+ The Brink + Big River
Thursday 9th May 2019
Marco boxes clever on this continuation of last year’s ‘Viva La Rock’ tour by bringing in two differing support acts that made for an excellent evening’s entertainment. Up first Kent’s Big River steadily making a name for themselves on the Blues/Rock circuit with a well-executed showcase followed by The Brink, a young energetic band with a hard driven Rock set.
Marco arrives to the stage weaving himself through the crowd to the intro, almost Angus Young style, hitting the stage to open with ‘Viva La Rock’. Leaving his two earlier albums behind with their more Jazz fused Rock, the present album brings a distinct David Lee Roth sound and feel and we are treated to a few cover versions of acts that Marco has played with over his career. Thin Lizzy’s ‘Chinatown’ and Ted Nugent’s ‘Hey Baby’ are two that are covered on both the album and in his live set.
From his current band the Dead Daisies he performed ‘Mexico’, Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ and to our surprise, the Plastic Ono’s Band ‘Give Peace A Chance’, breaking the pace mid-set. ’Burned’ and ‘Sweet Emotion’ are two of top tunes from the ‘Viva La Rock’ album obviously on the must play list and all were performed superbly by his three-piece band. The crowd went home thoroughly entertained and some, shaking their heads all evening, may have sore necks!
The Borderline, London
Saturday 11th May 2019
Despite walking past the Borderline innumerable times over the years, normally en-route to the Hercules, just around the corner, I hadn’t been inside since the early 1990’s when I caught one of the last performances by Albert Collins there. It was a pleasure to be back in the intimate venue, although in the light of the sad news of the venue’s closure this August, it doesn’t look like the experience will be repeated. It was a good job therefore that the performance by the engaging Serbian born guitarist was a memorable one. It was the first time I’d seen her live and didn’t know what to expect; her striking promotional photos and album covers indicated that the lady was not afraid to display a confident, alluring image, and as she strode out on the low stage after her red hot band had cooked up a snappy groove on opening number ‘Ana’s Blues’, it was clear that she must spend as much time down the gym as she does practising scales.
Sporting 5-inch heels and a slit skirt with a flat as an ironing board bare midriff, her long blonde hair falling around her shoulders, the guitarist presented a powerful visual image, which was backed up by equally impressive musical chops. She certainly knew her way around the fretboard of her various Stratocasters, playing fluid and lightning fast runs. While her influences may have originated in the Blues, almost none of the songs she played had a standard Blues chord structure. ‘Can You Stand the Heat’, the title track of her 2013 album, and ‘Object of Obsession’, set the scene for the rest of the evening - funky beats and a busy bassline with the two-man horn section bang on the money with their brass stabs and tight riffs, over which Ana played some flowing, extended lead lines.
Six tracks in a row followed from 2016’s ambitious triple concept album ‘Trilogy’, providing a Jazzy feel to proceedings, especially on ‘Train’ and ‘New Coat of Paint’, allowing her strong voice to shine through over the smooth backing. The energy level was high throughout the evening but after the sophistication of the ‘Trilogy’ songs the temperature went up another notch with ‘How’d You Learn to Shake It Like That’ and some sizzling slide work from the star of the show. ‘Like it On Top’, from the 2018 album of that name, was introduced with a spiel about female empowerment, which got a good response from the mainly male audience.
During the performance her band followed her moves like hawks with drill sharp synchronised precision; the horns were hot, the keys sympathetic, the drummer energetic and the bass player was busy without getting in the way, even providing a slap bass solo late in the evening that achieved the near impossible, an enjoyable bass solo that didn’t create a sinking feeling (and a desire for noise cancelling headphones). Before you knew it, the enjoyable evening was closing with an encore medley that finished with the horn section introducing the distinctive hook from ‘Crosstown Traffic’ (which has been chosen as an encore song by three separate acts I’ve seen this year!) and a rousing rendition. She may not get the chance to play the Borderline again but let’s hope this captivating performer returns to another venue in the capital in the near future.
Yonaka + tiLLie + The Ninth Wave
Thursday 30th May 2019
Warning! Do not listen to any of the following bands if you have any disposition to waking up in the middle of the night humming along to catchy little riffs and melodies that just won’t go away. I spent last Thursday night with three bands who did nothing but bombard my little brain with ear worms that have wrecked my every waking and sleeping moment since! Am I complaining? No of course not! I even paid good money for the privilege of becoming a virtual insomniac!
Heaven is fast becoming one of my favourite venues, famous as the home of one of London’s top nightclubs, it has a subterranean feel tucked away underneath Charing Cross station. The brick arches in the venue house a series of mini-bars giving excellent access to refreshment - spacious but intimate at the same time. The stage is built quite high giving an excellent view of the bands from the floor. And the gig is sold out - there is even a queue of eager fans waiting for the doors to open as we pop into a bar just off Villiers Street to prepare us for the melodic onslaught to come. This is no real surprise to me having been exposed to a growing scene of “Post-Punk, Anti-Pop” music on Spotify. I have joined the hundreds of thousands of followers streaming millions of plays for these bands pushing melodic, but powerful music and forming the basis of my own playlists which have been the soundtrack of my commute to work for several months now.
The headliners are Yonaka who are launching their first album ‘Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow’ tomorrow. They formed in 2014 at college in Brighton and already have 3 EP's and a clutch of singles to their name. On the list for this year’s Kerrang Best British Breakthrough Act, they have just finished supporting ‘Bring Me The Horizon’ and are out on their own headline tour. The heritage of this type of music owes a lot to Republica and Gwen Steffani, but that over simple comparison is really too lazy because it does not do justice to the talent and unique sound of the bands here.
We kick off with tiLLie, a female vocalist with a powerful and beautiful voice from Atlanta, GA. She has a new EP entitled ‘Loud Mouth’ which has a good variety of tunes which really gets the gig off to a fantastic start. As I type this, I’m humming along to the title track of the EP!
The second act are ‘The Ninth Wave’ who come from Glasgow, which only partially explains why Haydn Park-Patterson comes on stage bare chested wearing an ankle length tartan skirt (or maybe it was a kilt for a giant?). From the joys of the Spotify ‘you might like’ feature (which drives some mad), I have already had some exposure to The Ninth Wave, but up to now they have never made it onto my playlist for no particular good reason it seems. The opening synths and sequencing places us back in the 80's but the Post-Punky guitars pulls us back into the twenty first century. The vocals are shared between Haydn and Amelia Kidd also on bass. Again, great songs with variety in the music and nice atmospherics between tracks link the set together to produce great entertainment. Not only two support acts, but acts I would happily go and see as headliners in their own right.
But then the actual headliners burst onto the stage buzzing with energy - Yonaka enter the fray. The floor is packed and the balconies heaving. Theresa Jarvis is the lead singer, hair in side bunches and thigh length boots she is bouncing all over the stage – and the crowd are bouncing too in empathy. Jarvis’s voice is impressive, great tones and versatility. From a staccato ‘Sing Talking’ to soaring top notes and trade mark chants – she belts out those melodies which have haunted my sleep patterns ever since! And the crowd love it singing back the lyrics and chants to ‘Fired Up’, ‘Bad Company’ and ‘Death By Love’ from the 'Creature; EP. Where pre-recorded harmonies are fed in, the live vocal is no different – the girl can sing!
The songs are well crafted and the band have an excellent sound, George Edwards on guitar is also bare chested and thrashes around with great energy except when he pauses for an acoustic version of ‘Guilty (For Your Love)’ which shows off even more Theresa’s vocal ability. Bass is thumped out by Alex Crosby and the whole thing is pervasively held together by Robert Mason on drums. The light show emphasises the power and energy of the band as the beams of light shine out in a strange 3D strobe effect. This band are definitely on the up and have been tracked by the Guardian and Kerrang as ‘one's to watch’. With the festival season nearly upon us, if you spot Yonaka on the line up, go and see them. Or put them on your Spotify play list. Your only regret will be sleepless nights for the rest of your life (but then again, probably worth it!).
Rockin' The Blues
The Forum, Kentish Town, London
Tuesday 4th June 2019
There's something magical in meeting up with like minded individuals to share a pint and enjoy music together. We all have our loves and our likes and it's fun to share different perspectives of the same artists. Just compare any two music reviews and you will see that one man's champ is another man's chump. So meeting up with Mother tonight at the Forum are regular sidekick and ace snapper Rockrpix legend John Bull and fellow Wrinkly Rocker reviewer Peter Elphick. Although the beer drinking pre-event review wasn't quite as planned as Pete managed to miss the opening act due to 'travel issues' and JB only drinks pints of PG Tips when he is 'working'. Ho hum, it's left to yours truly to support the pre-event hospitality. The things i have to do in the name of journalism.
London's Forum tonight hosts a triumvirate of talent spanning the generations who perfectly showcase the Rockier end of the Blues scale, No surprise that tonight's set sees a Rockier slant to the Blues genre - the name sort of gives it away. What was a surprise was that the pre-event discussion with JB about lighting, security and Darjeeling was interrupted by the entrance of the opening act 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. Axel Rose take note. As a result, the excellent Forum stalls were slightly quieter than usual missing a number of punters, including the hapless Pete, as Planet Rock's Paul Anthony takes to the stage to announce the beginning of the last night of the Rockin' The Blues tour. Enter Kris Barras and his band. Kris is a young bearded hulk of a man who in his cut down NWOCR t-shirt and ubiquitous tattoos looks every part the MMA cage fighter he once was. But whilst he may once have brutally battered the bejesus out of his opponents he now fingers the frets with a fine feeling. Sporting a blond Tele through a modern Kemper modelling amp, the blond behemoth ably demonstrates what todays rising Blues stars are all about. Absolutely killer sound is lovingly squeezed out of the most endearing of Fenders stable.
Opening track 'Propane' has a funky kind of groove that welcome the crowd with a track that reeks of Country. But with all of tonight's tracks there is a strong vein of Rockin' underlying it all. Second track 'Light It Up' has a heavy keyboard influence with dual harmonies although Kris lets the audience take lead vocals on the chorus before launching into a short but perfectly formed solo. Next up is a real rocking song - 'Rock and Roll'. The Zep track much loved by jam bands up and down the land is given the Kris Barras touch with some delightful slide guitar and a strong keyboard solo that went down a storm. The now swollen crowd was really getting into it. The slower and melodic 'Watching Over Me' is dedicated to Kris' departed father who heavily influenced his playing from a very early age. With the stage bathed in a glorious red light (much to the chagrin of the light sensitive JB) Kris plays some intricate and soulful Blues with tasteful delicacy that belies his pugnacious past. The more upbeat 'Wrong Place, Wrong Time' sees some dancing in the crowd - no handbags were noticed - with Kris guitar licks duelling with the keyboards. And closing the all too short 30 minute set is the rocking 'Hail Mary'. Opening with just a vocal harmony the song blossoms into full kick bottom Rock anthem allowing Kris to show his guitar hero skills with all the behind the head and teeth picking antics we know and love. This is a fight he wins by a knockout. As Kris disappears to a rapturous applause Pete finally arrives. "Did I miss anything?" he asks. Yes mate, you certainly did. We drown his sorrows at the bar accordingly. Don't worry though Pete, he's back in October with a headline tour of his own.
After a very brief watering break, Mr. Anthony reappears to announce our second act. Coming from the other end of the experience spectrum, Walter Trout has been and done it all, Some of which he surely wished he hadn't. Walter has learned a lot from life and it shows in what and how he plays. Entering to a huge applause from a loving crowd, Walter takes his trademark yellow Strat through Mesa amps and performs a master class of taste and style that only comes with years of playing and a comfort in his ability. Although showy he is no show off, rather he exudes class yet is as humble as they come. Near death experience does that to a man. The four-piece open with an instrumental jam that segways nicely into the Rocking 'I Can Tell'. Again the keyboards are prominent but you can't take your eyes off of the Master. Next up is a track from his recent album 'Survivor Blues' which he uses to showcase tracks from long forgotten Blues tracks from yesteryear. His cover of Jimmy Dawkins 'Me, My Guitar and the Blues' is a delightfully sludgy Blues track that shows Walter has an excellent voice too. His guitar technique is enthralling although the flurry of notes are always secondary to the tone that they convey. 'Ride Till I'm Satisfied' is back to Rocking Blues again. He takes the time to chat with the audience, thanking them for being here ("I'm glad you weren't too busy protesting to come" - a nod to the ongoing UK visit of the US President) before properly ripping it up.
35 years ago Mr. T. was on the very stage he now graced with one John Mayall. A lot has happened in that time and Walter takes time out to share some of his life changing experiences. Including his illness that left him days away from death and that required him to relearn playing the guitar from the basics again. So the harmonica in his track 'Almost Gone' honouring that experience has a poignant cry to it. Almost ballad like it is an emotional song - a happy little ditty it ain't. Next track 'Sadie' is another gem from the old Blues era. Hound Dog Taylor was a Blues player from many years ago. Walter tells the story of how Hound Dog was born with six fingers on his fretting hand. Whilst you might imagine that this would be a boon to a guitar player, the sixth finger was in fact useless and therefore a hindrance. So Hound Dog did what any self respecting Blues player would do - he necked a bottle of bourbon and cut it off. Blues man healthcare as Walter called it. Walters version of the Blues shuffle sees the introduction of Andrew Elt to play rhythm guitar leaving Walter to showcase why five fingers are more than enough. As they launch into 'Ride Till I'm Satisfied', Mr Elt and the bass player take up a Quo like stance to properly Rock some Blues whilst Walter almost screams the lyrics. As do the audience. It's hot in here. Walter is loving it. "The best times in my life were when i was hot and sweaty" he declares.
Penultimate track is another golden oldie - 'Red Sun' - although Floyd Lee's original is only 16 years old. This mean street Blues number is currently getting some radio airplay and quite rightly so. It's a doozy. Closing number is Walters cover of the Rock and Rolling 'Bullfrog Blues', Rory Gallagher's version of 'Johnny Be Good'. Johnny be good but Walter be better as he properly Rocks the house. Rockin' the Blues? Hell yeah. Walter is touring the UK in October again too. As Walter and team leave to another thunderous ovation Pete and iI swap notes. Needless to say Pete is far more erudite than I. Pete's Prose: "Having recently recovered from liver disease, a couple of years back Walter was looking as thin as an E string but he's stacked quite a bit of weight back on. He's not quite as chubby as fellow ex-Bluesbreaker Buddy Whittington but fellow band members (keyboard player and drummer) are. But then they sit down on their chairs for the gig. But despite all this Walter's tone is as sweet as a triple chocolate cheesecake with strawberry jam."
Paul Anthony reappears once more to introduce the final act tonight - Jonny Lang. Jonny is a young clean cut looking fella who looks less like a traditional Blues player and more like a Pop pin up. Until he gets into the groove that is, when he contorts and twists into a screaming Blues monster. The opening track is a blistering 'Freight Train Blues' which showcases a form that will repeat itself over the next couple of tracks - fast and frantic Blues Rock from the twerking twitching tormentor of the Telecaster. And a Les Paul too. 'Signs' may have a slow ponderous beat but the fret play is unrelenting as the four backing musicians struggle to make themselves noticed behind the animated Lang. A cover of Tinsley Ellis' 'A Quitter Never Wins' allows Lang to show of his Aretha like warble to good effect whilst ratcheting up the guitar abuse another notch. 'Snakes' continues the theme although more short and sweet.
Thankfully, the danger of spontaneous combustion is averted, when the tempo is dropped for the slow, almost quiet 'Bring Me Back Home'. Smoochie anyone? The nice slow Blues solo ultimately turns into another Blues shred but the pattern has been broken. 'Angel of Mercy' is a great Rocking Blues track with some excellent drumming. With a fun jam between guitars and keys the rhythm guitarist really gets to shine. Probably the best track of the set. And for a further change of scene, Lang takes to the stage alone for the acoustic ballad 'Breaking Me', a strong soulful song which builds into powerful ending. With the return of the backing line up we are treated to 'Lie To Me' which is full electric Rock with a great crunchy Rock tone. More great guitar and vocal work sees Lang work back up to his fever pitch best before closing track 'Still Raining' provides a more restrained groove with the keyboards pulling through to provide a melodic ending to a real Rocking Blues set. Pete's prose: "Jonny Lang's rhythm and keyboard player sporting backward facing baseball caps - looking like they have forgotten to get changed from their side gig as a Pearl Jam tribute. Bass player Jim (Anton) has an interesting CV too".
As the band disappear into the night, Paul Anthony reappears to announce what is to be the finale, and highlight, of the evening. Reappearing with a cast of thousands in support are Kris, Walter and Jonny to jam out together and end the tour with a bang. Five guitarists, two drummers two keyboard players, a bassist and a harmonics player all conspire to provide the sort of Blues jam that true fans can only dream about. Launching into "I Want To Know What Love Is', Jonny takes vocals whilst Kris takes lead. What follows is a master jam with each of the guitarists showing their own distinct flavour. Kris has such taste in his choice of notes and a tone to die for, Walter has every chop a man could want and the gravitas and bearing to own the stage and Jonny the force of a small hurricane. Closing jam is the ever popular 'Going Down' with Andrew taking the stage again to display his impressive vocal talents - a young David Coverdale. With the whole ensemble giving it everything, the crowd were bopping until they were dropping to the very last drop. Awesome stuff and one for the mental scrap book.
As the three of us head home via the Northern Line (it's where the Scots hang their washing....) we compare notes and experiences. Pete bemoans his missing Kris' excellent short set, John opines on the lighting and the over exuberant security who felt it ok to throw the denizens of the photographic pit out into the rain soaked night between photo sessions. Not a great idea security team. The Rockerazzi have some expensive kit that doesn't mix too well with rain. And they are too far from the bar too. Me, I reflect on another great evening. And how we all have a different take on the same show, With the quality of music at this level, it behoves you to come and see the bands when they tour later this year and get your own take on things. Don't just take my word on it. Rock on.
Mother (pictures John Bull)
Tuesday 4th June 2019
The American band Styx has been going since 1972, and as is typical of a group with this kind of longevity, has gone through several line-up changes. It was eight years ago since they last played London at the Wembley Arena in a bill that included Journey and Foreigner on precisely the same day, but tonight they’ve opted for the 2,200 seater historic grade II listed London Palladium, to a sell-out crowd with just themselves on the bill.
Unusually, their performance is divided into two parts with an interval in the middle, but when you have 22 songs in your set list, this is probably a sensible idea. Appropriately they open up with the song 'Gone, Gone, Gone' which contains the opening line “Light it up, let’s get this show on the road…” This introduces newcomers (including this reviewer) to the band and what they are about: vocal duties are shared amongst Lawrence Gowan, the keyboardist, and the two lead guitarists, Tommy Shaw and James ‘J.Y.’ Young, who intermittently take lead or harmonise together, all accompanied by an accomplished bassist in Ricky Phillips.
Everything about this Pop Prog-Rock group is Epic: the sound, the vocals, the playing, the venue, the set-list and the ambition of their latest album, 'Mission' released in 2017. The only thing that is relatively understated is the set scenery which doesn’t rely on too many pyrotechnics/ lighting effects other than a revolving keyboard stage that the keyboardist, Lawrence Gowan, energetically jumps about on and twirls around. The thing that struck me for the first three tracks, which included the classics 'Blue Collar Man (Long Nights)' and 'The Grand Illusion' was the quality of the drumming. Todd Sucherman has the musicality and fluidity of a Jazz drummer, but who still has the power required for Rock music. I wasn’t surprised later to learn in one of the conversational interludes from Tommy Shaw, that he had been voted number one Rock Drummer in the World by Modern Drummer Magazine.
On ballads like 'Lady', Lawrence Gowan can replicate the tenor of original founder member Dennis De Young, whom he stood in for when ill in 1999, and has since replaced (subject to much fall-outs and legal wrangling if you believe what you read in the music press). Shaw reminds the audience that the band was an Album-Orientated Rock group who were a staple of AOR 70’s radio stations before launching into the vocals for 'Radio Silence' a title from 'Mission', a concept album about a man-mission to Mars in 2033! Next up, James ‘J.Y.’ Young reveals the influence in 1967 of The Who and Pete Townsend, in him buying a Fender Stratocaster, before encouraging the crowd to turn on the torches of their phones (fuel lighters not allowed anymore he points out!) for the track 'Light Up' which he leads on. Shaw shows his versatility when he follows with the mood-changing 'Boat On A River', which he plays on a mandolin; a song that was number 1 in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Israel.
'Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man)' provides an opportunity to bring on the original bassist Charles Panozzo, who only plays on occasional tracks (yes that’s right two leads and two bassists on stage now – told you everything they do is epic). We’re reminded of the pedigree of the bassist Ricky Phillips, who had played with The Babys, Bad English and Coverdale/Page, before they break into the upbeat 'Rockin’ the Paradise'. Then came the soaring dual lead guitars on the track 'Suite Madame Blue', whose overall effect was like witnessing one of those Rock super-groups of yore and was this reviewer’s pick of the evening and a fitting end to part one.
If this wasn’t enough part two comprised of ten more classic songs, including a crowd singalong of 'State Street Sadie'/'Bohemian Rhapsody'/Don't Look Back In Anger'. At this point, Gowan had everyone in the palm of his hand, and an encore that included the 1983 hit 'Mr Roboto' with its 80's synthesiser stylings and baroque arrangement. The only glaring omission from the set-list was the global hit 'Babe'. All in all, It was just as well Sucherman had previously drummed with “Spinal Tap” because on this night Styx had cranked up the knob to eleven!
Ivan De Mello
Steve Hillage Band
Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Saturday 8th June 2019
Steve Hillage is an English guitarist, producer and songwriter, best known for his stint as guitarist and writer in the classic line-up of the Psychedelic Progressive Rock band Gong from 1973 – 1976, and his own Steve Hillage Band from 1975 – 1982. Hillage’s musical career kick started in Canterbury, England, around 1968 with his first professional band Uriel, which featured Dave Stewart, Mont Campbell and Clive Brooks. They released one album in 1969 called ‘Arzachel’ before the band soon split, with the other members going on to form the Progressive Rock band Egg. Hillage guested on their 1974 album ‘The Civil Surface’. In early 1971, Hillage formed Khan with bassist/vocalist Nick Greenwood, formerly of Crazy World of Arthur Brown, organist Dick Heninghem and drummer Eric Peachey. They recorded one album ‘Space Shanty’ in 1972 before splitting.
Hillage then joined Kevin Ayers' live band ‘Decadence’, and featured on Ayers' 1973 album ‘Bananamour’. It was during a tour of France with Ayers that Hillage met Daevid Allen, who asked him to join Gong. It was through Allen that Hillage also met his longtime partner and collaborator Miquette Giraudy. The classic line-up of Gong featured Hillage on guitar, Daevid Allen on vocals and guitar, Gilli Smyth on space whispers, Didier Malherbe on saxophone and flute, Tim Blake on keyboards, Mike Howlett on bass and Pierre Moerlen on drums. They went on to record the classic ‘Radio Gnome Invisible’ trilogy albums ‘Flying Teapot’ in May 1973, ‘Angels Egg’ in December 1973, and ‘You’ in October 1974. Incidentally Gong were one of the first acts to sign to Richard Branson's fledgling Virgin Records label. On the 25th June 1973 Hillage participated in the debut live performance of Mike Oldfield's ‘Tubular Bells’ at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, also taking part in a live-in-studio performance filmed for the BBC's Second House series, filmed in November of 1973.
Without any notice, Allen abruptly left Gong in 1975, stating that ‘a wall of force’ was preventing him getting up on stage with the band anymore! Hillage stayed on to front the band for a few more months, featuring on the 1976 album ‘Shamal’, before jumping ship soon after to form the Steve Hillage Band. Their excellent debut album ‘Fish Rising’ was released in 1975, an absolute classic which features most of the 1974 line-up of Gong, as well as former band mate in Khan, Dave Stewart. The album reached number thirty three in the British album charts. The Steve Hillage Band debut gig was supporting Queen in Hyde Park London in September 1976.
For the rest of the 70’s Hillage went on to release a string of quality albums including ‘L’ in 1976, which was recorded using musicians from Todd Rundgren's Utopia and reached number ten in the British album charts. The funk influenced ‘Motivation Radio’ was released in 1977 and reached number twenty eight, before a return to form with ‘Green’ in 1978, which was co-produced by Pink Floyd's Nick Mason and reached number thirty. 1979’s ‘Rainbow Dome Musick’ was a slight departure from the sound of his previous work, with the direction heading towards a more chilled-out ambient vibe spread over two tracks of around twenty minutes long. This is a direction Hillage revisited in the 90’s, adding dance beats and heading straight into the underground dance music scene.
Hillage released a few more less successful albums in the late 70’s and early 80’s including ‘Open’ (1979), ‘Aura’ (1980), ‘For To Next’ (1982), ‘And Not Or’ (1982), before disbanding. For the rest of the 80’s, Hillage worked as a successful and much in demand record producer, working for artists such as Simple Minds, It Bites, Tony Banks, Robyn Hitchcock and The Charlatans to name but a few. In the 90’s Hillage became enamored with the underground electronic ambient dance music scene and went on to form System 7 with his partner Miquette Giraudy. To date they have released around fourteen studio albums, and a further three with their chilled-out ambient side project ‘Mirror System’.
It wasn’t until November 2006 that Hillage returned to his Rock routes, making a surprise appearance with the ‘classic era’ lineup of Gong at the Gong ‘Unconvention’ at the Melkweg in Amsterdam. Not only did he appear with Gong, but he also played a full set of classic 70’s material with the revamped Steve Hillage Band, which featured Miquette Giraudy on keyboards, Mike Howlett on bass and Chris Taylor on drums. In June 2008, both Hillage and Giraudy joined Gong for two special concerts in London, one at the prestigious Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank (as part of Massive Attack's Meltdown festival) and the other at The Forum in Kentish Town. The lineup consisted of Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth, Mike Howlett, Steve Hillage, Miquette Giraudy, Theo Travis and Chris Taylor. The concerts proved to be a triumph and with a new sense of vigor and enthusiasm this line-up went on to record a new album ‘2032’ in 2009, which was also produced by Hillage. The band then headed out on a hugely successful and enjoyable UK tour to promote the album. The re-united Steve Hillage Band even supported them at The Forum, Kentish Town, London on 27th November 2009. A further short four date UK tour toke place in September 2010, before Hillage and Giraudy left, citing musical differences! Support for these few shows was provided by the Hawkwind founder and Space Rock legend Nik Turner and his very own ‘Space Ritual’ band. Hillage guested on Nik Turner’s Sphynx 1978 album ‘Xitintoday’, which he also produced. He also appears on Turner's 2013 'Space Gypsy' album and his 2015 'Space Fusion Odyssey' album.
Sadly Daevid Allen died on 13th March 2015 from neck cancer, with Gilli Smyth passing away on 22nd August 2016 from pneumonia. Despite the death of their founder and leader, Gong continue on with a new line-up consisting of no original members! It was Allen’s dying wish that the band continue to make music without him and that Kavus Torabi should be the front man. They having just released a magnificent new album called ‘The Universe Also Collapses’, which is being lauded as a return to form and is receiving rave reviews on-line and in the music press.
Over the intervening years Hillage’s contributions to Prog Rock has been gaining increasing recognition, most notably going on to win the "Visionary" award at the 2013 Progressive Music Awards. In the last nine years Hillage has not only returned to his dance music projects, System 7 and Mirror System, but he has also been keeping his toes dipping into the Prog Rock world with various guest appearances with the likes of Hawkwind in 2015 and 2018, current Gong in 2018 and also various other Prog festivals around Europe.
A comprehensive limited edition 22 CD deluxe box set ‘Searching For The Spark 1969 -1991’ was released through Madfish Music in 2016 and contains all of Steve’s recorded work from his studio debut (1969's Arzachel) to the first System 7 album in 1991. It went on to win 'Reissue of the year' at the 2017 Progressive Music Awards.
This short three date UK tour in June 2019 marks forty years since the last full-length Steve Hillage Band headline tour in 1979! Due to the phenomenal demand for tickets, a further ten UK dates have been announced for November 2019. The current touring band consists of Hillage and Giraudy joined by all the members of the current Gong lineup which includes Kavus Torabi (guitar and vocals), Fabio Golfetti (guitar and vocals), Dave Sturt (bass and vocals), Cheb Nettles (drums) and Ian East (Flute and Saxophone).
This gig at the sold out Shepherds Bush Empire Theatre is the last of a run of only three UK dates. Steve Hillage is the master of Psychedelic guitar and his return to the Rock world is very welcome indeed. There was a definite buzz of excitement and anticipation resonating from the crammed in crowd of Prog Rock aficionados!
The evening’s proceedings kicked off in style with a track from the 1979 'Open' album, 'Talking To The Sun', a rather nifty little swirling ditty to warm us up! Then straight into 'It's All Too Much' from the 1976 'L' album. A Beatles track written by George Harrison, originally on the 1969 'Yellow Submarine' album, and given the full on Hillage make over here. A tantalising light show peppered the room with a kaleidoscope of colours, hypnotizing and stimulating our senses, taking us on a mind blowing trip beyond the galaxy and onwards through endless space! The time had come to fly with excerpts from the magnificent 'Aftaglid' (including 'The Golden vibe') from the 1975 'Fish Rising' album. A spiraling vortex of sound that ascended layer upon layer, penetrating deep into our souls!
Time to come down from the sky and go 'swimming with the salmon', enter 'The Salmon Song' from the 1975 'Fish Rising' album. A hypnotic circular repeating riff drives this exceptionally luminous track, with multiple swooshes and swirls that rotate and glide through the ether creating a smorgasbord of interesting sound collages to tingle the senses. If you close your eyes you can just picture a salmon swimming up a raging river and leaping over the falls to this soundtrack. Formidable performance from Hillage and band!
Onto pastures a bit greener with two tracks from the 1978 'Green' album. First up was the radiant and stirring 'Sea Nature', with luscious keyboards from Miquette Giraudy and atmospheric glissando guitar from Hillage, before journeying further outwards with the equally enthralling 'Ether Ships', with its hypnotic repeated guitar phrase orbiting around the song like a well-oiled wheel. It was then time to set sail for the sky once more and gaze at the moon with wide eyed wonderment! In came the majestic 'Lunar Musick Suite' to transport us away to a far off place where anything is possible! A transcendental multi-layered soundscape from the 1976 'L' album that was quite simply stunning!
Then it was back to a bit of 'Green' again with the delightful and soothing 'Palm Trees (love guitar)' from the 1978 'Green' album. After which we were treated to another dip into the 1979 'Open' album with 'The Fire Inside', a jumpy little number that radiated like a warm glow. Up next was 'Motivation' from the 1977 'Motivation Radio' album, a funky little number that bubbled and popped along with pulsating throbs!
Time for another epic monster of a track, time to set the controls for the heart of the sun! Time for the dazzling 'Solar Musick Suite' from the 1975 'Fish Rising' album. A colossal piece of music that lifts the spirit and raises the mood. Wonderful stuff! The main set drew to a close with 'Hurdy Gurdy Man', from the 1976 'L' album. A great hippie dippy song written by Donovan in 1968 and given the full-on Hillage treatment here - in other words - lashings of Psychedelic guitar that resonated with transcendental vibes and hallucinatory sentiments.
For the first encore we got the phenomenal 'Light In The Sky' from the 1977 'Motivation Radio' album. A thunderous Hard Rock riff drives this track along creating an intoxicating groove that elevates to a higher plane, with some nice delicate and calming space whispers from Giraudy adding to the ambience. Trippy stuff indeed! To keep the atmosphere levels elevated the time had come for another mammoth slice of Psychedelic masterwork in the form of the 'Glorious Om Riff', from the 1978 'Green' album. The ensuing tsunami of sound washed over us like a tidal wave of vibrational energy! Hillage was on fire and had the entire audience in the palm of his hand, we were simply mesmerised by his brilliance! Out of this world stuff!
For the second encore we got 'Not Fade Away', a cover of the 1957 Buddy Holly song from the 1977 'Motivation Radio' album. Once again this song was given the full on Hillage Psychedelic treatment! A great vehicle for some tasty improvisation and extended guitar noodling! We were also treated to some tantalising excerpts from the glorious and glittering Gong track 'I Never Glid Before', originally from the 1973 'Angel's Egg' album. What a spectacular climax to a fantastic show. It is fair to say Steve Hillage is back and firing on all cylinders!
Steven C. Gilbert
Toto + The Darkness
Royal Chelsea Hospital, London
Thursday 13th June 2019
Now in its fifth year, Live At Chelsea brings an eclectic mix of music to the poshest part of town. This year's four day event sees such luminaries as The Gypsy Kings and Tom Jones. It's not unusual. Opening night sees a Rockier couple of acts take to the stage in the absolutely magnificent grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea. Founded over 300 years ago, the prime real estate in the swankiest part of London is home to over 300 Chelsea pensioners, ex-soldiers 'of good character'. Nestled amongst the spectacular quadrangle of buildings that form Figure Court is a large stage and rows of seats filled with hoards of music fans of equally good character. Today's event smacks more of a genteel garden party than a music festival amongst the perfectly manicured lawns and posh nosh outlets. Fronting the arena area are cast iron cannons that smack of the AC/DC album 'For Those About To Rock'. How appropriate.
As we take our seats for the opening act, all carefully ushered by a team of smartly dressed security personnel who are determined to keep everyone seated throughout, I look skywards to watch the rain clouds gathering overhead. It's going to be a wet evening which is sadly all too common in London in June. But my thoughts wander briefly to my mate Nick who is currently experiencing the extreme mud at this years Download festival - or Downpour as it has come to be known. Poor bugger. I should have known it would rain - it always rains during Download week. The well heeled, and well oiled patron's of the iconic Almshouse are about to get their champagne flutes shattered by the rebellious The Darkness. Like a modern day Wat Tyler come to reap his revoltingness on the London gentry, Justin Hawkins bursts onto the stage in a blaze of white, long hair flying and a smile as wide as the SW3 bridge. Flanked by brother Dan on guitar and the outrageously attired Frankie Poullain in a black and pink pin stripe suit, the mercurial Justin launches into opening track 'Givin' Up'. It's balls to the wall Rock goodness with Dan getting some Ay-May-Zing rock tones out of his many Les Paul's through Marshall amps.
I doubt the Hospital walls have witnessed such noise and wailings, even during its darkest days, but this time it's a sound to savour. For an outside festival, the sound quality is top notch. I am sure the quadrangle of buildings contribute. JH is in wonderful form. He has had his troubles in the past, and I have seen the bad days when even the fans turned on them. But not tonight. Those not hugging their G&T's too tightly immediately evacuate their rain sodden seats to hit the front, duly encouraged by Justin. However, after giving a willing audience full dancing instructions, and joining in with every step, Justin is forced to bow to the blazered security staff and bring the merriment to a halt. This is Chelsea after all. However, it was all done with good grace so, as we move to stage left to allow the seated special ones their unobstructed view, we carry on in the wings. We may be rabble but we are dancing Darkness fan rabble.
The short set continues with hits from across their last fifteen years with tracks like 'Growing On Me' and 'Black Shuck' from their smash opening album 'Permission To Land'. Was that really sixteen years ago? Justin joins his brother on a white Les Paul as the Rock quartet blast their irreverence into the night. And very well received they were. Posh people love to party too. Hawkins is animated and full of enjoyable fun. His banter is just what the night needs as the stiff upper lips curl into smiles and brown brogues tap along to killer riffs and just great Rock music. Singalongs like 'Love Is Only A Feeling' get the crowd vocally dancing, trying unsuccessfully to match Justin's piercing falsetto. Apologising to the powers that be for any slippage into the occasional rude word during his inter song banter, Hawkins launches into 'Get Your Hands Off My Woman' triggering the whole audience screaming the chorus. I'm not sure the organisers had that in mind when they planned the event. Don't worry though, most soldiers know more swear words than any Rock star could ever fathom so I doubt they heard anything they hadn't heard before. With the far too short set closing with their great hit 'I Believe In A Thing Called Love', the boys signed off in style, leaving a happy band of soggy Rockers to make their way to the bars to compare notes and wring out their Barbour jackets.
The Darkness setlist
Growing on Me
Love Is Only a Feeling
Japanese Prisoner of Love
One Way Ticket
Get Your Hands Off My Woman
I Believe in a Thing Called Love
A nice touch during the break, as the roadies rearranged the stage and set up for the main event, a Chelsea Pensioner takes to the stage to welcome us to his home, thank us for coming and to ask for support in keeping the Hospital a place for veterans for the next three hundred years. Standing proudly in his scarlet tunic, the old warrior looked like the best advert you could ever ask for his generation and what they stand for. In the 75th anniversary year of the D-Day landings he personified the dignity befitting of the location. And he was quite rightly rewarded with huge applause too. Like the second half of a high brow theatre, we were all bidden to take our seats for the rest of the show. Hassled security did their very best to ensure everyone were seated, and stayed seated, for the entrance of headliners Toto. Enter Toto, everyone stands up, security team give up. Good, let's get on with it then shall we.....
Toto are a band that I would have dismissed as a middle of the road Soft Rock from the seventies and eighties. Not my kind of thing thinks me. So it was a pleasant surprise for me that they prove to be so much more. In fact they are a band that definitely has something for everyone. Touring their new 40th Anniversary, '40 Trips Around The Sun' album, the band treat us to a selection of hits from across the years that encompass so many genres including Pop, Rock, Soul, Funk, Progressive Rock, Hard Rock, R&B, Blues and Jazz. Although the line up has changed over the years, the core of the team have a pedigree of session musicians that have played with, written for or performed with some of the greatest musicians in the world.
And it shows as the eight musicians on stage are so talented, and so comfortable in what they do that this is an unparalleled performance. One drummer, one percussionist, one bassist, two keyboards, a sax player, a guitarist and a vocalist form the current Toto line up. Vocalist Jo Williams is the son of one John Williams, composer of those famous bars from the film Jaws, and has written a few film scores of his own, when he isn't singing for Toto. Guitarist Steve Lukather is a legend in the guitar world and has worked with the likes of Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and George Benson, and keyboardist Steve Porcaro has worked with Yes and Jefferson Airplane.
Opening track sees Lukather, with his signature Music Man guitar through three Bognor amp heads launch into 'Devil's Tower', originally written in 1982 but only released in 2018. A jaunty Prog Rock song that sees all the musicians on stage contributing to what is a huge sound. And set the scene for the evening two hour plus set. It's like watching a collection of the world's best musicians gel together into a seamless music machine. Where The Darkness are raw energy and fun, Toto are the class acts that befit their surroundings. Watching on impassively in front of the stage is the golden statue of Charles II. Lukather tells us that it is actually keyboardist David Paich in a gold suit who, in reality, is unfortunately not well enough to travel. His place is ably taken place by youngster Xavier X (Dominique XavierTaplin) who does a storming job.
The set consists of a bit of everything. I shouldn't like it but I do. It is absorbing, watching so many styles perfectly blended. Tracks like the fusion type 'Jake To The Bone' and 'English Eyes' are sprinkled between classic radio hits like 'Rosanna' and 'Hold The Line'. And all to the accompaniment of the rain battering the top of my head. Steve helpfully offers us sun cream. The band put aside their instruments for a more cut down section with Lukather on acoustic and each artist playing something close to their heart. Porcaro opts for a piano heavy 'Human Nature', the Michael Jackson hit, which was inspired by Porcaro's daughter. Lukather chose the R&B 'Georgy Porgy'. Xavier is left to enthral the audience with a breath-taking display of what was exquisite classical music, on piano, whilst the rest of the band return to their full ensemble of instruments.
The hits keep coming, although the Toto composed music form the film 'Dune', and a very alternative version of the Beatles 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' keeps things fresh. Percussionist Lenny Castro, a long term member of the band, gives us a master class of every type of percussion from bongos to gongs, timpani's and tom-toms. And very well received it was but it's the closing song 'Africa' that unsurprisingly get the best response. Everyone belts out the words of the 1982 classic. "I bless the rains down in Africa" we sing - how ironic. I curse the Chelsea rain.
Leaving briefly before returning for the encore of 'Home Of The Brave', an anthem of a song from their eighties album 'The Seventh One'. They sign off with this monster of intricate interaction between the guitar, keys, bass and percussion. Quality professional music. As we wend our way through the discarded Bolly bottles, I am heartened that part the funds from tonight's treat are going to the upkeep of this amazing place. It heartens me that in these difficult financial times that places such as this still exist. There is still good in this world. As the rain drips off my nose I am reminded again about Nick who is sloshing around in the sea of mud in his own little 'passion dale'. I've been there and done that. I think I will stick with what I've got. Wet I may be, but I'm surrounded by splendour and I have a warm dry bed tonight, not a pup tent in the mud. If Nick is the PBI in the trenches, I'm the officer in the chateau behind the lines. Now where's my chauffeur?
Hold the Line
Lovers in the Night
I Will Remember
Jake to the Bone
Human Nature (Michael Jackson cover)
I'll Be Over You
Stop Loving You
Piano Solo (Dominique Taplin)
Dune (Desert Theme)
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles cover)
Home of the Brave
Shepherd's Bush Empire, London
Sunday 16th June 2019
You may be mistaken for thinking that Tesla is a type of electric car associated with the entrepreneur, Elon Musk, but actually they are an American Rock Band that went under the radar (in the UK - they had huge album sales in the States) since forming in the mid-80's.The band were designated a "Hair Metal" band back then, but the description is a limiting one because they are clearly influenced by many other Rock styles, whilst encompassing the Blues.
Their name is derived from the inventor and electrical pioneer Nikola Tesla (like Elon's electric car company): the story goes that Tesla invented the radio, but Marconi took the credit, which inspired the title of the group's second album 'The Great Radio Controversy'. In fact, Tesla are a band that cannot resist punning on all things electric in the titles of their songs and also on the name of their latest album 'Shock' released in March of this year.
And their innovation doesn't end there. Way back in 1987, Def Leppard and Tesla did a historic 'in the round' show that was the first time a Rock concert was done in the centre of an arena - an era when Def Leppard’s 'Hysteria' album was breaking platinum status and Tesla's first album 'Mechanical Resonance' was turning heads on MTV.
In fact he first time we saw the Northern California band was opening the Arrow Rock Festival in Biddinghuizen in June 2007 and again in Holland a year later at the Boerderij in Zoetermeer. Anyway, eleven years down the line, and two days after they performed at Download they are playing London's Shepherd's Bush Empire on Father's Day with great support from Wayward Sons and Flash Fires.
And it’s from that new album that the band, consisting of Brian Wheat - bass, Frank Hannon - guitar, Jeff Keith - vocals, Troy Luccketta - drums and Dave Rude - guitar, launch their set with 'Tied To The Tracks' a Glam-Rock infused number with a judicious amount of slide guitar thrown in, which is what sets this band apart from others in the classic 80's Rock genre. The versatility of Hannon’s guitar playing harks back to more 60's Heavy Rock bands. Indeed, production duties for 'Shock' were handed to Phil Collen, amigo and lead guitarist out of the aforementioned Def Leppard, a particularly astute choice, because he brings an 80’s Pop sensibility to the overall sound which suits the band.
Jeff Keith bears an uncanny resemblance to Steve Tyler whose stagecraft he apes as he stalks the stage reaching out to the front row. Usually the band shares a bill with other Classic Rock bands in larger arena, but the Empire is the right size to allow them to showcase a set-list of 16 songs culled from all of their 6 studio albums. Next they play their famous hit 'Modern Day Cowboy', surprisingly because in the past it has served as an encore for their live sets, before segueing into the strident 'Be a Man', again with the wailing slide-guitar sound. This is followed by 'Taste Like' whose opening was very similar in form and structure to The Who’s 'Won’t Get Fooled Again' before transforming chameleon-like into the Black Sabbath inspired 'Miles Away'.
Demonstrating the crowd-pleasers that they are, they started to throw plectrums and papers with scribbled stage instructions into the crowd for 'What You Give' and as a special treat, and to demonstrate their variety, they played a rendition of the Beatles 'Blackbird' with Hannon on double-neck guitar. This was truly an electrifying performance and a very happy Father's Day.
Ivan De Mello
Royal Albert Hall, London
Tuesday 18th June -
Thursday 20th June 2019
. . . . and so, it came to pass that after 50 years from its formation and inception, the Crimson King gathered its loins once again to tour and celebrate this momentous occasion by performing fifty gigs around the world. Dear old Albert and his Hall were chosen for three of these UK only dates, only being beaten by four dates in Mexico City; to come. No mean feat to fill the hall on three consecutive nights, but . . . given the legacy of this band and the ‘beyond obsession’ of its acolytes, an easy task. A strong contingent dug deep and entered into the spirit, coming to worship at the high altar every night. I was one. Robert Fripp, everlasting member and guitarist unique, had got this one worked out. For each night at the RAH, Robert woke up each morning and depending upon which side of the bed was exited, penned the evenings spoils. Mid-morning frantic revision was induced in each band member just to ensure their lines were perfect, especially of the less often played numbers. The knowledge of this gross variation in material each night was the dangled carrot for us mere mortals. We were not disappointed. We did not miss out, as each night was different, not only in choice but running order. Yes, there were staple pieces but the variety created aural implosion. I could spend this piece on analysis of what was in, what was out, what was played each night, what was played only once, but embracing the whole three nights is what follows:
Starting at the front, for the uninitiated, the current King has a trio of drummers. All reading from left to right, Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison. These three melded, syncopated, shifted the time signatures, and on/off metered themselves into one. Individually they shone, briefly, but the technical interplay was as one, one giant percussive kit. This is the best I can try to visualise for you. Hugely rehearsed, massive amount of three way cues all night, but clever; nothing is left to chance. After watching these three play on consecutive nights I can only grasp a small percentage of the level and complexity they work on. Hugely untouchable. Plus, Jeremy plays some fine keyboard sections too; no mean feat in matching, often bettering (on some nights), Keith Tippett.
Reaching backwards we come to Mel Collins (sax/flute), Tony Levin (bass/stick), Jakko Jakszyk (vocals/guitar) and Robert Fripp (guitar/keys). I struggle to explain the dexterity, each are master in their own class, but it’s the ability to switch from grossly, and I mean insane, time signatures and ‘memory muscle’ fingering to deft, space ridden (read ‘rest’ in musical terms) sections of sheer beauty and bliss. For me, having followed the band from that fateful day in 1969 when 'In the Court of the Crimson King' was released, this is the Crimson that has taken all this time to gestate. Hugely pinnacle scaling. I will never fully understand the structure, as over each night the commonly played material gives out new nuances, constantly shifting its shape and gently massaged over time. If I point out the wondrous tone that Robert can extract, yet better it the following night, I’d have to mention all the other musicians’ offerings; and space I don’t have here.
In a very succinct conclusion: There’s no band that, in my honest opinion, can give such an intense performance, touch every emotion, are totally irreplaceable, and command adoration night after night (by the same people possibly). Yes, they do need the odd night off as by the third night I spotted the odd misdemeanour, but three nights on the trot, for over six hours in total is a lot to assimilate. Likely to be draining for those that generate this wonderful amount of music, which it was. I know for a fact that Robert dislikes the term ‘Progressive’, it’s not anymore, its Crimson in type, Crimson in nature, Crimson in performance, a truly ‘hot date’. With three nights of varying degree of hot date I’m satiated, but only until the next time.
Voting: Best night in its class: Thursday 20th, probably as my seat was in the stalls, one third of the way round from the stage. The full experience of the PA and resulting mix was felt and heard, even in the vastness of Albert's Hall. Previous two nights were on the floor in the arena, the middle night, for me, being row four and caught most of the natural sounds from the three drummers at stage lip and tended to dominate at times. As for musical prowess, can’t split, all seven, all six plus hours, just unbelievably outstanding, words fail . . .
+ Bleedin' Noses + Munky
ULU Live, London
Thursday 20th June 2019
Arizona Alt-Rockers The Meat Puppets initially gained widespread attention in 1993 when the Kirkwood brothers joined Nirvana on stage for their legendary MTV unplugged performance. They formed in 1980 and served as a major influence on Grunge bands in the early 90's with their blend of Cow-Punk, Country and Psychedelic Rock.
Roll forward to 2019, resembling ZZ Top in look (the band are fans apparently) it is somewhat surprising then that they now play smaller venues such as ULU, but great for fans who get to experience them in an intimate setting. The band broke-up twice (Cris experienced crack and heroin addiction, the death of his wife from an overdose and a spell in prison having being shot by a security guard he attacked). It is then a minor miracle that the brothers, together with original drummer Derek Bostrom retain the original line-up and are joined by the synthesiser of Rob Stabinsky and Kurts's son Elmo on bass.
It is difficult to categorise the Meat Puppets because their range of styles is so eclectic and it is particularly satisfying that their set is so varied, like hearing a number of bands on the same bill. Their new album 'Dusty Notes' was released in March and is their 15th studio album to date, with some of the songs showcased in today’s set. Surprisingly the material from this album is their most Country mainstream, giving the gig a Hillbilly hoedown feel at times . The inclusion of synthesiser though gives a weird twist on this genre so that their songs retain a freshness.
They are at their best when they play their elongated Space-Rock jams with Kurt’s droning vocals, which has a mesmerising effect on the listener and sends one’s mind into orbit like on the ten minute version of 'Up on the Sun'. They also include the two songs they played on the Nirvana MTV gig - the hypnotic 'Plateau' and 'Lake of Fire' which turns into a dance-inducing lengthy workout.
This was a phenomenal gig served up by a very special band. Also, not forgetting opening act Bleedin’ Noses, hailing from South Wales, with their energetic brand of Country and Punk, got the crowd going, and second support Munky, the Dublin based-band, delivering a funky tribute to Bootsy Collins.
Ivan De Mello (pictures courtesy Bruce Biege and Andrew Turner)
Lynyrd Skynyrd + Status Quo + Massive Wagons
Wembley Arena, London
Saturday 29th June 2019
WARNING: This review triggered WRC’s long, rambly article alert … readers with low boredom thresholds and/or ADHD may want to jump directly to the thoughtfully-provided summary at the end.
I like cake. And I like Chicken Dhansak. But I wouldn’t ever dream of going for them both at the same time.
That’s the best I can come up with for how I couldn’t help but feel when I saw that Quo were announced as the main support for Lynyrd Skynyrd on the UK Leg of their Farewell Tour. I’ve loved both bands as long as I can remember, but … together? Regular WRC readers with elephantine memories (and high boredom thresholds) may recall I mentioned having been lucky enough to catch the first show of this tour in Florida last year where both Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet (RIP Phil McCormack, btw) were in support. I wouldn’t have dared to dream for a repeat of such a Wonka-esque Golden Ticket, but I must confess to have been hoping for another Southern Rock-fest.
Proceedings were got underway by Massive Wagons, who were a bit of an unknown to me (I don’t get out much), but a brief pre-show visit to the Googleatron informed me that they are the band behind ‘Back to the Stack’, a rather splendid tribute to a certain Mr Richard John Parfitt, to whom this set closer was dedicated tonight. We missed the opener (might have just heard the dying strains of ‘Last on the List’; not sure), but were treated to another selection of tracks, all from the Lancashire outfit’s 2018’s fourth studio album, ‘Full Nelson’. The curiously titled ‘Billy Balloon Head’ followed, and after a quick Mungo Jerry vocal riff from the tartan-suited Baz Mills (no double denim here), ‘Sunshine Smile’. A slight downshift of pace (though not power) for Ratio, before ‘Hate Me’ and aforementioned closer ‘Back to The Stack’.
This was a relatively short 30 minute outing that was totally full on … Baz Mills bounces around the stage constantly (can’t wait to see how he keeps this up for a full set), whilst the twin guitars of Adam Thistlethwaite/Stephen Holl and the rhythm section of Alex Thistlethwaite (drums) and Adam Bouskill (bass) powered through the set perfectly, seemingly enjoying every second but certainly not fazed by the size of the room or the scale of the occasion.
They came straight onto the Skynyrd dates on the back of a UK tour supporting The Wildhearts, and it will be interesting to see where this momentum takes them next - I hope that bigger and better things await them … from what I’ve seen & heard, I think they deserve it. Although having said that, I’ve got to get ‘Billy Balloon Head’ out of my sub-conscious .. seems it’s a total ear-worm.
I suspect like a lot of people, I fell a bit out of love with The Mighty Quo for a decade or so when they lost their way a bit. I’d still dig out an album or rustle up a playlist occasionally, but not often, truth be told. A few things changed this – in no particular order: ‘Two Way Traffic’ (a return to thoroughly enjoyable classic Quo, imo), Aquostic (the unplugged gig), and the Hello Quo documentary. To paraphrase Joe Elliot from the latter (and I think extend his interpretation of the period in question), there was a spell from 72-77 when they were untouchable – a straight run of great albums (‘Piledriver’, ‘Hello’, ‘Quo’, ‘On The Level’, ‘Blue for You’) was concluded with (IMO) one of the best double-live albums of the 70’s (seriously…I play this more than ‘Strangers in the Night’ … ‘Live & Dangerous’ … hell, even more than ‘Made in Japan’). I know Francis hates ‘Live’, but Steve Harris hates the first Maiden album, and I love that too. Do yourself a favour, if you haven’t done so for a few years – dig these out again and give them another listen.
So, I kinda tuned back in to TMQ. But as well as being a little bemused by Quo even being paired with Skynyrd, I must confess to slight … well, nerves - about seeing them without Rick, as this was a first for me. Whilst undoubtedly a great rhythm player (a heavy rhythm boogie woogie wreckin machine indeed - thanks, Massive Wagons), Rick was never going to appear in a Top ‘x’ players list - but in an outfit where the whole has always been greater than the sum of the parts, the sheer presence of him in the collective was monumental. I know that Richie Malone has been in post for a couple of years so can’t be making a bad fist of it, but still. Then there’s the fact Rick sang many of my favourite Quo tracks – ‘Big Fat Mama’, ‘Mystery Song’, ‘Rain’, ‘Little Lady’, etc. So these thoughts, and a couple of, to be frank, lukewarm recent reviews, and I was only half looking forward to seeing them – I care too much to see them fade or bomb.
So it was that the familiar riff of ‘Caroline’ cranked up with Richie Malone stage right, not RJP. A perfectly executed rendition, but I’m not quite on board yet. In hindsight, I think I was acclimatising. Next up was a couple of verses of ‘Something 'Bout You Baby I Like’ segueing neatly into ‘Rain’ with Rhino taking the vocal. Here we go. Watershed moment. Do or die, Shit or bust. Rhino does Rick proud, belting out a massive long-term favourite with aplomb. And I’m almost fully back on board.
A brief chat from ace raconteur Francis and we’re into a “a few songs cleverly stuck together by someone”… bits of ‘What You’re Proposing’ (with Andrew Bown stepping around the keyboards and coming out front as a third guitarist for the first of several times over the evening) , ‘Down the Dustpipe’ (with Bown now taking up harmonica duty), ‘Wild Side of Life’, ‘Railroad’, ‘Again & Again’ (Rhino on vocal duty again) and ‘Mystery Song’ (with Richie adeptly taking up the vocal honours). 10 years of Quo in a glorious six or so minutes and I’m fully back on board. And loving every minute.
It was at this point I got a 2-word text from AJ - “Quo awesome”. A wise man, our esteemed editor. ‘The Oriental’ from 2002’s ‘Heavy Traffic’ was followed by two new songs, ‘Cut me Some Slack’ and ‘Liberty Lane’, which Francis confessed afterwards he didn’t announce beforehand to prevent everyone making an additional trip to the loo (or words to that effect). More familiar service was resumed with ‘In the Army Now’ before a superb ‘Roll Over Lay Down’.
And then, Francis is alone on the stage, noodling around a little with an increasingly familiar refrain, playing the audience and milking every second before the rest of the band returned with perfect timing for the post-intro full on blast of ‘Down Down’. Not quite a ‘grown men cried’ moment … but certainly a ‘grown men joyously bounced around a bit, making knobs of themselves’ moment.
I think anything is going to be a little bit of a comedown after ‘Down Down’, but ‘Whatever You Want’ (with Andrew Bown adding lead vocal to his ever-increasing workload) did a pretty good job of maintaining the mood before ‘Rocking All Over the World’ brought proceedings to a close.
The loss of Rick will have been most keenly felt by his family and friends of course, but professionally there can be no doubt that his no longer being around created a massive hole, both for Quo generally and the Rossi/Parfitt double act that was arguably the essence of Quo for many years. I think the fact that Francis has chosen to (and has been able to) carry on must have been a tough call, but I also think it’s important to note that he continues to enjoy the partnerships with Andrew Bown and Rhino, who between them have over 75 years of service (43 & 34 respectively) in this band, quietly plying their trade and playing largely uncelebrated parts. It’s great to see these two in particular taking a step forward, and playing more instantly acknowledgable roles.
Rick was a huge character, and his presence will always be missed - and that’s no disrespect to the rest of the band, Richie Malone in particular, who did a great job whilst standing in the shoes of a giant. But I for one vote to remember him and his near-50 year contribution to this unique institution of a band with great fondness and happy memories of gigs gone by whilst looking forward to seeing Quo again with their name at the top of the ticket very, very soon.
And they’d better play ‘Forty Five Hundred Times’.
Skynyrd took a little while to take hold with me. Not many years out of short trousers and having worked through Quo (‘Blue For You’ and ‘Piledriver’ were 2 of my first 3 record shop purchases – on those old pre-recorded cassettes, no less!), I think I had discovered Deep Purple and thought they were the ‘be all and end all’ when I bought my first copy of ‘Pronounced’, purely on spec, from a second-hand record stall at Woolwich Market in about 1978. I left it on in the background wondering what it was all about and should I stick Machine Head on as a palate-cleanser when the solo (or should I say solos) on the final track of side 2 gouged me through both cheeks and reeled me in.
There’s little logical comparison between those bands of course, but the album grew on me with each subsequent listen and opened the door for a young Metalhead not only to more Skynyrd but Southern Rock as a genre, and some 40 years later I can say it must still be in my top 10 listened-to albums ever. And bands from the Allman Brothers and The Outlaws through to Blackberry Smoke and The Cadillac 3, not to mention minor detours down avenues to the likes of The Charlie Daniels Band and Hayseed Dixie ultimately have Skynyrd to thank for my listening to their music.
As with Massive Wagons, we almost missed set opener ‘Working for MCA’ due to quaffing whilst waxing lyrical about Quo as well as being mentally tuned in for the staccato intro of expected (well, by me, anyway) opener ‘Skynyrd Nation’, which for some reason was slid down a notch in the setlist. Fortunately, only mere seconds were lost. Tone suitably set, all believed Johnny Van Zant’s proclamation that “it’s going to be a helluva show”.
The rebel attitude may have dimmed a little in these twilight years (the Confederate Flag is replaced with a Confederate/Stars and Stripes combo), but there is no loss of enthusiasm or polish in the delivery. Granted, sole remaining ever-present Gary Rossington moves like a man who feels his years, but the similarly … well-seasoned Rickey Medlocke struts like a man a fraction of his 69 years, generally having a great time.
With nine people on stage, there’s plenty going on, and a massive screen at the rear alternates between (exceptionally good definition) close ups of the live action and a stackload of poignant archive Super-8 footage of years gone by.
Apparently, inspired by Gary Rossington wrapping his new car around a tree whilst loaded, ‘That Smell’ was apparently intended as a bit of a wake up call by Ronnie (no angel himself in that department, as he was the first to admit) to the overuse of … errr …relaxants being enjoyed by various band members at the time. It’s tragically ironic that just a few days after the release of the parent album (1977’s ‘Street Survivors’), the most devastating event of their history happened.
The more upbeat Steve Gaines–penned ‘I Know a Little’ was then followed by ‘Gimme Back My Bullets’, ‘The Needle & the Spoon’ and Saturday Night Special, before one of my personal highlights of the evening. A bit of a “No Stairway…denied” type thing, but I reckon that the answers ‘Freebird’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ should not be allowed as responses to the question “What’s your favourite Skynyrd track?” Too easy, too common, and enables an easy disregard of a fantastic catalog. Personally, I’ve a number of contenders, but the winner – since the first time I heard it – is ‘The Ballad of Curtis Lowe’, so I was immensely happy to see it introduced to the setlist after God knows how many years. Although the omission of the last verse robbed me a little of one of my favourite lines ever:
“He lived a lifetime playing the black man’s Blues,
And on the day he lost his life, that was all he had to lose.”
From one firm favourite to another serious contender, I imagine the beautiful ‘Tuesdays Gone’ brought a many a lump to throat. Some more wonderful old Super-8 footage being shown on the big screen, and Peter Keys playing that delicate and emotive solo with the same grace as the marvellous Billy Powell did for so long.
On the home stretch, we got Ronnie’s plea for some peace and quiet in ‘Don’t Ask Me No Questions’, before a wonderful rendition of ‘Simple Man’ a great, understated song about listening to your mama and living your life properly. Johnny then recounted the tale of Ronnie’s encounter at The Jug with Linda Lou in ‘Gimme Three Steps’, before the long-serving cover of JJ Cale’s ‘Call me the Breeze’ kept the pace up. Or ‘Blowin’ down the road’, if you will.
Whilst there are a lot of new bands and a lot of new music to be hopefully about, we are sadly at a time where a lot of the old guard are heading for The Great Gig in the Sky. As we know, Skynyrd have lost more band members than is in any way reasonable, from the tragic event of 1977 onwards. Whilst these guys are no longer around, they are a long way from forgotten. As well as the archive footage shown, co-writer (and former guitarist) Ed King gets a special mention on the big screen at the start of crowd-pleasing set closer ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. But nowhere is this as poignant as during the encore (I say encore … there was no halt or curtain-call, as such) of the unparalleled 10 minutes of auditory glory that is ‘Freebird’.
As Peter Keys, plays the familiar piano intro, the screen shows vintage footage of Billy Powell playing the exact same thing (I think it was … I’m no pianist, but it was pretty well synchronised) ... as Johnny sings “If I leave here tomorrow”, the image subtly changes from a close up of him into an image of big brother Ronnie. Between the verses, the image changes to a series of gently flickering candles, one for each bandmate sadly no longer with us, all namechecked and remembered. Sounds cheesy and possibly a bit maudlin, but it wasn’t … it was respectful and a nice recognition of those no longer with us who contributed to this band. It saddens me to think of those candles increasing.
But then the clincher: at the start of the second verse, Johnny shelves his mic, puts a familiar looking hat on the mic stand, and leaves the stage … to leave us with vintage Ronnie on the big screen, taking all of the second verse and break to the instrumental - perfectly synchronised old image, great quality Ronnie vocal (complete with “How bout you?“), and live performance of the music itself. The closing section is, as you’d expect, flawless…. monumental... epic… emotional – pick your own superlative; they all apply.
And so, with waves and bows, the show was over, and after Birmingham on Sunday night, so is their presence on these shores. Farewell tours have been known to be false dawns (or should that be false sunsets?) before of course, but this felt, as billed, like a true farewell.
I doubt we’ll see their like again.
Despite railing about the lack of genre cohesion at the start of this ramble, this whole show worked perfectly. Don’t know why - it just did. So, whoever the inspired promoter is who put this ticket together, please be assured I have gorged myself on copious amounts of humble pie, and I doff my cap to you, Sir. Or Madam. And if this was pure dumbass luck, can you tell me your pick for next week’s lottery numbers please?
Either way, maybe I’ll give Dhansak and cake a go after all.
The short version…
This whole piece turned out a bit long (never have been good at sticking to word limit targets), but with two such iconic bands (and, admittedly, a natural tendency towards inane rambling), this was always likely to happen. So, the short version:
Massive Wagons – great, energetic, fun. Go see them
The Mighty Quo – there’s life in the old dog yet. Both heads of it. Go see them.
Skynyrd – The masters … Last of a Dyin’ Breed indeed. You’ve blown it unless you jump on plane & head west. I’d still consider it, though …