Live review: Gaz Coombes at ULU, London 28/2/18

Doing a handful of UK warm-up dates prior to the release of the album ‘World’s Strongest Man’ and a full UK tour in May, I catch up with Gaz Coombes and his band at the old University of London ULU building, now rebranded Student Central.

Stepping out on to a stage so packed out with twinkling retro sound equipment, kitsch standard lamps and vintage keyboards that the uninitiated may have mistaken it for a particularly camp car-boot sale, Coombes is clearly delighted that the crowd have braved the snow and ice to turn out for him.

My fascination with Gaz Coombes began when Supergrass first burst on to the scene in the mid 90s as that cheeky, wacky, slightly zany antidote to Blur and Oasis’s ongoing battle for the crown of Britpop. And since the band’s split in 2010 my fascination has continued as I’ve followed Coombes through his solo career – where he’s just about to release his third album ‘World’s Strongest Man’.

We began to get hints of a more mature, more introspective side to Coombes’ writing with the release of Supergrass’s third album, via tracks like ‘Moving’, and this is very much the path that his solo career has continued along. Coombes has eschewed any temptation to become a one-man Supergrass tribute and, save for the odd rendition from his former band like the aforementioned ‘Moving’, he’s tended to stick resolutely to solo material for his live shows. And, clearly, he’s now getting to the place where he’s got a really strong and growing body of work to draw from. Coombes’ first solo album ‘Here Comes The Bombs’ showed some real promise but was a somewhat austere electronica-influenced affair that took many by surprise. The second, the Mercury prize-nominated ‘Matador’ with its fuller production, beautiful melodies and sensitive song-writing understandably drew considerable praise from many quarters. With Coombes’ third album, however, it may well be that he’s on to something even more special.


Photo credit: Steve Smith

Tonight’s set-list includes songs from all three albums but, unusually for a live gig promoting any new or soon-to-be-released album, the new songs were amongst the strongest and the most memorable and dare we say it the biggest crowd-pleasers. In terms of highlights tracks from the new album like current single ‘Deep Pockets’ sit really well alongside earlier material from the such as ‘Buffalo’, ‘Hot Fruit’, ‘20/20’ and ‘Matador’. And there’s no risk of austerity in terms of sound on this tour either: we have lush sonic textures on the keys, a captivating rhythm section and a divine-sounding trio of female backing singers supporting Gaz’s unmistakable voice and nifty guitar-playing.

Just as, nearly a quarter of a century ago, Supergrass grabbed my attention because I thought that they were doing something more interesting than either Blur or Oasis at the time, so it seems when it comes to the matter of solo careers, too. I am tempted to conclude that Coombes is doing something more interesting than either Damon Albarn or Noel Gallagher these days and I do think we are going to be in for a real treat when ‘Worlds’ Strongest Man’ is released.


Photo credit: Tom Rose

Related reviews:
Gaz Coombes at the Roundhouse 2016
Gaz Coombes – Matador
Vangoffey at the Social 2016


Hard rock: album review – Voodoo Circle ‘Raised On Rock’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Inspired by the likes of Rainbow and Deep Purple, Germany’s Voodoo Circle have been delivering melodic hard rock for a decade now. Recently, Voodoo Circle underwent a metamorphosis that both of those aforementioned bands have had considerable experience of, namely a change in vocalist.

Herbie Langhans replaces David Readman as lead singer for this latest album – Raised On Rock. “I feel that the band sounds even more autonomous, a little less bluesy and much meatier with Herbie at the mic,” Alex Beyrodt, the band’s guitarist, founder and lead composer, enthuses. “This allowed me to work on ideas which would probably not really have suited his predecessor David Readman but are absolutely perfect for Herbie’s powerful voice.”

Virtuoso guitar combined with accessible melodies and unforgettable hooks is, as Ritchie Blackmore discovered long ago, an irresistible combination and there’s some good song-writing and quality musicianship on this album. ‘Running Away From Love’ deploys all of those tricks and opens the album in style. ‘Where Is The World We Love’ and ‘Chase Me Away’ show a slower, more reflective side of the band but, again, strong melodies, memorable choruses and passionate, soulful guitar solos leave their mark on the listener. The Blackmore-esque epic ‘Dreamchaser’ dates back to the earliest days of the band. Originally written for Voodoo Circle’s debut album Beyrodt wasn’t quite happy with the result but, finally, it takes its place on this album. “The arrangement of the number was changed and overhauled repeatedly over the years, now it’s matured to the point where it was ready for recording,” says Beyrodt.

Langhans has a voice perfectly suited for this type of material and long-term fans of the band should have no worries at all about accepting him into the fold. Meanwhile, for those who may be less familiar with Voodoo Circle but have an abiding love of beautifully-played melodic hard rock this is an album well worth checking out.

Released: 9th February 2018



Americana: album review – Orphan Colours ‘All On Red’

Back in the summer of 2010 I was one of many thousands at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy festival being wowed by the impressive talents and uplifting melodies of the then newly-formed alt-country outfit, ahab. Sadly, the pressures of holding it all together proved too much and the band split. Two of their number, Steve Llewellyn and Dave Burn, were not done yet, however. Together with ex Noah & The Whale guitarist Fred Abbott, Danny & The Champions of The World drummer Steve Brookes and bass player Graham Knight, they formed a new band Orphan Colours.

As Llewellyn explains, “At the end of 2013 both ahab and Noah & The Whale had been chewed up and spat out by the music business. We found ourselves out of a job despite both band’s upward trajectories. The toll of touring and hard graft was too much. Speaking for myself, I had a lot more to give and I wasn’t anywhere near done yet. I had a backlog of songs that weren’t fit for ahab and I wanted to get them out into the world. So despite having failed with ahab and the financial pressures I was under, I put every penny I had into this project.”

After a really promising EP ‘High Hopes’ in 2016 the band set to work on the live circuit but have now finally released their debut album. Compared to the up-tempo numbers of love and heartbreak from the ahab days, All On Red mines more of a classic, laid-back, country-rock vibe but the talent for strong melody, heart-warming vocals and infectious choruses is as evident as ever. The deliciously-sounding ‘Start Of Something’ which opens the albums gives you everything you would want from a great country rock song and from then on the album doesn’t falter.

“I had written my fair share of sensitive songs for ahab – about love and loss and all that, and there’s a few on here but I really wanted to bring a bit of rock n roll into the UK Americana scene and I feel like we’ve achieved a good balance on this record,” contends Llewellyn.

It was particularly nice to catch the band performing a few songs from the album as part of an in-store appearance at Bexhill’s Music’s Not Dead record store last Saturday (well three-fifths of them anyway – drummer, Steve Brookes, eschewing the chance to set up his kit on the tiny shop window stage and guitarist, Dave Burn, managing to damage his ankle falling of stage the night before). Gamely, the depleted gang honour the gig anyway and deliver an impressive, heartfelt performance. While only a small number of those crammed into the shop owned up to witnessing either Orphan Colours or ahab live before, it was encouraging to see that they had clearly won over a number of new fans.

All On Red is a very impressive debut album. Let’s hope the music world conspires to keep Orphan Colours around for a few years longer than it did their predecessors.

Released: 26th January 2018

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Related reviews:
ahab at Cropredy 2015
Orphan Colours in London 2016
Dave Burn – solo album review

Folk-rock: EP review – Merry Hell ‘Bury Me Naked’

If I was to try and sum up the band Merry Hell I’d ask people to imagine if Fairport Convention had come from Wigan. That is not in any way intended as an insult. Being from Lancashire and being a long-time fan of Fairport Convention it is definitely 100% meant as a compliment.

Merry Hell’s lyrical themes tend to be somewhat edgier, politically, compared to Fairport but not in an over-earnest ranty way. Bitter-sweet reflectiveness and wry good humour tend to be the band’s hallmarks. And so it is with ‘Bury Me Naked’ – the band’s new single. Written and sung by the band’s female lead, Virginia Kettle, it’s a great mid-tempo sing-along with an ecological theme and a friendly rebuke about filling our lives with too much junk and clutter. Originally appearing on the band’s second album this track is a re-recording featuring some fiddle wizardry from incoming band member, Neil McCartney.

The second track ‘Sailing Too Close To The Wind’ is a slower-paced ballad that’s lifted from Merry Hell’s most recent album Bloodlines. Going back to my initial analogy, this track would not have been at all out of place alongside some of the memorable songs that the likes of Ralph McTell gifted to Fairport Convention after they got back in business as a touring and recording unit. Two additional songs ‘Drunken Serenade feat. The Banshee Reel’ and ‘No Place Like Tomorrow’ also showcase the band’s song-writing and musical abilities.

Musically, lyrically and, indeed, politically there is a much-needed place for a band Merry Hell in today’s Britain and it’s good to see them going from strength to strength.

Released: February 26th 2018


Related reviews:

Merry Hell ‘Come On England’

Live review: Kevin Armstrong at the Kino, St Leonards 15/2/18

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

Kevin Armstrong’s guitar playing has accompanied stars including David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Morrissey, Prefab Sprout, Sinéad O’Connor, Roy Orbison, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Paul McCartney and Gil Evans. For one night only Kevin guides us through his legendary career.

As a child Kevin Armstrong grew up with Beatlemania. By his teens he was buying his first guitar and living and breathing music. Experiencing life as a professional musician in the post-punk scene of the late 70s/early 80s he then found himself in a band that suddenly got dropped by their record label and, looking around at the changed Duran Duran/Spandau Ballet era-music scene, it became, in Armstrong’s words, “all c*nts in suits singing about their holidays.”

A new opportunity arose, however, when Armstrong was ushered in to Abbey Road studios to do a session to find out he would be working with David Bowie on songs for the Absolute Beginners film. Although the film would be critically panned on release, the title track was a commercial success and, importantly, got Armstrong noticed by Bowie as a musician he could work with and was asked to put a band together for Bowie’s Live Aid appearance. Breaking from his easy chat tonight, Armstrong reads out a passage describing in detail the emotions running through his head on that momentous day. Highlighting Bowie’s generosity, Armstrong talks of him taking the trouble to introduce each member of his band on stage at Wembley that day, knowing full well the impact it would have on their careers; as well as personally thanking Armstrong for the role he played in putting the band together in interviews afterwards.

In spite of being a Beatles fan Armstrong’s collaborations with Paul McCartney proved less personally rewarding, however. “We had to sit around all day listening to these very long Beatles anecdotes that never seemed to have a punchline,” he reveals to tonight’s audience, emphasising the importance of a personal spark in a relationship for a musical collaboration to really work.

What did turn out to be a very enduring collaboration though was when Armstrong was invited to play guitar on the Bowie-produced Iggy Pop album Blah Blah Blah and to subsequently tour with him. That musical collaboration was rekindled in recent years with Armstrong putting a band together and touring with Iggy once more. There are many amusing anecdotes this evening but one of the funniest is Armstrong’s description of the metamorphosis that the normally urbane, well-spoken James Osterberg goes through in the hours leading up to a show as he transforms into the crazed madman called Iggy Pop.

Armstrong is one of rock’s archetypal great side-men, a musician with that instinctive feel for what the headline artist needs and delivering it with style and creativity rather than ego and me-too-ism. By way of illustration, he plays us a clip from the Tin Machine tour that Armstrong was briefly involved with, which was the sound of every musician on stage competing against one another in a wall of noise and pretty much drowning Bowie out completely.

I’ve seen many of these type of artist talk events over the years. But with a mix of live songs, film clips, spoken passages and lots of relaxed informal chat this was genuinely one of the most thought-provoking, funny and insightful that I’ve experienced. Gavin Martin (renowned former NME journalist and now music editor for the Daily Mirror and himself, like Armstrong, a local Hastings resident) is a skilled operator at teasing out revealing nuggets from his on-stage guests at events like this. But he hardly needs to say a word as host this evening. I was surprised afterwards that this was Armstrong’s first ever gig of this type. However, if it was a case of starting out with a friendly home crowd he has absolutely nothing to worry about in taking this format elsewhere. An evening with Kevin Armstrong like this is going to be well-received by audiences wherever.

Photo: artist publicity

Related review:
Mike Garson performs Aladdin Sane at Birmingham O2 2017

Live review: Towers of London at The New Cross Inn, London 14/2/18

This review was also published by Get Ready To Rock here

A decade or so ago glam punk outfit the Towers Of London were steadlily building up a reputation. Tours supporting the likes of the Pogues and the New York Dolls. Festival slots at Reading and Leeds and Download. But then came lead singer Donny Tourette’s appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. Pissed, bratish and annoying, the Sex Pistols with Bill Grundy this was not. It was more like a bad episode of Grange Hill. An equally ill-chosen appearance on Never Mind The Buzzcocks only made things worse and though the band soldiered on for another couple of years it was pretty much all over.

Fast forward to 2018, however and they are back. “I’ve been following these guys for a while – they’ve now grown up, sorted their shit out but importantly they still retain their bite. This album blows the shit out of what they’ve done in the past!” says former Oasis manager/Creation Records boss, Alan McGee, in the publicity blurb.

So I popped along to the New Cross Inn, south-east London, to see for myself what these guys are up to nowadays. And the verdict? Yes – the band deliver a great energetic set and have, indeed, got their shit together. New single ‘Send In The Roses’ is a superb slice of anthemic, catchy glam-punk meets indie disco. Their new material is sounding great and, of course, there’s a few songs from their early days, too – raucous punky work-outs like ‘Air Guitar’ and ‘Fuck It Up’ and campy New York Dolls-esque ditties like ‘How Rude She Was’. The world needs a few more bands like this and it’s good to see them back in business.

The Towers forthcoming new album ‘Super Sounds Of K-Town’ will be released in spring this year. We all deserve a second chance at times. I genuinely hope this band do well and, hopefully, stay around for a little longer this time.

Catch the new video for ‘Send In The Roses’ here



Blues rock: single review – Big River ‘Blues Blood Baby’

Ahead of an album release this summer, Big River unveil a second single. Meaty rhythm, soulful vocals, catchy hooks and big fat guitar ‘Blues Blood Baby’ is another slice of swampy, bluesy, classic rock boogie from the Kent-based band.

The brainchild of guitarist and session man, Damo Fawsett (who was previously part of another Kent-based hard rock band, Slam Cartel) Big River have been making their mark on the live music scene for a couple of years now. With a vision to celebrate the blues, they bring those classic blues rock sounds of past decades to new and original material and demonstrate some deft song-writing abilities in the process.

The track was recorded on analogue equipment at Ranscombe Studios in Kent, giving it that raw and vintage vibe reminiscent of great albums of the era. I’m looking forward to Big River’s debut album coming out but, for now, ‘Blues Blood Baby’ is a nice taste of what’s in store.

Big River are: Adam Bartholomew (vocals), Damo Fawsett (guitar), Ant Wellman (bass), Joe Martin (drums) Paul Martin (rhythm guitar).

Released: 2nd March 2018



Related Reviews
Big River – Hometown Hustler
Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell at Leo’s Red Lion 2016
Slam Cartel at New Cross Inn 2015

Live review: Anvil / Burnt Out Wreck / VOiD at The Underworld, Camden 6/2/18

Ever since they played their first ever gig at the start of Butlins’ Giants Of Rock festival in January 2017, I’d been hearing good things about Burnt Out Wreck. I was watching a band on the other stage at the time so never got to see them. I’d made a mental note, however, and when former AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd announced a solo tour with his new outfit, with Burnt Out Wreck as the support act, it seemed an ideal opportunity. That was cancelled and then rescheduled and then cancelled again. Third time lucky then when Anvil announced supported by Burnt Out Wreck. An opportunity to finally catch this band, along with Anvil, who I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager when they were supporting Motorhead.

It was a triple bill at Camden’s Underworld, first up were Welsh rockers VOiD. Formed in 2002 with three albums under the belt, VOiD’s brand of classy, melodic hard rock proved a good opener for the evening. I was particularly impressed with their extremely talented lead guitarist, Chris Jones, and even more impressed when the lead singer told the crowd it was Jones’ first ever gig with the band.

Next up were Burnt Out Wreck. Formed by Gary Moat, drummer and chief songwriter of 80s band Heavy Pettin’, Burnt Out Wreck put out their debut album in early 2017 – not long after that first gig at Giants Of Rock. Their brand of bouncy, good-time, hard rock, reminiscent of Bon Scott-era AC/DC, immediately had the audience on their side. Songs like ‘Swallow’ brilliantly bring back some of that sleazy, rock ‘n’ roll boogie swagger, that late 70s pre-stadium AC/DC were so renowned for.

Things could only get even better when the mighty Anvil took the stage couldn’t it? You cannot fault this band’s dedication, enthusiasm and sincerity, or their undying commitment to the rock ‘n’ roll dream – captured so well in the film smash The Story Of Anvil. But to be truthful I was a little underwhelmed by what I saw tonight. I remember when I first saw Anvil in 1983, I couldn’t help thinking that this was a band that sounded better on record than on stage and thirty-odd years later that same thought was occurring to me. For a start the sound wasn’t good. The amps were cranked up a good few notches compared to the support bands. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, except that it lifted the drums and bass to a fairly deafening level while the guitar was barely audible in comparison. It was a shame because I enjoyed their new album and was looking forward to hearing a selection of songs from that, as well as earlier classics like the iconic ‘ Metal On Metal’. We got a good selection of each, plus a rousing rendition of the Steppenwolf classic ‘Born To Be Wild’. However, I came out of the gig 35 years after I last saw Anvil still convinced that they sound better on record than they do live.

That’s not to say I am not very happy to celebrate Anvil’s career renaissance in recent years. “I haven’t delivered a meal in ten fucking years,” Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow told the crowd, alluding to the opening scenes in the Story Of Anvil film which saw him driving around in a van delivering school meals between gigs. And I finally got to see the fantastic Burnt Out Wreck and also become acquainted with Void, who are another band on my ‘ones to watch’ list. All in all a good night.



Folk/Rock: album review – False Lights ‘Harmonograph’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

In that beast known as folk rock we often find that the ’rock’ element tends to be closely rooted in whatever were the current rock influences of the period. Late ’60s Fairport Convention, mid ’70s Steeleye Span or late ’80s Oysterband all captured that Zeitgeist perfectly; and some classic albums came about as a result.

It is not unreasonable to insist, therefore, that if this melding of the two genres is to continue in a meaningful sense that it is time for some more contemporary influences to be embraced.

The first False Lights album Salvor was released in 2015 with a mission to make ’folk rock for the twenty-first century’ and won many fans as a result. Harmonograph continues in that vein and there is an unstoppable energy and momentum about the album from the very start.

Nearly all the tracks on the album are traditional songs from the folk canon, augmented with a couple of adaptations of traditional hymns alongside a tune composed by the group’s Tom Moore. The album is steeped in history and draws on some wonderful folk tunes but it celebrates traditional music without ever being constrained by it.

The lyrics to folk songs like Murder In The Red Barn remain as dramatic, as unforgiving and as brutal as ever; but being removed from any archetypal folk stylings in terms of delivery they are given a potency that is quite startling against a backdrop of jangly indie-sounding guitar and breezy, contemporary-sounding vocal delivery. It really makes the listener hang on to every word of every song.

A stellar line-up of Jim Moray, Sam Carter, Tom Moore, Archie Churchill-Moss, Barnaby Stradling and Stuart Provan means there is never any let up in quality and there is plenty of virtuoso musicianship as well as bags of energy and creativity.

This album is a clear demonstration that False Lights continue to impress and innovate on the road on which they started back in 2015. It does not mean that we have to put away our Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span or Oysterband albums but it does mean that in Harmonograph we have some twenty-first century folk rock that can easily stand proudly beside them.

Released: 2nd February 2018


Related reviews:
Moore, Moss, Rutter at Cecil Sharp House

A renaissance in classic heavy metal: six bands to watch out for

There was a time not too long ago when anything described as a ‘new’ heavy metal band I simply did not get at all. All these weirdly-named sub-genres and even weirder-sounding vocals that just left me feeling old, bewildered and confused.

But in recent years there seems to have been a real renaissance in classic heavy metal from young, upcoming bands who cite influences such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon and a host of others from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) stable from the late 70s/early 80s. Well-written songs, great guitar solos, melodic vocals and crunching riffs: classic heavy metal seems to be in better shape than it’s been for many, many years. There’s plenty out there but here’s a quick round-up of bands that have really captured my imagination recently.

Hell’s Gazelles

Stage presence, charisma, good songs, great riffs, quality musicianship. Many upcoming young bands have some of these elements. Few have them all. But Hell’s Gazelles had absolutely everything – in spades. A young four-piece from Oxford, vocalist Cole Bryant has an immense vocal range and proved himself an incredible front-man. Similarly, the young Nath Digman is a great lead guitarist. Amongst very stiff competition Hell’s Gazelles were definitely the stand-out new act of the weekend for me. It’s hard to predict what the music industry or the rock scene is going to be like in twenty year’s time but if Hell’s Gazelles are not up there alongside whatever 2040’s equivalent of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest is by then there’s no justice in the world. Get their debut EP ‘Hell’s Gazelles’.



Dubbed the ‘new queens of rock’ JoanovArc immediately impressed with an energetic and high-quality performance. Big drums, powerful bass, nice heavy guitar and great vocals, their songs stand up nicely alongside the likes of female hard-rock trailblazers Girlschool, Rock Goddess and Joan Jett. Formed in 2004 by sisters Sam and Shelley Walker, they were soon joined by Deborah Wildish. After five years as a trio, Laura Ozholl completed the line-up. These new queens of rock are definitely worth watching out for.



Kaine is a four-piece formed in 2009 and musically inspired by the late 70s/early 80s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal boom. Powerful well-written songs and powerful delivery, you can hear the influences from their musical heroes like Iron Maiden in their performance. The band released its debut album ‘Falling Through Freedom’ in 2012, and it’s follow-up ‘The Waystone’ in 2014. New album ‘A Crisis of Faith’ is now on pre-order and due for release in 2018. Definitely on my ‘ones to watch list’.



Killit are one of the most impressive bands I’ve come across in recent years. They just have that knack of coming up with instantly catchy, instantly memorable songs and demonstrate the centrality of great song-writing to truly great classic rock. They are awesome performers, too, with vocalist Gaz Twist a talented front-man with a great voice. Numbers like ‘Calm Before The Storm’ and ‘Shut It Down’ from their debut album meant that this classic-sounding heavy metal band can wow audiences with some classic-sounding heavy metal songs.


The Mighty Wraith

Hailing from the spiritual home of heavy metal itself, Birmingham-based four-piece The Mighty Wraith deliver powerful vocals and mighty riffs. Catching them on the off-chance one night while at a loose end in Wolverhampton last Autumn, frontman Matt Gore and his bandmates immediately stood out alongside the other bands taking the stage that evening. 2017 was an important year for the band, with a new EP ‘Outcast’ released, support slots for the likes of of Armored Saint and even hosting their own festival ‘Wraith Fest’. Looking forward to seeing more from these in 2018.


Toledo Steel

Powerfully majestic but hard and heavy Toledo Steel put me in mind of classic-era Dio and Rich Rutter’s vocals and Tom Potter’s and Josh Haysom’s guitars are the perfect combination for this brand of hard-hitting melodic rock metal. Toledo Steel are definitely on my list to see and hear more of and I am certainly enjoying their excellent six-track EP ‘Zero Hour’. The band’s debut album ‘ No Quarter’ is released in May this year.