In Search Of The Fourth Chord

My better half entered a competition on Planet Rock radio back in 2007 to win two tickets to a Status Quo concert – and was lucky enough to win! It was her first ever rock concert. I, by contrast, had been to a few. In fact this was the fourteenth time I’d been to see Quo themselves.

Bernadette And The North
Bernadette And The North

We took ourselves off to the Colston Hall in Bristol on the appointed date in December of that year, and settled down to experience support act Bernadette & The North – a Canadian group led by Francis Rossi’s daughter, Bernadette. Truthfully, we were a little underwhelmed by the group, and I cannot recall anything specific about their performance or their music.

Status Quo At The Bristol Colston Hall
Status Quo At The Bristol Colston Hall

So, after the interval, on to the main event – “The number one rock ‘n’ roll band in the land – the magnificent Status Quo!” (as they were introduced on their classic “Live!” album in the late 70s)

Following the introductory “drone” it’s headlong into “Caroline”, and regardless of who you are or how you feel, it must surely be hard not to get straight into the good time fun spirit of the whole thing.

Francis Rossi
Francis Rossi

Classic singles come and go, with a shortened version of the classic “Forty Five Hundred Times” (oh, for the full length version of that and “Roadhouse Blues” that they were performing in the 80s!) in between, and then we’re into two tracks from the new album – “Beginning Of The End” and “Gravy Train”. Of these, it’s the latter that seems to work best live.

Status_Quo-In_Search_Of_The_Fourth_Chord_(UK_Edition)-FrontalThe by-then usual trilogy of tracks from “Heavy Traffic” are next, before the “Proposin’ Medley” and a nice heavy “Big Fat Mama”.

The oddity that is “Gerdundula” followed. Not only is it unusual in terms of structure for a Quo song, but by now the band had been performing part of the song with Francis Rossi and John “Rhino” Edwards playing two guitars between them (one hand on each guitar!) and Rick Parfitt and Andy Bown doing likewise. A visually impressive trick for sure.

Rick Parfitt
Rick Parfitt

As always, the whole band seemed to really enjoy what they do, with lots of smiles and joking around, and Rossi was a funny and engaging frontman.

Status Quo
Status Quo

From there on it’s classic after classic until the final strains of “Bye Bye Johnny” bring events to a close. A brilliant show, without question.

Setlist:

1. Caroline / 2. Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like / 3. Don’t Waste My Time / 4. Forty Five Hundred Times / 5. Rain / 6. Paper Plane / 7. Beginning Of The End / 8. Gravy Train / 9. All Stand Up (Never Say Never) / 10.  The Oriental / 11. Creepin’ Up On You / 12. Medley : a. What You’re Proposin’ / b. Down The Dustpipe / c. Little Lady / d. Red Sky / e. Dear John / 13. Big Fat Mama / 14. Gerdundula / 15. Drum Solo / 16. Roll Over Lay Down / 17. Down Down / 18. Whatever You Want / 19. Burning Bridges / 20. In The Army Now / 21. Rockin’ All Over The World / 22. Bye Bye Johnny

1, 4 and 16 originally from “Hello!” (1973) / 2 originally from “Never Too Late” (1981) / 3, 6 and 13 originally from “Piledriver” (1972) / 5 originally from “Blue For You” (1976) / 7 and 8 originally from “In Search Of The Fourth Chord” (2007) / 9, 10 and 11 originally from “Heavy Traffic” (2002) / 12a originally from “Just Supposin’…” (1980) / 12b originally a single release (1970) / 12c, 17 and 22 originally from “On The Level” (1975) / 12d and 20 originally from “In The Army Now” (1986) / 12e originally from “1+9+8+2” (1982) / 14 originally a b-side (1970) / 18 originally from “Whatever You Want” (1979) / 19 originally from “Ain’t Complaining” (1988) / 21 originally from “Rockin’ All Over The World” (1977)

Glass Shadows In Gloucester

Mostly Autumn are a progressive rock band from Yorkshire, founded in the mid 1990s around band leader Bryan Josh.

Bryan Josh At Gloucester Guildhall
Bryan Josh At Gloucester Guildhall

The band recorded a number of very good celtic and folk tinged progressive rock albums with a variety of line-ups based around the central pairing of Josh (lead guitar / vocals) and Heather Findlay (vocals).

I was introduced to the group via the track “Half The Mountain” (from third album “The Last Bright Light”) on a sampler CD given away with Classic Rock magazine at the start of 2001.

Instantly impressed, I set about collecting the band’s back catalogue and then subsequent releases – the quality of each release an improvement on what had gone before.

glass-shadows-52960ea8c9d21Having caught the group live back in 2002 at the Fleece & Firkin, I was able to introduce my better half to the group when they performed at the Guildhall in Gloucester whilst they toured in April 2008 to promote the new album “Glass Shadows”

The show was very good. Bryan Josh’s vocals and guitar playing reminiscent of David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, and Heather Findlay’s vocals as strong and ethereal as on record, despite being several months pregnant.

Missing that night was backing vocalist Olivia Sparnenn (who stepped up and replaced Findlay – no mean feat – when she left for a solo career in 2010) as she was then doing her A level examinations. Phew, rock and roll eh?!

Heather Findlay At Gloucester Guildhall
Heather Findlay At Gloucester Guildhall

Despite her absence the band put on a very good show – musically excellent, with quite a few numbers from the then brand new album. We did find it a bit disconcerting that members of the band kept leaving the stage whenever they didn’t have a part to play for a couple of minutes as the coming and going tended to distract from those actually performing at the time. Nonetheless, we were thoroughly entertained.

Olivia Sparnenn
Olivia Sparnenn

Hope to catch the band live again soon, now that Olivia is fronting the band, as their recorded material continues to get better all the time.

Probable setlist:

1. Fading Colours / 2. Caught In A Fold / 3. Flowers For Guns / 4. Unoriginal Sin / 5. Another Life / 6. Evergreen / 7. The Spirit Of Autumn Past (Part I) / 8. The Spirit Of Autumn Past (Part II) / 9. Distant Train / 10. Simple Ways / 11. The Second Hand / 12. Tearing At The Faerytale / 13. Above The Blue / 14. Nowhere To Hide (Close My Eyes) / 15. Broken Glass / 16. Never The Rainbow / 17. Pocket Watch / 18. Carpe Diem / 19. Heroes Never Die

1 and 17 originally from “Heart Full Of Sky” (2006) / 2, 5, 9 and 10 originally from “Passengers” (2003) / 3, 4, 11, 12 and 13 originally from “Glass Shadows” (2008) / 6, 7 and 8 originally from “The Spirit Of Autumn Past” (1999) / 14 and 19 originally from “For All We Shared…” (1998) / 15 and 18 originally from “Storms Over Still Water” (2005) / 16 originally from “The Last Bright Light” (2001)

A Game You Don’t Want To Play

“When the decaying body of a murdered woman is discovered in a suburban house, DI Wesley Peterson has problems establishing her identity. But as he digs deeper, he has another more disturbing case to investigate – the naked bodies of two teenagers have been found with shotgun wounds at the foot of a cliff.

Both cases became stranger when Wesley realises they are linked to a sinister manhunt, mirroring events from the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Why did the teenage victims take part in an online game called Blood Hunt, which they were eventually persuaded to play for real?

Then a skeleton is found near the place where the teenagers were last seen alive and Wesley finally has to face a terrible truth… and a hunt to the death”

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“The Cadaver Game” is the sixteenth murder mystery novel in the Wesley Peterson series by Devon-based author Kate Ellis.

I must confess that I was not previously familiar with either the series or the author before picking this book off the shelf at the local library.

There are essentially two stories running in parallel in this book. The main mystery set in present day Devon, centring on the fictional town of Tradmouth and an estate containing the grand Catton Hall. It is within the grounds of the Hall that the teenagers take part in the blood hunt and meet their deaths.

In addition, there is a side story involving murder from the early 1800s told through extracts from the journals of a Jester and a Steward who served the Squire at Catton Hall and involving an ancestor of the current owner.

Throughout the book we meet a number of characters who may be guilty or one or more crimes, and there are a lot of secrets to be uncovered by the investigating police team, of which DI Wesley Peterson is the focal point from the reader’s perspective. There are, naturally, plenty of red herrings to stop us from working out the truth too soon!

I found this to be an interesting and engaging story. The addition of the 19th century material could have been a distraction, but actually added to the overall experience, and would seem to be a regular feature of Ellis’ work.

Kate Ellis
Kate Ellis

The only thing I personally found a little confusing early on was in remembering who the boss was within the police force, as Peterson’s boss, DCI Gerry Heffernan seems to take the back seat perhaps too readily – but maybe that just goes with the territory when using a DI as the main police character, or because I haven’t read the previous fifteen novels!

I was struck by a passage late on in the book, where Peterson is thinking about the case:

“It raised uncomfortable questions in his mind. Are we all capable of evil given the right triggers? How can we ever know that what is going on in somebody’s else’s head isn’t some perverted version of reality? How can some people wear such an innocent, amiable mask to hide a stinking corruption within?”

There is certainly some food for thought in those words…

Warriors Of The Road

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Bristol O2 Academy
Bristol O2 Academy

Sunday 30th November 2014 – almost 32 years to the day since my first concert experience (see The Eagle Has Landed) – and it’s gone full circle to seeing Saxon again in Bristol on a Sunday night.

Billed as the Warriors Of The Road World Tour, the band had already performed 27 shows of their 35th anniversary tour on mainland Europe before the U.K leg kicked off at the O2 Academy in Bristol.

Beyond The Black
Beyond The Black At The Bristol O2 Academy

First up were a new gothic metal band from Germany, Beyond The Black. Yet to release their debut album, the band, fronted by 19-year-old singer Jennifer Haben, only played their first ever show at the Wacken Open Air festival in July of this year. From my position at the front of the hall and stage left, the sound was a bit muddy, and obviously none of their material was familiar – however, they sound interesting and Jennifer has a lovely clear singing voice. One for the future potentially.

Next on the bill were Hell. Originally formed way back in 1982, Hell had a unsuccessful and tragic start to life. Their record label went bankrupt just as they were about to start recording their debut album in 1986, and vocalist Dave Halliday committed suicide the following year. The band ceased to exist at that point.

Hell
Hell

During their five years of touring, a young Andy Sneap was a regular at their gigs, and was in fact taught to play guitar by Halliday. Sneap went on to be a founding member of Sabbat before moving into production work. He has since produced and/or mixed numerous successful heavy metal albums by bands including Saxon, Amon Amarth, Cradle Of Filth, Megadeth, Onslaught, Arch Enemy and Opeth, as well as Sabbat and Hell themselves.

In 2008 the surviving original members of Hell – Kev Bower (guitars), Tony Speakman (bass) and Tim Bowler (drums) reunited with a view to re-recording the tracks they had worked on in the 80s. Andy Sneap was brought in to work on them and ended up joining the band as second guitarist, along with new vocalist David Bower (brother of Kev). It is this line-up that has recorded and released the two Hell albums “Human Remains” and “Curse & Chapter”, both of which are superb examples of occult metal.

Hell At The Bristol O2 Academy
Hell At The Bristol O2 Academy

Dressed in matching Victorian style dress coats and wearing corpse paint, Hell are visually striking, and David Bower draws on his acting background to give a very theatrical performance, wearing a barbed wire crown and reaching out to the audience from his position perched on the stage monitors like some kind of cross between a demonic preacher and a gargoyle. Very good vocals too, blending seamlessly with the excellent and technical playing of his bandmates. A very impressive act indeed!

The Stage Pre-Show
The Stage Pre-Show

On to the main act… the mighty Saxon. Only the third time I’d had the pleasure of seeing them perform live, but what a band. Still led by the powerhouse that is vocalist Biff Byford, and completed by guitarists Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt, bassist Nibbs Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler, this is a band with a rich heritage and superb musical legacy.

10355863_353442298149038_528968443941059841_nThe advertisements for this tour promised all the hits from the holy trinity of “Wheels Of Steel”, “Strong Arm Of The Law” and “Denim And Leather”, and – with the odd exception of “Never Surrender” (which reached number 18 back in 1981, I believe) – they certainly delivered all those hits and much more besides.

Saxon At The Bristol O2 Academy
Saxon At The Bristol O2 Academy

Kicking off with a frenetic “Motorcycle Man” before powering through the title track of 2013’s “Sacrifice” album, this was a setlist with no flab and no filler. No extended instrumental passages, no drum or guitar solo spots – just nearly two hours of solid heavy metal. Biff’s vocals and stage presence were as powerful as ever, and the musicianship of the rest of the band faultless. I had the pleasure of being at Paul Quinn’s side of the stage and so was able to observe not only his skill and ability with his guitar, but also his obvious enjoyment and pleasure – something that you don’t always see with touring musicians.

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Nibbs Carter, Paul Quinn & Doug Scarratt

Highlights for me were the classic “Strong Arm Of The Law”, “And The Bands Played On”, the positively thunderous “Heavy Metal Thunder” and, of course, “Wheels Of Steel”. But, in all honestly, not a duff moment during the whole set. A superb performance from a truly legendary English heavy metal band.

Biff Byford
Biff Byford

The setlist was as follows (apologies if I’ve made any mistakes or ommissions!):

1. Motorcycle Man / 2. Sacrifice / 3. Power And The Glory / 4. Solid Ball Of Rock / 5. Lionheart / 6. Strong Arm Of The Law / 7. I’ve Got To Rock (To Stay Alive) / 8. And The Bands Played On / 9. Forever Free / 10. Frozen Rainbow / 11. Heavy Metal Thunder / 12. Suzie Hold On / 13. Demon Sweeney Todd / 14. The Eagle Has Landed / 15. To Hell And Back Again / 16. 747 (Strangers In The Night) / 17. Crusader / 18. Princess Of The Night / 19. Wheels Of Steel / 20. Dallas 1 PM / 21. Denim And Leather

Saxon At The Bristol O2 Academy
Saxon At The Bristol O2 Academy

1, 12, 16 and 19 originally from “Wheels Of Steel” (1980) / 2 originally from “Sacrifice” (2013) / 3 and 14 originally from “Power & The Glory” (1983) / 4 originally from “Solid Ball Of Rock” (1990) / 5 originally from “Lionheart” (2004) / 6, 11, 15 and 20 originally from “Strong Arm Of The Law” (1980) / 7 originally from “The Inner Sanctum” (2007) / 8, 18 and 21 originally from “Denim And Leather” (1981) / 9 originally from “Forever Free” (1992) / 13 originally from “Into The Labyrinth” (2009) / 10 originally from “Saxon” (1979) / 17 originally from “Crusader” (1984)

The Nightmare Returns…

“I believe, from what I can hear, that either my daughter or my wife has just been attacked. I don’t know the outcome. The house is silent.

Fourteen years ago two teenage lovers were brutally murdered in a patch of remote woodland. The prime suspect confessed to the crimes and was imprisoned.

Now, one family is still trying to put the memory of the killings behind them. But at their isolated hilltop house… the nightmare is about to return”

WOLF_hb_cover

I first discovered the novels of Mo Hayder with the publication of “Ritual” in 2008, attracted initially by not just the premise of the book, but also the location setting – in and around Bristol and Bath.

Having spent a large part of my life living in that area, I found that the knowledge of the area being described within the book enabled me to mentally visualise the settings and added a stronger sense of relating that I don’t get when reading a thriller set abroad.

“Wolf” is the seventh book featuring Detective Inspector Jack Caffery, and the fifth book in the Walking Man series that began when the author relocated the detective from London to Bristol.

The story concerns Oliver Anchor-Ferrers, his wife Matilda and daughter Lucia, returning to their isolated home following Oliver’s hospitalisation for heart surgery. Matilda goes to look around her beloved garden, only to be confronted by a horrible and gruesome reminder of a particularly nasty double murder that took place locally some fourteen years previously.

Fearing that the murderer has been released from prison, upon returning to the house, the family discover that the phone lines are down and that they are effectively cut off from the outside world.

Two police detectives arrive at the house – but in time we see that they, and other characters, are in no way what they initially appear to be.

Mo Hayder
Mo Hayder

Both Jack Caffery and the Walking Man have their parts to play in this story, and the almost telepathic nature of some of their interactions cleverly help to move things along. That said, I feel that the book would also hold up well as a standalone story even without the ongoing saga of both men’s missing relatives.

Hayder always keeps you guessing with numerous twists and turns, and this latest novel is no exception.

Parts of the larger puzzle are revealed gradually, with the whole picture not becoming clear until the final pages of this superb crime thriller.

A highly recommended addition to the series of Jack Caffery novels.

Black Widow

In This Moment Black WidowU.S. metal band In This Moment have just released their new album, “Black Widow”. The band, led by singer Maria Brink and lead guitarist Chris Howorth were formed in 2005, and this is their 5th studio release.

Maria Brink
Maria Brink

Kicking off with an atmospheric intro track, “The Infection”, the album’s first proper song, “Sex Metal Barbie”, is a mid-paced number, which sets the scene with a modern production sheen and electronic treatments enhancing the pop-metal sound.

Maria Brink
Maria Brink

“Big Bad Wolf”, one of the album’s highlights, a swaggering Marilyn Manson style track, showcases the full range of Brink’s vocals from sweet sounding singing through to full throated screams. Elsewhere, a vintage radio sounding sample ushers in the heavy groove of “Dirty Pretty”, before a voiceover warning “…Yes the dangerous black widow is to be approached with caution, as the black widow’s bite can cause death. The black widow is easily recognized buy her coal black body and red hourglass marking. She encases her victims with silk, and then kills with poison from her fangs. The male spider is not considered to be dangerous…” introduces the brilliant catchy title track.

Maria Brink
Maria Brink

Brent Smith of Shinedown guests on the slower, hypnotic “Sexual Hallucination”, his vocals intertwining nicely with Brink’s on what could almost count as a power ballad! First single from the album, “Sick Like Me”, is up next, with some thunderous drums and heavily treated vocals and guitars during the verses leading into a more epic sounding chorus. A real mixture of industrial, metal and pop, as is the whole album in general.

“Bloody Creature Poster Girl” features a piano and strings intro before exploding with Brink’s trademark screams, as the pace of the album slows down, and from here on in the momentum seems to go. Maybe it’s just initial impressions from the first few spins of this album on my virtual turntable, but although the album started really well, there is a feeling that you’re getting the best tracks first. This song is followed by the ballad “The Fighter” and another slow track, “Bones”. The tempo picks back up a little with “Natural Born Sinner”, though this is still only a mid-tempo track.

Maria Brink
Maria Brink

Following the spoken word piece “Into The Darkness”, comes the longest track on the album, “Out Of Hell”. This one features a tortured sounding vocal over a minimalist piano backing, with dialogue and sirens audible in the background adding to the bleakness of the final song of the album proper, before the bonus tracks “Turn You” and “Rib Cage”. Again, none of these display any real tempo as found earlier on the likes of “Big Bad Wolf” and “Black Widow”.

That said, although metal purists may not be keen, as someone who enjoys a wide range of musical genres I believe that this is a good album, very good in places, building on the sound of previous album “Blood” and, although it could have done with perhaps fewer slow tracks, it should still see Maria Brink and her band continuing on their upward trajectory.

In This Moment
In This Moment

“Black Widow” tracklist:

1. The Infection / 2. Sex Metal Barbie / 3. Big Bad Wolf / 4. Dirty Pretty / 5. Black Widow / 6. Sexual Hallucination / 7. Sick Like Me / 8. Bloody Creature Poster Girl / 9. The Fighter / 10. Bones / 11. Natural Born Sinner / 12. Into The Darkness / 13. Out Of Hell / 14. Turn You / 15. Rib Cage

Does The Devil Have All The Best Tunes?

“Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?” – this question has been attributed to a number of people, including General William Booth (1829-1912), the founder of the Salvation Army; preacher Roland Hill (1744-1833); John Wesley (1703-1791), founder of the Methodist movement; his brother Charles Wesley (1707-1788), a leader in the Methodist movement; as well as to preacher George Whitefield (1714-1770). It does seem most widely connected to Booth, however, in terms of popularising the phrase.

The question is – does the Devil have all the good tunes?

When I was growing up, my family were members of the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army is a Christian church, founded by the aforementioned William Booth in 1865 in the East End of London as the Christian Revival Society. This was renamed the Christian Mission, before finally becoming the Salvation Army in 1878. The Army is not only a church, it is also well known for the social and charitable work that it does – something that has been central to its aims from the start.

Salvation Army Band
Salvation Army Band

Something else that the Army is widely known for is its music. Particularly its brass bands. These are regularly seen both on the streets, and on TV programmes during the Christmas season each year, amongst other times. I became a member of one such band, playing drums and percussion for a number of years, and it was exposure to the music of the Salvation Army, both the bands and the choirs, that gave me an appreciation for brass instruments and vocal harmonies that I still enjoy in music today. Whether it be the brass section found in the music of groups such as Earth, Wind & Fire, or the rockier stuff like the “horn mix” of Extreme’s “Cupid’s Dead” (from the 1992 album “III Sides To Every Story”); the vocal harmonies of Irish group The Corrs or hard rock giants Def Leppard.

I have what can only be described as a large and eclectic music collection. This takes in many differing genres. Although I do not identify myself with the Christian church now – and haven’t for some years – I do still have fond affection for some of the music that I discovered during my Salvation Army years. Brass band numbers “Variations On Laudate Dominum” (composed by Edward Gregson) and “Resurgam” (composed by Eric Ball), to name but two, remain superbly complex and interesting pieces to me.

Cliff Richard "Now You See Me..."
Cliff Richard – Now You See Me… Now You Don’t

Cliff Richard’s “Little Town” – complete with brass section- (from his 1982 gospel album “Now You See Me… Now You Don’t”) never fails to stir me, and American singer Amy Grant made some wonderful Christian pop music, such as “Angels” (from her 1984 album “Straight Ahead”) that can still lodge itself in my head, seemingly for days on end, even thirty years after I first got the album! There were many other songs / albums that could be classified as “Christian” music too that I can still enjoy today – including U.S. metal band Stryper, Petra, Resurrection Band, Larry Norman, Steve Taylor, Whitecross and King’s X.

Maud Adams - Bond Girl
Maud Adams – Bond Girl

Even back in my Salvation Army days I was developing an interest in the secular things in life. Whether it be the fairer sex (Charlie’s Angels, Bond girls, Page 3 girls, girls in the sixth form at school) or music – initially the likes of Status Quo, Rainbow, Adam & The Ants.

It wasn’t long before I found that I had a fascination with the “dark side” despite, or perhaps as a reaction to, being brought up in a Christian environment.

During my secondary school years I loved reading books by the likes of James Herbert and Stephen King. Graham Masterton’s “The Devils Of D-Day”, discovered in a dusty second hand bookshop, was an early favourite of mine.

The Wicker Man
The Wicker Man

I also loved horror movies such as Hammer’s “The Devil Rides Out” (1968), the brilliant cult classic “The Wicker Man” (1973) and the original version of “The Omen” (1976), not to mention dozens of other classic Hammer horror movies – plus their television series “Hammer House Of Horror” – and all those old classic Hitchcock movies like “Vertigo” (1958), “Psycho” (1960) and “The Birds” (1963)

So, it’s hardly surprising that when I got into music properly it didn’t take too long before I was discovering bands that seemed to be associated with the dark side in some way. From the late 60s / early 70s came heavy rock bands such as the doomy Black Sabbath and the more psychedelic leaning Black Widow and Coven (whose 1969 album “Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls” features a thirteen minute “Satanic Mass”).

Witchfinder General - Friends Of Hell
Witchfinder General – Friends Of Hell

The 80s brought the introduction of the Black Metal genre with Mercyful Fate, Venom (who recorded the 1982 album “Black Metal”) and Witchfinder General. The latter were as infamous for the album covers as for the music contained within!

These, and more recent acts – the likes of Cradle Of Filth, Behemoth, Dimmu Borgir, Meads Of Asphodel, Blood Ceremony, Electric Wizard, Wintefylleth, Akercocke, The Devil’s Blood, Jex Thoth and Watain – are often associated with Black / Occult / Pagan Metal. But, whereas you would expect Christian artists to hold Christian religious views, this is often not the case with music that is explicitly connected to Satanism and the Occult.

Gorgoroth
Gorgoroth

King Diamond, singer from Mercyful Fate, was one of the few artists who aligned themselves with Satanism, along with Watain and a number of Norwegian artists like Euronymous from the band Mayhem. Others, such as Quorthon from the band Bathory, Gaahl from Gorgoroth and Varg Vikernes from Burzum have used Satan and Satanism as an introduction to more indigenous heathen beliefs and as a symbol of their own beliefs in Odin and other anti-Christian / pre-Christian figures.

For many bands, however, it is a case of using lyrics, visual imagery and musical aesthetics as a form of art rather than an expression of belief. And with these factors being so striking it is little wonder that it is so effective.

Away from the visuals, the music of the majority of the above mentioned bands is compellingly effective at painting images and conveying emotion and feeling, just as the great classical music from the past – Beethoven, Wagner, Mahler, etc. did so well.

Cradle Of Filth - Dusk... And Her Embrace
Cradle Of Filth – Dusk… And Her Embrace

The music may sometimes be abrasive, bleak, brutal and intense – see Watain’s “Malfeitor” (from 2010’s “Lawless Darkness”), or Cradle Of Filth’s “Funeral In Carpathia” (from 1996’s “Dusk… And Her Embrace”) for example. It can also be evocative, peaceful, meditative and beautiful – such as Winterfylleth’s amazing “Children Of The Stones” (from 2010’s “The Mercian Sphere”) and Blood Ceremony’s “Lord Summerisle” (from 2013’s “The Eldrich Dark”)

There are, of course, many artists whose music is less extreme than the Black / Occult / Pagan metal ones, where there have, over the years, been suggestions that the music or the artists themselves, are in some way “in league with the devil”.

These include Robert Johnson – legendary bluesman who was said to have sold his soul to the devil at a crossroads; KISS – rockers whose name was alleged to stand for Knights In Satan’s Service; The Rolling Stones – Sympathy for the Devil indeed; Marilyn Manson – the Antichrist Superstar; Led Zeppelin – Jimmy Page had a deep interest in the occultist Aleister Crowley; The Eagles – “Hotel California” has long been rumoured to be about the Church Of Satan.

Taylor Momsen
Taylor Momsen

At the poppier end of the spectrum Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Kesha, Taylor Momsen from The Pretty Reckless, Jay-Z and more -have all been accused of using Satanic imagery and lyrics in their performances.

Heavy Metal is often portrayed as the Devil’s music. The Blues has sometimes been said to come from Robert Johnson’s Crossroads moment. Folk music probably comes originally, just like folklore, from ancient times. All of these genres have pre-Christian and anti-Christian elements.

Katy Perry
Katy Perry

One thing seems clear to me – although the Christian God has inspired plenty of wonderful music to be written and performed, there is far more excellent and diverse music that isn’t. Some would say that that in itself makes it the Devil’s music – whether it appears to be or not!

 So, does the Devil have all the good tunes? I reckon so!

A Most Wanted Man

“A Most Wanted Man”, directed by Anton Corbijn, and based on a 2008 espionage novel by John Le Carré is one of the final movie appearances by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.

A Most Wanted Man Poster

Metallica by Anton Corbijn
Metallica by Anton Corbijn

Corbijn is known mostly for his photographic and video work with a number of rock bands, including U2, Metallica and Depeche Mode, and this is his second non-music based feature, following 2010’s “The American”, starring George Clooney.

Hoffman plays Günther Bachmann, a world weary but dogged German espionage agent, who is on the trail of Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin), a suspected Muslim Jihadist from Chechnya who has appeared in Hamburg.

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Philip Seymour Hoffman

Bachmann and his team are also interested in a local Muslim philanthropist, Dr. Abdullah (Homayoun Ershadi), who they believe is sending funds to terrorist organisations, although they are not yet able to prove this.

Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe & Grigoriy Dobrygin
Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe & Grigoriy Dobrygin

Karpov is introduced to an human rights lawyer, Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams), who wants to help him stay in Germany. Richter also helps him to contact banker Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), whose father had done business with Karpov’s father, and who is holding something in his bank vault for Karpov.

That something turns out to be a large sum of money. Initially Karpov rejects the cash, due to complications with his parentage, but Bachmann is able to use his various methods to get to first Richter, and then Karpov, and persuade them to use the money to help him implicate Dr. Abdullah and, in turn, persuade him to help get to the people further up the terror chain.

American agent Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright) and German security official Dieter Mohr (Rainer Bock) are interested in the cases of both Karpov and Dr. Abdullah, giving Bachmann an additional headache, although they agree to allow him to run things as he sees best, in order to obtain the best possible result. But, can they be trusted, or will their own priorities and agenda take over?

Robin Wright & Philip Seymour Hoffman
Robin Wright & Philip Seymour Hoffman

As events pan out, we see the way that the various security agencies and supposed allies can work against each other at the same time as seeming to work with each other, and how the end result can mean compromising the long term objective in order to gain a short term victory, and the devastating effects that can have on some of the players.

Willem Dafoe & Rachel McAdams
Willem Dafoe & Rachel McAdams

This is an excellent spy thriller, well written and beautifully filmed. All the main actors perform very well. I was impressed by McAdams, whose previous work I am not that familiar with.

Hoffman, though, is undoubtedly the star of this film. I had previously enjoyed his acting in “Magnolia”, “Mission : Impossible III”, the fabulous “Almost Famous” and particularly “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead”, and his performance in this film really is top notch. What a loss to cinema his untimely death earlier this year is.

Philip Seymour Hoffman & Rachel McAdams
Philip Seymour Hoffman & Rachel McAdams

Men In Hope

“Muzi V Nadeji”, which translates as “Men In Hope”, is a Czech film written and directed by Jirí Vejdelek, and seems to be a sort of sequel to his earlier film, “Women In Temptation”.

Muzi V Nadeji (Men In Hope)

The film is a romantic comedy, with an interesting idea – that a husband having an extra-marital affair can actually make his wife happier as a result.

Rudolf (played by Boleslav Polívka), a 60-something semi-retired taxi driver, is a serial adulterer, and is convinced that his wife is happier as a result. He perceives that his son-in-law, Ondřej (Jiří Macháček), who is under some pressure from his wife Alice (Petra Hřebíčková) to conceive a baby, is unhappy with life and was therefore making Alice unhappy too.

Petra Hrebickova and Jiri Machacek
Petra Hrebickova and Jiri Machacek

The solution, according to Rudolf, is for Ondřej to cheat on Alice. He tells Ondřej that “…women like a challenge.  So for the sake of your marriage you’re going to have to cheat on your wife…”.

When he is asked if his wife, Marta, knows that Rudolf cheats on her regularly, he replies that “…whether she does or not, it does not matter. It’s not who one’s with but who one comes back to. And Alice’s mom knows that I always come back to her, that I make her happy, that I keep things interesting with her both in and out of the sack, that I always keep her guessing and always, always leave her with a smile on her face…” That’s unusual advice from a father-in-law for sure!

This advice is imparted one night at a pool hall, when Ondřej turns up for a pool game that Rudolf had organised with him, not realising that Rudolf was actually just wanting an alibi for meeting yet another woman himself that night.

Vica Kerekes and Bolek Polivka
Vica Kerekes and Bolek Polivka

The woman in question is Šarlota, a young dancer, played by Vica Kerekes. Vica strikes me as a hybrid physically between Christina Hendricks and Kelly Reilly, and is stunning in this movie.

Indeed, if any woman were to tempt me to follow Rudolph’s advice, Vica would certainly give me pause for thought!

Vica Kerekes
Vica Kerekes

The arrival of Šarlota at the pool table brings with it the sexiest scene in the movie as, when she struggles to play the game because her hair falls in her eyes, she removes her thong to tie her hair back with, much to the obvious delight of both Rudolf and Ondřej.

It later becomes clear that although Šarlota had arranged to meet Rudolf, she had taken a shine to Ondřej. They begin an affair, which has the effect of rejuvenating Ondřej and giving him more confidence. Then Šarlota moves in next door, and things become gradually even more complicated from there on in!

Bolek Polivka, Vica Kerekes and Jiri Machacek
Bolek Polivka, Vica Kerekes and Jiri Machacek

There are some very funny moments indeed in this movie, and some rather touching and thoughtful ones too. I will not divulge any more with regards to the plot, suffice it to say that there are a few twists and turns, and overall this is a fun and entertaining movie well worth a viewing.

Aquostic… Stripped Bare

Status Quo Aquostic BannerI’ve been a fan of Status Quo since “Something ‘Bout You Baby I Like” became a hit way back in February 1981, and received my first Quo album, “Never Too Late”, as an Easter present soon after.

I immersed myself in their already impressive back catalogue as quickly as I was able, bringing my collection to 14 studio albums plus the classic “Live!” double album and a fair number of 7″ singles as well.

Along the way since then there have been a further 17 studio albums, including the latest – “Aquostic – Stripped Bare”, a collection of 25 classic Quo tracks re-recorded with acoustic guitars rather than the trusty Telecasters.

So, how does this album stack up against the legacy? Perhaps that depends which type of Quo fan you are. There are those who dismiss anything the band has done since the departure of 1970s rhythm section – drummer John Coghlan left during recording sessions in 1982 and bassist Alan Lancaster followed in 1985 – and seem to view main man Francis Rossi in a very poor light. There are also those who prefer the Quo that has existed since 1986 with bassist John “Rhino” Edwards and  successive drummers Jeff Rich, Matt Letley and latest recruit Leon Cave. Then there are those who love the band regardless of which rhythm section is performing and can appreciate the good, and the bad, in all the band’s recordings. I count myself firmly in the latter camp.

I have to say that, although I can see what they are getting at with the title of the album, arguably this is anything but Quo “stripped bare”, as there are ten additional musicians credited in addition to the five band members, and more instrumentation on the tracks than you would normally find with Quo tracks.

In terms of song selection, I find it slightly odd that we have 22 tracks spanning the 15 year period 1968 – 1983, and just 3 tracks covering the recording career of the “new” band, and then only covering the first 5 years, 1986 – 1991. Will there be a second acoustic album covering material from the past 24 years, I wonder?

The songs are presented chronologically, in terms of when they were originally released, with the exception of “Little Lady” and “Mystery Song”, which although listed as being in that order on the tracklist, and on the band’s website, are actually reversed as one segues into the other. The rest, however, are strictly chronological, which I feel makes the album feel more like a greatest hits type project, whereas had the tracks been mixed up more, as indeed they were when Quo performed them live at London’s Roundhouse for BBC Radio 2, then the flow of the album would have been improved.

Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi At The Roundhouse
Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi At The Roundhouse

In musical terms, the majority of the songs are in their familiar arrangements, with the addition of accordion, string section, extra percussion and backing vocals, which give many of the tracks a folky, cajun, singalong vibe – and are great for strumming along to with your guitar at home. “And It’s Better Now”, the single, is a fabulous version, and a definite highlight of the album.

There are a few more radical renditions though. “Pictures Of Matchstick Men”, although not hugely different in arrangement, has a lovely Beatlesque vibe with prominent string section. “Caroline” begins as a slow 12 bar shuffle, before switching to the more up tempo arrangement that we are used to. “Break The Rules” has a completely different guitar / harmonica solo passage (possibly because Rossi allegedly had problems recreating his original solo when the band added the song to their live set for a while around 2003). I like the quirky ending to “Again And Again”, and “Whatever You Want” has a percussion / strings intro.

The most different version though must be “Don’t Drive My Car”. One of my all time favourite Quo tracks, particularly in concert, this version has a completely different tone, which, although it won’t replace the original version in my affections, does definitely offer something new and unexpected.

Less successful, I feel are “All The Reasons”, which exposes the limitations in Rick Parfitt’s voice these days, and does nothing to improve upon the original recording. “Softer Ride”, which I have always loved, lacks the dynamic range, certainly from the version the band were performing in concert in the late 1990s.

One could argue that it may have been better had Quo approached this project in a similar way to Eric Clapton’s “Unplugged” album, and others like it, which would perhaps have given a more stripped back and bluesy vibe, with slower arrangements, than the cajun idea, and I suspect that there will be a fair number of Quo fans, particularly those of the “Frantic Four” who would have preferred that approach. Overall, though, I would say that this album is a very good addition to the Quo canon, and one that I would recommend without hesitation.

Status Quo At The Roundhouse
Status Quo At The Roundhouse

“Aquostic – Stripped Bare” tracklist:

1. Pictures Of Matchstick Men / 2. Down The Dustpipe / 3. Nanana / 4. Paper Plane / 5. All The Reasons / 6. Reason For Living / 7. And It’s Better Now / 8. Caroline / 9. Softer Ride / 10. Claudie / 11. Break The Rules / 12. Down Down / 13. Mystery Song / 14. Little Lady / 15. Rain / 16. Rockin’ All Over The World / 17. Again And Again / 18. Whatever You Want / 19. What You’re Proposin’ / 20. Rock ‘N’ Roll / 21. Don’t Drive My Car / 22. Marguerita Time / 23. Rollin’ Home / 24. Burning Bridges / 25. Rock ‘Til You Drop

1 originally from “Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From” (1968) / 2 originally a single release (1970) / 3 originally from “Dog Of Two Head” (1971) / 4-5 originally from “Piledriver” (1972) / 6-10 originally from “Hello!” (1973) / 11 originally from “Quo” (1974) / 12 and 14 originally from “On The Level” (1975) / 13 and 15 originally from “Blue For You” (1976) / 16 originally from “Rockin’ All Over The World” (1977) / 17 originally from “If You Can’t Stand The Heat” (1978) / 18 originally from “Whatever You Want” (1979) / 19-21 originally from “Just Supposin'” (1980) / 22 originally from “Back To Back” (1983) / 23 originally from “In The Army Now” (1986) / 24 originally from “Ain’t Complaining” (1988) / 25 originally from “Rock ‘Til You Drop” (1991)

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