“After losing her job and her partner in one fell swoop, journalist Elspeth Reeves is back in her mother’s house in the sleepy village of Wilsby-under-Wychwood, wondering where it all went wrong.
Then a body is found in the neighbouring Wychwoods : a woman ritually slaughtered, with cryptic symbols scattered around her corpse. Elspeth recognizes these from a local myth of the Carrion King, a Saxon magician who once held a malevolent court deep in the forest.
As more murders follow, Elspeth joins her childhood friend DS Peter Shaw to investigate, and the two discover sinister village secrets harking back decades…”
The latest book to be read via my Kobo e-reader is a crime thriller with a sort of pagan / supernatural edge to it. Penned by young Darlington-born author (and comic writer) George Mann, this is something of a departure from his previous work which has seen him writing a number of books including adventures for famous characters Dr. Who and Sherlock Holmes as well as his own Victorian crime books featuring London detectives Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes.
“Wychwood” uses the author’s imagined legend of the Carrion King, a mythical figure who used occult rituals during the Saxon era to obtain supernatural power. In modern-day Oxfordshire people are being killed in ways that are in keeping with the stories of the Carrion King. When Elspeth, newly both single and unemployed, moves from London back to her mother’s home in a small village backing onto the titular Wychwood it takes her journalistic instinct no time at all to get herself involved in the investigation – handily enough being able to hook up with childhood friend (and now police detective) Peter without anyone raising any real objections.
I enjoyed this book, which I believe is set to be the first in a new series for Mann. That said, a certain suspension of disbelief was required. Not in relation to the magical / supernatural elements (though these are never really resolved one way or the other), but in terms of how the actual story unfolded. As hinted above, I found the ease with which Elspeth was able to get herself involved in the police investigation – and in truth her friendship / relationship with Peter wasn’t convincing (but makes a good bridge to further books I guess).
The identity and motivation of the baddie was also obvious pretty early on, though not quite like an episode of TV’s “Columbo” as our crime fighting duo were often quite slow at putting the pieces together. Despite this I did, as I said, enjoy the book – largely I think because of the mixture of modern-day police procedural and historical ritualistic elements. Certainly worth a look…
I was first exposed to German gothic metal band Beyond The Black when they were the unexpected opening band when I caught the Bristol show on Saxon’s “Warriors Of The Road” UK tour back in November 2014.
At that point they had yet to release an album, and considering that the band had only played their first show a few months earlier were quite impressive.
Debut album “Songs Of Love And Death” was released on 13th February 2015. A decent slab of gothic / symphonic metal with an accessible edge, the record was well received, especially in Germany where the album reached number twelve in the charts, and contained some catchy and memorable tracks such as “Running From The Edge”, “Numb” and “In The Shadows”, plus a superior cover of Motörhead’s 1991 track “Love Me Forever”.
The group’s line-up comprises vocalist Jennifer Haben, guitarists Nils Lesser and Christopher Hummels, bassist Erwin Schmidt, drummer Tobias Derer and keyboardist Michael Hauser, but only Haben appears on the first album – with session musicians contributing the backing – as it was seemingly recorded before the band was put together.
Almost exactly twelve months later (on 12th February this year) the band’s second album “Lost In Forever” hit the shelves, this time performed, I think, entirely by the six band members. That said, and without wishing any disrespect to the group, some of the guitar solos in particular are so polished I do wonder if the record bears the hallmarks of session musicians again.
The record kicks off with the first single, title track “Lost In Forever”. Haben’s vocals are more polished and assured this time around, and she is ably supported by backing vocals from Hummels. The instrumental performances are uniformly high quality, and the songwriting is very impressive too.
For some the material may be a touch too accessible, particularly on a power ballad such as “Against The World”, which to my ears harkens back to the hair metal scene of the glorious late Eighties whilst also have a definite modern pop/rock feel. Simply, this is symphonic metal written unashamedly with an eye on success. That may make the whole thing calculated and less authentic to some listeners, but when the songs and sonics are this good I don’t find that to be a problem.
Standout tracks here include “Heaven In Hell”, “Written In Blood”, “Dies Irae”, “Shine And Shade”, “Halo Of The Dark”, “Lost In Forever” and the delicate acoustic closer “Love’s A Burden”. This isn’t a band trying to reinvent the wheel, but they do what they do very well indeed. Without doubt Jennifer Haben is the star of the show, but Beyond The Black are a band that seem capable of making it big in their chosen genre. I’ll watch their future development with interest…
“Lost In Forever” tracklist:
1. Lost In Forever / 2. Beautiful Lies / 3. Written In Blood / 4. Against The World / 5. Beyond The Mirror / 6. Halo Of The Dark / 7. Dies Irae / 8. Forget My Name / 9. Burning In Flames / 10. Nevermore / 11. Shine And Shade / 12. Heaven In Hell / 13. Love’s A Burden
Hearing of the sad news that heavy metal legend Lemmy passed away yesterday I have been listening to his work with both Hawkwind and Motörhead today, and it seemed like as good a time as any to have a look back at when I saw the latter in concert.
It was during the Motörizer Tour of the UK back in November 2008 and, despite being a fan of the band for years, was the first time I had seen Motörhead in the live arena. So, for the second time in a week, I headed off to Bristol and to the Colston Hall, where I had seen a number of bands in my youth.
From the balcony I watched as the first band of the night, Canadian trio Danko Jones, hit the stage. Promoting their fourth album “Never Too Loud” I hadn’t heard anything by the band prior to the gig so was unfamiliar with their material. I do recall that the band were tight and impressive and had a set full of catchy melodic AC/DC-like tunes. Likely playing tracks like “Baby Hates Me” and “Still In High School” I do remember that they finished their brief set with a note-perfect excerpt of the Rush instrumental “YYZ”.
Next up were Yorkshire legends Saxon who were gearing up to the imminent release of their eighteenth studio album “Into The Labyrinth” in January 2009. This was the second time I’d seen this band live, the first being way back in 1982 in the very same venue as headliners.
As main support band Biff and the boys were obviously unable to perform a full set but managed to cram two tracks from their most recent album, “Let Me Feel Your Power” and “Ashes To Ashes” into a set containing some stone-cold classic heavy metal tunes such as “Denim And Leather”, “And The Bands Played On” and “747 (Strangers In The Night)” and still find room for brand new single “Live To Rock”. Fantastic to see them live again so long – a superb performance.
1. Motorcycle Man / 2. Let Me Feel Your Power / 3. And The Bands Played On / 4. Live To Rock / 5. Heavy Metal Thunder / 6. Witchfinder General / 7. Denim And Leather / 8. Ashes To Ashes / 9. Princess Of The Night / 10. 747 (Strangers In The Night)
1 and 10 originally from “Wheels Of Steel” (1980) / 2 and 8 originally from “The Inner Sanctum” (2007) / 3, 7 and 9 originally from “Denim And Leather” (1981) / 4 originally from “Into The Labyrinth” (2009) /5 originally from “Strong Arm Of The Law” (1980) / 6 originally from “Lionheart” (2004)
Following the interval it was time for the main event. I recall my first Motörhead record being the live version of “Motörhead”, backed with “Over The Top”, issued to promote the live “No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith” album. I don’t think I’d heard anything quite like it before!
Anyway on came vocalist / bassist Lemmy, guitarist Phil Campbell and drummer Mikkey Dee, with Lemmy announcing “We are Motörhead and we play rock and roll” and bang! – we were headlong into “Iron Fist”.
A set full of classics from throughout the band’s career followed, including two songs from the oft-maligned “Another Perfect Day” record that was made when ex-Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson was briefly a member of the group.
Campbell’s guitar riffs and solo flourishes were bang on the money, under-pinned by Lemmy’s unique bass playing style and Dee’s incredible drumming. To play a track like “Overkill” with the energy that he did at the tail end of a long set is no mean feat!
Lemmy himself proved to be every inch the icon and force of nature that I expected him to be and was the very personification of Motörhead and their music. A cover of Bob Seger’s”Rosalie” – many will be more familiar with Thin Lizzy’s cracking version – was a surprise inclusion but slotted nicely into the middle of the set. “Stay Clean”, “Rock Out” and “Metropolis” were other highlights.
The encore began with “Whorehouse Blues”, an acoustic foot-stomper that saw Campbell and Dee playing acoustic guitars, with the latter also handling percussion at the same time, and is one of my favourite latter-day tunes from the band’s extensive catalogue.
Then it was onto the home straight with the one-two finale of signature song “Ace Of Spades” and then “Overkill”. Stunning and, frankly, rather deafening. What a great show!
1. Iron Fist / 2. Stay Clean / 3. Be My Baby / 4. Rock Out / 5. Metropolis / 6. Over The Top / 7. One Night Stand / 8. I Got Mine / 9. Guitar Solo / 10. The Thousand Names Of God / 11. Rosalie / 12. Another Perfect Day / 13. In The Name Of Tragedy / Drum Solo / 14. Just ‘Cos You Got The Power / 15. Going To Brazil / 16. Killed By Death / 17. Born To Raise Hell / 18. Whorehouse Blues / 19. Ace Of Spades / 20. Overkill
1 originally from “Iron Fist” (1982) / 2, 5 and 20 originally from “Overkill” (1979) / 3 and 7 originally from “Kiss Of Death” (2006) / 4 and 10 originally from Motörizer (2008) / 6 originally b-side from “Bomber” single (1979) / 8 and 12 originally from “Another Perfect Day” (1983) / 13 and 18 originally from “Inferno” (2004) / 14 originally from “Rock ‘N’ Roll” (1987) / 15 originally from “1916” (1991) / 16 originally from “No Remorse” (1984) / 17 originally from “Bastards” (1993) / 19 originally from “Ace Of Spades” (1980)
Hailing originally from Yorkshire, the British heavy metal band Saxon were the first band I ever saw live in concert, way back in 1982 on their “Eagle Has Landed” tour.
Although the group endured some lean years during the late 80s and early 90s in the UK and had to deal with legal issues over ownership of the band name with former members, they remained popular in Europe, particularly in Germany.
Since the release of “The Inner Sanctum” in 2007 the band have seen their profile and success steadily rising once more here in the UK. Indeed their last studio album, 2013’s “Sacrifice”, gained a higher chart position here than any of their albums since 1988.
Now, in October 2015, comes studio album number twenty-one, the appropriately titled “Battering Ram”.
Things kick off with the title track with some of the great in-your-face heavy metal riffing that these guys have perfected over the years before the majestic voice of Biff Byford comes in.
With production work by Hell guitarist Andy Sneap (as with “Sacrifice”) the sound here is razor-sharp and heavy. Sneap is adept at providing perfect state of the art heavy metal production.
“The Devil’s Footprint” – another superb hand-banging number – begins with some narration provided, I believe, by Sneap’s bandmate David Bower describing a folklore tale of devilish goings-on a snowy night in the year 1855.
The tempo drops slightly for the chugging Alice In Wonderland themed “Queen Of Hearts” before picking back up for “Destroyer” and the self-explanatory driving song “Hard And Fast”.
Throughout the album Byford’s vocals are stronger than you would expect for a man of approaching 65 years of age! Both Paul Quinn and Doug Scarratt provide incisive guitar riffs and excellent solos, whilst bassist Nibbs Carter and drummer Nigel Glockler both provide rock solid foundations. It’s especially good to hear Glockler in such good form given that he suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm late last year.
Other top tracks include “Stand Your Ground”, the monolithic “To The End” and the eerily atmospheric World War I epic “Kingdom Of The Cross” (featuring a poem read by Bower). To be fair, I don’t think that the record wouldn’t have suffered if the final (bonus) track of “Three Sheets To The Wind (The Drinking Song)” hadn’t made the cut, but that’s a minor quibble.
The limited deluxe edition of the album comes with a second disc entitled “Saxon Over Sweden 2011” containing the band’s appearance at that year’s Sweden Rock festival.
As was the case with Motörhead’s recent “Bad Magic” album (being what you’d expect from that band) this record is pretty much what you would expect with Saxon – and that’s no bad thing.
For fans of the band, or just good old-fashioned traditional heavy metal, you can’t go wrong with “Battering Ram”. A natural follow-on from “Sacrifice” this album has everything that is good about Saxon in the 21st century. It’s good to have them back.
“Battering Ram” tracklist:
1. Battering Ram / 2. The Devil’s Footprint / 3. Queen Of Hearts / 4. Destroyer / 5. Hard And Fast / 6. Eye Of The Storm / 7. Stand Your Ground / 8. Top Of The World / 9. To The End / 10. Kingdom Of The Cross / 11. Three Sheets To The Wind (The Drinking Song)
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…
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”.
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’…”
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”
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!”.
I’m returning today to my occasional top ten albums of the year posts, and to what is probably my favourite decade in music – a period of time that started a few months into my secondary school career and ended when I was a fully fledged grown up – the 1980s.
I’ve already covered five years (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985 and 1987) so, without further ado, listed alphabetically, these are my favourite ten albums of 1981…
AC/DC “For Those About To Rock”
Released late in the year, this was the first AC/DC album to make it into my collection, having heard the single “Let’s Get It Up”.
Following the monumentally successful “Back In Black” album (released in the summer of 1980) must have been some task, but the band certainly rose to the challenge.
The second single to come from the record was the title track, an epic number with thunderous final section featuring a twenty-one cannon salute – apparently inspired by cannons being fired during the televised wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana which occurred during the recording of the album – and has become a highlight of the band’s live shows.
Other favourites on the record are “Inject The Venom”, “Evil Walks” and “C.O.D.”. An excellent hard rock album.
2. Black Sabbath “Mob Rules”
“Mob Rules” was the second studio album to feature Ronnie James Dio as vocalist and the first to feature new drummer Vinny Appice.
A heavy sounding record than the preceding “Heaven And Hell”, the album contained two hit singles with “Turn Up The Night” making number 37 in the UK and the title track hitting number 46 along with other great tracks like “The Sign Of The Southern Cross” and “Voodoo”.
3. Blackfoot “Marauder”
Jacksonville, Florida based southern rock band Blackfoot came to my attention when they released a double pack 7″ featuring the “Dry County” single and a free live single recorded at the Monsters Of Rock festival at Castle Donington in August 1981.
The parent album “Marauder” was the last studio release to feature the classic line-up of Rickey Medlocke, Charlie Hargrett, Greg T. Walker and Jakson Spires.
Favourite tracks on this excellent record include “Good Morning”, “Diary Of A Workingman”, “Too Hard To Handle”, “Fly Away” and “Rattlesnake Rock ‘N’ Roller”. The classic live album “Highway Song – Live”, recorded in Europe and released in 1982 would be the last release before the band decided to change their sound to chase chart success, ironically leading to diminishing returns both commercially and artistically – but this album remains a classic of the genre.
4. Def Leppard “High ‘N’ Dry”
The second album from Sheffield hard rock band Def Leppard, “High ‘N’ Dry” saw the group team up with legendary producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange for the first time and start to show the qualities that would break the band into the big time with 1983’s “Pyromania” and 1987’s “Hysteria” albums.
Two singles were released to promote the album, “Let It Go” and “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” – the latter became a minor hit when issued in remixed form in 1984 and was covered in 2002 by pop singer Mariah Carey.
Also featured on “High ‘N’ Dry” are the great album tracks “Another Hit And Run”, “No No No”, “Lady Strange” and the instrumental “Switch 625”.
5. Duran Duran “Duran Duran”
Duran Duran’s self-titled debut album was released in the summer of 1981, having been preceded by singles “Planet Earth” and “Careless Memories”.
Something of a guilty pleasure at the time – my circle of mates at school were all heavily into rock music, with favourite bands being Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, The Sweet, Slade, Saxon and Iron Maiden – but this fantastic new romantic pop album remains one of my favourites of the era.
A further hit single followed in the form of “Girls On Film” and the band’s 12″ remixes, often known as “night versions”, and popular videos certainly helped the album’s success. My favourite non-single tracks on the record include “Friends Of Mine”, “Sound Of Thunder”, “Anyone Out There” and “Night Boat”. Excellent.
6. Foreigner “4”
The third album on this list produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange (AC/DC and Def Leppard being the other two), this particular record is probably best known for the hit single “Waiting For A Girl Like You” which reached number 3 in the UK.
Two other tracks were released as singles in the UK – “Urgent” and “Juke Box Hero” – and it was through hearing the latter of BBC Radio One’s “Friday Rock Show” that I got into the band. The best-selling album of the band’s career and an excellent melodic rock record.
7. Iron Maiden “Killers”
The band’s second album, “Killers” was to be the final one to feature original vocalist Paul Di’Anno before his sacking and replacement with Bruce Dickinson.
I’d say that this record also has my favourite cover, by Derek Riggs, of any of the Iron Maiden albums to date.
Musically, the album built on the strengths of the previous year’s debut and was written almost solely by bassist and founder Steve Harris (the exception being the title track, co-written with Di’Anno).
There are two singles from the album in “Purgatory” and “Twilight Zone” – the latter of which was not originally included on the record, being included on the US version and later CD reissue. Other great tracks here include two instrumentals “The Ides Of March” and “Genghis Khan” as well as songs like “Wrathchild”, “Innocent Exile” and “Murders In The Rue Morgue”.
8. Rainbow “Difficult To Cure”
The fifth studio album from Ritchie Blackmore’s band, this one was the first to feature third lead vocalist Joe Lynn Turner, saw the band’s sound continue to become more commercial in approach.
There were two singles from the record – “Can’t Happen Here” and “I Surrender” – to hit the UK top twenty, and this was an album that spent a lot of time in my Sony Walkman.
Hits aside, my favourite tracks are “No Release”, “Spotlight Kid” and “Difficult To Cure” itself, which was a fabulous reworking of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
9. Saxon “Denim And Leather”
“Denim And Leather” was Saxon’s fourth album, and the third of their “holy trinity” to hit the shelves in just eighteen months.
Three singles were issued – “Princess Of The Night”, “Never Surrender” and “And The Bands Played On”. The latter became the band’s most successful single to date and describes their experiences when playing at the inaugural Monsters Of Rock festival the previous year.
“Play It Loud” and “Midnight Rider” are great album tracks, but the title track is one of the best and a firm live favourite through the years since.
10. Status Quo “Never Too Late”
The first Status Quo album that I owned – received instead of a chocolate egg for Easter ’81 – I had been introduced to the band by hit single “Something ‘Bout You Baby I LIke”.
Apparently recorded during the same sessions that spawned 1980’s “Just Supposin'” album, “Never Too Late” is often regarded as the weaker of the two – indeed the follow-up single to “Something…” was taken from “Just Supposin'”! This was also the last album to be recorded featuring the “frantic four” of Rossi, Parfitt, Lancaster and Coghlan.
Nevertheless, with material like “Riverside”, “Long Ago”, “Mountain Lady” and my personal favourite “Take Me Away” this is still a very good Status Quo album.
In the wider world, Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister in the UK and Ronald Reagan became President of the USA – replacing Jimmy Carter. In football the old first division champions were Aston Villa, with Tottenham Hotspur winning the FA Cup. On the big screen the top films of the year were “Raiders Of The Lost Ark”, “On Golden Pond” and “Superman II”.
There was an article in the press this week talking about the fact that it was thirty years ago this week that “Live Aid” took place in London and Philadelphia. Not only that, but the event itself took place thirty years (give or take a few months) after the birth or rock ‘n’ roll – if you accept the popular view that rock ‘n’ roll began with Elvis Presley’s first trip to Sun Studios.
I suppose the scary thing is that in many ways “Live Aid” seems fresh in the memory – not so much like it was yesterday, but certainly not thirty years ago. By contrast, I am certain that when I sat down to watch the event unfold on the BBC the rock ‘n’ roll recordings of the 1950s – indeed most stuff from the 1960s and even early 1970s – seemed almost prehistoric to me! Bizarre, then, that my record collection now contains recordings from way back in the 1920s through to today.
Anyway, I have digressed somewhat. Today I am looking back to the year of “Live Aid” – 1985 – and my top ten albums released during that twelve months. So, listed alphabetically, here we go…
1. Dire Straits “Brothers In Arms”
Dire Straits’ fifth studio album, and without doubt one of the most popular releases of the CD era, with over 30 million copies sold.
Coming three years after the band’s previous studio album, it was unusual in that the track lengths on the CD and cassette versions were longer than those on the vinyl LP due to the limitations of available space on the vinyl.
The album itself included five UK top thirty hit singles – “Money For Nothing”, “So Far Away”, “Walk Of Life”, “Your Latest Trick” and “Brothers In Arms” – as well as the excellent “Ride Across The River” amongst the remaining four tracks.
An excellent album, “Brothers In Arms” still sounds as good today as it did during the summer of ’85.
2. Heart “Heart”
Although this self-titled album was the band’s eighth studio release, “Heart” was their first number to reach number one in the US. This was Heart’s most commercially successful album and saw the band receive a makeover for photo shoots and the music videos to accompany the singles – four of which were US top tens – “What About Love”, “Never”, “These Dreams” and “Nothin’ At All”.
There were two different mixes of the tracks “Nothin’ At All” and “Never” and bizarrely different pressings of the record could contain any combination of them! Regardless, this is a great poppy rock record chock full of great tunes and deservedly brought the band to wider attention.
3. Kate Bush “Hounds Of Love”
Released three years after previous album “The Dreaming”, Kate Bush’s fifth album remains her most successful album (and one of her best-loved).
Preceded by the hit single “Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)”, the album was released in August and went on to spawn a further three top 40 hit singles in “Cloudbusting”, “Hounds Of Love” and “The Big Sky”.
The real appeal of this record for me, however, lies in the second half with the seven section piece “The Ninth Wave” which is utterly brilliant and haunting even now. A fantastic piece of work.
4. Marillion “Misplaced Childhood”
Progressive rock band Marillion hit their commercial (though certainly not artistic) peak in 1985 with third album “Misplaced Childhood” and the hit singles from it – “Lavender”, “Heart Of Lothian” and the hugely popular “Kayleigh”.
A concept album, the vinyl record contained two sides of continuous music – although the individual songs contained within them are all listed separately. Aside from the singles the album contained two excellent lengthy multi-section numbers in “Bitter Suite” and “Blind Curve”.
It’s a toss-up between this one and “Script For A Jester’s Tear” as to which of the Fish era albums in prefer. Held up against the Steve Hogarth era albums as well would make things much harder! Regardless, “Misplaced Childhood” is an excellent album.
5. Phil Collins “No Jacket Required”
Perhaps there was something about 1985 that made artists particularly successful. This, Collins’s third studio album, was certainly his best-selling in the US – selling three times as many copies as the follow-up “…But Seriously” (although the latter was actually more successful in the UK and elsewhere).
Amongst the album’s ten tracks can be found five US hit singles (three Top 20 in the UK) including “Take Me Home”, ballad “One More Night” and the brass infused “Sussudio”.
Other standout songs on this, my favourite Collins solo album, are “Long Long Way To Go”, “Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore” and “Inside Out”.
6. The Power Station “The Power Station”
The Power Station were a relatively short-lived supergroup, put together in late 1984, by Duran Duran members Andy Taylor (guitars) and John Taylor (bass) with Chic drummer Tony Thompson. The trio originally planned to make an album with a revolving cast of vocalists but in the end decided to utilise the talents of Robert Palmer for the whole record.
With a harder rock sound than either Duran Duran or Chic, the group quickly found success with three hit singles released from the album – “Some Like It Hot”, a cover of T-Rex’s “Get It On (Bang A Gong)” and “Communication”.
Things didn’t last long however as, deciding to take advantage of the band’s sudden popularity, Palmer decided to record a new solo record and bailed out of the band before they hit the road, being replaced by Michael Des Barres before the band folded later in the year.
7. Rush “Power Windows”
“Power Windows” was Rush’s eleventh studio album and even managed a minor hit single in the UK with lead track “The Big Money”.
With the introduction of more synthesizers into the band’s sound than heard previously this gave the finished record a much more widescreen sound. This feels particularly effective on tracks such as “Manhattan Project” which tackles the subject of the US development of the atom bomb and it’s consequences.
Other songs looked at themes of escaping suburbia (“Middletown Dreams”), nationalism (“Territories”) and the superficiality of mainstream music (“Grand Designs”). My first, and still favourite, Rush album.
8. Saxon “Innocence Is No Excuse”
Far more polished in sound than the band’s previous records, and recorded at a time when the band were aiming for a more commercial sound, this would prove to be a divisive album amongst the band’s fan base.
Three singles were released – “Back On The Streets”, “Rock ‘N’ Roll Gypsy” and “Rockin’ Again” – whilst the album also contained the excellent “Devil Rides Out” and “Give It Everything You’ve Got” as well as the slower paced “Broken Heroes” which laments the fate of so many young men sent off to war.
A really good album that holds up better than some of Saxon’s other late 80s work and with some of their best album cover design too.
9. Simple Minds “Once Upon A Time”
“Once Upon A Time” followed Simple Minds’ huge success with “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from the soundtrack of “The Breakfast Club” in early 1985 – a track that they had to be persuaded to record by their record label! It seems that as a result the band decided not to include it on the album – which as with others here was the peak of their commercial success.
Four Top 20 singles were on the album, though. “Alive And Kicking”, “Sanctify Yourself”, “All The Things She Said” and “Ghostdancing”, as well as excellent album tracks like “I Wish You Were Here” and “Oh Jungleland”.
10. Various Artists “Miami Vice”
The US crime drama TV series “Miami Vice”, starring Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as Crockett and Tubbs was massively successful in the late 80s from its debut in September 1984.
Part of the show’s unique appeal was the use of lots of current popular music alongside compositions by Jan Hammer as well as the attention to detail and iconic visual style.
This compilation album brought together five instrumental tracks from Jan Hammer, including the the theme tune, as well as songs that had been used in the show like Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues” and “In The Air Tonight” from Phil Collins.
Perhaps not a brilliant compilation album, but it makes my top ten partly by virtue of my love of the show itself. Incidentally, in addition some of the artists whose albums appear on this list either had music featured in the show (Dire Straits, Kate Bush) or had music featured and appeared on the show themselves too (Phil Collins, The Power Station).
OK, so “Live Aid” aside, what else was happening in 1985? Well, Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister, Everton won the old First Division with the FA Cup going to Manchester United, and top films released included “Back To The Future”, “Rambo : First Blood Part II” and “The Goonies”.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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
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)
Sunday 26 September 1982 – my very first live concert, aged 14, with a mate from school. We were dropped off by my parents outside the Colston Hall in Bristol and made our way in.
Support act Cheetah, a female fronted rock band from Australia,promoting their debut (and only?) album “Rock & Roll Women”. Apart from the minor hit single “Spend The Night”, my abiding memory of them was of the way they looked rather than the music itself – teenage boys eh?!
On to the main event, Saxon. By this time the boys from Yorkshire had had four albums in the UK top twenty. “Wheels Of Steel” hit number 5, “Strong Arm Of The Law” made number 11, “Denim And Leather” reached number 9 and the live album “The Eagle Has Landed” also got to number 5.
The band also had a handful of hit singles (together with appearances on BBC’s “Top Of The Pops”), and had recently been third on the bill of the Monsters Of Rock festival at Castle Donington, below Gillan and headliners Status Quo (Saxon had previously played the very first Monsters Of Rock in 1980, fifth on the bill headlined by Rainbow).
I remember that the band were very loud, and being very impressed by the lighting rigand pyro – not forgetting drummer Nigel Glockler’s burning drumsticks at one point! Biff Byford’s vocals were powerful and majestic, and the guitar interplay between Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver excellent. Steve Dawson’s bass playing anchoring everything along with the drumming – a band at the top of their game.
Highlights of the set were “And The Bands Played On”, “Wheels Of Steel”, and “747 (Strangers In The Night)”, but the album tracks “Dallas 1 PM” and the then-unreleased “The Eagle Has Landed” were atmospheric and, if the case of the latter, very heavy. All in all, a brilliant start way to first experience music in the live arena!
Although lost in the mists of time, it seems likely that the setlist ran something like this:
1. Motorcycle Man / 2. Princess Of The Night / 3. Never Surrender / 4. Hungry Years / 5. 20,000 Ft. / 6. The Eagle Has Landed / 7. Heavy Metal Thunder / 8. Drum Solo / 9. Strong Arm Of The Law / 10. Guitar Solo / 11. 747 (Strangers In The Night) / 12. Wheels Of Steel / 13. Dallas 1 PM / 14. Suzie Hold On / 15. Denim And Leather/ 16. And The Bands Played On
1, 11, 12 and 14 originally from “Wheels Of Steel” (1980) / 2, 3, 15 and 16 originally from “Denim And Leather” (1981) / 4, 5, 7, 9 and 13 originally from “Strong Arm Of The Law” (1980) / 6 originally from “Power & The Glory” (1983)