Back to the music today, and I’ve been listening recently to the latest live release from the ever-prolific bluesman Joe Bonamassa. “Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening” is Bonamassa’s second acoustic double live album, and fifteenth live album overall.
I guess to be able to churn out that much product – an there have been eleven live albums in the period covered by his last three studio efforts – then you need something different perhaps to keep the punters coming back for more? Well, this one is certainly different from the rest of his live albums, including the earlier “An Acoustic Evening At The Vienna Opera House” which to my mind was more in keeping with what I like to hear from an acoustic album.
Whereas the frankly excellent “…Vienna…” saw Bonamassa and his array of acoustic guitars augmented by musicians playing instruments such as fiddle, banjo and harmonium – making for a pretty rootsy sound – “…Carnegie…” features backing from an international cast made up of cellist Tina Guo, percussionist Hossam Ramzy, pianist Reese Wynans, multi-instrumentalist Eric Bazilian, drummer Anton Fig and backing vocalists Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins, and Gary Pinto and the resulting sound is somewhat more eclectic.
Kicking things off with Wynan’s picking out the piano introduction taken from Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath” the ensemble are then thundering down the tracks with “This Train” – a song taken from Bonamassa’s “Blues Of Desperation” album which had not, at the time of this show’s recording, been released. Three more of the fifteen songs here also come from that album so it’s testament to the quality of the material that the audience responds so well to them.
Fourth track “Dust Bowl” is one of just five that are repeated from the earlier acoustic release – the others being “Driving Towards The Daylight”, “Mountain Time”, “Black Lung Heartache” and “Woke Up Dreaming”. The rest of the set is made up from another couple of back catalogue numbers with a smattering of interesting covers. Of the latter, including tunes from Leon Russell and Bette Midler, I would have to say that I particularly enjoyed the version of “Song Of Yesterday”, the original of which comes from the self-titled debut album by Black Country Communion, the supergroup that features Bonamassa alongside Glenn Hughes, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian.
“Woke Up Dreaming” features a kind of duel between Bonamassa and Guo and whilst impressive is undoubtedly one of those instances in which a live album recording is less successful than either witnessing the performance at the time or being able to see the visual side of things at the same time. It does however, just like the record as a whole, demonstrate just what good musicians these all are.
I have fond memories of seeing Bonamassa in concert some years ago and would love to do so again. However, with tickets for next year’s British shows starting at £65.00 plus fees I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen. I gather that Bonamassa and his manager put together a structured business plan earlier in his career and – judging by the sheer number of vintage guitars, amps etc. that the man keeps adding to his collection – financially it looks to be working for him. No doubt the huge range of Bonamassa-branded merchandise that is on offer through his website helps with this too, so I do think that the pricing for his shows is honestly too high.
It seems that in recent years Bonamassa has toured with a bigger band, often including backing singers and a brass section for example, so the costs of putting on the show are therefore going to be higher but I would personally rather see him stripped back to the blues rock format that worked so effectively on earlier live releases like “Live From Nowhere In Particular” where there were just four musicians on stage.
I would have liked to have seen a release of a recording from last year’s tour, “A Salute To The British Blues Explosion!”, which featured renditions of tracks by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Led Zeppelin rather than this “…Carnegie…” one, to be honest – again that’s just my personal feeling. This one is very good for what it is, but is unlikely to be among the more frequently played of Bonamassa’s live releases around these parts, not when the aforementioned “…Nowhere In Particular” and the four volume “Tour De Force” set are in my collection anyway. Despite that fact this is still a very good recording and once again demonstrates that this is an artist who is head and shoulders above many out there today. Now if he could just reign in his money-making inner Gene Simmons!…“Live At Carnegie Hall – An Acoustic Evening” tracklist:
1. This Train / 2. Drive / 3. The Valley Runs Low / 4. Dust Bowl / 5. Driving Towards The Daylight / 6. Black Lung Heartache / 7. Blue And Evil / 8. Livin’ Easy / 9. Get Back My Tomorrow / 10. Mountain Time / 11. How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live? / 12. Song Of Yesterday / 13. Woke Up Dreaming / 14. Hummingbird / 15. The Rose
1, 2, 3 and 8 originally from “Blues Of Desperation” (2016) / 4 and 6 originally from “Dust Bowl” (2011) / 5 originally from “Driving Towards The Daylight” (2012) / 7 originally from “Black Rock” (2010) / 9 originally from “Different Shades Of Blue” (2014) / 10 originally from “So, It’s Like That” (2002) /11 cover of Blind Alfred Reed song (1929) / 12 cover of Black Country Communion song from “Black Country Communion” (2010) / 13 originally from “Blues Deluxe” (2003) / 14 cover of Leon Russell song from “Leon Russell” album (1970) / 15 cover of Bette Midler single (1980)
The latest concert outing saw another trip to Bristol – probably the closest big city that has a reasonably regular supply of decent acts appearing. This time it was to a new (to me) venue, and quite likely the smallest venue that I’ve attended a show at to date, the Louisiana, to see psychedelic occult rock band Blood Ceremony on their latest UK jaunt in support of latest album “Lord Of Misrule”.
The show took place in the small upstairs room (capacity just 140) at the pub. The event was billed as a sell-out by the promoters, but when I went up and presented my ticket ten minutes before show-time I had doubts about this as I found myself alone in the room with just a set-up-and-ready-to-go stage area for company!
Feeling more than a little self-conscious I took a photo of the stage and then chose a vantage point along the side of the room, propping myself up on the bar / shelf that ran along the wall as a few other folk began to troop into the darkened room. One downside of this positioning was that as the room filled up I had a less clear view of the low stage and was unable to get any decent photos – hence all the remaining piccies used here were found out there in internet land.
When tickets had gone on sale the support act hadn’t been announced and although heavy rockers Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell were mentioned on the tour poster they weren’t down as appearing at the UK dates in London and Bristol. Shortly before the show date I discovered that the support on the night would be London stoner rock band Steak.
Bang on 7:00pm the four members of the band – vocalist Chris “Kip” Haley, guitarist Reece Tee, James Cameron (bass) and Sammy Forway (drums) – made their way through the expanding audience (the dressing room area is at the opposite end of the room to the stage) onto the stage and launched into riff-heavy opening track “Pisser” from their 2014 debut album “Slab City”.
Numbers such as “King Lizard” and “Overthrow” from their new album “No God To Save” left me with a definite sense of Soundgarden being channelled and Kip himself struck me as being a mixture of the aforementioned Soundgarden’s late Chris Cornell, Jim Morrison (The Doors) and Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) – which is certainly no bad thing.
A band that are often compared to stoner rock legends Kyuss, Steak have bags full of heavy and groovy riffs being belted out of Tee’s fuzz-drenched Les Paul and went down pretty well with the crowd. Kip mentioned that they’d had a five-hour journey to play the gig, and with a slot of just thirty minutes I hope that they felt it was worth it – I’m sure most of those who witnessed them first-hand did. Impressive stuff…
1. Pisser / 2. King Lizard / 3. Living Like A Rat / 4. Liquid Gold / 5. Hanoid / 6. Overthrow
1, 4 and 5 originally from “Slab City” (2014) / 2, 3 and 6 originally from “No God To Save” (2017)
After Steak had dismantled their gear and carried it through the thinned-out audience (many of whom had disappeared downstairs for liquid refreshment) the members of psychedelic / occult rockers Blood Ceremony and their one roadie / driver (I think) ensured that their gear was ready for their own set, which began at 8:00pm.
By that time the room was absolutely packed and the reception afforded to the headliners was more than a little enthusiastic! The focal point of the band is undoubtedly vocalist / keyboardist / flautist Alia O’Brien, and with her long dark tresses, make-up, velvet catsuit and witchy hand gestures she certainly looked the part of mistress of occultic ceremonies!
Following opener “Old Fires” the band turn to classic “Goodbye Gemini” from 2013’s superb “The Eldritch Dark” album – an album that is justly very well represented tonight, accounting for five of the thirteen songs aired. “Drawing Down The Moon” is up next and is, like “Goodbye Gemini” a textbook example of the group’s potent mixture of psychedelia, groovy 70s riffs and O’Brien’s vocalising interspersed with evocative keyboard work, with flute being prominent too in the earlier track.
The next two tracks are among my favourites from last year’s record before the Black Sabbath worshipping “Return To Forever” which boasts more flute and some great axe work from guitarist Sean Kennedy and, like everything the band did, received a fantastic response from the hairy rockers, gothic girls and assorted others – so many of whom knew every word and sang along – filling the room. Unlike other shows I’ve been to of late there was precious little chatter amongst the audience too.
“Lord Summerisle” was book-ended by a couple of songs from “Living With The Ancients”, the album that introduced me to this great band. Bass player Lucas Gadke took the mic for “Lord Summerisle”, which is surely a track that would fit nicely amongst the soundtrack for “The Wicker Man”, the film that inspired it.
The main portion of the set was closed by the brilliant “Witchwood”. Once the initial guitar riff and keyboard atmospherics had given way to the groove of the song the room resembled a scene from some cool 60s horror movie where a club full of people get down to the infectious sounds of the house band. In fact a good number of folk had been grooving throughout, illustrating just how accessible the group’s songs are and the reaction that it provokes, as whilst Blood Ceremony might just be the perfect band for a 60s / 70s Hammer Horror type film they are also very much for today and have clearly made a connection with the audience.
Rather than trying to make their way through the audience only to return for an encore the quartet (completed by drummer Michael Carrillo) elected to remain on stage and get straight into the final two numbers of the evening, “I’m Coming With You” from their debut record and finally the magnificent “The Magician”. A (black) magical and spellbinding performance to be sure and a band that I’d love to see go onto bigger and better things in the near future…
1. Old Fires / 2. Goodbye Gemini / 3. Drawing Down The Moon / 4. Loreley / 5. Half Moon Street / 6. Return To Forever / 7. My Demon Brother / 8. Lord Summerisle / 9. Oliver Haddo / 10. Lord Of Misrule / 11. Witchwood / 12. I’m Coming With You / 13. The Magician
1, 4, 5 and 10 originally from “Lord Of Misrule” (2016) / 2, 3, 8, 11 and 13 originally from “The Eldritch Dark” (2013) / 6 and 12 originally from “Blood Ceremony” (2008) / 7 and 9 originally from “Living With The Ancients” (2011)
I have written in the past about Manchester black metal band Winterfylleth – looking at their 2016 “The Dark Hereafter” album as well as a 2014 live show in Birmingham supporting Polish act Behemoth. Artist Dan Capp has been involved with the creation of Winterfylleth’s artwork for a number of years and joined the band as lead guitarist in early 2015.
Wolcensmen is Capp’s solo project that has been in the works for several years, and was inspired by the acoustic parts of music by the likes of Ulver, Opeth and Empyrium and also by Capp witnessing an Irish folk band playing in a Dublin pub, leading him to reflect that he felt an English version – local pubs etc. with acts regularly performing English folk music – was lacking. Wolcensmen is his answer to that void though, as he says, “…as it happens, the music I’d go on to record had none of the happy, merry-making appeal I’d first envisioned, but anyhow…” I’d venture that Wolcensmen are the English equivalent to the rather super Norwegian act Wardruna who aim to create musical representations of Norse traditions.
“Songs From The Fyrgen” is the debut album from Wolcensmen. The “fyrgen” in the album title refers to mountain woods or a wooded hilltop, so it’s natural that the music contained within should evoke such surroundings. I suppose that the closest his day-job band come to the music found on the record would be something like “Children Of The Stones” (also the title of a super TV series originally broadcast back in 1977) or perhaps “Æfterield-fréon” – both excellent, delicate and atmospheric acoustic pieces.
So it is with this album. Beginning with one of the shortest numbers “Withershins” this is full of acoustic guitars and very natural vocals by the main man, augmented by percussion by Dan & Mark Capp, flute (by American Jake Rogers), some synthesizer (by Grimrik from Germany), piano (by Dries Gaerdelen from Belgium), cello (by Canadian Raphael Weinroth-Browne) and some ritualistic vocals from Norwegian Nash Rothanburg. Despite the multi-national support cast I feel that this record is a very English sounding one.
And that was certainly Capp’s intention. He stated in an interview that Wolcensmen is “…specifically a celebration of old England…”. It is also definitely thematically heathen – “…the Heathen aspect is vital, because I am a Heathen and Wolcensmen is essentially a cultural statement. It is meant to be romantic, and I simply can’t see that there’s anything to romanticise about post-Christian England. It was the beginning of our decline. The stories are mine, except for ‘The Mon o’ Micht’, which is lyrically traditional, and ‘Hoofes Upon the Shymmeringe Path’ whose lyrics are based on the names of the horses belonging to the Asa (Aesir) gods, on which they ride across Bifrost, ‘the shimmering path’, to Asgard. My other lyrics are inspired by folk tales, natural phenomena and esoteric concepts…”
“The Fyre-Bough” is up next and is one of the high points of the album for me. Capp’s voice is almost acapella at points here and there are no rock star histrionics, just an understated delivery that sits perfectly with the theme of the music. The cello and flute parts really shine though on this track too. “Sunne”, the album’s briefest track at 2:42, follows and leads into the excellent “Hoofes Upon The Shymmeringe Path” which has the aforementioned Rothanburg intoning ancient Norse poetry in the background.
The ten-minute plus Heathen epic “‘Neath A Wreath Of Furs” contains all that’s good about the album and just about knocks the later “The Bekens Are Aliht” into second place in terms of my favourite numbers here. In truth there really isn’t a bad track here and the album as a whole is, in my opinion, up there with Skuggsjá’s “A Piece For Mind & Mirror” and “Mausoleum” by Murkur – in fact, had I discovered “Songs From The Fyrgen” last year when it was released, rather than recently, it would likely have elbowed its way onto my top ten albums of the year.
Another quote from Capp is that “…Wolcensmen exists for a specific purpose – to inspire people to reconnect with their ancestors and the old ways of their people. It is Romanticism – not in an unrealistic sense but in an idealistic… don’t settle for what is, strive for what could be… I’d like Wolcensmen to be a small beacon of light in an age of darkness; a small reminder to those not yet dead inside to maintain their inner-spark whilst many of those around them have let it die, wanting for nothing more than to consume and follow…” This really is a fantastic record that transports you to an arguably better time and place. Here’s hoping that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Wolcensmen. Highly recommended to anyone with a love of good folk music, nature, mythology etc…
“Songs From The Fyrgen” tracklist:
1. Withershins / 2. The Fyre-Bough / 3. Sunne / 4. Hoofes Upon The Shymmeringe Path / 5. ‘Neath A Wreath Of Firs / 6. The Mon O’ Micht / 7. Snowfall / 8. The Bekens Are Aliht / 9. Yerninge
I have to admit that it’s taken me a while to get around to reviewing Imelda May‘s latest album “Life. Love. Flesh. Blood”, which came out in April of this year. As many folk will know May has been through something of a reinvention since the release of her previous album “Tribal” back in 2014.
In 2015 she and husband Darrel Higham spilt and that is one of the sources of inspiration that led to the lyrical content on “Life. Love. Flesh. Blood”. Though one can read things into the words of tracks such as “Black Tears” and “Should’ve Been You”, then, I think it’s great that in this era of lack-of-privacy and public spats that both Higham and May have kept details of their issues largely to themselves and are still publicly supportive of each other. May herself has said that “…there are some heartbreak songs on there but then I fell in love again, and had my heart broken again, I was up and down so I write about love and lust and guilt and joy and my family and my child and getting older or getting younger mentally. I wrote about everything…”
Aside from her marital status, May has also changed her visual look, ditching what was her trademark rockabilly hairstyle and pencil skirts for something more relaxed and tousled. Maybe having hit her forties since “Tribal” had something to do with that too. I have to confess that I do prefer her old look personally, as does my wife who thinks that Imelda looks too much like Chrissie Hynde of Pretenders fame.
The music’s changed too. When I started this blog I wrote then about May and her music, and when I first heard “Call Me” I wasn’t sure that I was going to like her new direction. With Higham – previously her creative partner and guitar player – having left her band when they spilt I suppose it was inevitable that there would be some musical knock-on effect, but I wasn’t expecting such a complete overhaul.
Gone from the recording process are not only Higham, but also May’s regular band of Al Gare (bass), Dave Priseman (trumpet / percussion) and Steve Rushton (drums), replaced by a studio band picked by legendary producer T-Bone Burnett that featured himself and Marc Ribot on guitars, Dennis Crouch (bass), Jay Bellerose (drums) and Patrick Warren (keyboards). Guest musicians are Jeff Beck and Jools Holland.
For the most part the rockabilly sound has gone. This is still, however, a record with a rock ‘n’ roll era vibe. It’s there in the musical backing and in the song structures too. This is an album that May is obviously very proud of, as her current tour setlists appear to contain all fifteen album tracks and just four of her own back catalogue numbers. Hopefully future tours will have a more mixed selection of songs as it would be a shame to overlook the great material that she has produced in the past.
With this record, however, May has confounded my own fears and expectations. She has come up with a set of songs that is a distinctive change from her previous work whilst still feeling like it’s a continuation (no bizarre left turns like Queen’s disco album “Hot Space” for example). Initially it didn’t grab me but repeated plays have revealed more depth, fabulous musical performances and some truly wonderful vocals from the lady herself.
Highlights are many, but I will choose the stomping “Game Changer”, delicate ballad “The Girl I Used To Be”, atmospheric “The Longing” playful “Bad Habit” and the brilliant “Black Tears” as my picks of the bunch. Such great songs, and her seemingly genuine and down-to-earth personality means that (despite the image change!) Imelda May remains one of my favourite artists and I can confidently predict that “Life. Love. Flesh. Blood” will feature in my top ten albums of 2017…“Life. Love. Flesh. Blood” tracklist:
1. Call Me / 2. Black Tears / 3. Should’ve Been You / 4. Sixth Sense / 5. Human / 6. How Bad Can A Good Girl Be / 7. Bad Habit / 8. Levitate / 9. When It’s My Time / 10. Leave Me Lonely / 11. The Girl I Used To Be / 12. The Longing / 13. Flesh And Blood / 14. Game Changer / 15. Love And Fear
On Wednesday, with my ears just about having stopped ringing after last Sunday’s fantastic Iron Maiden show, it was time for another gig. The venue this time was the somewhat smaller O2 Academy in Bristol, to see psychedelic legends Hawkwind.
This was to be a very different proposition from the aforementioned show. I arrived at the venue before the doors opened and while there was not yet much of a queue and finished reading Cathi Unsworth’s “Weirdo” novel while I waited.
The doors opened at 7:00pm and, having perused the merchandise stall, I made my way into the main concert area and found a decent enough spot (practically exactly where I was for last year’s Gov’t Mule show) from which to observe proceedings. At 7:30pm the support act strolled unannounced onto the stage in front of a half-empty O2 Academy. Said act was in fact Hawkwind Unplugged – basically the headliners with acoustic guitars. Seemingly a little disorganised there was a fair bit of in-band discussion throughout their thirty minute set.
Somewhat bizarrely this also included the appearance of a badger hand-puppet wielded by drummer and occasional vocalist Richard Chadwick… Anyway, musically the set was a pretty decent quick trip through Hawkwind history – mainly from the 70s, with one track from this year’s “Into The Woods” album and “Get Yourself Together” from leader Dave Brock’s pre-Hawkwind days that eventually saw the light of day on a 90s archive release.
1. Quark, Strangeness And Charm / 2. Get Yourself Together / 3. Age Of The Microman / 4. Ascent / 5. We Took The Wrong Step Years Ago / 6. The Watcher
1 originally from “Quark, Strangeness And Charm” (1977) / 2 originally from “Dawn Of Hawkwind” (1999) / 3 originally from “25 Years On” (1978) / 4 originally from “Into The Woods” (2017) / 5 originally from “In Search Of Space” (1971) / 6 originally from “Doremi Fasol Latido” (1972)
After a half-hour break the band were back on stage – again unannounced – for their main electric set, and by now the O2 was fuller than it had been, but was curiously still less busy than at any previous gig I’d been to at this venue. Kicking off with “Earth Calling” into a lengthy “Born To Go” and with various trippy images projected onto the back of the stage, this was more like your archetypal Hawkwind.
The band are completed by Mr. Dibs (vocals / synthesizer), Magnus Martin (keyboards / guitar), Haz Wheaton (bass) – the latter bearing a strong resemblance to 70s era Lemmy, right down to the Rickenbacker bass guitar, I thought – and Michel Sosna (saxophone).
The set was heavily drawn from what many people would argue is the group’s golden era, 1972-76, with the remaining numbers coming from albums released in the last two years, completely missing any material recorded between 1977 and 2015. If you discount the 1977/78 songs aired in the opening acoustic set that’s something in the region of twenty albums worth of songs ignored. That’s something of a shame, but even with nearly two hours on stage there were still plenty of classics (“Silver Machine”, “Masters Of The Universe”, “Sonic Attack” etc.) that couldn’t be fitted into the show so one can’t complain really and it does show that Brock and his troops have belief in their new material to include four recent tracks.
I have mentioned before, I believe, about audience noise as people chatter when bands are playing. Despite the relatively small crowd this one was easily the noisiest between songs, in terms of talking, and not just between songs either. Between “Steppenwolf” and “Warrior On The Edge Of Time” Martin stepped out from behind his keyboards to play some acoustic guitar. I could only guess that this was some kind of interlude as the crowd noise was so loud that it rendered his playing virtually inaudible, but I have since deduced it was likely “Darkland” from “Into The Woods”. To make matters worse the folk around me had to endure a chap who alternated between enthusiastic hands-in-the-air appreciation of each new tune with then spending most of the songs talking – very loudly – to the people closest to him. Why do these people spend good money on a concert ticket, only to spend most of their time taking practically no notice of the goings-on on stage?!
So, rant over… Brock’s Hawkwind do not put on a spectacle like that displayed by Iron Maiden etc., but then they do not have the financial support or resources to do so either. What they do do is concentrate on playing immersive and hypnotic music accompanied by some decidedly psychedelic images – and they do it jolly well.
In view of the audience noise issues I would have to say that whilst I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of Hawkwind live, I will likely stick to their recorded output in future when I can really hear what’s going on and lose myself in the music…
1. Earth Calling / 2. Born To Go / 3. The Awakening (First Landing On Medusa) / 4. You’d Better Believe It / 5. Have You Seen Them / 6. Vegan Lunch / 7. Steppenwolf / 8. Darkland / 9. Magnu / 10. Golden Void / 11. Synchronised Blue / 12. Into The Woods / 13. Brainstorm / 14. Welcome To The Future / 15. Brainbox Pollution
1, 2, 3 and 14 originally from “Space Ritual” (1973) / 4 originally from “Hall Of The Mountain Grill” (1974) / 5, 6, 8 and 12 originally from “In The Woods” (2017) / 7 originally from “Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music” (1976) / 9 and 10 originally from “Warrior On The Edge Of Time” (1975) / 11 originally from “The Machine Stops” (2016) / 13 and 15 originally from “Doremi Fasol Latido” (1972)
On Sunday I finally managed to see a band that’s been on my to-see list for a long, long time – the mighty Iron Maiden. In fact I had tickets to see them way at the Birmingham N.E.C. way back in late 1990 during their “No Prayer On The Road” tour, with thrash legends Anthrax as support, but for reasons that I can’t remember didn’t get to go.
Since singer Bruce Dickinson and third lead guitarist Adrian Smith rejoined the band in 1999 the group have alternated between “best of” tours and tours in support of new material. This year’s UK tour is one of the latter and is all about promoting 2015’s excellent double album “The Book Of Souls” and was held at the former N.I.A. in Birmingham, these days re-christened the Barclaycard Arena.
Having secured a standing ticket I made sure I was up in Birmingham in plenty of time to find parking and get to the venue well before the doors opened, and so I found myself enjoying the late afternoon sunshine and reading a book as joined a pretty short queue at 5:00pm. The doors opened a while later and after a short wait the assembled throng were allowed into the arena itself at around 6:00pm and I was lucky enough to find myself just four people from the barrier at the front of the stage, ensuring an excellent view of proceedings.
Around 7:30pm the selection of rock classics being played through the P.A. faded away to be replaced by a far-louder rendition of “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince, which served as intro tape for American rockers Shinedown who kicked off their set with an energetic and well-received “Devour”. The band seem to be quite big in their homeland, and have been making inroads in the UK of late, having toured as main support to both Alter Bridge and Black Stone Cherry in recent years, appearing before the headliners and after Halestorm on both occasions.
Vocalist Brent Smith was decked out in shirt and tie under his black leather jacket, hair slicked back, while guitarist Zack Myers and bassist Eric Bass both sported waistcoat and jacket over their own shirt / tie combos as the pair leaped about the stage a little like city bankers in a Busted tribute act! Dreadlocked drummer Barry Kerch completed the lineup.
I wasn’t overly familiar with the band’s back catalogue prior to the show, but having heard them played on the radio on the drive up I wasn’t sure how well they would come across on stage, especially before a band like Maiden. Overall I was pretty impressed. Smith certainly has the showman moves worked out and there were plenty of shapes being thrown by Myers and Bass – the former pulling off some pretty good guitar soloing too.
Not so convinced about the whole “turn and greet your neighbour” shtick and it also seemed rather over the top to spend several minutes building the audience up in order for everybody to jump up and down in one of the songs. I suspect that the band had taped vocal help too, particularly as most tracks had a taped intro, but that aside I have certainly witnessed far worse support bands and at least they had decent songs to perform. For me the best numbers were the aforementioned “Devoured”, “Enemies”, “Second Chance” and “Cut The Cord”
1. Devour / 2. Fly From The Inside / 3. Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom) / 4. How Did You Love / 5. Unity / 6. Enemies / 7. Second Chance / 8. Cut The Cord / 9. Sound Of Madness
1, 3, 7 & 9 originally from “The Sound Of Madness” (2008) / 2 originally from “Leave A Whisper” (2003) / 4 & 8 originally from “Threat To Survival” (2015) / 5 & 6 originally from “Amaryllis” (2012)
Then followed about half an hour of watching Shinedown’s gear being broken down and removed from the stage and then as road crew put monitors in place, checked mics and guitars etc. and made sure that the headliners stage design stayed literally under wraps before their regular intro tape – UFO’s classic “Doctor Doctor” blasted out of the speakers – which thousands of enthusiastic Maiden fans singing along with every word.
A montage from (I think) the band’s “Legacy Of The Beast” video game played across the two large video screens either side of the stage before a spotlight picked out 58 year-old frontman Bruce Dickinson bent forward over a smoking pot at the back of the stage as he sang the opening lines to the latest album’s first number “If Eternity Should Fail” before the rest of the band joined in as the song burst fully into life and the whole stage exploded in numerous colours with flames shooting into the air. Spectacular stuff.
From there it was straight into a breathless “Speed Of Light” and the show just continued to impress. As well as Dickinson running around with the energy levels of a man a third of his age, the trio of guitarists – Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers (all 60 years old), bassist / band leader Steve Harris (61) and drumming powerhouse Nicko McBrain (64) belied their years throughout the relentless performance.
The setlist was structured to follow the pattern of two “Book Of Souls” numbers followed by two back catalogue tracks for the main part of the set, with another three classic songs held back for the inevitable and well-deserved encore.
Highlights very many. A ferocious rendition of pre-Dickinson era “Wrathchild”, the singalong 13-plus minute “The Red And The Black”, Dickinson monkeying around during “Death Or Glory” with bananas, Gers and Dickinson duelling with mascot Eddie as he lumbered around the stage during “Book Of Souls”, classic “Children Of The Damned”, the good-natured banter with a vicar in the audience, Gers throwing his stratocaster around with abandon, etc. etc.
No doubt there will be one or two disappointed that they didn’t play particular favourite songs, but this was always going to be a set built around a sizeable portion of the latest album and with such a great album to take songs from I can honestly say that I had no such disappointment.
The whole band looked to be really enjoying themselves, which is great to see for a band with such a long history, Harris singing along to every word and working the crowd, Murray smiling benignly throughout as he, Smith and Gers effortlessly pealed out super riffs, licks and solos, McBrain drumming up a storm behind his kit and, of course, multi- talented singer / pilot / fencer / author / Dickinson constantly on the move between costume changes.
Generally speaking I’d say that the audience was excellent, good-humoured and practically everyone I saw appeared to be having the time of their lives. There were, as is all too often the case, a few who threatened to spoil things for others, such as those trying to push their way through to the front of the crowd because their companion was too short to see (they should perhaps have got there earlier or chose a seated ticket!) or those doing likewise just because and threatening to fight anyone who complained about their behaviour (they should have got there earlier too…).
On a personal note events took a rather embarrassing turn during “The Number Of The Beast” as the heat from the densely packed crown and the pyrotechnics on stage began to affect me and having initially thought “blimey it’s getting a bit too warm now” I reached the realisation within about thirty seconds that if I didn’t get out of that space right then I was going to collapse! Fortunately I didn’t encounter any difficulties in reaching the edge of the crowd where the venue staff immediately gave me some water and helped me out into the corridor – as by that point I could barely speak or stand! Full marks to the staff there, who were absolutely brilliant – many thanks.
Sadly that meant that I only heard the final couple of tunes through the wall from the corridor, but despite that slight drawback I can honestly say that Maiden put on a superb show and I wouldn’t hesitate in going to see them again – hopefully on the next “best of” tour that they do. Not the cheapest show I’ll see this year by a long way, but well worth the money. A brilliant show from a top class band. Up the Irons…
1. If Eternity Should Fail / 2. Speed Of Light / 3. Wrathchild / 4. Children Of The Damned / 5. Death Or Glory / 6. The Red And The Black / 7. The Trooper / 8. Powerslave / 9. The Great Unknown / 10. Book Of Souls / 11. Fear Of The Dark / 12. Iron Maiden / 13. The Number Of The Beast / 14. Blood Brothers / 15. Wasted Years
1, 2, 5, 6, 9 & 10 originally from “The Book Of Souls” (2015) / 3 originally from “Killers” (1981) / 4 & 13 originally from “The Number Of The Beast” (1982) / 7 originally from “Piece Of Mind” (1983) / 8 originally from “Powerslave” (1984) / 11 originally from “Fear Of The Dark” (1992) / 12 originally from “Iron Maiden” (1980) / 14 originally from “Brave New World” (2000) / 15 originally from “Somewhere In Time” (1986)
Entries on my blog have been rather sporadic thus far in 2017 and I have realised that there have so far been only two music-related posts – a look at a psychedelic compilation and a gig review. I’m not sure why I’ve not written much on the music front. It’s certainly not because there isn’t any good new (and old) music being discovered and listened to with over two hundred new releases already having been digested since January.
There will be a more gig posts coming up soon as I have shows by Iron Maiden and Hawkwind in my diary during the next week or so, and a few more over the coming months too, but for now I thought I’d return to my rather occasional series on “top ten albums of the year” and look back at my personal favourite ten releases of 2016.
These weren’t easy to choose – with over six hundred new albums passing across my desk to shift through – and the list will likely change as time goes by but here are my current favourite ten albums of 2016, some of which got an individual review last year…
1. Alter Bridge “The Last Hero”
It’s not the first time that Alter Bridge have made my top ten, having achieved that with “AB III” for 2010’s list. I wouldn’t bet against them making the lists for the years that their other three albums hit the shelves either once I get around to looking back at those particular years. Back to 2016, however, and the band’s excellent fifth studio album “The Last Hero”.
A natural progression from previous record “Fortress”, the album is a little over an hour of top quality hard rock music. Kicking things off is lead single “Show Me A Leader”, which really tells you everything you need to know. Huge guitar riffs, thunderous bass and drums, face-melting soloing from guitar hero Mark Tremonti all topped off with majestic vocals from Myles Kennedy as he sings lyrics demonstrating discontent with today’s political leaders. If you like that you’ll love this record. Alter Bridge are a band that keep getting better and better.
“…the latest (and presumably last, unless there’s stuff in the vaults for future releases) album is, of course, the brand new “Blackstar”. So how does it stack up against his back catalogue? Well, to be honest, to begin with I found it hard going, especially after the fairly straight-forward sounds of “The Next Day”. Having given it repeated plays however, especially in the last twenty-four hours I have to say that it has really grown on me and I now think it’s fabulous!
Kicking off with the near-ten-minute title track, a fusion of drum ‘n’ bass percussion, jazz parts, ethereal vocals, progressive rock style changes and a fairly impenetrable lyric! It takes a few listens to get a handle on, but boy is it a great track… In the end this is a wonderful piece of music by a man who has for decades reinvented himself and his art, so makes for a fitting epitaph…”
3. Epica “The Holographic Principle”
I’ve been an admirer of Dutch band Epica since hearing their debut album “The Phantom Agony” in 2003 and was fortunate enough to be able to witness the band performing live in Bristol in late 2015 when they were touring sixth studio record “The Quantum Enigma”.
September 2016 saw the release of the follow-up album, “The Holographic Principle”. As is usual with a band whose music is as layered and complex as Epica, it took a while to get into the album. When you’re dealing with orchestral instrumentation and choral vocals on top of the six band members contributions there’s a lot to take in. Add in the concept of the record, which is looking at “…the near future, where virtual reality allows people to create their own worlds which can’t be distinguished from ‘reality as we know it’. This raises the question whether our current reality could be a virtual reality in itself – a hologram. The lyrics challenge you to reconsider everything you took for granted and to be open-minded towards recent revolutions in science. Nothing appears to be what it seems in our holographic universe…” So that’s straightforward enough eh?
Leaving aside the lyrical concept, one can enjoy the album simply for the songs themselves. A super mix of classical themes and driving heavy metal riffs and solos with Simone Simons’ fabulous vocal delivery on top, as illustrated perfectly by the singles “Universal Death Squad” and “Edge Of The Blade”. Perhaps not the most immediate record to appreciate but one that is worth taking the time to get into for sure.
4. Ihsahn “Arktis”
If the Epica record demands some listening to really appreciate, then that applies possibly even more to “Arktis”, the sixth solo album from Ihsahn, guitarist / vocalist from Norwegian black metal band Emperor. That’s not because it’s inaccessible, however, but because it is a diverse platter indeed. Progressive metal riffs and black metal vocals dominate tracks such as “Mass Darkness” but suddenly electronics rear their head on “South Winds”. “Until I Too Dissolve” is almost hair metal in a way, “Crooked Red Line” has acoustic and jazzy elements and closing nine-minute bonus track “Til Tor Ulven (Soppelsolen)” is an ambient spoken-word piece that gradually morphs into glacial black metal vocal styling.
There are echoes of Opeth’s mix of progressive metal and 1970s rock sounds to be heard too. You never know quite what to expect next and despite the variations in style and singing style throughout it is both easy to listen to and challenging too. A simply awesome album from start to finish…
“Sometimes I hear a record and it instantly connects, others take a while to kind of sink in and improve with repeated listens. Then there are the albums that somehow manage to do both – they’re immediately gratifying and yet continue to get better with each listen. English blues singer / guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor‘s latest album “Wild” is definitely one of the latter.
I believe that with this simply superb record Joanne Shaw Taylor – an inspired and inspiring musician – deserves her place amongst the greats…”
6. Joe Bonamassa “Blues Of Desperation”
There are surely few modern musicians as prolific as blues singer / guitarist Joe Bonamassa. Since his 2000 debut album “A New Day Yesterday” he has released, to date, a further eleven studio albums, thirteen live albums, three albums with singer Beth Hart, four as a member of Black Country Communion and three a part of Rock Candy Funk Party – so I make that thirty-five albums in sixteen years?! Anyway, Bonamassa’s most recent solo studio release is “Blues Of Desperation”. This followed 2014’s “Different Shades Of Blue” which was strong without quite reaching the heights of some of his other work such as “Dust Bowl” or “The Ballad Of John Henry”.
From the moment opener “This Train” comes steaming out of the speakers the suggestion is that this album is a step up from the last, and each successive track goes to confirm that to be correct.
There are the heavy blues numbers like “Mountain Climbing” and the laid back late night tracks like “Drive”, the Led Zeppelin-tinged title track and of course a good extended guitar workout in “No Good Place For The Lonely”. A simply brilliant guitar player and still-improving singer, Joe Bonamassa remains an artist to be reckoned with.
7. Marillion “F.E.A.R. (Fuck Everyone And Run)”
Although there will always be folk who think of Marillion as being the band headed by singer Fish (who held that role from 1981-88), the band’s many fans have continued to follow and enjoy their evolution since current vocalist Steve “H” Hogarth took on the mantle in 1989. “F.E.A.R…” is the band’s fourteenth album with Hogarth at the mic, and carries on their strong catalogue from where 2012’s “Sounds That Can’t Be Made” left off, with excellent musicianship, great songs and thought-provoking lyrics.
This time around the themes of the record are inspired by the state of the country and the world today. Hogarth stated “…the title is adopted and sung tenderly, in sadness and resignation inspired by an England, and a world, which increasingly functions on an “Every man for himself” philosophy. There’s a sense of foreboding that permeates much of this record. I have a feeling that we’re approaching some kind of sea-change in the world – an irreversible political, financial, humanitarian and environmental storm…”
With a duration of over an hour the record comprises just six tracks, and is one of those that rewards total immersion to fully appreciate both the music and the message – the latter including greed and corruption (“The New Kings”), war (“Living In FEAR”), lost youth (“White Paper”) and even life on the road (“The Leavers”). Perhaps the most potent of all, though, is the opener “El Dorado” with lines including “…we all know about the wars that are raging, all the millions who just cannot see, there’s so much more that binds us than divides us but our fear denies it while the papers stir it, the colours of the flag we wave were and will become blood red again…”. The band do not preach and give us answers but ask plenty of questions and get us to think about what the answers might be.
For a group approaching forty years of age one could be forgiven for expecting something formulaic and so-so but this is surely one of Marillion’s strongest albums yet and a real tour de force from the whole band.
“…not an acoustic album in the usual sense, the songs are recognisable from the original versions and yet the treatment given here means that they do stand up in their own right. In fairness, I find it impossible to point to any particular highlights on this record as all nine tracks are uniformly excellent. Despite not having the extremes in sound of the studio work this beautiful recording still enchants the listener. Best listened to late at night in the dark, or perhaps out in the forest or on a hill without modern civilisation breaking the spell, this is twenty-seven minutes of pure atmosphere. Utterly compelling listening…”
9. Opeth “Sorceress”
“Sorceress” is the twelfth studio album from Swedish progressive metal band Opeth, recorded not far from here at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth. It all starts peacefully enough with the delicate acoustic guitar and piano intro of “Persephone”. The jazzy groove of the title track then starts up before a massively heavy guitar riff kicks in at around a minute in, ushering in Mikael Åkerfeldt’s clean vocals. Death metal vocals are heard less and less with Opeth as the years go by but amongst the lighter moments that adorn their material these days there are still plenty of crushingly heavy passages.
Although only two of the album’s thirteen tracks made the setlist for the band’s Wembley show last year – the title track and “The Wilde Flowers” – the rest of the record is certainly strong enough to be included alongside their classic material, with my favourites including “Chrysalis”, “Era” and the brilliant “Strange Brew”.
“…you would perhaps expect Skuggsjá’s music to sound like a cross between Enslaved and Wardruna, given who the creative forces behind the project are. Bjørnson contributes vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards whilst Selvik provides vocals, taglharpa, Kravik-lyre, goat-horn, birch-bark lure, bone-flute, percussion and electronics.
This is a unique sounding album, taking the best of the two composers’ day jobs and coming up with something distinctively different, even from one track to the next. The running order is beautifully balanced and the whole thing is evocative and uplifting, a superb album from start to finish…”
So there we have it. My favourite ten albums released in 2016. Honourable mentions should be made to records that nearly made the grade, which include All Saints “Red Flag”), Big Big Train (“Folklore”), Seth Lakeman (“Ballads Of The Broken Few), Megadeth (“Dystopia”), Merry Hell (“Bloodlines) and Winterfylleth (“The Dark Hereafter”). A less than honourable mention, however, must go to Meat Loaf for his “Braver Than We Are” album which recycles old Jim Steinman numbers (including lines later used for Bonnie Tyler’s hit “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” which just sound odd re-used in this context) as sung by a legendary performer who just doesn’t seem to be able to sing anymore. Not one that will get many repeat plays around here I’m afraid, and this review sadly sums it up very well.
OK, I’ll get back to individual album reviews shortly, with releases from Wolcensmen, Thunder, Snakecharmer, Quinn Sullivan, Fen, Mostly Autumn and the lovely Imelda May on rotation at the moment…
Time for a word or three about the latest gig attended by myself and my good lady wife. Thursday 6 April saw the pair of us setting off for Bristol to see southern rockers Blackberry Smoke at the O2 Academy.
We left home just after 4pm, keen to avoid the issues that we’d had on our last concert trip to the city, when heavy traffic on the M32 had caused us to miss all but one song by the opening band when we went to see Dutch metallers Epica at the O2 Academy.
Taking the alternative route from the Severn Crossing meant that we travelled south briefly on the M5 before heading into the city via The Downs. The result of this was time for a visit to Pizza Hut before the show and still left enough time (just!) to make it to the O2 before the doors opened at 7:00pm.
As before, the venue staff were very good and soon had us in the access area for disabled customers and carers. Sadly this was where we encountered the low point of the evening. This show was clearly a popular one and the access area filled up very quickly. Unfortunately, however, it was obvious that a number of the seats were being taken by the able-bodied carers which meant that some of those with access needs were unable to get into the area. I appreciate that it is a help for the disabled person and carer to be close to one another – I stand behind my wife’s chair if room permits – and have no problem with the carers sitting if space allows, but on this occasion there were one or two who were clearly oblivious to the needs of others, whether this was by being unaware or just simply ignorant… well, only they will know for sure but I wonder if there is a better way for these areas to be allocated to customers so that those with genuine need get the seats first?
Anyway, on with the show… First up, from the same American town as the headliners – Atlanta, Georgia – were Biters. A rather different proposition than the headliners, Biters offer hard rock with a definite Seventies vibe. You can hear echoes of bands like Cheap Trick in their sound and a few of the songs, such as “Heart Fulla Rock ‘N’ Roll” were very reminiscent of Marc Bolan’s T. Rex. This is not a bad thing, as the band’s songs are original yet instantly kind of familiar.
Fronted by singer / guitarist Tuk Smith (“he looks like Noel Fielding”, said my wife, who’s probably not the first person to make the comparison), Biters are the kind of band that remind you why rock music can be such fun and make you want to pick up an instrument and play. To be honest I don’t think their records to date have really done the band justice in terms of getting their sound across and tracks like “Low Lives In Hi Definition” and the excellent closer “1975” hit far harder in the live arena. Songs were aired from their debut album as well as a few from their upcoming second full length release “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be”.
Smith was an engaging front man and told a couple of funny road stories which I’m sure helped the audience warm to the band. Ably assisted by seriously impressive guitarist Matt Gabs – how could he see to play those great solos with his face almost constantly obscured by hair?! – bassist Philip Anthony and rock solid drummer Joey O’Brien, Smith’s band got the night’s entertainment off to a great start and went down very well with the Bristol crowd.
1. Restless Hearts / 2. Low Lives In Hi Definition / 3. Gypsy Rose / 4. Hallucination Generation / 5. So Many Nights / 6. Going Back To Georgia / 7. Stone Cold Love / 8. Heart Fulla Rock ‘N’ Roll / 9. 1975
1, 2, 8 and 9 originally from “Electric Blood” (2015) / 4 and 5 originally from “Last Of A Dying Breed” (2012) / 3, 6 and 7 originally from “The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be” (2017)
Once Biters and their small crew had cleared their gear from the stage and we’d had an interval it was time for the lights to go down again as singer / lead guitarist Charlie Starr led his band Blackberry Smoke into a storming rendition of “Fire In The Hole”. If you thought Biters had gone down well – and I did – then the response to Blackberry Smoke was nothing short of ecstatic.
Starr comes across a little like he’s part-rock star and part-evangelist preacher, which is no huge surprise when you realise that he comes from a very musical family with his dad being a guitar player and singer and his paternal grandmother teaching him all about gospel singing and harmony. The latter shines through on Blackberry Smoke material where every song is catchy and memorable, whether it’s one of their acoustic tunes like the hillbilly country of “I Ain’t Got The Blues”, the harder rocking stuff like “Up In Smoke” or the likes of “Pretty Little Lie” which sits somewhere in between. Large sections of the crowd seemed to know practically every word and sang along with great gusto!
Completing the line-up of the band are the ever-smiling Paul Jackson (guitar / vocals), Brandon Still (keyboards) and the hat-wearing duo of Brit Turner (drums) and steady-as-a-rock Richard Turner (bass, vocals).
Blackberry Smoke’s music evokes the spirit of bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Crowes (whose Chris Robinson gave Starr’s group their name), Blackfoot and The Allman Brothers Band.
In fact the latter are given a nod during the extended rendition of “Sleeping Dogs” with a snippet of their “Mountain Jam” in the jam section that also features a blast of Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come”. I was slightly concerned that this lengthy workout would fall on deaf ears with my wife, as she doesn’t always enjoy that aspect, preferring the more country music elements at play. I needn’t have worried though. Shortly before the band left the stage prior to returning for a well deserved encore she leaned back in her chair and looked back to me asking what time the band had first come on stage. When I told her she looked at her watch and declared that she’d slept through about an hour of the group’s set – her pain medication taking effect as it had done during our previous visit to the venue, but for rather longer this time!
In a setlist heavy with tunes from the group’s breakthrough album “The Whippoorwill” and last year’s release “Like An Arrow”, my personal highlights from the show, which didn’t have a duff moment in it, would be the superb one-two of “Six Ways To Sunday” and “Good One Comin’ On”, the aforementioned “Sleeping Dogs”, the simply brilliant “Pretty Little Lie” and an energetic cover of The Move’s “California Man”.
A mate of mine has seen Blackberry Smoke a number of times and been regularly enthusing about their performances. Although I’ve enjoyed their records before the show I hadn’t appreciated quite how good a band they are and will certainly look out for them on tour in future.
This was a top quality Southern-flavoured show that meant I just had to get my guitar out the next day and attempt to jam along to 2012’s “The Whippoorwill” album and also inspired me to dig out the “Dukes Of Hazzard” movie remake (nothing to do with Jessica Simpson’s greatest hits, honest guv!) and see if I can track down the original TV series too.
Blackberry Smoke – a great band giving us a great soundtrack on a great night out…
Setlist: (I’m not 100% sure that this is right. The list on www.setlist.fm has changed a few times since the first person uploaded it and I’m positive it’s still missing one song that was definitely played, “Ain’t Got The Blues”, which I’ve used an educated guess to place at track 14!)
1. Fire In The Hole / 2. Six Ways To Sunday / 3. Good One Comin’ On / 4. Waiting For The Thunder / 5. Scare The Devil / 6. Like An Arrow / 7. Leave A Scar / 8. Rock And Roll Again / 9. Sleeping Dogs / Your Time Is Gonna Come / Mountain Jam / Sleeping Dogs 10. Shakin’ Hands With The Holy Ghost / 11. Pretty Little Lie / 12. Up In Smoke / 13. Let It Burn / 14. Ain’t Got The Blues / 15. Payback’s A Bitch / 16. Sunrise In Texas / 17. California Man / 18. One Horse Town / 19. Ain’t Much Left Of Me
1, 8 and 15 originally from “Holding All The Roses” (2015) / 2, 7, 10, 11, 14, 18, and 19 originally from “The Whippoorwill” (2012) / 3 and 12 originally from “Little Piece Of Dixie” (2009) / 4, 6, 13 and 16 originally from “Like An Arrow” (2016) / 5 originally from “Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime” (2004) / 9 originally from “The Whippoorwill” (2012) / cover of Led Zeppelin song from “Led Zeppelin” (1969) / cover of The Allman Brothers Band song from “Eat A Peach” (1972) / 17 cover of The Move single (1972)
Now I have stumbled across Grapefruit’s latest “a journey through” offering, released during the summer of 2016, is “I’m A Freak, Baby… : A Journey Through The British Heavy Psych And Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-72”. Now, granted the use of the word “underground” doesn’t apply to all the music contained in this latest triple set, any more than it really did with the prior two, as there are a number of very well-known acts featured in each. However, I do think that the majority of the material presented for us to immerse ourselves in is likely to be unfamiliar to many, if not most, listeners.
First, though, let’s look at the more familiar fare. Disc one brings us “Do It” by The Pink Fairies and “Cherry Red” by The Groundhogs, the second disc contains Deep Purple’s “Fireball” along with tracks from the Edgar Broughton Band and the Move, whilst the final disc bears “Gypsy” from Uriah Heep, Fleetwood Mac’s “The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown)” as well as tracks from Taste and The Yardbirds. All great tracks and, to be honest, the easy recognition of these numbers helps to balance against the unknown songs spread across the rest of the three discs.
Amongst the acts that are less well-known are a number that can already be found nestled within my music library. These include the opening nine-plus minute “All In Your Mind” by Stray, which was covered by heavy metal legends Iron Maiden on the b-side of their 1990 hit “Holy Smoke”. Others I was already at least partly familiar with include Chicken Shack’s “Going Down”, “Heart Without A Home” by Blonde On Blonde, The Gun’s “Race With The Devil” and “Escalator” from Sam Gopal featuring future Motörhead leader Lemmy on vocals and guitar.
Moving on to the new-to-me artists, I particularly enjoyed the offerings from The Iron Maiden (“Falling”) (not to be confused with the above-mentioned metal band, Dark (“Zero Time”), The Kult (“Occult”), Jerusalem (“Primitive Man”), Barnabus (“Apocalypse”), Egor (“Street”), Cycle (“Father Of Time”) and Irish band Skid Row (“Go, I’m Never Gonna Let You)”) – the latter being the late guitar ace Gary Moore’s first professional band.
I should also make mention of “Sweet Mistress Of Pain”, a track credited to Hawkwind Zoo. Also known under the alternate title of “Kiss Of The Velvet Whip”, this was recorded in late 1969 by the newly-formed band just prior to their name change, dropping the “Zoo” to become simply Hawkwind – a band synonymous with psychedelic music if ever there was one.
Oddly, although I would consider myself more of a rock fan than folk fan, I think on balance that I’ll likely listen to the “Dust On The Nettles” set more often than this one.
As with the folk anthology the sound quality varies a little, but this is a small price to pay for having some real rarities present. Whilst the former set included a massive sixty-three songs, “I’m A Freak…” contains just forty-eight. However, with a running time of just a few minutes shy of four hours there’s not much to complain about. Well worth digging into…
“I’m A Freak, Baby… : A Journey Through The British Heavy Psych And Hard Rock Underground Scene 1968-72” tracklist:
1. All In Your Mind / 2. Cast A Spell / 3. Hot Smoke And Sassafras / 4. My Son’s Alive / 5. Going Down / 6. Father Of Time / 7. I’m Coming Home / 8. Do It / 9. Time Machine / 10. Cherry Red / 11. I’m A Freak / 12. Rock My Soul / 13. Sweet Mistress Of Pain / 14. Nightmare / 15. Falling / 16. Apocalypse
1. Stray / 2. The Open Mind / 3. The Moochie / 4. Crushed Butler / 5. Chicken Shack / 6. Cycle / 7. The Deviants / 8. The Pink Fairies / 9. Factory / 10. The Groundhogs / 11. Wicked Lady / 12. Charge / 13. Hawkwind Zoo / 14. Stonehouse / 15. The Iron Maiden / 16. Barnabus
1. Bogeyman / 2. Fireball / 3. Primitive Man / 4. Love In The Rain / 5. Trust / 6. Rhubarb! / 7. Dream / 8. Skullcrusher / 9. Zero Time / 10. Jehovah / 11. Brontosaurus / 12. Bring It To Jerome / 13. Mr. Make Believe / 14. Flash / 15. Street Walking Woman / 16. Go, I’m Never Gonna Let You
1. Writing On The Wall / 2. Deep Purple / 3. Jerusalem / 4. Edgar Broughton Band / 5. Hellmet / 6. Second Hand / 7. Little Free Rock / 8. Iron Claw / 9. Dark / 10. The Velvet Frogs / 11. The Move / 12. Stack Waddy / 13. Samuel Prody / 14. Bare Sole / 15. The Phoenix / 16. Skid Row
1. Race With The Devil / 2. Heart Without A Home / 3. Ascension Day / 4. Street / 5. Escalator / 6. Gypsy / 7. Garden Of My Mind / 8. Think About It / 9. Trying To Find My Way Back Home / 10. Yellow Cave Woman / 11. Too Old / 12. The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) / 13. Twisted Trip Woman / 14. Occult / 15. Born On The Wrong Side Of Time / 16. Hollis Brown
1. The Gun / 2. Blonde On Blonde / 3. Third World War / 4. Egor / 5. Sam Gopal / 6. Uriah Heep / 7. The Mickey Finn / 8. The Yardbirds / 9. Morning After / 10. Velvett Fogg / 11. Andromeda / 12. Fleetwood Mac / 13. Sweet Slag / 14. The Kult / 15. Taste / 16. Fusion Farm
A week ago today I was enjoying a Christmas Eve meal with the in-laws when the awful news came through – Status Quo man Rick Parfitt had died. More than any high-profile musician to pass away in the previous twelve months – whether it be Lemmy, David Bowie, Prince, etc. etc. this one affected me.
I knew I was going to have to make some comment on his passing – but what to say to begin to do the justice to man and his contribution to music? There were some lovely words on various news sites etc. following Rick’s death but he was quickly replaced there when George Michael passed away the very next day.
No disrespect to George Michael, who was a great singer, but for me the amount of coverage that he was given vs. Rick seemed to suggest that he was by far the more significant and iconic figure. And maybe to many he was, whilst perhaps it was also reflective of how often Quo have been derided in the press as three chord wonders etc.
Anyway, I suspect that my family may have grown a little tired of the sound of Quo blasting from my speakers over the past week as I’ve paid tribute to Rick and the boys through the stereo and reacquainted myself with much of their music that had slipped from the kind of regular rotation that it used to enjoy.
Quo were my first love as a band, way back in 1981, and have been right up there ever since. Having received the brand new “Never Too Late” album as an Easter present that year, I obtained their entire album back catalogue as quickly as I was able to and have followed the band through all the highs and lows ever since.
In the summer of 1984 I went to see the band live for the first time on their “End Of The Road” tour. At the time I thought it would be my one and only opportunity to witness them play, as the tour was billed as a farewell to the road. And contrary to the jibes aimed at the band, until this year’s “Last Night Of The Electrics” final electric tour before a switch to acoustic touring, that has been their one and only “farewell” tour!. Luckily for me, and many thousands of others, a re-grouping in 1986 meant the return of the band on record and on stage.
Since then I’ve enjoyed a further fourteen Quo shows, including my wife’s first ever rock concert on the “In Search Of The Fourth Chord” tour. Nothing compared to a great many regular gig goers I’m sure, and I have to confess that my enthusiasm waned at times for their concerts as the set list remained pretty static for long periods of time. Nonetheless, every single show that I went to was well worth the time and money as the band never failed to give anything but a top-class performance.
Having been an ever-present since joining in the late 60s, it was with great sadness that I learnt of Rick’s decision not to return to the band following his latest heart attack this summer. I could completely understand that though, given the need to protect his health and also his desire that if he was going to make further music it needed to “rock” – which sadly the band’s recent studio output and future touring plans do not accommodate.
Francis Rossi has been on the receiving end of an awful lot of stick from so-called Quo fans who seem to take great delight in slagging off everything that the band have done since the “frantic four” ceased to be in 1982. Whilst I realise that Francis has been for a long time the leader of the band I think that this abuse is very unfair. There is an argument that if he’s had his way then Quo would have been doing acoustic and country-style music for decades and that he resented playing the old hits all the time. There may be some truth to this. Certainly he is more inclined to go down the acoustic and lighter Quo route than Rick was, and many a musician who’s been performing for a long time is surely going to tire of some of the material that really has to be played to satisfy both the hardcore and casual concert goer?
What is beyond doubt to me, though, is that Francis and Rick have been the public face of Quo for many years now. With Rick gone many have called the band the Francis Rossi Band or Francis Rossi’s Quo.
Let’s look at the facts. Whilst Rossi, Parfitt, Lancaster and Coghlan were all band members between 1967 and 1981, the “frantic four” itself only lasted from 1970 (following the departure of keyboardist Roy Lynes) to late 1976 (when Andrew Bown became an official member). So, depending on your point of view either fifteen or just seven years. Plus a handful of reunion gigs in 2013 and 2014 of course. In that time they produced eleven (or six!) studio albums.
John “Rhino” Edwards has been playing bass for Quo since 1986. By my reckoning – and leaving drummers aside as there have now been four since Coghlan left – that means the core of Rossi, Parfitt, Bown and Edwards were together for thirty years, at least double that of the fabled “frantic four”, and produced sixteen studio albums. Surely, then, those band members have every right to keep calling themselves Status Quo – even after Rick’s departure and death?
Yes, the bulk of the live set is still taken from the pre-1982 albums but, again, isn’t that the curse of so many “heritage” acts who are compelled to play the old stuff live in preference over their newer material? Bottom line, for me, is that “Quo-light” is as essential overall as the “classic” band and that, frankly, we should be grateful to Francis, Rick and co. for all the great music and performances that they’ve given us since 1986.
Following his enforced retirement from the band, Richie Malone has come in as stand-in for Rick on the band’s recent tour dates and done a great job by most accounts. However, at this point, who knows what – if any – future the band has?
I digress. Back to the late Mr. Parfitt. When I was young it was Rick who I aspired to be. Sure sometimes I had to pretend to be Francis (with my shirt collar turned under to imitate his grandad shirt!) so that I could sing the lead vocals while miming away to the records, but it was Rick, the golden-maned rock god (let’s ignore some of the naff haircuts he had occasionally!), for the heads down riffing and some of the best songs too.
Over the years Rick composed many of the great Quo classics. Not often as sole writer (this applies equally to Francis) but his early co-writes with Francis, then with Alan Lancaster and later with Andrew Bown, John “Rhino” Edwards and recently Wayne Morris have produced some of the best songs on each of the band’s albums – the sole exception being 1994’s “Thirsty Work” which is also the least Quo-sounding album, which is surely no random coincidence.
I could list all his writing credits, but if you’re really interested head over to From The Makers Of… which has a comprehensive list. Selected highlights, however, include the following: “Forty Five Hundred Times”, “Rain”, “Don’t Drive My Car” and “Mystery Song” would all easily be in my all-time Quo top ten songs and the likes of “Softer Ride”, “Belavista Man”, “Mystery Song”, “Little Lady” and “The Power Of Rock” wouldn’t be far behind. Many of Rick’s songs feature his distinctive lead vocals too.
On record, then, Rick had an invaluable input into the band’s superb legacy. Onstage, is there any better sound than all those instantly recognisable riffs being hammered out on his battered white Telecaster, or the perfection of Rick and Francis as they lock into the groove? Yes, age and health issues took their toll on his singing voice but he was still superb when I last saw the band at Lechlade last year.
There was talk of an autobiography and solo album for 2017. Neither will presumably see the light as they surely can’t have had much work done to them. There was a solo record named “Recorded Delivery” cut around 1985 so hopefully that my now finally get an official release.
Rick may have had faults as a human being – too much indulgence in drink and drugs through the years and something of a weakness for the ladies perhaps – but whenever I saw him perform or appear on TV etc. there was a down to earth natural humour that shone though and he was the perfect foil to Francis.
Whatever happens now with Status Quo – and I hope the band do carry on (though I’d still rather they plugged back in and rock a bit!) – things can never quite be the same without Rick. We’re moving house in a week, and I really should be packing stuff, so I’d better get on… Despite my best efforts, I don’t think I’ve come close to doing Rick justice. Suffice it to say he was a huge inspiration to me and many others, and is simply a massive loss. Rest in peace…