists James Bird and Marc Montgomery dealing out the riffs with a fine Les Paul/PRS combo. And providing the steady rhythm are bassist Matthew Ward and drummer Craig McFetridge. Following straight into Your Memory, you can see these guys were born 40 years too late. If they were around in the seventies they would be filling arenas today. Think Alter Bridge meets UFO. And then has a love child with Black Stone Cherry. As a nod to that era, they performed an excellent cover of Mountain’s Mississippi Queen, with a fine solo from JB before lowering the tempo with Out of Reach. Definite Alter Bridge tones there. Survive has a more modern feel to it with a head down rock feel rather than a shredding frenzy. And No Regret has an almost stoner feel to it. And then their debut single from 2 years ago Now You See Me.

In a display of heartfelt emotion, and an indication of their younger influences, Taylor dedicates the closing song Where I Belong to Chris Cornell. Starting with just guitar and vocals this track grows into a full rock ballad. Another tasteful solo, showing that minimalist is often best in a song like this. Well received by the crowd, many of whom are here specifically to see them, Mason Hill warm the heart. And the stage.

Mason Hill

Set List

 

Intro/Broken Son

Your Memory

Mississippi Queen

Out Of Reach

Survive

No Regret

Now You See Me

Where I Belong

Headline act for the night are the Planet Rock championed Inglorious. PR’s Wyatt Wendell took to the stage to introduce the five piece outfit, reminding us of the meteoric rise they have had. Formed In 2014, the band immediately drew a lot of attention, as well as high praise, from such luminaries as Brian May and current producer Kevin Shirley. Frontman Nathan James is a man mountain of a guy, with looks like Thor from The Avengers (minus the big hammer) and a voice to match. Powerful – a word often used but totally appropriate for Mr J. He’s a cross between Meatloaf, David Coverdale and DLR (Dave Lee Roth? Danny La Rue?). He clearly has that X-factor… Bassist, and He-Man lookalike (by the power of Fender!) Colin Parkinson takes front of stage with James and contributes to vocals on a couple of numbers. Between the two of them they could take on most of the WWF community and sing them out of the ring. I wouldn’t argue with them.

Twin guitar chops are provided by white Les Paul wielding Andreas Eriksson and black Strat wearing Drew Lowe. To be fair to Lowe, he wields his Strat as well but gets little opportunity to shine when alongside the notable Mr E but when he does, he’s very good. Bringing up the rear physically, but in no way musically, is drummer Phil Beaver. There’s something of the pretty boy look to the band that might explain why there are so many adoring ladies in the audience. But they still have that hard edge – something for everyone.

As a look, there are huge hints of 80’s hair metal flamboyance about the band – hats and clothes reminiscent of the mullet era, and what are those comb-over epaulettes on Mr James jacket?  But there are all the good things of the 70’s and 80’s about the band too – great songs, musicianship and a showmanship that is genuine, not produced. This is a band clearly influenced by bands like Whitesnake, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin but with nuances reflecting the diversity of their background that makes the music their own. Tonight is their night to show what they can do, promoting their latest album, the imaginatively entitled Inglorious 2. I wonder what the next album will be called? Mind you, that didn’t do Led Zeppelin any harm did it. Can’t wait to see how well Inglorious 4 will be received. Inglorious 2 was made to be a traditional sounding rock album where the musicians all performed and recorded together in the same room. No click tracks, autotune or overdubs. Just raw talent and tight playing.

Entering the stage to the rather unusual choice of entry music that is the Grandstand theme tune, their opening track of the night, Read All About It, is the first of many from the new album. It’s a showcase of the hard rocking song that could be their calling card. Radio friendly rock it is (one of the Planet Rock playlist regulars) but never bland, this will get you dancing or rocking in equal measures. As Nathan demonstrates for the crowds delight. He’s got some moves up there. Breakaway has a classic 80’s metal feel to it, including obligatory wah pedal noodling, that Graham Bonnet might want to sing along to whilst High Flying Gypsy slows to a glorious chug. It has that epic, dramatic feel to it. Black Magic is another new track, that I wasn’t overly impressed with, but was generally well received. Making Me Pay has a slow blues groove feel to it that is very Whitesnake as is Change Is Coming, although with a more prominence of keyboards. Another great feeling solo from Eriksson too. Hell Or High Water is another track from the new album that will become a mainstay of the set for years to come (hopefully). A fast rock with a singalong chorus, it gets the blood pumping. Not sure if Inglorious are a moshing band but this song comes close. The drummer and bassist solo intro on Warning is somewhat different. The song is sex, drums and rock and roll, a slow twin guitar chug into fast rock with screaming vocals. On to the self titled Inglorious with it’s ‘end of the world’ intro riff and dual vocals with bassist Colin Parkinson. It felt like an epically long song that seemed to be much loved by the ladies…

The mood of the set changed dramatically as James took the opportunity to voice his own Chris Cornell tribute. With just Drew on acoustic guitar, he launched into a wonderful rendition of Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun. Prompting a heartfelt crowd sing along, it was very poignant. Probably the stand out moment of the night.

Continuing the acoustic break was a cover of Deep Purples Burn – another clear influence on the band. It was a great interpretation, slow but melodic, James strong voice accompanied by Andreas on acoustic lead, Drew on acoustic rhythm and Parkinson on Acoustic bass.

Back to electric with some punch in the face rock, Taking The Blame. I think they should. Following a well received announcement of an  October tour, they finished off the set with the popular Girl Got A Gun and High Class Woman.

The obligatory encore saw another new track, I Don’t Need Your Loving, aired – another Whitesnake sounding bluesy rock track. Followed by Andreas dreamy bluesy solo leading into what is arguably Inglorious most well know song, Holy Water. Finishing with Until I Die, they went out with a bang. And at their request, we made some fffing noise.

 

Inglorious are one of those lucky bands that have the talent, but also have the support of the likes of Planet Rock too. It’s tough for bands to make a name for themselves out there these days, despite the flourishing live music scene. But Inglorious have jumped on the jet propelled roller coaster and are heading for the heavens, like the flying god of thunder himself. It’s where their destiny lies. They are masters of their universe.


​Mother

Inglorious

Setlist

 

Read All About It

Breakaway

High Flying Gypsy

Black Magic

Making Me Pay

Change Is Coming

Hell or High Water

Warning

Inglorious

Black Hole Sun

  (Soundgarden cover)

  (Acoustic, tribute to Chris Cornell)

Burn

  (Deep Purple cover) (Acoustic)

Taking the Blame

Girl Got a Gun

High Class Woman

 

Encore:

I Don't Need Your Loving

Holy Water

Until I Die

Photos courtesy of The Wrinkly Rockers

Jack J Hutchinson

Set list

 

Wake Up

Boom

Jezebel

Love Is Gonna Bring You Home

Long Time Coming

Fight Fire With Fire

Loving Man

Get It Back

Too Much Too Soon

Aaron Keylock

Set List

 

Falling Again

Down

Medicine Man

Spin The Bottle

Just One Question

Ain’t That Kindness

All The Right Moves

That’s Not Me

Alabama Getaway

Sun’s Gonna Shine

Against The Grain

Aaron Keylock, Jack J Hutchinson

Black Heart, Camden

4th April 2017

 

Another night in Camden. Sounds like it should be a song title. This time it is at the delightfully named Black Heart, a pub that boasts ‘beer, booze and bands in no particular order.’ Serving a fine selection of ales downstairs, a small door at the back of the pub leads up a creaky staircase to a small Aladdin’s cave of musical wonder upstairs. Complete with a small bar of its own, the venue looks more like a subterranean basement than a first floor pied-a-terre with exposed brick walls, no windows and a dark, hot and sweaty environment. Ideal for dark, hot and sweaty music.

 

Tonight’s dark, hot sweatiness is provided by three acts. First up is artist Sea Foam Green, or Dave O’Grady from Dublin. A short set of solo acoustic songs opened the night with a gentle introduction. With music described as Americana/Psych/Folk it was an interesting range of songs.

 

Which lead very nicely to Jack J Hutchinson’s Boom Boom Brotherhood. Consisting of Frontman Jack J Hutchinson (vocals and guitar), Rick Baxendale (Bass), Jim Brazendale (Drums) they also had a special guest in Tom Brundage (Harp) all the way from the good old You Ess of Eh? Jack hails originally from Burnley but has lived for the last 4 years in the Camden neighbourhood making him the local lad (sort of). Jack is the bands chief songwriter with all the songs performed written by him. Sporting his trademark hat and unsuitably warm double denim – it was dark, hot and sweaty remember – Jack dragged some fantastically dirty blues from his Les Paul Tribute through a Marshall JCM 2000. The majority of the set was taken from his new album ‘Set Your Heart For The Sun’ – a nod to a certain Pink Floyd track. The record is featured in the March 2017 issue of Classic Rock Magazine. They described it as “Heavy blues of 70s vintage, revved up by memorable riffs and stunning harmony guitar.” And they are quite right to say so.

They are a tight trio, come quartet, but with a very relaxed demeanor. Friendly banter between tracks (and during the usual regular LP re-tunings) had the crowd very much at their ease and tapping their toes. The band clearly enjoys what they do. They have been regulars around the blues scene and are forming a sizeable following. Their sound is the heavier side of blues come rock with some fuzz filled riffs. Not sure if I should head-bang or cry into my bourbon.  Too Much Too Soon had some lovely swampy slide guitar and was an appropriately dark, hot and sweaty way to end the set. I’m purchasing that album for sure. Details at http://www.jackjhutchinsonmusic.com

 

 

 

‘Main Event’ of the night is the amazingly talented, and very young Aaron Keylock. Still only a teenager, the slightly built unassuming looking lad has exploded onto the scene and he exploded onto the stage to the rather unusual sound of jungle drums. With his long hair, playing style and Les Paul shaped guitar, he bares more than a passing resemblance to one James Page Esq. More of those guitars shortly. Having played with Blackberry Smoke, The Cadillac Three, Tracer, The Graveltones and The Answer and supported the likes of Joanne Shaw Taylor, Aaron has some pedigree to bring to the Camden Massif.

Tonight is about promoting and playing his new album Cut Against The Grain, written by himself and produced by Fabrizio Grossi. Opening number is the excellent Falling Again which has a really good groove although vocally Aaron took a while to warm into the track. He is still a work in progress vocally but that is not to say he can’t cut it, he can. I just feel that his voice will continue to improve.  Down is a great song - alternate fast picking and slow doomy sludge. Yeeha! Medicine man has Skynyrd overtones and a wonderful T-Rex style riff with slide on the side. Spin The Bottle provides a sing-along chorus with a nice heavy bass riff from Jordan Maycock behind a solid rhythm riff. Just One Question takes us back to a slow blues classic. Inspired by BB King, our almost feminine faced frontman produced some fine classic blues, somewhat unusual for a white teenage kid. Seems to be all the rage with the guitar playing youngsters these days though, I am glad to say.

Bringing the tempo back up was Ain’t That Kindness with another Chugger-Chugg rhythm and on to All The Right Moves which has an almost punky schoolboy irreverence about it. He’s good this lad.

That’s Not Me is followed by the swampy rocking Alabama Getaway. It’s another of the songs that changes style a couple of times with a good rock and roll beat, in the mode of Chuck Berry or George Thorogood, that got my toes tapping. Fred Astaire would have been proud of me.

Drummer Sonny Miller Greaves provided and extended drum intro into Sun’s Gonna Shine which again is a song which morphs from one style to another. Palm muting riffage becomes an almost funky boogie and then into a clap along song. All the while Aaron and Sonny are almost jamming with each other for fun. It was a real crowd pleaser. Closing out the set was the title track Cut Against The Grain, another fine slice of upbeat Southern slide allowing the double A to show off his fine playing skills.

You have to keep reminding yourself that the fella is still only young yet obviously has years of playing under those fingertips as well as some beautiful guitars. Speaking of which, the three axes played by the man tonight, through a Marshall 1987x head, are all custom built models by fellow Oxfordians TSR Guitars. Newest of the triumvirate of lutherian exquisitivity is a Tennessee Honey Les Paul which was played on the majority of the tracks. Beautiful work gentlemen.

As a piece of work, the album is very good and a credit to Mr K’s obvious talents. What will he produce next? Just keep it dark, hot and sweaty.

 

​Mother

 

Thunder

 

Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith

March 28th 2017

 

Thunder are one of those bands that have been far less commercially successful than they should have been. Which only goes to show that there is no justice in this world. From their early beginning in 1989, Thunder rose out of the ashes of Terraplane with their hugely successful debut album Back Street Symphony which earned them a slot on the 1990 Monsters of Rock festival at Donnington. But whilst following albums were successful, the band never got the mainstream attention that they deserved. Which is a shame because they are a class act. However, Thunder did build a loyal fanbase through constant album releases and touring which remain as steadfast and devoted today as any band could wish for. But through the years the mighty Thunder have announced more than once that their current tour would be their last. Thankfully they kept coming back for more.

Having seen the mighty Thunder many times before, the audience knew exactly what they were going to get and, as usual, they weren't disappointed. Going to see Thunder, no matter what the venue, feels like going to see your mates band playing in a local pub. It's a true party atmosphere. The audience all seem to know each other and, more importantly, lead man Danny Bowes interacts with the audience like they are old friends. Gone is the long hair and ripped jeans of yesteryear to be replaced with greying short hair. But Danny is as vibrant and active as ever. Less Daddy dancing and more Danny dancing, he skitters around the stage with all the exuberance and fun of a teenager. Makes everyone else feel young too.

The five bandmates were all dressed in black against a simple but highly effective lighting display. The usually excellent sound at the Eventim Apollo (or the 'Ammy Odeon' as we all really know it) was very muddy which is a shame as the boys are a great sounding band. Thunder is a singers band - Danny's voice is still as strong as it ever was even after nearly 30 years with many of their anthems being terrific singalong songs. Even the writer is known to warble a few bars within the privacy of his own car (thankfully for others a solo experience). As part of the crowd, every voice is lifted in joyous rapture conducted by the ebullient Mr Bowes. But that would also be doing a disservice to the rest of the band. Lefty lead guitarist Luke Morley has always been a favourite with some awesome traditional British rock solo's and great rock riffs. Thor isn't the god of Thunder, Luke is. But where was his trusty Les Paul? Has anyone seen it? Rhythm guitarist and keyboard player Ben Matthews thankfully played his beautiful black Les Paul so my guitar porn fix was satisfied there. Chris Childs provided the bass line with the charismatic Harry James (Arry, Arry, Arry…) sitting behind the tubs.

The set opened with the opening track of their new album Rip It Up followed by The Enemy Inside from this excellent album. It's one to add to your collection. This sets the scene for the rest of the night with the audience clapping, singing, screaming, jumping up and down as required. Or all of the above at the same time. Then into the Classic River of Pain with the singalong reaching new levels. More beer for my vocal chords please. And earplugs for anyone in earshot of me. Is Luke playing a Strat? Resurrection Day from their 2015 album Wonder Days was well received which shows that they aren't just about their classics although Backstreet Symphony gets a huge cheer as you would expect for the song that made Thunder the beloved band of us devotees. Luke, is that a Flying V? Still no Les Paul. Sigh.

Hit after hit followed with Danny's voice lighting up the dark whilst Luke electrified all - back on the Strat again. Every song has Danny leading the crowd in clapping, or waving or shouting. This is real interactive stuff folks - kids, put down those X-Boxes and come and see some real action. Don't Wait For Me is another of those songs that should carry a Tonsil Health Warning for those attempting to emulate Mr Bowes. What a voice. Luke playing acoustic guitar on Love Walked In. And then the set was brought to a close with the cow bell heralded I Love You More Than Rock And Roll. Every rock band needs a cow bell.

After a brief interlude the boys reappeared for a three track encore, but this time with the colourfully attired Lynn Jackaman who dueted with Danny on She Likes Cocaine. A great song, it's another reason to pick up the new album. I could have watched that played all night. Closing with the anthemic Dirty Love (what else?) the band sealed a fantastic night at their 'home venue' with photo's and a live Facebook feed. Not something these Monsters of Rock could have imagined all those years ago. And Luke played his Les Paul finally. Crisis over, I can sleep well now. Great songs, great times, I would never miss the opportunity to see them. Come back soon boys, I need another farewell Thunder tour t-shirt to add to the collection…

MOTHER

Setlist:

 

No One Gets Out Alive

The Enemy Inside

River of Pain

Resurrection Day

Right From the Start

Backstreet Symphony

Higher Ground

In Another Life

The Thing I Want

Don't Wait for Me

Rip It Up

Love Walked In

I Love You More Than Rock 'N' Roll

 

Encore:

She Likes the Cocaine

Dirty Love

Photo courtesy of Nicola Jane Reading

Photo courtesy of Nicola Jane Reading

Photo courtesy of Mariana Urbany

Devilskin

Sumo Cyco

Eva Plays Dead

 

The Underworld, Camden

Wednesday 22nd March 2017

 

An eventful night in the nations capital city saw yours truly back at the premier gig venue in Camden, the subterranean Underworld, to see a night of punk metal mayhem. Three bands from three separate continents, they all have a similar form. Sexily attired female fronted power backed by scary chugging punk dynamos. Real Beauty and the Beast stuff.

 

Openers Eva Plays Dead are British rock band from the Nottingham/Derby area. Fronted by boss-lady Tiggy Dockerty and her punk tinged vocals they quote Aerosmith, Black Flag and Heaven's Basement as their influences amongst others. I'm liking them already.

Prancing around stage like a demented Betty Boop, ironically wearing a 'Cute As' t-shirt, Tiggy is a great front of stage artist with attitude, wiggling what she's got, enticing the crowd, and with fine vocal skills too. Guitarist Matt Gascoyne played a fine game of pedal stamping as he ground out some great rock sounds on his Les Paul Standard and Fender Telecaster through a Marshall Amp whilst bass duties were skilfully discharged by Zach Shannon. Many bands like tio interract with their audience, especially at intimate venues like the Underworld. It's rare that the drummer, Seb Boyse in this instance, do so. I think this is the first time I have seen a drummer set up a small drum kit in the middle of the audience and play the final song Monogamy in the round surrounded by applauding fans. Great fun. Even more fun seeing him trying to get his kit back on stage afterwards.

Eva plays dead Setlist:

 

Colours

Spin

Wonderland

Get Back

Live Again

Bones

Monogamy

Sumo Cyco Setlist

 

Interceptor

Anti-Anthem

Sleep Tight

Go Go Go

Mercy

Cry Murder

The Ugly

Free yourself

Brave II

My Name Is Rock 'N' Roll

Crowd Control (Do What We Want)

Move Mountains

Fighter

Photos courtesy of John Bull @ www.Rockrpix.com

Sumo Cyco are a punk metal band from Toronto, Canada. Lead singer Sever (formerly solo artist: Skye Sweetnam) is an achingly pretty provocateur whose attire doesn't leave much to the imagination. The girl next door, if you live near Anne Summers. And who during the course of a hot and heavy night was in competition with the drummer to strip down to wear the least amount of clothing. Compulsive viewing that I can attest to. If you want to see who wins, go see them for yourself. Lead guitarist  Matt 'MD' Drake (Dodger) is an excellent musician, much unlike many punk bands, gleaning some fantastic sounds from his white triple humbucker Epiphone SG  through a Mesa Rectifier. And supporting with heavy bass tones is Ken Thor Corke on bass guitar.

Full of vigour, both Sever and Dodger whirl like dervishers on stage with 360 pirouettes only just avoiding each other like battling tops of old. This is good quality rock with a hard punk edge but with some catchy rhythms too. Hints of System of a Down and Black Label Society pervade. The crowd love them, Cry Murder is a clear crowd favourite.

Not to be outdone by Eva Plays Dead, Sever wades into the crowd on Dodgers shoulders to sing Mountains along with an audience warming even more to the Canadians. She then dismounts and urges the crowd to get down low on the floor with her then jump up for joy as she launches into Fighter. The set ends with her being lifted bodily by the crowd and carried back to the stage with every male hand only too eager to assist. Funny that. Great set. Great band.

Devilskin are back at the Underworld again - I saw them there last year with the excellent Skarlett Riot in support. Devilskin is a four-piece alternative metal band from Hamilton, New Zealand, formed in June 2010. And it would appear that at least half of the audience are fellow Kiwi's following their homeys around the globe. I would if I were a Kiwi. Fronted by the black leather clad Jennie Skulander, Jennie has a powerful voice that ranges from whispers to full bellowing roar. Yes she's beautiful ,yes she's dressed like a sexy dominatrix, but it's the voice you notice first.

Sporting red beards Nail (lead guitar) and Paul Martin (bass, backing vocals) provide the power and the melody behind the vocal delights of Skulander whilst Paul's son Nic Martin excels on the drums.

Nail, playing a Gibson Les Paul through twin Marshal JTM stacks, won fame in NZ playing lead for the popular Waikato band Chuganaut who won the NZ Battle of the Bands and the World Battle Of The Bands in 2004.

The set was excellent. Standing centre stage manipulating the audience JS works the adoring crowd. Ironically singing 'I will be dressed in black' whilst bedecked in nothing but black, her voice powerfully proclaimed the opening track to their latest album as another must listen to album. House 13 is proper metal riffing material with some great thumping drum beats - take a bow Martin Jnr. Voices is another release from their 2016 album Be Like The River with a more melodic edge that is a singalong classic in the making whilst Mountains shows the harder rapid firing beat. An interesting inclusion is their cover of Heart's Barracuda. Done Devilskin style, this is a great cover version of a great rock track. And if you like your singalong tracks, Until You Bleed is none too shabby.

The set was rounded off with the superb Little Pills - I am sure I will be reaching for mine to stop the pounding in my head. Although if it removes the smile from my face, I might just give them a miss. Devilskin are a class act and, for one night at least, Camden's Underworld was a little piece of Aotearoa. Can we have it back please?

MOTHER

Devilskin setlist:

 

Vessel

In Black

Start A Revolution

House 13

F.Y.I.

Voices

Limbs

Animal

Mountains

Barracuda

Until You Bleed

Never See The Light

Violation

 

Encore:

Little Pills

Photos courtesy of John Bull @ www.Rockrpix.com

Scar Of The Sun/Manimal/Firewind

The Underworld, Camden

19th February 2017

 

Camden, in North West London, is probably the premier place for live gig venues in the South of England.  An eclectic mix of markets, cuisines and live music venues like Koko, The Electric Ballroom, The Jazz Café and The Roundhouse, my favourite by far is The Underworld. Nestled under a fantastic pub, the World’s End – a great place to stop in for a pre gig beer – The Underworld is a subterranean dark and dingy world of live music heaven. With a capacity of around 300, it is a really intimate venue where you can stand at the edge of the stage just feet away from the bands and share in their perspiration. No photo pit and no small chance of getting electrocuted or trodden on by the band. Idyllic.

 

The Underworld has an impressive CV of bands who have played there through the years – including Anthrax, Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age and the Foo Fighters - and tonight’s addition the list of the poor and famous are Sweden’s power metal band Manimal, sandwiched between two Greek colossus. All three bands have that drama about their performance that is typically European. Or is it that European bands are less inhibited than us Brits?  It was to be a night of power metal riffary with a machine gun volley beat.

 

Openers Scar Of The Sun are a modern metal band, influenced by bands like Killswitch Engage. Although of Greek Origin, they formed in London in 2005, but still call the Peloponnese their home. Sporting twin Schecter 7 strings and utilising Axa FX amplification, they are a classic chugging power metal band. Their grand opening to a growing enthusiastic crowd saw frontman Terry Nikas appear sporting an unusual set of eye furniture that reminded me of the aquatic Abe Sapien from Hellboy. Not very metal I will grant you but he has the presence to set the tone for the evening with their opening track Among Waters And Giants.  This is their first tour in the UK although you wouldn’t know it. No nerves, just out and out enjoyment. There is some great twin guitar work from Alexi Charalampous and Greg Eleftheriou throughout the set, especially good on An Ill Fated Wonder, with lots of chugging down strokes at Spandau pace. And that includes Panagiotis Gatsopoulos on bass. His fingers will need some TLC in the morning. Tough bunch these Greeks. It was a good set, although the vocals could have been louder, but they left the stage to deserved applause. Just what an opening act should be.

 

 

 

Manimal are a Gothenburg-based band formed in 2001. All sporting face make up that gave them a leering skull like quality the 4 piece are fronted by the extremely charismatic Samuel Nyman. His high-pitched vocals are very similar to Rob Halford and the heavy, Judas Priest-like riffs clearly show the bands influences. And very good influences they are. But where Priest had the dual guitar joy of Tipton and Downing, axeman Henrik Stenroos is out on his own and there are times when he could do with a rhythm guitarist to add that extra layer. Although bassist  Kenny Boufadene does a damn good job of keeping the rhythm at full throttle whilst Stenroos applies his Gibson Flying V to the glorious sounding Engl amp. Completing the line-up, and looking scarier than Alice Cooper, is drummer André Holmqvist providing that 50 calibre tempo that will see my fillings being replaced next Tuesday. But holding centre stage, Manimal are all about  Nyman. He really works the crowd well with a scary leering skull like presence that has hints of Gollum, The Walking Dead and every Brooklyn punk with a bad attitude.  He’s animated, fist pumping, exhorting the crowd who were having a ball. All of which are eclipsed by his voice. Halford had the pipes and so does Nyman.  The set has the same chugging tempo with everything from throbbing djent to the almost funky bass opening of Human Nature. Although that doesn’t last long before the enfilade of machine gun fire opens up again. It’s a war in here. Psychopomp has some almost prog qualities about it with songs like The Dark feeling quite epic. But Manimal are animals at heart. Closing track, and crowd favourite, Irresistible sees Nyman take to the stage in the straight jacket that looks so right on him to escape to the final volley from a band that are both entertaining and energising. Add them to your bands to see.

 

 

 

After a five-year hiatus, Greek power metallers Firewind are back with a new Album and front man. And their fans are very pleased to see them again. Henning Basse rejoins on lead vocals as the band showcase their new album, Immortals, a concept album about the Battle of Thermopylae. How very Greek. Formed in 1998 by iconic lead guitarist Gus G (also axing for Ozzy Osbourne as well as his own solo projects) the band has seen a number of line-up changes over the years. The current line-up is Henning Basse – lead vocals, Gus G. – lead guitar and backing vocals, Petros Christodoulidis – bass and backing vocals, Bob Katsionis – keyboards, rhythm guitar and backing vocals and Johan Nunez – drums.

But the band for me is all about Gus G. An icon of the Jackson guitar brand he plays his own signature Gus G Star through Blackstar amps. Hi Octane, hi output metal guitar playing is his forte – this is the man who replaced Zak Wylde – and all the shred you would expect. His dual playing with Katsionis was exhilarating – with Katsionis swapping between his ESP and his keyboard with equal dexterity with hints of Iron Maiden about it. Great to see a keyboard/lead harmony or two.

Visually the band are as iconic metal as you can get. The hair, the leather, the studs. But they have a certain maniacal look that befits their passion.

The tracks from Immortals have that Epic feel about them that befits an album about the heroic stand of 300 Spartan soldiers against the invading Persian hordes. There is nothing Spartan about the sound though – full fat metal with all the trimmings. Chunky bass, screaming lyrics, blistering solo’s. I would like to use another machine gun analogy to describe the sound but that would seem odd for a band singing about sword wielding heroes of antiquity. But you get the picture. Interspersed were favourites like World On Fire and Tyranny and the encore and set finished with Falling To Pieces. But the night for Firewind is about the new album – and rightly so. It’s excellent.

So this was the story of 300 (ish) denim and leather clad fans trying to hold back the unstoppable wave of Firewind sound. Desperately they tried, with fists in the air, and heads banging, but ultimately they were overwhelmed, like the ancient Spartans. Glad to see the resurgence of the Helenic hurricane that is Firewind, the truly brave fans succumbed with joy. This was no Greek Tragedy. The gods must be smiling.

 

​Mother

Setlist - Scar Of The Sun

 

Among Waters And Giants

An Ill Fated Wonder

Versus The World

Ode To Failure

Sand

The Truth About Lies

Gravity

Set list – Manimal

 

Trapped

Shadows

The Dark

Darkest Room

Psychopomp

Human

Invincible

Irresistible

Set list:  Firewind

 

Ode to Leonidas

We Defy

Head Up High

Few Against Many

Between Heaven And Hell

Back On The Throne

Hands Of Time

Wars Of Ages

Lady Of 2000 Sorrows

World On Fire

Fire And Fury

Mercenary Man

Tyranny

 

Encore:

Live And Die By The Sword

Falling To Pieces

Where Fires Are

Setlist

 

Die Or Survive

I’m Here

Your Brother

Feels Right

I’ve Got The Time

Kill My Mind

You Are The Sun Part II

Where Fires Are

93 Feet East, London

15th February 2017

 

Spitalfields Market in the East End of London used to be a run-down working class area, home to the famous meat market. Then the Asian influx saw nearby Brick Lane, home of the curry house, bringing an eastern allure to the fringes of the old East End. Nowadays, it’s become the home of the young and trendy. Gone are the butchers and abattoirs, replaced with trendy market stalls and stands selling tofu and gluten free treats. Well heeled young beautiful people dine on Anatolian cuisine whilst eyeing the latest design of coiffure on show at Toni & Guys. But hidden amongst the back streets, in wafting distance of Brick Lane’s finest, is a growing number of live music venues like 93 Feet East, hosting the up and coming bands that are the future of today’s real music scene. Not the commercially produced pap that fills our supermarket aisles but real artists who write their songs from the heart and tour the country in small dark clubs to a growing following. The people outside may be young and trendy, but the music is as down and dirty as the old meat market ever was. I suggest you check the area out.

                                                            

There are four acts playing the typically dark and atmospheric venue. Openers Kryer start the night with Know Your Name – the first track of their first gig. And a fine start too. The five piece from London played a short 4 track set of original ‘Alt Rock’ material that was both heavy but melancholic, with the woes of young love being the overriding theme - you gotta sing about what makes you mad. They had a good if cathartic time to a small but appreciative audience.

 

Next up are Local 3 piece Knites playing to a sadly depleted auditorium. Doesn’t bother them though. I feel like I should go drag some of those beautiful people from their vegan hell in here to see what they are missing. Another young alt rock band (is that a keyboard shortcut?) the stripped sound of drums, bass and guitar still sounded full with vocalist Andy Cooper adding a melodic wailing that was in no way unpleasant and had elements of Thorn Yorke about his voice. Another great set, I would like to see this band progress further and expand their repertoire. Another young band that should go far. Let’s hope they do.

 

Kid Kapichi, a Hastings 4 piece bundle of loud, arrived and decided to crank up the decibels. A punkier sound and a punkier attitude, these boys have been endorsed by Sham 69’s Dave Parsons. I can see the link. Far more erudite than the ‘Ersham Boys’, Kid Kapichi have that assured swagger that fits a small backstreet club like the 93 East Feet so well. The seasiders track Ice Cream is typical of their sound – not sugary in any way, but certainly delicious. They are the sort of band you love to get drunk to. And then drunk with afterwards. Their short set was concluded with a doomier almost stoner sound but with no less attitude.

 

Billed as the headliners, Where Fires Are are a 5-piece band from Leeds consisting of frontman Robbie Gillespie, Nick Banks (Keys, synth), James Clegg (Bass), Matt Exton (Drums) and Ash Reynolds (Guitar). They have an edgy alt-rock feel to their music featuring big riffs and soaring melodies. Sporting body paint reminiscent of great aunt Boudicca, they are a colourful lot. Tattoo’s are sooooo yesterday. Twin guitars – a Tele and a Strat – pump out harsh guitar goodness through Marshall amps giving a metal edge to their northern rock. The sound is soothed by Banks keyboards to soften the sound yet retain it’s pleasingly hard edge. Vocalist Gillespie has a voice that alternates somewhere between growl and falsetto that fits perfectly with the power being pumped out behind him. A powerful sound often interspersed with lulls of almost quiet contemplation before the explosion of sound again assaults the lug holes. There’s almost a funky feel to the bass line of track I’m Here but no let up to the power of the song. Your Brother could almost be considered a ballad although only by the insane. Feels Right has hints of The Cure about it – a dancing bass line with Gillespies calling voice serenaded by a twanging guitar. But all the time there is that deep down grunt that makes you want to sway. Or is that the beer? The head nods as Gillespie brings the song to it’s crescendo. I’ve Got the Time, a track from their latest EP One Four Six One, sees Ash Reynolds provide additional vocals for a more melodic, but no less powerful slice of Yorkshire anthem. Kill My Mind is a stone cold piece of navel gazing that has the audience head shaking until the delicate keyboard break. The song then builds back up again to a further bout of body rocking that sees both band and audience lost in the music. The closing song, You Are The Sun, is apparently supposed to send us on our way in a delightful frame of mind. So says Mr G. It does indeed, in a soft sunny way, to begin with. But they soon rack up the volume to kick us out into the night like a swift boot up the arse.

 

Each of the four bands had short but enjoyable sets. This was a night to showcase new talent and it’s good to see the future of music has hope, has promise. Let’s hope that these promises are fulfilled. But the music industry today is a meat market for these up and coming bands. Literally.

 

Mother

Green Day

8th February 2017

The O2 Arena, London

Revolution Radio Tour

 

You would be forgiven for thinking of Green Day as a bunch of young aggressive upstarts writing anarchic teenage angst songs about a world that they don’t yet understand. Truth is, Green Day have been around for over 30 years now with an impressive catalogue of albums and hits. It would be better to describe them as a bunch of aggressive upstarts writing anarchic angst songs about a world that they do fully understand.

Their latest album, Revolution Radio, saw the Oakland/Berkley CA trio (all six of them…..) hit the stage at London’s O2 arena to a packed out audience on the latest leg of their world tour. And true to their lengthy legacy, the crowd was a pleasant mix of teenagers’ and their parents, both equally justified at seeing ‘their’ band, both equally excited. Many bands share fans across the generations – AC/DC and Alice Cooper are good examples - but not many create this sort of fervour as to which generation owns and loves them more. Supporting them were the appropriately named Interrupters, a punk/Ska band from Los Angeles who warmed the audience nicely with their lively set, reminiscent of the 80’s Ska bands like The Beat and The Specials but with a modern punky irreverence showing hints of bands like Zebrahead.  Audience participation was enjoyed by both band and fans setting the scene for a boisterous night.

Most bands like to make an entrance to some atmospheric music to build the crowd and set the scene for the set to come. Green day typically had three. Starting with Bohemian Rhapsody to loosen the crowds vocally – is there any better song? – The Ramones Blitzkrieg Bop got the moshers moshing and then the expectation levels, already high, were sent stratospheric by Ennio Moricone’s classic soundtrack from the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Nice work boys.

Now punk bands are all about the attitude. They don’t know how to play their instruments, nor do they care. They have something to say and want to say it loud.  Most grow old disgracefully and then discover that making adverts for butter is what matters and lose all their credibility. How can you have a responsible adult decrying the establishment when secretly they are an M&S card holder. Well Billie Joe, Mike and Tre do it and do it with all the conviction, venom and visceral attitude that younger punk bands often fail to create.

All the anger, the passion and the drive is there – this could be their first gig. Opening with Know Your Enemy, Green Day unleashed their sound on an audience that were revved up and ready to go. And go they did. Billie Joe is all about the crowd, constantly exhorting them to stand up, jump around, wave their arms, scream or just generally go crazy. Fairly common stuff you might say but you rarely see Dad’s out bopping their teenage daughters. And rarely do you ever see no-one giving a toss about it either.

The set was a lengthy one – two and a half hours including the encore, which all went with lightning speed. The set was sprinkled with a good mix of hits from albums past as well as the new material. Revolution Radio’s title track was a big hit with the audience. It’s great to see the new material being acclaimed as highly as the classics by the adoring crowd. So many new album tracks are politely applauded, rather than maniacally lauded. It must warm the bands hearts to know that their current music is as relevant as their hits of 20 years ago. These boys aren’t living off of their past, that’s for sure.

Favourite’s like Holiday really got the crowd jumping – even in the seats which is dangerous in the acutely angled nose bleeds that are the cheap seats. But that’s what punk is about – bugger the establishment and prepare my ambulance.

For three fella’s who have played a bit, they were as tight as you would expect. Tre Cool sitting behind his drum kit, with the occasional forays onto the stage proper, including his vocals for the opening of Shout, played the role of teen idol to perfection whilst still managing to do a bit of quality drumming. Many a teenage girl was carried out in a state of swoon. Or drunk – it’s hard to tell these days.

Mike Dirnt defies the dull methodical bass player stereotype by battering out some murderous bass riffs in a proper ‘fuck you’ stance whilst looking like a rock god. The swooning levels went up another notch. And Billie Joe Armstrong, the iconic front man jumped, strutted, skipped, and skittered around the stage like an angry 6th former who just got expelled for smoking, again. He worked the crowd all night. “Tonight is about freedom, man” he yells as he vents his anger at all the wrongs in the world. A self-confessed champion and founder member of all the freaks, the audience were all convinced he is still that angry young teenager. A great musician, he battered his much loved childhood guitar, bought for him by his mum when he was just 10. And played at every Green Day gig since too. He even added a little mouth organ melody to Scattered.

But it is as a crowd pleaser that he excels. As well as the sing-alongs and chanting, he invited members of the crowd onstage to participate with differing levels of success. From the clearly star-struck teenage girl who was too mesmerised by the audience to sing, to the little girl Rachel who was invited up to play guitar with Billie Joe, She was rewarded with being given the guitar for her troubles – nice touch Mr A. But gold medal goes to the Superman t-shirt wearing teenage fella who was invited to come up on stage and sing Longview. No shy retiring fella this one, he owned the stage, sang some pretty decent lyrics and then rejoined the crowd with a stage dive that justified his choice of t-shirt. Well done mate – you really entertained the crowds.

The evening went on with hit after hit. Quietly but expertly supporting in the background were the three unknown members – Jason White, Jeff Matika and Jason Freese - playing guitar keyboards and saxophone. The latter showed his true versatility with a medley of assorted hits starting with a well-received rendition of George Michael’s Careless Whisper, that was enthusiastically received with a slight melancholy joy. ‘That’s not f’ing punk’ bemoans my mate. No, it aint, but then Green Day aren’t just punk. They are great entertainers, anarchic punks, romantic balladeers - they have it all. Which probably explains their wide appeal. I felt it was fitting that the gig that started with such an angry and excitable opening, should finish with a couple of thoughtful numbers with just Billie Joe on an acoustic. Great sounds, great singing, great night. Can’t wait to see them again at Hyde Park in July.

Mother

Setlist

 

Bohemian Rhapsody

Blitzkrieg Bop

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

 

Know Your Enemy

Bang Bang

Revolution Radio

Holiday

Letterbomb

Boulevard of Broken Dreams

Longview

Youngblood

2000 Light Years Away

Hitchin' a Ride

When I Come Around

Waiting

Christie Road

Burnout

Scattered

Minority

Are We the Waiting

St. Jimmy

Knowledge (Operation Ivy cover)

Basket Case

She

Do You Wanna Dance (The Beach Boys cover)

King for a Day (w/ 'Careless Whisper' saxophone solo )

Shout / Always Look on the Bright Side of Life / Teenage Kicks / (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction / Hey Jude

Still Breathing

Forever Now

 

Encore:

 

American Idiot

Jesus of Suburbia

Ordinary World - Acoustic

Good Riddance (Time of Your Life) - Acoustic

Setlist

 

Black Sabbath

Fairies Wear Boots

Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes

After Forever

Into the Void

Snowblind

War Pigs

Behind the Wall of Sleep

N.I.B.

Rat Salad (preceded by riff medley, including Supernaut)

Tony Clufetos drum solo

Iron Man

Dirty Women

Children of the Grave

   

Encore:

Paranoid

Photos courtesy of the Wrinkly Rockers

Black Sabbath

London O2 – 29th January 2017

 

If ever there was a band that I would describe as my band from my youth it would be Black Sabbath. They were the band who I bought all the albums, read every sleeve cover and followed religiously. Until Ozzy left of course. Then they weren’t Black Sabbath any more. Now I love Dio era Sabbath but they just weren’t the same band. Over the years, the line up changed with members coming and going, with only Tony Iommi being the constant. But as the line ups changed, the music changed, and the golden era faded into the past.

And then 4 years ago, they were back! Well, three quarters of them at least. Drummer Bill Ward didn’t rejoin the reunion party citing financial differences apparently. There was also some question if he could thump the tubs the way he used to too.

The 13 album and subsequent tour showed that the band still had it. Older, but wiser, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler still had an incredibly tight partnership, they were tighter than a gnat’s chuff. With Tommy Clufetos providing superb drumming support and Ozzy tottering around the stage semi coherently, it was just like the old days.

But Tony has been having some serious health problems recently so the boys have decided it’s The End. Not the End of the Beginning. Just the End.

Taking to the stage for their final tour, the same four again showed why they are the masters of the music that they can rightly claim to have named their own. This stuff is heavy. And I mean HEAVY. Heavy metal it truly is.They may not be as young anymore but they still have the presence and the riffs to enthral. With a stage backline erupting great geysers of flame, we were lucky our heroes were not actually toasted on their farewell. Although I expect Mr Osborne wouldn’t have noticed in any event. Never a world class singer, he shambled around the stage imploring the fans to make some noise. But he is the voice of Sabbath and rightly so, The band launched into a set of back catalogue classics that would be fitting for any Greatest Hits album. Although there was limited banter with the audience, Ozzy did interact in his own way and rather poignantly dedicated Snowblind to Geoff Nichols, the ex-Sabbath keyboard player who had just passed away.

The main engine of the band purred like that of a classic sports car. Geezer Butler author of so many Sabbath classics, stood virtually immobile whilst his fingers moved with a blinding dexterity across the neck of his Aston Villa signature bass – we all have our crosses to bear. As indeed does the neck of Tony Iommi’s Gibson SG. A left handed guitar that is so worn that even the Gibson relic experts would have trouble copying it. Iommi, the other half of the main engine, and other prolific writer of the Sabbath almanac, is rightly hailed as a guitar hero. Long before Mr Hudson donned a top hat, Tony Iommi was writing and performing a collection of riffs that are still the staple diet of discerning music lovers today. No-one writes a riff like Tony Iommi. Doomy, sludge ridden powerful excerpts of pure evil. NIB, Children of the Grave, Iron Man, Paranoid. Most musicians would have been proud to have penned just one of those riffs. Tony Iommi owns the lot and many more.

Taking to the skins again was Tommy Clufetos. A powerful drummer who really does fit well with the band and the music. Given his opportunity to show his prowess during the  drum solo, for me it went on a little too long for my liking but he it did give the rest of our heroes a longer break to get their breath back and come back and hit us with more. The set finished with Children Of The Grave with a deluge of purple and black balloons dropping on the crowds below.

The all too short gig was soon brought to an end with the inevitable encore of Paranoid. A wildly applauding, and somewhat teary eyed crowd, watched their idols disappear off stage for the last time, whilst quietly hoping that they don’t fall into the trap of making comebacks as shadows of their former selves like some bands seem to do. Sabbath finished on a high, they finished well, Sabbath are great. Don’t let that memory get tarnished.

As I walked away from the venue that night, I reflected that a little part of my youth had died that night. But boy, what a way to go.

 

Mother 

Photos courtesy of John Bull @ www.Rockrpix.com

Set list

 

Dyin' to Know

Nothing to Lose

No Reason to Stay

Jump That Train

Diamonds in the Dirt

Tried, Tested & True

Watch 'em Burn

Time Has Come

Wanna Be My Lover

Ready to Roll

Wild Is the Wind (Johnny Mathis cover - dedicated to David Bowie)

Tied & Bound

 

Encore:

Going Home

Joanne Shaw Taylor

27.1.17 Shepherd's Bush Empire

 

I first saw Joanne Shaw Taylor play at my local club, the Beaverwood Club in Chiselhurst on her White Sugar tour in 2009. A spectacularly talented blues guitarist, this hard working Birmingham girl toured the pubs and clubs of the UK learning her trade as a professional musician, playing the screaming blues licks that emulated her idols such as Stevie Ray Vaughan. Here was one of the new generation of young blues guitarists, like Chantel McGregor and Samantha Fish, that were paving the way on the crest of the Joe Bonamassa wave of young blues talent.

And Joanne has an incredible voice to go along with her guitar skills. It’s smoky yet growling but never harsh. She has the power in songs like ‘Going Home’ to transcend the electricity crackling from her favoured Telecaster yet sultry and soothing in tracks like ‘Tried, Tested and True’. She is a real guitar genius with a talented singing voice.

A rising star, Joanne played to larger audiences at larger venues, supporting the likes of Joe Bonamassa and making the festival scene with the backing of people like the Planet Rock team. And she moved from Birmingham to Detroit and Memphis where she further honed her talents.

So a cold wintry night saw her revisit the Shepherds Bush empire to promote her new album Wild.

Ably supporting her were fellow Brummies Broken Witt Rebels. A busy bunch of lads, they supported King King in December 2016 as well as playing a number of gigs of their own. Their set was far too short with only half a dozen tracks showcasing their musical skills, but a well-crafted set it was with blues, rock and even soul influences.

With her latest album Wild breaking the top 20 in the album chart, Joanne took to the stage this time with three backing musicians – a nod to the direction her music has been taking. Oliver Perry, sat behind a plexi screen that was reminiscent of the chicken wire protection provided to the Blues Brothers during their ‘Good Old Boys’ charade, provided a solid beat. Don’t worry, no beer bottles were hurled in his direction. Perry has been with JST for some years now as the touring drummer and really knows his stuff. New bassist Luigi Cassanova provided a steady bassline with an impressive dreadlocked appearance and Drew Wynan provided skilled rhythm guitar and keyboards. Less of a stripped down blues act, more a rounded musical ensemble.

Wild is Joanne’s 5th studio album and was produced in Nashville by Kevin Shirley. The tracks on the album are well produced and show a movement in her career more towards the song writing and singing prowess and less towards her guitar skills. Don’t get me wrong, the dexterity of the vibratomatrix is still evident as she hammers on and pulls off with aplomb. But the focus seems to be the vocals. And that seemed to come across live too. I was all too conscious of the backing keyboards or rhythm guitar where I would usually be transfixed by the searing lead playing. The sound levels were fine, it just felt like the lead had fallen into the overall mix. To me, JST is a supreme guitar player who can sing beautifully. But the set was still fantastic. As part of her evolution, Joanne has added Gibson Les Paul’s to her arsenal and boy does she get the best out of them. There is nothing finer than watching her disappear into a rapturous world of her own, lost in the moment of playing amazing blues solos that would make even her idle SRV applaud along with the rest of us. In the early days, she would have covered an SRV or Hendrix track, much to our delight, but with a growing catalogue of her own, we are lucky if we get to hear our favourite JST track, let alone any covers. There was no special guest this tour either. I wondered if Bernie Marsden might appear again. Or Bonamassa. Or Clapton or Jeff Beck. With JST’s skills, anything is possible.

The soloing on ‘Time Has Come’ was extraordinary. The contrast with the almost gentle cover of Johnny Mathis ‘Wild is the wind’, dedicated to David Bowie was notable. Both great performances but showed the diversity of the set. The night was another great performance from a truly talented artist. The hard playing SRV wannabe has been transformed into the smooth, polished, confident act of today. Is JST now a singer who plays guitar rather than a guitarist who sings? No, I don’t think so. She may have lost a bit of that raw edge we love when the pick starts to dance around the frets but we still remain devoted to our Brummie girl made good.

Mother

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