Harpist, singer and award-winning composer, Fraya Thomsen’s musical roots lie in the Scottish traditional music scene but she’s equally at home in the world of film and TV, where she has composed music for a number of award-winning short films as well as pieces for contemporary choreographers and multimedia artists.
Release began life as a piece of work entitled Community & Stardust, commissioned for the 2017 Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow, but then evolved into a lockdown project with the album being recorded in the participating musicians’ own homes and studios during 2020.
The team of musicians who had originally devised and performed the piece have similarly contributed to the album: Sarah Allen (flute), Shanti Jayasinha (flugelhorn), Colette O’Leary (accordion), Louise McMonagle (cello), James Maddren (drums/percussion) and Cameron Maxwell (bass). Artist, Lucy Cash, has also written the lyrics to one of the songs on the album, ‘Just This Sky Line’ which was also used for a film called A Song For Nine Elms.
Featuring tracks with titles like ‘Save The World’, ‘For The Water Protectors’ and ‘Connected’. It’s perhaps no surprise that there is a strong ecological theme to this album. The twelve tracks are a mixture of songs and tunes and while, unsurprisingly, there are obvious Celtic influences from the folk world, other musical influences make the presence felt, too. ‘Tiger’, for example, is jazz-influenced while other tracks take on a more experimental feel, again perhaps unsurprising, given Thomsen’s work in the world of film as well as folk.
There’s much to appreciate on this album with the contributions of the guest musicians perfectly complimenting Thomsen’s beautiful harp and vocal. What’s more there seems to be more to discover with each repeated listen. Put it on, sit back, soak it all in and quietly contemplate the future of our world and our connections to one another.
Tony Fox Sales featuring Clem Burke from Blondie – UK tour March 2023
Marking forty-five years since the release of the all-time classic Lust For Life album, esteemed former Iggy Pop and Tin Machine bass-player, Tony Fox Sales, sets out on a rare UK tour next Spring, his first in the UK since 1991. With an all-star line-up, Sales is joined by legendary Blondie drummer, Clem Burke; vocalist, renowned broadcaster and Pet Shop Boys dancer, Katie Puckrik; Iggy Pop and David Bowie guitarist, Kevin Armstrong; guitarist, Luis Correia, who’s toured internationally with Earl Slick; and classical pianist, composer, and touring member of Heaven 17, Florence Sabeva.
Tony Fox Sales will perform the Lust For Life album in full, as well as revisiting songs from across the individual band members’ careers with legendary artists such as Blondie and David Bowie. The eleven-date tour also includes a special one-off date in Dublin.
Announcing the tour, Tony Fox Sales comments: “I look forward, with great anticipation, to returning to England to tour this coming year. The Lust For Life album was the recording highlight of my fifty-eight year career in music for me. It was an amazing experience artistically, and personally. Memories not too soon forgotten. Though, as of now, I have not worked with the entire line-up of players for this tour, I have no doubt, that this will be an ass-kicking event! Lust For Life!”
Katie Puckrik: “I’m a show pony from way back: along with my broadcast career covering pop culture, I performed onstage with The Fall and Michael Clark Company, I toured the world dancing with Pet Shop Boys, and I sang in Sparks’ opera The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, both on the original cast recording and in performance. I have worked with towering icons of music, but taking on the magnificent Iggy Pop’s vocal duties for this Lust for Life re-make/re-model is an electrifying opportunity like no other. Not only do I get to sing anthems like ‘Lust for Life’ and ‘The Passenger’ (as well as my personal fave from the album, ‘Success’), but I’m surrounded by some of Iggy, Bowie and Blondie’s key players, including Tony Sales, Clem Burke and Kevin Armstrong. So strap on your horse tails and join me in celebrating Lust for Life.”
The Tony Fox Sales band members are:
Tony Fox Sales – Bass and Backing Vocals: Growing up in Detroit, bass-player, Tony Fox Sales, and his drummer brother, Hunt, formed their first band in the mid-1960s. As a rhythm section Tony and Hunt would go on to work with David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Todd Rundgren, Bob Welch, Andy Fraser and many others. After recording a couple of albums with Todd in the early 1970s, the two brothers recorded the Kill City album with Iggy Pop in 1975 followed by Lust for Life in 1977. They both joined Iggy on his subsequent tour, recorded as TV Eye Live 1977 and released the following year. In 1982 Tony joined Chequered Past, which included singer/actor Michael Des Barres (later of Power Station); ex-Sex Pistols guitarist, Steve Jones; Blondie’s drummer, Clem Burke, as well as their bass player, Nigel Harrison. In 1988 Tony then joined forces with David Bowie, Reeves Gabrels and Hunt Sales in Tin Machine. Bowie later acknowledged that it was Tony and Hunt’s contribution to Lust for Life that led him to invite the brothers to join him.
Clem Burke – Drums: Answering an ad in the New York newspaper, Village Voice, for a band seeking a ‘freak energy’ rock drummer, Clem Burke became the drummer of Blondie in the mid-1970s. The band recorded their first album in 1976 and emerged as the great pop icons of New York’s celebrated late 1970s new wave punk scene, achieving huge commercial success with the number one hit singles ‘Atomic’, ‘Heart of Glass’, ‘Sunday Girl’, ‘Call Me’, ‘Rapture’, and ‘The Tide is High’. When Blondie temporarily broke up in 1982, Burke joined Tony Fox Sales in Chequered Past and has also played with a plethora of music legends, including Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, Iggy Pop, The Ramones, The Eurythmics and Joan Jett. In 2006, along with the other original members of Blondie, Clem was inducted into the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with Blondie already having sold over 42 million records.
Katie Puckrik – Vocals: The performer, broadcaster and writer made her TV breakthrough hosting The Word in the 1990s. As a vocalist she sang in Sparks’ opera The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, and her presenting work includes a two-part BBC TV documentary on yacht rock, a four-part BBC radio series on power pop, and her ongoing role as a commentator on Channel 5’s popular Greatest Pop Songs/Videos franchise. Her modern history podcast We Didn’t Start the Fire, based on the Billy Joel hit, was named one of The Observer’s top ten podcasts of 2021. She still considers her favourite career achievement performing with Pet Shop Boys on ‘West End Girls’. “This sexy, sinister lullaby was my ‘I’ve made it!’ anthem when I scored my best job ever: dancing on Pet Shop Boys’ 1991 Performance world tour.”
Kevin Armstrong – Guitar and Musical Director: Kevin began his musical life with his own band Local Heroes SW9. After two albums his career began thriving as a writer, producer, bandleader and guitarist. Most notably, Kevin met David Bowie in late 1984 and worked with him on various projects, including putting together his band and performing at the legendary Live Aid in 1985. Bowie introduced Kevin to Iggy Pop as guitarist on the 1986 album Blah Blah Blah and Kevin became Iggy’s bandleader in 86/87. He put together Iggy’s touring band again from 2014 until 2019. Kevin has worked with Morrissey, Grace Jones, Sinéad O’Connor, Prefab Sprout, Thomas Dolby, Transvision Vamp, Brian Eno, Paul McCartney, Sandie Shaw, Gil Evans, Alien Sex Fiend, Keziah Jones and many more.
Luis Correia – Guitar: Luis is a London-based guitarist, producer and songwriter. Originally from Portugal, where he started his career as a session player, Luis moved to the UK over a decade ago and has since performed alongside names like Earl Slick (David Bowie), Bernard Fowler (The Rolling Stones), Erdal Kizilcay (David Bowie), Martin Lister (Alphaville), amongst others. His musicality and soulful playing make Luis a sought after muso on the London scene, where he’s often seen with various bands. He’s currently working on his own music and preparing for a tour with Steve Norman of Spandau Ballet later this year.
Florence Sabeva – Keyboards: a London based pianist, film composer and singer-songwriter, Flo started her career as a session pianist and has played alongside artists like Tom Bailey, Earl Slick (David Bowie) and Bernard Fowler (The Rolling Stones) and currently tours with Heaven 17. Also a very active film composer, she wrote her first score for ‘Wax, We Are The X’ and was then commissioned to write the soundtrack for the Gravity Field Festival in Guildford and to score the German movie ‘Mireille and Angelique’. Flo released her first studio album ‘The London Sessions’ in 2017, featuring eclectic works with European songwriters and artists that reflect her various music influences.
Tom Wilcox – Curator and Producer: Tom was the front man of 90’s art punk band Maniac Squat finding notoriety with their 1995 ‘hit’ F**k Off (Single of the Week in Kerrang!). Tom has since produced albums for Gillian Glover and Lisa Ronson; the latter, co-produced with Paul Cuddeford, receiving a 4-star review in Mojo and widespread critical acclaim. As a music curator, Tom’s credits include Blondiefest, Princefest and Iggyfest at the ICA, as well as conceiving and introducing bands/tours such as Tony Visconti’s Holy Holy.
First catching the Julie July Band some five years ago at Warwick Folk Festival and immediately being drawn to their Sandy Denny tribute, I’ve been keeping a keen eye on this band’s progress ever since. Now on to their third album, their first (Who Knows Where The Time Goes) committed the band’s Sandy-themed tribute to disc, while the second (Lady of the First Light) was an album of all-new original material. This latest sees the band writing and performing new material, once more.
The driving duo of Julie July (vocals) and Steve Rezillo (electric guitar/vocals) remain as they have from the very start, with Rezillo also contributing a significant bulk of the songwriting duties. However, there have been a few changes along the way, too. The pair are now joined by Caley Groves (guitar) whose father was Steve Groves, a contemporary of Sandy Denny’s late partner and ex Fotheringay and Fairporter, Trevor Lucas on the Australian folk-rock scene. Also joining them is Dik Cadbury (bass/vocals) who has an impeccable folk-rock pedigree stretching back to his days in Decameron in the 1970s and who has also worked with Steve Hackett. Joining on drums is Mick Candler who began playing in local beat groups in his home city of York back in the early 1960’s, prior to joining the Roll Movement and going on to work with the likes of Decameron, Phil Beer and Steve Knightly. Finally, there is keyboard player and singer-songwriter, Carol Lee Sampson, who contributes keyboards and vocal harmonies on the album.
As with the previous album, all twelve tracks on Wonderland are original songs.
Julie July:“This album is a bit different because the new line-up has five voices so we decided to make more use of these in the songs with harmonies.”
Wonderland represents an evolution of the band in a number of ways. Although the previous album, Lady Of The First Light, was categorically not a Sandy Denny tribute album, her influence was never really very far away. In some ways it felt like a long-lost companion to Sandy Denny’s handful of post-Fotheringay ‘70s solo albums. With Wonderland, however, the band spread their wings further and a more eclectic range of influences are apparent.
It still taps into that rich vein of ‘60s and ‘70s folk rock. But there’s layer upon layer of other influences, too, from prog to blues to polished singer-songwriter to straight-ahead hard rock, and even a hint of Latin here and there. This is a band growing in confidence, reaching into its huge well of collective experience and delivering some fine music, exquisite vocals and harmonies and striking songwriting.
Lyrical themes range from proggy mystical fantasy (‘Labyrinth’), to grappling with the strange realities of human interaction, post-lockdown (’Wonderland’) to the values of a certain former (thankfully) US President (‘Smoke And Mirrors’). It all adds up to a very pleasing third album from the Julie July Band.
Whether performing Sandy Denny’s songs or their own material, this is a band I always enjoy listening to and, after Covid messed up my usual summer festival plans these past couple of years, I now very much look forward to reconnecting with them live again, too.
Drawing inspiration from spirituality, history, folk tales, nature and the complexities of “being human”, India Blue is a folk musician and singer-songwriter based here in St. Leonards, East Sussex.
Introduced to the piano aged five, India says she began writing songs about faeries from those very first lessons, with help from her teacher Carla Smith. Aged eleven she began performing her first ever gigs as her support act, at places like Revelation in Ashford and the Sinden Theatre in Tenterden. Then came opportunities on the festival circuit, playing at small eco, pagan and hippie festivals in 2015. Prior to lockdown she was playing around eleven festivals each summer. She was awarded winner of the Equator Music Contest in 2014, was shortlisted for Young Songwriter of the Year in 2015 and was area finalist of Open Mic UK in 2016. As well as festivals, she’s supported Jo Beth Young for her ‘Strangers’ album launch and Guy Chambers on his ‘Into The Light’ tour.
India Blue’s debut studio album, The Circus Came And Left, released earlier this Spring features thirteen self-composed songs written over a two-year period.
“The Circus Came and Left is titled from the final single, which I toyed with actually including on the album or not. It’s a very personal song, about the transience of life. But I felt in some way whilst structuring the album: this is the journey I wanted the listener to go through, as it’s the one cycle every living this also goes through (in some way or another) It was also a major reason I wanted my first solo release to be an album, rather than a single: to walk the listener through a landscape.”
“I recorded the album in the home studio of my producer and fellow musician Tom Clarkson. Recording was a heart opening experience, intertwined with cavalo nero pasta, deep yogic breaths and dances with his two-year-old daughter.”
“My favourite part of the process was recording the piano on a magnificent old Steinway in an old original Burton manor (the man who built St Leonards!) ‘We’re Free’ was the only song fully recorded in this space, it was my rendition of a Mantra, and we got it in maybe one or two takes. I feel that songs are capsules, containing the energy of their words, the time when they were written, and also recorded. I feel this album truly holds support, insight and creative power for all who listen to receive.”
While she’s mainly self-accompanied, playing piano, harp and other instruments, the album also features some talented local musicians including Bev Lee Harling (violin), Tom Clarkson (bass/electric guitar), Tom Uragallo (bodhran) and Sarah Vincent (trombone).
The Circus Came And Left is a delightful album. India Blue’s delicate yet expressive and slightly other-worldly vocal is the perfect fit for her song-writing and there’s plenty of lovely mournful piano and beautifully evocative harp to really bring these songs to life. Both Vashti Bunyan and Joanna Newsome are cited as key inspirations and there’s lots for fans of both of those artists to enjoy here.
Led by songwriter and performer Virginie Lacour-Puiboube , Laughing With The Raindrops bring the highly-acclaimed new album, Voice On Shellac, to a live setting with two dates announced for a stunning multi-media show: Impact Community Arts, Perivale, Ealing – Friday 10th June
“Modern jazz that crackles with the vintage vinyl tones of and vivid vintage imagery summoned in the sepia tones of the soulful story of Virginie Lacour-Puiboube.” – Yack Magazine
“Laughing with the Raindrops’ music never ceases to amaze me. What I noticed about their latest work is that it is very cerebral, yet vulnerable and relatable. If you are in London (UK) area, make sure to catch Laughing with the Raindrops at one, or all, of these upcoming live dates:”-Lakisha Skinner, Klef Notes
“And what a fine storyteller Virginie Lacour-Puiboube is.” – Jane Mann – London Jazz News
The Voice on Shellac show is a live performance of the album’s songs, synchronised to a black and white silent movie: Faded Prints. Inspired by Virginie Lacour-Puiboube’s family photo album, the songs evoke the lives and true stories of those displayed in the album. With the film’s cast made up entirely of children, the show can be enjoyed by people of all ages and makes for captivating family entertainment.
The silent movie’s narrative develops in tandem with the songs: Two young girls discover memorabilia in their attic. They rummage through suitcases and play games related to their findings. Starting with a “peculiar” camera that “captures memories in colour”, the girls investigate the song characters’ past, through photos, letters and a record collection that contains a recording of Virginie’s grandmother’s voice on a shellac disc.
The girls also ponder about how they will use a large sum of money they have discovered in one of the suitcases. This fortune takes them on a long journey in search of the girl in the black and white dress, from the photo album. The storyline takes the audience back and forth in time, as the girls refer to the time when they first found the memorabilia two years earlier, and to how their new, now more mature understanding sheds light on the song characters’ past through decades of love, betrayal, divorce, war, travel, life…
Support comes from Lutfia, a 21-year-old BIMM student and her all-girl band promoting their recently-released EP, So Much For Summer. The EP which has been described as a ‘sophisticated collection of pop songs’ incorporates a variety of different styles, including alternative pop, pop-rock, funk and dance. Each song is unique and different from the rest but her powerful mezzo-soprano voice and deeply personal lyrics make the project seamlessly cohesive. Lutfia tells stories of teenage love, mental health struggles and nostalgia, each song recounting an impactful emotion, person or place in her life.
The evening also features Little Lore, a London based, Indie-Americana singer-storyteller whose songs are both charmingly accessible and yet beguilingly challenging. In her songs Little Lore brings together an affection for the heart and heritage of Americana music, with an intelligence and maturity of storytelling that can sweep you away into new and unexpected emotional worlds. Following acclaimed work with her previous dup, Little Lore’s debut solo EP was released in 2021 to glowing reviews
About Virginie Lacour-Puiboube:
Virginie founded Laughing with The Raindrops in 2013, and their eponymous debut album was released in 2016. More recently, as she studied for an MMus in Music performance at London College of Music, Virginie focussed on the creation of narratives in song and explored the use of visual art as a combined story-telling device. Voice On Shellac was the resulting album (released on vinyl this year) and live show.
Hailing from Paris, Virginie has contributed to music projects in the UK since the late 1980s, from playing guitar in all-girl Reggae band Just Desserts and a Serge Gainsbourg tribute trio to being active on the London Jazz scene in the 90s, alongside bassist Alexander Keen and pianist Gabriel Keen, co-leading 13-piece experimental Jazz group Piano Di Lavoro, performing in London venues such as the Barbican Foyer, The Bull’s Head (Barnes), former jazz club The Bass Clef. In the mid-90s, Virginie also founded Baton Rouge, a vocal-led septet showcasing her song writing.
Laughing with The Raindrops have played at Toulouse Lautrec Jazz bar (Kennington), Map Cafe (Kentish Town), Kentish Town Arts Club, Babel Art House (Stoke Newington), London festivals, and recently premiered the show at the Etcetera Theatre in Camden.
A virtuoso of the button accordion and a notable figure on London’s traditional Irish music scene, Andy Martyn has been immersed in traditional music from a young age and has gone on to collaborate with many leading players. Appearing on a number of albums, past collaborations have included work with the likes of John Carty, Brendan Mulkere, Alias Ron Kavana and Gino Lupari, as well as with London-based bands, Le Cheile and Slip Jigolos. Will We Give It A Go? is Martyn’s debut solo album released under his own name, however.
Evidently, he may have taken a little persuading to have finally agreed to a solo release. Writing in the album liner notes, he observes: “Having been persuaded by a number of musicians and friends over the years to put down a new recording, I chose perhaps the most strange time to do so during a global pandemic which severely restricted our ability to meet, play and record together.”
Any logistical challenges presented by putting such an album together has clearly not impeded on its vibrancy and vitality, It really is a delight to listen to. Distilling the spirit of traditional Irish music from the streets of London while reaching back to Martyn’s own Galway family roots, he brings us an album that’s both highly inventive and one steeped in tradition.
Described as a landmark recording of traditional Irish music in London, the fourteen-track CD combines some of Marty’s own compositions with his own interpretations of Irish airs, reels and other traditional tunes.
Traditional airs like the ‘Lament Of The Three Marys’ jostle with traditional reels like ‘The Sailor’s Bonnet’ and several of Marty’s own compositions including three of his previously unpublished tunes: ‘Dream Maker’ (an air composed for the late Brendan Mulkere), ‘The Light of Home’ and ‘The Ballygawley Barndance’.
Martyn has drawn on his long-established connections on the scene to pull together an impressive line-up of supporting musicians: John Carty (Patrick Street), Gerry Diver, Gino Lupari (Four Men and a Dog), Matt Griffin (Seamus Begley Trio), Michael McGoldrick (Michael McGoldrick Band, Usher’s Island), Trevor Hutchinson (Lunasa), Elaine Conwell (The London Lasses), Sinead Egan (The Egan Sisters), Tad Sargent, Kevin Boyle (Le Cheile) and Barney Morse-Brown (Duotone).
Altogether, an impressive outcome for this long-awaited solo venture from the Irish button accordion virtuoso, Andy Martyn.
Much as I hugely appreciate Ronnie James Dio’s genre-defining mark as lead singer of Rainbow, Graham Bonnet’s own stint on vocals neatly coincided with my early teens and thus the time I was starting to get really into rock music. I’ve always had a real soft spot for Bonnet, therefore.Rainbow’s Down To Earth and Bonnet’s subsequent solo album, Line Up, are still albums I enjoy playing, along with his later output for MSG and Alcatrazz.
He continued to record throughout the 90s and into the early 00s but then it seemed to go rather quiet for Bonnet in terms of new material. In recent years, however, there’s been a prolific and energetic release schedule. As well two reunion albums with Michael Schenker and a new Alcatrazz release, he’s now also on to his third album with the Graham Bonnet Band. Day Out In Nowhere follows The Book, released in 2016, and Meanwhile, Back In The Garage released two years later.
This latest Graham Bonnet Band album sees him recording, once again, with long-time members, Beth-Ami Heavenstone on bass and Conrado Pesinato on guitar, alongside newer members, Alessandro Bertoni on keyboards and Shane Gaalaas on drums. Day Out In Nowhere also sees a host of guest appearances, too: Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy, Nevermore), John Tempesta (The Cult, White Zombie), Mike Tempesta (Powerman 5000), Roy Z (Halford, Bruce Dickinson) and, most notably, Bonnet’s former Rainbow bandmate, Don Airey (now with Deep Purple, of course) who provides his trademark Hammond on one track, ‘It’s Just A Frickin’ Song’.
Bonnet: “Similar to the first two albums, it will reflect different eras of my career, but with a contemporary twist. I’m also delighted to be playing with original members of the Graham Bonnet Band, Beth-Ami Heavenstone who has been my constant partner (on and off stage) since meeting back in 2012 and guitarist Conrado Pesinato, who’s innate musical style elicits some of my best songwriting.”
Day Out In Nowhere is classy, polished, melodic hard rock, that proves to be just the vehicle for Bonnet’s distinctive and equally classy vocals. Bonnet claims that the albums fronting his eponymously-named band more accurately reflect his original vision for a reunited Alcatrazz, with the guitar pyrotechnics dialled down just a little and more emphasis placed on well-constructed songs and intelligently-written lyrics. That’s exactly what we get here. It’s not to say there’s not some superb guitar from the ever-reliable, Conrado Pesinato, but it does show strong melody and well-crafted songs are at the heart of what makes for an essential Graham Bonnet album.
Bonnet’s lyrics across the eleven tracks tackle everything from alcoholism to the state of the world. The final track, however, the dramatic and theatrical-sounding ‘Suzi’, is something of a leftfield turn and a complete change of pace, with Bonnet backed not by a rock band but by an orchestra.
Now in his mid-seventies, Graham Bonnet is clearly on something of a roll at this late stage in his career. Whether you are the more casual fan of his most celebrated albums from the late 70s and early 80s or a dedicated fan who’s loyally followed each and every stage of his long career, there’s lots to like in Day Out In Nowhere. It deserves to do well.
Day Out In Nowhere – tracklisting:
Twelve Steps To Heaven
Brave New World (ft. Roy Z)
Day Out In Nowhere
The Sky Is Alive
When We’re Asleep (ft. Mike Tempesta, John Tempesta)
While she was born in Lancaster grew up in the Yorkshire Dales and graduated from Leeds Conservatoire, it is the Hebridean island of Rum that provides the inspiration for Iona Lane’s debut album. Rising 723 metres, Hallival, is one of the mountains on the picturesque Isle of Rum, the location of which is also the theme for the album’s opening track.
Iona Lane:“Spending my childhood in the Dales was wonderful but pretty much all our family holidays were north of the border so I’ve grown to love the Scottish as well as the English landscape.”
As well as highland landscapes, Lane’s songwriting tackles such themes as eighteenth-century scientific discovery, nineteenth-century palaeontology and ancient Celtic myth. In her finely crafted songs, Lane demonstrates a real gift for storytelling and introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, both real and imagined.
Lane’s delicate yet immensely expressive vocals accompanied by her own skillful guitar playing as well as a talented cast of supporting musicians (Mia Scott, Louis Bertoud, Jay Taylor, Sol Edwards, Jenny Sturgeon, Rachel Newton and Lauren MacColl) all serve to ensure that Hallival is a very fine debut folk album indeed.
My early teen years neatly coincided with the ascendancy of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). I missed the first Monsters of Rock at Donington in 1980 but was there for the second. I went out to get the first issue of Kerrang! (which I still have) and bought (or taped) albums by many of the bands featured in this book. Unlike many other genres or musical movements that I’ve grown to love over the years, this one perfectly aligned with the period when I was seriously getting hooked on music for the first time.
Taking the form of a transcribed oral history, Denim & Leather features contributions from a plethora of figures, from artists to managers to promoters to writers to fans, who were around during the short life of this grassroots phenomenon which gave a much-needed shot in the arm to the world of hard rock at the tail end of the 1970s and the dawn of the 1980s.
Sometimes books of this nature, featuring an endless stream of quotes and half-remembered (and often contradictory) anecdotes but little in the way of context or analysis, can be a bit of an exhausting and not always particularly satisfying read. But Denim & Leather is cleverly done and author, Michael Hann, has skilfully organised it in a way that allows for clear narratives to emerge. The various chapters take us through key events chronologically but also give us an in-depth look at particular aspects of the scene. There’s chapters on the importance of things like The Friday Rock Show, Sounds and later Kerrang! mag as well as the first ever Monsters of Rock Festival but it also looks at some of the less rose-tinted aspects of the scene, like the all too frequent misogyny.
Wisely, the book doesn’t get too hung up on rigid definitions of what is and what isn’t NWOBHM and there is a chapter devoted to the influence the movement had on that trio of post-Purple bands, Rainbow, Whitesnake and Gillan, as well as lots of mentions of Judas Priest, whose members were all making music well before NWOBHM became a thing although they certainly benefited from it.
Given the importance the two bands had in influencing the later sub-genres of thrash metal and black metal respectively, there’s a whole chapter devoted to Diamond Head and another whole chapter devoted to Venom. I never really got the whole extreme metal thing, personally. But at the other end of the spectrum I never really bought into that overproduced very Americanised direction that Def Leppard soon headed in either. That also takes up a considerable chunk of the book and, in the end, is what pretty much did for NWOBHM.
For me, NWOBHM was at its very best when it melded the uncompromising heaviness of the first generation of heavy rock acts with the catchy choruses and three-minute tunes of the early 70s glam rock scene and the DIY ‘get-up-and-do-it’ spirit of the punk era. The bands that most closely adhered to that template were the ones I warmed to the most – and still do. My favourite quote in the book – from former Saxon bass man, Steve Dawson, thus perfectly sums up why I always had more love for Saxon than Iron Maiden:
“Without sounding elitist, I think the tunes we wrote were more catchy songs. Not just a riff with some fucking twat screaming. A lot of the so-called NWOBHM wrote riffs with singing, and not songs – melodic tunes that you could whistle. Iron Maiden were sort of in that bracket to me.“
Denim & Leather is a well-researched and highly readable look at a crucial but often overlooked period in rock and metal history, with many insightful, entertaining, thought-provoking and occasionally downright disturbing contributions from some of the key players in the NWOBHM scene at the time.
A pivotal figure on the Scottish traditional music scene, Bruce MacGregor is renowned both for his work with the award winning Highland fiddle group, Blazin’ Fiddles, as well as presenting BBC Radio Scotland’s folk show, Travelling Folk. 2020 also saw the launch of MacGregor’s book, The Highlander’s Revenge, a collection of fifty compositions telling the story behind each song.
Road To Tyranny is a new solo album from MacGregor, showcasing fourteen original compositions and including a stellar cast of supporting musicians.
MacGregor:“I’m so delighted with the way this album has turned out, each track sounds unique thanks to the amazing musicians who joined me. Anna Massie and Angus Lyon helped with the production and Jenna Reid also from the Blazers helped me with string parts. We were then treated to the musical magic dust that Tim Edey (guitar and box) and Ali Levack (whistles) and Su-a Lee (cello) added. We then added to the swinging rhythm section with Duncan Lyall on bass and Iain Sandilands on percussion. Iain even had to go out and buy a washboard to get the right vibe for the Big Yins! We also added in something a little different for a Scottish fiddle album with Tom Oats on clarinet and Iain Sloan on lap steel guitar giving us a completely different vibe for each set.”
With Road To Tyranny, MacGregor proves you don’t need to delve too far back into history for inspiration to create such evocative compositions. The title track was inspired by a remark from a former president of the Supreme Court over the constitutional implications of the 2020 United Kingdom Internal Market Act, while others have been prompted by a memorable visit to Billy Connolly’s house (‘The Big Yin’s’), an adolescent boy’s sometimes lackadaisical approach to completing household chores (‘Josh’s 2 Secs’) and a celebration of the career of Scottish rugby player, Doddie Weir (‘Doddie’s Dream’).
With its irresistible collection of airs, jigs, strathspeys, reels and marches, as well compositions that MacGregor simply terms “catchy tunes!” as they don’t quite neatly fit into a particular category, Road To Tyranny takes us on a magical journey at the hands of a deft composer, talented fiddler and all-round Scottish music legend.