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Islington Assembly Hall, London
18th December 2019
Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the city
The people were partying, though the weather was shitty
The Guinness was drunk, plus Bushmills and beer
In the hopes that a good gig would bring us some cheer
Clement Clarke Moore doesn’t have much to fear there does he. Anyway, it is the week before Christmas and what better way to enjoy the festive season than with some classic live music, very appropriate for the time of year, in one of London’s best live venues. The Grade II listed building is very reminiscent of an old school assembly hall with art deco features and a stage flanked with large red velvet curtains. Memories of old school disco’s come to mind. But with a modern sound system and plentiful bars. And like tonight’s music, is a great combination of old and new.
The new boys in town are the appropriately named Novatines, a young four piece from Bath comprising of Jamie Beale, Tom Cory, Callum Moloney and Tom Turner. It’s no accident that they are here as Sweet’s Andy Scott produced their debut album. Vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Beale fronts the band sporting a retro looking red Charvel played through a Fender amp whilst Cory sports a Gibson Les Paul through a Marshall. So retro rock then. Callum takes drums and Tom bass, and a lovely looking Flying V bass it is too. And thoughtfully Tom has wrapped his bass amp up in Christmas wrapping paper. How festive. Dressed in Hawaiian shirts, beards and flowing locks, the boys could be 70’s throwbacks or 2017 hipsters. Either way they nail that Zeppelin Grunge mix with rocking guitar, harmonies, and an intent to party. Tracks include Joy Ride – dedicated to their van which broke down on the way to the venue – Hate, Love, their first single, and Never Enough, a slow rock track full of attitude. Their new single, Come Alive, is an upbeat radio friendly rocker whilst closer Silver Screen is a slow starter than smoulders into life as a hot rocker. A good set from an up and coming band that is doing the touring circuit and getting the attention of both Classic Rock magazines ‘High Hopes’ Feature and Planet Rock magazines.
So on to the other end of the spectrum. If you are of a certain age, you will have danced to this lot at school discos and office parties over five different decades. Hailing from that unflatteringly named Glam Rock Era, headliners Sweet are a band of the 70’s who are more well known for glitter and spandex that for the quality rock music that they created. Which is a shame because bands like Slade and Sweet produced some of the best iconic rock yet will be remembered more for their pop hits.
The current line-up is a five piece. I say current because over 50 years the band has seen many line-up changes. As well as founding member Andy Scott on guitar and vocals, there is Bruce Bisland on drums, Pete Lincoln on bass and vocals, Tony OʼHora on guitar, keys and vocals and new boy Paul Manzi on lead vocals. I say new boy, the ex Cats In Space and Arena frontman has been around a while and has an ongoing role in Frontm3n but has been depping as lead vocalist for the Sweet 2019 tour. Bruce has been playing with the Sweet since 1991, and Pete has been a regular member since 2006 although he is a jobbing musician, composer and frontman for 70’s pop band Sailor. Tony joined in 2003 but it’s the equally white haired Scott that keeps the Sweet name alive. His long white hair is real – ‘do you think I would buy a wig that looks like this?’ he quips – as is his less than svelte figure. But what do you expect of a septuagenarian? Sporting a Strat through a Marshal amp, the power of the guitar riff shines. Andy has had a lot of practice making some simplistic guitar riffs sound remarkably sophisticated. This isn’t cerebral music theory; this is simple but hugely engaging three chord fun. Entering the stage to Still Got The Rock, the band launch into one of their many chart songs, Action. Andy and Tony swap riffs and create harmonies whilst Paul shows what a good choice he was to fill the shoes of previous Sweet vocalists - Brian Connolly and Paul Day. And Pete Lincoln too. Before taking the bass Pete was vocalist with Sweet and he does a fine job of lead vocals on New York Groove which nicely morphs into the Alicia Keys cover of New York. Talented bunch these fellas.
The notch goes up a little further with the raucous Hell Raiser, which has the crowd dancing and singing like they did all those years ago. It’s another of those classic Sweet tracks that is instantly recognisable and outrageously catchy. Burn On The Flame gives Tony a chance to show off his guitar skills on his exquisite custom made Nemesis guitar twinning with Andy’s Strat for some fine guitar harmonies. But it’s the singalong pop rock like The Sixteens, Wig Wam Bam and Little Willy that really captures the festive feel-good factor. I’m back in the seventies again with my flares and my acrylic jumpers… It’s one of those sets that you sing along to every song. The lyrics aren’t going to win any literary prizes but who cares? Wig-wam bam sham-a-lam, Wam bam bam sham-a-lam. Very profound. They don’t write them like that anymore.
There’s the sixties style rock and roll that is Peppermint Twist and 80’s style metal with Set Me Free which could be a Judas Priest or Iron Maiden cover. The crowd chanter Teenage Rampage (We want The Sweet, We want The Sweet…) And of Course Love Is Like Oxygen, the late seventies pop classic – all keyboard and falsettos – which includes an excellent section of ELP’s Fanfare For The Common Man ably played by O’Hara. What a treat. Signing off with Fox On The Run they return for the mightiest of encores and staples of every partygoers repertoire – Blockbuster and The Ballroom Blitz. Blockbuster was the Sweet’s only UK number 1 but is probably eclipsed by the Blitz, the finest air guitar track in the land, as the track of the night. The crowd dance and roar – the zimmers get a real battering. As the final chords of the Blitz die away, Scott takes a pair of scissors to the strings of his Strat as an almost symbolic end to a great show. Many an event are opened by a pair of scissors cutting a ribbon. Not many end that way.
So what do we say about tonight. One end of the age spectrum to the other. Openers Novatines bring youth and energy and new music. Headliners Sweet bring skills, experience and a damn fine back catalogue of tunes that have serenaded a part of our lives from yesteryear. You can’t make memories like these. You live a Sweet gig rather than experience it. It’s a nostalgic euphoria. Man of the night is Andy Scott, the architect of much of the Sweet back catalogue. Resplendent in his long white hair, and jovial midriff, he reminds me of a certain gentleman seen around this time of year. And, in the words of CC Moore, he leaves us with a festive fairwell:
‘He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"
The Sweet setlist
Intro (Still Got The Rock)
New York Groove (Hello cover) (included New York (Alicia Keys cover))
Burn on the Flame
The Six Teens
Peppermint Twist (Joey Dee & The Starliters cover)
Turn It Down
Set Me Free
Love Is Like Oxygen / Fanfare for the Common Man
Fox on the Run
The Ballroom Blitz
A Thousand Horses
229 The Venue, London
19th November 2019
229 The venue is a strange sort of place for a gig. From the outside, it looks like you are queuing to get into a central London block of flats or office unit. Hidden around the side of this innocuous looking block is a simple unadorned entranceway into an underground music lair that is both surprising and pleasing in equal measures. Launched in 2007, 229 has two venues with capacities of 620 and 160 respectively, and has hosted the likes of Kings of Leon, Paul Weller, Florence and the Machine, Biffy Clyro and Seasick Steve amongst others. Tonight’s headliners were due to play the smaller venue but had to change to the larger due to demand. So that bodes well. Let’s see what the evening brings.
The first thing that strikes you about the venue is the stage. It’s a good size stage, well lit and well furnished, but the fact that it is over 5ft higher than the audience gives it an imposing presence and, most importantly, gives everyone in the room an excellent view of the performers. Add to this good lighting and sound and you can rate this place highly. Opening act is Howard Rose, originally from the Midlands, who stands alone in the middle of the stage, dressed in black double denim, sporting an acoustic guitar. His long hair and beard mark him out as a folk style singer but this would be to diminish his range. His short set is folk, country, blues and more. He quotes his influences as Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and St Vincent. Hardly pigeonhole stuff.
The venue is only half full but the crowd are a noisy bunch so at first it is difficult to block out their incessant chatter and hear the delicious tones from both Rose and his acoustic. He sings and plays at delightfully low volume giving his voice a gentle and thoughtful feel that deserves a silent auditorium. Not that this phases him as he soldiers on to those who become engrossed in his performance. Hangover Song is a slow country style track but the more upbeat Until You’re Mine starts to raise the volume. Borderline is a working man’s country song whilst The Prospector is soulful and sad. ‘I’m tired of being neglected…’ he sings. Well not tonight he’s not as the crowd grows and warms to his simple guitar style and thoughtful vocals. Thinking About You is Rose thoughts about trying to be a better person and is another minimalist number that attracts great applause from the crowd. Going Down Here is a stronger rockier number and closer A List Of The Things I Aint is probably his strongest vocal performance of the set.
Photos courtesy of John Bull at Rockrpix.com
Based in Nashville, TN, A Thousand Horses is Michael Hobby (vocals), Bill Satcher (guitar), Zach Brown (guitar) and Graham DeLoach (bass). Since their debut, the band has toured extensively across the world including dates supporting artists such as Jason Aldean, Darius Rucker, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gregg Allman and more. And their sound suitably reflects this with a Southern rock edge to a country sound. Entering to the strains of AC/DC’s Are You Ready and Lizzys Boys Are Back In Town, any fears of an evening of gingham shirts and hoedowns are quickly dispelled. Frontman Michael Hobby is a tall, well built fella in a large broad brimmed hat that makes him look the modern day cowboy whilst the rest of the band look more like hipsters. The usual fourpiece are supplemented tonight with a drummer and keyboardist/fiddle player so the stage is slightly crowded. With the stage being the height it is, Hobby towers over the audience, making his ability to connect with the whole audience that much easier. And the room has filled up nicely too.
Opening track First Time allows Satcher to set the rocking level with his gold top Les Paul through Vox and Fender amps. Accompanying him on a beautiful gold SG is Zach Brown, a combination of sounds that many hard rock bands swear by. But the country influence remains strong throughout. Trailer Trashed is by contrast a more minimalist number, with Satcher switching to a Telecaster to bring that country twang to a very Skynyrd like number. With drums to the fore, Hobby makes use of his considerable frame to add some strong vocals. To which he adds an acoustic guitar for Broken Heartland, a song that would sound good in a Springsteen set. Think blue collar country rock.
The boys have just finished their latest album Livin’ My Best Life, produced by Grammy Award winning producer Dave Cobb. Broken Heartland is one trwck from the new album and Drinking Song is another. They may not thank me for mentioning Nickleback but the slide ridden track definitely had that vibe. ‘Everybody loves a drinking song’ claims Hobby so they follow it up with Tennessee Whisky from their 2015 Southernality album. This is a slow southern number with some extremely atmospheric fiddle playing that the crowd sang along to with gusto.
Carry me sees Hobby lose the acoustic and Satcher reclaim the Les Paul as the rockometer rises once more. This isSouthern rock and roll with keys, twin guitar harmonics and a fine solo from Satcher. Back to the new album and the title track brings us another acoustic guitar singalong that had me thinking of Copperhead Road. It has that radio friendly feel and was well received. Sunday Morning, from their first album, had a strong key influence, reflecting the church where the song was written whilst Preaching To The Choir has a slowgroove intro into a chugging country number that had the arms waving along. Define Me, another new track slowed things down with Satchers Tele dripping with vibrato. The slow groove sees Hobby give a powerful vocal performance whilst Satchers solo is short but sublime. Another new track that was well received.
Burn Like Willie brings the fun element back with a dirty slide and thumping bass. More rocky bur it makes you want to dance though. Theres a short drum solo break allowing for a brief crowd chant before they launch into My time. Champion. Another slow chanting song, drum heavy with vocal echo and Tele solo.
They close with Southernality, a Les Paul rocker with slide which encapsulates all Southern traits. Fiddle. Crowd singing. Twin guitars. Marvellous.
Returning for their encore, to raptous applause they launch into their 2015 hit Smoke. With acoustic guitar and fiddle to start, I'm thinking Poisons Every Rose Has It's Thorn and it soon morphs into a full rowd singalong power ballad. Raise those lighters and wave those hands. Every Time You Love Me by contrast is soulful and moody whilst closer Travelin man is an upbeat crowd chantinger with harrmonica, machine gun drumming and plenty of guitar goodness. It morphs into staccato rocking and harmonica, dosey doh and a slow groove ending. What a way to finish.
A great nights entertainment at another fine music venue. A Thousand Horses were clearly right to switch their solitary UK date to the larger stage as a clearly devoted fanbase helped fill the lovely venue with atmosphere and joy. The band clearly enjoyed themselves too. A band of many influences, and much talent, I can see why they are adored. I'm feeling the love myself. Check them out.
Hard Rock Hell 13 day 1
Vauxhall Holiday Park
13 years on and Hard Rock Hell is underway again at a new venue but with a familiar routine. So is it unlucky 13 or a bakers dozen of delight? Well tonight's opening night has been a huge disappointment as the usually slick HRH organisation have dropped the ball in a number of ways. HRH are veterans of organising large music festivals at premier holiday camps. The basics needed are large stages with good sound, plenty of bars well stocked and staffed, decent accommodation and sufficient eateries and ancillaries like WiFi etc. And probably in that order of priority. All were present in last year's North Wales venue although getting there was always an ordeal.
Getting to Great Yarmouth is infinitely easier to get to and the facilities and accommodation is as good as ever. The bars are plentiful, well stocked and amply staffed. Sadly, the stages and sound have hugely failed. The format is for two stages with stage 1 being the home for the headline acts and stage 2 for the up and coming acts. As per usual everything is on stage 1 for the opening night and immediately the problems are evident. The stage 1 is too small, badly organised and with poor sound. The stage is set at floor level due to the very low ceiling and a seated only VIP section has been put centre stage in front of all. The results are chaos. And due to the restrictions of the venue, it's difficult to see how this can be improved. With more punters and bigger acts on day 2, it will be interesting to see what happens.
So to the bands. After the brief but excellent opening ceremony performed by the absorbing Area 51 troupe, openers Liberty Lies are a last minute replacement. The Black Country band are in the style of Biffy Clyro and QOTSA with a slightly Prog tinge to a Classic Rock sound. Like all the bands, they struggled to work the room with it's peculiar set up but were full of enthusiasm and joy which transmitted to the already full auditorium. Showcasing tracks from their forthcoming album 'It's The Hope That Kills You', the 5 piece were a great way to start the day.
Next up are Killcode, the New York based 5 piece, who describe their sound as Southern infused Rock/Metal. Frontman and founding member Tom Morrissey shows more of a Rap Metal vibe, with his smart short hair and shades, than a Southern Rock Metal band. But it's a cool vibe. Their song 'Cool Kids' sums up their performance. Lots of audience interaction - "I say Kill, you say code" - and plenty of grooving from the corralled crowd. They close with a cover of Twisted Sisters 'You Can't Stop Rock And Roll', a nice touch as Dee Snider was due to headline the stage tonight but unfortunately had to cancel due to ill health.
Next up are Tequila Mockingbyrd, a much changed line up consisting of members of TM and The Amorrettes. This time the female quartet included a male bassist, but Jacinta Jaye and Josie O'Toole have been consistent members of both bands. The brand of drink themed Rock music remains although they are talking about reinventing themselves. A shame if they lose their excellent Rock and Roll vibe. Their new single sounds something like an Irish sea shanty. But the short set was still full of the feel-good Rock tracks like 'Somebody Put Something In My Drink' and closing favorite 'I Smell Rock And Roll'. Great stuff.
Act of the night were Cloven Hoof. The veteran NWOBHM 5 piece hailing from the Midlands sound exactly like what they are. Iron Maiden and Judas Priest are both bands that spring to mind. Marshall amps and Gibson LTD guitars, strong wailing vocals, black leather and pentagrams. It's classic yet still fresh. Frontman George Call struts a la Dickinson/Halford in front of hugely powerful sound. It's just a shame that the arena didn't showcase either the sound or the show in it's best light. But a great set well received. Electric Mary are an Australian 5 piece with influences from Deep Purple to John Lennon. Their short set was as eclectic and entertaining.
Headline act are Reef, last minute stand ins after the late cancellation by Dee Snider. The bearded rockers were complemented with Duran Duran's Andy Taylor, notably clean shaven. The funky rockers had a more Stoner Rock feel to their set. Now into their 26th year, the funky band famous for their 1997 hit 'Place Your Hands', have evolved into a more rounded rocking act with frontman Gary Stringer and bassist Jack Bessant being the consistent factor throughout. 2018 saw them release their first new album since 2000 but the various projects in between have paid dividends. Regular festival appearances have honed their live skills since which are evident tonight. The set gets a warm reception from the appreciated audience with tracks including 'Precious Metal', 'Revalation', 'Place Your Hands' and 'Summer's In Bloom' before closing 'Yet Old'. A final encore of a cover of The Faces 'Stay With Me' closes an excellent set.
So day 1 ends with a musical flourish but a raft of vitriol on social media by some seriously upset regular punters. It's a shame because the unusually poor organisation has completely overshadowed the great acts. Let's see if the HRH team listen and act. Hopefully day 2 will see some changes.
HRH13 Day 2
So have the HRH generals taken note and made some changes to the stage 1 set up? The slightly delayed access to the venue suggests so, so we anticipate a new dawn as we queue in the damp morning. Sadly the HRH generals have maintained their tactical doctrine and thrown us into the same trench warfare as yesterday i.e. nothing has changed. Somewhat apt on Rememberence weekend. Still, let's crack on shall we.
Today's format is the traditional two stages affair with the headline acts on stage 1 and the newer acts on stage 2. As there is little difference in size between the two, it makes the switch between the two less obvious. Although the layout of the arenas makes transition between the two difficult. Consequently I saw very little of stage 2. So somewhat anchored in stage 1 for the day I anticipated another rerun of day 1. Openers Twister were winners of the Highway to Hell competition, set up by HRH to promote Rock and Metal bands who write their own material. Having won a 5 year worldwide record contract for 2 albums, the 4 piece from Durham get to open the main stage. Kudos to HRH - they're not all bad.
The darkened stage erupts to the sound of three drums battering away as two kettle drums accompany the full drum kit. All very tribal. The band kicks in proper to some excellent Rock licks. Frontman Stevie Stoker sports a two tone look with his white hair, Les Paul and white Marshall amps contrasting nicely with the regular black Rock ensembles. The band are Rock but make use of guitar effects, especially delay and reverb, giving them and edgy U2 vibe (sorry, terrible pun). The crowd are already quite large and yesterday's issues are still blatantly evident but Twister rise above it all and produce an excellent enthusiastic opening set. The sound in stage 1 is still remarkably variable depending on where you stand and the VIP seating at the front still causes logistical and atmospheric issues but already today feels better. Maybe it's excellent ales.
Next up is Beth Blade & The Beautiful Disaster, a Cardiff based 4 piece fronted by the eponymous power house. She has that powerful female lead vocalist thing that are making bands like Halestorm such a popular force in current Rock music. Behind Beth's strong vocals are some squealing guitar licks with some heavy fuzz added. Unless that is down to the vagaries of the stage 1 sound. With Beth also on guitar we get some excellent guitar harmonies and stand out track 'Jack and Coke' gives us a punchy Rock groove. A great sounding band that again notches up the level a little further.
When it comes to ratcheting, things go up a whole other level with the entrance of Those Damn Crows. And not only that, but they change the whole festival. The now packed arena - many of whom have come just to see them - now becomes a cauldron of excitement. The VIP bastion of good behavior becomes a sea of ebullience that washed away the issues of day 1 and makes everyone friends again. The Welsh 5 piece have been making a big impact on the live music scene with their big Rocking sound. The Les Paul through Orange amp sound has graced, and wowed, Download, Ramblin' Man and Steelhouse festivals amongst others. It's heavy but Melodic Rock in the vein of Foo Fighters, Zep and Aerosmith, all influences on the Bridgend boys. Frontman Shane Greenhall is hugely charismatic with his Welsh patois a joy between some strong vocals performances. 'I Don't Give A Damn, Say What You Want' as a song sums up their excellent set that included excellent tracks like 'Set In Stone' and 'The Fighter'. But it was closer 'Rock n Roll Ain't Dead', with a dash of 'Pinball Wizard', that summed up an excellent performance. Possible band of the weekend for me, these fellas have been the turning point. They are touring next year and I definitely will be there.
Praying Mantis hail from the NWOBHM era but are a more Melodic Prog offering. Their more restrained performance saw a slightly smaller audience enjoy the twin harmony of Les Pauls through Marshall amps, accompanying the equally joyous vocal harmonies. The Troy brothers celebrate 45 years of Rocking and their tight sound reflect this as well as covering Skynyrd's 'Simple Man', their own tracks including 'Highway', 'Letting Go' and closer 'Children Of The Earth' are well received.
I manage to navigate my way briefly to stage 2 to enjoy some of the newer acts. The stage is similar in size to stage 1, but without the infamous VIP gladiatorial pit, with an excellent atmosphere although the sound was a little fuzzy. The energetic Black Tree Vultures were performing a great set to a packed crowd. It's where I usually like to spend time, watching the up and coming talent, but today I have to make my way back to stage 1 pretty promptly if I want to watch the headline acts in a place where I can at least see or hear them. Or preferably both.
Wayward Sons are up next, and Toby Jepson's !atest vehicle. And a fast driving vehicle it is. And loud too. The volume notably cranks upwards as Sam Woods Les Paul screams into life, whilst the tall blonde fella grins like a Cheshire housewife. Sorry, Cheshire cat. After getting the sound levels sorted - it was heavy on keys - the smooth machine shifts up through the gears. Jepson is in his element, behind his Gibson hollowbody, bantering with the crowd, and singing vocals with all the assurance of a man at one with his music. When, after declaring his thirst under the hot lights, and a punter delivers him a cold beer, he jokes that it's a perk of being a Rock legend when his bandmates don't get any. But it's in all humility and all in fun. It epitomises the friendly feel good factor that permeates the now Rocking arena. With a set list that includes old and new - 'Ghost', 'Little White Lies', 'The Truth Ain't What It Used To Be' and 'Crush', with a touch of Blondie's 'Union City Blues' - it's another cracking set. The boys are touring with Steel Panther next year. That will be a gig not to miss.
Penultimate band on stage 1 are the fabulous Gun. All dressed in black, the Glaswegian rockers are another seasoned, professional, tight and frankly just brilliant five piece. The Gizzi brothers - Dante on vocals and Jools on guitar - are just damn cool. Dante's infectious smile is picked up by the now rammed audience and his banter, in that broad Clydeside accent, is so easy on the ear. Not something you often hear said about the Glaswegian drawl. The tempo and the temperature soar as hit after hit are poured out from their forthcoming greatest hits album. Hits like 'Don't Say It's Over', 'Welcome To The Real World' and 'Steal Your Fire' showcasing over 30 years of Rocking. Another regular of the festival scene, their superb set is only marred by some VIP based altercation that sees Dante visibility upset by the unnecessary fracas. As a Glaswegian, you don't need to see your home sport on your travels. He's a man of loving life and tonight we all loved it with him. Well, most of us anyway.
Now Buckcherry, and lead singer Josh Todd especially, are a band that could clearly do with a little more love in their life. Whereas Gun exude warmth and comfort in their Rock, Buckcherry are altogether more edgy. You aren't sure what you are going to get when the LA rockers hit the stage. The opening couple of tracks see a few technical glitches including Todd's in ear monitors. The band look edgy, the crowd feel uneasy as Todd has that look of one about to throw his toys out of his perambulator. But the man is used to dealing with crap - just read his lyrics - and with the Gremlins duly dealt with, things really kick into gear. The pent up crowd now joyously release their energy in a torrent of highly colourful lyrics about predominantly drink, drugs and sex. And as the audience comes alive so does Todd. His wavering voice is discarded alongside his headscarf and leather jacket to leave the heavily tattooed singer bearing his chest and his soul. The voice gets stronger as does the set with classics like 'Lit Up', 'Too Drunk To Fuck' and 'Sorry' rubbing shoulders with newer material. The crowd love it. When it comes towards the end of the set, Josh asks what track the audience want to end with, some bright spark yells out 'Footloose', the Kenny Loggins dance track. Which the boys immediately launch into much to the delight of all who join in. Made a good job of it too, showing there is a lighter side to them. Of course what we really wanted was 'Crazy Bitch,' the non-PC sing-along we just love, which was served up with all the crowd interaction and a slice of 'Proud Mary' and 'Jungle Fever' on the side. Awesome. Add to that the band actually returned for an encore - not something they make a habit of - with their adult version of Icona Pops 'I Don't Care, I Love It'. Even more awesome. What a great end to a great night.
So day 2 ends on a high and the fears of day 1 appear to have receded. The venue still needs some work, the sound has improved but the VIP area has to go. Bet it won't though. But the HRH vibe is up and running. Roll on day 3.
HRH 13 Day 3
And so begins day 3, the final day of HRH 13. And let me say from the off that I am happy to eat my words, as contrary to my cynical predictions at the end of day 2, the HRH generals have listened, learned and acted. Kudos to them. At the preplanned meeting of the HRH inner sanctum, known as The Dark Circle (no magic tricks were harmed in the making of this presentation), members were given their regular chance to discuss and provide feedback. Sources tell me good things - the HRH generals listen and provide positive feedback, including some proposed additional improvements for next year over the fixes they want to make at this year's event. Knowing commander in chief Jonny, he will be good to his word.
Stage 2 opens first where we are pulverised by Pulverize. Don't say we weren't warned. The Leeds based Rap Metal band, front a male and female vocal line up who scream the Be Jesus out of us and each other. Brutal stuff that has me applauding with my hands over my ears. I wouldn't recommend you try that. Again, I would have liked to have stayed for more of stage 2 but the ability to switch between the stages is awkward so I opt for another day on stage 1. It's a shame as there are some excellent acts on stage 2. Special mention to my local outfit Stonewire who rocked the place. So to stage 1 and the changes made by the HRH team are subtle but a big improvement. The VIP area has been rejigged to provide standing at the front with the seating at the sides. Still no photo pit and I'm sure those forced to be seated weren't happy, so there is still work to do. But the atmosphere, and sound, has definitely benefited.
Openers on stage 2 are a Polish 5 piece called Chemia, who are somewhat Rock royalty in their home town of Warsaw. They have performed alongside some big names. Their name means Chemistry and is a nod to their experimental musical nature. As a result, their sound covers every aspect of Rock - Melodic, Prog, Punk and Classic. The sound is a fine mix of Les Paul and Telecaster which switches ably from Rock to Blues to Hardcore. Frontman Luke Drapala does a fine job of injecting excitement into the slightly jaded audience - did I mention the fine ales? With the new arena set up, the crowd soon come to life. It's hard not to find something you like in this varied set. Their short set ended with an anthemic 'Gotta Gotta Love Me' which is a classic live Rock song that we all joined in on.
Next up, and clearly back to the 80's Metal theme are Melbourne's Ablaze. This is not an AC/DC clone, rather a collection of every 80's Metal standard - long hair, cowboy boots, squealing guitars and whisky drinking. The latter were included if you were lucky enough to be at the front barrier as the bottle was handed around during the introduction of the band members. Both Ben Anderson and Matt Dynon sport Ibanez guitars, which even my non-guitar geek friend admired, and create some fine Van Halen sounding stuff. They are almost formulaic in their Australian hard drinking, no thinking, Rock till you drop approach to music. But that has negative connotations, which it really shouldn't - these boys are good. Not that they give a damn, they are just having a good time and are happy for you to join in. So we do. Tracks included 'No Chaser', from their 2018 first album of the same name, 'The Hard Way' and 'Pick Your Poison'. Alcohol fuelled fun all the way and the day is yet young.
And now the day takes a rather bizarre twist as the somewhat unusual Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction take to the stage. Although, to be honest, the frontman 'Zodiac Mindwarp' himself did appear to be somewhere else. His body had turned up but his mind appeared to have gone to another place, possibly assisted in some way .... What followed was a set of Psychedelic shenanigans that was really guitarist Cobalt Stargazer (I don't think that's his real name) playing some blistering licks whilst ZM's body came and went whilst muttering what I presume were lyrics.
No stranger to controversy, some of those more audible mutterings were somewhat questionable. So I left them doing a unique cover of Thin Lizzy's 'The Rocker' to fight my way to stage 2 to see the 3 piece Brighton riff rockers, The Rocket Dolls. These boys have been putting the hours in recently - I saw them at Ramblin' Man - and are due to release their third studio album shortly - thanks in no small way to their fans who crowdfunded it. We are treated to 'The Grip' and title track 'The Art Of Disconnect' as part of their set. Worth a listen, we may be seeing these guys playing bigger stages before long.
Diamond Head have seen many a large stage. Today, however, they are squeezed onto the main stage, which only just accommodates them. Another alumni of the NWOBHM academy, their honest and open Rock sound has been emulated and covered by many. Their set is another mix of old and new as classics like 'Lightning To The Nations' and 'It's Electric' rub shoulders with new tracks like 'Messenger' and 'The Belly Of The Beast' from their forthcoming album 'The Coffin Train'. But its closing classic 'Am I Evil', with its stirring intro and epic range that epitomises why Tatler and the boys are still making great music for over 40 years.
Penultimate act, and truly an icon, is German songstress and iron maiden, Doro. It is no stretch to call the blonde bombshell the queen of Heavy Metal. Dressed to seduce in classic black leather and studs, the most notable thing of Doro's look is not the glamour, the Rock outfit or the dark eye make up, it's the warm smile and total enthusiasm. We are watching an artist who really knows her game. The lyrics won't win any awards, its typical fist pumping stuff with repetition and chanting the name of the game. She exhorts the crowd to raise their fists, in her Teutonic lilt, which the gladly do. It would be like pantomime if it wasn't so Shakespearean. 'Night Of The Warlock' is a theatrical masterpiece. There are a number of Warlock tracks, Doro's 80's band including 'I Rule The Ruins', 'Burning The Witches' and 'Fight For Rock', as well as modern tracks like 'Soldier Of Metal', the closest we get to a ballad. Taken from her latest album 'Forever Warriors/Forever United', it soon turns into a headbanging frenzy. After a cover of Judas Priest's 'Breaking The Law', she closes with the chanting extravaganza 'All We Are'. But before she can exit the stage HRH, C-in-C Jonny appears to present her with the HRH Angel Of Rock award, much to the delight of everyone. She truly is an angel of Rock. So we get an added bonus of 'Warlocks East Meets West' from her as a bonus track before she is finally teased away from her fans. Its difficult who adores who most, Doro or the fans. Mutual admiration.
And so to the final act of the weekend. Michael Monroe is quite simply amazing. A quiet shy character off stage, once he hits the stage he is an explosive bundle of energy that does not stop from the first minute until the last. Looking like a cross between Keith Richards and Goldie Hawn, the blonde bombshell has a large dose of Iggy Pop in there too. And a sprinkling of Stephen Tyler. If that isn't a winning mix then nothing is. With guitarists Rich Jones and Steve Conte we get two distinct sounds that go to make up the Michael Monroe vibe. Jones sports a hollowbody through a Fender amp giving us a Rock and Roll vibe whilst Conte's white Les Paul through the Blackstar amp smacks of the Sex Pistols Steve Jones rig and Punk sound. Put them together and you have an explosive but catchy mix. Bassist Sam Yaffa has been a constant companion of Monroe from his early Hanoi Rocks days through the Demolition 23 days, so we are treated to a setlist including tracks from all previous incarnations.
Monroe just doesn't stop. Jumping, singing, dancing and grinning. And he loves a prop. When he isn't waving a fan, a baton, a light wand or a bright red top hat, he is making shapes with his mike stand, twirling it like a cheerleaders baton, and on more than the odd occasion, putting it through the unusually low ceiling. But his frenetic stage presence is most heartily felt when perching precariously on the barriers, held aloft by his adoring fans, whilst he dutifully drips sweat upon his faithful human pedestals. He grins like he is on the strongest of narcotics, although we know the fantastic Finn is clean as a wolf's whistle. And his smile is so infectious. He only stops when playing his beloved red saxophone on tracks like 'Last Train To Tokyo' or 'Harmonica'. Tracks from the new 'One Man Gang' are showcased - 'Junk Planet' being a cracking example. But for me, down the front getting plastered with perspiration, its tracks like '78' and 'Trick Of The Wrist' from his 2011 'Sensory Overdrive' album that really hit the spot. Its happy time. After a brief break we get a three song encore finishing with a Stooges classic 'I Feel Alright' and then he is gone. Like a whirlwind he has swept all in his path and left them wondering exactly what happened. Michael Monroe happened.
And so another Hard Rock Hell has reached its conclusion. Its been a tough couple of days for the HRH team, putting in long hours and working their fingers to the bone. There are things to change and issues to deal with but there is no doubt that HRH13 has been a success. And we can trust the HRH team to make things even better next year. But we have to remember all the excellence of the last three days. The staff have been amazing, security friendly and beers first rate. Accomodation is fine - no sleeping in a tent in a muddy tent for us - and most importantly, the bands have been pretty damn good. Coupled with the familiar faces, old and new, its been a friendly few days - maybe excepting out fighting VIP's. So the HRH troops will be marching back to Norfolk again next year, they have already responded to the HRH clarion call. Ugly Kid Joe, Skid Row,The Wildhearts and Phil Campbell are just some of the names confirmed which has resulted in HRH 14 having nearly sold out already. Next year, everyone will be a VIP. Very Impressed Punters. Rock on.
Michael Monroe setlist
(Navajo Joe By Ennio Morricone)
One Man Gang
Last Train to Tokyo
The Pitfalls of Being an Outsider
Not Faking It (Nazareth cover)
Ballad of the Lower East Side
Old King's Road
Black Ties and Red Tape
Motorvatin' (Hanoi Rocks song)
This Ain't No Love Song
Don't You Ever Leave Me (Hanoi Rocks song)
Malibu Beach Nightmare (Hanoi Rocks song)
Up Around the Bend (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)
Dead Jail Or Rock & Roll
Nothin's Alright (Demolition 23. song)
Hammersmith Palais (Demolition 23. song)
I Feel Alright (The Stooges cover
Helvetica Light is an easy to read font, with tall and narrow letters, that works well on almost every site.
O2 Forum, Kentish Town, London
September 14th 2019
Wouldn't it be great if four of your favourite bands chose to do a gig in one of your favourite venues on a warm summer Saturday night. And then go to that gig with your regular gigging mates and drink a few beers and just get lost in the vibe of a great night out. Well that is what is happening tonight. A quartet of quite quintessentially quality acts to leave us quivering and quaking whilst quaffing ales without qualms. Sorry - my alliteration button got stuck. Lets crack on shall we.
With four bands on the menu, we have an early start with the ever evolving Tequila Mockingbyrd first up. The current incarnation is a mix up of the original TM line up and The Amorettes who merged recently. Tonight we are also blessed with Sam Wood on lead guitar from Wayward Sons and Ben Chalker on Bass standing in . And they give us a short set of rocking goodness, a mix of Mockingbyrd and Amorette staples, which nicely warms the slowly filling arena. The sound is classic Les Paul through Marshall amps - a combination that is consistent throughout the evening - with vocalist and guitarist Gill Montgomery sporting a battered JHS Vintage Les Paul - a favourite guitar brand of mine used by headliners The Quireboys. Geek moment over.
Josie O'Toole, the sole remaining member of the Tbyrds, sits behind the drumkit, head down, hair flying defying her diminutive stature to provide a huge sonic presence. Their short set includes tracks like Jagerbomb and Everything I Learned (I Learned From Rock And Roll) but it's closing track I Smell Rock N Roll that gets the best reaction from a swelling crowd. 'Wow. Just wow.' to quote them.
Tequila Mockingbyrd setlist
Never Go Home
Enjoy the Ride
Let the Neighbours Call the Cops
(The Amorettes cover)
Somebody Put Something in My Drink
Everything I Learned (I Learned From Rock and Roll) (The Amorettes cover)
I Smell Rock N Roll
Photos courtesy of The Wrinkly Rockers
Next up are Massive, the four piece Aussie rockers, who have been 'drinkin beers and smashing ears since 2012'. Massive’s lead singer Brad Marr is anything but, although his voice surely is. The hard drinking frontman totes the filthiest white Gibson SG, which squeals with trademark Aussie rock pedigree, whilst emitting a quite remarkably powerful and versatile voice. On more than one occasion during the short set Marr holds an endless and perfect note that suggests the lungs in his chest possibly extend as far down as his ever moving feet. The Marr duck walk highlights that, under the power and the glory, Massive are a rock and roll band. With classic rock and roll we get classic drumstick twirling from Andrew Greentree and a novel sight of all three guitarists, including bassist Tommy Sunset, playing their guitars behind their heads. The now full auditorium lapped up the good time feel and loudly applauded the band who had driven all night from supporting Phil Campbell in Germany the previous night and were off to play the Raismes festival in France the following night. They quote their home town as 'The tour van' on their website. Nuff said. Marr shows his drinking prowess by playing one handed whilst downing a pint with the other. As he quips when introducing the band, but mostly introducing himself, ‘It’s all about me’. That’s not strictly true as guitarist Ben Laguda is a force to be reckoned with. And whilst his guitar isn’t a home for bubonic plague like Marr’s, both guitars are notable for having untrimmed strings sprouting out of their headstocks like a middle aged man’s ear hair. Petty I know but once seen, you can’t unsee it. I guess that’s because Massive are so rock and roll they don’t conform to the rules. Or maybe they have been so damn busy they haven’t had the time. Tracks include Dancefloor which really isn’t something you dance to – you devastate a mosh pit to it. And Generation Riot from their new album Rebuild Destroy which has an almost Motorhead vibe to it. Closer Long Time Coming is also from the new album and shows why this hard working band are becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Blood Money Blues
One by One
Long Time Coming
London's Pig Iron are a completely different cafetiere of cod. Where Massive are fun and frolics, Pig Iron are a kick in the bollocks. The four piece have an indefinitely more doomy sound to them although with vocalist Johnny Ogle frequently playing accompaniment on Harmonica, Rich Groom's thundering Les Paul riffs are given a slight southern edge, with just a touch of Deliverance about it. Hugh Gilmour is the huge cowboy hatted bassist playing the obligatory matching Rickenbacker and Joe Smith manages to survive on the drumkit. Its a sharp contrast to Massive but enjoyable nonetheless. I have listened many times to their Blues + Power = Destiny album and Lord Kill the Pain from The Law and the Road Are One EP is a favourite so to hear it played live as a closer to another short set was a real treat.
Pig Iron setlist
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
Ruler of Tomorrow
Wildcat Bird Head
Lord Kill the Pain
Guns 'N' Ammo
What can you say about the Quireboys that does them justice. A band that always features in my top ten of music choices, the lads are tonight celebrating 35 years since the release of their defining album A Bit Of What You Fancy. And we are getting to hear that album in its entirety along with a number of their later classics. As they enter the stage, the screen above them crackles to life with the 80's sound track to Top Of The Pops and Yewtree-free DJ Gary Davies announcing their slot on the show that heralded their coming to the public's attention. The gypsy styled troubadours, dressed in suits and scarves, launch into the first of many favourites, Hey You. The now packed audience, including the VIP elite seated upstairs, launch into the form for the evening of rocking and singing along with gusto. After the heaviness of Pig Iron, we are back to the feel good fun factor as front man Spike takes his usual tipsy stance centre stage, sporting his trademark headscarf and buttonhole flower. He is just the same character as he was back on that BBC stage although a little older and his voice is not pushed as hard as it once was. But it still has the power or the softness as the song dictates, and is still full of the cheeky Geordie charm. There is constant good natured banter between Spike and lead guitarist Guy Griffin, as well as the rest of the band, with the audience often included. We almost felt like the 7th member of the band.
Guitarists Paul Guerin and Guy Griffin both sport those afore mentioned beautiful Vintage Guitars – Guy often using a T-type when not sporting a Les Paul - whilst Dave McCluskeys drumkit is festooned with fairy lights that somehow seems so in keeping with The Quireboys vibe. With Nick Mailing on bass and Keith Weir on keys the line-up is complete. And whilst mentioning Mr Weir, it is important to note how much his honky tonk keys contribute to the feel good rock and roll sound that is the Quireboys. Tonight’s sound is ok although gets a little muddy at times but with the crowd singing, and the rocking in full swing, it doesn't detract from what is one of the best sets I have seen the boys play. Not so much from the quality of the performance, which is a given, but from the setlist. It's the entirety of their greatest album FFS! Sorry, slipped in an acronym there, must be the excitement. You know it's a top set when 7 O'clock is played mid set. Ordinarily I make copious notes whilst reviewing gigs but the 90 minutes just flew by as I got lost in my favourite songs so my pencil remained unlicked. Check out the set list for full details but suffice it to say it was hit after hit great songs that left my voice sounding like Spike does on a good day - Bonny Tyler and Rod Stewarts love child on Marlborough Reds. Spike’s ongoing banter with the crowd was as natural as a chat down the pub – we all raise our glasses with him on every possible occasion. Between every song virtually. The clearly adoring fans are enraptured by what is the Quireboys firing on all cylinders and showing their very best. You could even describe it as emotional, although the bands sense of fun would never let anything get too heavy. As an encore we all get invited to a sex party - its not just part of the VIP package - before they finish with Mayfair, their very first single from 1987. And a couple of confetti cannons to send us on our way. They are the canines cajones.
So five hours after entering the Forum, we all file out again, a little more tired, a little more deaf and a lot more happy. This is rock and roll - it says so on my Quireboys t-shirt. As I head home I try to think up some detailed explanation of how good the night was so I can put these words together. I try and think of some short sentence or saying that sums up great music, great bonhomie, great fun. Should I go to some ridiculously long alliteration with every word I can think of starting with the letter Q? Why bother, when its summed up nicely in one word. Quireboys. This IS rock and roll.
The Quireboys setlist
There She Goes Again
Roses & Rings
Man on the Loose
Take Me Home
Sweet Mary Ann
I Don't Love You Anymore
Long Time Comin'
Mona Lisa Smiled
Seven Deadly Sins
Original Black Eyed Son
This Is Rock 'N' Roll
Photos courtesy of John Bull at Rockrpix.com
Ramblin' Man 2019
Mote Park, Maidstone
19th - 21st July 2019
So Day three is much the same format as day two – 4 stages and a smorgasbord of musicality throughout the day although today the Outlaw/Country stage becomes the Blues stage and the Prog stage becomes the Grooverider stage. Gotta love the range of music on display this weekend. Again, it’s a day of moving between the stages, torn between which act to watch and which to miss. And there are some tough choices to make. So whilst Friday started with a back in black theme, we finish with a full colour display from blue to gold to orange – the complete spectrum. And with the hot yellow sun shining down on us today it’s going to be a bright day in every sense.
Opening up on the Rising stage are local Kent band Salvation Jayne, a young 4 piece – Dan (bass), Holly (Guitar), Chess (vocals) and Tor (drums) - bringing a young punk pop vibe to our day. Holly’s tele has a heavy fuzz element giving opening track Cortez a heavy vibe. Chess vocals have tinges of Alanis Morrissete, a singer she admires, and is very pleasing on the ear. Their short set is a great way to start the day and perfectly showcases the young fresh talent on display on this excellent little stage.
Dropping over to the Grooverider stage, located in a hot, dark, sweaty circus tent, we get the first of many stoner come sludgy rock ensembles. Blind River rock the already full tent with some heavy stoner riffs, although they would probably classify themselves more as classic rock. Frontman Harry Armstrong screams out the vocals with more balls than Newton’s Cradle and the Les Paul/Orange Amp combination shakes the earth to the core. Music you really do feel. I love it.
Back at the Rising stage we see what are probably the find of the weekend. Piston are a British five piece rock n’ roll engine made up of four members from the midlands greased with a vocal roar from the south. Rob Angelico (vocals) is one of those dark, broody, long haired good looking fellows that makes us mere mortals self deprecate to excess, especially when he flaunts his considerable singing talents. Guitarist Jack Edwards sports a beautiful Gretsch White Falcon (apparently inspired by Bill Duffy) through a modern Kemper modelling amp whilst fellow six stringer Luke Allatt takes the more traditional Fender/Vox approach. With Stuart Egan on Bass and Brad Newlands on Drums the line up is complete. Fun and Fire in equal measures, this is a fist pumping, chest beating forty minutes of rock joy. They get a lot of love from the crowd who chant along and cheer with gusto. Their own tracks – Rainmaker, One More Day and Leave If You Dare are awesome but it is their closing cover of CCR’s Proud Mary, rocked up to feck, that has me beaming and screaming along with them. What a great band. Keep an eye on this lot.
And now to the other end of the spectrum. Over on the larger Blues stage we find the diminutive bluestress Chantel McGregor. Normally I wouldn’t choose to see an artist at a festival who I have seen many times before but I know that Chantel always produces the goods. With only a bassist and drummer to accompany her, the little northern lass is positively lost in the cavernous blues stage looking all meek and mild in her red summer frock and little girl curls. Until she unleashes her white Music Man, with some screaming rock blues, with opening track Take The Power and turns into a right rocking demon. Now the stage is filled to bursting with Hendrix inspired power blues and her powerful and beautiful singing. And boy is it loud. This is an outdoor stage but the sound echo’s back off of the north downs hilltops. Her 40 minute set blisters the ears as she rips it up in front of a very appreciative crowd. Great stuff.
Back in the Grooverider tent, things are really hotting up. Pennsylvanian hard/funk rockers Crobot are raising the mercury and raising hell. Although ordinarily a two piece - Brandon Yeagley on Lead Vocals and Chris Bishop on Telecaster and Orange amps – they tour as a 4 piece. Their brand of rock suits the stage name perfectly with Yeagley, resplendent in a sparkly reflective waistcoat, high kicking his way around the small stage whilst Bishop quietly gets on with the business of breaking your face with his chugging riffs. The heat is unbearable, the sound is unbeatable. Time for a cooling beer and back to the cooler (in every sense) Rising stage to see the end of the set by The 109’s. Not all of the bands on the Rising stage are young upstart whippersnappers. There’s room for all ages here you know.
Suitably refreshed, it’s off to the Main stage for a little Planet Rock sponsored action. Inglorious – or Nathan James and his new line up – perform a class act three years on from opening the same Main stage. It may be a different line up, and a slightly different sound, but it’s still all about Nathan James and his incredible voice. Although take nothing away from the other 5 members – great musicians all. The short set includes a number of radio friendly classics that has the crowd singing along with James, although never able to match his presence, including tracks like Taking The Blame, Holy Water, and the final Until I Die. The latter being restarted when microphone trouble caused a minor crisis before the placated James finally provided the closing number to the standard that the crowd had come to expect.
The Main stage became a place to hang out for a while as we are treated to an interesting set from the Chris Robinson Brotherhood playing some good old Californian blues rock in a beach bum style. The ex Black Crowes frontman, with his old battered Strat, Plays a short set of Brotherhoods tracks like The Chauffer’s Daughter although sadly none of the classic Black Crowes numbers. All whilst being watched over by a large plastic owl on his amp. Every rock star should have one. Of course, this standard of music on the main stage surely can’t last. And it doesn’t. It gets even better.
Airbourne are a band that have divided opinion being seen as a ‘poor man’s’ AC/DC. But what the hell is wrong with that? I have seen them many times before and have some Airbourne themed stories to tell my grandchildren that would make them wail. But I have no grandchildren so those stories remain untold. For now. Taking the stage to the soundtrack of the Terminator movies, the crowd are about to get John Connored by brothers Joel and Ryan O’Keefe. It’s classic Aussie Gibson Explorers through Marshall stack rock. Opening with the ever popular and appropriate Ready To Rock the boys launch into their familiar high octane high energy rock set. The crowd has reached it’s maximum capacity and is getting down with every scream. It’s a familiar set with familiar antics – but none the worse for being familiar. Good rock doesn’t get stale. Fun remains fun. Joel takes to the audience for a tour of the crowd, on the shoulders of a security guard, during the rocking Girl’s In Black whilst many members of the other main acts are watching from the wings. That says so much about the popularity of a band when other big names take the time to watch and enjoy the gig. During Heartbreaker we get a mosh pit going – which at Ramblin’ Man is a rare sight indeed. And It’s All For Rock ‘n’ Roll is dedicated to the one and only Lemmy. So Joel wheels out a mobile ‘Lemmy’s Bar’ on stage and pours out Jack and Coke’s which he hands out to the audience. Then rocks on with aplomb. There are some tech problems with his guitar but no fuss here.... Drummer Ryan decides that drumming needs something different. So introduces an air raid siren to the mix. Which he gleefully winds up to a frenzy before Joel kicks in from the top of the Marshall stacks into Live It Up. He then proceeds to throw beers to the crowd – ‘Lets be like the English cricket team and catch these’ he shouts to everyone’s joy. They close with their anthemic Runnin’ Wild, with a few bars of Let There Be Rock thrown in for good measure, to leave the howling crowd wanting more.
Before the finale on the main stage. I dropped in to catch the last act on the Grooverider stage – Orange Goblin. If any one band personified what the Grooverider stage is all about it’s this lot. Fronted by the behemoth that is Ben Ward, you don’t so much watch their set as survive it. It’s hot and heavy – brutal is too nice a word for it. Ward bullies, cajoles and endears the fans in equal measure to make sure they have a damn good time at the expense of any unnecessary niceties. This is uncompromising stoner rock, doing what they do brilliantly, with a single digit shown to the rest of the world. This is the sort of band that makes live music live, best seen in hot sweaty underground venues. Guitarist Joe Hoare (JJH) may be diminutive in comparison to the beanstalk topping frontman, but his huge guitar sound is absolutely killer. Gibson SG through a Marshall in case you were wondering. And he is a seriously good player to boot. Ward tends to steal the limelight – and rightfully so as he is a full force of nature not easily ignored – but JJH would stand up on his own as a focus for any band. The set is excellent and also puts the band up as contenders for act of the weekend. I have seen them before and will make sure I see them again.
So back to the main stage for the headline act, Foreigner. Now I would like to be able to give you a full review of their set but their management decided that all ‘media types’ should be corralled away from the stage and not be allowed access for the first six songs. So I can only assume that they didn’t want the band to be reviewed which is a shame as their set went down very well apparently. The set was a collection of some of their classic rock hits and was notable in that there were many members of the band, both past and present, who took to the stage together to relive the 40 years of songs that they have in their repertoire. A number of the members have had health issues recently, including founding guitarist Mick Jones, so It was good to see them up on stage and producing the goods for their adoring fans.
So once again, we wend our way homewards from another successful Ramblin’ Man festival (sorry, fair…). It has been another triumph for the organisers. The organisation, sound, security etc has all been excellent. Such nice people to be with and the whole event has a lovely, happy, laid back feel to it. The big festivals seem to be getting bigger and more unwieldy but Ramblin’ Man manages to keep everything on a calmer level whilst still retaining the big festival atmosphere. There is beer and food aplenty, all the stages are within easy reach of each other, and the choice and quality of music is everything you could ask for. Many of the bands will be touring in the coming months and some of the bands showcasing on the Rising stage are going to be the bands you will be going to see headlining your local venue in the near future. So do yourself a favour next year. Come down to a park in Maidstone and see for yourself what all the fuss is about. Bring some colour into your life.
SUNDAY 21st July 2019
Main Stage Blues Stage
20:45-22:15 – Foreigner 19:15-20:45 – Beth Hart
19:00-20:00 – Airbourne 17:30-18:30 – Everlast
17:15-18:15 – Chris Robinson Brotherhood 15:50-16:45 – Richie Kotzen
15:50-16:35 – Inglorious 14:35-15:15 – Chantel McGregor
14:30-15:10 – Living Colour 13:25-14:00 – Elles Bailey
13:10-13:55 – Austin Gold 12:25-13:00 – Sweet Crisis
Grooverider Stage The Rising Stage
19:15-20:45 – Orange Goblin 18:00-18:45 – The Fallen State
17:30-18:30 – The Obsessed 17:00-17:35 – Matt Mitchell & The Coldhearts
15:50-16:45 – Crobot 16:10-16:40 – The 109s
14:35-15:15 – Steak 15:20-15:50 – Gin Annie
13:25-13:55 – King Creature 14:30-15:00 – Little Red Kings
12:30-13:00 – Blind River 13:25-13:55 – Piston
12:35-13:05 – Salvation Jayne
Ramblin' Man 2019
Mote Park, Maidstone
19th - 21st July 2019
Day 2 at Ramblin' Man sees a different kind of day. We now have 4 stages of music to enjoy and today is a day full of glorious sunshine. Yes! The four stages are The Rising Stage where up and coming acts get their chance to shine. The Prog In The Park stage which showcases the more thoughtful side of the genre. The Outlaw Country Stage where apparently Country music has not been outlawed. And the main Planet Rock Stage. All are sufficiently close to each other to allow a perambulation between each via the assorted retail, food and fine ale establishments. So that is what i will do. It's a day to soak up the sun, the ale and the wide range of music.
But before i do i get the 'luxury' of being 'allowed' into the VIP suite to watch a short acoustic set by the fabulous Bad Touch. The five piece are no stranger to festivals, or Ramblin' Man, having been working the circuits for years. Today's short set strips away their electric sound to show their blues rock in a more laid back style although with no less excitement. Vocalist Stevie Westwood doesn't seem to get phased by anything so opening day to of a major festival is just another day for him and the band. They are writing more songs at the moment so expect a new album in the spring next year. If it's as good as their last album - Shake A Leg - it will be worth a listen.
So the rest of the day is a whirl of sounds and styles that satisfies all four corners of my music needs. There are so many to mention that i can only mention the highlights. Deep breath, here goes...
Raveneye open the main stage with some awesome chugging rock. Whilst only a three piece band, they make some big sounds with Oli Brown on lead and vocals, bassist Aaron Spiers and drummer Adam Breeze. Highlight was their track You're A Lie which sees the chugging rock sound carried solely by Spiers and Breeze. Big dirty sound. Meanwhile, over on the Outlaw stage Willie and the Bandits are putting down some funky grooves. Think early ZZ Top.
Outlaw Orchestra open the Rising stage with a whole heap of fun. With a Double bass, guitar and banjo, the 4 piece dosie-doh the crowd who thoroughly enjoyed them. Nice dirty guitar work helped too so the toe tapping got noisier as the large crowd got larger. I do like the Rising stage. Many of the acts on the Main stage this year were on the Rising stage not so long ago. Like Wayward Sons for instance. Toby Jepsons current troupe take to the main stage with a black dress/white instrument combo. Toby opts for a white Flying V rather than his usual hollowbody. Because he wants to rock. Good choice Mr J. As Black As Sin is an apt choice of song and a great rock track too. Wayward Sons are another band that will headline this stage hopefully so their short set was over far too quickly for me.
Back at the Rising stage we see another band that are going places - and all of them good. Collateral - previously known as the Angelo Tristan Band - are fronted by charismatic singer Angelo Tristan. Well i never. Looking like the love child of Steve Tyler and Jack Sparrow, Tristan and his band of rock and rollers look like they would fit comfortably into the main stage. As it is, the four piece showed their talent by making their way to the Rising stage by winning a 40 band competition. Guitarist Todd Winger plays a Jackson guitar through Orange amps giving the band an almost metal sound although they are clearly rockers. Ones to watch.
OTIS, hailing from the same Kentucky town as Black Stone Cherry give us some awesome Southern rock groove on the Outlaw stage but i am drawn away all too quickly to watch Ugly Kid Joe on the main stage. The California band have been around since the 8o's and have that genre defying sound that is rock, hard rock, funk metal and heavy metal. Or are they skater punk? They certainly dress that way. Except the drummer that is I know it's hot but stick man Zac Morris chooses to wear nothing but a pair of short tight luminous green shorts. I think the ladies enjoyed it. Frontman Whitfield Crane is a legend and does a legendry job of interacting with the crowd, getting arms waving and voices singing. For the obligatory Cats In The Cradle he focused on a young lad sitting on his dad's shoulders in the crowd and dedicated the song to him and all dad's with kids who rock. The crowd roared every syllable - even the security team were singing - and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
Jimmy Barnes is another legend - especially if you are an Aussie. They might almost call him an institution as he also fronts Cold Chisel, one of the best selling Australian acts of all times. He has a huge back line with guitars, bass, keys plus backing singers but it is his distinctive powerful raspy voice that takes centre of the Main stage. It's a big rock sound with Les Pauls and Tele's through Marshalls providing that authentic Australian rock sound. Jimmy struts around in his tight black jeans sounding like an angry Working Man but when he isn't roaring down the microphone, his voice can still sound gentle when the occasional ballad requires it.
Photos courtesy of John Bull at Rockrpix.com
Beer time so, as i saunter towards one of the many fine beer tents in search of refreshment, i pop into the Prog Stage - It's a large tent. Inside, Pain of Salvation are playing. It's very intense. In a tent. I make my way out again. Where do you go for a little light relief? Well to the Rising stage of course.
Dust bowl Jokies, a Swedish five piece are just launching into their cover of Jumping Jack Flash with vocalist Alexx voice sounding the spit of early Geddy Lee. These fella's like to rock. As do Ryder's Creed who follow them. The 5 piece from the Midlands are the real deal and have been making a bit of a name for themselves on the rock circuit. And picking up the odd award on the way. Over on the Outlaw stage Jesse Dayton plays some great hillbilly music with fun banter and a good deal of Irreverence. He does a fun cover of Whole Lotta Rosie too.
Back to the Main stage sees the excellent Temperance Movement. Regulars on Planet Rock's airwaves, the band have a considerable catalogue of tracks that sees the crowd really grooving. You just can't help but sway. Or is that the beer? Frontman Phil Campbell comes across as a stereotypical angry Glaswegian but belies that when he invites a little girl on stage to play maracas during Only Friend. It was a very sweet moment.
Back on the Outlaw stage was one of the best sets of the day - courtesy of The Allman Betts Band. Led by Devon Allman, son of founding Allman Brothers Band keyboardist and singer, Gregg Allman, and Duane Betts, son of founding Allman Brothers Band guitarist and singer, Dickey Betts, the band play the sort of country rock that gave the festival (sorry, fair...) it's name. And they are all truly chips off the old block. Mmmm, chips..... The line up is awash with talent with 3 guitarists 2 percussionists, keys and bass. With assorted guitars played through Fender amps, the distinctive southern slide sound was divine. As well as covering some well known family classics, and some of their own new material, they covered Purple Rain and brought on Black Stone Cherry's Ben Wells for one helluva southern blues rock jam. I could have stayed and watched them all day. Quite mesmerising.
Back on the Main stage Cheap trick show that they are growing older disgracefully. The Dream Police were living their dream, dressed in their trademark two tone Dream Police outfits. The set had all the punters favourites - Surrender, I Want You To Want Me, and Goodnight Now as well as a couple of covers - including Velvet Undergound's I'm Waiting For The Man. Their set squeezed in a lot of numbers but not as many as the closing set on the Outlaw stage. Kenny Wayne Shepherd's set lasted just over two hours from opening track Woman Like you, a cover of Buffalo Springfields's Mr Soul through a seriously rocking setlist that included his version of Voodoo Child. Nice.
The headline act and closing the Main stage are Black Stone Cherry. What a great live band. It is noticeable that BSC have a considerable following of younger rockers as well as those of more experienced years. The Kentucky quartet have been around since the early naughties but still feel to me like a fresh new band. And what a back catalogue. Every track is a diamond, played with all the power and passion that frontman Chris Robertson and the band can muster. This is rock played from the heart. The crowd love it. The band live it. It's electric. A fine production too. Ben Wells prances around like a maniac as does bassist Lawhon whilst Robertson owns the centre stage, and the entire park. Some of the stand outs in a flawless set include the almost reggae like version of In My Blood and the Purple Haze section in Cheaper To Drink Alone. But it's difficult to single out anything in a set that had everyone singing at the top of their voices throughout. The closing track, by way of the encore, sees Chris get everyone in the audience to hold hands and raise them in the name of piece as they sign off with Peace Is Free. Great ending to a great set.
Well done Ramblin' Man, what a great day. How can tomorrow top that? Well lets wait and see.
Black Stone Cherry
Me and Mary Jane
In My Blood / Island
Like I Roll
My Last Breath
Cheaper to Drink Alone /Purple Haze
Blame It On The Boom Boom
White Trash Millionaire
Peace Is Free
SATURDAY 20th July 2019
Main Stage Prog In The Park
21:15-22:45 – Black Stone Cherry 19:15-20:45 – Anathema
19:25-20:35 – Cheap Trick 17:45-18:45 – Riverside
17:40-18:40 – The Temperance Movement 16:00-17:00 – Pain Of Salvation
16:10-16:55 – Jimmy Barnes 14:50-15:35 – VOLA
14:45-15:30 – Ugly Kid Joe 13:00-13:40 – KOYO
13:25-14:00 – Wayward Sons 12:05-12.35 – Scardust
12.30-13:00 – RavenEye
Outlaw Country Stage The Rising Stage
19:45-21:45 – Kenny Wayne Shepherd 18:00-18:45 – GrandSlam
18:15-19:15 – Allman Betts Band 17:00-17:35 – Ryders Creed
16:45-17:30 – Jesse Dayton 16:10-16:40 – Dust Bowl Jokies
15:30-16:15 – Robert Jon & The Wreck 15:20-15:50 – Cellar Door Moon Crow
14:30-15:00 – OTIS 14:30-15:00 – Collateral
13:25-13:55 – The Plott Hounds 13:25-13:55 – Rainbreakers
12:30-13:00 – Wille & The Bandits 12:35-13:05 – The Outlaw Orchestra
Photos courtesy of John Bull at Rockrpix.com
Ramblin' Man 2019
Mote Park, Maidstone
19th - 21st July 2019
Ramblin' Man Fair (not festival.....?) is back and it's back in black. The rock, blues, prog, country and metal festival (sorry - fair) returns for the fifth time to the beautiful country parklands of Mote Park in Maidstone. Day 1 sees a stripped down 'lite' version of the main event with just one main stage open - the Planet Rock Stage - and 5 acts to tickle our fancies. And black are the clouds hovering above us which doesn't bode well. What we need is something to lighten the day and get us revved up for the weekend.
Openers The Lazys are just the ticket. Hailing from Sydney, the five piece Australian rockers give instant vibes of other well known Australian rock bands (more of which on day 3). That is no bad thing as, far from being stereotypical, they bring all the unbridled, rough and ready rock tones that says up yours to the world but with a huge smile and endless joy and energy. Their 2018 album was called Sleaze Roxx - i guess that says it all. Frontman Leon Harrison is pumped and saunters around the stage trying to outshine the awesome rock sound of the Les Paul and Telecaster blasting out through their Marshall JCM800 amps delivering that classic rock sound. Oh, and they are all dressed completely in black. In fact, if it hadn't been for the red Tele, we might have lost them in the gloom. The rain started but nobody cares as we rock along in fine form and cheer them mightily as their short 30 minute slot is over oh too soon. Well done Ramblin' Man Fair - great choice of how to open a weekend. And well played the Lazys - you did yourselves proud.
Second act up is the rapidly rising star that is Kris Barras. Kris has really become prominent in the last couple of years with endless tours and festivals and has become the darling of the Planet Rock world. Today he brings a full backing band including keyboards and two female backing vocalist to compliment his extremely fine guitar playing skills. Oh, and everyone is dressed completely in black. Not that i would dare to take issue with the ex-cage fighting bluesman. With both knuckles tattooed with the word 'BOOM' across each finger, Kris looks like he is more likely to hit you with the rich assortment of guitars that he wields than the notes that he can wring from them but he is an extremely skillful player with a soulful feel that shows that looks can be deceiving. The short set is a slower bluesier set than the opening rockers but pleases the crowd nonetheless. There is something for everyone here. With a new album out in September and a headline tour we are treated to a few new tracks including the current single Light It Up and Vegas Son. Closing track sees Kris bring out his trusty blond Tele for a little slide action on the excellent Hail Mary. This fella is going top go far.
Next up on stage are FM, the 80's rock band with original members Merv Goldsworthy, Pete Jupp and Steve Overland still going strong. The five piece were all wearing black except vocalist Steve Overland who clearly didn't get the memo. Opening with Black Magic from their 2018 album Atomic Generation, the band quickly got into their stride of radio friendly rock that has seen them become firm favourites. The songs keep coming with tracks like That Girl, Life Is A Highway and I Belong To The Night blasted out with skill and precision. And all washed down with equal quantities of fine ales from the local beer tents and the Kent rain. Very tasty. Closing track Killed By Love comes all to soon as their short set is brought to end far to prematurely and they have to leave the stage. .Premature evacuation is such a cruel thing....
Next up, and back with an edgy vibe, are the Wildhearts with the ever charismatic frontman Ginger. Can you guess what they were all wearing? You guessed it. But colour is never an issue with this bunch as Ginger is Mr Colourful, as are the two hollowbody guitars that he and guitarist CJ sport. They help give the Wildhearts their distinctive punky sound, although at the occasional expense of some ear splitting feedback. The Wildhearts are one of those bands from back in the 80's/90's that were always on my Wallkman (kids - google it) so it was a happy set for me as the short set contained so many classics. Opening track Dislocated had Ginger growling the lyrics like some death metal god but his usual golden Geordie lilt was more evident as the set list continued with tracks like Everlone and Vanilla Radio. But it's jump around like a nutter tracks like Sucker Punch and Sick of Drugs that get my blood pumping. They still have that edge that gives me the anarchistic shivers. Ginger is good with the banter too - it's a Geordie prerogative - so the crowd go from chilled to manic and back again at his whim. There is some new stuff too from the recent album Renaissance Men. Let Em Go is 'about letting go of the wankers in your life' says Ginger. It's the staccato punk style track you would expect and marvellous for it. The ever popular Caffeine Bomb has the fists pumping the air whilst My Baby Is A Headfuck is another classic that gets us all singing. Closing track I Wanna Go Where The People Go is a blinder as always and allows the boys to bow out in style. Thanks lads, that was top notch.
Closing or headline act are The Darkness. A fitting name with all of these black phrases being bandied about but you couldn't have a more inappropriate band name today. Whilst the dark clouds give way to night time, The Darkness arrive is a blaze of glory- to the sound of bagpipe music? Frontman Justin Hawkins wears his trademark white outfit whilst bassist Frankie Poullain wears a striking black and pink pin striped number. Such a shy bunch of fellas... Opening track is appropriately Black Shuck, screamed at full falsetto goodness, whipping the crowd into full fun mode. It is noticeable that most of the previous artists appear in the audience to enjoy the show. There is something quite joyful about watching these irreverent naughty schoolboys making some killer rock sounds. With brother Dan on lead guitar, the Hawkins siblings both play Les Pauls through Marshall amps to give that classic rock tone. But it's all about Justin. We are the motherfucking Darkness he yells - no kidding. And tonight no mother is safe. With pyrotechnics and fireworks to the fore, the band launch into a set of crowd favourites like Really Growing On Me, Open Fire, Love Is Only A Feeling and One Way Ticket. It is just excellent. Justin works the crowd with his completely inane but hugely enjoyable banter whilst the band watch on with resigned amusement. Frankie does get to open One Way Ticket with some obligatory cowbell but it's the Justin show really. We are offered a competition to win a small piece of Frankie which requires copious quantities of screaming from the crowd. I'm not sure who won or which bit they got. Barbarian again allows the crowd to try and match Justin's falsetto. I think i managed an off key Tenor and that was just what i paid for my beer with. We are also treated to some newer tracks like Japanese Prisoner Of Love from their 2018 album Pinewood Smile. And they have a new album out in October called Easter Is Cancelled so lots more new stuff on the way. Justin disappears briefly whilst the band jams only to reappear in an outrageous denim blue coloured velour jumpsuit with matching hat. Freddie Mercury would have been jealous. And Justin has the crowd bouncing BEFORE he will launch into the closing I Believe In A Thing Called Love. And bounce we did, all the way to the end.
Disappearing briefly, the band reappear for the final encore of Get Your Hands Off My Woman with an audience participation section involving the words 'Mother' and 'Fucker' in varying tones, pitches and styles. I think Justin won that sing-off competition but only just. Oh how we all love to scream profanities. Closing track Love On The Rocks With No Ice sees the boys just give it everything with Hawkins performing headstands in front of the drums, perform to himself whist admiring his form on the huge TV screens and take to the crowd with his trusty white Les Paul on the shoulders of a bouncer. With a final flourish of pyrotechnics the Darkness are done. Now that is how a night's live music should finish.
So we head off into the night - go back in black if you like - with a great days entertainment ringing in our ears. How will day 2 fare after that? Let's hope the weatherman has some better news for us.
The Darkness Setlist
Growing on Me
Love Is Only a Feeling
One Way Ticket
Live Till I Die
Japanese Prisoner of Love
Stuck in a Rut
I Believe in a Thing Called Love
Get Your Hands Off My Woman
Love on the Rocks With No Ice
FRIDAY 19th July 2019
20:30-22:00 – The Darkness
19:00-20:00 – The Wildhearts
17:50-18.30 – FM
16:55-17.30 – Kris Barras Band
16:00-16.30 – The Lazys
Live At Chelsea
13th June 2019
Now in it's fifth year, Live At Chelsea brings an eclectic mix of music to the poshest part of town. This years 4 day event sees such luminaries as The Gypsy Kings and Tom Jones. It's not unusual. Opening night sees a rockier couple of acts take to the stage in the absolutely magnificent grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Founded over 300 years ago, the prime real estate in the swankiest part of London is home to over 300 Chelsea pensioners, ex soldiers 'of good character.' Nestled amongst the spectacular quadrangle of buildings that form Figure Court is a large stage and rows of seats filled with hoards of music fans of equally good character. Today's event smacks more of a genteel garden party than a music festival amongst the perfectly manicured lawns and posh nosh outlets. Fronting the arena area are cast iron cannons that smack of the AC/DC album For Those About To Rock. How appropriate.
As we take our seats for the opening act, all carefully ushered by a team of smartly dressed security personnel who are determined to keep everyone seated throughout, i look skywards to watch the rain clouds gathering overhead. It's going to be a wet evening which is sadly all too common in London in June. But my thoughts wander briefly to my mate Nick who is currently experiencing the extreme mud at this years Download festival - or Downpour as it has come to be known. Poor bugger. I should have known it would rain - it always rains during Download week. The well heeled, and well oiled patron's of the iconic Almshouse are about to get their champagne flutes shattered by the rebellious The Darkness. Like a modern day Wat Tyler come to reap his revoltingness on the London gentry, Justin Hawkins bursts onto the stage in a blaze of white, long hair flying and a smile as wide as the SW3 bridge. Flanked by brother Dan on guitar and the outrageously attired Frankie Poullain in a black and pink pin stripe suit, the mercurial Justin launches into opening track Givin' Up. It's balls to the wall rock goodness with Dan getting some Ay-May-Zing rock tones out of his many Les Paul's through Marshall amps. I doubt the Hospital walls have witnessed such noise and wailings, even during it's darkest days, but this time it's a sound to savour. For an outside festival, the sound quality is top notch. I am sure the quadrangle of buildings contribute. JH is in wonderful form. He has had his troubles in the past, and i have seen the bad days when even the fans turned on them. But not tonight. Those not hugging their G&T's too tightly immediately evacuate their rain sodden seats to hit the front, duly encouraged by Justin. However, after giving a willing audience full dancing instructions, and joining in with every step, Justin is forced to bow to the blazered security staff and bring the merriment to a halt. This is Chelsea after all. However, it was all done with good grace so, as we move to stage left to allow the seated special ones their unobstructed view, we carry on in the wings. We may be rabble but we are dancing Darkness fan rabble.
The short set continues with hits from across their last fifteen years with tracks like Growing On Me and Black Shuck from their smash opening album Permission To Land. Was that really sixteen years ago? Justin joins his brother on a white Les Paul as the rock quartet blast their irreverence into the night. And very well received they were. Posh people love to party too. Hawkins is animated and full of enjoyable fun. His banter is just what the night needs as the stiff upper lips curl into smiles and brown brogues tap along to killer riffs and just great rock music. Singalongs like Love Is Only A Feeling get the crowd vocally dancing, trying unsuccessfully to match Justin's piercing Falsetto. Apologising to the powers at be for any slippage into the occasional rude word during his inter song banter, Hawkins launches into Get Your Hands Off My Woman triggering the whole audience screaming the chorus. I'm not sure the organisers had that in mind when they planned the event. Don't worry though, most soldiers know more swear words than any rock star could ever fathom so i doubt they heard anything they hadn't heard before. With the far too short set closing with their great hit I Believe In A Thing Called Love, the boys signed off in style, with leaving a happy band of soggy rockers to make their way to the bars to compare notes and wring out their Barbour jackets.
The Darkness setlist
Growing on Me
Love Is Only a Feeling
Japanese Prisoner of Love
One Way Ticket
Get Your Hands Off My Woman
I Believe in a Thing Called Love
A nice touch during the break, as the roadies rearranged the stage and set up for the main event, a Chelsea Pensioner takes to the stage to welcome us to his home, thank us for coming and to ask for support in keeping the Hospital a place for veterans for the next three hundred years. Standing proudly in his Scarlett tunic, the old warrior looked like the best advert you could ever ask for his generation and what they stand for. In the 75th anniversary year of the D-Day landings he personified the dignity befitting of the location. And he was quite rightly rewarded with a huge applause too.
Like the second half of a high brow theatre, we were all bidden to take our seats for the rest of the show. Hassled security did their very best to ensure everyone were seated, and stayed seated, for the entrance of headliners Toto. Enter Toto, everyone stands up, security team give up. Good, let's get on with it then shall we..
Toto are a band that i would have dismissed as a middle of the road soft rock band from the seventies and eighties. Not my kind of thing thinks me. So it was a pleasant surprise for me that they prove to be so much more. In fact they are a band that definitely has something for everyone. Touring their new 40th Anniversary, 40 Trips Around The Sun album, the band treat us to a selection of hits from across the years that encompass so many genres including pop, rock, soul, funk, progressive rock, hard rock, R&B, blues, and jazz. Although the line up has changed over the years, the core of the team have a pedigree of session musicians that have played with written for or performed with some of the greatest musicians in the world. And it shows as the eight musicians on stage are so talented, and so comfortable in what they do that this is an unparalleled performance.
One drummer, one percussionist, one bassist, two keyboards, a sax player a guitarist and a vocalist form the current Toto line up. Vocalist Jo Williams is the son of one John Williams, composer of those famous bars from the film Jaws, and has written a few film scores of his own when he isn't singing for Toto. Guitarist Steve Lukather is a legend in the guitar world and has worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and George Benson and Keyboardist Steve Porcaro has worked with Yes and Jefferson Airplane.
Opening track sees Lukather, with his signature Music Man guitar through three Bognor amp heads launch into Devil's Tower, originally written in 1982 but only released in 2018. A jaunty prog rock song that sees all the musicians on stage contributing to what is a huge sound. And set the scene for the evening two hour plus set. It's like watching a collection of the world's best musicians gel together into a seamless music machine. Where The Darkness are raw energy and fun, Toto are the class acts that befit their surroundings. Watching on impassively in front of the stage is the golden statue of Charles II. Lukather tells us that it is actually keyboardist David Paich in a gold suit who, in reality, is unfortunately not well enough to travel. His place is ably taken place by youngster Xavier X (Dominique XavierTaplin) who does a storming job.
The set consists of a bit of everything. I shouldn't like it but i do. It is absorbing, watching so many styles perfectly blended. Tracks like the fusion type Jake To The Bone and the English Eyes are sprinkled between classic radio hits like Rosanna and Hold The Line. And all to the accompaniment of the rain battering the top of my head. Steve helpfully offers us sun cream.
The band put aside their instruments for a more cut down section with Lukather on acoustic and each artist playing something close to their heart. Porcaro opts for a piano heavy Human Nature, the Michael Jackson hit, which was inspired by Porcaro's daughter. Lukather chose the R&B Georgy Porgy. Xavier is left to enthral the audience with a breath-taking display of what was exquisite classical music, on piano, whilst the rest of the band return to their full ensemble of instruments.
The hits keep coming, although the Toto composed music form the film Dune, and a very alternative version of the Beatles While My Guitar Gently Weeps keeps things fresh. Percussionist Lenny Castro, a long term member of the band, gives us a masterclass of every type of percussion from Bongo's to gongs, timpani's and tom-toms. And very well received it was Bit it's the closing song Africa that unsurprisingly get the best response. Everyone belts out the words of the 1982 classic. 'I bless the rains down in Africa' we sing - how ironic. I curse the Chelsea rain.
Leaving briefly before returning for the encore of Home Of The Brave, an anthem of a song from their eighties album The Seventh One. They sign off with this monster of intricate interaction between the guitar, keys, bass and percussion. Quality professional music.
As we wend our way through the discarded Bolly bottles, i am heartened that part the funds from tonight's treat are going to the upkeep of this amazing place. It heartens me that in these difficult financial times that places such as this still exist. There is still good in this world. As the rain drips off my nose i am reminded again about Nick who is sloshing around in the sea of mud in his own little 'passion dale'. I've been there and done that. I think i will stick with what I've got. Wet i may be, but I'm surrounded by splendour and i have a warm dry bed tonight, not a pup tent in the mud. If Nick is the PBI in the trenches, I'm the officer in the chateau behind the lines. Now where's my chauffer?
Hold the Line
Lovers in the Night
I Will Remember
Jake to the Bone
Human Nature (Michael Jackson cover)
I'll Be Over You
Stop Loving You
Piano Solo (Dominique Taplin)
Dune (Desert Theme)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles cover)
Home of the Brave
Photos courtesy of John Bull at Rockrpix.com
Rockin' The Blues
The Forum, Kentish Town, London
Tuesday 4th June 2019
There's something magical in meeting up with like minded individuals to share a pint and enjoy music together. We all have our loves and our likes and it's fun to share different perspectives of the same artists. Just compare any two music reviews and you will see that one man's champ is another man's chump. So meeting up with Mother tonight at the Forum are regular sidekick and ace snapper Rockrpix legend John Bull and fellow Wrinkly Rocker reviewer Peter Elphic. Although the beer drinking pre event review wasn't quite as planned as Pete managed to miss the opening act due to 'travel issues' and JB only drinks pints of PG when he is 'working'. Ho hum, it's left to yours truly to support the pre event hospitality. The things i have to do in the name of journalism.
London's Forum tonight hosts a triumvirate of talent spanning the generations who perfectly showcase the rockier end of the blues scale, No surprise that tonight's set sees a rockier slant to the blues genre - the name sort of gives it away. What was a surprise was that the pre event discussion with JB about lighting, security and Darjeeling was interrupted by the entrance of the opening act 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. Axel Rose take note. As a result, the excellent Forum stalls were slightly quieter than usual missing a number of punters, including the hapless Pete, as Planet Rock's Paul Anthony takes to the stage to announce the beginning of the last night of the Rockin' The Blues tour. Enter Kris Barras and his band. Kris is a young bearded hulk of a man who in his cut down NWOCR t-shirt and ubiquitous tattoos looks every part the MMA cage fighter he once was. But whilst he may once have brutally battered the bejesus out of his opponents he now finger the frets with a fine feeling. Sporting a blond Tele through a modern Kemper modelling amp, the blond behemoth ably demonstrates what todays rising blues stars are all about. Absolutely killer sound is lovingly squeezed out of the most endearing of Fenders stable. Opening track Propane has a funky kind of groove that welcome the crowd with a track that reeks of country. But with all of tonight's tracks there is a strong vein of Rockin' underlying it all. Second track Light It Up has a heavy keyboard influence with dual harmonies although Kris has the audience take lead vocals on the chorus before launching into a short but perfectly formed solo. Next up is a real rocking song - Rock and Roll. The Zep track much loved by jam bands up and down the land is given the Kris Barras touch with some delightful slide guitar and a strong keyboard solo that went down a storm. The now swollen crowd was really getting into it.
The slower and melodic Watching Over Me is dedicated to Kris departed father who heavily influenced his playing from a very early age. With the stage bathed in a glorious red light (much to the chagrin of the light sensitive JB) Kris plays some intricate and soulful blues with tasteful delicacy that belies his pugnacious past. The more upbeat Wrong Place, Wrong time sees some dancing in the crowd - no handbags were noticed - with Kris guitar licks duelling with the keyboards. And closing the all too short 30 minute set is the rocking Hail Mary. Opening with just a vocal harmony the song blossoms into full kick bottom rock anthem allowing Kris to show his guitar hero skills with all the behind the head and teeth picking antics we know and love. This is a fight he wins by a knockout.
As Kris disappears to a rapturous applause Pete finally arrives. 'Did i miss anything? he asks. Yes mate, you certainly did. We drown his sorrows at the bar accordingly. Don't worry though Pete, he's back in October with a headline tour of his own.
After a very brief watering break Mr Anthony reappears to announce our second act. Coming from the other end of the experience spectrum, Walter Trout has been and done it all, Some of which he surely wished he hadn't. Walter has learned a lot from life and it's shows in what and how he plays. Entering to a huge applause from a loving crowd, Walter takes his trademark yellow Strat through Mesa amps and performs a master class of taste and style that only comes with years of playing and a comfort in his ability. Although showy he is no show off, rather he exudes class yet is as humble as they come. Near death experience does that to a man.
The four piece open with an instrumental jam that Segway's nicely into the rocking I Can Tell. Again the keyboards are prominent but you can't take your eyes off of the Master. Next up is a track from his recent album Survivor Blues which he uses to showcase tracks from long forgotten blues tracks from yesteryear. His cover of Jimmy Dawkins Me, My Guitar and the Blues is a delightfully sludgy blues track that shows Walter has an excellent voice too. His guitar technique is enthralling although the flurry of notes are always secondary to the tone that they convey. Ride Till I'm Satisfied is back to rocking blues again. He takes the time to chat with the audience, thanking them for being here ('I'm glad you weren't too busy protesting to come' - a nod to the ongoing UK visit of the US President) before properly ripping it up.
35 years ago Mr T was on the very stage he now graced with one John Mayall. A lot has happened in that time and Walter takes time out to share some of his life changing experiences. Including his illness that left him days away from death and that required him to relearn playing the guitar from the basics again. So the harmonica in his track Almost Gone honouring that experience has a poignant cry to it. Almost ballad like it is an emotional song - a happy little ditty it ain't. Next track Sadie is another gem from the old blues era. Hound Dog Taylor was a blues player from many years ago. Walter tells the story of how Hound-dog was born with six fingers on his fretting hand. Whilst you might imagine that this would be a boon to a guitar player, the sixth finger was in fact useless and therefore a hindrance. So Hound-dog did what any self respecting blues player would do - he necked a bottle of bourbon and cut it off. Blues man healthcare as Walter called it. Walters version of the blues shuffle sees the introduction of Andrew Elt to play rhythm guitar leaving Walter to showcase why five fingers are more than enough. As they launch into Ride Till I'm Satisfied, Mr Elt and the bass player take up a Quo like stance to properly rock some blues whilst Walter almost screams the lyrics. As do the audience. It's hot in here. Walter is loving it. 'The best times in my life were when i was hot and sweaty' he declares.
Penultimate track is another golden oldie - Red Sun - although Floyd Lee's original is only 16 years old. This mean street blues number is currently getting some radio airplay and quite rightly so. It's a doozy. Closing number is Walters cover of the rock and rolling Bullfrog Blues, Rory Gallagher's version of Johnny Be Good. Johnny be good but Walter be better as he properly rocks the house. Rockin' the blues? Hell yeah. Walter is touring the UK in October again too. As Walter and team leave to another thunderous ovation Pete and i swap notes. Needless to say Pete is far more erudite than i
Pete's Prose: 'Having recently recovered from liver disease, a couple of years back Walter was looking as thin as an E string but he's stacked quite a bit of weight back on. He's not quite as chubby as fellow ex Bluesbreaker Buddy Whittington but fellow band members (Keyboard player and drummer) are. But then they sit down on their chairs for the gig. But despite all this Walter's tone is as sweet as a triple chocolate cheesecake with strawberry jam.'
Paul Anthony reappears once more to introduce the final act tonight - Jonny Lang. Jonny is a young clean cut looking fella who looks less like a traditional blues player and more like a pop pin up. Until he gets into the groove that is, when he contorts and twists into a screaming blues monster. The opening track is a blistering Freight Train blues which showcases a form that will repeat itself over the next couple of tracks - fast and frantic blues rock from the twerking twitching tormentor of the Telecaster. And a Les Paul too. Signs may have a slow ponderous beat but the fret play is unrelenting as the four backing musicians struggle to make themselves noticed behind the animated Lang. A cover of Tinsley Ellis A Quitter Never Wins allows Lang to show of his Aretha like warble to good effect whilst ratcheting up the guitar abuse another notch. Snakes continues the theme although more short and sweet.
Thankfully, the danger of spontaneous combustion is averted when the tempo is dropped for the slow, almost quiet Bring Me Back Home. Smoochie anyone? The nice slow blues solo ultimately turns into another blues shred but the pattern has been broken. Angel of Mercy is a great rocking blues track with some excellent drumming. With a fun jam between guitars and keys the rhythm guitarist really gets to shine. Probably the best track of the set. And for a further change of scene, Lang takes to the stage alone for the acoustic ballad Breaking Me, a strong soulful song which builds into powerful ending. With the return of the backing line up we are treated to Lie To Me which is full electric rock with a great crunchy rock tone. More great guitar and vocal work sees Lang worked back up to his fever pitch best before closing track Still Raining provides a more restrained groove with the keyboards pulling through to provide a melodic ending to a real rocking blues set.
Pete's prose: 'Jonny Langs rhythm and keyboard player sporting backward facing baseball caps - looking like they have forgotten to get changed from their side gig as a Pearl Jam tribute. Bass player Jim (Anton) has an interesting CV too'.
As the band disappear into the night Paul Anthony reappears to announce what is to be the finale, and highlight, of the evening. Reappearing with a cast of thousands in support are Kris, Walter and Jonny to jam out together and end the tour with a bang. Five guitarists, two drummers two keyboard players, a bassist and a harmonics player all conspire to provide the sort of blues jam that true fans can only dream about. Launching into I Want To Know What Love Is, Jonny takes vocals whilst Kris takes lead. What follows is a master jam with each of the guitarist showing their own distinct flavour. Kris has such taste in his choice of notes and a tone to die for, Walter has every chop a man could want and the gravitas and bearing to own the stage and Jonny the force of a small hurricane. Closing jam is the ever popular Going Down with Andrew taking the stage again to display his impressive vocal talents - a young David Coverdale. With the whole ensemble giving it everything the crowd were bopping until they were dropping to the very last drop. Awesome stuff and one for the mental scrap book.
As the three of us head home via the Northern Line (it's where the Scots hang their washing....) we compare notes and experiences. Pete bemoans his missing Kris excellent short set, John opines on the lighting and the over exuberant security who felt it ok to throw the denizens of the photographic pit out into the rain soaked night between photo sessions. Not a great idea security team. The Rockerazzi have some expensive kit that doesn't mix too well with rain. And they are too far from the bar too. Me, i reflect on another great evening. And how we all have a different take on the same show, With the quality of music at this level, it behoves you to come and see the bands when they tour later this year and get your own take on things. Don't just take my word on it. Rock on.
Mother and Pete
Photos courtesy of John Bull at Rockrpix.com
Under The Bridge, London
26th April 2019
It was under the bridge that the ugly fearsome troll lived who threatened to eat the three billy goats gruff. So i guess i was the obvious candidate to make the trip to the fantastic little venue, under the iconic Stamford Bridge football stadium. And i'm ready to gobble up anything that i see. It's been a long week since the Easter break so what better way to spend a Friday evening than enjoying some quality live music.
The first of our three musical Capra for the evening are The Great Flud, a 5 piece Alt Rock band from London. Clearly influenced by bands like the Smiths and the Cure, the young band members all look like they were born a long time after the 80's style music that clearly enthuses them. Singer Marie Choquet, sporting red Doctor Martins, trousers and colour coordinated hair provides the bubbly fun focus whilst flanked by guitarists Adam Mason and Aiden Scott, sporting Fender Stratocasters into Fender amps. Rhythm is ably provided by bassist Stephen Field and drummer Louis Cowling. The short set is an entertaining hark back to an era of brit pop, although often with modern influences such as rap and funk, giving us 45 minutes of happy shoe gazing. The jangly guitars and dance beat on tracks like ‘Drive’ and ‘Don't Ask Why’ are indicators of great things to come. It's good to see upcoming talent such as The Great Flud, and to see them being given stage time at such an excellent venue. As the kids of the three acts, i will let these pass without devouring them further and let them go onto hopefully great things.
Second to take the stage is Katy Hurt who i was lucky enough to see earlier this year supporting Ariel Posen. This time she's back at the bridge, again with guitarist Gab Zsapka, plus bass and drums. This gives her a larger sound than the two piece set i last saw. Zsapka is an excellent guitarist whose electric Les Paul nicely compliments the acoustic guitar of Hurt. Katy, wearing a tasselled dress, denim waistcoat and cowboy boots looks every part the country singer from Nashville, despite her London birth, and has the sort of voice that would grace any Tennessee country scene. Or maybe Taylor Swift concert. Although her short set is decidedly country, it has a rocking edge, especially with Zsapka's chops, with tracks like Sleeping Next To You and See Ya Later, the obligatory country song about a boy. Gaz gets to show off his slide skills on Fire before the set closes with the title track from Katy's recent EP, Unfinished Business, which made it to #2 in the country charts. As the mellow sounds of the closing track drift away i'm reminded that G.O.A.T is also an acronym for greatest of all time. Now i'm not sure Katy is there yet but she's well on her way. Watch this space.
Last across the bridge is duet Lethbridge Owen. I say duet although across the set the stage hosts up to eight other musicians at any one time. Kelly Louise Lethbridge is a UK based singer songwriter who has teamed up with guitar impresario Jimmy Owen to form a writing and performing team reminiscent of west coast American pop rock. With distinct sounds of Fleetwood Mac about them, the Stevie Knicks/Lindsey Buckingham sound has been honed over a ten year partnership that has only just resulted in their first album - Mind Over Matter. The rest of the time has been spent perfecting their considerable stage skills. Lethbridge sports a classy black and gold hussar style shell jacket with a matching broad rimmed hat giving her a sparkle that matches her voice. Owen, in contrast, is in simple jeans and shirt although he does sport a rather sexy looking Fender Stratocaster. That's what i call accessorising..
The opening track, Re-Inspire sees 7 of the 8 musicians take to the stage with Lethbridge/Owen being accompanied with bass, drums, rhythm guitar and two backing singers. It is the duet's latest single which introduces us to Lethbridge's powerful vocals and Owens considerable guitar skills. Owen is a lover of tone exemplified by his collection of vintage gear like his Plexi amp and boutique pedals. It's very Fleetwood Mac too which is never a bad thing. By contrast, The Great Healer has a more ska like beat with doomy lyrics albeit in an upbeat style. The track makes heavy use of Owen's Echoplex delay pedal which gives the song an ambient feel. Frozen Love sees the introduction of keyboards which beautifully compliments the dual vocal harmonies and shimmering guitar. The song also contains an excellent solo from Owen, utilising the dusty end of the neck, which lasts almost 10 minutes. Does that count as prog? Opening track of the new album is All We Need Is Hope and is an upbeat, almost pop song. The backing singers give it a big radio friendly sound and again, the harmony between Lethbridge and Owens harmony is extremely strong. Leaving Home on the other hand is a soulful almost country song with the addition of an acoustic rhythm guitar. Owen still gets a strong guitar solo in there though.
The set now takes a pleasant turn when the stage clears for a small acoustic set. Jimmy stands alone for an unaccompanied acoustic version of From Now On which enables Owen to showcase all his deftness of touch and tone on his acoustic guitar. It's an enthralling instrumental. Enter Kelly and we are treated to some delightful harmonies on April Come She Will accompanied again with Jimmy's acoustic guitar. And on If Only Kelly takes the lead vocals whilst Jimmy provides backing vocals for the closing acoustic number. Although stripped back, the acoustic songs have a rawness that is pleasing, as well as really allowing the vocal and playing skills of Lethbridge Owen to shine.
With the return of the band, and a much more crowded stage, we return to the full on sound of Taking Over Me, with Jimmy using his Strat and Echo pedal to give an almost U2 Streets Have No Name vibe. It's also home to another Owen solo whilst Kelly's Stevie Nicks vocals manage to elevate above the sound of the full band. As has the bluesy Back To The Blue. This has Jimmy playing some fast blues, with copious quantities of wah pedal but with a funky edge to it. Fight For You is more pop, think Tom Petty, whilst World's Burned Over is a more sombre/serious experience with Owen's solo sounding like Mark Knopfler. As if the stage wasn't crowded enough, Katy and Gaz are invited up on stage to join in on Two Steps Forward. This is a really enjoyable, fast paced romp of a song. The feel good song gives us both a Gaz solo and Jimmy solo which starkly contrasts the two styles of play. I like them both. For me, it was the best track of the set.
Love Me Like A Man sees the stage reduced to four as Lethbridge Owen launch into a traditional blues number with just bass and drums. It's a chance for Lethbridge to launch into her strong vocal range above a slow blues groove whilst Jimmy noodles the blues scale underneath. And closing track Axis Bold As Love allows Owen to show off his full Hendrix, including behind head guitar playing, whilst the band builds to a final crescendo, topped by Kelly's immaculate vocals and crowd interaction. Finishing with a flourish i would say.
It has been a fine night of music with a positive happy vibe. Even a miserable old troll like me leaves with a smile on his face. In the fairy tale. the troll falls into the stream and is carried away by the current. From then on the bridge is safe, and all three goats are able to go to the rich fields around the summer farm in the hills, and they all live happily ever after. Here's hoping that our three acts get to do the same. Rather than getting washed away, we contemplate washing down a few beers. There's the trip home to think about and stormy weather outside to face. But no rush. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.
The Beaverwood Club, Chiselhurst, Kent
2nd April 2019
The Beaverwood Club, situated in the leafy Kent suburbs, looks like a cricket pavilion, adjoining as it does a cricket pitch in the grounds of the local Beaverwood school. It’s the sort of local venue that does business hosting weddings, parties and celebrations although, like many, it also hosts regular live music nights. Local music mogul, Pete Feenstra, is the man responsible for bringing some top quality acts to this part of the country and has secured the likes of Chantel McGregor, Joanne Shaw Taylor and Walter Trout at this lovely venue. Supporting Walter Trout on his October 2017 tour was Sari Schorr, the up and coming New York blueser, and tonight she takes the headline spot.
Opening act is the David Sinclair Four, a south London quartet, playing rock and roll and blues. Backed by brothers Jos and Rory Mendoza on drums and bass, guitarist Geoff Peel supports frontman David Sinclair perform a mixed set of classics by artists like Lou Reed and Chuck Berry as well as David’s own material. His track Eight Rounds Later pays homage to years of travelling and drinking around the world whilst Coming Off The Rails is a toe tapping track also reminiscing about enjoying the good times maybe just a touch too much. It’s catchy rock and roll that was enjoyed by all and warmed the small crowd nicely.
Sari’s Schorr is a hard-working Blues woman whose humble beginnings, working the music scene in the legendary fierce South Bronx of New York and on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, to a performance at Carnegie Hall, has now led her to international success. In 2016, Sari Schorr made her debut album, A Force of Nature, produced by iconic British Blues pioneer Mike Vernon (David Bowie, Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green). Following her 2017 UK appearances she is now touring the country supporting her new second album Never Say Never. Sari insisted that the album be recorded live to capture the raw energy of her music, it’s an album full of personal emotions that she admits was as painful as it was healing in the making.
Dressed in black jacket, silver scarf, blue jeans and black boots, the operatically trained singer takes to the stage to front her current band of talented British backing musicians. Guitarist Ash Wilson sports a number of guitars although his main axe is a beautiful white Deusenberg hollow body, and is a solo blues artist in his own right. Bob Fridzema handles keys – both piano and organ – with Mat Beable on bass and Roy Martin on drums.
Opening with just the haunting sound of Ash’s Deusenberg, The New Revolution soon morphs into a full on rock and roll groove allowing Sari to showcase her powerhouse vocals, ably supported by Fridzema on backing vocals. Written in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s a song about the struggles he stood for. “Stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth.” she sings. A powerful song with a powerful message. In contrast, Damn The Reason is slow and sultry in comparison, although Sari’s vocals are no less forceful. All the power and presence of Bonnie Tyler with none of the gravel. But when stopping to chat with the audience between songs, Sari’s voice has the softness of a sexy seductress as she introduces the band.
Opening track of her new album is King Of Rock And Roll, a tribute to blues legend Robert Johnson who allegedly sold his soul to the devil at a local crossroads of two Mississippi highways to become the greatest blues musician in history. Ash weighs in with some drop tuned goodness played on a Fender through his unusual 633 Engineering Groove King amp. These are high end boutique UK built amps, this one inspired by the classic Vox AC30 to get those classic British rock tones. His pedal board is also a collection of top amplification and modulation too. Ash is notable too on Thank You, also from the Never Say Never album, with some tasteful wah that complements the songs groove. ‘I wrote this song for all the good people ruining great relationships. Self-sabotage is a mystifying loop of behavior that destroyed a relationship I really wanted. No matter what I did, this man I loved simply couldn’t believe that he was capable of being loved. Perception can be more powerful than reality.’ Says Sari.
Stopping briefly to welcome her network family – Sari is a regular on social media – she launches into a couple of covers this evening, which are original and enjoyable takes on well-known classics. Bad Company’s Ready For Love is one such that benefits from the power of her superb vocals that are required to do justice to Paul Rogers anthem, with Fridzema providing a tasteful keyboard solo. As he also did on the bluesy Demolition Man, dedicated to producer Mike Vernon. Aint Got No Money is a funky blues track that allows Ash to show a bit of his love for sixties rock and roll, with his white hollow body Deusenberg providing that Shadows twang. But it’s their up temp cover of Willie Dixon’s I Just Want To Make Love To You that really allows Ash to shine. It’s a raunchy clap along version, with Sari’s strong vocals to the fore as ever, but it’s the almost Hendrix style guitar solo that captivates me. Ash is loving it, and it’s great to watch the rest of the band reveling in his joy as he temporarily loses himself in his revelry. The audience really picks up on the feel good factor as the whole band are just having a ball. The song just turns into a fun jam for all.
Kiss Me is more of a rock ballad with a squealing guitar solo, before they launch into the title track of the new album. Never Say Never was written by Small Faces and Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan after his wife’s tragic death. Writing this song became part of Ian’s healing process. It’s a song about facing challenges and not being afraid to ask for help. It is slow and soulful with Sari restraining the power of her voice to almost gentle before the song builds to a strong conclusion. Very emotive.
Lifting the tempo Valentina is a rocking little number that tells of the dangers of getting your priorities wrong. Based upon her own experiences of missing some of the important moments in life whilst following her dream. ‘Valentina is my alter ego who learns too late that the high price of her pursuits have left her alone and broke in a world that is completely indifferent to her.’ She explains. The punchy rocking number contains another fine screaming guitar solo, again from the drop tuned Fender. And closing out her main set is Freedom, a song about guns, war and violence. ‘Not all Americans love guns’ she proclaims earnestly. This is Sari’s message to the world. Although the world does not appear to be listening. Her voice is stronger than ever as the passion flows from her. Aretha Franklin was the first name that popped into my head. A great song it gave Ash the chance to try out his new red Deusenberg guitar (#NGD). Yes, it worked very nicely Ash.
Disappearing for a very brief sojourn, the band returns to the stage for another notable cover. This time it’s their version of Lead Belly’s Black Betty, made famous by Ram Jam. But unlike the famous latter, Sari’s version is a slow sludgy blues version more akin to the original. Starting once more with just the haunting clean sounds of Ash’s white hollow body, the song explodes into the full blues with Sari showing every range of vocal talent. High and low, sharp and held, the song is used to showcase exactly why she is headlining shows and will be hitting the highs that match her range. Ash pulls out a beautiful Gilmour-esque solo in what is a really compelling cover that ends the way it started, with a beautiful clean guitar. Closing track is a cracking country blues track from the new album called Back to L.A. (I thought you said you were from Brooklyn?) Although it’s a song about looking back at how quickly life goes by, and wishing you hadn’t wasted so much of it, it’s a feel good song with an up beat tempo that skips along to the only too quickly reached conclusion. But it’s a finish with a flourish to an excellent set that showcases not only Sari’s impressive vocal talents, but also thoughtful and interesting songwriting skills.
In an ever more chaotic world, the Beaverwood Club is an island of tranquility in a sea of madness. The woes weighing us down are temporarily lifted to allow us a window of calm. Doctor Feenstra has written his prescription. No medication is required other than that dispensed by barman Dan, along with a large dose of Sari Schorr. Take both before retiring to bed and everything will be fine in the morning.
Sari Schorr setlist
The New Revolution
Damn the Reason
King Of Rock'n'Roll
Ready For Love (Bad Company cover)
Ain’t Got No Money
I Just Wanna Make Love to You (Willie Dixon cover)
Never Say Never
Black Betty (Lead Belly cover)
Back To LA
Photo courtesy of John Bull at Rockrpix.com
The Borderline - London
24th February 2019
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Now I wish I could write like that. Sadly, my grasp of the English language is somewhat more limited but not to the extent that I can’t garner that we are in changing times, both for better and for worse. Luckily, tonight’s entertainment is provided by two artists whose linguistic skills have provided us with a couple of excellent albums of new material, pleasing both audibly and lyricaly. And in one of London’s best intimate subterranean venues, The Borderline, in the heart of London’s Soho district, opposite the iconic home of guitar sellers, Denmark Street. Where better to find great guitar playing.
Opening act tonight is London born country singer Katy Hurt. Although born in the UK, she moved to Long Island, NY when she was 2 and steeped herself in Americana. Now back in the UK she has bought her love of Nashville country music, and all American blond good looks, with her to delight the home crowd. Her set is a delightful mix of country songs with thoughtful lyrics that show her talents as a wordsmith. “I loved words,” she says. “My dad speaks three languages and my mum speaks five. I call myself a word nerd, I find it interesting and as a songwriter, I find having different languages and accents can actually change the way that you write.’
Accompanied by Gab Zsapka on acoustic/backing vocals, Katy launches into a familiar Nashville sound (dare I say Dolly-esque?) with the soulful slow ballad Falling Apart. Her voice is almost stereotypically country with soft velvetiness but the power when needed. Zsapka provides the only accompaniment – no bass or drums needed – which highlights the quality of the songs and the voice. The bearded, hatted guitarist is the only band Kate needs as he plays rhythm, licks and solos. Second song Drink sees Kate also join in on acoustic guitar for a more up temp feel, with the tempo further increased for Sleeping Next To You with Zsapka providing dual vocals for a little light harmony.
Katy takes time out to chat about the next track which she wrote at the Borderline when she was last in town. The song is Natchez, named after a town in Mississippi. ‘Somewhere down in Natchez, I'll be striking matches, And lighting up every single letter you sent my way’ she sings in her beautiful creamy voice. Ironic, as, unbeknownst to our songstress, the town suffered a newsworthy fire back in the 40’s.
Well she’s setting London on fire tonight. Apparently inspired by a Clint Eastwood movie, Revved Up gets raunchier with a few finger clicks and clapping thrown in. The video she made for this song sees her head off into the desert in her Dad’s jeep. Which she promptly trashed. Sorry Dad.
See Ya later is a song about a boy - every female country singer has one - whilst the radio friendly Unfinished Business is a gentle single guitar ballad, and the title track of Katy’s latest EP.
The punchier, dual vocal, The World Ain't Waiting On Me allows the crowd to sing-along with the chorus whilst closing track Fire is a great blues track with amazing blues picking from Zsapka and strong vocals from Katy finishing on a long strong held note that took your breath away. It was a fine performance from two very talented musicians.
Photo courtesy of John Bull at Rockrpix.com
Ariel Posen is a man of many parts. He first reached public notice as part of the Brothers Landreth line up although the young Canadian has spent most of his life surrounded by music as he followed his musician parents on the road, picking up music and guitar playing skills and, most notably, exquisite tone. He came to my attention as a guest presenter on the Andertons TV YouTube channel, alongside co-presenter ‘Danish Pete’Honore. Both are extremely talented guitarists but Posen is notable for the beautiful tone that he naturally evokes from whatever instrument he is given to showcase. But although I consider him a guitarist, it is as a songwriter that he is making his name. ‘The guitar is the tool to get the music out’ he says. ‘Always serve the song first. Otherwise you are just playing an instrument.’ He’s not wrong although Posen’s guitar playing is entertaining enough to stand on its own.
So after many years playing and writing, Posen has finally released his own album of songs called How Long, and a great album it is. Citing influences such as The Beatles, Stevie Ray Vaughan and John Mayer, the album is quite an eclectic mix of styles that defy anyone trying to put him into a pigeonhole. I will leave that to the male pigeons.
Taking to the stage, the tall slim perfectly coiffured Canadian, looking cool in a light denim shirt and dark jeans, is joined by Davie Ryan on drums and Eoin Walsh on bass. Tonight’s rig sees Ariel play a light green Collings Soco Deluxe with a tortoiseshell pickguard, with what look like Filtertronic style humbuckers, and a white Mule custom ‘Strat’ style guitar while his amps are a Two Rock traditional clean, a Two Rock classic reverb and a Victory V40 Deluxe. And a pedal board with infinite options, including ‘The Dane’ a pedal designed by his Andertons co-presenter. Am I being geeky enough for you?
Opening track Try, also the opening track of his new album, is a smooth John Mayer style track with harmonic backing vocals from Ryan and Walsh. To start with the vocals are slightly muddy but the sound engineer soon sorts that out and I was too mesmerized by the sweet guitar to mind. Second track Sistermamalover is a Lenny Kravitz cover that has a slow groove and the ever present slide in the dirtier blues solo. Both tracks are played on the white Mule whose humbucker pickups give the dirtier sounds a lush growl.
Switching to the Collins Posen launches into the slow chugging I’m Gone which was destined to be on the new album but, criminally, isn’t. Ordinarily a quiet ballad, the live version has quite a broken guitar sound and Ariel makes good use of his multitude of effects to give a fuller ambient sound. It’s the song that sticks in my head for days. Did I mention the tone? Sorry Ariel, I know it’s about the song but what a tone. And to be fair to Ariel, every song is the right balance between vocals, instruments and tone. He really does serve the song – nothing is too overpowering.
According to Mr P, we are now entering the sad song segment. He would argue that he album is full of them. I find them uplifting personally. Staying with the green machine, the dirt is turned up for Things That I've Said. Starting almost acoustically, the song builds to slide filled rocking guitar, again with backing vocals. A fine toe tapper for something supposedly sad. Although I guess slide has a sad lilt to it however it’s played. How Long on the other hand starts as a slow vocal lament. No drums or bass to lighten the mood. This allows Posen’s clear vocals to shine briefly before the song builds into an almost country/pop song with beautiful slide guitar picking, dripping in reverb and delay. Slow the solo may be, but it has the touch and feel that makes a solo absorbing without the need to play any more notes than necessary. Less is more.
Upping the tempo somewhat, with a cover of Billy Preston’s song Nothing From Nothing, we change the style from country to near jazz. This gives Eoin Walsh the chance to shine with some impressive jazz bass both soloing, and trading licks and lines with Ariel’s Mule. Now I’m no jazz fan but it’s such a groove (man!). The two trade licks for what becomes a 5 minute jazz jam. To quote Baloo ‘I’m gone man, solid gone.’
Not to be out done, Davie Ryan on drums, who has provided the solid beat that underlines everything, shows how he can handle even the most unusual timings on Nobody Else. The slow crooner has a very slow, interesting timing that skips a beat. About lost love, the song is interesting with a key change, minimalist drum beat and slide solo that had me thinking Deliverance. Ariel takes time out to explain how songwriting works in the modern world. I’ll Be Finding You was co-written with a friend in new Zealand over Skype. Time differences certainly add a whole new level of complexity to the process. With a funky beat and dual vocals it got the crowd moving.
Get You Back, also on the new album, is sultry and almost tortuously soulful. With a steady drumbeat and another minimalist solo with lots of echo/reverb/fuzz, I would have to concede that this is a sad sounding song. But in a haunting, compelling way. The simple solo becomes more and more intricate and the song finishes with strong dual vocals. To lighten the mood, Ariel admits that one happy song found its way onto the new album. Can't Stop Thinking About You is still sultry but with a more up tempo beat that does allow a little sunshine into your life, and a little slide into your solo. Short but sweet, it is an obvious radio track. Better Late Than Never is a sloooowwwww song that is likely to be the accompaniment to many a Valentine’s nights foray. Smoochie. Hello ladies.
Closing track, and debut single is Fade, a funkier slide blues that again is an all-round great song – well balanced and annoyingly catchy.
Disappearing briefly before returning for an encore, Posen dedicates his final song to his wife who, when talking him into moving to Ireland, opened him up to a whole new range of music. Including John Martyn who has had a huge influence on his music and songwriting. So how better to end a great night of music that with his cover of Angeline. With an Irish lilt and slow almost ethereal slide guitar, it was a 10 minute master class of tone.
So what the Dickens was that opening paragraph all about? Well, I enjoyed Mr P so much that, two days later, I took myself off to the marvelous Tuesday Night Music Club, in the heart of Surrey’s Coulsdon, to see his Tuesday night performance. Twas indeed a Tale of Two Cities. I have a soft spot for the TNMC as it is a local venue that I have frequented for a number of different reasons, and is also indirectly responsible for my ‘journalistic’ life. But don’t hold that against it. Unexpectedly, Katy Hurt and Gaz showed up for an impromptu 4 song set before Ariel set the Surrey faithful alight with his excellent set. Same set, same quality. If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing twice.
There aren’t many artists I would see twice on the same tour but the Winnipeg/Long Island experience caught my interest and captured my soul. A broad range of music, and charming songs that hit home across the spectrum. Whilst my bag is usually rock, metal and blues, tonight I discovered my softer side. Time to order some Viagra then. From Winnipeg to London, we had everything before us, It was the best of times.
Sistamamalover (Lenny Kravitz cover)
Things that I've said
Nothing from nothing (Billy Prseton cover)
I'll be finding you
Get you back
Can't stop thinking about you
Better late than never
Angeline (John Martyn cover)
The Forum, Kentish Town
26th January 2019
A dark wet Saturday night in January is a good time to get out and find a nice intimate gig. So is a warm Thursday in June but I digress. January is a time of sales and bargains and tonight is a bargain indeed. Not one, not two but five class rock acts are gracing the stage at this premier London venue, the O2 Forum. No town or country club this, the old art deco cinema, which holds 2300, is now a rocking venue. Great sound and excellent acoustics, it has an intimate feel yet has the exciting atmosphere of a large stadium event. And tonight's bands suit the environment on every level.
Openers KilliT take to the stage at the unfathomable hour of 5.15 pm. Most don't normally wake up until then unless the pub has a happy hour so the audience is somewhat sparse. Which is a shame as they are a great act. The London based 5 piece really hit the spot. They perfectly sum up their sound when they say “Our inspiration comes from 1980s classic rock – bands like Guns N’ Roses, Faith no More and Queens Of The Stone Age, all of who have a global reputation. We also appreciate ’70s legends like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. However, the one thing we do not want to become is a ’70s or ’80s cliché. We want to be relevant to the modern world.” And they succeed. They have a raw, almost metal sound, but the classic rock groove shines through. Guitars are provided by Les Paul wielding Niro Knox and PRS clad Claire Genoud whilst vocals are belted out by Gaz Twist. Their short but effective set, taken mainly from their Shut It Down album is excellent - and worth a listen if you get the chance. The early birds today definitely got the worm. As old Bill Shakey put it, 'And gentlemen in England now a-bed Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here'. And we all know he was a proper metal head.
Up next are a six piece from the UK called Vega consisting of Nick Workman on lead vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, Tom Martin on bass guitar, Marcus Thurston on lead guitar, James Martin on keyboards, Mikey Kew on guitar, backing and vocals and Martin ‘Hutch' Hutchinson: drums. Taking to the stage to the unusual strains of Nana Mouskouri's 'In an English Country Garden' the lads treat us to some great melodic rock. Heavily influenced by the likes of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard, the music is radio friendly rock that would sit well in any arena. Kiss of life, from their 2009 album of the same name, is a chugging Bon Jovi inspired delight whilst Last Man Standing, from their latest album Only Standing, is a classic arena rock anthem. But there is a hint of pop about them, with frontman Workman a tall blond good looking fella, who could front a boy band. Indeed, the whole band are not averse to setting the ladies hearts a flutter, as the rapidly filling arena could attest to. Closing track Saving Grace is a great crowd pleaser with plenty of singing and interaction. 2019 sees the bands tenth anniversary with five albums to their name and a string of festivals both past and planned. Get down to see them when you can, but keep your ladies close or you might just lose them.
The treats keep coming as Swedish rockers H.E.A.T. take to the stage to Glenn Fry's 'The heat is on'. Cheesy but apt.
Pogoing punk front man Erik Grönwal is a bundle of energy and a whole lot of fun. He constantly jumps into the crowd, taking photos and dancing with the crowd. He frequently borrows phones and films himself with the crowd. Not exactly the shy type. But it remains fun. Backed by Jona Tee on keyboards, Jimmy Jay on bass, Crash (Lars Jarkell) on drums and
Dave Dalone on guitars, the five piece are clearly influenced by the likes of Whitesnake and the Scorpions. With Tee's keyboards picking some strong rhythm, the Whitesnake influence is strong and the set filled with melodic arena rock. Indeed, on opening track Bastard of Society, Dalone, on an exquisite black Les Paul, duals with Tee on keys in an excellent duet. It's pleasing melodic rock although with an edge. It's feel good music that i could happily listen to all night. The security may not have been so keen as they were kept busy all night with Grönwal's crowd antics but it was all good natured. Beg, Beg, Beg, from their 2010 album Freedom Rock is a real blast, especially as they add a touch of AC/DC's Whole Lotta Rosie and Erma Franklin's 'Piece of My Heart to the end. A great medley. Closer Mannequin Show is a slower heavier vibe and A Shot at Redemption, from 2014's Tearing Down The Walls album, is a fine way for them to sign of to the accompaniment of a happily singing crowd. These boys are definitely a treat and ones i will be looking out for again.
The Swedish link continues with the emergence of sleaze rockers Backyard Babies. Entering to the Sex Pistol's Frigging in the Rigging the 4 piece are celebrating 30 years of rocking although Dregen on lead guitar, Johan Blomqvist on bass and Peder Carlsson on drums were all members of the previous incarnation Tyrant. In 1989 Nicke Borg joined on lead vocals, rhythm guitar and they changed their name to Backyard Babies. So plenty of years together has made them a tight unit. They have a punkish look and vibe about them which is reminiscent of Ginger and the Wildhearts. Or even Green Day although perhaps slightly less pop. Borg takes centre stage switching between a brown PRS Vela singlecut, a Red Gibson SG and a Gretsch. The songs are short and catchy. Dysfunctional Professional gives us some classic Swedish sleaze whilst Shovin Rocks, from their latest album gives us a more rock and roll vibe. Dregen's solo's lift this out of the punk and into the rock although never over indulgent. His Gibson 335 sound is sweet as a Nötpaj. Switching to acoustic guitar, Borg and Dregen as a duet quieten things down with A Song For The Outcast with Blomqvist and Carlsson returning for the melodic Roads. Both are a delight. But it's back to the electrics, and the punky vibe for Minus Celsius, and their best rock track of the set Th1rt3en or Nothing. Abandon is a ballad that builds to a full on sing along rocker and closer Brand New Hate ends on a punk high.
Tonight's headliners are no strangers to stadium gigs. New Jerseys Skid Row, formed in the 1980's height of hair metal, have played some of the largest stadia in the world. The current line up still boasts three of the original five line up - bassist Rachel Bolan, Guitarist Dave Sabo and guitarist Scotti Hill. But the iconic face of Skid Row was the unassuming Sebastian Bach, the six foot 2 inch blond singer with an extensive vocal range, and equally extensive range of opinions. The majority of the set comprise of tracks from the first two albums - Skid Row and Slave to the Grind - which are iconic 80's metal for those with a penchant for strong vocals. 20 years on from Bach's departure, and following a couple of different frontmen, the band are back with vocalist ZP Theart. The South African has big shoes to fill - literally - in a band that boasts such a catalogue of anthemic songs. So do those size 13 snakeskin boots fit?
Never the quiet unassuming types, Skid Row drape their stage with large US style flags and filter on to the strains of The Ramones Blitzkrieg Bop. All are dressed completely in black and epitomise the metal scene of the 80's although thankfully without the OTT hairstyles. As the entry music fades, the drums of Rob Hammersmith let rip as the band launch into the first of many classics - Slave to the Grind. Fast paced and punchy, Theart shows us that he has all the skills needed to deliver. Looking like a tall Ronni James Dio, he shares RJD's vocal skills. Well he did front Dragonforce. Yes, he fills those boots and makes them his own. The crowd are here to witness, and join in with, a tour de force of 8o's metal warbling. And they got what they came for. It's a workout for the lungs and neck as headbanging, singing and rocking demand breath in equal measures. 'The noose gets tighter round my throat' roars ZP. Just how I'm feeling mate. And Big Guns is what you need for the second track. Lead guitarist Dave 'The Snake' Sabo rips our eardrums out with his sumptuous ESP LTD whilst fills the remnants of our hearing with his sublime Les Paul. Psycho Love, with another strong vocal performance by Theart, is followed by Sweet Little Sister. It's all fast paced adrenalin paced rock designed to break us. No chance. Although we are thankful for a slowing of tempo for the anthemic Eighteen and Life. Not for the voice though as we attempt to split the walls of our small stadium. Thank goodness my terrible tones were lost in the throng. Pass me a beer, we're in for the long haul here. The tempo is back up again for Piece of Me and Livin' on a Chain Gang before putting the brakes on for Ghost, one of their best tracks from recent years - well 2003 anyway. Rachel, co writer of so many of the Skid Row classics takes to the mike for a few minutes to reminisce over 30 years in the band before taking vocal duties in the cover of the Ramones Psycho Therapy. And the audience goes mad. What is it with Skid Row and names. ZP is not an abbreviation - it is his name (they are his grandfathers initials). And Rachel is a hybrid of the bassists brother and grandfathers name. For goodness sake, i will be naming myself after my female parent at this rate.....
The goodness just keeps coming with Medicine Jar from their third, and criminally underrated album Subhuman Race before Sabo picks up the acoustic for the ballsy ballad I Remember You. My croaking vocal chords just about give up the Ghost (sorry, that was 3 songs ago) during my rendition but ZP nails it. It's one of those songs that gives me goose bumps, especially when I'm surrounded by a couple of thousand devotees ruining their larynxes with me. Hill includes a tasteful solo and a touch of banter to finish. Monkey Business allows ZP to banter with the crowd before ending with the rapid fire rock Making a Mess. 'Sing for your supper, nobody rides for free. Eat your heart out, I'll send it C.O.D.' Couldn't have put it better myself.
In true 80's rock style, the boys exit the stage only to reappear for not one but two encores. It's a bargain night that keeps on giving. We Are The Damned leads into school boy favourite Get The Fuck Out. The last of my pharynx fucked off. Mudkicker and In a Darkened Room lead to the obvious closer Youth Gone Wild. What a song. Don't know about the youth, but we went wild alright. 30 years in the business? How the hell did they last playing at that level? Practice makes perfect I suppose. Hopefully i will be back in shape with a new set of pipes before their set at Download later this year.
As my ears ring and the dust settles, I realise I have been lucky enough to witness over six hours of quality rock. I've been to shorter festivals. What a night. I certainly felt i had been on the receiving end of six of the best. Although thankfully not across my skid row. Tonight has been about growing older disgracefully. Thank you Forum, tonight we were B-Side ourselves.
Slave to the Grind
Sweet Little Sister
18 and Life
Piece of Me
Livin' on a Chain Gang
Psycho Therapy (Ramones cover)
I Remember You
Makin' a Mess
We Are the Damned
Get the Fuck Out
In a Darkened Room
Youth Gone Wild