Radiohead – Manchester 4 July 2017

Over the 20 years or so of their existence I have paid scant attention to Radiohead, for reasons I can’t adequately explain or justify.
I must have seen the odd clip here or there, and made snap judgements about pretentiousness and Thom Yorke, and too easily fell in on the side of those who dislike them.

That all started to change as my 17 year old son entered into a war of attrition, convinced that it really is my kind of music and there was no reason why I shouldn’t like them, playing Radiohead in the house shuffling over and over, and slowly but surely resistance and  prejudice started to crumble.
But Dad, you like Jason Molina, you like Holy Fuck, how can you not like Radiohead?

It was sitting down together to watch their Glastonbury 2017 headline performance from start to finish, on a big screen, played loud through the hi fi, that finally made the breakthrough.
Everything my son was saying was true, it is my kind of music, and the truth is that had I paid attention earlier I would have got the message sooner. Better late than never ….

So, seeing Radiohead had changed its cancelled Manchester arena shows, in the wake of the recent atrocity, to Old Trafford Cricket Ground, meant an opportunity to buy tickets and get to witness this spectacle and possibly to achieve 100% conversion to the cause.

Whilst by now, I know just about every song through recognition, I don’t know their titles so won’t give a review of the songs, and there is plenty of other sources to obtain such blow by blow reviews.

In 44 years of going out to gigs Radiohead is unlike anything else I have ever seen.
They have elements of everything from funk, EDM, heavy riffs, trance, progish melodies, all driven by an extraordinary rhythm section, and the intensity of Thom Yorke’s vocals.
They are at a stage where they have experimented and rung changes throughout their  career and have a diverse back catalogue. Like the most creative bands each change has alienated some yet lead to even more success, and when put together in a 140 minute show, everything fits together like an Incan wall.

The effect on the Manchester crowd (of course that’s the location but people had clearly come from all over the UK and Europe), was like a slowly burning incense stick in a box of 4 July fireworks, a heady aroma gradually permeating all corners before exploding in various and unpredictable directions.

Part of Yorke’s appeal is his punkish presence, a diminutive hobgoblin of a man, who gives off essential attitude, not given to between songs patter, other than the occasional ‘you all right?’, and demonic cackles, it’s all about the music and that is where he holds the audience in the palm of his hands.
His vocal range is extraordinary, unlike others who change up to achieve a falsetto he seamlessly moves around his range, gliding effortlessly to falsetto,  and away from delivering oft withering lyrics his banshee wails are always controlled and add an almost instrumental dimension to the virtuoso playing of the other band members.

This old gigger found himself grooving along (which for me mostly involves a bit of swaying and shifting from foot to foot), from first note to last, and there was occasional pockets of moshing at the riffier tunes which my son gleefully managed to work his way towards. The whole experience was worthy of the word outstanding, but other words also spring to mind, joyful and melancholy, exuberant and mesmeric, vibey and trippy, heavy and orchestral, communal and for some intensely personal, and above all unique.

I don’t know quite how many people were in attendance but it must have been well in excess of 30,000 (not shabby for a band that elicits as much hate as love), and all bar me seemed to know the words to every song, emphatically sung along to until well after the floodlights had come up to signal time to go home, the mass refrain of a line from Karma Police carried us away into the night, and indeed I realised that for 140 minutes there I lost myself.

My Radiohead conversion is 100% complete, and not before time.

 

 

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Deke’s 20 Favourite Albums of 2016

I heard a discussion on radio a few weeks ago declaring ‘the album’ as being dead. In the debate they were suggesting people not only don’t buy albums any more but also don’t want to listen to them, preferring to make play-lists of single tracks or streaming only songs they like. I couldn’t help but think that those experts in the discussion must move in very different circles to mine, which given my age would suggest I am out of touch. If I take a look at my own family, a couple of my kids (a young adult and a teen) are snapping up vinyl old and new and having a distinct preference for the format, whilst another (a younger teen) is a confirmed child of the digital download age. I would argue that the kind of people who consume music only as downloads are more akin those who would never have bought albums back in the day anyway and may have only bought the odd chart single or Top Of The Pops compilation albums. There has always been a difference between the typical single and the typical album buyer, and then there are vinyl singles collectors which were especially active during the punk era. How gratifying then to subsequently hear that in fact in 2016   vinyl album sales by value (rather than unit sales) outstripped those of digital purchases for the very first time since the introduction of CD nearly did for vinyl all together over 30 years ago.

Here, in no particular order, and with respect to all the great music not heard by me, or not referenced in this selection, are 20 reasons why in 2016 the album (whether vinyl, CD, or download, or even tape) was very much alive and kicking arse.

Raveneye – Nova

Having served an apprenticeship as the next great white Brit blues guitar player hope, Oli Brown let his inner rock animal out and formed the three piece Raveneye with spectacular results.Raveneye was my 2015 support band most likely to step up, and touring extensively with Slash will have honed their stage craft ready to hit ever larger venues and festivals.Think of a blend of Soundgarden, Foo Fighters, and Muse, add in Oli’s classic rock vocal as well as his undoubted guitar prowess, and swaggering stage presence, add thundering bass riffs, and songs that could straddle Planet Rock and Kerrang devotees. The début album Nova delivers heavily, sounding like a record you might expect from a band two or three albums further down the line.

Syd Arthur – Apricity

My 2016 support band seen most likely to step up.
Syd Arthur, not a retro bloke but a band who’s name cleverly plays on the title of the classic novel Siddhartha (and at the same time reputedly in homage to Syd Barrett and Arthur Lee), has itself created in Apricity something of a contemporary classic work. The Canterbury band of three brothers plus one makes a passing nod to the local 70s prog rock scene but with a slicker, more widely accessible sound, clever jazz rock arrangements, a crisp and clean production brings the best out of their superb musicianship and the soulful voice of Liam Magill. Equally at home on stage as in the studio, the name Syd Arthur won’t be confusing people for much longer.

No Sinner – Old Habits Die Hard

With a complete supporting line up change from the début album Boo Hoo Hoo, it’s really all about the stunning and versatile vocals, and sheer sass of Colleen Rennison. She can’t do it all on her own of course and the assembled musicians on Old Habits Die Hard rock hard and tight. Soul, blues, hard rock, classic rock, psyche rock, it’s all here, and it’s all just so down and dirty rock and roll. Colleen handles each role with aplomb, at times vulnerable, at times headstrong, at times downright naughty, always bloody awesome. No Sinner’s début album reminded me a lot of Vintage Trouble, the second has retained the vintage but cranked up the trouble by several notches.
Old Habits Die Hard is my album of the year.

The Cult – Hidden City

The Cult has never shied away from making new music, and each successive album contains a gem or two to compete with their ageing classics for space in the live set. Yet the band has never been immune to a bit of bland filler when the creative juices are not in full flow or the twin Astbury/Duffy axis is not perfectly aligned. In Hidden City they have produced their most holistically complete and edgy work for 25 years, an album which when the eulogy of The Cult is finally written will surely rank alongside their very best work even if the days of hit singles are long gone.

Garbage – Strange Little Birds

Garbage is so much more than Shirley Manson, as iconic as she is the stalwarts around her in Duke Erikson, Steve Marker and Butch Vig make up a band of equals and it is remarkable to note that the band has never had a changed line up. Equally remarkable is that in Strange Little Birds they have come up with their strongest work since their early recordings of two decades ago.

Blues Pills – Lady In Gold

Blues Pills self titled release in 2014 was my favourite début album since Free’s Tons Of Sobs, with singer Elin Larsson giving the rock gods of the 60s and 70s a run for their money and young guitarist Dorian Sorriaux’s blistering solo playing reminiscent of the best of all time Paul Kossoff. The rock world has woken up to Blues Pills on the strength of that début and their live performances, and eagerly awaited the sophomore album. So it takes a brave and confident band to take the script and if not quite tear it up certainly give it a good scrunch, and morph into a funked up, psychedelic, soulfest, throw in some keys and a choir, put the rhythm section centre stage alongside Elin and not a single guitar solo to be heard, though Dorian is not slouching around with his licks. Between their two albums, and favourite EP cuts, Blues Pills already has an enviable portfolio and it must be a nightmare to decide what to leave out of the live set on any given night.   With Lady In Gold, Blues Pills gambled bravely and won.

Rival Sons – Hollow Bones

Too many churlish direct comparisons have been made about Rival Sons to Led Zeppelin, mostly by people who wouldn’t go out to see a band that wasn’t churning out their 70s catalogue in some soulless arena. Such remarks may or may not be welcome attention but mostly very wide of the mark. The Sons would have been a stellar band had they been around at the same time as their influencers Zep, Free, Pie, Doors, and so on and I’m sure would be every bit as much revered today. In Jay Buchanan they have the outstanding male rock and roll vocalist of this generation, a rock God if ever there was one. Hollow Bones continues their impressive bi annual album output but goes further in creating a holistic recording where the songs are less individual hits of varying styles and more a formation of seamless sounds making a whole that was made for vinyl and for reverential listening. Hollow Bones may well in time be looked back on as their finest hour and I look forward to the day when I can hear these songs played live.

Wilco – Schmilco

Following hard on the heels of 2015’s raucous release Star Wars, Wilco take it down, right down, with a consciously lo-fidelity production, the creativity, genius and productivity of Jeff Tweedy and his Wilco cast is probably only bettered in this generation by Neil Young.Schmilco is easy listening with a deceptively hard and sharp edge, such as crooning about hating ‘all those normal American kids’.

Scorpion Child – Acid Roulette

Difficult second album syndrome is recognisable only in its absence on this monster of a hard rock album from Scorpion Child. With a number of line up changes to contend with since the début self titled release you could be forgiven for expecting something a little fragmented yet the opposite is true and The Child turned the changes to firm up a more stable and complimentary line up including keys in place of a second guitar which perfectly balances Chris Cowart’s power chords and classic solos. The new sound is unmistakably Scorpion Child with the distinctive and charismatic Aryn Jonathan Black possibly the most underrated front man in the business. Acid Roulette, together with their dynamic live shows, should be propelling Scorpion Child into the hard rock stratosphere.

The Temperance Movement – White Bear

With their second album TTM progress their classic and derivative blues rock sound with a mature and strident set of diverse songs which is less dependant on ‘southern rock’ and Black Crowes influences and marks The Temperance Movement as a contemporary blues rock creative force to be reckoned with.Suffering the loss of two founder members from its line up since the release of White Bear early in 2016 the impact remains to be seen but the fan momentum is now solid and in Phil Campbell they have the vocal and visually energetic focal point to rally round and continue to tear up halls around the world.

68-75 – Consequences

Don’t expect a band called 68-75 to be breaking new ground but what you can expect from them is high quality powerhouse vocals from Suzy Sledge and guitar playing with riffage and a stonking tone from Andrew Cylar, all with tunes which do justice to the era evoked, and beyond. A much strengthened rhythm section does holistic wonders with brilliant Consequences.

The Last Vegas – Eat Me

New York Dolls meets The Faces meets early Alice Cooper meets Aerosmith, The Last Vegas is a five piece of pure high energy rock ‘n roll which clearly enjoys itself and wants to take the listener along for the party. With Eat Me the production is slicker, the performance swaggers with confidence of a band that’s been around for a while but yet only now hitting their hard working stride.

David Bowie – Blackstar

It’s Bowie, it’s his parting gift to the world, it’s all of the genius of Low, Heroes, and Station to Station, and more, in one final resting place.

Gaby Moreno – Ilusion

This wonderful guitar playing singer songwriter, lately of L.A. but hailing from Guatemala, came to my attention when singing on one of the songs on my 2015 album of the year, Edge Of The Sun by Calexico. I followed up and found that she handles everything from jazz to soul to blues with equal aplomb and straddles Spanish and English lyrics often with a mash up of each language. That her 2016 album should showcase her range and talent was no surprise but being nominated for a Grammy was certainly unexpected and no more than this unassuming Latin songstress deserves and her star should be ever ascending.

Jack Savoretti – Sleep No More

Jack is now getting the recognition and audience that his raw talent and work rate deserve, a little belatedly and in no small part down to Radio 2 presenters who finally knew a good thing when they heard it. If the last album had me a little concerned that Jack might follow a well trodden easy A&R path once a bit of success arrived, Sleep No More is a terrific album which retains enough of a commercial sound to appeal to his later adopters whilst also showing he has lost none of his ability to pen a great tune and then sing as if he means it.

Drive-By Truckers – American Band

It takes some guts for a southern American band to go against the grain and risk alienating a good proportion of its red neck fan base with a liberally tinged politically pointed rock and roll album, yet that is what Drive-By Truckers has done. If the music was crap the plaudits would be meaningless but in fact American Band is full of passion, and the cause of tolerance and resistance has served up an album in which every chord is struck with purpose. They’ve always been a band that knows how to hit the outsider nerve, Feb 14 being a particular favourite whenever that auspicious day comes around but with American Band DBT has stuck its flag firmly in the ground, an important album for these times.

Clare Maguire – Stranger Things Have Happened

After a five year wait for a follow up to her chart success début album, Clare Maguire provides a showcase of her many and varied influences. Distinctly mellow and easy on the ear, the album may lack the bombast of Light After Dark, it may lack an obvious Radio One playlister, but instead concentrates on fidelity and vocal quality with each song worthy of its place unlike some of the filler padding out the début. My track by track review of Stranger Things Have Happened can be found here …

https://dekedastardly.wordpress.com/2016/12/01/into-the-light-after-the-dark-an-appreciation-of-clare-maguire/

White Denim – Stiff

White Denim hits a peak of maturity with this release, a beautifully evolved sound combining blue eyed soul with Santanaesque virtuosity and Mannassas diversity, throw in much of their earlier indie sparkiness combined with Black Keys riffage, and in Stiff they gave us an old school eight tracks album of sheer musical delight. An excellent band which excels even further in a live setting.

Holy Fuck – Congrats

Electronic trance music does not regularly feature in my play-lists however every now and then a band comes along which takes its genre defined sound into areas accessible to others, and Canadian outfit Holy Fuck, lead by Brian Borshart (alter ego Dusted) is such a band. Mash up Sons and Fascination of early Simple Minds, a little bit of Kraftwerk, and a lot of Hacienda era New Order, and you get the picture. Up front electronic keys underpinned by driving bass licks and real live drums, with blurry oft indistinct and distant vocal chants, make for a trippy rush, turn it up to set the pulse racing, yet Congrats is undeniably easy to listen to.

Wovenhand – Star Treatment

Following from the arguably better known 16 Horsepower, Wovenhand is the current incarnation of the genius David Eugene-Edwards. His overtly Christian lyrics of a distinctly opus dei nature make for an unusual combination with grungy low scale, alt Americana guitar driven music, and he looks for all the world like a true rock star. The dark power of the music of Wovenhand allows a listener of non religious persuasion to wallow and feel the heavy noise. Star Treatment is full of dystopian soundscapes yet is possibly the most accessible Wovenhand long player to date.

Into The Light After The Dark – An Appreciation of Clare Maguire

2011

A young English singer/songwriter is on the fast track, a much vaunted talent with a distinctive, emotive, voice, a coveted Polydor record deal secured leading to a No7 UK charting debut album, BBC’s Zane Low pushing the cause relentlessly on Radio One, high profile music placements in major TV adverts including a memorable one for Renault, lots of breakfast TV exposure, tour support slots with Plan B and The Script already done and dusted, and playing solo concerts in large capacity halls; in 2011 it was hard to avoid the stunning voice of Clare Maguire even if you didn’t know it was hers.
Dream starts don’t come much dreamier than this, and with so many British contemporaries blazing trails into sold out arenas all over the world (think Florence, Adele, Paloma, and later Ellie Goulding), Clare Maguire only had to follow suit, she had the world at her feet, or did she?
For some, the shiny alluring oyster turns out to be a poisoned chalice.

Perhaps the writing was already on the wall, despite its success, not all of the reviews for the debut album, the presciently titled Light After Dark, were complimentary, critiques of unsuitable, one dimensional, overly synthesised production, and song writing limitations suggested Clare was being driven down a wrong road with a confused identity.
The final track on the album, This Is Not The End, a powerful Irish folk influenced ballad, seems an aberration yet is the one outstanding performance, the one outstanding song, which suggests there is so much more to Clare than the next electro pop dance diva her paymasters were seeming to want in return for their investment. After all it was working for others.
That’s not to suggest every track on Light After Dark is a dud, far from it, but for this reviewer the authenticity of Clare’s voice was being drowned out by the heavy orchestral and synthetic musical backing when it required complimentary musicianship to bring the voice alive on record, an unforgivable mistake by Polydor; why invest in a raw talent only to try to change it to follow a trend?
Perhaps it was ever thus. That said I have to acknowledge that there are many fans who love Light After Dark for the very reasons I and others have expressed reservations, it was pretty successful after all, and that may in part explain the confusion, the old style versus substance debate.

And so Clare disappeared into a musical abyss, into loneliness in the big city, alcohol addiction, relationship problems, and ultimately depression, it’s a well worn, sadly familiar, path, which often leads to no return.
I’m not going to rake over the embers of this period of her life, there is plentiful commentary to be found with a quick Google search for anyone more interested.
Thankfully though for Clare Maguire and for us, this is not the end.

Click to watch This Is Not The End

May 2015

Picking up the threads in May 2015, after a period of sporadic Soundcloud releases and sketchy collaborations, experimenting with musical and vocal styles, and importantly a Burberry sponsorship to ensure there’s opportunity to perform live on occasion in exotic locations and which no doubt helped keep the wolf from the door, we find Clare preparing for a three night residency at The Glee Club in Birmingham, not in the main room, but a small studio room of an intimate 150 capacity, all sold out in advance. It’s an encouraging though no doubt tentative and nervy testing of the water in a hospitable environment with local friends and family amongst the stalwart, intrigued, audience.
I’m familiar with the debut album, and with all of the interim online music, but this is the first time I’ve heard Clare live, and I’m excited for that and to see what she comes up with.
There’s a surprise present left on each seat of a new four track EP Don’t Mess Me Around.

She opens with Ain’t Nobody from the Light After Dark album, and as the vocal strains kick in they send shivers down my spine, and I know live is where it’s at for Clare Maguire.
For the next hour the old album is discarded and it’s new music all the way, and I didn’t find a single soul disappointed by that.
The Glee Club is all seated but she had no trouble getting everyone to stand and gyrate to the funked up Don’t Mess Me Around.

Clare delivers a lot of good humoured patter between songs and it was clear this run of shows, and the new music, were part of the recovery process, there being a lot of honest admission of ‘where I’ve been and where I’m going’, and in some of the songs no little anger.
At the end of the show chatting briefly with Clare the expectation was for a second album in October with a full tour.
It transpired though that whatever woods we were in, we would not be out of for some time after that, with no tour materialising and the second album not arriving until the end of May 2016.

Click to see Clare perform live for Burberry

June 2016

Finally, one year further on, with a new album to promote, Stranger Things Have Happened having been released a few days earlier (reviewed below), we were treated to another Glee Club performance in June 2016.
Again in the small but sold out studio room, again a very solid performance.
This time there was to be no songs from Light After Dark in the set at all.
The patter was a little less confessional, and the new songs seemed to be shifting from anger to a positive form of melancholy, reflection, and acceptance, and all very well received by the audience.
Clare promised to be back again for a show in the main room at the venue in the autumn, a promise this time duly kept.

October 2016

The Main Room with a healthy 450 souls capacity was filled with an enthusiastic and wonderfully all age audience, which was treated to a mix up of songs old, new, and in between.
No longer daunted by her Light After Dark material, Clare has simply revived and reworked the best for live performance, with highlights being a powerful rendition of Bullet, and an especially surprising take on Ain’t Nobody now given chunky Les Paul riffs with a blues rock feel which worked brilliantly.
Last Dance, an anthemic song I can take or leave, is a crowd pleaser for the early adopters and duly went down a storm.
A surprise, and very welcome, inclusion in the set was the rousing, angry, Boomerang, from the 2015 EP, which with the Glee Club’s PA operating at maximum volume will certainly have acted as an electric prod to any remaining audience stupor and a shock to anyone expecting a night of gentle ballads.
The songs from Stranger Things Have Happened formed the bulk of the set and are by now familiar to most of the audience, and yet it was the inclusion of the title song from the 2015 Don’t Mess Me Around EP which was an invitation to get up and groove, seeing Clare encourage, well in some cases drag, the entire front row onto the stage as backing dancers, having the desired effect and the audience remained on their feet until the end.
An end which came all too soon after just 45 minutes due to illness of the keyboard player, yet such is the warmth of feeling towards Clare and the band that there is not a single murmur of discontent. In fact Clare sang one last song, Changing Faces, unaccompanied, which initially seemed a little uncomfortable but ended in triumph.
It was noticeable that the banter is now very much interactive and Clare has learned the odd trick to engage the audience even giving out cans of beer from plastic bags as people were ‘not pissed enough’.
It’s all a far cry from the confessional reformed alcoholic we witnessed in early 2015, and as her song says it is to be hoped she has left this all in yesterday and once again the future for Clare Maguire is bright, this time on her own authentic terms befitting of her unique talent and endearing persona.

Stranger Things Have Happened – Album Review

Fully five years after her chart success debut album Light After Dark, Clare Maguire released her starkly different follow up Stranger Things Have Happened.

Gone is the bombastic orchestral and computer synth pop backing to be replaced by an ensemble of acoustic and light electric instrumentalists, a stripped down smoky room vibe more suited to her voice than the wannabe electro dance floor fillers of old.
If anything STHH almost goes too far in the opposite direction as whilst Clare delivers on an eclectic mix of styles, there is little scope for a power ballad such as This Is Not the End, or the growling anger evident in the 2015 EP Don’t Mess Me Around.

The album opens with the bouncy jazz infused Faded, with piano and upright bass, and brushed drums, providing a statement of intent, Clare’s voice rises and falls with subtlety but doesn’t bellow.

Here I Am moves into Motown territory, Clare delivers soulful controlled power without the intensity of her earlier work and it’s very agreeable.

Elizabeth Taylor was introduced during her 2015 shows and is already a crowd favourite as it veers from gentle ballad verses to powerful choruses reminiscent of her earlier work, and as the choruses ebb away into the repeated line ‘another lesson learned’ you can sense the emotion and regret.
I feel it was a little unfortunate that this was released as the first single as being a track of only vocal and piano accompaniment it tempted the press to draw comparisons with the massively successful Adele’s 25; we’ve been there before and whilst she’s an avowed fan the last thing Clare needs right now is to be dubbed an Adele clone and there are songs on the album which would have shown that Clare has rather more to offer, yes even than Adele, such as…

Swimming, has a superb low-fi Americana feel with an understated electric guitar riff, and it doesn’t take too much of a leap to imagine one of her idols Johnny Cash singing this song.

The title track Stranger Things Have Happened takes the pace to an even slower ebb with wispy harp, and a trippy vocal reminiscent of Kate Bush at her most wistful.

Whenever You Want It is one of Clare’s interim Soundcloud releases revisited, a song suggestive of a relationship in crisis where one party just wants whatever is wrong to disappear, to ignore the inevitable, in favour of cosy nights in front of the TV. It’s an interesting song, hinting at submissiveness in order to prolong a dying relationship, a desire simply to be loved and to be enough, perhaps we’ve all been there, and that melancholy comes across in Clare’s performance.

The Valley, the second single release from the album, takes the tempo upbeat , with a Jack Savoretti style acoustic guitar intro and jangly verses in which Clare drops her ‘t’s on words such as ‘shooting’ and ‘counting’ giving a youthful, colloquial feel which is a little at odds with the meaty, vibrant, choruses which take us full throttle into Stevie Nicks mode.
All of which means The Valley should have been a sure fire Radio 2 playlist hit.

Hanging In The Stars, has a lovely ethereal piano opening which leads into an acoustic 60s folksy vibe reminiscent of Joni Mitchell or Buffy Sainte-Marie.

Falling Leaves shows off Clare’s extraordinary range without ever having to strain, delving into smoky bar room slow jazz, and makes more than a passing nod to Nina Simone’s Strange Fruit.

Changing Faces, a thank you song which Clare attributes to ‘home town’ of Birmingham yet with its vague references to drink and drugs can equally apply to a friend who stands by you in your worst times, through thick and thin.

Spaceman, blends influences such as The Beatles, and Jeff Lynne, yet the one which struck me most strongly was Hunky Dory era Bowie. The song has a fuller orchestral production without the bombast of the first album.

Leave You In Yesterday, makes for a poignant yet optimistic ending to the album which marks an end to past problems, or relationships, and although never completely out of mind, history can be put in proper perspective and understanding. This quiet, minimalist song leaves us wanting to know what comes next.

Click to view Stranger Things Have Happened – The Film

It’s poignant that her first album is called Light After Dark as really that’s kind of where she finds herself now.
I am prepared to assert that Clare Maguire is a world class singer, capable of incredible vocal range and spine tingling emotional expression. and it only remains for her to consolidate the impressive blend of songs in her portfolio, and confidently build an appreciative audience, without constraints to style or demographic, which will remain with her for years to come.

If she can accumulate knowledgeable, musically empathetic people in her entourage, appreciating there is more to a sustainable, artistically and financially profitable career than being a corporation owned, EDM hit machine arena diva, the dark will diminish and the light become ever brighter, after all stranger things have happened.

In the words of Friedrich Nietzsche – “The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”

Garbage – Rock City, Nottingham – 14 June 2016

It’s always best to let the adrenaline calm down before declaring a gig the best ever so I am now ready to stick my neck on the block and say that the Garbage gig at Rock City last night was one of THE very best I’ve ever seen, and after a shade over 42 years since my first outing I can’t make such an assertion lightly.

For minutes shy of 2 hours the band powered through a set of old and new; this was no greatest hits or 90s nostalgia show, it’s testament to their staying power and creativity that some of the most memorable numbers were from the brand new and most recent albums.

Shirley Manson is a consummate front person, you could almost see twenty years shed from her face as the show boiled up, she circles the stage like a boxer, exuding in equal measure presence, punk poise, confidence, kitsch, humility, and strident rock goddess qualities, and her voice remains a uniquely versatile instrument, she is a genuine icon of the genre and bang on top of her game.

Flanked by the ever present twin guitars of Steve Marker and the eminently watchable Duke Erikson and behind them a bad ass touring rhythm section (drummer Butch Vig missing due to personal problems), they lay down powerful, driving riffs and melodies, and you can’t take your eyes off them for a second.

Sure we had Stupid Girl, I Think I’m Paranoid, Only Happy When It Rains, and surprise encore of Cherry Lips, to jump around to, but together with the melancholic new ballad Even Though Our Love Is Doomed, it was an epic atmospheric performance of a new number Blackout that stole the show for me.

If I had any regrets about not seeing a more youthful Garbage in their pomp those were blown away by the maturity and swagger of the band in version 2016.

 

Dying Fire

Kossoff, Paul & Free

40 years ago I was in bed listening to John Peel’s show on Radio 1 when news came in that Paul Kossoff had passed away at just 25. I was stunned and wanted to sleep so I could wake up and find I’d only dreamed it. I was 17, he was my music hero, and I had seen him play a few months before, but I simply couldn’t contemplate that it would be the only time; 40 years on I still can’t. His playing on this song, Dying Fire, has at certain moments in my life left me stunned, bereft, in silence at the end, and no matter how many times I’ve heard it, it always makes the hairs on my neck stand up. It’s true of so much of his playing with Free, Back Street Crawler, solo, or on various collaborations, an incredible legacy for one who died so young, a unique gift of expressing emotion through the electric guitar which has informed my listening ever since and provided a benchmark no other has been able to live up to, no matter how hard they try. It’s like any form of art though, not everyone will agree, not everyone will be receptive to it, I am forever grateful that I am with every fibre of my being.
Paul Kossoff (KKTR) plays Dying Fire

Vintage Trouble live at Arlington Arts Centre, Newbury – 23 June 2012

Barely three months ago I might have been heard to elucidate that whilst there was still good music to be heard, entertaining bands to see, what I was missing were the truly great frontmen, those which strode the stages of the 60s and 70s, with awe inspiring presence to accompany their powerful vocal prowess.

The era I’m evoking included the likes of Jim Morrison, Robert Plant, Paul Rodgers, Ian Gillan, Steve Marriot, Phil Lynott, an era from which at the tail end perhaps Brian Johnson, Bono, and Ian Astbury keep an ever diminishing flame alive, and they are not going to be getting any younger, or better.

But that was three months ago….

In March of this year I was sufficiently intrigued by the promotional blurb to click on a Noisetrade link to some free music, which I had gratefully done many times before and unearthed some very fine music and artists to follow, mostly in the Americana genre, but this one, for a new band called Vintage Trouble, was different, this one made these old ears prick up with a tingle down the spine.

A few more clicks into YouTube and there was no turning back, I was devouring every video I could find, and there was more than I imagined for a band I had not heard of before; frustratingly for me they had been to UK in 2011, they had even appeared on Jools Holland’s Later, and I had missed them completely.
Now, though, I’m evangelising the Vintage Trouble cause like Billy Graham and recruiting disciples as if Reverend Moon.

Here was something almost unique, for want of a better description, here was a white rock ‘n roll band, with a black soul singer, here was The Stones fronted by Otis Redding, or at least something close in spirit, more importantly, here was Ty Taylor, a bona fide frontman of the kind so rarely seen these days, and it’s no longer a case of still haven’t found what I’m looking for…

…and then I noticed the upcoming UK tour dates.
23 June, Newbury, that’s the closest they come to me and it’s a 2.5 hour drive, and yet my evangelising had now managed to accrue a possie of eleven souls making the pilgrimage to see this self proclaimed new protocol of soul.

Arlington Arts Centre is certainly a different venue to the usual inner city grime associated with a rock ‘n roll show, we really are in ‘Middle England’, and the approach to the venue makes you wonder if you’ve got it wrong, it resembles a posh high school or private hospital grounds, but the parked tour bus and people enjoying the barbecue laid on for the occasion reassure that we may be in the right place after all.

It’s a peculiar scene, there’s a civilised middle class looking queue for the village hall style bar, there’s a midsummer theme and someone is creating laurel leaf garlands which many of the ladies are adopting to adorn their freshly coiffured barnets, and then there is a wicker man, for the wicked wicker man must be ceremoniously burned before the show. We are now in surreal territory, I’m here for a rock n’ roll show but everyone looks dressed for the opera whilst eating burgers, and there’s a rather sinister pagan ceremony taking place. Show this in B&W slow mo and it’s a weird art-house film scene.

A quick recce of the venue puts my mind at rest though, the stage is already set, there is a large standing area with raised seating behind, I’m told it holds 350 and it’s sold out, so it feels good, and as show time approaches, we are near the stage and you can sense the crackle of anticipation, then it’s lights down, voices raised, there’s Big Moma Thornton’s Hound Dog coming through the PA, and it feels like a rock ‘n roll show at last.

You can feel the presence of the band as they take the stage in near darkness, and it’s shiver down the spine time as they take up a slow rolling bluesy intro lifted from Blues Hand Me Down. ‘Papa was a blues man’, we believe you, we’re with you, and then boom, lights up and they launch into Total Strangers, a driving Stonesy piece of riff ‘n roll and there’s no turning back, we’re all in this together.

The band is oh so tight, all sartorial elegance, and smiles, they are enjoying this as much as we are.
Ty Taylor is a whirling dervish, feeding off the audience, call and response after call and response, soon the sweat is penetrating even the sharp cut suits of the band.
But this is not the Ty Taylor Band, it says a lot about the other members that they stand there as equals. Rick Bario Dill, a bouncy slenderman, is not the kind of bass player to stand in the shadows, he pumps out the groove and makes sure we know he is there. Richard Danielson keeps the most solid back beat you are ever likely to hear, he knows his job, and then some as he adds flourishes, standing, jumping, and occasionally sitting, ever visible in perpetual motion.

In Nalle Colt, they have the iceman axeman, a Sergio Leone character with a sunburst Gibson as his weapon, he could be hewn from a 70s legendary band. He plays as if the whammy bars and shredders of the 80s and 90s had never happened; this is the school of less is more, all about tone and feel, and that’s my kind of guitar player. Since the passing of Paul Kossoff in 1976 very few, if any, have been able to hit the emotional spot in me with a single sustained note quite like Nalle Colt.

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So, it’s not just about the frontman, Vintage Trouble is the real deal, these are guys who have plenty of experience, who’ve been around their L.A. block a while, but who look as if they know they finally struck gold and that their time is now or never.
They are also elegant, handsome, and charismatic, in their prime, a man band, so now I know why this feels like a MILFs night out on the town!

So much so that one or two have clearly been on the juice well before the show. Now whilst I know the devotees of the band are known as Troublemakers, I’ve been in some lunatic, hairy, drunken mosh pits in my time, and this was not one of them, in fact the band describes their’s as a soul pit, so I was taken aback when Taylor twice called out someone near the front, and threatened to halt the show. I was nearby and couldn’t see what the fuss was about, but he had seen something unsavoury and wasn’t about to stand for it. Eventually he called for security and two offending lady troublemakers were escorted away. Well a cat fight wasn’t in the script, more surreality.

As a counterweight, a nice couple allowed my 12 year old son to stand in front of them at the rail. He is an aspiring singer/guitar player so the chance to witness and learn at the feet of the Gods at such a young age can only be inspirational.

The band powers through just about the entire debut album, The Bomb Shelter Sessions, and more. It’s hard to nominate stand out songs it’s all equally outstanding, yet my only disappointment is that they missed out their epic Run Outta You, where Colt rips through a blistering two minutes solo, but it wasn’t to be so hopefully I’ll see that another time around.

In Nancy Lee, Taylor pays homage to his parents, especially recently passed away Mom, and in Blues Hand Me Down celebrates the blue collar, man’s man that was his father.

Along with the opening Total Strangers, Jezebella is a rousing, sexed up tune that puts the Trouble into the Vintage, and in which the rhythm section is given space to strut their stuff centre stage.

Strike A Light, and Pelvis Pusher, cuts presumably from the apparently already in the can second album, are consummate audience participation numbers.

In Nobody Told Me, with its laid back seriousness, they remind of my ultimate music heroes Free at their very best, I was just too young to see Free so this is as good as it gets.

For Run Like The River, another tune not on the debut album but already a live standard, Colt swaps his trusty Gibson for a Gretsch Coutryman and blasts away some gritty slide showing his versatility and feel for the blues.
During the middle section of this number Taylor jumps into the standing section and whilst still singing, and with the band playing back on stage, he makes his way through to the rear and jumps up on to the seating area, where as sheer luck would have it he duets the chorus with my own 9 year old son who is on that front row with his Mom, it is a memory which will linger forever in my mind, and which no doubt will remain with the lad forever.

In between songs Taylor has great patter and at one point asks if we had seen the burning of the wicker man before the show, he then has us in stitches as he says ‘to be honest I was scared, I didn’t know if I should run’, which whilst hilarious as a one liner, also poignantly reminds what is so unique about this collaboration, the roots of the music, and how far we have come, but yes, that was funny Mr Taylor!

There are a couple of covers included, Ike & Tina’s Baby, Get It On, and an encore of A Little Help From My Friends, which is played in the style of the Joe Cocker version (mercifully!), which has Taylor blinking away tears as well as sweat, and which left me momentarily speechless and breathing hard, not only at this rendition but from the entire show which preceded it.

After the show the band, still sweat soaked, are patiently meeting and greeting everyone and posing for pictures, and it was good to be able to shake a hand or two and simply be able to say thank you, and I drift dreamily away into the Middle England drizzle knowing that after 30 odd years I have found what I was looking for.

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Ramblin’ Man Fair – Mote Park, Maidstone, 26 July 2015

Sunday morning, with rain pelting down as I arrived at Mote Park, I’m fearing the worst, though whilst it never did quite cease until late in the day it did ease off enough to stop it being too drenchingly miserable and Somme-esque.
This wonderful festival was very well ordered and catered for, I believe it wasn’t sold out, so it felt very comfortable but I suspect next year that will change given the success and positive feedback to this inaugural event, and I hope as it grows it can retain the charm.
With three stages set up, for Classic Rock (main stage), Blues, and Prog, there was something for just about everyone minded to attend the festival and one or two possible timing clashes but I was determined to see every minute of three of the acts namely Blues Pills, The Temperance Movement, and Rival Sons, which I managed to do, and they all did themselves justice.
Other than that I really was a ramblin’ man, taking in as much as was possible but focused mainly on the rock and blues, less so the prog though the odd thing I saw at that stage wasn’t bad at all and on another day I would have been happy to linger but there was just too much to see and hear elsewhere.
The main stage was very wet at the front so the bands tended to stay well back meaning the gap between them and the crowd was considerable.
An oddity was the VIP (covered) seating was to the side and quite distant; I wouldn’t want to pay a premium to be so disconnected but at least they were dry.
The main stage did have two screens though and the live cameramen did a great job, I am hoping it was recorded and that some official footage will emerge.

Blues Pills kicked off the day’s proceedings on the main stage having travelled overnight from their latest central European tour, but no signs of tiredness were in evidence and they cranked into an extended jam leading into High Class Woman, and whatever the political meaning of the song, that’s certainly what Elin Larsson is, a high class performer, high class singer, and for those who’ve ever met her she’s a high class woman indeed.
Do not fall into the trap of stereotyping Elin by gender, she channels the great frontmen of the 60s/70s era, her diminutive frame strides the stage like a colossus, the mic stand and stunning voice her weapons of choice, and then she can suddenly disarm everyone with a girl next door smile and comment.
Whilst Elin is a powerful focal point, the entire band is performing at the highest level, meaning that as good as she is, in Dorian, Zak, and Andre, she shares the stage with her equals.
It was a brave move to drop their standard Devil Man and retain the one cover in their set, of Tony Joe White’s Elements and Things, a thumping, driving number which they have truly stamped as a Blues Pills live classic.

If the day needed a kick start, Blues Pills certainly provided it.

Solstafir, a metal band from Iceland, followed, and were louder than anything else on show and not my own bag at all, so it was an opportune time to head for the Blues tent where I caught some of Ian Siegel’s set, playing acoustic and very near drowned out by the sound from the other stages. That would be my one and only gripe, the noise creep was awful and could have been minimised with more thoughtful stage alignment, or some screening.

Also in the Blues tent, on recommendation I watched a good bit of Aaron Keylock, a young blues rock singer/guitarist, with even younger looking bass player and drummer, it’s straight ahead traditional electric blues, pretty good and it’s always amazing to see young guys keeping this alive but being the next young white hope blues man can be a blessing or a curse, ask Ian Parker, Peter Shoulder or Oli Brown, so I do hope he can cut a niche as he’s very good at what he does, and clearly very passionate and steeped in his chosen genre.

It seems an appropriate moment then to highlight Dorian Sorriaux of Blues Pills, who is not much older, yet comes from another blue marble planet all together and who’s destiny is surely to become renowned as the greatest living blues rock guitar player once the world awakens to him, not that he’s better than Aaron or other fine contemporaries, simply that he is unusual and his playing comes from somewhere deep inside, something which connects head, hands and instrument, and more importantly heart, in the rarest of ways, and puts him in the same bracket as Kossoff, Green, Clapton, and Page at their respective peaks.

Talking of noteworthy guitar players, I had a brief encounter between sets with Mick Ralphs, having spied him from afar, I waltzed up, pint of ale in hand, to shake his hand. Now here is a man who has been an integral element of not one but two of the greatest names in classic rock, namely Mott The Hoople, and Bad Company, and I really intended to thank him for the music and the memories. Instead I blurted out that I had first seen Bad Co on their second ever gig, at Birmingham Town Hall in ’74, and that they had so little material that they played Can’t Get Enough three times. I then noticed that he was holding a microphone, and was in the middle of an interview. He simply said, hello, you’re on the radio, to which I promptly repeated myself into the mic.
Sorry listeners, sorry Mick, and mercifully I forgot to ask him about the leopardskin top he was wearing that night in ’74.

Back on main stage The Quireboys entertained, my first time seeing them having been a bit sniffy about them, but I warmed to them, giving a good, solid performance, and as Rod and The Faces haven’t been doing that thing for decades, why not The Quireboys?

So, the main stage was nicely warmed up for The Temperance Movement, but on a short foray to the Prog stage, I caught sight and sound of a young lady in rather short shorts dynamically playing a violin, and then some young guys doing prog that sounded a more like half decent rock to me, and via the blues tent a little of Mick Ralphs Blues Band before making sure of a decent pitch for The Temperance Movement.

As The Quireboys before them, with songs like Be Lucky, The Temperance Movement also have that Faces vibe, but with much more depth and variety in their set, and with such a live wire performer as Phil Campbell they have a powerful vocal and visual point of focus. He bounds and prances around the stage like his life depends on each performance, which perhaps it does given his near disastrous past. If ever a guy needed a band to play up to his talent it is Phil. Coming to prominence initially as a solo performer, he promptly disappeared into his bottle, not entirely without trace, but barely registering on any meaningful radar, trouble was indeed his only friend.
Behind Campbell’s sand and glue voice, The Temperance Movement relies on swirling melodies, with twin guitars alternating turns on lead and rhythm, the most inevitable comparison then is made with The Black Crowes. The band’s set on the day was drawn from their already well trodden path of material, mostly from their well received debut album, and there were no clues as to what lies ahead for Movers to expect. After an extensive USA tour, this being their first gig back on UK shores, they were sharp and musically honed, and left the crowd really buzzing and ready for Rival Sons.

I think it was in between that I just caught the end of Joanne Shaw Taylor’s set in the Blues tent, perhaps the most regrettable clash of the day, I hadn’t seen her before and she sounded pretty powerful.

Down the years some gigs are defined by their totality, some become blended in with the general mass of sights and sounds of all the bands seen, but others have rare moments, something special that can be intensely personal, something that you know will stay in your heart and mind forever. I have had it before, and had it again on Sunday. My moment was Rival Sons opening with Belle Starr, a track from their latest album Great Western Valkyrie.
Singer Jay Buchanan and guitarist Scott Holiday could be seen intently watching from the wings what was going before them, saw the make up and mood of the crowd, the impact of the weather, and so we got Belle Starr.
The combination of surprise for those of us who know the band and expected to hear the opening power chords of Electric Man, of atmosphere, the stage lights illuminating the misty rain as the verses washed over us in reverence, the sheer beauty of the performance, sharing the experience with my daughter, all created an ethereal moment for me which I know will remain with me and precious until the end of my days.
The band then kicked on with the riff laden Electric Man, and stormed through a high energy set with one further lull for Where I’ve Been, which is currently replacing previous favourites such as Face of Light and Jordan, and that’s what’s so fascinating. Here is a band that is still making its way forward, yet already is so rich in portfolio that it can play a two hour set and never please everyone. If  a measure of a great band is the songs they don’t play then Rival Sons is already a great band, and they exude stardom, wearing their rock and roll cool as a first skin. I did have some concerns about Jay during what appeared to be an anti rock star phase but that seems to have passed, and he’s so passionate a performer that he has been known to push his incredible vocal range beyond its natural limits. Here though, in a shorter set, everything felt beautifully controlled and with a crowd devoid of the lunatic fringe slam dancers that have shown up at some Sons shows, it was all about the music and the world seemed very much in harmony enhanced by the now refreshing rain.

Rival Sons were the stand out performers from a day of outstanding performances.

With Seasick Steve next up I wandered over to the Prog again just in time to see Ian Anderson perform Living In The Past. It was interesting to see and hear, he retains an exuberant presence without the real wildness of old, and can still play that flute alright, his voice however made for uncomfortable listening for all but diehard fans, so it wasn’t too difficult to tear myself away as Seasick Steve and his drummer started to tear things up back on the main stage.

Now I do like old Steve and would love to catch his act in a small, atmospheric, grungy club, here though after half an hour or so it was getting a little repetitive to my ears so I popped to the Blues tent and it proved the best decision of the day.

Bernie Marsden and band were early into their set and at this stage in proceedings, after 10 hours ale drinking it was just what I needed, and if we’re talking classic rock it doesn’t get more classic rock than those Whitesnake riffs, and boy the guy can play and wrings a stonking tone out of that Les Paul. Ably supported by old bass stalwart Neil Murray he played some blues standards, a smattering of numbers from his solo career, and one song which he wrote for Joe Bonamassa to record for which he thanked JB ‘from the bottom of his pocket’! He saved the Whitesnake sing alongs until the end, which was perfect as once Seasick Steve had finished the numbers inside and outside the Blues tent had now swelled to give all the atmosphere and stickiness of a bursting at the seams club gig, and let’s face it, who can resist a rousing chorus of Here I Go Again, who doesn’t know all the words when it comes to it?

The finale was rousing and euphoric and left the crowd chanting Bernie, Bernie, for which old Bernie, playing here on his 35th wedding anniversary, looked genuinely taken aback and suggesting that perhaps we could all do this again on the main stage next year, not a bad idea.

I could have happily sauntered away to my comfortable, and dry, B&B after that, but the bars were still open, and there was the twin sounds already in swing of Marillion and Gregg Allman to choose between.

So, ten minutes watching Marillion who have never been in my playlists but they were pumping out some vibey hooks and putting on quite a dynamic show, which I suppose is what you would expect, and they seemed to be going down well with their own audience.

That left main stage headliner Gregg Allman, another who’s work has really passed me by since the Brothers were in their 70s pomp, still he commanded respect and with the crowd at the main stage somewhat sparse for a last night headliner, he and his band played a quality, steady rollin’ set, and thankfully his voice retains much of its original down home quality, and whatever uses and abuses he may have put himself through down the years I’m tempted to say that if he can look like that at 67 I’ll have some of what he’s had.It was a low key end, with dreadful noise creep coming from Marillion’s set which pounded across the quieter Allman crowd, and I was half expecting a reaction from old Gregg but if it bothered him he didn’t let it show, and having already played standards Melissa, and Midnight Rider, the band honky tonked their way through the main stage day’s only encore covering Elmore James’ One Way Out.

At the bookends, having been adrenalised and shaken awake nearly 10 hours earlier by Blues Pills, it was a smooth way to bow out of Ramblin’ Man, and I don’t think there will have been a soul wandering away into the Maidstone streets who will have been left disappointed by their day, or weekend for those who also took in Saturday.

What then, of those three bands I especially wanted to see, there will be more to come from me about them, but Robert Plant said recently that the old Gods are nearly all gone, and whilst he didn’t mean it in a Gene Simmons way that rock is dead, merely that time moves, the physical nature of those Gods diminishes, yet their influence remains, but in  Blues Pills, The Temperance Movement, and Rival Sons, there are new Gods among us, and they were all very much alive and kicking ass in the rain on Sunday 26 July 2015 at the Ramblin’ Man Fair, happy are those that have seen.