Tag Archives: Iron Maiden

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)

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I’m A Freak, Baby…

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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

Wild

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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

2015 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

At the end of the year time to break the current sequence of “top ten albums of the year” posts and review my favourite releases of the past twelve months. There have been a lot of quality albums issued this year, and it’s proven difficult to narrow my list down to just ten, but here (alphabetically, as per usual) we go…

1. Europe “War Of Kings”

Europe_War_of_Kings_album
Europe – War Of Kings

“…front man Joey Tempest’s vocals are as powerful and soaring now as they ever were and guitarist John Norum delivers some seriously tasty lead guitar solos. The highlights of this record, for me, are “War Of Kings”, “Nothin’ To Ya”, “California 405”, “Rainbow Bridge” and “Light Me Up”, but in truth this is a very good album from the opening sound effects through to the reprise of the title track at the end of closing instrumental number “Vasastan”…”

2. Grace Potter “Midnight”

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Grace Potter – Midnight

“…ultimately, whether you like this or not I think it’s good when an artist follows their heart musically rather than churning out similar sounding albums for fear of upsetting fans and losing sales.

Granted that approach doesn’t always make for consistently good music (see Metallica’s “St. Anger” and their collaboration with Lou Reed on “Lulu” for evidence of that!) but in the case of Potter she is, to my ears, managing to make the transition and still remain as entertaining and appealing as ever…”

3. Halestorm “Into The Wild Life”

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Halestorm – Into The Wild Life

“…I do feel that it’s easily the band’s best to date. That said, at this point in time I am really enjoying “I Am The Fire”, the delicate ballad “Dear Daughter”, the crushing “Mayhem”, “Sick Individual”, “Gonna Get Mine”, “What Sober Couldn’t Say” (with it’s lovely Procol Harum style organ work), the rock ‘n’ roll of “Jump The Gun” and “I Like It Heavy”. In truth, though, there isn’t a duff track to be found. Sure, there are different genres on display here – rock, metal, country, rock ‘n’ roll, etc. – but all put together and moulded into the unique sound of Halestorm…”

4. Iron Maiden “The Book Of Souls”

Book_of_Souls_Iron_Maiden
Iron Maiden – The Book Of Souls

“…this is not only the best record that this line-up of Maiden have made, and all six members are bang on the money, but is right up there with the best of their entire output.

For a band now in their 40th year, and 15 years for this configuration, this is a staggering achievement. A 92 minute double album of consistent top quality…”

5. Luciferian Light Orchestra “Luciferian Light Orchestra”

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Luciferian Light Orchestra – Luciferian Light Orchestra

“…the album is steeped in a Seventies style vibe and is far more classic hard rock than one might expect given Johnsson’s background in death and symphonic metal. Opening track “Dr. Faust On Capri” sets out the project’s stall straight away. Catchy guitar riffs, Hammond organs, choral backing vocals in places, some fairly deep but perfectly understandable male vocals and all topped off with the a beautifully sweet female vocal.

…if all occult and / or satanic music was as melodic, catchy and, frankly, seductive as this then there would be a lot more people investigating that path!…”

6. Nightwish “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”

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Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful

“…designed to be listened to from start to end, as albums used to be, the record starts with a spoken piece from Professor Richard Dawkins introducing first track “Shudder Before The Beautiful”. Orchestration leads into some heavy guitar riffing before Jansen’s vocals kick in. Her voice is pure and clear, and the track’s melodies catchy. This is classic Nightwish but also the group sounding more accessible than ever…”

7. Steven Wilson “Hand. Cannot. Erase”

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Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase

“…anyone familiar with Wilson’s past work with Porcupine Tree, or his subsequent solo work will have an idea of what to expect with this record. This is not background music. It’s not easy listening. This is an album that challenges you. It needs and deserves to have your full attention. And with that attention you will discover what a rich and engaging album it is…”

8. Swallow The Sun “Songs From The North”

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Swallow The Sun – Songs From The North I, II & III

“…a truly great doom metal band that have incorporated a wide palette within their core sound. Now that winter is settling in and we are treated to rain, mist and dark skies I feel that it is the perfect time for something like “Songs From The North”. The fact that the project is on such a huge scale just makes it even better in my view. An ideal, and oddly uplifting, soundtrack to the melancholy and darkness of winter…”

9. Thunder “Wonder Days”

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Thunder – Wonder Days

“…to my ears nothing quite matches the magic created when you mix his songs with Bowes’ voice in the band, underpinned by the rock solid James’ drumming, Matthews’ guitar and keyboard parts and Chris Childs’ bass playing and the magic is complete. Thunder are a fantastic band, whether on record or on stage, and it’s great to have them back with new songs!…”

10. The Unthanks “Mount The Air”

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The Unthanks – Mount The Air

“…the group have gradually moved from their more traditional folk sounds to more experimental waters. Taking folk as their starting point, they now often utilise strings and brass instruments, resulting in a unique and quite haunting sound. The sisters’ voices really do compliment each other beautifully.

As a whole, listening to the record from start to finish is to be taken on a wonderful musical journey. It’s hard to convey in words what The Unthanks sound like – so it’s probably best to listen and quite literally let the music do the talking…”

So there you have it – my favourite ten albums of this year. Back on course with the Seventies and 1976 soon…

Songs From The North

Swallow-The-Sun

Juha Raivio
Juha Raivio

Although there is a perception that music has become very disposable with some many people cherry picking songs and having random playlists etc., it’s clear that there are those that still believe in the album format. I personally suspect that this applies more to fans of what could be termed niche genres – heavy metal, jazz, folk etc. – than to those who listen to pop. In any event 2015 has been quite a year for the album as a complete piece of work, including some superb double album releases from Iron Maiden and IO Earth.

Pasi Pasanen
Pasi Pasanen

Now the bar has been raised once more with the latest offering from Finnish melodic doom metal band Swallow The Sun. Formed in 2000 by Juha Raivio (guitars) and Pasi Pasanen (drums), the pair were joined in 2001 by Mikko Kotamäki (vocals), Markus Jämsen (guitars), Matti Honkonen (bass) and Aleksi Munter (keyboards).

Mikko Kotamäki
Mikko Kotamäki

This line-up released debut album “The Morning Never Came” in 2003, and followed this up with three further studio albums – the more gothic tinged “Ghosts Of Loss” (2005), and “Hope” (2007) – with the vast majority of the material being penned by Raivio.

Kai Hahto
Kai Hahto

Pasanen departed before the recording of “New Moon” (2009) and was replaced by Kai Hahto, who is also a member of the band Wintersun. Swallow The Sun’s fifth studio album, titled “Emerald Forest And The Blackbird” was released in 2012.

Markus Jämsen
Markus Jämsen

With Hahto working with Nightwish on their excellent 2015 album “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” and the following world tour whilst that band’s regular drummer dealt with health issues, the band had to find a replacement for the follow-up to their “Emerald Forest And The Blackbird” album.

Juuso Raatikainen
Juuso Raatikainen

In December 2014 they posted via their Facebook page that “…Kai won’t be playing drums on the next Swallow the Sun release, or on upcoming tours. Kai’s job with Nightwish will take so much of his time, at least for the next couple of years, that we all have agreed that from now on it is better for the amazing Juuso Raatikainen to take on the drums officially. Kai is our brother, and will always be a member of Swallow the Sun, so he has not been kicked out, nor has he resigned, but now we have Juuso on board as well…”. Unusual, certainly, but a refreshing change to see such a harmonious statement rather than the often seen vitriol when band line-ups change.

Matti Honkonen
Matti Honkonen

The resulting release is “Songs From The North”, a huge triple album of new material lasting two and a half hours! Split into three distinct albums, the group announced them with the description “Songs from the North I continues in the vein of the albums before it – first-rate death-doom. Songs from the North II is a beautiful acoustic foray, unplugged revel in the darkness. Songs from the North III is the most extreme album, a complete ride into most horrific abyss of finely crafted, conscience-crushing funeral doom.”

Aleksi Munter
Aleksi Munter

Epic is a word that’s bandied around a fair bit. Indeed that is something that I’m sometimes guilty of myself when describing a longer track on an album. However in the case of “Songs From The North” it seems to be a wholly appropriate term to use.

1“Songs… I” begins with the acoustic guitar introduction to the nine minute “With You Came The Whole Of The World’s Tears”. As if the title isn’t clue enough, the first (and last) line of the song is “Saint Peter save me and send me down to Hell”. Then a densely heavy yet beautifully melodic guitar riff comes crushing in.  Going back and forth between the delicate acoustic sections and the heavy, a happy happy joy joy song this is not.

Aleah Stanbridge
Aleah Stanbridge

“Rooms And Shadows”, another belter with fabulous growled vocals mixed in with the melodic harmony vocals underpinned by some more seriously heavy instrumentation is also found on “Songs… I”. Possibly the most gorgeous song on this record, though, is “Heartstrings Shattering” which features a wonderful guest vocal from Trees Of Eternity singer Aleah Stanbridge, although the track “Silhouettes” is yet another highlight of the first volume.

2“Songs… II” is a gentler affair, but still carries the same sense of melancholy and sadness in its songs. Instrumental piano-led opener “The Womb Of Winter” leads into the acoustic guitar and tubular bells of “The Heart Of A Cold White Land” which in a way sums up the whole experience with the lyric “…this heart of a cold white land in the dark of the endless nights and the light of summer that never dies in these songs from the North…”. My favourite tracks on this record are “Autumn Fire”, “Pray For The Winds To Come” and the second instrumental track “66°50’N, 28°40’E” (which, according to Google maps, is in Salla near Finland’s eastern border with Russia).

3The third disc, “Songs… III”, begins with the longest track here, the thirteen minute hymn of despair and pain that is “The Gathering Of Black Moths”. The deathly slow “7 Hours Late” follows, feeling akin to the end of time itself, and it’s fair to say that the pace has not picked up by the time we get to the highlight of the third record, the glacial “Abandoned By The Light”, in which Saint Peter makes a return to the lyrics and Kotamäki’s deathly growl intones about suffering “…the purest form of pain, my heart pulled apart by ebony horses unaware of their powers, gentle in their calmness until their eyes lit up like the fires of Hell, or was it just a reflection of mine…”.

swallow-the-sun (1)Swallow The Sun are a truly great doom metal band that have incorporated a wide palette within their core sound. Now that winter is settling in and we are treated to rain, mist and dark skies I feel that it is the perfect time for something like “Songs From The North”. The fact that the project is on such a huge scale just makes it even better in my view. An ideal, and oddly uplifting, soundtrack to the melancholy and darkness of winter. Very impressive…

SWALLOW_THE_SUN_tour_2015

“Songs From The North I” tracklist:

1. With You Came The Whole Of The World’s Tears / 2. 10 Silver Bullets / 3. Rooms & Shadows / 4. Heartstrings Shattering / 5. Silhouettes / 6. Memory Of Light / 7. Lost & Catatonic / 8. From Happiness To Dust

“Songs From The North II” tracklist:

1. The Womb Of Winter / 2. The Heart Of A Cold White Land / 3. Away / 4. Pray For The Winds To Come / 5. Songs From The North / 6. 66°50’N, 28°40’E / 7. Autumn Fire / 8. Before The Summer Dies

“Songs From The North III” tracklist:

1. The Gathering Of Black Moths / 2. 7 Hours Late / 3. Empires Of Loneliness / 4. Abandoned By The Light / 5. The Clouds Prepare For Battle

1988 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

Following on from my recent post on my top ten records from 1986 I am now reaching the final stages of that particular decade. Having covered 1980 all the way through to 1987 I’m left with just 1988 and 1989 to look back at.

So, let’s recap on my personal favourite ten albums of 1988…

  1. All About Eve “All About Eve”
All About Eve - All About Eve
All About Eve – All About Eve

The debut album from English gothic folk rock band All About Eve, this self-titled release would also prove to be the band’s most commercially successful.

Five of the album’s tracks were released as singles, all but one of which reached the UK top forty. These were “In The Clouds” (number 47), “Wild Hearted Woman” (33), “Every Angel” (30), “Martha’s Harbour” (10) and “What Kind Of Fool” (29).

My own personal favourite tracks were “Never Promise (Anyone Forever)”, “She Moves Through The Fair”, “Flowers In Our Hair” and the beautifully delicate “Apple Tree Man”.

Incidentally, during a period of unemployment after being made redundant a dozen or so years ago I actually answered an ad from the band when they were looking for a drummer, one of the criteria being that applicants should be unemployed. On the minus side I didn’t have a drum kit at the time and hadn’t played for a few years but, hey, it’s the closest I ever came to my early dream of rock stardom!

2. Bon Jovi “New Jersey”

Bon Jovi - New Jersey
Bon Jovi – New Jersey

Following up on the massive success of “Slippery When Wet” (1986) must have been a daunting task, but Bon Jovi were clearly intent of doing just that, with a double album originally planned until the record label rejected that idea.

When the single disc record did see the light of day, again utilising the songwriting talents of Desmond Child on a number of tracks, it was to become more successful, chart-wise, in the UK than “Slippery When Wet” had been and produced more hit singles too.

“Bad Medicine”, “Born To Be My Baby”, “I’ll Be There For You” and “Lay Your Hands On Me” all reached the top thirty, with final single “Living In Sin” making number 35.

The record had a bluesier edge to some tracks, and there is a more diverse range of songs as shown on tracks such as “Blood On Blood”, “Love For Sale” and one of my own favourites “Homebound Train”. The hits from “Slippery When Wet” may be more well-known but as a complete album I believe that “New Jersey” is the better of the two.

3. Dare “Out Of The Silence”

Dare - Out Of The Silence
Dare – Out Of The Silence

When Thin Lizzy split after their farewell tour in 1983 many wouldn’t have thought that keyboardist Darren Wharton would go on to achieve success fronting a band of his own. However, Wharton formed the melodic rock band Dare in the mid-80s and their debut album “Out Of The Silence” hit the shelves in 1988.

The album was heavy on anthemic tunes, such as “Under The Sun”, “Return The Heart” and “King Of Spades”, the latter a tribute to the late Thin Lizzy leader Phil Lynott. There were also four singles in “Abandon”, “Heartbreaker”, “Nothing Is Stronger Than Love” and the sublime “The Raindance”.

I saw the band supporting Swedish rock band Europe on their UK tour in 1989 and thought they could be set for big things, but record sales tailed off and the group were dropped by their label after their second album. The band are still a going concern with a gentler, more celtic sound, and still producing quality music but “Out Of The Silence” remains a classic debut.

4. Iron Maiden “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son”

Iron Maiden - Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
Iron Maiden – Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son

The seventh studio album from Iron Maiden was the last truly great album during vocalist Bruce Dickinson’s first tenure with the band.

A concept album of sorts the group’s sound took on a slightly more progressive element (which has really taken hold since Dickinson’s return for “Brave New World”), the album’s title was both a reference to the fact that it was their seventh record and also to the folklore idea of the seventh son of a seventh son having special powers.

Four singles came from the album – “Can I Play With Madness” (the video for which was filmed at Chepstow Castle), “The Evil That Men Do” and live versions of “The Clairvoyant” and “Infinite Dreams”.

My own favourite number on the record is “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” itself, a near ten minute epic with time signature changes and plenty of texture. Superb.

5. Lita Ford “Lita”

Lita Ford - Lita
Lita Ford – Lita

Former lead guitarist with all-girl rock band The Runaways from 1975-1979, Lita Ford launched a solo career in 1983 with “Out For Blood” with a far more heavy metal orientated image.

Success finally came with her third album “Lita” and it’s four singles “Kiss Me Deadly”, “Back To The Cave”, “Falling In And Out Of Love” and the duet with Ozzy Osbourne “Close My Eyes Forever”.

Lita’s image certainly wouldn’t have harmed sales, particularly to young men (as I was at the time), and I fondly recall seeing her support Bon Jovi that year.

However, at the end of the day the record is a great commercial hard rock record with some really catchy songs and earns its place on this list on that basis!

6. Magnum “Wings Of Heaven”

Magnum - Wings Of Heaven
Magnum – Wings Of Heaven

Magnum were a band that had been treading the boards for quite a while by the time that their seventh album “Wings Of Heaven” came out in the summer of 1988, having been formed around 1972.

They had achieved some chart success previously but this would prove to be their most successful album, reaching number 5 in the UK. The record also produced three hit singles – “Days Of No Trust”, “Start Talking Love” and “It Must Have Been Love”.

All tracks were written by guitarist Tony Clarkin, who continues to pen excellent compositions to this day, and included in those on this album are my favourites “Wild Swan”, “Pray For The Day” and the anti-war epic “Don’t Wake The Lion (Too Old To Die Young)”. An excellent melodic rock album from start to finish.

7. Queensrÿche “Operation : Mindcrime”

Queensrÿche - Operation : Mindcrime
Queensrÿche – Operation : Mindcrime

This is the second concert album on this list, which may well say something about my fondness for more complex music over simple pop tunes. Even though it’s 1990 successor “Empire” would achieve greater chart and sales success, “Operation : Mindcrime” is probably the most celebrated album in American progressive metal band Queensrÿche’s catalogue, and even spawned a sequel in 2006’s “Operation : Mindcrime II”.

The record tells the story of Nikki, a recovering drug addict, who recalls how he was drawn into a revolutionary group, headed by Dr. X, and the events that followed. It was a big success for the band, both with fans and critics.

Four singles were released to promote the album – “Revolution Calling”, “Breaking The Silence”, “Eyes Of A Stranger” and “I Don’t Believe In Love”, and tracks like “Suite Sister Mary” and “Operation : Mindcrime” also help to make this such a strong record.

Queensrÿche may have become something of a farcical soap opera in recent years with claim and counter-claim between now ex-singer Geoff Tate and his former bandmates, but “Operation : Mindcrime” remains a high point in progressive metal.

8. Romeo’s Daughter “Romeo’s Daughter”

Romeo's Daughter - Romeo's Daughter
Romeo’s Daughter – Romeo’s Daughter

Romeo’s Daughter were managed by the then-wife of producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange who was apparently so impressed with their songs that he agreed to produce this, their self-titled debut album.

I can remember at the time being a tad dismissive of the group, perceiving them to be a female-fronted answer to the previous years’s massively successful “Hysteria” album by Def Leppard, which Lange also produced, and certainly the similarities are there to be heard.

In retrospect, although the production sheen and guitar / drum sounds are reminiscent of the Def Leppard record, that cannot detract from the fact that Romeo’s Daughter did have some great songs and, in Leigh Matty, a really good singer.

Three excellent singles came from the album. “Don’t Break My Heart”, “I Cry Myself To Sleep At Night” and “Heaven In The Back Seat” (which also featured on the soundtrack to the movie “A Nightmare On Elm Street 5”).

The album was further boosted by tracks such as “Wild Child” (covered by Heart in 1990), “Velvet Tongue” and “I Like What I See”. An often overlooked classic of the genre.

9. Status Quo “Ain’t Complaining”

Status Quo - Ain't Complaining
Status Quo – Ain’t Complaining

“Ain’t Complaining” was studio album number eighteen from legendary British rock band Status Quo, and the most typically 80s sounding release in their history, taking them even further from their 70s heads-down no-nonsense boogie sound than 1986’s “In The Army Now”.

Although it was the group’s first album since 1971 not to make the UK top ten, reaching only number twelve, it nonetheless produced three hit singles. “Who Gets The Love” hit number 34, “Ain’t Complaining” made number 19 and “Burning Bridges” got all the way to number 5.

My favourite, easily, of the three albums released by the reformed Status Quo during the second half of the 80s, this record has some superb pop/rock material with tracks like “Everytime I Think Of You”, “Cream Of The Crop” and “One For The Money”.

Sure the album sounds very much of its time, but there are some great songs and superb melodies to be found here and it remains one of my favourite Status Quo albums.

10. Transvision Vamp “Pop Art”

Transvision Vamp - Pop Art
Transvision Vamp – Pop Art

Transvision Vamp’s “Pop Art” is the fourth debut album to make this year’s top ten, suggesting that it was a good year to find new bands, even if none of them have gone on the achieve major success.

Formed in 1986 by guitarist / songwriter Nick Sayer and singer / focal point Wendy James, the band had a pop/punk sound and aesthetic and, for a while, looked like they could be the next big thing. However, despite two top five albums and ten top fifty singles, it was all over by 1991.

While they were around, though, they were great. Four tracks from “Pop Art” were released as singles – “Revolution Baby” (twice, numbers 77 and 30), “Tell That Girl To Shut Up” (45), “Sister Moon” (41) and the brilliant “I Want Your Love” (5), and the rest of the album isn’t bad either.

Other notables from 1988 – Margaret Thatcher was in her third term as the Prime Minister of the UK whilst Ronald Reagan was nearing the end of his second term as President of the USA. In football Liverpool won the old First Division back from Everton, and the FA Cup went to Wimbledon. In cinemas, top films released included “Rain Man”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Twins”.

So that’s nearly all of the eighties covered, next up will be 1989…

1986 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

As promised a week or so ago, when I looked at my favourite albums of 1980, I’m now going to look at those from 1986. There was a lot of great music released in ’86 which meant that it wasn’t easy to narrow down my list to just ten records and a number of excellent ones slipped through the net, so honourable mention must be made of Black Sabbath “Seventh Star”, Bruce Hornsby & The Range “The Way It Is”, Europe “The Final Countdown”, Huey Lewis & The News “Fore!”, Judas Priest “Turbo”, Paul Simon “Graceland”, Peter Gabriel “So”, Slayer “Reign In Blood”, Toto “Fahrenheit” and Van Halen “5150” – another ten albums that could have made my list, were it not for the fact that the following ten are the ten that did make it to my personal top ten for the year…

  1. Bon Jovi “Slippery When Wet”
Bon Jovi - Slippery When Wet
Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

US rock giants Bon Jovi were only moderately successful until their third album came along. “Slippery When Wet” broke the band into the big time. The bulk of the songs were written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, with additional input from songwriter Desmond Child on four tracks, including the singles “You Give Love A Bad Name” and “Livin’ On A Prayer”.

In addition to these, two further singles were issued in the UK. “Wanted Dead Or Alive”, which features one of my all-time favourite guitar solos, and the ballad “Never Say Goodbye”.

On top of those, there are some great hard rock tracks on this record including “Let It Rock”, “Raise Your Hands” and the rather excellent (if non-PC) “Social Disease”. Rightly regarded as a highpoint in Bon Jovi’s career, this is a superb album from start to finish.

2. Genesis “Invisible Touch”

Genesis - Invisible Touch
Genesis – Invisible Touch

The follow-up to the group’s self-titled album from 1983, “Invisible Touch” hit the streets in the summer of ’86 and went on to become one of their most successful albums ever, achieving the number one spot in the UK and number three (their highest album chart position) in the US.

To promote the album five of the record’s eight tracks were released as singles – the title track, “Throwing It All Away”, “Land Of Confusion” (the video for which featured puppets from the then popular “Spitting Image” TV show), “In Too Deep” and an edited version of “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”.

Of the remaining three tracks, “Domino” was a ten minute, two-part, epic, “The Brazilian” a great instrumental and “Anything She Does” the only track not performed by the band on their subsequent world tour. Despite not being released as a single there was a video made for the latter track which featured Page 3 model Maria Whittaker as well as Phil Collins’ fabulous mullet!

Musically this was the commercial side of Genesis at their best, and even though it sounds very much of its time with synth bass and electronic drums very much evident. Nonetheless, this is a classic record and one that I still play often.

3. Iron Maiden “Somewhere In Time”

Iron Maiden - Somewhere In Time
Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time

This was something of a divisive album amongst fans of Iron Maiden when it was released in September of 1986. This was because of a marked change in sound which incorporates synth guitar and bass.

Two tracks were released as singles, both written by guitarist Adrian Smith, “Wasted Years” and “Stranger In A Strange Land”.

In addition to these, there are some standout tracks on this record including “Heaven Can Wait”, “Caught Somewhere In Time” and the superbly complex epic number “Alexander The Great”. Throughout the album the material is very good and the performances from all band members are typically on the money.

“Somewhere In Time” may not be a universally loved Iron Maiden album, but in my view it is a very underrated one, and actually one of the best from the first period with Bruce Dickinson as lead vocalist.

4. Kim Wilde “Another Step”

Kim Wilde - Another Step
Kim Wilde – Another Step

The first pop album on this list. I’d been vaguely aware of some of Kim Wilde’s early hits, like “Kids In America”, but it was her 1983 hit “Love Blonde” and its cool swagger that made me sit up and take notice.

One of my crushes of the era, Wilde really hit her stride in terms of commercial success and great catchy pop tunes with her late 80s albums – “Another Step” and the following “Close” from 1988.

Three singles came from this record. A cover of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On”, “Another Step (Closer To You)” and “Say You Really Want Me”. The sound of this album was more rocky than her previous material, though still contains plenty of keyboards and 80s sounding drums etc.

I would personally have changed the running order, as the uptempo songs all come first with the latter part being given over to the more balladic numbers, and I think it would have perhaps flowed better if the songs had been mixed up a bit.

Despite that, and the limitations of Wilde’s voice – which actually add a charming vulnerability to much of the material – this is still, to my mind, a great 80s pop album.

5. Metallica “Master Of Puppets”

Metallica - Master Of Puppets
Metallica – Master Of Puppets

Without doubt, this is the heaviest record to make this list. Metallica’s third studio album, “Master Of Puppets” was their first release on a major label.

A real step up from “Ride The Lightning”, this album was to see the band begin to make it big. Although not a commercial success in the same league as 1991’s self-titled album (also known as “The Black Album”), this particular record has been very influential in the decades since it’s release.

Just one single was released to promote the album, “Master Of Puppets” itself, which failed to chart either in the UK or the US.

Regardless of chart positions etc., this album has rightly become regarded as one of the highlights of Metallica’s recording career because it is a splendidly cohesive record. The performances are tight and passionate, the songs classics of the genre and the production noticeably better than on their previous recordings.

The last record to feature bassist Cliff Burton, who was killed in a tour bus crash just six months after it’s release, there are a number of stone cold classic Metallica tracks present, including “Battery”, “Master Of Puppets”, “Disposable Heroes”, “Orion” and “Leper Messiah”.

6. Nik Kershaw “Radio Musicola”

Nik Kershaw - Radio Musicola
Nik Kershaw – Radio Musicola

Nik Kershaw’s first two albums were released within eleven months in 1984. There followed a gap of almost two years until third album “Radio Musicola” came out, which will have no doubt had an effect on its chart success given how fast things can change in the world of music, especially pop music.

Four singles were released. “When A Heart Beats” (which was bizarrely not included on the vinyl version of the album) reached number 27, whilst “Nobody Knows” and the title track narrowly missed top forty positions. Fourth single “James Cagney” failed to chart however.

There were some superb Kershaw compositions contained within the album. Not just the singles, but tracks like “Don’t Let Me Out Of My Cage” and “What The Papers Say” were further examples of his knack of writing a great, catchy and memorable melody.

7. Pallas “The Wedge”

Pallas - The Wedge
Pallas – The Wedge

Scottish progressive rock band Pallas had achieved some cult success with their first two releases “Arrive Alive” (1981) and “The Sentinel” (1984) and then lost their original singer.

Replacement vocalist Alan Reed’s arrival coincided with a streamlining of the group’s sound. Whilst still firmly rooted in progressive rock, there was more focus on melodies and shorter, more accessible songs. I hadn’t heard Pallas prior to “The Wedge”, however, and my introduction to the band was when they had supported rock legends UFO in November 1985.

Not as well known as the work by fellow progressive rock band Marillion in the mid 80s, this album is a cracker. A couple of ballads are present, of which the brilliantly evocative “Just A Memory” is by far the best, but it’s the rockier and proggier numbers that work best for me, like “The Executioner” and, “Throwing Stones At The Wind”.

Best of all is the eight minute epic “Rat Racing”, lots of time changes etc. The use of the Emulator sampling keyboard kind of dates the album, I suppose, but I still enjoy listening to this record as much now as I did when it first came out. An unheralded progressive rock classic.

8. Queen “A Kind Of Magic”

Queen - A Kind Of Magic
Queen – A Kind Of Magic

Another band that had progressive tendencies. At least, they did in their mid 70s work. By the mid 80s, however, the band really were firmly into commercial rock / pop territory.

The last Queen album to be promoted with a world tour, which I was fortunate enough to attend at Knebworth Park in August ’86, “A Kind Of Magic” was an unofficial soundtrack to the film “Highlander” (also released in 1986) with six of the record’s nine songs being featured in the film, albeit in different versions.

One of the band’s most successful albums, “A Kind Of Magic” saw an astonishing seven of it’s nine tracks released as singles. Four charted in the UK – “One Vision” (number 7), “A Kind Of Magic” (number 3), “Friends Will Be Friends” (number 14) and “Who Wants To Live Forever” (number 14) – whilst the remaining three, “Princes Of The Universe”, “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure” and “One Year Of Love” failed to do so.

Not the best Queen album, in truth, with the four hit singles representing the very best of the material on offer. The record as a whole suffers from a lack of consistency, perhaps as a result of much of it being written for the film. That said, it’s head and shoulders above the “Flash Gordon” album and does contain two of the very best Queen singles in “A Kind Of Magic” and “One Vision”.

9. Status Quo “In The Army Now”

Status Quo - In The Army Now
Status Quo – In The Army Now

This was the album that marked the start of the second real phase of Status Quo’s recording career. With founding bassist Alan Lancaster having fought and lost to guitarists Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt over ownership of the band’s name, Rossi and Parfitt reconvened with longterm keyboardist Andrew Bown and a new rhythm section – bassist John “Rhino” Edwards and drummer Jeff Rich to record “In The Army Now”.

The album was the band’s most successful for a while, and produced four UK top twenty hit singles – “Rollin’ Home”, “Red Sky”, “In The Army Now” and “Dreamin'”.

Alongside those numbers there are some really good album tracks like “Save Me”, “End Of The Line”, the country flavoured “Invitation” and my favourite “Overdose”.

Granted it all sounds a little dated now, with prominent 80s keyboards, but this is another album that still gets regular airings.

10. Tesla “Mechanical Resonance”

Tesla - Mechanical Resonance
Tesla – Mechanical Resonance

I discovered US hard rock band Tesla when they supported Def Leppard on the first UK leg of their mammoth world “Hysteria” tour in 1987, but their debut album “Mechanical Resonance” was released in December ’86, so it belongs on that year’s list.

Two tracks saw the light of day as singles, the brilliant “Modern Day Cowboy” and “Little Suzi”.

This is one of those rare albums, and a debut one at that, which contains absolutely no filler. Jeff Keith sings brilliantly throughout, Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch tear out some stonking great guitar riffs and facemelting solos, with bassist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta underpinning the whole thing with solidity and power.

Personal highlights include “Cumin’ Atcha Live”, “Gettin’ Better”, “We’re No Good Together”, “Love Me” and “Cover Queen”, but in truth this is one of the best hard rock albums I’ve ever heard and is essential listening from beginning to end. Classic stuff.

1986 was also the year that I passed by driving test, so a lot of this music would have made it onto cassettes and been played on my car stereo, which could go some way to explaining the nostalgic appeal of lots of the music from this year and 1987.

Elsewhere in 1986 Margaret Thatcher was in her second term as the Prime Minister in the UK whilst Ronald Reagan was also in his second term, as President of the USA. In football Liverpool won the old First Division and the FA Cup, securing the Double. Cinema-wise, top films released included “Top Gun”, “Platoon” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.

The next eighties year to be looked at will be 1988…

1980 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

Recently I looked back at my favourite albums from 1981. Having previously also looked at 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1987, I guess it’s time to start filling in the missing years from that decade in music.

So, back to the beginning today with 1980. As with any other year previous to 1981, which is when my love of music really began, the majority of the music here was discovered in retrospect…

  1. AC/DC “Back In Black”
AC/DC - Back In Black
AC/DC – Back In Black

The Australian band’s seventh studio album, released in the summer of 1980, this was the first record with Brian Johnson on vocals following the death of his predecessor Bon Scott in 1979.

Produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, the record was to be a massive success and is one of the highest selling albums in history. Two tracks were released as singles in the UK and US – “You Shook Me All Night Long” and “Back In Black” itself – both of which were top 40 hits, whilst the album featured very strong material in the shape of “Hells Bells”, “Shoot To Thrill”, “Given The Dog A Bone” and “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”.

One of the best albums in the AC/DC catalogue, and an excellent hard rock record in anyone’s book.

2. Adam And The Ants “Kings Of The Wild Frontier”

Adam And The Ants - Kings Of The Wild Frontier
Adam And The Ants – Kings Of The Wild Frontier

Although “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” was the second album from Adam And The Ants, following 1979’s “Dirk Wears White Sox”, this was the record that saw the band gaining huge chart success.

The band’s manager Malcolm McLaren recruited Ant’s band members to a new band, Bow Wow Wow, at the start of 1980 leading to a completely new line-up being recruited including guitarist Marco Pirroni who co-wrote all the tracks on the new album with Ant.

The record, released towards the end of the year, showcased the band’s new tribal sound, heavily influenced by the presence of two drummers in the line-up, and spawned three singles that all made it into the UK top three – “Dog Eat Dog”, “Antmusic” and the title track.

Other great tracks on this unique and brilliant record are “Ants Invasion”, “Physical (You’re So)” and “The Human Beings”. An 80s classic.

3. Black Sabbath “Heaven And Hell”

Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell
Black Sabbath – Heaven And Hell

Just like AC/DC, Black Sabbath in 1980 were effectively looking to re-launch themselves with a new singer, in this case following the dismissal of Ozzy Osbourne after eleven  months of fruitless recording sessions. New singer Ronnie James Dio, who had previously been in the band Rainbow, brought a powerful and commanding vocal presence to the proceedings and was responsible for all the lyrics on the resulting “Heaven And Hell” album.

The record, which would become the band’s highest charting platter (making the top ten in the UK) was followed by two single releases in “Neon Knights” and “Die Young”, but it’s the album’s title track that is the real highlight here, and was usually extended beyond it’s initial seven minute duration when performed live in concert. Another classic heavy metal record.

4. Dire Straits “Making Movies”

Dire Straits - Making Movies
Dire Straits – Making Movies

Although vaguely aware of the single “Romeo And Juliet”, which was a hit in early 1981, I don’t think that Dire Straits really came across my radar until sometime around the release of their live 1984 album “Alchemy”.

Nonetheless, “Making Movies” now ranks at number three on my personal Dire Straits chart, behind “Brothers In Arms” and “Love Over Gold”.

A quite cinematic sounding record, “Making Movies” contains the excellent “Tunnel Of Love” and “Skateaway” (both also released as singles) as well as the delicate “Hand In Hand” and uptempo numbers “Expresso Love” and “Solid Rock”. Less vital, for me, is the closing “Les Boys”, a song about gay men performing cabaret in a German disco bar complete with “…leather straps… SS caps… a little S&M…”. That misstep aside, though, great album.

5. Gillan “Glory Road”

Gillan - Glory Road
Gillan – Glory Road

Former (and now-current) Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan’s band Gillan (which followed the more jazz rock flavoured Ian Gillan Band) released their third album “Glory Road” in October 1980.

The group had frequent appearances on BBC TV’s “Top Of The Pops” during the early 80s and this record featured two of their singles in “Sleeping On The Job” and “No Easy Way”.

The original vinyl release came with a free second record, titled “For Gillan Fans Only” which contained outtakes and specially recorded material and showcased the band’s humorous side.

On the album proper, my favourite tracks are “Time And Again”, “Nervous”, “On The Rocks”, “No Easy Way” and the brilliant “If You Believe Me”. With the free record this was superb value for money.

6. Iron Maiden “Iron Maiden”

Iron Maiden - Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden

The debut album from the Paul Di’Anno fronted Iron Maiden, this self-titled record contained a number of future classics.

Two top forty hit singles were present, “Sanctuary” and “Running Free”, whilst the title track would become a concert favourite.

“Phantom Of The Opera” – the band’s first long and complex number – was used for a time in advertisements for Duracell batteries and “Charlotte The Harlot” spawned a sequel on 1982’s breakthrough album “The Number Of The Beast”. Although only really hinting at the potential of this now legendary band, and not as good as follow-up “Killers”, this is still a very good debut album.

7. The Police “Zenyatta Mondatta”

The Police - Zenyatta Mondatta
The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta

Released a year and a day after previous album “Regatta De Blanc”, “Zenyatta Mondatta” was the third album by Sting’s former band The Police. The band, completed by guitarist Andy Summers and drummer extraordinaire Stewart Copeland, played a mixture of rock and reggae with some punk and jazz influences.

This particular album was recorded in Holland within four weeks, a period that also saw the band play concerts in Milton Keynes and Dublin, and they left for the next part of their 1980/1981 world tour on the same day that recording sessions finished!

Despite this, two of the band’s biggest hits came from this record, “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” and the teaching experience / Lolita-inspired “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”. Other great tracks on this album included “When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around”, “Canary In A Coalmine” and “Shadows In The Rain”. One of The Police’s best albums.

8. Saxon “Wheels Of Steel” / “Strong Arm Of The Law”

Saxon - Wheels Of Steel
Saxon – Wheels Of Steel

Cheating slightly here, I suppose, by including two albums as one, but Yorkshire heavy metal band Saxon released their second album “Wheels Of Steel” in May 1980 and follow-up “Strong Arm Of The Law” at the beginning of September 1980. Both albums now form part of the band’s “holy trinity” of albums (together with 1981’s “Denim And Leather”).

“Wheels Of Steel” contained singles “747 (Strangers In The Night)”, “Suzie Hold On” and “Wheels Of Steel” as well as classic “Motorcycle Man” and “See The Light Shining”.

Saxon - Strong Arm Of The Law
Saxon – Strong Arm Of The Law

Of the two, however, “Strong Arm Of The Law” is the stronger. Although it only contains one single, the title track, amongst the album tracks there are numerous classics including “Heavy Metal Thunder”, “20,000 Ft.”, “Hungry Years”, “Sixth Form Girls” and the ever excellent “Dallas 1 PM”. A golden era for the band, that’s for sure.

9. Status Quo “Just Supposin’…”

Status Quo - Just Supposin'...
Status Quo – Just Supposin’…

The thirteenth studio album from British rock band Status Quo, “Just Supposin’…” was actually recorded at the same sessions that produced the follow-up, 1981’s “Never Too Late” album.

It was this record, though, that contained the stronger songs. UK top twenty hit singles “Lies”, “Don’t Drive My Car” (those two as a double A side), “What You’re Proposing” and “Rock ‘N’ Roll” (which was released after the “Never Too Late” album) are all present and correct.

In addition there are the quite brilliant album tracks “Run To Mummy”, “Over The Edge” and my personal favourite “The Wild Ones”. Taken together with the subsequent album and those recording sessions were seriously productive, and this is one of my favourite Status Quo albums to this day.

10. Thin Lizzy “Chinatown”

Thin Lizzy - Chinatown
Thin Lizzy – Chinatown

Following 1979’s classic “Black Rose (A Rock Legend)” album, which finally harnessed the excellent Gary Moore in the studio for the band, was never going to be an easy task for Thin Lizzy.

For many the band’s tenth studio outing “Chinatown” is something of a disappointment. Moore had left the band (again) and been replaced by former Pink Floyd touring guitarist Snowy White, whilst keyboards had also been added to the band’s sound.

Having got into the group via 1981’s compilation album “The Adventures Of…” I was already familiar with this album’s two hit singles “Chinatown” and “Killer On The Loose” before obtaining a copy of the album itself.

Although the latter stages of the record is pretty good, it’s probably fair to say that the record’s best material is on side one (as it was in those days) as that contained both singles, the anthemic “We Will Be Strong”, the catchy “Sweetheart” and “Sugar Blues” which featured some brilliant drum work from Brian Downey. So, not the band’s best work, but a Thin Lizzy album is always welcome on the turntable.

That’s my top ten albums of 1980 then. Margaret Thatcher was in her first full calendar year as the Prime Minister in the UK whilst Jimmy Carter was in his final year as President of the USA. In football Liverpool won the old First Division with the FA Cup going to West Ham. Cinema-wise, top films released included “The Empire Strikes Back”, “9 To 5” and “Airplane!”.

Look out for my round-up for 1986, coming soon…

The Book Of Souls

Book_of_Souls_Iron_Maiden

Steve Harris
Steve Harris

British heavy metal legends Iron Maiden have been around since 1975 when they were formed by band leader and bassist Steve Harris.

Paul Di'Anno & Steve Harris In 1980
Paul Di’Anno & Steve Harris In 1980

After two well received albums in debut “Iron Maiden” (1980) and “Killers” (1981), problems with lead vocalist Paul Di’Anno led to his sacking and the recruitment of former Samson singer Bruce Dickinson.

Bruce Dickinson, Adrian Smith, Nicko McBrain, Dave Murray Steve Harris
Bruce Dickinson, Adrian Smith, Nicko McBrain, Dave Murray & Steve Harris In 1983

Dickinson’s arrival had an instant impact as third album “The Number Of The Beast” saw the band breaking through into huge success and by the time album number four, “Piece Of Mind”, was released in 1983 the band’s line-up had solidified as Harris, Dickinson, guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith and then-new drummer Nicko McBrain.

Nicko McBrain, Steve Harris, Blaze Bayley, Dave Murray Janick Gers In 1995
Nicko McBrain, Steve Harris, Blaze Bayley, Dave Murray & Janick Gers In 1995

Smith left the band during initial sessions for 1990’s “No Prayer For The Dying”, to be replaced by Janick Gers, whilst Dickinson left following the “Fear Of The Dark” tour in 1993 – leading to a relatively unsuccessful period for the group with Blaze Bayley at the mic.

Dave Murray, Janick Gers, Steve Harris, Bruce Dickinson, Adrian Smith Nicko McBrain In 1999
Dave Murray, Janick Gers, Steve Harris, Bruce Dickinson, Adrian Smith & Nicko McBrain In 1999

Bayley was let go in January 1999 after the world tour in support of the “Virtual XI” album, at which point band manager Rod Smallwood apparently persuaded Harris to consider inviting Dickinson back into the band. As it turned out, not only did Dickinson return as lead vocalist, but Smith also rejoined – giving the band three lead guitarists in their line-up.

Iron Maiden - Brave New World
Iron Maiden – Brave New World

This line-up has remained constant since then, and the band have released four highly successful studio albums together – “Brave New World” (2000), “Dance Of Death” (2003), “A Matter Of Life And Death” (2006) and “The Final Frontier” (2010), the latter of which many feared might prove to be the band’s last.

Iron Maiden - Dance Of Death
Iron Maiden – Dance Of Death

In the summer of 2013, however, Dickinson revealed that the band had plans for another studio album, and work was confirmed as completed by McBrain in February of this year. However, it was also revealed that Dickinson was suffering from a cancerous tumour on his tongue and that the record would remain unreleased until he had been given the all-clear from medical specialist.

Iron Maiden Live In 2003
Iron Maiden Live In 2003

Thankfully Dickinson received the all-clear in May, clearing the way for studio album number sixteen “The Book Of Souls” to be unleashed. The album is the band’s first double disc studio effort and clocks in at around an hour and a half, so there’s lots to digest!

Iron Maiden - A Matter Of Life And Death
Iron Maiden – A Matter Of Life And Death

Opening track “If Eternity Should Fail” – the first of two tracks written solely by Dickinson – begins with an atmospheric synth motif under a restrained vocal from Dickinson, before the full band join in on an energetic number which changes temp when reaching the guitar solo section just over half way through its eight and a half minute duration before slowing down again and then fading to an acoustic ending with spoken word section. Already this is the best that I have heard from the band for some time.

Iron Maiden Live In 2008
Iron Maiden Live In 2008

Lead single “Speed Of Light” kicks off with one of Dickinson’s air raid siren screams over the guitar riff and is a classic Maiden single in the making.

Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier
Iron Maiden – The Final Frontier

The one sole writing credit for Harris comes with the epic thirteen minute “The Red And The Black” – bookended with some solo bass-lines. Now, to be honest, there’s nothing in this number that the band haven’t done before but that doesn’t stop this being a superb track and one of the album’s highlights.

Iron Maiden Live In 2010
Iron Maiden Live In 2010

Another epic turns up with the title track, all ten minutes of it. With its changes of pace and mood this is another reminder that although the band produced some epic and varied material in the 80s – such as “Phantom Of The Opera”, “Hallowed Be Thy Name”, “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” and “Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son” – they have become even more progressive since 2000.

Bruce Dickinson
Bruce Dickinson

Nowhere is this more evident than on Dickinson’s other composition, the eighteen minute piano-led closer “Empire Of The Clouds”, which features some violin work as well as the more traditional riffs, soaring guitar solos and thunderous drumming.

Iron Maiden Live In 2012
Iron Maiden Live In 2012

“Shadows Of The Valley”, written by Gers and Harris, begins with a guitar riff very reminiscent of “Wasted Years”, the 1986 track written by Smith, before becoming a real barnstormer.

Iron Maiden Live In 2013
Iron Maiden Live In 2013

I’m still coming to grips with this album, with the sheer amount to take in, but I am confident that this is not only the best record that this line-up of Maiden have made, and all six members are bang on the money, but is right up there with the best of their entire output.

Iron Maiden In 2015
Iron Maiden In 2015

For a band now in their 40th year, and 15 years for this configuration, this is a staggering achievement. A 92 minute double album of consistent top quality. Simply put, “A Book Of Souls” is nothing short of a triumph…

book_of_souls

“The Book Of Souls” tracklist:

1. If Eternity Should Fail / 2. Speed Of Light / 3. The Great Unknown / 4. The Red And The Black / 5. When The River Runs Deep / 6. The Book Of Souls / 7. Death Or Glory / 8. Shadows Of The Valley / 9. Tears Of  Clown / 10. The Man Of Sorrows / 11. Empire Of The Clouds

Wheddon Cross

First post in a while as my wife and I got back yesterday from a week’s holiday away on Exmoor, with the kids and the puppy.

So, with lots of washing etc. to get through there’s not much time to spare for my blog straight away, so just a quick update today, really…

The Travellers Rest
The Travellers Rest

Despite some rather variable weather we spent a great week at The Travellers Rest just outside the small village of Wheddon Cross.

The house was very lovely and clean and we were provided with a fantastic homemade victoria sponge upon arrival. There were two bedrooms plus a pull-out sofa bed in the dining area, and a first floor lounge area with superb views out over the valley behind the house, plus two bathrooms (one with a bath and the other with a walk-in shower). It’s safe to say that we were all very comfortable and enjoyed the facilities very much.

Places that we visited during our stay included Saunton Sands near Barnstaple, Dulverton, Tarr Steps, Dunkery Beacon and Dunster.

The View From The Back
The View From The Back

I managed a MTB ride based on a route taken from MBUK magazine from Winsford whilst the rest of the family visited the Exmoor Pony Centre too. So plenty to catch up on.

Added to that are a number of new music releases that I will be wanting to digest and talk about over the coming days and weeks, including albums from Ahab, Bon Jovi, Butcher Babies, Deep Purple, Grace Potter, Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Nile and Spock’s Beard, as well as more movies and books, so stay tuned…