A recent musical discovery for me has been West Midlands-based doom metal outfit Alunah, via their latest album “Solennial”. The band was formed in 2006 by vocalist Sophie Day along with her husband David Day (guitars), Jake Mason (drums) and Andy Barnett (bass).
Barnett had been replaced by Gareth Imber by the time the group’s debut album “Call Of Avernus” was recorded and released in 2010 and was to appear on second album “White Hoarhound” (2012) as well before departing and being himself replaced by current bassist Daniel Burchmore. “Awakening The Forest”, the band’s third album, surfaced in late 2014.
March 2017 witnessed the release album of number four, the aforementioned “Solennial” – the groups’ first with label Svart Records (home of Trees Of Eternity and Jess & The Ancient Ones amongst others). The record was recorded at Skyhammer Studios by producer Chris Fielding who has previously worked with artists including Winterfylleth, Sir Admiral Cloudesley Shovell and Electric Wizard.
As with so many bands within the doom metal scene, Alunah clearly take inspiration from a fellow West Midlands act – the rather well-known Black Sabbath. However, whilst other groups of their ilk are content to use said inspiration as a template from which they seldom deviate Alunah have over the course of their previous three records sought to expand their own sonic palette.
“Solennial” begins with a gentle and soothing “The Dying Soil”, as a cascading guitar part and barely-there drums lay a backing for Sophie Day’s delicate delivery of lyrics concerning the transition from Autumn to Winter. This introduction gathers in eerie intensity until coming to an abrupt conclusion as the fuzzy guitar tones of David Day usher in “Light Of Winter”, a song that shows the band’s pagan leanings as it concerns Alban Arthan – a Druidic festival at the Winter Solstice.
“Feast Of Torches”, the second longest track on the album at a little over seven minutes, has more variety within its duration. This, and the vocal delivery brought to mind the sound of Blood Ceremony to me. This is underscored really by the psychedelic passages that occur throughout the album.
“The Reckoning Of Time” has a fluid and melodic guitar solo amongst some nice light and shade before the monolithic riffing returns with the fabulous “Fire Of Thornborough Henge” – a song inspired by the fire festival of Beltane being celebrated at Thornborough Henge, a monument in Yorkshire spanning built approximately five thousand years ago.
The next number “Petrichor” (which means the earthy scent produced with the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather) is another track with a nice balance of light and shade but is itself eclipsed by the rather good “Lugh’s Assembly” which addresses some Irish mythology concerning the pagan God named Lugh and his foster-mother Tailtiu who seems to have also been Queen of the Fir Bolg. Whatever the story it’s a great tune!
Finally we have a cover of “A Forest” – originally recorded by The Cure way back in 1980. The intro riff here is a slowed down version of the original which retains a gothic rock quality but that quickly gives away to doom riffing at funereal pace and a masterful reinterpretation of a song that – as with many of those preceding it – is concerned with the natural world around us, specifically forestry, and ancient lore.
Performance-wise, the drums and bass of Mason and Burchmore are perfectly suited to this material, underpinning everything with unfussed economy, with the spotlight falling onto the two Days with the huge riffs providing a great counterpoint to the often ethereal quality of the lead vocal delivery.
Doom metal certainly isn’t for everyone, but Alunah’s sound is undoubtedly at the more accessible end of the spectrum with the aforementioned comparison to Blood Ceremony indicating that they are closer to that band’s doomy psychedelia than, say, the heavy intensity of Electric Wizard and I believe that most metal fans would find a lot to appreciate with this record…“Solennial” tracklist:
1. The Dying Soil / 2. Light Of Winter / 3. Feast Of Torches / 4. The Reckoning Of Time / 5. Fire Of Thornborough Henge / 6. Petrichor / 7. Lugh’s Assembly / 8. A Forest
It’s been a little while since my last entry in my (increasingly) occasional series of posts on my “top ten albums of the year” – the last was for 2016. Prior to that I’d looked back at 2015, 2010, 2003, 1995 and each year from 1975 through to 1989. This time I’ve decided to go back twenty years and figure out what my favourite ten albums released that year are.
This was surprisingly difficult. Not because there were so many contenders to choose from – quite the reverse. It took me some time to come up with a shortlist of fifteen notable (to me) records from 1997 and then no time at all to whittle them down to the following ten. I guess that just wasn’t a particularly strong year for album releases that really resonate with me to this day…
1. Blackmore’s Night “Shadow Of The Moon”
When Ritchie Blackmore quit Deep Purple for the final time in 1993 and reformed a version of Rainbow for 1995’s underwhelming “Stranger In Us All” it looked like he would carry on rocking under that banner for at least a little while longer. It was some surprise to many, despite his known interest in all things medieval , when he launched Blackmore’s Night – a renaissance music project featuring his fiancée Candice Night on lead vocals.
The group’s debut album “Shadow Of The Moon” surfaced in June of that year, and did particularly well in Germany. For me it was an accessible introduction into an older form of folk music than I was used to through tracks like “Play Minstrel Play”, “Wish You Were Here”, “Writing On The Wall” and “Greensleeves”. Not as essential as his work with Purple or Rainbow, granted, but this is still an enjoyable record.
2. Depeche Mode “Ultra”
A total change of style for this entry. I can remember during my latter school days having an active dislike for Depeche Mode. Whilst I enjoyed “proper” pop bands such as Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet (as they played traditional instruments) alongside my regular diet of heavy rock and metal, I had no time for synthesizer-based acts. It was only with the rediscovery of the band around the time of hit single “I Feel You” that I began to appreciate Depeche Mode, leading in time to include their earlier work too.
Coming four years after said hit, “Ultra” found the band recovering from a near breakup following the departure of keyboardist Alan Wilder – leaving just Dave Gahan (vocals), Martin Gore (guitar / keyboards) and Andy Fletcher (keyboards) to soldier on. And soldier on they did, producing a great pop record with no less than four hit singles including “Barrel Of A Gun” and the brilliant “It’s No Good”. This album comes a close second to “Songs Of Faith And Devotion” as my favourites in the Depeche Mode catalogue.
3. Genesis “Calling All Stations”
When Phil Collins quit prog rock legends Genesis in 1996 to concentrate on his solo career he likely wouldn’t have anticipated that this would lead to diminishing returns for himself as well as the band, but time would show that his solo glory days were behind him. For the group it looked to be all over, with just founding members Mike Rutherford (guitar / bass) and Tony Banks (keyboards) remaining. Despite recruiting vocalist Ray Wilson for the “Calling All Stations” album and tour this record would prove to be the band’s last release of new material to date.
But do you know what? This isn’t a bad album at all. Sure it’s no match for the trio of “Genesis”, “Invisible Touch” and “We Can’t Dance” from the group’s commercial peak of 1983-1991 and was their first not to reach number one in the UK since 1978’s “…And Then There Were Three…”. That said it does contain some great tunes like “Alien Afternoon”, “The Dividing Line” and sublime ballads “Shipwrecked” and “Not About Us”. A solid though unspectacular album but one that still gets fairly regular airings even now.
4. Oasis “Be Here Now”
“Be Here Now” was the third album from Manchester band Oasis, and was hugely anticipated following the massive success of second album “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?” and its hit singles, not to mention all the publicity surrounding brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher and their various scrapes with the law and each other, as well as Liam’s decision to bail out of their 1996 US tour in order to buy a house!
Reportedly selling getting on for half a million copies on the day of its release (one of which was to me, purchased in Devon whilst on holiday) the album was preceded by the number one single “D’You Know What I Mean?”. Despite a subsequent backlash from press and fans, dismissing much of the record as self-indulgent and overblown (which the band themselves would later concur with, and I can also see where they’re coming from), “Be Here Now” remains my second favourite of the group’s, behind the aforementioned “…Morning Glory”. As well as the first single there were two others – “Stand By Me” and “All Around The World” – and other top tracks include “Don’t Go Away” and “Magic Pie”.
5. The Prodigy “The Fat Of The Land”
Now, if I hadn’t been overly keen on synthpop back in the Eighties, I definitely wasn’t fond of rave and techno music that acts like Essex’s The Prodigy were producing. At first I didn’t like the first single from “The Fat Of The Land”, the number one “Firestarter”, either.
However for reasons lost in the mists of time I found myself listening to the album as a whole and loving it! Kicking off with the controversial “Smack My Bitch Up”, then steaming through the superb “Breathe” and “Diesel Power” the record just didn’t let up until the epic nine-minute trip of “Narayan” which, in turn, gave way to “Firestarter” towards the back-end of the album. Very much of its time, no doubt, but an excellent album that made a great cycling soundtrack at the time and still gets the blood pumping today.
6. Robbie Williams “Life Thru A Lens”
Yet another artist and album that I didn’t like (or want to like) at the time! Despite the undoubted quality of their hit “Back For Good” I wasn’t, at the time, impressed by Take That and when Robbie Williams decided to go solo I was distinctly underwhelmed by his take on George Michael’s “Freedom”. In truth it wasn’t until the release of the singles “Millennium” and “No Regrets” from his next album “I’ve Been Expecting You” the following year that I sat up and took notice of Williams as an artist.
By that time the whole world and his dog knew mega-hit single “Angels”, the song that finally made “Life Thru A Lens” a bonafide hit album. As a whole it doesn’t come close to “I’ve Been Expecting You” or much of his subsequent work, but with songs including “Let Me Entertain You”, “Lazy Days” and the simply ace “Old Before I Die”, this album is always a good listen.
7. Rolling Stones “Bridges To Babylon”
Back onto more familiar territory here with a great British institution and a band that I’ve been a fan of for as long as I can remember. “Bridges To Babylon” was an excellent follow-up to 1994’s “Voodoo Lounge” and arguably their last really good album of original material.
“Anybody Seen My Baby?” was the lead single and was accompanied by a video featuring the then relatively obscure actress Angelina Jolie. I was lucky enough to see the band on the world tour that followed the album’s release, catching the show at London’s Wembley Stadium in June 1999 during which they played tracks from the album including “Saint Of Me” and “Out Of Control”. The UK shows that year had been postponed from August 1998 as the band were unhappy with the then Labour government’s changes to tax laws which, Mick Jagger and co. claimed would cost them 40% of the entire tour’s earnings. Regardless of that, the show they did play was excellent. Back on the album itself, other top tracks include “Already Over Me” and Keith Richards’ “Thief In The Night”
8. Stereophonics “Word Gets Around”
Well, wouldn’t you know it, another one I gave a wide berth to at the time. I was clearly having a more narrow-minded view of what I’d listen to back then! Stereophonics are a Welsh band and “Word Gets Around” was their debut album which interested me not one bit at the time, despite the recommendation of some work colleagues that they were great!
By the time of excellent second album “Performance And Cocktails” I had come around and also gone back to discover the debut and the great small town stories that are contained within its songs. Amongst the best of a very good crop of tunes are opener “A Thousand Trees”, “Not Up To You”, “More Life In A Tramp’s Vest”, “Traffic” and, of course, the ever-fantastic “Local Boy In The Photograph”. Kelly Jones and gang may have become a little stale and samey in recent years but the songs on this album will forever be classics.
9. Shania Twain “Come On Over”
“Come On Over” was Canadian country singer Shania Twain’s third album, and would go on to become the sixth best-selling album in the US with over 17.5 million sales. I’d been introduced to Twain around the time of her breakthrough second album “The Woman In Me” in 1995 via the cable channel CMT, but she didn’t begin to make headway in the UK until 1998 when the ballads “You’re Still The One” and “From This Moment” took off.
Later, a very poppy remix of “That Don’t Impress Me Much” and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” in late 1999 became big hits (in fact, twelve of the album’s sixteen songs were issued as singles) and it was actually the 1999 revised and remixed “International Version” of the album that became a hit here in the UK (the remixed album idea would go to extremes with Twain’s next album “Up!” in 2002 which was released in three entirely different mixes at the same time). It is, however, the original more country sounding 1997 version of “Come On Over” that I play most often.
10. Whitesnake “Restless Heart”
The first new Whitesnake album since “Slip Of The Tongue” back in 1989, “Restless Heart” was apparently intended to be a solo album (despite featuring guitarist Adrian Vandenberg and drummer Denny Carmassi who’d both toured as part of the band on the previous tour in 1994) until the record company insisted on it being released under the moniker “David Coverdale & Whitesnake”.
A rawer sounding record than Whitesnake’s big sellers of the late Eighties, the album contains a good mix of bluesy ballad like “Too Many Tears” and “Can’t Go On” with a few tougher rock tunes like “Restless Heart”, “You’re So Fine” and the Zeppelinesque “Woman Trouble Blues”. A proper solo album would follow in 2000 before Coverdale would reconvene the band once more for some heavier rock records from 2008 onwards. “Restless Heart”, meanwhile is a fine link between the big hair days of “1987” and “Slip Of The Tongue” and the 1993 collaboration with Led Zeppelin man Jimmy Page – the cunningly titled “Coverdale Page”.
There you have it, then. My favourite ten albums of 1997. This was a year in which the nation mourned when HRH Princess Diana was killed in a Paris car crash. Elsewhere, in the US President Bill Clinton begins his second term in office whilst in Britain the government changes hands with Conservative John Major being succeeded by Labour’s Tony Blair. In football Manchester United win the Premier League for the second season running, then see talisman Eric Cantona announce his retirement, whilst Chelsea win the FA Cup. And in screen entertainment by far the biggest movie release was “Titanic”, with “The Lost World : Jurassic Park”, “Men In Black” and Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” some way behind. On the small screen Channel 4 in the UK became a 24 hour broadcaster and ITV crime drama “Midsomer Murders” makes its first appearance.
At some point in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future I shall look back to either 1974 or 1990…
A little over a week ago number two son and I headed off to the first concert together since catching Cradle Of Filth in Bristol getting on for two years ago, as many of the shows that I go to aren’t really his cup of tea. I think that whilst he credits me with his taste in music – particularly the really heavy stuff – he doesn’t have the appetite for experiencing some of the bluesier or lighter acts that cross my radar.
This one, however, was right up his street. San Francisco thrash legends Death Angel headlining at the intimate surroundings of Hobos in the Welsh town of Bridgend as part of their European tour that seems to be mainly made up of festival slots and low key club shows like this one.
We found the 150 capacity venue upstairs through a door between two shops in the main shopping area of the town. There’s a bar area where a merchandise table was set up and then through a door into the performance area, where we arrived as the first act of the evening, Welsh death metal band Sodomized Cadaver were getting started. The space was, even at this early stage, fairly packed so we took up a position close to the nearest PA stack situated in slightly to the side of the stage front.
Neither of us were remotely familiar with the band or their material but were both impressed by what we saw. The band started life back in 2013, and these days drummer Gavin Davies is the sole remaining founder member. Completing the line-up are bassist / vocalist Charlie Rodgers and diminutive guitarist Jordan Roberts.
The three-piece outfit got an enthusiastic response – one chap headbanging in front of the stage like his life depended on it – from the audience for numbers with typical death metal titles such as “Half Dead Burial” and the delightfully-named “Lords Of Rape”. There was a nice mixture of pace on display from the fast and frenetic death metal to more doom-like passages. For whatever reason the group had to leave out the final two tracks of their planned set – whether they were late starting or were just overrunning their allotted times. Regardless, the band gave is a good start to the evening’s entertainment…
1. Chapel Of Unrest / 2. Vampire Of Düsseldorf / 3. Martyrdom / 4. BKTC / 5. Skull Fracture Massacre / 6. Torture / 7. Rapid Guttural Disfigurement / 8. Lords Of Rape / 9. Half Dead Burial
1 and 4 origin unknown but perhaps as 8 / 2, 3, 5, 7 and 9 originally from “Verses Of Putridity” (2016) / 6 originally from “Vorarephilia” (2014) / 8 from yet to be released “Morbid Tales Of Mutilation” (2017)
After a short break and equipment changeover it was the turn of main tour support act Warbringer. Formed in 2004, Wabringer are a thrash metal band from Los Angeles who have had a relatively high turn over of members in the subsequent thirteen years. Alongside founding members John Kevill (vocals) and Adam Carroll (guitars) are Chase Becker (guitars), Carlos Cruz (drums) and Jessie Sanchez (bass), the last two of which have only been with the group since last year.
Despite that the group’s performance was tight and polished. On tour to promote their fifth album “Woe To The Vanquished” the band didn’t look like one that had nearly imploded completely following the previous album and tour cycle a couple of years ago.
Of the “big four” thrash bands I suppose my initial impression was that Warbringer have to most in common with Slayer sound-wise. Our position close to the PA stack meant that whilst Becker certainly looked skilled with his guitar we were only really able to hear Carroll’s contributions to the onslaught. Kevill got the now-expanded crowd involved and a mini circle-pit going too and I suspect the group will have made a good few new fans with their performance in Wales.
Unfortunately I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what the band’s setlist for the night was, and my direct request to them has gone unanswered, so below is my best guess, using the tracks played two days earlier in Wolverhampton…
1. Silhouettes / 2. Woe To The Vanquished / 3. Remain Violent / 4. Shellfire / 5. Descending Blade / 6. Shattered Like Glass / 7. Hunter-Seeker / 8. Living In A Whirlwind / 9. Combat Shock
1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 originally from “Woe To The Vanquished” (2017) / 6 originally from “Worlds Torn Asunder” (2011) / 7 originally from “IV : Empires Collapse” (2014) / 8 originally from “Waking Into Nightmares” (2009) / 9 originally from “War Without End” (2008)
Finally, as 9:20pm came around, the main attraction appeared. Drummer Will Carroll took to his stool first, followed onto the stage by bassist Damien Sisson, rhythm guitarist Ted Aguilar and band founder Rob Cavestany (lead guitar) and lastly long-serving vocalist Mark Osegueda as the group launched straight into the one-two of a snippet of “The Ultra Violence” leading into “Evil Priest” – both from their 1987 debut album.
Immediately it was apparent – and this is no disrespect to what we’d witnessed before – that Death Angel are a class act. The sound was really good (though rather loud where we were standing. It would be two days before I could hear normally again after the show was over!) and you could see that whilst these men were seasoned pros they also clearly love what they do.
One could perhaps argue that Osegueda laboured the themes of “unity in metal” and “being true to yourself” etc. and could have arguably left out some of the talking – particularly the over-long band introductions – but he can certainly belt the songs out with the best of them! (Also number two son was more than a little chuffed to have fist-bumped the man twice during the show).
I found myself watching Cavestany most as the gig progressed, impressed by his mix of technical prowess and flair for showmanship as he cranked out a succession of excellent thrash metal riffs and blinding solos in a set showcasing tracks from last years’s excellent “The Evil Divide” record as well as a selection from the majority of their back catalogue releases and a great Black Sabbath cover too.
As with the recent Blood Ceremony show in Bristol, which was in a similarly small venue, I can’t help wondering how bands can play gigs like these. Assuming this one was a sell-out, at £12.50 a ticket (excluding costs) that gives a total take of £1,875.00. This is to pay for venue hire, coach and truck hire, PA, crew wages, living costs etc. even without the three sets of band members getting anything. With just four shows in the UK in four days – covering London, the Midlands, Wales and Scotland – its hard to see the artists making much out of it financially. And as all four were small venues this trip is clearly not about fame and fortune – its about dedicated metal musicians reaching the fans who love the music. So, on that front this show must be considered a huge success…
1. The Ultra-Violence / Evil Priest / 2. Claws In So Deep / 3. Father Of Lies / 4. Caster Of Shame / 5. Thrown To The Wolves / 6. Seemingly Endless Time / 7. Breakaway / 8. Lost / 9. Falling Off The Edge Of The World / 10. Kill As One / 11. The Moth
1 and 10 originally from “The Ultra-Violence” (1987) / 2 originally from “Relentless Retribution” (2010) / 3, 7, 8 and 11 originally from “The Evil Divide” (2016) / 4 originally from “The Dream Calls For Blood” (2013) / 5 originally from “The Art Of Dying” (2004) / 6 originally from “Act III” (1990) / 9 cover of Black Sabbath song from “Mob Rules” (1981)
When I addressed the last – to date – studio album by legendary rock band Status Quo, 2016’s “Aquostic II – That’s A Fact!” and, more recently, shared my thoughts on the passing of the late, great Rick Parfitt, I noted that I wasn’t sure where the band would go in the wake of the band’s decision to go unplugged in future and after Parfitt’s decision last year to depart the band.
Well, here is perhaps the first indication. “The Last Night Of The Electrics” is a live album from the group, recorded at the O2 Arena in London last December – almost two months subsequent to Parfitt leaving the band but prior to his death. It’s been billed as an “emotionally charged set” though I’m not sure why that would be true of this particular gig? One could perhaps speculate that it’s a subtle way of pulling at the emotions around Parfitt’s passing, or is that just the cynic in me?
Regardless, this album is only the seventh live album, by my reckoning, in the band’s long history. 1977’s double “Live!” will for many be forever the benchmark by which any Quo live release should be judged. It’s certainly head and shoulders above the average “Live Alive Quo” (1992) and the more recent “Aquostic! Live At The Roundhouse” but for my money “Live At The N.E.C.” (1982) is also a cracking show – particularly if you can find the whole radio-transmitted performance rather than the edited LP. I guess, ultimately, the relative scarcity of Quo live releases is at least in part indicative of the static nature of the huge majority of their setlists over the years. Sound-wise, “The Last Night Of The Electrics” isn’t bad, but isn’t great either. The sound is a bit muddy to my ears and there are definite issues as a result of Parfitt’s absence.
The set kicks of, as is the norm, with “Caroline” and it must be said that young guitarist Richie Malone does a creditable job on pulling off Parfitt’s tremendous rhythm parts. The hole left by Parfitt becomes much more obvious when his lead and co-lead vocal parts need covering. Parfitt himself struggled vocally at times in recent years during live show, but here bassist John “Rhino” Edwards takes some of these parts and, I’m afraid, doesn’t really do the job justice.
Hearing songs like “Caroline” or “Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like” with Edwards singing with Francis Rossi, or even keyboardist Andrew Bown filling in for Parfitt on “Whatever You Want” or “The Wanderer”, when you’ve had decades of hearing the brilliant combination of Rossi and Parfitt – well it’s not quite like listening to a tribute band but it feels odd nonetheless. Sadly, it’s worse when Edwards takes lead on “Rain” and “Creepin’ Up On You”…
For some reason all of Rossi’s between song banter has been removed from the recording. Time limitations? A set lasting less than 95 minutes on a double CD (space for 140+ minutes) suggests not. Reviews of the show in question report that no mention was made of the missing rhythm guitarist so maybe that has something to do with it, I don’t know. On that front, though, Rossi changing the long-standing “…can’t escape this Ricky in my ears…” in “Burning Bridges” to instead sing “…can’t escape this paddy in my ears…” (Malone is Irish) seems a bit insensitive, I would have thought it would have been better to return to the song’s original “ringing” lyric.
Rossi himself struggles vocally at times throughout this show, but guitar-wise is as on-the-money as you would expect. Elsewhere, drummer Leon Cave is solid but unremarkable and his drum solo would have been better cut out along with Rossi’s banter, to be honest. Of the set, you know what you’re going to get but even the “Heavy Traffic” songs have been played to death in the same order for years now, and “Gerdundula”, always a favourite of mine, now seems over-extended and is sounding tired.
Since the album was recorded and scheduled for release the band have announced that the “Last Night…” tour – supposed to be their final electric tour would now not be, with 2017’s winter tour, previously branded as “Aquostic Live – It Rocks!” (and, let’s be honest, as entertaining as the acoustic stuff is, it most definitely does not rock) will now be an electric affair under the title “Plugged In – Live And Rockin'”. With the “blame” for the turn to acoustic shows now being laid at Parfitt’s door – health issues apparently, though the man himself said he wasn’t interested in doing the acoustic thing – does this mean that future tours, if there are to be any, will also be electric?
This probably all sounds very negative, and I really don’t mean to be. I love Quo, and have done for many years, but this one doesn’t really excite me I’m afraid. I think that if the band are to continue without losing too many supporters then the new line-up needs to get into a recording studio and come up with a new album to promote and need to change the setlist to remove the songs that relied heavily on Parfitt’s voice – they have more than enough hits and album tracks to replace them with…
“The Last Night Of The Electrics” tracklist:
1. Caroline / 2. The Wanderer / 3. Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like / 4. Rain / 5. Softer Ride / 6. Beginning Of The End / 7. Hold You Back / 8. Medley : a. What You’re Proposin’ / b. Down The Dustpipe / c. Wild Side Of Life / d. Railroad / e. Again And Again / 9. The Oriental / 10. Creepin’ Up On You / 11. Gerdundula / 12. In The Army Now / 13. The Caveman (Drum Solo) / 14. Roll Over Lay Down / 15. Down Down / 16. Whatever You Want / 17. Rocking All Over The World / 18. Burning Bridges / 19. Rock ‘N’ Roll Music / Bye Bye Johnny
1, 5 and 14 originally from “Hello!” (1973) / 2 originally a single release (1984) / 3 originally from “Never Too Late” (1981) / 4 originally from “Blue For You” (1976) / 6 originally from “In Search Of The Fourth Chord”(2007) / 7 and 17 originally from “Rockin’ All Over The World” (1977) / 8a originally from “Just Supposin’” (1980) / 8b originally a single release (1970) / 8c originally a single release (1976) / 8d originally from “Dog Of Two Head” (1971) / 8e originally from “If You Can’t Stand The Heat…” (1978) / 9 and 10 originally from “Heavy Traffic” (2002) / 15 and 19b originally from “On The Level” (1975) / 16 originally from “Whatever You Want” (1979) / 18 originally from “Ain’t Complaining” (1988) / 19a cover of Chuck Berry single (1957)
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)