Live review: Cara Dillon at the Birley Centre, Eastbourne 21/2/19

From ‘She’s Like The Swallow’ from her very first album released, incredibly, some eighteen years ago through to songs from her 2017 album The Wanderer, folk singer Cara Dillon treats the audience to a beautiful and varied selection of songs tonight.

I’ve enjoyed seeing Dillon performing live several times now, the last occasion being at Hastings’ St Mary In The Castle with a full band. Tonight, however, it’s just Dillon, her voice, a little bit of Irish whistle-playing and her husband and musical partner, Sam Lakeman, accompanying her on piano and acoustic guitar. There’s nothing bare-bones and basic about tonight’s performance, though, nor indeed about the setting. The ultra-modern Birley Centre theatre space at the private Eastbourne College, lavishly equipped with a Steinway grand piano, is clearly a gift for Lakeman to perform at tonight, as he compares the Steinway to some of the more battered instruments he’s had to play on elsewhere on the tour.

Whether it’s her interpretations of traditional songs or her own writing, Dillon’s Irish roots and County Derry upbringing are never far from the surface. ‘The Leaving’ is a song she wrote about the tradition of what was once known as ‘the living wake’, she tells us, where relatives would make merry until the early hours to say their farewells, not to a deceased relative but to one emigrating to America, very often never to be seen again. It’s a beautiful, emotive song but an even more poignant moment comes with her rendition of the Troubles-era song ‘There Were Roses’ about two boys, one catholic one protestant, who were both murdered in tit-for-tat killings back in the 70s. Dillon promises not to go on about Brexit but, as she introduces the song, very movingly talks of the threats to the peace process and the crushing of feelings of hope and optimism amongst young people that the current Irish border issues throw up back in her home town. Inviting the audience to join in the chorus, which we all do in our gentle, quiet, thoughtful way – adds to the poignance.

Another especially moving moment in the evening comes about with Dillon’s rendition of the song ‘Lakeside Swans’ from her latest album The Wanderer, which she was inspired to write as a result of the refugee crisis and seeing those awful images of the drowned little Syrian boy on the beach that appeared on the front pages of every newspaper a few years ago.

Always a mixture of beautiful singing, emotive lyrics and captivating performance an evening with Cara Dillon and Sam Lakeman on stage is never less than something very, very special. Eastbourne tonight demonstrates their ability to pull this off once again.

http://www.caradillon.co.uk/

Facebook WANDERER POSTER 2019 - 2

Related reviews:

Cara Dillon at Cropredy 2014
Cara Dillon at Hastings 2016

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Live review: Holy Holy perform The Man Who Sold The World & Ziggy Stardust at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 17/2/19

The Bowie-inspired supergroup Holy Holy, featuring original Spider from Mars Woody Woodmansey and David Bowie collaborator and legendary producer Tony Visconti, first got together in 2014 when they toured Bowie’s groundbreaking The Man Who Sold The World album in full, which both men played on. This was followed with a 2017 tour playing The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars in full. Now, in 2019, Holy Holy are back with another tour performing not one, but both of these legendary albums in full, back-to-back. Bexhill’s De La Warr is absolutely packed out for an evening of Bowie worship. Fronted by Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory, Woodmansey and Visconti are joined by James Stevenson and Paul Cuddeford on guitar, Berenice Scott on keyboards and Jessica Lee Morgan on saxophone, guitar and additional vocals.

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Beginning with The Man Who Sold The World set, the heaviest of Bowie’s early 70s albums, the band don’t hold back on songs like the doom-laden All The Madmen and The Supermen as well as the lighter but no less brooding ‘After All’, not to mention a majestic rendition of the album’s title track. As I observed on a previous tour, Gregory is a powerful singer and great performer who does a nice line in Bowiesque vocals but without ever descending into play-acting or parody. Although the venue is all-seated tonight, many in the crowd don’t need much encouragement at all from Gregory when he says they are welcome to make their way to the front (even if the venue management appear to take a slightly different view).

If the atmosphere for the moody, dark proto-goth vibes of The Man Who Sold The World is reverential when the band switch to performing Ziggy Stardust, however, it’s one of unadulterated, joyous celebration. This is exactly as it should be for one of the truly classic albums of the second-half of the twentieth century. From ‘Five Years’ (track 1 side one on the original vinyl) through to ‘Rock n Roll Suicide’ (track 6, side 2) the classic songs keep rolling one after another, each one greeted with tumultuous, affectionate, thunderous applause.

Yes, those on stage didn’t write these songs and (in the majority of cases) weren’t the ones to originally perform them. Their creator, together with two of his three Spiders From Mars band-mates, is no longer with us. And yet, and yet… this is very much a band, not a disparate collection of musicians and competing egos coming together to reel off a tribute, but a band – one that has genuinely gelled musically, one that works the stage together and one that laps up the love shown by tonight’s audience. Everything about this performance screams out that this is something special, that this is something way beyond the myriad of Bowie tributes that can be found up and down the country.

The encore sees a surprise rendition of Bowie’s 2013 hit ‘Where Are We Now’, something the band only hit on part way through the current tour, Gregory tells us. That’s followed by a triumphant ‘Life On Mars’, a superbly energetic’Changes’ and a gloriously raucous ‘Rebel Rebel’.

Bowie’s music needs to be kept alive and deserves to be kept alive and, really, no-one does that better than Holy Holy.

Set-list:

Width of a Circle
All The Madmen
Black Country Rock
After All
Running Gun Blues
Saviour Machine
She Shook Me Cold
The Man Who Sold The World
The Supermen

Five Years
Soul Love
Moonage Daydream
Starman
It Ain’t Easy

Lady Stardust
Star
Hang On to Yourself
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide

Where Are We Now
Life On Mars
Changes
Rebel Rebel

http://www.holyholy.co.uk/

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When Darren met Woody…

Related reviews:

Holy Holy at Shepherd’s Bush Empire 2017

Mike Garson perfoms Aladdin Sane at Birmingham O2 2017

 

Book review: ‘Look Wot They Dun! – The ultimate guide to UK glam rock on TV in the 70s’ by Peter Checksfield

Rather than another biography giving an overview of the various glam acts of the 1970s ‘Look Wot They Dun’ is basically an encyclopedic directory that methodically lists all the TV appearances of numerous bands associated with the glam era throughout the 70s. Fifty different acts are covered in all, with the appearances for each in turn listed chronologically.

As much as I am fascinated by this era and as much as I will always love bands like Sweet and Slade and T. Rex, I must admit when I first picked up this book I wasn’t sure whether there would be enough in it to sustain my interest across a whopping 286 pages. However, I soon began to get engrossed, reading some of the fascinating little snippets and insights that accompany many of the entries. In one of his earliest TV appearances, Elton John, for example, is wearing “a horrible outfit of faded blue jeans, a long-sleeved orange T-shirt and a sleeveless striped cardigan” prior to the emergence of the flamboyantly-dressed larger-than-life character of later appearances. The Sweet’s Andy Scott had a run of appearances on Opportunity Knocks in late 1966 in an outfit called The Silverstone Set, we learn, several years before finding fame with the glam rockers. And Mud’s first TV appearance, back in 1968, is on the Basil Brush Show while David Essex’s first appears some two years earlier on the Five O’clock Club.

Indeed, although the book is presented in catalogue format and lacks an explicit overarching narrative there are, nevertheless, obvious patterns that begin to emerge across a significant number of bands. First we see tentative appearances on scratchy black and white shows during the 60s beat boom (Marc Bolan and David Bowie/Jones on Ready Steady Go, the aforementioned Andy Scott on Opportunity Knocks etc.) Then we fast-forward a few years and see those same people bedecked in glitter and glam hamming it up on Top Of The Pops in the period 1971-1973. Then by around 1974 we mostly see the glam bands to start putting away the bacofoil and the glitter and opting for a more conventional rock star jeans-and-leather jacket or cool-white-suit look. Then, finally, in many of the cases we see the number of entries for TV appearances steadily declining as the second half of the seventies draws to a close.

Though I would have welcomed a bit more by way of narrative thread, the book nevertheless provides a fascinating insight into how one of the most visual musical genres of the twentieth century projected itself on to our TV screens. And as an invaluable reference tool I’m sure ‘Look Wot They Dun’ will be something I’ll be going back to again and again.

Published: February 2019

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Book review: ‘Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars’ by David Hepworth

From Little Richard through to Kurt Cobain (taking in the likes of Brian Wilson, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks and assorted others along the way) David Hepworth’s book is a fascinating collection of pen portraits of rock stars at key moments in post-war popular culture.

I’m not sure I completely buy his central thesis that the mystique-destroying power of the internet, changing tastes in popular music and a music industry that has transformed beyond recognition means we’ll never have anything approaching the slightly preposterous, larger-than-life, self-obsessed personality of the bona fide rock star ever again. Assuming the future of rock ‘n’ roll is one as a niche genre rather than a mass-market genre, surely we’re still going to see the odd flamboyant, charismatic, guitar-wielding eccentric who craves recognition and manages to make some sort of name for themselves, even if they are no longer driving mythological Rolls Royce’s into swimming pools or chucking TVs out of hotel room windows?

Even if you’re more optimistic about the future of rock ‘n’ roll than the author, there is plenty to keep the rock music fan totally engrossed in this book. Did you know the joys of anal sex provided the original inspiration for the lyrics to Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti or that Dave Clarke of the Dave Clarke Five was the one who was sitting with Freddie Mercury on the day he died? Uncommon People has certainly encouraged me to seek out a few more biographies of some of these exotic creatures we called rock stars.

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Six recently revived rock bands that are turning out to be dynamite

From folk rockers Lindisfarne to new wave of British heavy metallers Rock Goddess to glam punksters Towers of London here are six bands that have reformed in the past few years that we unashamedly welcome back.

1. Atomic Rooster
Originally active: 1969–1975, 1980–1983
Reformed: 2016
Until catching them at Butlins Rock and Blues weekend at Skegness in 2018, Atomic Rooster were, for me, one of those bands that I’d always been aware of but was never really that familiar with. Other than knowing they were formed by the late Vincent Crane (the guy who did the unmistakable keyboard pounding in Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’) before that weekend I could have told you very little about Atomic Rooster. But they were absolutely, out-of-this world, stupendously, brilliantly, amazing. Vincent Crane and the rest of the earliest line-up are sadly no longer with us. But the revived band contains both Pete French on vocals and Steve Bolton on guitar who were both in the band in the early 70s and they have been given the blessing of Crane’s widow to reform under the Atomic Rooster banner. They have the songs, the set-list, the charisma and the sound. Really, this band should have been far, far bigger than they were back in the day. Similarly, the modern-day version should be far, far better known than they are today. Absolutely majestic classic rock that stands proudly against any of the rock giants.

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https://www.atomicroostermusic.com/

2. Lindisfarne
Originally active: 1968-2004
Reformed: 2013
The band had been on hiatus for around a decade but the Lindisfarne name was resurrected in 2013 when founder member, Ray Jackson, began touring with a number of other former members from various eras of the band. There was clearly a huge amount of affection out there for the Tyneside folk-rockers but after a couple of years Jackson stepped back and retired. That was not the end of the reunion, however, as in stepped another founder member with Rod Clements taking Jackson’s place. He’s joined by Dave Hull-Denholm, son-in-law of original front-man the late Alan Hull, on vocals/guitar; Charlie Harcourt, who originally played with the band in the mid 70s, on guitar; Steve Daggett, who toured with the band in the 80s, on keyboards; Ian Thompson who, like Hull-Denholm, has been around since the 90s, on bass; and, finally, former Roxy Music drummer, Paul Thompson, on drums. Denholm-Hull’s voice is surprisingly reminiscent of Alan Hull’s distinctive vocals and he does the band’s legacy, and his late father-in-law proud.

http://www.lindisfarne.com/

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3. Geordie
Originally active: 1971–80, 1982–85
Reformed: 2019
Playing only their second gig in 35 years (the first being at Skegness Butlins the week before) the newly-revived Geordie were one of the biggest surprises of the 2019 Giants of Rock weekend at Minehead Butlins. The band had a handful of hits in the mid-70s but are now best-known as the band that launched Brian Johnson’s career prior to him being tracked down by AC/DC in 1980. Original members Tom Hill (bass) and Brian Gibson (drums) are joined by Steve Dawson (guitar) and Mark Wright (vocals). Powerful, foghorn very Johnson-esque vocals from Wright with a very well-rehearsed band behind him served to breathe new life into some long-neglected songs. It was great to hear the likes of ‘Can You Do It’, ‘Don’t Do That’ and ‘All Because of You’ getting a live airing after all these years. I’ve seen numerous band revivals at weekends like this, sometimes on some really rather tenuous ground. I therefore approached this with a mixture of curiosity and cynicism but they massively, massively exceeded expectations.

https://www.facebook.com/GeordieFanpage/

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4. Satan’s Empire
Originally active: 1981
Reformed: 2016
Satan’s Empire had a breakthrough of sorts in 1981 when their excellent single ‘Soldiers Of War’ appeared on a Neat Records compilation. The band relocated to London, rejigged their lineup slightly and promptly disappeared from view. Thirty-odd years later, the band have now reformed for another shot with the original ‘London’ line up of the band, which includes Paul Lewis (Guitar), Alex McRitchie (Guitar), Wayne Hudson (Bass), Derek Lyons (Vocals) along with drummer Garry ‘Magpie’ Bowler. Live, performance oozes class, stage presence and memorable songs – classic hard n heavy NWOBHM. What’s more they have even succeeded in doing what they never managed first time around – and have released an album. ‘Rising’ contains some great new heavy metal songs, and importantly, a re-recording of the aforementioned ‘Soldiers of War’. The album came out in 2018 to very favourable reviews and it’s good to see the band get a second bite of the cherry. If you loved the new wave of British heavy metal and the much-needed shot in the arm it gave to the rock scene back in the day – you’ll love Satan’s Empire’s ‘Rising’.

https://www.facebook.com/SatansEmpireOfficial/

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5. Rock Goddess
Originally active: 1977–1987
Reformed: 2013
It’s great to see a good number of bands from the late 70s/early 80s NWOBHM era recording and touring once again, even ones that have not been active for a good number of years. The original line-up of Rock Goddess (Jody Turner guitar/vocals, Julie Turner – drums and Tracey Lamb – bass) reformed in 2013 and, over thirty years after they recorded their last album, released a great new EP ‘It’s More Than Rock and Roll’ in 2017 – with a brand new album due out in 2019. Lamb was replaced by new bass Jenny Lane in 2018 but you still have two-thirds of the original, classic line-up. And three decades on they still put on a great live show with bags of energy and some irresistible rock ‘n’ roll tunes. Old crowd favourites like ‘Satisfied Then Crucified’, ‘Heavy Metal Rock ‘n’ Roll’ combining with new songs like ‘It’s More Than Rock and Roll’ and ‘We’re All Metal’. In what was a very male-dominated world, Rock Goddess were a band that showed real promise when they started out and sadly, they disappeared far, far too soon. Three decades on it is great to see them back – even if all-women metal bands appear to be almost as rare today as when Rock Goddess cut their first single.

https://www.facebook.com/Rockgoddessrocks/

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6. Towers of London
Originally active: 2004-09
Reformed: 2015
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 a decade, 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.” says former Oasis manager and Creation Records boss, Alan McGee. Yes – the band have, indeed, got their shit together. 2018 single ‘Send In The Roses’ is a superb slice of anthemic, catchy glam-punk meets indie disco. Their new material is sounding great live 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.

https://www.facebook.com/towersoflondonband/

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Related:

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

The new wave of classic rock: six more bands to watch out for

Which have been your favourite band reunions?

Blues rock: single review – Big River ‘Blackened Rain’

A consistent presence on the live music scene and and around the south-east these past couple of years, Kent-based blues rockers Big River release their latest single ‘Blackened Rain’. We keep being promised an album but, for now, we’ll have to be tantalised with another single. Following on from ‘Hometown Hustler’ and ‘Blues Blood Baby’ it contains that same blend of meaty guitar, soulful vocals and catchy hooks but this latest offering takes the band into heavier terrain and is an out and out blast of unadulterated hard rock. Think Bad Company with a good dollop of Led Zep blasting out from behind and you’re probably along the right lines.

Vocalist, Adam Bartholomew had decided to take some time out from the band and late 2018 saw the announcement of a new lead singer. However, Bartholomew is back once more, providing both vocals and lyrics here, and the new single has already been picking up considerable airplay.

It seems like these guys have had some ups and downs to contend with of late but ‘Blackened Rain’ is a great slice of hard rock and I look forward to that forthcoming album.

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

Released: 28th January as download on the Groovy Uncle label

https://www.facebook.com/bigriverblues/

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Related reviews:

Big River – Hometown Hustler

Big River – Blues Blood Baby

Live review: Giants of Rock, Minehead 25-28 January 2019

This was the sixth annual Giants of Rock weekend hosted by Butlins in Minehead – and my fifth. Here’s a small selection of bands that stood out for me this time, as well as one that I’m afraid just didn’t do it for me at all.

Worth seeing

Sometimes you want to see an artist, at least just the once, for the small part they played in rock ‘n’ roll history. For me, original Thin Lizzy guitarist, Eric Bell, was one of those names who fitted into that category. It meant missing the much-praised ‘New Wave Of Classic Rock’ band Ethyrfield on the other main stage, sadly, (but I made up for this by buying Ethyrfield’s CD from the merch stand later). Eric Bell gave us a run-through of rock ‘n’ roll and blues standards. It’s a little ragged in places but we’re soon into a rendition of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ – a slightly different arrangement of the old folk song compared to Lizzy’s version that many of are used to but Bell’s unique guitar sound is unmistakable and this is basically what I came in to hear. Ironically, the drum-kit of Bell’s former band-mate, Brian Downey, sits unused behind Bell’s band because Downey’s own take on Thin Lizzy’s heritage, in the form of his Live & Dangerous tribute, was the next act. Anyone hoping for some form of cross-fertilisation between these two performances, however, would have been disappointed. There are no guest jam spots or even any acknowledgement that the two bands are in the same building on the same stage on the same evening. Compared to the revived Thin Lizzy of a few years ago (which ended up morphing into Black Star Riders) this is more faithful copy of classic-era Lizzy in conventional tribute act format. But Brian Downey has more than earned the right to perform and celebrate these songs as many times as he likes and the band get a good reception.

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Eric Bell http://www.eric-bell.com/

Ones to watch

Now performing under their new identity (but still down in the programme as VOiD due to them still using their old name when they were originally booked last year) Scarlet Rebels emerged as one of the stars of the introducing stage this year. “Unfortunately, there are about a million bands called Void and no-one could ever find us,” lead singer, Wayne Doyle, tells the crowd. I had caught these guys doing a support slot a year ago and what has not changed is their brand of classy, melodic hard rock which immediately impressed me first time around. Lead guitarist, Chris Jones, is an absolute live-wire on stage, injecting wave after wave of energy into the crowd with his soloing, while front-man, Doyle, has a great voice that’s just perfect for modern-day classic rock. Let’s hope any identity issues that the band suffered under their previous moniker are now firmly behind them and that Scarlet Rebels get the recognition they deserve. As one of the triumvirate of introducing stage winners over the three days they’ll be back at Butlins on one of the main stages next year. Thoroughly well deserved.

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Scarlet Rebels http://www.scarletrebels.com/

Surprise of the weekend

Playing only their second gig in 35 years (the first being at Skegness Butlins the week before) the newly-revived Geordie are one of the biggest surprises of the weekend. The band had a handful of hits in the mid 70s but are now best-known as the band that launched Brian Johnson’s career prior to him being tracked down by AC/DC in 1980. Original members Tom Hill (bass) and Brian Gibson (drums) are joined by Steve Dawson (guitar) and Mark Wright (vocals). Powerful, foghorn very Johnson-esque vocals from Wright with a very well-rehearsed band behind him served to breathe new life into some long-neglected songs. It was great to hear the likes of ‘Can You Do It’, ‘Don’t Do That’ and ‘All Because of You’ getting a live airing after all these years. I’ve seen numerous band revivals at weekends like this, sometimes on some really rather tenuous ground. I therefore approached this with a mixture of curiosity and cynicism but they massively, massively exceeded expectations. A real surprise. I was half-hoping that Geordie would encore with a cover of Back In Black or Rock n Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution as a cheeky little nod to the part they unwittingly played in rock ‘n’ roll history – but it wasn’t to be (Geordie – if you are reading this you should absolutely do it!). The job of delving into AC/DC’s back catalogue was instead left to the next act, Chris Slade’s Timeline when the current (and former) AC/DC drummer ran through a selection of classic songs from his various bands. For sheer impact and confounding expectations, however, the afternoon very much belonged to Geordie.

https://www.facebook.com/GeordieFanpage/

Old favourites

Sweet delivered a blistering set and hopefully gained a few more “oh, I just thought they were just a pop band I didn’t realise they were such a great rock band” converts in the process. However, I’ve written about this band many, many times before and readers of Darren’s music blog will be left in no doubt at all of my affection for all things Sweet. Instead, I’m going to give a mention to Oliver/Dawson Saxon. After they had both walked away from Biff Byford’s Saxon, guitarist, Graham Oliver, and bass player, Steve Dawson, got together and formed their own version of the band. Now I’m not saying Oliver Dawson Saxon are better than the actual continuing Saxon – but they are certainly more fun. With his on-stage patter, lead singer Brian Shaughnessy is more Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club than Hallo Wembleyyyy  and cuts a hilarious and quite bonkers stage presence but he is an absolute dynamo of a vocalist. When it comes to belting out all those old Saxon classics there is always so much energy from this band and Minehead 2019 was no exception. There are no pretensions to be anything else with this performance. It’s just good old-fashioned New Wave Of British Heavy Metal played exactly the way it should be. The perfect party band to end the night with on a weekend like this. Oliver/Dawson Saxon we salute you.

http://www.odsrock.co.uk/

And one that just wasn’t for me

Paul Manzi had quite a busy weekend. He did an excellent job filling in as a temporary member of Sweet on the Saturday night due to Pete Lincoln’s absence and then he was back on the Sunday night fronting Cats In Space. There’s another Sweet connection, too, because former Sweet bass player, Jeff Brown, now carries out that very same role for Cats In Space. Like Sweet, harmony vocals and hook-laden melodies are in integral part of the band’s sound. Rather than the British glam rock era of the early 70s, however, this band very much take their cues from the American AOR/ power pop era of the early 80s, when albums were as shiny, polished and lavishly-produced as an episode of Dynasty. Unfortunately, as with that TV series it’s a genre of rock that simply leaves me cold. It’s clear that Cats In Space love what they are doing and they execute it with total professionalism. I really wanted to like them but three songs in I realise it’s never going to be. If the previous night was Sweet this, for me, was saccharine. I up and leave for the other stage. Raw, raunchy down to earth blues rock from guitar maestro, Rob Tognoni was the perfect antidote to what I’d just walked away from – and someone I look forward to seeing more of.

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Rob Tognoni https://www.robtognoni.com/

Related reviews:

Giants of Rock 2018

Giants of Rock 2017

Rock & Blues weekend, Skegness 2018

Hard rock: album review – John Diva & The Rockets of Love ‘Mama Said Rock Is Dead’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Bouncy anthemic keyboards, smooth melodic riffs and catchy sing-along choruses John Diva & The Rockets of Love celebrate and take their cues from that mid-80s era of rock when the likes of Van Halen, Whitesnake (the rebooted American version) and Bon Jovi ruled.

Neither the band nor the album wear their influences lightly so when you listen to these guys there is absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, to suggest the past thirty-five years have actually happened. The sound, the songs, the riffs, the lyrics, even the names of the band members (I give you guitarists Snake Rocket and J.J. Love) all suggest we are somewhere midway through 1984. This is good in many ways. After all, it was a much-celebrated period for hard rock where a number of bands became absolutely huge. However, some acknowledgement that life had moved on just a bit would not have have gone amiss either. In this post-Jimmy Savile, post-#MeToo era does the world really need a new song called ‘Lolita’ (the band’s single from the album)?

What they do, they do well though and there’s lots to like in tracks like ‘Whiplash’, ‘Wild Life’ and ‘Rocket of Love’ (even if the lyrics of the latter deploy every rock ‘n’ roll cliché known to man). We should also mention the obligatory power ballad ‘Just A Night Away’ – it is the 80s after all!

Frontman, John Diva, describes the album as follows: “It’s a trip for those who have lived and loved Rock ‘N’ Roll, for all those who still do so and for all the millions of people who up to now didn’t even know what they’ve been missing. We’re having a party as big as the eighties and you’re invited to let your imagination take flight by my wild and wonderful life.”

Personally, I think if I was going to travel back in time and permanently inhabit a past era of music, I’d be opting for the mid-60s British R&B scene or the late 70s NWOBHM scene – but if you love that mid-80s American rock scene you will no doubt absolutely love this album.

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Released: SPV/Steamhammer 8th February 2019

https://johndiva.com/

Folk: album review – John Smith ‘Hummingbird’

This review was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

Two years after recording the album Headlong in Sam Lakeman’s Somerset studio, John Smith returned to lay down another new album. Unlike the former, however, which was built around Smith’s song-writing, Hummingbird is very much about celebrating traditional songs and paying tribute to the artists like John Renbourn, John Martyn and Bert Jansch who inspired Smith in the first place. Six of the album’s ten tracks are traditional songs with one cover version and three original numbers.

Less is more was the motto that Smith and Lakeman adopted while making the album. “A folk song’s clarity of purpose is exactly the reason why it has been played in pubs, living rooms and concert halls for hundreds of years,” says Smith. Indeed, this approach has absolutely paid off. Shorn of the typical embellishments we might have come to expect on a modern-day folk album there is beauty and simplicity in the the delivery that gives the lyrics in songs like Hares On The Mountain and Lord Franklin a real resonance.

The lone cover is Anna Briggs’ The Time Has Come which Smith first heard, like many readers will have done, on a Bert Jansch and John Renbourn album. Smith’s three original songs, like the beautiful title track, stand sympathetically alongside the much older material.

A gifted guitarist, a unique vocalist and an impassioned interpreter of traditional material, if John Smith has made this album for his musical heroes then he’s done them proud.

Released: October 2018

https://www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com/

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Folk/indie: album review – Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou ‘Fair Lady London’

This review was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

An integral part of London’s emerging indie folk scene for a number of years, Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou left the capital for Hastings and are now firmly ensconced in the Sussex seaside town’s thriving local music scene. Three years on from their last album, Fair Lady London is the product of their changed setting and changed priorities.

There is still plenty to showcase the duo’s talent as songwriters here, however. The poignantly bitter-sweet We Should’ve Gone Dancing is immediately and utterly unforgettable while the guitar line on Everything You Need is as beautifully infectious as something that Bert Jansch might have come up with.

For their previous album the duo worked with renowned producer Ethan Johns but now they are back with the trusty 4-track recorder they used on their 2012 album, this time setting up in a castle in the East Sussex countryside. “I’ve never really liked studios,” confesses Moss. “The first one we ever stepped foot in was Olympic as teenagers, the same room as Hendrix, Zeppelin, Stones. I didn’t like it. It felt like a spaceship.”

The lo-fi approach works extremely well and gives the album exactly the kind of understated intimacy the duo’s songs warrant.

Now five albums into their career as a duo Fair Lady London sees Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou continuing to make music that in its own delicate, gentle and thoughtful way continues to demand your attention.

Released: November 2018

http://www.trevormossandhannahlou.com/

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