Francis Dunnery's It Bites
17/1/20 & 18/1/20
Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton
& Manchester Club Academy
Frank has been out playing the ‘It Bites’ catalogue with a band of musicians behind him for the last 4 years on the 3rdweekend of January. Sticking to 3 cities that have always produced good support, namely, Wolverhampton, Manchester and London. Tickets would normally sell out a couple of weeks prior to the event, but not this time around! London went 6 months in advance, Manchester 5 months and Wolverhampton 3 months! An additional date in Glasgow sold-out the day before the event.
The difference? ‘Re-branding’. Past shows had gone out as Francis Dunnery and his band playing ‘It Bites’, but now it’s “Francis Dunnery’s It Bites” and the nation has tuned in! While I would usually be at the Shepherd’s Bush Hall, West London, at the final show on the Sunday night, by the end of August the 425 capacity venue has sold-out. No mention of adding another date so I went for the Wolverhampton show on the Friday night plus another hour train journey the following day to Manchester.
The theme for this year’s show is the second studio album ‘Once Around the World’, originally cut back in 1988, and arguably the best of the three from Frank’s period with the original line-up. All the songs are covered within the two hour plus set along with a couple of ‘B’ sides from singles, and the ever popular ‘Underneath Your Pillow’, ’Calling All the Heroes’ and the closing number ‘Still Too Young To Remember’.
There is a story or two to tell from the early days, pantomime animals and the multi-talented guest slot for Peter Jones, the band’s keyboard player. The band enter the stage with Melba Moore’s ‘This Is It’ disco number dropping in the background to launch straight into ‘Kiss Like Judas’, ’Black December’ and then onto ‘Yellow Christian’. Backing Frank on second/dual guitar is young Mancunian Luke Machin, Bjorn Fryklund on drums, Pete Harwood on bass and, as previously mentioned, Mr. Jones on keys.
Personnal fave ‘The Old Man and The Angel’, ’Rose Marie’ and the extended version of ‘Midnight’, which went to Rave/House beat, that could have easily been remixed for that genre and had the crowd ‘hands in the air’ - were the highlight tracks of the evening.
To the venues. Wolverhampton’s Slade Rooms is a dark aging building holding 550 people and Friday night is a heavily male dominated audience with a couple of annoying pillars. The Manchester Club Academy on the other hand is in the Student’s Union building holding 650 punters, light in décor and nightclub style. As noted by Mr.Dunnery a greater proportion of females are present at Manchester and that Saturday feel to the atmosphere is evident. The enthusiasm was the same for both nights but the better venue, bigger stage and audience gives Manchester the edge. London needs a larger venue next year and a Saturday would make it alright!
An ‘It Bites’ convention is planned for the Summer in the West Midlands town of Oswestry and a new album is in the pipeline with the present band members.
Matt Pearce & The Mutiny
+ Savoy Brown
Tuesday 14th January 2020
The Beaverwood, Chislehurst
The New Year heralds some old time Blues down at the local venue tonight. Assuming storm whatevertheycallit doesn’t end civilisation as we know it first. But whilst the weather outside is frightful, the music inside is delightful, let it flow, let it flow, let it flow. Snuggled into the small cricket pavilion building are a hundred or so music stalwarts ready to brave whatever is thrown at them.
The small stage at one end of the building hosts the solo project of the London-based, Glasgow-born, guitarist Matt Pearce - an original member of the successful Hard Rock outfit Voodoo Six. Matt Pearce & The Mutiny are a 4 piece with Matt fronting in his black three piece suit, hat and battered Les Paul gold top. Playing through Orange amps the Blues hues have that rocky edge. Although the tracks on the new debut album draw from the full range of Matt Pearce’s influences and passions: Rock, Blues, Funk and Soul! “These songs have almost written themselves”, Matt confesses, “They are songs that have become very personal to me: As if my inner voice has suddenly become much stronger. It wasn’t as if I stumbled upon these songs by accident: on the contrary, they tracked me down. I can’t stress how uncanny the experience has been.” Still a member of the Voodoo Six, this is Matt’s chance to break away and find his Bluesier, groovier side.
The short set sees Matt play some serious Gary Moore like Blues on his trusty Gibson with keys bass and drums providing the rhythm and melody. And his Scottish lilt is evident in his strong vocals. Interlaced with judicious wah, the screaming Blues guitar is excellent. For 'Ordinary Blues' he swaps the Gold Top for an Ibanez hollowbody which gives a twangier lilt to his Cry Baby’s sobbing. Title track of the new album 'Gotta Get Home' is a slide and fingerpicking sensation that has Southern states Blues written all over it whilst new track 'Got A Thing Going On' allows Matt to show his rockier side back on the Gibson again. Closing track 'Set Me Free', played regularly on Planet Rock radio, morphs into Peter Green’s 'Oh Well', although with considerably more Funk. A tasty end to a delightful first course. Gotta Get Home? Not quite yet, we have main course to come.
In the event that the world was to witness a holocaust tonight, one surefire survivor will be tonight’s headline act Savoy Brown. Frontman Kim Simmonds formed the band in 1965 and is still rocking 55 years on. Now that’s what you call a survivor. And in that time over 60 different musicians have joined him on his journey. Although tonight he is accompanied by just two others - Pat DeSalvo on bass and Garnet Grimm on drums, both of whom have been with the band for over 10 years. But mere striplings compared to Kim.
Kim leads the band with his trusty Gibson 335 and Fender DeVille amp. Over his playing career he has played Teles Les Pauls, SG’s and Flying V’s but the hollowbody suits tonight’s Bluesier show. Held vertically in the wrinkled septuagenarians firm grasp, white locks flowing, the growl of the humbuckers match the growl of Kim’s voice. The pleasing growl of a seasoned vocalist. Opening track 'Guitar Slinger', from his 2017 album 'Witchy Feelin’ is a template for things to come - up tempo Blues guitar slinging. Whilst not flash, Kim certainly knows his licks and can still make the fretboard smoke when he wants to.
After regaling us with memories of local haunts that he used to play - memories of 1968 Chislehurst caves and the now sadly defunct Black Prince pub – he launches into an oldie – 'Train To Nowhere' allowing that 335 to really twang whilst 'Why Did You Hoo Doo Me' is an altogether dirtier Blues track taken again from the 'Witchy Feelin’ album. As is 'Livin’ On the Bayou', a slow Creole minimalist Blues track about the Louisiana swamp lands. It has a catchy slow riff which morphs into slow heavy Blues and an almost Jazz like solo. After a cover of Howling Wolf’s 'I Ain't Superstitious', we get some material from the new album 'City Night'. It’ not so much a gig as a history lesson. 'Walkin’ On Hot Stones' is an almost sleazy Rock track with a beat reminiscent of Bowie’s 'Jean Jeanie'. And some great slide too.
'I’m Tired' is a lighter hearted Kinks style track, written back in 1968 by Chris Youldon. It’s a twangy Rock guitar groover. Very '68. Psychedelic. No wonder - it has similarities to Shocking Blue’s 'Venus'. Kim now leaves the stage to allow some drum and bass (literally, not the genre) with Pat and Grimm both getting a chance to display their considerable solo skills. But Kim soon returns to launch into the slow intro to 'Slow Blues' - just Kim – incorporating all the various tones and sounds he can pull from the Gibsons pickups. As the song blossoms Kim picks up the harmonica for some delicate Blues which has the whole audience hushed. Delightful stuff. “Let’s do a boogie!” cries Kim before launching into the boogielicious 'Cobra'. We are back to toe tapping goodness and there’s even a further drum solo from Grimm. Which segways nicely into closing track 'Hellbound Train' with it’s simple metronomic beat that had me away on the footplate of a train going nowhere. The slow Blues built to a fine crescendo with the wha pedal mimicking the howling whistle. Rocking stuff.
After a brief sojourn the trio are back for a short but mighty encore with the eponymous Sayoy Brown 'Boogie' with a large dollop of 'Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On' thrown in for good measure. Rockin' Blues is alive and kicking and only 50 odd years in the making. And they said it would never last.
As we head back out into the night, I am relieved to see the world is still there despite the weather’s best efforts. But then it could have ended as I was far too absorbed in the music to have noticed otherwise. It was a fine night of classic Blues and Blues Rock. This is what the Rock music of today grew from, the ration book generation of Rock and Roll that rode that 'Hellbound Train'. Is it end of the world stuff? Well ‘Armageddin it’…
Savoy Brown setlist:
Train To Nowhere
Why Did You Hoo Doo Me
Livin’ On The Bayou
I Ain’t Superstitious
Walkin’ On Hot Stones
Savoy Brown Boogie/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On
Crazy World Of Arthur Brown
25th/26th January 2020
Nells Jazz & Blues, London
Arthur Brown is the God of Hellfire! Or so he claims at the beginning of his 1968 hit song 'Fire'! At the ripe old age of 77, he is still out there doing it! Born in Whitby on the 24thJune 1942, then moving to Leeds in time to attend school. Upon graduating from school he went onto study Law at the University of London, before dropping out and then moving to Reading University to study Philosophy. It was in Reading that Arthur formed his first band called ‘Blues and Brown’. They didn’t last very long, but Arthur was determined to continue to develop his musical experiences and so gravitated towards the bright lights of London town. Around 1965 Arthur was off to Paris, France, with the ‘The Arthur Brown Set’, featuring Fats Dean on bass, Martin Steer on guitar, Robin Short on keyboards and Christien De Vaux on drums. They were a typical R&B band of the day, playing mainly covers. What made them stand out from other acts were Arthur’s experimental flamboyant theatrical performances and his developing powerful, wide-ranging operatic voice. With his desire to grow as a performer and diversify from standard R&B, Arthur was back in London by 1966 and eagerly searching out bands to join. He was a temporary member of a London-based R&B/Soul/Ska group the Ramong Sound that would soon become the hit-making Soul group The Foundations. Not being creatively satisfied he moved on quickly to pastures new.
Brown ended up living at Mary Crampton’s Bohemian boarding house in West Kensington where he met a like-minded soul in the form of keyboard wizard Vincent Crane. Together they formed ‘The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’, being joined by drummer Drachen Theaker soon after. This is the point in time where all Arthur’s ambitions and visions would soon be realised. By the middle of 1967 they were gaining a formidable reputation as an exciting live act, being booked regularly by Joe Boyd to play the infamous UFO Club on Tottenham Court Road, London. With Arthur’s desire to present his work both visually interesting, as well as musically diverse, made him stand out as the unique and innovative performer he is. He would wear outlandish costumes, face paint and perform wild and crazy dances. His most famous trick to perform live was his flaming helmet routine that he would adorn when performing his hit song ‘Fire’. Very dramatic, quite shocking at the time and extremely dangerous! It was basically a metal colander strapped to the top of his head, containing rags soaked in methylated spirit and set alight! According to reports from the time, this stunt would go wrong regularly and Arthur would get badly burned! Arthur’s use of stage make-up and face paint was a major influence on bands such as Kiss and Alice Cooper, who would go onto great success. Arthur’s other unique and influential attribute is his wide vocal range, powerful operatic voice and his high-pitched screams. Several hugely successful Heavy Rock vocalists have sited Arthur as a primary influence including Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden and Ian Gillan from Deep Purple.
The Crazy World's first single 'Devils Grip' was released in 1967 and set the tone and mood for their short but dramatic musical journey. Their eponymously titled debut album ‘The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’ was released in June 1968 and managed to reach number two in the UK charts. It is definitely an adventurous Psychedelic masterpiece! The album was originally going to be called 'Tales From the Neurotic Nights of Hieronymous Anonymous'! A bit of a mouthful! Brown, Crane and Theaker were joined by Nick Greenwood on bass and John Marshall on drums for two songs. Produced by the Who's manager Kit Lambert, and executive-produced by Pete Townshend on Track Records. Lambert along with Chris Stamp would go onto manage the band. The single ‘Fire’ reached number one in the UK charts in August 1968. Originally adapted from a song called ‘Baby You’re a Long Way Behind’ by Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker, Brown and Crane used the melody and added new words and arrangement. Due to the similarity of both songs, Finesilver and Ker were added to the writing credits for ‘Fire’. The song stands up today and is still regarded as a wild and weird Psychedelic Rock masterpiece. Arthur describes the song as ‘Psychedelic Soul music’, as he considers himself a Soul singer in a Psychedelic band.
Due to Theaker's erratic time keeping and bitter attitude towards the band, he was fired in late 1968, to be replaced by drummer Carl Palmer, later of Atomic Rooster and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The root of Theaker's unhappiness stemmed from the fact that his drumming was not used on the first single 'Devil's Grip', the producer was not happy with Theaker's time keeping! Jon Hiseman was eventually drafted in for the job. Also, his drumming was deemed unusable on two tracks for the album, John Marshall being drafted in for 'I Put a Spell On You' and 'Child of My Kingdom'. Both Crane and Palmer left in June 1969 to form Atomic Rooster. In late 1969 Arthur assembled a new bunch of musicians and recorded the ‘Strangelands’ album. Deemed too weird and un-commercial by the record company, it was initially shelved, eventually seeing the light of day in 1988.
Brown being a forward thinking spiritual seeker, picked himself up and moved on in search of a new band to create new and interesting sounds with. In 1970 he formed ‘Kingdom Come’ with guitarist Andy Dalby. Their first album ‘Galactic Zoo Dossier’, released in 1971 featured Julian Paul Brown (synthesizer), Michael "Goodge" Harris (keyboards), Desmond Fisher (bass) and Martin "Slim" Steer (drums). Unfortunately the band didn’t remain stable for very long, by 1972 Julian Paul Brown and Desmond Fisher quit. Phil Curtis joined on bass in time for the release of the second album ‘Kingdom Come’. Martin Steer quit in late 1972, just before the release of the third and last album ‘Journey’. He was replaced by a drum machine! Apparently the first drum machine to be used on a Rock album. Michael Harris quit in 1973 to be replaced by keyboard and synthesizer player Victor Peraino. Kingdom Come live shows were a multi-media experience with innovative use of special effects, dramatic costumes and colourful theatrics. The band appeared at the 1971 Glastonbury Festival in Somerset, England, and featured in the Glastonbury Fayre film. Sadly the band had run its course by the end of 1973.
Brown released several solo albums over the latter half of the 70’s, including 'Dance' in 1975, 'Chisholm in My Bosom' in 1977 and 'Faster Than the Speed of Light' (with Vincent Crane) in 1980. Brown also made several guest appearances, including on Robert Calvert's 1974 album 'Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters'. In 1975, he appeared in the Who's Rock opera movie ‘Tommy’ as "The Priest". Later that year he contributed vocals to the song 'The Tell-Tale Heart' on the Poe-based concept album 'Tales of Mystery and Imagination' by the Alan Parsons Project. In 1979 and 1980, he collaborated with German electronic musician Klaus Schulze.
For most of the 80’s Brown lived in Austin, Texas, where his wife came from, and obtained a master's degree in counselling. While there he also started a painting and decorating business with the Mothers Of Invention drummer Jimmy Carl Black, with whom he also released an album in 1988 called 'Brown, Black & Blue'. Returning to England in 1996 he began to resurrect his musical career in the UK, making several guest appearances on other artistes albums including Bruce Dickinson's 'The Chemical Wedding' album, Kula Shaker's 'Mystical Machine Gun' single and The Pretty Things 1998 Abbey Road live performance of their 'S.F. Sorrow' album. He would go onto reprise his role of Narrator with the Pretty Things live at the Royal Festival Hall, London in 2001. Around 1997 Brown formed an acoustic band with Stan Adler (cello and bass) and Malcolm Mortimore (percussion) and produced the album 'Tantric Lover' in 2000. By 2003 Adler and Mortimore were out and in was Rick Patten (guitar) and multi-instrumentalist Nick Pynn. Patten didn't stay long and was soon replaced by guitarist Chris Bryant, they went on to record the 2003 album 'Vampire Suite' and the 2007 album 'The Voice of Love'. In 2001 and 2002, Brown made several guest appearances with Hawkwind, subsequently touring with them as a guest vocalist. He also provided vocals on two of the tracks on Hawkwind's 2005 album 'Take Me to Your Leader'.
On the 12thMarch 2005 Brown reunited with the surviving members of Kingdom Come for a one-off concert at The Astoria in London. Brown played three sets that night, an acoustic set with Chris Bryant and Nick Pynn, a Kingdom Come reunion set and an electric 'Crazy World' set with the band Instant Flight, who would later go on to tour with Brown. The flaming helmet trick rarely gets an outing at gigs these days due to Health & Safety regulations and venue logistics, but at the Astoria it was worn by Arthur during 'Fire'! Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden was the DJ for the evening, playing some of his favourite records between sets. This show won Brown the 'Showman of the Year' award from Classic Rock magazine. The concert was filmed, but sadly remains unreleased.
With a new steady line-up of the 'Crazy World', made up of members of the band Instant Flight, Brown toured the UK extensively, playing to packed-out venues including well received sets at the Glastonbury Festival in 2010 and the second High Voltage Festival in Victoria Park, London in 2011. This gig was recorded and released (on vinyl only) as 'The Crazy World of Arthur Brown Live at High Voltage'. In 2012, Brown and Rick Patten released 'The Magic Hat' alongside a comic of the same title by Matt Howarth. In 2013, as the result of a successful pledge campaign on PledgeMusic, Brown released the album 'Zim Zam Zim'. In June 2019 Brown joined Carl Palmer's ELP Legacy as guest vocalist on "The Royal Affair Tour". In between all this activity Brown managed to record a brand new Crazy World of Arthur Brown album entitled 'Gypsy Voodoo', co-written and produced by Mike Morgan.
The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown recently played two nights at Nells Jazz & Blues club in West Kensington, London. The first night sold out several months in advance and so a second night was added due to phenomenal demand. The second night was billed as the launch party for the new 'Gypsy Voodoo' album. Interestingly it was just a few streets away, at 14 Perham Road, where Arthur formed the Crazy World with Vincent Crane back in 1967. The support on the first night was from the sensational Rebecca Downes Band. A Midlands based Blues Rock band featuring Rebecca Downes on guitar and vocals, Steve Birkett on guitar, Vincent John Yarrington on bass, Nigel Darvil on keyboards and Neil Ablard of drums. Their blistering set included a selection of songs from their new album 'More Sinner Than Saint' including 'Take Me Higher', 'Wave Them Goodbye', 'Hurts', 'More Sinner Than Saint' and 'Big Sky', and a couple from their 2016 album 'Believe', including the title track and 'Sailing On A Pool Of Tears'. They also played a storming version of Zeppelin's 'Rock 'n' Roll'! Rebecca is a powerhouse vocalist with an impressive range and control. The band were smokin' hot, super tight and grooved with style and grace!
Brown stated that this would be an all-new presentation of his 'Crazy World', including new theatrical visuals, elaborate costumes and a new line-up of musicians. The band now features Sam Walker on drums, Jim Mortimore on bass/keyboards, Dan Smith on guitar/keyboards, and dancer Angel Fallon aka Angel Flame. Arthur was on top form, fully energized and totally owning the stage with his mesmerising performance. A truly spectacular show full of weird and wonderful moments! A tantalizing audio/visual trip with seductive lighting effects, enchanting stage projections, elaborate costumes, wild face-paint, strange headgear and scary masks! What a crazy world indeed! Angel Fallon provided some stellar choreography to accompany Arthur during several songs in the set. She has the ability to be able tell a story with her graceful and expressive dance moves. An exceptionally talented choreographer! Brown's singing voice has still got an impressive range, from a low howling snarling rumble to a full on screeching falsetto which he delivers with immense power and gusto! His extraordinary woad face paint was bewitching and demonic, with his variety of elaborate stage costumes and wild headgear being quite strikingly strange, completely eccentric, altogether avant-garde, totally over the top and utterly outlandish, but also quite beautiful and captivating!
The band sounded well rehearsed and executed the songs with unbridled passion and vigour! The set kicked off in style with some far-out Psychedelic exploration in the form of 'Bubbles' and 'Phoenix Rising', before the entire side one of the 1968 ‘The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’ album was played, including the songs 'Nightmare', 'Fire Poem', 'Fire', 'Come and Buy', 'Time' and 'Confusion'. Arthur was clearly enjoying himself, leaping, whirling and thrashing all over the stage whilst belting out the lyrics with the zeal and zest of a man half his age! Tall in stature and slim of build and quite obviously fit as a fiddle! The enticing 'Sunrise' from the 1971 Kingdom Come album ‘Galactic Zoo Dossier’ greeted us next. A cosmic and haunting performance with intense magisterial vocals from the Brown!
Proceedings slowed down a notch with the delectable and beautiful ballad 'The Voice Of Love', the title track from the 2007 album. 'Touched By All' from the 2013 album 'Zim Zam Zim', seduced us with its charm before 'Time Captives' was unleashed to transport us in outer space! Originally on the 1973 Kingdom Come 'Journey' album, this song is a trance inducing, hypnotizing slice of Space Rock that sent shock waves through our brains and throbbing in our ears! The performance was executed and delivered with skilful aplomb and electric precision. An uplifting and out of this world mind-blowing performance! The mood then took a slight twist and turn, with 'The Unknown' from the 'Zim Zam Zim' album, a sort of Bossa-Nova type song with some stunning and elegant dancing from Angel Fallon. Onto the final furlong with 'Devil's Grip', the first 'Crazy World' single released in 1967. An effervescent and sparkling performance! The last song of the set was 'Gypsy Voodoo', the title track from the new album. A brilliant slice of Heavy Rock with a ripping guitar riff and rousing chorus.
The second night saw Brown and band do two sets, the first set being the main theatrical performance we witnessed on the first night, and the second set being a more loose Blues/Soul jam session with special guests Phil May and Dick Taylor from the Pretty Things! May and Taylor opened the second set with a couple of acoustic Blues songs, 'I Can't Be Satisfied' and 'Come On In My Kitchen', before Brown and band came on and played several songs that were not played on the first night, including 'I Put A Spell On You', 'That's How Strong My Love Is', 'Eyesight To The Blind', 'Didn't It Rain’, 'Sinner Man', 'Muscle Of Love', 'Hoochie Coochie Man' and also a few other songs that they did play on the first night such as 'Devil's Grip' and 'Gypsy Voodoo'. Both May and Taylor joined them together and separately throughout the set. May was in good spirits and seemed to be really enjoying himself. Taylor weaved his Psychedelic guitar magic, playing some superb and blinding solos. The 'Crazy World' band were also having a blast, digging down and jamming hard. A triumphant conclusion to a thoroughly enjoyable two-night stint with The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown!
Steven C. Gilbert
Never The Bride
Saturday 8th February 2020
The Green Note, Camden, London
This was the third time I’ve seen Never The Bride live, having only discovered them over the last few years, and their stomping performance at the 2018 Ealing Blues Festival was a highlight, arguably stealing the best show of that weekend.
So, heading up on the Northern Line to Camden Town, I slip into the Rock famous pit stop of the ‘World’s End’ to grab a quick beer and large doses of Iron Maiden. This may not be the ideal for an intimate show that the Green Note venue provides, but it is traditional! A three-minute walk West to enter the Green Note, just past the Dublin Castle on the right, takes you into a cosy cellar brickwork room, and as it’s a sell-out tonight, you have to arrive early for seating.
The stage is probably best suited for two is party - four is a crowd, where Nikki and Catherine opt for the latter to provide an electric show. Drummer Fergus Gerrand is squeezed into the left-hand and guitarist Maxime Obadia seated right. Fergus has quite a CV touring with the likes of Duran Duran, Bryan Adams, Robert Plant to name a few, along with recording with Madonna, Sting and Peter Gabriel. Frenchman Maxime played in the James Morrison band, but is also a pianist and record producer in his own right.
The show is split into two sets the first based on their early releases ‘Betty’, ’2 into 1’ and the Bond themed ‘Living Tree’ covered by the one and only Shirley Bassey! Nikki often gets the Janis Joplin comparisons, helped along more so by covering ‘Mercedes Benz’ and ‘Piece Of My Heart’ with a dramatic heart touching rendition of ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’. The only song off their current album, ‘For Better For Worse’, is ‘Web Of A Stranger’ airing mid-set.
Part two opens with Catherine taking over the vocals and slipping on her 12-string guitar for ‘Mind How You Go’, which leads to a more up to date second half. Track of the night for me is the excellently titled ‘Don’t Trudge Mud In The House Of Love’ with it’s dirty Blues/Rock groove followed by ‘Young & Old’, ’The Girls Are Back In Town’ (No, not a Thin Lizzy spin), ’Loser’, Led Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ’Tiger Bay’ and ‘Life On Mars?’ for the encore. Entertainment accomplished and the crowd left thoroughly appreciative with what they’d experienced and a shot of Nikki’s tequila.
Personal favourite ‘Everywhere’ which I’d assumed was a standard set lister was not present, but songs can be requested to the band in advance via their Facebook site or their website and also go to
Thursday 30th January 2020
The Black Heart, Camden, London
Have you heard the one about the Scottish, Welsh and English band playing on the same bill... well that was the line-up this evening at the Black Heart. Glaswegians, Anchor Lane took this opportunity to launch their much-lauded new album 'Casino', a name chosen because they gave up their jobs to risk going "All in" and recording this debut.
Opening with an ominous, broody track similar in feel to a Black Rebel Motorcycle club tune, 'Dead Run' is about addiction, and set in motion an extremely fast-paced shorter set, a bit like listening to the opening four tracks of the Foo Fighters 'One by One' album. This is a band that just doesn't do slow-tempo.
Their guitar sound reminded me of Rage against the Machine married to the vocal influence of Soundgarden. Even the failed attempts of lead guitarist Lawerence O'Brien to play with his teeth (not realising he has unplugged his guitar in the process) with no sound coming out failed to quell the enthusiasm!
They concluded with 'Fame Shame' a song about the present vapid obsession with Reality TV and social media, touching on the same themes as 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' but will need to watch themselves because performances like these may see them having a brush with the fame.
Ivan De Mello
Saturday 8th February 2020
Hammersmith Apollo, London
This was one of those gigs that was eagerly anticipated and, boy, Beth Hart and her super tight band did not disappoint. There are very few performers that wear their heart on their sleeve quite as openly as this captivating singer, which created on this evening an atmosphere of intimacy that is rare, especially in a big old theatre like the Apollo. After Kris Barras had put in a solid performance, opening up again for the singer, as he had done on her last tour, playing as an acoustic duo with his keyboard player Josiah Manning switching to guitar, the lights dimmed and while the band strolled out on stage the star of the show made her way through the audience from the back of the stalls, singing ‘There in Your Heart’ unaccompanied, with breaks to hug audience members and generally create an inclusive vibe.
Dressed in a full-length white dress the lady then proceeded to deliver a fantastic set that while, naturally showcasing numbers from her superb recent album ‘War In my Mind’, included a selection from across her impressive back catalogue. As well as being an excellent singer, with a powerful voice that, while often given full range, never descended into the sort of screeching wail that is used by lesser vocalists as a proxy for genuine emotion. Her songs all have a story to tell, many of them introduced with a short explanation of their genesis. The lyrical content was also coupled with gorgeous melodies that were sung alternately from centre stage or from stage right, sat at the piano, which she played with a real freedom of expression.
For a four-piece band, often a three-piece when Beth moved away from the piano, the ensemble created a huge sound. Jon Nichols, changing guitar virtually every song, and favouring the low-slung guitar look, was especially impressive, providing a range of restrained accompaniment as well as unleashing strong, controlled solos when required, never overpowering the overall sound. Tom Lilly on bass and Bill Ransom on drums were rock solid and tighter than a pair of skinny jeans on chubby legs; the tightness of the band was displayed when the singer launched into the introduction to the title track of the current album, realised it was too fast, stopped and went straight into a slower pace in the space of two beats, with the rest of the band locked in without the slightest pause; seamless.
There were no slack moments and too many highlights to list them all but ‘Sister Dear’, also from the latest release was especially lovely. The haunting piano intro’ to ‘Baddest Blues’ from ‘Bang Bang Boom Boom’ and it’s build up to a tempestuous chorus was also memorable. Prior to a solo encore of one her signature cover versions (Tom Wait’s ‘Chocolate Jesus’ had featured earlier in the set), Etta James’ ‘I’d Rather Go Blind‘, the band had gathered together on chairs at the front of the stage to play some slightly different arrangements of four songs, including the excellent ‘Spanish Lullabies; and ‘Baby Shot Me Down’, which were all performed with aplomb. This was a great night of really entertaining and enjoyable music.
Friday 21st February 2020
Hammersmith Apollo, London
Dream Theater were a relatively late discovery for me.
Somebody passed me a ‘100 Greatest Guitar Solos of all Time’ list (and I say ‘list’ advisedly… this was waaaay before ‘playlists’), and tucked away at number 98 was ‘Under a Glass Moon’ (which I very soon found was from 1992’s ‘Images and Words’). The list itself was questionable (only one Alex Lifeson entry… at no 94, ffs), but it was well worth putting up with both the content and the order for this one introduction.
After devouring ‘Images and Words’ on the strength of ‘UaGM’ and being hungry for more, working back from the current album at that time (‘Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence’) led me to 1999’s ‘Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes from a Memory’. And from that point, DT shot up in my estimation, playing time and back-catalog expenditure.
I found out that the band comprised of founders John Petrucci (guitar), John Myung (bass), and Mike Portnoy (drums), along with James LaBrie (vocals) and Jordan Rudess (keyboards). I quickly confirmed what my untrained ears had already told me: that each of these guys is an absolute master of their craft, and are as well thought of by their peers as they are their fans. Portnoy of course left the band in 2010 in a very well documented departure before being replaced by Mike Mangini - another virtuoso drummer who at the time held a Professorship at the Berklee College of Music, where Petrucci, Myung and Portnoy first formed the band - initially called Majesty - whilst enrolled there as students some 25 years earlier.
Half of tonight’s two-set ‘evening with’ show celebrates the 20th anniversary of ‘Scenes’… for my money, one of the quintessential concept albums you could be fortunate enough to be familiar with: one (continuing) story from beginning to end presented as two ‘Acts’; track names prefixed with ‘scene’ references. The plot, in a nutshell, is similar to the Kenneth Branagh film ‘Dead Again’, but it’s a bit more than that. Musically, it’s (still) a complete tour de force. This was the band’s fifth album, and came after the relatively poorly received and oft-maligned ‘Falling Into Infinity’. Kinda like Rush with ‘2112’ following ‘Caress of Steel’, this was where DT told the record company execs to bugger off and count their beans while they wrote, recorded, and produced the album they wanted.
Scenes was also the first DT recording to feature keyboard maestro Jordan Rudess. DT had originally tried to recruit Rudess on the departure of original keyboardist Kevin Moore in 1994, but he decided instead on the Dixie Dregs, as the lesser time requirements for that tenure appeared more fitting to both his family life and solo work. The DT slot went to Derek Sherinian, who played on ‘Falling into Infinity’ and (prior to that) the excellent ‘A Change of Seasons’. However, Portnoy and Petrucci (along with Tony Levin) did manage to collaborate with Rudess during this period in Liquid Tension Experiment, producing two albums (and more output subsequently), which proved an undeniable chemistry to all three of them. This culminated in Rudess replacing Sherinian in 1999. After half a dozen pretty decent solo albums, Sherininan would of course resurface with Black Country Communion and, in the ironic and vaguely incestuous way of these things, with Portnoy in Sons of Apollo.
But I digress…
As well as being a 20thanniversary celebration of ‘Scenes’, this is also the promo tour for the current album, ‘Distance Over Time’ from which most of the remainder of tonight’s show is compiled with both tonight and tomorrow night’s shows being filmed for possible DVD release.
As with ‘The Colonel’ for 2017’s ‘Images and Words’ 25thAnniversary shows in 2017, another ‘Two Steps From Hell’ piece - ‘Atlas’ - is used to announce the band’s entrance. Spotlight on Petrucci as he spurns the track’s delicate intro and ploughs straight into the crunching riff of ‘Untethered Angel‘, the first of 5 tracks from ‘Distance Over time’. Straight from the off, we’re hit with the power and musicianship you’d expect. The synced keyboard/guitar solos and guitar/keyboard/bass runs are enthrallingly complex and flawless.
Tone duly set, next up is ‘A Nightmare to Remember’ (from 2009’s ‘Black Clouds and Silver Linings’). This is pretty much a suite in its own right, weighing in at over 16 minutes and showing both the heavy and quieter, more melodic side of DT. The tale of the car crash it recounts is apparently based on an actual childhood experience of Petrucci’s. I’ve seen this played a couple of times, and compared to Portnoy (as per the recording) and Mikael Akerfeldt (who guested when Opeth supported DT), James actually singing the ‘Day after day…’ section (like the vocalist he is) sounded a bit odd… I’m not a fan of the growly vocal, but I guess you get used to something just being there…
A quick welcoming chat from James (who has definitely got a lot more engaging at this sort of thing over the past few years) preceded a couple more from ‘Distance Over Time’ - ‘Paralyzed’ and ‘Barstool Warrior’ before ‘In the Presence of Enemies, Part I’ (from 2007’s ‘Systematic Chaos’). Together with ‘Part 2’ (from the same album), at over 25 minutes this would have been the longest piece DT have recorded if played back to back... as it is, the two parts are presented as the first and last tracks on their parent album and we are treated to just the comparative snippet that is the 9 mins of ‘Part 1’ tonight.
The first set closes with ‘Pale Blue Dot’, the closing track of ‘Distance Over Time’.
After what felt like an all-too-brief interval which was largely spent in the absolute carnage of bladder-stretching queues for the gents, there was barely enough time to indulge in the irony of buying another beer and taking our seats for the second set.
Tonight (indeed; this tour), in order to fully mark the milestone, we get ‘Scenes’ in totality. I’ve said before I am a great fan of complete album performances, and DT are no strangers to it themselves, with ‘Images and Words’ having had an ‘in full’ 25thanniversary outing in 2017, along with ‘The Astonishing’ on its promo tour in 2016. And that’s before you consider their ‘cover albums’ series (‘Master of Puppets’, ‘The Number of the Beast’, ‘Made in Japan’, and ‘Dark Side of the Moon’), which were all live performances – ‘DSotM’ being recorded in the very venue we’re back at this evening - oddly, my 6throw seat tonight is pretty much where I sat that evening in October 2005.
As I’ve alluded to, this album means a lot to me, and whilst the ‘Lives Scenes from New York’ rendition is great (and often watched), there’s nothing like seeing one of your favourite bands, live, knock one of your favourite albums completely out of the park. And I was clearly not alone… I’d say a good portion of the sell-out 3,500 (or thereabouts) crowd felt exactly the same way. Some of the audience singing, particularly on ‘Through My Words’ and ‘One Last Time’ was wonderful.
And that’s before we got to ‘The Spirit Carries On’. As well as more great singing, this also saw a sea of phones lit up and waved on high… made me nostalgic for when this used to be lighters, which you’d steadfastly hold aloft like an endurance test until your hand needed a burn dressing. Mind you, I’ve had no need to carry my trusty old Zippo for 10 years or so… one of those things that’s disappeared over the years, along with a waistline and a previously invincible tolerance to spicy food, and I have to say that the modern equivalent is just as visually effective and is admittedly less of an Elf ‘n’ Safety risk.
There was a lovely touch in ‘Through Her Eyes’ where, on the accompanying big screen, main character Nicholas wanders through a graveyard. Amongst the gravestones, there were some familiar names: Emerson…Squire…Zappa...Bowie…Cornell…Burton… and of course, Peart. Simple & touching… it’s reassuring to know that even our heroes have heroes.
After ‘Finally Free’ (with some very off-piste patterns in the closing section from Mike Mangini - God knows how the rest of the band managed to keep time), the band left the stage temporarily before returning to encore with ‘At Wit’s End’ from ‘Distance Over Time’.
Difficult to pick any highlights from what was, in essence, one bloody big highlight, but ‘Overture 1928’ and ‘The Dance of Eternity‘ might just edge themselves forwards for me personally… but the whole rendition was characteristically flawless.
The spirit certainly carries on.
Atlas (Two Steps From Hell)
A Nightmare to Remember
In the Presence of Enemies, Part I
Pale Blue Dot
Act 2: Metropolis, Part 2: Scenes From a Memory
Act I: Scene One: Regression
Act I: Scene Two: I. Overture 1928
Act I: Scene Two: II. Strange Déjà Vu
Act I: Scene Three: I. Through My Words
Act I: Scene Three: II. Fatal Tragedy
Act I: Scene Four: Beyond This Life
Act I: Scene Five: Through Her Eyes
Act II: Scene Six: Home
Act II: Scene Seven: I. The Dance of Eternity
Act II: Scene Seven: II. One Last Time
Act II: Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On
Act II: Scene Nine: Finally Free
At Wit's End
Myke Gray + Kim Jennett,
The Howling Tides
Sunday 23rd February 2020
The Undeworld, Camden
Sunday used to be a day of worship. Shops were shut, and it was a day of rest, a day of religious observance and abstinence from work spent at home in the company of loved ones. A day to observe the Sabbath - still my favourite Rock band. But not these days, which is why yours truly braved the potential hell and damnation of my irreverence by travelling to my favourite underground rocking den of iniquity, the Underworld in Camden Town, London NW1. Although no thanks to the striking tube drivers who clearly take their aversion to work on a Sunday more seriously than I do. It may have been the country’s devotion to religious niceties, or the feeling of solidarity with the oppressed workers on the Bakerloo Line, but the small club was somewhat sparse of patrons for the night’s proceedings. Which is a shame because they missed a cracker. Opening the evening were The Howling Tides, a Hard Rock band hailing from the Midlands. Taking influence from legends of Rock, Metal, Blues and beyond, the young quartet have already had some experience, sharing line-ups with the likes of The Dead Daisies, Crazy Town, RavenEye, Bad Touch, and many more.
Frontman Rob Baynes looks like a baby Chris Hemsworth (stop swooning ladies) with long blond straggly curls and trim beard to match. Sporting a battered Strat, pumping some rocking vibes through an Orange amp, his strong voice suggests a knowledge of Rock, Blues, Soul and even Gospel. Howling by name and howling by nature. But with the combination of Hayden Kirk’s Melody Maker, replete with P90’s through a Marshal Plexi, the sound is raunchier. Almost thoughtful Punk. And the band are full of attitude as they bounce around the stage lapping up the occasion. Although Rock by nature, tracks like 'Cheap Painkiller', with Luke Lawleys sludgy bass, are Heavy Rock but with a hint of Rap. Younger bands today are clearly influenced by the music of their generation. And the music is fresher and more vibrant for it. With new material due out shortly, we were treated to a new untitled track known simply as '12/8', so named after the time signature. This has a lovely chuggy rhythm from Kirk’s MM, ably measured by Steven ‘Herbie’ Herbert on drums while Baynes takes lead duties with the aid of a wah pedal. Next up, another new track called 'Fortune Never Favours' is an altogether different song as the tempo is slowed and Kirk’s snarling P90’s are almost completely tamed. With soulful vocals, unusual chords and key changes and a change in tempo, it’s in stark contrast to the rest of the set. Kirk’s solo is excellent with some nice feedback tastefully applied. 'Talia' brings us back to chugging aggressive goodness again followed by 'White Crow', which apparently is about Kirk’s father who is ‘a total wreck head'. Sounds painful to me unlike the solo which wasn’t your usual pentatonic perambulation which made a nice change. Closing with the fuzz laden 'He Told Me', with singalong shout out "Your days are numbered" the band showed that their days are indeed clearly numbered. But it looks like that is a very large number. I hope so.
Myke Gray - the founder and songwriter of Skin, Jagged Edge and Red White & Blues - and Kim Jennett are one of those unusual matches that just seems to work. Myke discovered Kim through Facebook, from a humble video of her singing some Blues to an acoustic guitar in a Uni house kitchen. They met up and jammed together and Myke now writes and produces Kim’s solo work. Kim made her name as the whirling dervish that was 'The Voodoo Woman' fronting the sadly defunct Voodoo Blood. So now putting the effervescent songstress in front of the Rock and riff ensemble fronted by Myke, and you get a powerful Rock ensemble. Gray's ensemble sport a subdued black attire whilst the man himself adorns himself in black and white, like a monochrome harlequin. Black and white waistcoat complements odd black and white shoes with contrasting black and white laces. And of course a black and white Les Paul into a pair of Marshal JVM's. But if his appearance is two tone, his sound isn’t. His playing is tasteful, with no gratuitous shredding, yet runs the gamut of Hard Rock to Soul to ballads with equal assurance. Kim, by contrast, is a brilliant dash of colour, with her long black hair, black leather jacket and boots offset by bright red leopard skin trousers - a trademark pattern for the Manchester born lass. And complementing this is strong red eye makeup giving her a demonic look - perhaps a nod to her personal demons which she successfully channels into the powerful force that is her stage persona. Entering the stage to the strains of Queen's 'We Will Rock You', which the small crowd take up in joyous expectation, the stage erupts with the first of many tracks from Myke's repertoire, 'Stand Up For Rock And Roll'. There are no seats at the Underworld so we duly did. Glenn Quinn on rhythm guitar and Colin Parkinson on bass provide a strong rhythm section, and backing harmonies for a G'n'R style Rock track. Throughout the set the influences are clear. Kim’s leather jacket is discarded as her cavorting performance heats up both her and the audience, helped in no small part by the skimpy black top underneath, intricate tattoos down her right arm, and hugely warming charm.
'Let Me Be The One' again has Kim dancing like a whirling dervisher screaming lyrics whilst we get a battering from Myke's guitar. Kim works the crowd well who are happy to respond. Especially one individual at the front - there's always one - who clearly wants to join the band. But he is no match for the mighty Mancunian. Only short in stature, and with a childlike quality to her voice, this girl is a Spitfire. Mess with her and you are going down in flames like an ME-109. Although on 'Love Like Suicide', the first of many Skin tracks, the tempo slows and her childlike vocal qualities are more evident. Although she displays a childlike vulnerability, the strong woman is never far away.
Back to the rocking again for 'Psycho', although monitor issues cause Myke to vent his spleen at the hapless soundman - front of house the sound was fine. 'House Of Love', a slightly more Pop Skin track sees the issue fixed, so whilst Neil Ogden batters the gold drum kit, Kim wiggles around the stage as a sultry red eyed seductress. Although a demonic one. Rhythm guitarist Quinn swaps his Les Paul, also plugged into matching Marshall JVM's, for a Strat with a hotrails in the bridge, for some Country twang at the intro to 'Stronger'. But it soon turns into a good time old school Rock and Roll number before Myke switches to a Tele (white with a black scratch-plate obviously…) for 'Counts For Nothing', one of his Red White & Blues numbers. Starting with an arpeggio, accompanied solely by Parkinson's bass, the song builds into a Zeppelin like chugging Blues monster which gives Myke the chance to show his wah playing solo skills whilst the demure Kim crouches down to sing provocatively at eye level with the enraptured crowd. The song's growing crescendo ends abruptly to leave Kim to finish off the last few bars with her clear plaintiff voice. The white Tele is swapped for a similarly coloured Flying V for 'Colourblind' with a staccato guitar intro which leads into some choppy Pop Rock whereas 'Take Me Down' is a headbanging chugging Rock riff monster overlaid with Myke's intricate fingerpicking and full band backing on vocals. Kim forays out on to a small balcony to balance precariously above the crowd, posing for photos to a powerful Rock backing. Okay, it’s only 3 feet off the ground but that’s a long way up for some people. And it didn’t stop her jumping into the crowd to Rock along amongst them. Which is slightly ironic when she takes the time to ‘get serious a minute’ before the opening of 'Look But Don’t Touch', a song that highlights her concern about inappropriate unwanted behaviour suffered by younger female fans. The title says it all. Girl Power and #MeToo are finally starting to make a difference but there is still a long way to go. The song itself has a funky ‘Addicted To Love’ style groove. 'Tower Of Strength' sees Myke back on the Tele again for a slower, heavy bass power ballad with Kim alternating between the precarious balcony and the full on Rock with your foot on the monitor pose we all love. Closer 'Shine Your Light' sees the Flying V appear again, with all its Heavy Rock goodness. But the track weaves its way between and Aerosmith 'Sweet Emotion' drone, into quasi-Gospel into full God forsaken Rock. Kim jumps back into crowd for a mosh before ending with unaccompanied vocals. Top stuff.
After a very brief sojourn, the band are back for a blistering 4 track encore. 'Tripping' sees a waft of dry ice herald Myke’s Tele create the slow ballad with vocal Harmonies. Subdued and understated almost, his wah solo feels almost sad. 'You Don't Love Me' on the other hand is a squealing guitar 80's vibe rocker. The 80's style solo on the Flying V says it all. Myke takes the time to speak to thank all his band, management, soundmen ("sorry about my behaviour earlier..") and the fans of course, many of whom he picks out form the audience by name. 'I Get Up" sees Myke back on his Black Les Paul, and Quinn on a similar Tokai, giving that twin Rock guitar sound with Myke on vocals. It’s 12 bar Rock and Roll with attitude, a rolling drumbeat and Kim doing a very good Kill Bill Uma Thurman impression. They end with 'Take Me Home', all foot stomping Rock and Roll, with Kim the pouting seductress, the crowd chanting "Rock and Roll" and a no shred solo. Kim dives back into crowd to use the last of her considerably energy to mosh with the fans to the final licks of Myke’s shred finish. High fives all round for a job well done.
Back out into the night to face the uncertainties of a journey home, I ponder, as always, the night’s entertainment. It’s been another night of great entertainment, with two great acts. It’s at this time that I realise that my Sunday analogy has another poignant link. Be it churches or gig venues, they are closing at an alarming rate and tonight’s congregation are too small to maintain these venues. Thankfully, whilst our religious attendances are on the decline, the music audiences continue to grow. So please continue to worship your musical gods at your local shrine, and support the divine inspiration our rocking deities give us. I’m heading for a quiet word with my lords on my headphones but hopefully I will see you at a pulpit of power sometime soon. Rock on.
Stand Up for Rock 'n' Roll (Red White & Blues song)
Let Me Be The One
Love Like Suicide (Skin song)
House of Love (Skin song)
Counts For Nothing (Red White & Blues song)
Colourblind (Skin song)
Take Me Down to the River (Skin song)
Look But Don't Touch (Skin song)
Tower of Strength (Skin song)
Shine Your Light (Skin song)
Tripping (Skin song)
You Don't Love Me
I Get Up
Take me Home
Goo Goo Dolls
Thursday 27th February 2020
The Roundhouse, Camden, London
It’s Thursday night in Camden Town and just a little north of the market area is the Roundhouse venue hosting US Melodic Rockers the ‘Goo Goo Dolls’. Warming up proceedings are the 4-piece UK rockers ‘Valeras’ 2 girl/2 boy outfit, who softly build up their half an hour slot and find themselves well received by the Doll’s audience.
The ‘Goo Goo Dolls’ are on their 2020 album ‘Miracle Pill’ tour some 34 years on since vocal/guitarist Johnny Rzeznik and bass/vocalist Robby Takac formed the band. Tonight is a 21 song set while only airing five songs from the latest release, opening with ‘Indestructible’ while airing ‘Miracle Pill’, ’Fearless’, ’Life’s A Message’ and ‘Autumn Leaves’ later.
The band obviously know their fan base that wants the favourite numbers from over the years and there is a varying age of punters in the place tonight who got what they wanted. The big hitters like ‘Name’, ’Naked’, ‘Slide’, ’Home’, and for me, the tune of the night ‘Big Machine’ from the ‘Gutterflower’ album - were all enthusiastically received in the house.
‘Iris’you cry? Yes, the penultimate song of the evening extended with this crowd participation sing-a-long, ending with ‘Broadway’ also off 1998’s ‘Dizzy Up The Girl’ long player! Not uncommon nowadays is the end of the planned encore, especially when you’ve given the people what they want, hence the band departs and the lights come on. Basically it’s job done all round and a job done well.
Molly Karloff, Spidervayne,
Black Tree Vultures
Thursday 27th February 2020
The Black Heart, Camden, London
Molly Karloff held their EP Launch Party last Thursday night at London's The Black Heart in Camden with awesome support from Spidervayne and Black Tree Vultures. 'Supernaturalation' is due to be released this Friday 6th March, and it follows the hard-hitting, three-piece British Alt-Rock, Grunge Rock band's critically acclaimed debut EP, 'Dancing for Money', in 2018. In the meantime, the Oxfordshire based band have toured their contagiously hook-filled, fist pumping sound around the country, including packed venues across Oxfordshire and, indeed, London’s Camden Town.
The best nights out are often the ones at short notice and when I got the call for a Wrinkly Rockers group night out, I couldn’t resist! Three WRC reviewers and a photographer (Bruce Biege). We order a round of Camden Hells (well we are in Camden after all) at the bar downstairs, still discussing who was going to review which band. I thought I’d pulled the long straw by claiming the Molly Karloff review, mainly because I had already had a cheeky little listen to them on Spotify on the train up to Camden and was rather impressed with their single ‘She Said' As it turned out, I don’t think there was a short straw in the pack as all three bands were pretty awesome.
So the three amigos made our way upstairs to the appropriately painted venue totally black of course, rather claustrophobic and very loud as Spidervayne ripped into their first song. I say ‘loud’ but my gig notes say something a little more Anglo Saxon beginning with ‘F’ so when I spotted a glass bowl of free ear-defenders on the bar, I grabbed a couple for myself. Another co-reviewer (whose blushes I shall save by not naming him!) thought this was a great idea, so grabbed a few too. The only difference being that he was hungry and the multi-coloured foamy things look a bit like sweeties, so he placed them into his mouth rather than his ears! Due to the volume of the music and my inability to speak because of the laughter tears rolling down my cheeks, it took several long chews before he realised the error of his ways! Easy mistake to make!
Anyway, we digress. Essex-based Metallers Spidervayne open the evening with a short but bone-crunching set, beginning with a track called 'Skinwalker': legend has it that the Skinwalker in Navajo mythology is a harmful witch that morphs into animal forms bringing destruction in its wake, which quite frankly is the kind of lyrical content that suits this group's Heavy-Rock style. Influences such as Alice in Chains are unabashedly celebrated with a cover of 'Sea Of Sorrow', where Danny Murphy provides a grittier grungier take and perhaps reveals a window to recent personal hardships. Lead guitarist Mitchell 'Faz' Farrington maintains enough of a Bluesy-style to his playing to keep the sound the right side of melodic. This is punctuated by 'Sundance' a beautiful slice of Folk-Rock which provides a gentler perspective to the set which is then followed up by the recent single 'Spider Brain', continuing with the spider-theme but no less compromising in its dark material. This heady set is then finished off with the track 'Live to Rock' which is a driving anthem and the perfect way to energise the crowd for what was to come next.
South coast four-piece Rock/Metal band Black Tree Vultures have been on our radar ever since our esteemed colleague Wrinkly The Silver Fox saw them last August at Bournemouth's Chaplin's & The Cellar Bar, and duly reported back they "were frankly brilliant". Fast forward three months later to HRH 13 and Mother's take that "the energetic Hard Rockers were performing a great set to a packed crowd." Time to check out for myself then what all the fuss is about, as the band, consisting of Celyn Beynon (lead vocals), Aaron “Ham” Hammersley(lead guitar), Ched “Cheese” Cheeseman (bass) and Jonno Smyth (drums) are tonight a very welcome meat in Molly Karloff's EP Launch Party sandwich. Opening with 'Downfall' - their raw sound that screams power saw the swelling audience immediately jumping to attention thanks to Beynon's Monster Truck like vocal plus Cheeseman's mean bass solo, before launching straight into the rousing riff and attitude of 'Thanks For The Memories' from their first EP 'Sanity Isn't Perfect', with the crowd already singing along with their hands in the air, mesmerised by Celyn's tongue gymnastics. Beynon's camouflage hat was also doing exactly what it said on the tin, as he all of a sudden materialised alongside me, and after a warm embrace he jumped back on stage for 'Veins' - Hammersley's hot guitar solo in keeping with the venue's rising temperature.
"London Town thank you" Celyn exclaimed before the Sabbath sounding 'No More Empathy' - the second track from their second 'Self Titled' EP - kept up the momentum with a few "hey, hey, heys", complemented by Beynon's manic laughing, followed by the first track of that very same EP, 'Bitter', this time with some "yeah, yeah, yeahs" all underpinned by another awesome riff. Like its apt title, 'Unforseen' saw a great vocal from Jonno, whilst, Celyn then paid a poignant tribute to his bandmates for being there for him in troubled times, before the Proggier 'RBTTD', which fittingly saw Beynon momentarily depart the stage to showcase his compadres. Their penultimate track was the bands first release of 2020, their brand new powerhouse of a single 'Pull Apart', a great stomper and head banger of a tune. "Are you still with us? Did we do a good job warming you up?” Beynon joked. “Yes!” came the obvious response from the audience. Cue their closer 'Devil' with its awesome chorus, Celyn requesting "Give me a yeah!" one final time before once again jumping off the stage to thank their entire Vulture "family" individually with some fist bumps and hugs! Suffice to say that Black Tree Vultures are one of those few bands that are even better live - so make sure you catch them when they return to London for a Long Good Friday at The Birds Nest on 10th April.
Although loud and with my ears protected, the sound quality at the Black Heart is still pretty good, and hats off to the sound engineer, she did a pretty good job balancing the power from the bands without distorting the melodies. I won’t steal the thunder or repeat the other reviewers, but I really enjoyed the four piece Spidervayne and their charismatic bassist. We had a good chat after the gig and certainly enjoyed their company as well as their music. As I did Black Tree Vultures, again very charismatic and again, good music. Personally, I was very warm as there were a few Wrinkly Rockers having a bit of boogie in the aisles! And why not, we were having a bit of fun! It’s a Wrinkly night out!
Last up were Molly Karloff, who claim to be like Boris Karloff’s belligerent granddaughter, hence the name! And they look the part, Jowie Adkins on drums has blue hair, wearing white sun glasses and red trousers. Dan Podbery on bass is nicknamed the Nikki Sixx of TK Max by the band and with his long hair and black leather waistcoat I can see why. But he shares every emotion in his face as he plays through the set list. Simon Gee on guitar and lead vocals has a close cut black beard, darkened eyes and black nail varnish as he launches into ‘Dancing For Money’ the song that launched their career, powerful crunchy riffs and the trademark ‘wah pedal’ on the solos. The songs are gritty and powerful with a deep growling bass, albeit played with a smiling face and soulful melodic vocals!
These guys are pretty photogenic and there is a scrum of photographers milling around at the front of the stage, almost like a pseudo mosh pit! There is more noise coming from this three piece than I expected. That’s good, with the Black Heart sound system keeping the room vibrating in time with the powerful rhythm. Following on from the title track of the EP, they play their last single ‘She Said’ which has quite rightly got quite a lot of air play and attention from the media. Wah pedal twisted riff and a catchy melody, this is pretty good stuff. The band tell me that they have a "would you buy this" rule when writing material, and I definitely would. All of the bands were good and with a few festival dates in the Summer it wouldn’t take much to launch these guys into the big time. Definitely ones to watch and very good company as we distract them from clearing up at the bar at the end and grab a few group photos to evidence a very enjoyable WRC Night Out!
Ivan De Mello, AJ and Chris Bourlet
Vex Red + Souer
Saturday 29th February 2020
O2 Academy Islington, London
Vex Red completed their UK headline tour at London's O2 Academy Islington on Leap Day, including excellent support from Grunge-Pop band Sœur, pledging to plant more than 500 trees with the proceeds from the tour and merchandise sales in 2020. Their latest single 'Air' is taken from last year's 'Give Me The Dark' EP, via Say Something Recordings. It’s the first collection of new music that the band have released since their debut record 'Start With A Strong And Persistent Desire' back in 2002.
Worcester raised, Bristol based, dual-fronted, three-piece Souer, describe themselves as "making Pop songs drenched in Grunge-Heavy noise, with a smidge of Math-Rock seeping through the seams." With former Maybeshewill drummer James Collins sandwiched in between dual guitarist/vocalists Tina Maynard and Anya Pulver, they took girl power to an industrial level of colossal proportions, as Maynard smiled sweetly, before the band launched into the epic heavy riffage of the single and title track off their 2016 EP 'No Fire'. Pulver then took over the reigns on vocals and guitar on 2017 single, again from 'No Fire' - 'Left Living' - with delightful dual harmonies and not a bass in sight. After Anya amusingly looked at her mobile to check their setlist (seriously), the band continued their yearly increment with 2018 single 'Track Back' - taken from their previous EP 'Fight', effortlessly interacting with the appreciative crowd on a few "wooooh, woooooh, woooooh's", on this instrumentally perfect track. Despite the fact that the venue was bloody freezing, given the dry ice testing before Souer came on, their incendiary opening was certainly warming the Academy punters up, although the gentler opening and harmonies of 'Better' off their latest EP 'No Show', soon gave way for another stand-out Zep like heavy riff.
The bearded Collins was indeed tying everything down, and his sticks intro on the heavy 2019 single 'Don't - another from 'No Show' - again showed their undoubted creativity without being Metal, its riff complemented by both great guitar and vocal harmonies, proving that that they not only look good but play real good as well. The really cool Rock 'n' Roll of 'Slow Days' was one of only four great tracks played from 2017 EP 'What Separates Us', before Tina thanked us for coming out early to support support bands, as they played their penultimate number, 'Do What I Want' (taken from both 'No Show' and 'No Fire') - a really sensual and cleverly constructed song, with not only blonde Tina and blue rinsed Anya swapping vocals, but we also witnessed them getting some awesome harmonies out of their respective, growling, combative Red Fender Telecaster American Standard and Rainbow Les Paul Zoot Suit guitars. After a deserved plug for their merch stand, followed by a Creed like guitar intro, it was time for their closer - the title track from their previous EP 'Fight'. Its driving drums, spoken vocal and Punk energy built and built, leaving you gagging for an angst guitar riff, and sure enough - boom - they delivered! A fresh vibe, cool beat and lyrics - totally synonymous with their brutal, soulful assault on our senses in a very impressive set.
To be honest, despite their 2002 debut, Vex Red have surprisingly only been on my radar since I came across their single 'Tarantula' from last year's EP. So it was a pleasant surprise, not only to learn that the band, comprising of vocalist/guitarist Terry Abbott, guitarist/keys Ant Forbes, guitarist Nick Goulding, bass guitarist/programming Keith Lambert and drummer Dave Neale, were not only playing the larger, downstairs venue at the O2 Academy. Islington, but there was also a healthy turn out from their long-time devoted faithful as well. Indeed, it was Red by name and red by nature as the dry ice again went into overdrive, combined with the red lighting, creating an appropriately atmospheric background for heavy opener 'Dahlia', although I don't think our photographer Bruce was best pleased! Surprisingly no keys as yet, but the tearing guitar solo from Goulding on 'Clone Jesus', who not only looks like Marillion axeman Steve Rothery, but also plays like him, more than made up for this, as this song from 'Start With A Strong And Persistent Desire' built into a glorious climax.
It might have been because of the dry ice that he couldn't see anyone, or that he's just a man of few words, but the pony-tailed Abbott briefly said "Hello", before the band played the soaring sonic heights of 'So I Can Sleep' - think The Pineapple Thief - which was really well received, thanks to another great solo from Goulding, the first track of the night taken from their latest EP 'Give Me The Dark'. Step forward Ant Forbes on keys on the more up-tempo 2000 demo 'Tired', with some cool drumming from Dave Neale plus its great riff, and then again back to 'SWASAPD' for the heavy and atmospheric 'The Closest', with some electronic programming thrown in for good measure by Keith Lambert. Terry wasn't still saying much, however, we forgave him for his Chris Martin-esque vocal on the delicate and tranquil soundscapes of ‘Lake’, another from 'GMTD' with its delightful Floydish sounding intro and distinctive drum beat from Neale, whilst cheers rang out around the Academy from their faithful as they recognised the opening to the slower 'Unititled' from 'SWASAPD', with another killer combination of vocals and keys, leading into another Goulding guitar solo. Neale's drum intro on 'Itch' heralded another sonic assault on our ears, with the baseball capped guitarist Forbes stepping up to the plate and not holding back, as was the case with another 'SWASAPD' track (and 1999 demo) 'Sleep Does Nothing For You'.
After a bit of banter from Terry with the assembled troops, the band played 'I Am Weightless', a Septembre cover and a real express train of a track, before returning back to 'GMTD' and the thoughtful and relentless 'Burn This Place' (also a 2016 single), with its Thirty Second To Mars vibe, cool keys, great harmonies and a military drum roll, all emphasising a rich Academy sound system. With the added weight of the infectious 'Tarantula' (the first single I heard off of 'GMTD'), Abbott's introduction of closer 'Can't Smile' from 'SWASAPD' that "You might know this song - fingers crossed" was received with shrieks of delight as the crowd favourite was explosively despatched with an emotional intensity, unwavering precision plus a fitting singalong. The deserved encore consisted of three songs - 'Guillotines' a beautiful new song written a week or so ago, with Abbott's vocal solely accompanied by Forbes' delightful keys, the head banging and stand out track from 'GMTD' - 'Air', and finally the title track from 'Start With A Strong And Persistent Desire' - a loud and proud microcosm of the preceding set - wow! Seventeen years is a long time but the the Aldershot Hard Rock band have picked up exactly where they left off, blending atmospheric electronics with gritty and expansive guitars to deliver their signature punch. Tonight, Vex Red delivered every aspect of their sound that fans, new and old have come to know and love. A triumphant return to old glories.
Thursday 20th February 2020
Original Ealing Club, London
When I worked in Ealing, a few years ago, I must have passed the dingy stairwell at least a thousand times of what is the most important venue in British R&B and not even known it was there, so inconspicuous it is. The Red Room, formerly known as The Ealing Club, as legend would have it, is the place that the Rolling Stones had formed and the place where dozens of mega-famous Rock musicians cut their teeth (Alex Korner, Cyril Davies, Cream, Graham Bond, to name but a few, apparently even David Bowie visited on one occasion). In fact, Ealing, or more accurately nearby Hanwell, was the site of the original Marshall Amp shop and the birth place of the drummer of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Mitch Mitchell.
The bill tonight was an exciting blend of Blues-scene stalwarts: the Paul Cook Blues band, Emma Wilson and Robert Hokum; relative newcomers in Half Moon Panic; and Chicago grandee Jim Kahr headlining. Paul Cook’s Band pretty much hold these monthly revues together as they warmed up the evening with some Blues standards, with delightful harmonica playing from Dave Hallam.
Half Moon Panic have only been together eighteen months but are accomplished musicians in their own right and gel very well. The vocalist Gerard Jacques managed to overcome the mangled tuning of the microphone on their stirring rendition of ‘Fortunate Son’; the microphone adding an almost tape-slap effect that made it sound like a studio recording from the sixties. Nights are always special when accidents happen like these.
Emma Wilson, who hails from Teesside, provides a soulful turn with series of covers including songs from Etta James and Aretha Franklin. The show-stopper is her take on 'Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone' with a melancholic feel which betrayed a genuine empathy, perfectly channeling Bill Withers.
Robert Hokum changes the mood with his light tone and regales the crowd with his tales of life on the London Blues circuit. 'Why the Hell was I not Born Rich?' was followed by a offer to shower the stage with gold coins from a member of the audience, which prompted another anecdote about a one-time gig where a Blues legend received a coin from an enthusiastic fan which he immediately bit into and then threw away prompting Robert to launch into the number 'Cash is Trash'.
Onto the main-man himself, Jim Kahr, who’s playing was simply magnificent, with more Soul in his finger-tips then many lesser Blues guitarists have in their entire bodies (rumour has it he played with John Lee Hooker at his peak). He invited Emma Wilson back to accompany him on a jam about his homeplace, Chicago, which quickly morphed into a paean to Ealing, and then all the musicians on the bill gathered and joined in for the rousing finale.
Which leaves me with a quick note about Ealing and the documentary ‘Suburban Steps to Rockland’: I was fortunate enough to bump into one of the producer’s Alistair Young, and he discussed the making of it and some of the famous collaborators that they interviewed (Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce and a whole host). So I urge you, if you have at least a small inkling of the history of R&B in the UK and more the foundations of the 60's and 70's Rock boom, to beg, steal, borrow or better still buy the documentary ‘Suburban Steps to Rockland: The Story of the Ealing Club' on DVD.
Ivan De Mello