Category Archives: Music

The Book Of Souls UK Tour 2017

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.

Birmingham 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.

Shinedown At Birmingham Barclaycard Arena

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.

Brent Smith & Zack Myers At Birmingham Barclaycard Arena

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.

Barry Kerch

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.

Shinedown At Birmingham Barclaycard Arena

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”

Setlist:

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)

Iron Maiden – Legacy Of The Beast Game

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.

Bruce Dickinson Opens The Show

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.

Iron Maiden At Birmingham Barclaycard Arena

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.

Dave Murray & Janick Gers At Birmingham Barclaycard Arena

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.

Adrian Smith & Bruce Dickinson At Birmingham Barclaycard Arena

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.

Steve Harris At Birmingham Barclaycard Arena

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.

Iron Maiden At The Birmingham Barclaycard Arena

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.

Adrian Smith

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…).

The Author (That’s Me!) In The Crowd At Birmingham Barclaycard Arena

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.

Janick Gers & Bruce Dickinson At Birmingham Barclaycard Arena

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…

Setlist:

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)

2016 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

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”

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.

2. David Bowie “Blackstar”

David Bowie – Black Star

“…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”

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”

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…

5. Joanne Shaw Taylor “Wild”

Joanne Shaw Taylor – Wild

“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”

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)”

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.

8. Myrkur “Mausoleum”

Myrkur – Mausoleum

“…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”

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”.

10. Skuggsjá “A Piece For Mind & Mirror”

Skuggsjá – A Piece For Mind & Mirror

“…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…

Like An Arrow Tour

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.

From From The Access Area At The Bristol O2 Academy

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?

Biters – The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be

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.

Tuk Smith At The Bristol O2 Academy

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”.

Matt Gabs & Tuk Smith At The Bristol O2 Academy

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.

Setlist:

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)

Blackberry Smoke At The O2 Academy

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.

Charlie Starr At The Bristol O2 Academy

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!

Paul Jackson At The Bristol O2 Academy

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.

Richard Turner At The Bristol O2 Academy

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!

Brandon Still At The Bristol O2 Academy

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”.

Blackberry Smoke

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.

Jessica Simpson In The Dukes Of Hazzard

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)

 

I’m A Freak, Baby…

cover

Just over a year ago I discovered the rather super folk music compilation “Dust On The Nettles : A Journey Through The British Underground Folk Scene 1967-72”, a three-disc set from the Grapefruit label. That, I subsequently discovered, was the second release in a series that started with 2013’s triple-disc “Love, Poetry And Revolution : A Journey Through The British Psychedelic And Underground Scenes 1966-1972”.

Deep Purple

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.

Uriah Heep

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.

Stray

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.

Skid Row

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.

Hawkwind

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.

Sam Gopal

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.

Fleetwood Mac

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:

Disc One:

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

Disc Two:

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

Disc Three:

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

Rick Parfitt 1948 – 2016

rick_parfitt_of_status_quo_forced_to_abandon_european_tour_music_scene_irelandA 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.

Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt On Stage In 2015
Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt On Stage In 2015

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.

Rick Parfitt
Rick Parfitt

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.

Status Quo Live In 1981
Status Quo Live In 1981

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.

Status Quo Live In 1984
Status Quo Live In 1984

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.

Rick Parfitt On Stage In 2007
Rick Parfitt On Stage In 2007

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.

Roy Lynes, Alan Lancaster, John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi In Late 1960s
Roy Lynes, Alan Lancaster, John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi In Late 1960s

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 On Stage
Francis Rossi On Stage

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?

Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt
Francis Rossi & Rick Parfitt

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.

The Frantic Four
The Frantic Four – John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster & Francis Rossi

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.

Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi & John "Rhino" Edwards On Stage In 1988
Rick Parfitt, Francis Rossi & John “Rhino” Edwards On Stage In 1988

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?

Status Quo Backstage In 1991
Status Quo Backstage In 1991

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.

Andrew Bown & Richie Malone On Stage In 2016
Andrew Bown & Richie Malone On Stage In 2016

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?

Rick Parfitt - Bad Hair Day!
Rick Parfitt – Bad Hair Day!

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.

Rick Parfitt In 1978
Rick Parfitt In 1978

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.

Rick Parfitt On Stage
Rick Parfitt On Stage

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.

Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi In 1970s
Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi In 1970s

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.

Lyndsay Whitburn & Rick Parfitt
Rick Parfitt With Third Wife Lyndsay Whitburn

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…

Rick Parfitt 1948 - 2016
Rick Parfitt 1948 – 2016

Hour Of The Nightingale

30304546951_fc1ff86bdd

As we’re rapidly approaching the end of 2016 there’s one more album that I want to talk about before I get around to counting down my personal top ten albums of the year – which is going to be pretty hard to narrow down having listened to nearly six hundred albums this year!

Aleah Stanbridge
Aleah Stanbridge

The last one to get the individual treatment has to be “Hour Of The Nightingale”, the debut album from a melodic doom / gothic metal band called Trees Of Eternity. The genesis of the group was the getting together of singer Aleah Stanbridge and Swallow The Sun guitarist / composer Juha Raivio to work on material for the latter band’s 2009 record “New Moon”.

Juha Raivio
Juha Raivio

Stanbridge contributed vocals to “New Moon” and both subsequent Swallow The Sun albums, including last year’s phenomenal “Songs From The North” triple album. Away from his band Raivio continued to work on separate material with Stanbridge and the pair became partners in life as well as partners within music.

Fredrik Norrman
Fredrik Norrman

Album sessions began, I believe, in 2013, although videos for some of the tracks have been floating around the internet for several years already, presumably in demo form. The resulting record features the couple with guitarist Fredrik Norrman and his bassist brother Mattias Norrman (both of October Tide) as well as current Nightwish drummer Kai Hahto. There are clear similarities with Raivio’s day job but the finished product is, to my ears, a much gentler and soothing piece of work.

Mattias Norrman
Mattias Norrman

Opening track “My Requiem” is closest to Swallow The Sun’s material, I think. This is the track that grew out of Raivio and Stanbridge’s initial session for “New Moon” and immediately it’s the vocals that really make an impression, such is the beautiful and ethereal quality to Stanbridge’s voice.

Kai Hahto
Kai Hahto

Not that the backing is lacking, mind you. There is a heaviness to the musical performances that accompany the voice, that somehow even makes itself felt on the gentler passages.

The whole record is dense with melancholy and the mournful aspect of the music becomes so much more pertinent when you realise that Stanbridge tragically passed away from cancer six months before the album’s eventual release, aged just 39.

Aleah Stanbridge
Aleah Stanbridge

As a result listening to the album is both sad (at the loss of a very talented and a beautiful woman) and yet uplifting at the same time (thanks to the effect of her beautiful voice).

Juha Raivio
Juha Raivio

In a statement shortly after her death, Raivio said “…our Trees Of Eternity album will be released as it has been ready to be released for a while… we both loved it from the first note til the end and I’m so proud we had a chance to share a life and write this album together… been working on Aleah’s solo album for some time and will continue on that (at) some point…”

Nick Holmes
Nick Holmes

There are guest performances from Antimatter vocalist Mick Moss on “Condemned To Silence” and Paradise Lost frontman Nick Holmes on the epic closer “Gallows Bird”, but for the majority of the record it is that haunting voice of the late Stanbridge that grabs the listener’s attention.

Aleah Stanbridge
Aleah Stanbridge

My personal highlights on the record would be “A Million Tears”, “Broken Mirror”, the relatively brief “Sinking Ships” and the aforementioned tracks “Gallows Bird” and “My Requiem”. It’s a great shame that there will presumably be no further Trees Of Eternity records. One can only imagine the pain that Stanbridge’s passing has caused Raivio. This is a fabulous album and highly recommended listening.

Aleah Stanbridge & Juha Raivio
Aleah Stanbridge & Juha Raivio

I’ll leave the last words to Raivio – “…this cruel world needs this angel now more than ever. There will never be another voice like hers… She was pure magic, light and dark…” I hope that this record, and therefore the voice, will get the exposure and recognition that both deserve…maxresdefault-1

“Hour Of The Nightingale” tracklist:

1. My Requiem / 2. Eye Of Night / 3. Condemned To Silence / 4. A Million Tears / 5. Hour Of The Nightingale / 6. The Passage / 7. Broken Mirror / 8. Black Ocean /  9. Sinking Ships / 10. Gallows Bird

Wild

joanne-shaw-taylor-wild

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

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.

Joanne Shaw Taylor - The Dirty Truth
Joanne Shaw Taylor – The Dirty Truth

I’ve enjoyed Taylor’s work from the off, with the release of her debut album “White Sugar” (2009) showcasing a natural smoky voice and some mean guitar riffs and solos. Each subsequent album has shown improvement from the one before, up to 2014’s “The Dirty Truth”.

Kevin Shirley
Kevin Shirley

The end of September saw “Wild” hit the shelves. The record was produced by Kevin Shirley, a man known for his excellent production work with artists such as Iron Maiden, Journey, Black Country Communion and (most relevantly) Joe Bonamassa. Shirley has worked hand-in-hand with Bonamassa on every album that the bluesman has recorded since 2006’s “You & Me”, a period of time that has seen the artist’s success and popularity grow massively. It makes sense, then, that a similar musician like Taylor would benefit from Shirley’s expertise.

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

The decision to use the producer for “Wild” has certainly been beneficial. Shirley stated that with regard to the album “…if you’re not blown away, I’ll give you your money back!…” Well, on the evidence of what I’ve heard there are no major worries of him having to put his hand into his pocket too many times, I’d say.

Joanne Shaw Taylor - Dyin' To Know
Joanne Shaw Taylor – Dyin’ To Know

The album kicks off with the short and sweet “Dyin’ To Know”, which builds from a simple guitar riff and vocal line (to my ears Taylor’s voice sounds more assured than on previous albums) into a full-blown band number and features quick bursts of stellar soloing too.

Greg Morrow
Greg Morrow

The backing musicians on the record are Nashville-based and, as with the Nashville studio in which they recorded, were picked by Shirley.

Michael Rhodes
Michael Rhodes

Greg Morrow provides some solid drumming, bass is from Michael Rhodes, keyboard textures as from the hands of Steve Nathan and additional guitars by Rob McNelley.

Steve Nathan
Steve Nathan

Morrow and Rhodes performed on Joe Bonamassa’s latest studio album, along with backing singers Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins and Jade McRae (also all present on “Wild”).

Rob McNelley
Rob McNelley

McNelley’s fretwork can also be heard on, amongst others, “Cosmic Hallelujah” by Kenny Chesney (again with Morrow and Rhodes), whilst Nathan’s keyboards (and yet again Morrow’s drums) are featured on Cyndi Lauper’s “Detours” album. So, just a glimpse of the pedigree of the musicians involved in the making of Taylor’s fifth studio album.

Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae & Juanita Tippins
Mahalia Barnes, Jade MacRae & Juanita Tippins

The undoubted star of the show, though, is the one whose name adorns the cover. Whether it’s on the mid-paced strut of “Ready To Roll”, the fantastic cover of “Wild Is The Wind” (even better than David Bowie’s in my opinion), the up-tempo and funky “Wanna Be My Lover”, the delicate and heartfelt “I Wish I Could Wish You Back”, rocker “Nothin’ To Lose” or the closing gorgeous reading of the George Gershwin classic “Summertime” both her soulful voice and perfectly-judged guitar parts shine through.

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

Sure there are sonic and style comparisons that can be made to Bonamassa’s recent work but – 1. that’s no bad thing as his stuff is also excellent, 2. that’s was always the case as both are working within the blues genre and 3. there is more than enough of Taylor’s personality stamped all over this record to make it recognisably her work rather than some Bonamassa-lite or something.

Joanne Shaw Taylor
Joanne Shaw Taylor

Whilst I love various forms of metal and rock – black, progressive, doom, etc., as well as other genres such as pop, country and folk, I have always loved blues and blues rock. Early touchstones for me included the late great Gary Moore and Stevie Ray Vaughan and over time I have grown to enjoy the work of many great blues artists. Much as I think Joe Bonamassa is a modern-day blues great I believe that with this simply superb record Joanne Shaw Taylor – an inspired and inspiring musician – deserves her place amongst the greats. Fabulous stuff which, as I mentioned earlier, gets better each time I listen to it. Highly recommended…joanne-shaw-taylor-btm

“Wild” tracklist:

1. Dyin’ To Know / 2. Ready To Roll / 3. Get You Back / 4. No Reason To Stay / 5. Wild Is The Wind / 6. Wanna Be My Lover / 7. I’m In Chains / 8. I Wish I Could Wish You Back / 9. My Heart’s Got A Mind Of Its Own / 10. Nothin’ To Lose / 11. Summertime

Pure

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The Local Woods, This Morning
The Local Woods, This Morning

When I took the dog out for a nice long walk in the woods this morning it was rather foggy, and I took a few pictures as the scenery put me very much in mind of the kind of imagery that can be found on numerous black metal albums, such as “The Dark Hereafter” by Winterfylleth, Darkthrone’s “Panzerfaust”, “In These Woods, From These Mountains” from The Wretched End and “Death Of The Sun” by Wyrd.

In The Woods
In The Woods…

Naturally this, coupled with the atmosphere such conditions evoke, led me to spin some black metal albums when I returned home. One of these albums found itself on repeat, and it seems more than appropriate that the record in question was “Pure”, the latest release from Norwegian band In The Woods…

Christian "X" Botteri
Christian “X” Botteri

The band formed way back around 1992 by three members of metal band Green Carnation – being guitarist Christian “X” Botteri, bass player Christopher “C:M.” Botteri and drummer Anders Kobro.

Adding singer Jan Kenneth Transeth and guitarist Oddvar “A:M” Moi, the band released three studio albums between 1995 and 1999 before the band split in 2000 after the release of compilation album “Three Times Seven On A Pilgrimage”.

Christopher "C:M." Botteri
Christopher “C:M.” Botteri

In 2014 it was announced that the initial threesome of Botteri, Botteri and Kobro had reunited as In The Woods… and then last year came news that singer James Fogarty was to complete the new incarnation of the group. These four are responsible for “Pure”, with additional lead guitar provided on the final three tracks by Bjørn “Berserk” Harstad.

Anders Kobro
Anders Kobro

Looking at the few pictures of the band that can be found online you’d be forgiven for thinking that In The Woods… are not perhaps the happiest of bands. Lyrically, however, “Pure” would seem to counter that to some degree with lines such as  “…a shining future waiting, a promise of the pure…” or “…we left the darkness, walking into the light…” to balance against mentions of darkness, black holes and grief.

Jan Kenneth Transeth
Jan Kenneth Transeth

Musically, the band are not straight forward black metal by any means. With progressive and avant-garde stylings present throughout their relatively brief back catalogue one could perhaps make comparisons to the likes of fellow Norwegian act Ulver. I felt there are echoes of modern-day Enslaved and Swallow The Sun to be heard within these grooves.

Oddvar "A:M" Moi
Oddvar “A:M” Moi

What’s beyond dispute (at least to my ears) is that this is the kind of album that lends itself perfectly to this time of year and the colder, gloomier weather that comes with it – just as the aforementioned Swallow The Sun’s epic three-disc “Songs From The North” from last year still does. Granted “Pure” cannot compare with “Songs…” in terms of scale and variety but more than holds its own as a great piece of work.

James Fogarty
James Fogarty

Opening with the title track the vibe is at once doomy yet spacey, and displays the album’s rich and warm production. Fogarty’s voice is powerful enough to stand out over the heaviness of the guitars, bass and drums and the compositions are both complex and accessible – which is no mean feat.

There isn’t a truly weak track on this record, but for me the picks of the bunch would have to be “Towards The Black Surreal”, “Cult Of Shining Stars” and the ten-minute-plus instrumental piece “Transmission KRS”. “The Recalcitrant Protagonist” isn’t far behind either.

In The Woods...
In The Woods…

Guitar work throughout the album is imaginative and impressive. Sometimes hypnotic and sometimes crushing, but never dull. The same can be said of the vocal lines too. I suppose atmosphere is the word that might best be used when thinking about the sound of this record.

Many reviewers have commented that the album sounds dated and disappoints in comparison to the group’s earlier work. Well, “Pure” is my entry point to the band so I am, I guess, in the fortunate position of not being able to hold it up against the likes of “Omnio” (1997) or the debut “Heart Of The Ages”. I wouldn’t agree that the material sounds dated, however. To me “Pure” is fresh, has vitality and is an organic sounding album that ought to see wider recognition that will likely be the case for a relatively low-key band in a niche genre. Good stuff!…btm

“Pure” tracklist:

1. Pure / 2. Blue Oceans Rise (Like A War) / 3. Devil’s At The Door / 4. Recalcitrant Protagonist / 5. The Cave Of Dreams / 6. Cult Of Shining Stars / 7. Towards The Black Surreal / 8. Transmission KRS / 9. This Dark Dream / 10. Mystery Of The Constellations

An Evening Of Sorcery, Damnation & Deliverance

20161117_162032Last Saturday, 19th November, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to the SSE Arena at Wembley (or, Wembley Arena as it was) to see Swedish progressive metallers Opeth in concert.

opeth-sorceress-new-600Not being overly keen on Wembley’s parking charges, and having memories of taking hours to get out of their car parks on previous visits, I had used a website called Your Parking Space to arrange to “rent” someone’s driveway for the evening. Considerably cheaper and only a few minutes walk from the Wembley complex. I’d certainly use this service again.

SSE Arena, Wembley
SSE Arena, Wembley

I’d left the Forest of Dean in plenty of time to reach Wembley with enough time to park and grab some food and drink before it was time to enter the venue but having got caught in some very heavy traffic jams meaning that the section of journey from Churcham to Elmbridge Court roundabout – which would normally take about 10-15 minutes – took two hours to complete! Luckily once past there the traffic returned to normal and with weather being clear and crisp I was parking at my destination in good time.

Inside The Arena
Inside The Arena

A bite to eat and a coffee later, and just as the weather turned to rain, it was 6:00pm and time to enter the arena. As I found my seat it became immediately obvious that this was one of those occasions when playing Wembley Arena actually meant playing half of Wembley Arena as the stage was halfway along the floor and the other half of the arena was curtained off behind it. No matter, this is still a significant event for what is essentially a niche artist, albeit one that has already headlined at the Royal Albert Hall.

Anathema Live At The SSE Arena
Anathema Live At The SSE Arena

Before the main event, though, there was the small matter of supporting act. When I’d booked my ticket the support hadn’t been announced and I must admit I was a bit gutted when I discovered that recent discovery Myrkur was supporting the band on their European dates subsequent to London, and Sahg covering the pre-London shows. However, things looked up with news that Liverpool progressive rock band Anathema.

Lee Douglas & Daniel Cavanagh
Lee Douglas & Daniel Cavanagh

I had listened to some of Anathema’s albums in the past and quite enjoyed what I heard but wasn’t terribly excited about seeing them live. That changed when they hit the stage and, following an intro tape that seemed somewhat out-of-place with their music, broke into opening number “Thin Air” which grew into a quite impressively epic sound.

Something of a (two) family affair, Anathema are led by lead vocalist / guitarist Vincent Cavanagh, and feature his brothers Daniel Cavanagh (guitars / vocals) and Jamie Cavanagh (bass) as well as siblings Lee Douglas (vocals) and John Douglas (drums / percussion / keyboards). The line-up is completed by percussionist / drummer Daniel Cardoso.

Daniel Cavanagh
Daniel Cavanagh

Daniel Cavanagh, unusual in attire in that rather than in-ear monitors he sported full-size over-ear headphones, did his best to gee up the less than full crowd and succeeded in getting a good proportion of those who were in their seats to use the light apps on their smart phones in place of stage lighting during the evocative “A Natural Disaster”, which featured a lead vocal from Lee Douglas.

Anathema Perform "A Natural Disaster"
Anathema Perform “A Natural Disaster”

My personal highlight of the band’s short set would be the electronically based “Distant Satellites” which, at one point, saw both John Douglas and Daniel Cardoso joined by Vincent Cavanagh in providing a triple-pronged percussive assault. A very impressive set and a band that I shall be listening to more!

Setlist:

1. Thin Air / 2. Untouchable, Part 1 / 3. A Simple Mistake / 4. Distant Satellites / 5. A Natural Disaster / 6. Fragile Dreams / 7. Springfield

1 and 3 originally from “We’re Here Because We’re Here ” (2010) / 2 originally from “Weather Systems” (2012) / 4 originally from “Distant Satellites” (2014) / 5 originally from “A Natural Disaster” (2003) / 6 originally from “Alternative 4” (1998) / 7 to be on forthcoming studio album “The Optimist” (2017)

Opeth
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

A short break later and at around 8:30pm the house lights went down on a much fuller crowd as headliners Opeth began to enter the stage. Joakim Svalberg  (keyboards), Martin Axenrot (drums) and Martin Mendez (bass) take to the stage first and lock into the opening jazz-inflected riff to “Sorceress”, the title track of the band’s superb album released in September this year. Fredrik Åkesson (guitars) and frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt (guitars / vocals) stride on in time for the track to get going and it’s simply brilliant. The sound is great, vocals clear as a bell, and the guitars heavy as you like.

Opeth Live At The SSE Arena
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

Following this up with “Ghost Reveries” highlight “Ghost Of Perdition” surely meant that even those not over enamoured with the band’s recent lighter output must have been happy. The band’s playing was incredibly precise, with the light and shade all the more effective live than on record.

Mikael Åkerfeldt
Mikael Åkerfeldt

Åkerfeldt is an engaging and humorous frontman, with a nice line in self-deprecation. He tells us that when his friends back in Sweden ask what it was like to headline Wembley he’ll tell them that it was “intimate” but will neglect to mention that they moved the stage half way down the hall. Later, when introducing “By The Pain I See In Others” from the album “Deliverance” he will say that this is the third of four times that they will ever play it live, and that this is no real shame as it’s “a bit shit”!

Opeth Live At The SSE Arena
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

A faultless rendition of “The Grand Conjuration” brings the first set to a thunderous close. Åkerfeldt tells us beforehand that after the song there will be some mysterious sounds and that the group will mysteriously disappear “…well, we’ll go and stand over there…” to give an artistic link into the second set – during which they will play highlights of the “Deliverance” and “Damnation” albums.

Opeth Live At The SSE Arena
Opeth Live At The SSE Arena

Four largely acoustic numbers come first and all are beautiful and haunting, with “Windowpane” and “Closure” being highlights for me. The best track of the night, however, has to be the crushing closer “Deliverance” itself which sees the band’s machine gun riffing send the rapturous audience out into the pouring rain on a real high.

Opeth Take A Bow
Opeth Take A Bow

Even a slow drive back to the England / Wales border in torrential rain with lots of surface water cannot dampen what has been a top class two and a half hour show from a band truly on top of their game. A brilliant performance…

Setlist:

1. Sorceress / 2. Ghost Of Perdition / 3. Demon Of The Fall / 4. The Wilde Flowers / 5. Face Of Melinda / 6. Cusp Of Eternity / 7. The Drapery Falls/ 8. Heir Apparent / 9. The Grand Conjuration / 10. Windowpane / 11. Death Whispered A Lullaby / 12. In My Time Of Need / 13. Closure / 14. Master’s Apprentices / 15. By The Pain I See In Others / 16. Deliverance

1 and 4 originally from “Sorceress” (2016) / 2 and 9 originally from “Ghost Reveries” (2005) / 3 originally from “My Arms, Your Hearse” (1998) / 5 originally from “Still Life” (1999) / 6 originally from “Pale Communion” (2014) / 7 originally from “Blackwater Park” (2001) 8 originally from “Watershed” (2008) / 10, 11, 12 and 13 originally from “Damnation” (2003) / 14, 15 and 16 originally from “Deliverance” (2002)613-x-299-10-2434a716de

Mausoleum

myrkur-mausoleum

Myrkur
Myrkur

A recent discovery here in the shadows is Danish black metal project Myrkur. When the first recording was released, the 2014 seven song self-titled EP, nothing was known publicly about the personnel behind the music other than it was a one-woman band from “…the darkness of Scandinavia…” The music contained thereon was described by the artist as “…a combination of ethereal choir vocals and evil guitars and aggressive blast beats…” She went on to say “…I always dreamed about becoming a Huldra, an Elver girl, a Valkyrie, the goddess Freja. These powerful women in Norse Mythology have an element of beauty and mystique, but they are also deadly…”.

Amalie Bruun
Amalie Bruun

There was some controversy and something of a backlash (including death threats!) from less open-minded black metal fans when the woman behind Myrkur was revealed to be New York based model and singer / songwriter Amalie Bruun, previously frontwoman of pop/rock band Ex-Cops.

Amalie Bruun - Black Metal Girl At Heart
Amalie Bruun – Black Metal Girl At Heart

I haven’t heard Ex-Cops, or indeed any of Denmark-born Bruun’s earlier solo work but I can attest that since moving into the world of black metal (although it’s worth pointing out that she stated that she was “…a black metal girl at heart…” in an interview she did for a fashion website back in 2012) her music certainly fits the aforementioned description of fusing ethereal singing with traditional black metal sounds.

Kristoffer Rygg & Myrkur
Kristoffer Rygg & Myrkur

The impressive full debut album, titled “M”, was produced by Kristoffer Rygg, vocalist and keyboardist for Norwegian avant-garde black metallers Ulver and released to generally positive reviews – if still resistance from some of the genre’s fan-base – in August of 2015. This is probably oe of my favourite extreme metal releases of last year.

Emanuel Vigeland's Museum / Mausoleum
Emanuel Vigeland’s Museum / Mausoleum

For a project whose name, Myrkur, apparently means “darkness” in Icelandic it seems entirely fitting that the third release should have been recorded live in the rather stunning venue that is Emanuel Vigeland’s museum / mausoleum in Slemdal, Oslo.

Norwegian Girls Choir
Norwegian Girls Choir

Leaving the blast beats and abrasive black metal guitars at home, Bruun is accompanied on this haunting acoustic recording by the Norwegian Girls Choir and former Ulver member Håvard Jørgensen.

Myrkur
Myrkur

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…myrkur-btm

“Mausoleum” tracklist:

1. Vølvens Spådom / 2. Jeg Er Guden, I Er Tjenerne / 3. Skøgen Skulle Dø / 4. Byssan Lull / 5. Den Lille Piges Død / 6. Frosne Vind / 7. Onde Børn / 8. Song To Hall Up High / 9. Dybt I Skoven

1, 2, 3, 4, 7 and 9 originally from “M” (2015) / 5 originally a single release (2015) / 6 originally from “Myrkur” (2014) / 8 cover of Bathory song from “Hammerheart” (1990)