Live review: Fisherman’s Friends at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 12/11/17

“I quite like hearing the odd sea shanty – but I’m not sure I could manage a whole evening of it,” announces a long-time friend and my gig partner for the evening, seconds before Fisherman’s Friends are about to take the stage. Ah… hmmm. Perhaps I should have explained a little more when I first suggested going to see Fisherman’s Friends. I hope she’s not going to be too disappointed, I think to myself.

For the uninitiated, the Cornish singing group from Port Isaac have been making a huge impact in recent years singing traditional songs of the sea that have handed down to them over generations. They became the first traditional folk act to land a UK top ten album. Unsurprisingly, the group are clearly going to receive an enthusiastic welcome in a traditional fishing town like Hastings.

While there are enthusiastically-sung shanties galore tonight, it soon becomes clear that, wonderful though these are, Fisherman’s Friends’ repertoire expands much wider than that. An Americana-infused riverboat song, traditional songs of a non-seafaring nature, a Show Of Hands cover and the sea shanty ‘sub-genre’ of whaling songs all nestle with the anticipated shanties in the set tonight. Although many of the songs are delivered acapello showcasing the rich range of voices from the seven men on stage, there is also some nicely played guitar and accordion thrown into the mix at times, too.

Fisherman’s Friends are brothers and lobster fishermen John and Jeremy Brown, writer Jon Cleave, potter Billy Hawkins, smallholder John Lethbridge, builder John McDonnell, fisherman Jason Nicholas and film maker Toby Lobb. However, due to other commitments founder member John Brown is taking some time out on this tour and has been temporarily replaced by Jon Darley from upcoming, Bristol-based sea shanty group The Longest Johns. In a stage act that is never short of banter, much is made of the imposing hunk-like presence of the handsome young Darley joining the predominantly silver-haired Fisherman’s Friends on stage. As well as the body, however, Darley has a superb voice and takes the lead on a handful of songs tonight, including a gloriously rousing ‘Drunken Sailor’ for the encore. In fact, it would be good to see the Longest Johns doing a gig in their own right here in Hastings – someone book them!

Highlights in the set for me tonight include ‘Leaving Of Liverpool’ (a song which I think must have been compulsory learning for every primary school class in mid-1970s Lancashire and one where I know every word), ‘Cousin Jack’ (a spirited cover of the Show Of Hands favourite) and a rousing ‘The Union Of Different Kinds’ (definitely an anthem for these divided times).

Fisherman’s Friends certainly deserved the thunderous encore they got tonight. And my friend? She loved it, including all the shanties, Phew!

https://thefishermansfriends.com/

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Related review:
Album review – The Longest Johns

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Folk: EP review – MacQuarrie and Toms ‘Granite’

This review was originally published by Bright You Folk here

Celtic-Cornish folk duo MacQuarrie and Toms, who have been performing together since 2014, arrive with their second EP Granite. Featuring two songs and four instrumentals it showcases the combined talents of Stuart MacQuarrie on fiddle and Jamie Toms on acoustic guitar.

Sweet Nightingale is a charming rendition of a traditional Cornish folk song. Granite is the Hardest Stone, meanwhile, is the duo’s interpretation of a song by Chris Lethbridge, who wrote a number of songs inspired by the Isles of Scilly.

Dark and brooding, it tells the story of the Scilly naval disaster when four warships and 1,550 sailors lives were lost in a catastrophic night at sea back in 1707. The drone-like tones of an Indian Shruti Box, the beautiful haunting fiddle-playing, and the dark mournful vocals make this the definitive stand-out track.

With the tunes the duo take an inventive and engaging approach, both with their own material like Toms’ Clutterbuck and MacQuarrie’s Bunch of Fives, as well as with their own interpretations of other writers.

The sleeve-notes relate what happened when they approached Will Coleman for permission to use one of his tunes on the EP, We ’ent Goin’ Far. Coleman’s amusingly philosophical response was, “Writing tunes is like having kids – they fly off into the world and have a life of their own (and you just sit at home waiting for the phone call from the police/ambulance/DNA expert).”

Listeners can be reassured that the tunes, whether composed by Coleman or others, do indeed take on a life of their own on Granite but they are far from any sort of disaster.

Inventive musicians with an imaginative and well-chosen set of songs and tunes, there is plenty to like about this EP.

Released Summer 2017

http://www.macquarrieandtoms.com/

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Review: For One Night Only – Jim Lea at the Robin 2, Bilston 5/11/17

Back in 2002 Slade’s Jim Lea performed a unique one-off solo gig at Bilston’s Robin 2 venue, the only solo gig of his entire career. Now, some fifteen years later, Jim was to take to the stage at the Robin once again for a Q and A session for fans that would immediately follow an official first screening of the new live DVD from that gig.

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Today’s event was not going to be a live performance we were all warned when we booked: “Unfortunately due to Jim’s illness he will be unable to perform musically at this event.” That was fine I thought to myself. It will still be something special, a unique Slade event, a chance to hear directly from Jim and, for me, an opportunity to see him up on a stage for the first time since I saw Slade on the My Oh My tour when I was still at sixth form.

The film itself is a nice memento. It’s fan-shot footage from the audience rather than a professional film but the quality is considerably better than the average blurry, wonky you-tube concert video and, coupled with the official CD soundtrack of the concert and some brand new interview segments with Jim as he reflects back on that night, it’s definitely a must-have for fans.

The DVD screening is then followed by a short warm-up from poet, Paul Cookson. Dubbed Slade’s official Poet Laureate by Noddy Holder, Cookson delivers two wonderfully affectionate Slade-themed poems, including one written especially for today. And then it’s time for the main event. Jim Lea takes the stage to warm applause as he begins his Q&A session with local BBC radio presenter, Paul Franks.

While there are many oft-repeated Slade anecdotes that fans, and many chat-show viewers, will have heard many, many times before from his less publicity-shy erstwhile band-mates, Jim delves deep with his recollections today. Fascinating insights emerge: such as his wife Louise being an uncredited co-writer of Slade’s 1974 hit Everyday; about the piano refrain in How Does It Feel being the very first thing he ever composed; about how the violin solo in the band’s first number one Coz I Luv You originally emerged out of his regular dressing room jamming sessions with Noddy Holder when they were channelling the spirit of Django Reinhardt. And for this famously private musician who has studiously eschewed the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle he also told us a lot about himself today. “Why now?” he was asked. “Well I realised I was no longer shy any more!” he confided. Sharing with the audience that he now understands he is probably autistic (although he’s never had any formal diagnosis) he suggests that this has likely been a key factor in both his levels of creativity and his introspection.

Always the most thoughtful, the most creative and the most fascinating member of Slade, notwithstanding that all four members played an irreplaceable part, Jim Lea was the genuine musical genius of the band. In the DVD he recollects the time he was asked by late manager, Chas Chandler, why he became a bass player when, like Hendrix, he was such an instinctive natural on lead guitar. “I didn’t want to get noticed,” Jim replied.

And so, as the Q&A draws to a close, I start thinking what a special day today has been: getting to pose with Jim’s bass in the morning after much, much queuing, seeing the inaugural screening of Jim’s DVD on the very stage where it was originally filmed, hearing Jim share his fascinating insights into the band and, of course, getting to meet lots of fellow Slade fans.

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And then it all started to get ever so slightly odd on stage. Jim went off stage to get something. Something about some notes for the final question host, Paul Franks, said. But then microphone stands start appearing. Surely he can’t be? He can’t be playing for us can he? Oh my God, there he is back on stage with his guitar. Is he really going to do this?

He’d not got a full band he confessed but he had recorded some backing tapes to play along to and he wanted to do something special to finish the session, he said. And he did. Launching into a blistering version of Cum On Feel The Noize, he rocked out on lead guitar and sang for all he was worth in his first public performance since that last Robin gig fifteen years ago. Gudbuy T Jane and We’ll Bring The House Down quickly followed and, with an ecstatic demand for an encore, he finishes by giving the emotional crowd of Slade fans Mamma Weer All Crazee Now.

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We had been warned not to expect a live performance. But he certainly gave us one, and not some gentle, reflective, soul-searching, acoustic reinterpretation but a full-on, amped-up, raucous rock performance that so perfectly captured the spirit of Slade.

The man who didn’t want to get noticed certainly got noticed today.

Thank you Jim for what you did for us today. We wish you the best of health in your ongoing treatment and we thank you for all the music you gave us in the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band the world has ever known.

http://www.jimleamusic.com/

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Related posts:
Slade at Donington 1981
Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the greatest Christmas record ever made
Slade UK and Pouk Hill Prophetz at Wolverhampton
Slade at White Rock Theatre, Hastings
Slade at Giants of Rock, Minehead

Michael Schenker Fest at Shepherds Bush Empire 2/11/17

Michael Schenker’s career, as well as his personal life, went through an increasingly erratic period a decade or so ago. Having seen Schenker a couple of times in recent years with his Temple Of Rock project, however, it was clear that he has absolutely, undisputably got his shit together again. If more proof was needed, tonight’s gig provides overwhelming evidence of that.

Tonight’s gig, dubbed Michael Schenker Fest, features all three vocalists from the three key eras of MSG: Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley. Barden is first up. While I won’t say he is the strongest of the three vocalists who will appear on stage tonight this is undeniably my favourite era of the band and the classic songs come thick and fast, transporting me back to my teenage rock fan years: Victim Of Illusion, Cry For The Nations, Armed And Ready….

Schenker is on stunningly good form with some stunningly good guitar work coming from his signature Flying V. On stage there’s other familiar faces from the old MSG days, too: Chris Glenn on bass, Ted McKenna on drums and Steve Mann on keyboards.

Next up is Graham Bonnet and while I have heard him struggle a bit at times during previous gigs he is definitely on form tonight. Originally recording one excellent album with MSG and playing just one disastrous gig where he drunkenly flashed the audience and promptly got sacked, much water has passed under the bridge since then. It feels a privilege to witness Bonnet perform Dancer and Assault Attack with Schenker and properly celebrate the part he played in MSG’s legacy. Even the sound system crashing in the early part of Bonnet’s set didn’t dampen the mood (and allowed me a much-needed loo break!)

Then it is the turn of the third of tonight’s vocalists. Robin McCauley is easily the strongest of the three singers tonight. Although set-wise, the earlier songs probably have far more resonance for me than the McAuley Schenker era, he certainly doesn’t disappoint tonight. To end the set he delivers a brilliant rendition of Rock Bottom from Schenker’s UFO days.

That sets the tone for a brilliant out-of-this-world encore which becomes a complete and utter UFO-fest. McCauley, Bonnet and Barden all come back on stage for Doctor Doctor, followed by Shoot Shoot, Natural Thing (with Schenker’s son Tyson joining his father on guitar) and, finally, Lights Out.

Three great vocalists, a brilliant gifted guitarist, some top class musicians and song after song of unforgettable rock classics, this was definitely one of the best hard rock gigs of 2017.

Set-list:

Searching for Freedom
Into the Arena
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Victim of Illusion
Cry for the Nations
Attack of the Mad Axeman
Armed and Ready
Coast to Coast
Desert Song
Dancer
Assault Attack
Captain Nemo
No Time for Losers
Save Yourself
Bad Boys
Love Is Not a Game
Rock Bottom
Doctor Doctor
Shoot Shoot
Natural Thing
Lights Out

http://www.michaelschenkerhimself.com/home.php

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Strawbs at Under The Bridge, London 29/10/17

This review was also published by Get Ready To Rock here

As a kid in the 70s I do recall frequent radio plays of the Strawbs novelty hit ‘Part Of The Union’ in what was that fractious decade for industrial relations. And as an adult and Sandy Denny fanatic, the latter’s brilliant pop-folk album with the Strawbs is frequently in my CD player. However, those two brief snapshots in time can hardly be said to represent the prog-leaning rock outfit that has been the mainstay of much of the band’s output these past forty-odd years. For the most part though it has, until tonight, lain largely off my radar.

Strawbs are still going strong, still gigging and touring. And tonight we are here at Chelsea’s Under The Bridge venue to witness the formal launch of the band’s first new album of all original material in eight years: The Ferryman’s Curse.

The two sets the band perform tonight are a mixture of songs from the new album and those from earlier in their career. As I am unfamiliar with any of the material tonight there appears to be no letting up in the quality of the songs in my view, the new material standing up well against what were clearly crowd favourites from past decades.

Dave Cousins’ vocal delivery is something of an acquired taste I find (and, to be honest I prefer it when long-time band-mate, Dave Lambert, takes the lead vocals for a handful of songs). That does not, however, mean that there is not some stunning musicianship in this band and some extremely well-crafted songs which definitely ensure tonight’s show is an enjoyable one. Lambert delivers some fine lead guitar throughout and the keyboards are equally stunning. Multi-instrumentalist, Dave Bainbridge, surrenders his keyboard to Cousins at one point and joins Lambert in some exquisite twin-lead soloing.

The band work extremely well together on stage, perhaps a sign of how long most of them have worked with on another. Although, there have been numerous personnel changes over the years it’s not simply a case of one original member with a load of random new boys, as is the reality with a number of vintage rock acts these days. Guitarist Dave Lambert, bass player Chas Cronk and drummer Tony Fernandez have been playing with Cousins on and off since the 1970s – and it shows. This is a band in the genuine sense of the word.

An enjoyable gig from a band I finally can now say I know a little bit more about, besides that novelty hit and their brief flirtation with Sandy Denny. Thank you Strawbs.

http://www.strawbsweb.co.uk/

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Gráinne Duffy at Nell’s Jazz & Blues, London 19/10/17

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Irish singer-songwriter and guitarist, Gráinne Duffy, has been receiving plenty of plaudits since her debut album Out Of The Dark was released back in 2007. She has tended to be labelled a blues artist and, not having seen her before that is pretty much what I was expecting and looking forward to at this gig at Nell’s Jazz & Blues venue in west London.

On taking the stage, however, it soon becomes obvious that while Duffy and her band are incredible blues performers, that label really only describes a part what they deliver. From exquisite blues solos, to polished Eagles-ish country rock, to Stonesy rock workouts, to emotive singer songwriter acoustic renditions, to big fat Bad Company-esque stadium blues rock, to heartfelt soul and even funk, there’s an incredible versatility to Gráinne Duffy’s performance and repertoire.

Whether it’s her own material or her interpretations of some classic standards, Duffy has a soulful expressive voice that makes the songs her own, not to mention some captivating guitar skills and a fine band of supporting musicians. It’s little wonder she’s been wowing audiences from Glastonbury to numerous blues festivals, and although the place was not packed tonight there are enough of us there to give her a rousing reception and an enthusiastic demand for an encore.

Duffy has currently has a single out ‘Where I Belong’ and a new album is due shortly. A talented musician, singer and songwriter, Gráinne Duffy is well worth looking out for if you have not caught up with her already.

http://www.grainneduffy.com/

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Folk: album review – Pilgrims’ Way ‘Stand & Deliver’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Following two previous albums (2011’s Wayside Courtesies and 2016’s Red Diesel) north west-based band Pilgrims’ Way are back with a third. There has been a line-up change since the last one, with Jude Rees now joining Tom Kitching, Edwin Beasant and Jon Loomes, but there has been no let-up in the band’s trademark vigour and verve.

Stand and Deliver is a concept album of sorts, that brings together a selection of traditional highwayman songs, always a rich and enduring source of material in English folk.

The album promises fifty different instruments across its eleven tracks and we hear oboe, bagpipes, flutes, recorders, hurdy gurdy, Jews’ harp, harmonica, concertina and melodeon, to name a few, as well as guitars, bass, drums and percussion.

In addition, the band cite almost as diverse a list of musical genres influencing their interpretations as they do instruments; from classic-era folk rock, through to Madchester, doom metal, disco and West End musicals.

The juxtaposition of the vocals of the three male members of the band alongside new member, Jude Rees, also adds to that sense of variety and contrast.

It is an ambitious project, for sure, and there could be a danger of something like this lacking coherence but the enthusiasm of the band and their combined musical talents definitely carry it through.

Material-wise, there is plenty that many folk fans will be familiar with, but the band definitely put their own stamp on well-known songs like Ibson, Gibson, Johnson and Cadgwith Anthem.

A sonically-menacing Saucy Bold Robber, with an arrangement inspired by a folk take on doom metal with some great vocals from Rees, is also another highlight.

The album finishes up with a spirited, tongue-in-cheek cover of the 1981 chart hit Stand and Deliver. How could any album about dandy highwaymen fail to pay tribute to Adam and the Ants?

Stand and Deliver is an ambitious album that is executed with style and panache. While there are obvious echoes back to some of the folk-rock albums of the classic early 70s period there is also something fresh, innovative and daring about Pilgrims’ Way that make this album a delight to listen to.

Released 20th October 2017

http://www.pilgrims-way.net/

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Dweezil Zappa at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 13/10/17

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

‘Dweezil Zappa plays whatever the f@%k he likes’

As soon as I saw those words on a seafront poster advertising the show at Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion this was on my list of gigs to see this month. There have been ongoing and fairly ferocious spats between the Zappa siblings about how they take forward their late father’s legacy. And with admirable chutzpah from Dweezil this is being billed as ‘The Cease & Desist Tour’ following the lawyer’s letter he received.

Performing to a packed-out De La Warr, the performance is a vivid reminder of what a fantastic range of musical styles and influences Frank Zappa incorporated into his output, as well as what a fantastically accomplished writer and musician he was. From perfectly polished orchestral pop pastiches, to improvised jazz rock work-outs, to exquisite blues rock guitar solos the versatility of Dweezil and his band is truly impressive.

Of particular note, alongside Dweezil Zappa’s beautifully dexterous guitar playing and obvious love for his father’s music, are guitarist/lead vocalist Adam Minkoff, who has joined the Zappa band for this European tour, and female lead vocalist Cian Coey, who delivers some truly stunning vocals.

Set-wise, it being the fiftieth anniversary of the release of ‘Freak Out’, the debut from the Mothers of Invention, songs like ‘You’re Wondering Why I’m Here’ make an appearance, alongside later material like ‘Cruising For Burgers’ and ‘Studebaker Hoch’ as well as surprises like a wonderfully smooth rendition of the James Bond theme. There is no support tonight. Save for a short interval it’s just three exhilarating hours of Zappa. Climaxing with an inspired rendition of the Beatles’ ‘I Am The Walrus’, the audience are up on their feet for a rapturous standing ovation. Band and audience alike seem very pleased with their evening spent in Bexhill.

Succumbing to cancer in 1993, Frank Zappa was an early reminder of the mortality of that generation of musicians from rock’s late 60s/early 70s golden age. Such deaths are now reported with alarming regularity, of course. But whether it’s Zappa, Bowie or any number of rock ‘n’ roll’s true creatives, legitimate questions do arise about how we continue to celebrate their respective legacies. While few of us would opt to be stuck in an endless repeat cycle of non-stop tribute acts (or, God forbid, hologram shows) we do clearly want to find ways of continuing to enjoy such music in a live setting. In this respect, Dweezil has put together something that is creative, ambitious, affectionate and totally appropriate.

Dweezil Zappa does indeed play whatever the f@%k he likes. But he plays it so well. And he does his father proud.

Set-list:

Latex Solar Beef
It Can’t Happen Here
You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here
Bow Tie Daddy
Harry, You’re a Beast
The Orange County Lumber Truck
Motherly Love
Any Way the Wind Blows
Mom & Dad
Tell Me You Love Me
Cruising For Burgers
James Bond Theme
Studebaker Hoch
Rollo
Advance Romance
I’m the Slime

– Interval –

Zomby Woof
Would You Go All the Way?
Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station
Dirty Love
Daddy, Daddy, Daddy
What Kind of Girl Do You Think We Are?
Bwana Dik
Lumpy Gravy
Village Of The Sun
Echidna’s Arf (Of You)
Let’s Move to Cleveland
Inca Roads
Duke of Prunes
Doreen
Dinah-Moe Humm
I Am the Walrus

https://www.dweezilzappa.com/

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Photo credit: Simon Putman

W.A.S.P. at White Rock Theatre, Hastings 12/10/17

This review is also published on Get Ready To Rock here

Loud, brash, obnoxious, Blackie Lawless’s LA metal outfit W.A.S.P. burst on to the scene in the early 80s and were never far from controversy. Over time, however, the band evolved and their output started showing signs of growing maturity. To be honest it’s not going to be too difficult for your music to start getting more mature if your first record is called ‘Animal (Fuck Like A Beast) is it?

The W.AS.P. of the early90s had moved on to recording a full-blown concept album. ‘The Crimson Idol’ tells the story of a boy Jonathan and explores themes of estrangement, drugs, fame, money and suicide. It has become something of a cult heavy metal album and, twenty-five years since it was originally released, Lawless and his band are touring it in full.

Apart from the ever-present Blackie Lawless, W.A.S.P. has undergone numerous line-up changes over the years and no-one else on stage tonight originally performed on ‘The Crimson Idol’ album. Nevertheless, the band are in fine form and there is some powerful playing from new drummer, Aquiles Priester, and from lead guitarist, Doug Blair. Lawless’s distinctive vocals are as strong and as recognisable as ever.

Songs like ‘The Invisible Boy’ , ‘Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue) and ‘I Am One’ are superb tracks and stand up well on stage. Unlike when some acts choose to revisit an album in full and take the opportunity to reminisce on the history behind every track, there is little in the way of on-stage chat tonight, but Lawless is a charismatic stage presence nonetheless. Visuals from the accompanying film for the album play on three large screens at the back of the stage, adding to the atmosphere. It’s a great album and a great performance tonight.

However, throughout the show part of me was excitedly anticipating the encore and, hopefully, a run-through of some of the great songs from the earlier, dumber, stupider, trashier era of W.A.S.P. It wasn’t a long encore – three songs – as the band didn’t get on stage until 9pm, having only just arrived in the UK following the Scandinavian leg of their tour. But we did get gloriously over the top versions of ‘L.O.V.E Machine’ and ‘Wild Child’ which made a fitting end to the proceedings. Was I disappointed that we didn’t have a bit more of this? A little – but that has only made me more determined to catch Blackie and the boys again when they are next over…

Set-list:

The Titanic Overture
The Invisible Boy
Arena of Pleasure
Chainsaw Charlie (Murders in the New Morgue)
The Gypsy Meets the Boy
Doctor Rockter
I Am One
The Idol
Hold on to My Heart
The Great Misconceptions of Me
The Real Me
L.O.V.E. Machine
Wild Child

https://www.waspnation.com/waspnation.htm

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Folk: album review – Georgia Lewis ‘The Bird Who Sings Freedom’

This review was originally published in the October 2017 issue of fRoots magazine

Georgia Lewis won the 2015 Bromyard Festival ‘Future Of Young Folk’ and she has already packed in a nicely diverse range of projects into her musical CV so far, touring and recording with prog-rock band, Maschine and performing regularly with The Causeway Céilí Band as well as with her own trio, where Felix Miller (guitar) and Rowan Piggott (fiddle) have been accompanying Lewis on vocals and accordeon for the past five years.

‘The Bird Who Sings Freedom’ is Georgia Lewis’s debut album. Joining the regular trio are Tom Sweeney on double bass and Evan Carson on percussion. As well as thoughtful and innovative interpretations of traditional folk songs like Raggle Taggle Gypsies and Wife Of Usher’s Well, Lewis takes an inventive approach to sourcing other material. The title track, and album opener, is based on the words of poet and civil rights activist, Dr Maya Angelou, set to music by Seaford singer, Jerry Jordan, and covered by Lewis. Meanwhile, on True Lover she has a stab at setting an A.E. Houseman poem to music, with some pleasing results.

Until One Day, inspired by the forced separation of her great-grandparents during the war, is Lewis’s one wholly original composition and shows promise as a songwriter in both lyrics and melody.

It is also worth listening out for the fiddle contributions of Rowan Piggott, another rising star of the folk scene who has his own debut solo album out shortly. Piggott plays some suitably authentic-sounding traditional Swedish fiddle accompaniment on his own composition on the album: A Royal Game / Kungsleden.

A delicately expressive voice, Lewis’s final song, the murder ballad Lady Diamond, very much put me in mind of the way Sandy Denny might have approached and re-interpreted a traditional ballad like this. And that has got to be a huge recommendation from my point of view. An album worth checking out and a name worth keeping an eye on.

Released July 2017

http://www.georgialewis.co.uk/

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