Kent-based heavy blues band Big River come back with another new single towards the end of January.
‘The Long Way‘ is the second song to be released from Big River’s forthcoming EP and follows the excellent ‘Don’t Hold Out’ released last Autumn. ‘Beautiful Trauma’ the band’s eagerly-anticipated five-track EP is scheduled for release in the Spring.
I’ve long been a fan of Big River’s riff-heavy classic blues rock and forthcoming single ‘The Long Way’ is testimony as to why I’m predicting a bright future for the band in the months ahead. Their decision to team up with Adam Barron last year (ex Mick Ralphs Band and former Voice contestant) has seen the band go from strength to strength, both as performers and as song-writers. Certainly I look forward to hearing the full EP but click here for a sneak preview of what’s in store from the new single.
“There’s many more where this came from,” they assure us.
Guitarist, Damo Fawsett:“We’ve played this song a few times in the later gigs of 2021 & it’s an ‘All out’ Rocker, from the moment the opening riff kicks in you can see on people’s faces they’re going to like what’s coming, and it just keeps on building.”
Big River are: Adam Barron (vocals), Damo Fawsett (guitar), Ant Wellman (bass), Joe Martin (drums / backing vocals). They will be touring the UK from March 2022 onwards with dates throughout the year.
‘The Long Way’ single released on all digital platforms 28th January 2022
Acoustic alt-folk duo The Daughters is a recent collaboration between two Scottish singer-songwriters Martha Middlemiss and Mary Moira McKay. Although the two had been singing together informally for a number of years, the quirks of lockdown and the arrival of socially-distanced walks into our day to day vocabulary led to things being taken a step further.
Songs began to materialise as the two shared their regular walks along Scotland’s Tyne River. An initial single ‘The Mountains’ was released in Spring 2021, which celebrated the beauty of Scotland’s landscape and the determination of those who sought solace, inspiration and escapism from conquering its peaks during the unsettling times as the pandemic took hold.
Soon enough songs began to materialise and Golden Shore is the result: twelve delightful original songs exploring themes around the great outdoors, love, faith and life dilemmas.
The duo’s charmingly quirky harmonised vocals are a real delight and Middlemiss and McKay have turned out to be the perfect fit for one another. Indeed, the pair’s voices are so alike that at times during the sessions even they found themselves struggling to tell one from the other.
The pair are backed by a talented collection of guest musicians each of whom deliver both charm and empathy to the collection of songs. These are Alice Allen (cello), Calum McIntyre (percussion), Chris Amer (acoustic and electric guitar), Duncan Lyall (acoustic and electric bass) and Martin Lee Thompson (euphonium).
An uplifting album and a new creative partnership borne out of the adversity of the pandemic Golden Shore has certainly helped put a spring in my step.
Going online to treat myself to the newly-released CD from former Uriah Heep singer, Pete Goalby, I ended up having one of those “customers who viewed this also viewed these” impulse purchase experiences. Before I knew it I had, not one, but four recently-released CDs from the extended Uriah Heep family popping through my letterbox, three of these being released posthumously.
The four albums are My Book of Answers by Ken Hensley (Heep keyboard player 1969-80), Eleventeen from Lee Kerslake (Heep drummer from 1971-79 and 1981-2007), Sail The Rivers by Trevor Bolder (Heep bass-player from 1976-81 and 1983-2013) and Easy With The Heartaches from Peter Goalby (Heep vocalist from 1981-85). If you’re simply looking for a replication of classic-era Uriah Heep, don’t expect that from any of these releases but there’s lots to like here for any dedicated Heep fan.
Taking them in turn, My Book of Answers was released back in March 2021 just a few months after Hensley’s sad and unexpected death in November 2020. A strong and consistent album it stands up well against Hensley’s other solo material. Showcasing some heavy, sweeping, majestic-sounding tracks, the genesis of the album lay in a collaboration with Russian poet and Hensley fan, Vladimir Emelin which came out of a chance encounter at an airport. Once Emelin’s words were translated, Hensley set about putting them to music. There’s a spiritual theme to many of the lyrics but it never gets too happy-clappy for an avowed atheist like me. I never believed in demons or wizards and that never put me off Hensley’s songs either. My Book of Answers is a classy album and a joyous farewell from a superbly talented songwriter and musician.
Similarly, I really wanted to enjoy Lee Kerslake’s album. Released in February last year Kerslake began work on Eleventeen back in 2015. In spite of battling terminal cancer the self-produced album was a labour of love and was finally completed in 2019. Sadly Kerslake passed away in September 2020 and, like Hensley’s, the album had to be released posthumously. Now, some drummers, such as Jim McCarty of the Yardbirds, have proved themselves to be talented singer-songwriters. A singer the late Lee Kerslake was not, sadly. He really struggles on this album and it’s not a comfortable listen, particularly when he attempts to take on Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend. Ranging from soft rock balladry to lively rockers to a big emotive theatrical number and even a jocular Chas and Dave style singalong, Eleventeenth is an eclectic mix for sure. Making it was clearly very important to Lee Kerslake and his special way of saying goodbye. There’s a beautifully poignant, heartfelt tribute from Uriah Heep’s Mick Box in the sleeve-notes. For taht reason I’m really pleased that Kerslake was able to do this album even if it’s something I’m not likely to listen to very often.
Although Trevor Bolder passed away in 2013 Sail The Rivers, the solo album he worked on in the year leading up to his death, was finally released in 2020. With the blessing of his family, friends of his stepped in to complete it. Packaged in a very evocative Roger Dean-esque cover artwork, Bolder’s solo album is probably the closest to Uriah Heep of the four reviewed here – including, as it does, contributions from both Mick Box and Lee Kerslake as well as containing a number of Bolder’s compositions that had previously appeared on Heep releases. In parts it’s actually quite a bit heavier than the average Heep album and, unlike Uriah Heep, keyboards are avoided with the emphasis placed firmly much on guitars rather than the trademark Hammond-meets-guitar sound. In contrast to Kerslake’s album, Bolder’s makes considerable use of the vocal skills of a guest vocalist in Derk Gallagher, who sings lead on five of the ten tracks. Sail The Rivers is a wonderfully strong album and a fine tribute to the ex-Spider from Mars and long-time Heep bassist.
The most recent release of the four is Peter Goalby’s Easy With The Heartaches which came out towards the end of 2021. The album was recorded before any of the others here though, with tracks laid down in 1990 but lying unreleased until now. Sonically, it can be seen very much as a natural continuation to the trio of albums that Goalby released with Heep: Abominog, Head First and Equator. This was in the period when Heep had moved away from their signature early 70s, Hammond-heavy proggish hard rock and embraced a more modern, melodic 80s sound. You’ll find similar on this album and the songs were written just after Golaby left Heep. Unlike Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake, Goalby’s post-Heep life always enveloped in a degree of mystery. Rumours abounded that his voice was completely shot and he could perform no more. In truth, he had just decided to pursue a different career path. As Goalby says in the sleeve-notes: “I think that they are some of my best work. I hope you like them too… and just for the record, my voice did not give up. I did.” There are some really strong melodic hard rock tunes here with Goalby in fine voice. It’s good to have this album finally seeing the light of day. And, what’s more, after so many tragedies in the Heep camp in recent years (former singer John Lawton is another who passed away last year) it’s reassuring to still have Goalby here with us and releasing such excellent music.
My special thanks go to all those who have visited (and hopefully enjoyed) Darren’s music blog during 2021. The blog has been the usual mad mix of hard rock, metal, folk, Americana, glam rock, britpop, and more – basically anything I enjoy listening to! Here, however, are the ten most popular blog posts from 2021.
1. Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water: so who actually was the “stupid with a flare gun”?
Fifty years after the events that inspired the recording of Deep Purple’s most famous song and the world’s most famous heavy rock riff, I take a look at the history behind ‘Smoke On The Water’. In December 1971 the band were planning to record their forthcoming album Machine Head at the Montreux Casino in Switzerland. As we know at the Frank Zappa concert on 4th December someone burnt the place to the ground. Who was ‘the stupid with a flare gun’? This post went viral after being shared by a certain Ian Gillan and easily became my most popular post of the year.
2. Tribute to John Rossall: Glitter Band founder passes away peacefully following cancer battle
This is my tribute to Glitter Band founder member sadly passed away on Saturday 2nd October following a cancer diagnosis earlier in the year. John Rossall played on all the early Glitter Band hits before leaving to pursue a solo career. A popular figure at festivals and gigs on the 70s live music circuit for many years, he stunned both fans and critics alike with a hugely well-received comeback album The Last Glam in Town released in Autumn 2020.
3. Interview with guitarist/singer/song-writer and Grand Funk Railroad founding legend Mark Farner
I was luck enough to interview a number of music legends this year. My most popular of 2021 was with Mark Farner one of the founders of Grand Funk Railroad. In this interview we look back at Mark’s career: forming Grand Funk, performing at the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969 and London’s Hyde Park in 1971 as well as discussing the inspirations behind his songs, his collaborations with the likes of Ringo Starr and Alice Cooper not to mention his brand new DVD.
4. July Morning – a fifty-year-old British rock song and an annual celebration of summer in Bulgaria
Another post about another iconic fifty-year-old British hard rock song. July Morning is a 1971 song by Uriah Heep. Written by the band’s keyboard player, Ken Hensley, and vocalist David Byron with its distinctive organ sounds it has remained a significant highlight of the band’s live set. In most places the song is taken at face value for what it is – a classic slice of early 70s hard rock with lyrics celebrating the beauty of an early morning sunrise. In Bulgaria, however, the song has taken on a significance all of its own.
5. Dirkschneider & The Old Gang: former Accept vocalist re-unites old colleagues for new project
In the Autumn of 2020 former Accept lead vocalist, Udo Dirkschneider, began putting together a new project that brought together some familiar faces. Going by the moniker Dirkschneider & The Old Gang, the name is pretty self-explanatory. Along with Dirkschneider and his son, Sven, two former Accept members (bassist Peter Baltes and guitarist Stefan Kaufmann) have also been brought in, along with singer Manuela Bibert.
I obviously talk a great deal about my love of music but I thought it might be an idea to give readers a quick tour of my actual CD collection. Although I was a keen purchaser of vinyl in my mid to late teens during the first part of the 1980s, frequent house moves in my late teens and early 20s meant that the format was becoming a bit cumbersome. By the time the 1990s came along I was glad to embrace the CD and gradually began building up a collection. From just a handful of CDs thirty years ago it’s now grown to what it is today.
7. Book news: ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ by Darren Johnson – published 30th July 2021
Followers of this blog will be aware that my love of 1970s glam icons The Sweet is pretty well documented. They’ve featured heavily on Darren’s Music Blog over the seven years of the blog’s existence. This was the post announcing the impending publication of my first book – ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ which came out as part of the Decades series published by Sonicbond.
8. News: Back down to earth! Graham Bonnet to link up with old Rainbow bandmate Don Airey
Former Rainbow vocalist, Graham Bonnet, has announced that his forthcoming album will feature ex-bandmate Don Airey. The two who performed together on the classic Down To Earth album back in 1979 will appear on a new album Graham Bonnet solo album. Bonnet is currently recording with bandmates Beth-Ami Heavenstone (bass), Conrad Pesinato (guitar) and Mark Zonder (drums).
9. Peter Donegan: interview with Americana singer-songwriter and son of skiffle legend, Lonnie Donegan
Another of the interviews I enjoyed doing during 2021. In the week of the sixty-seventh anniversary of the recording of Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ I talked to Peter Donegan about his father’s legacy, about his viral TV duet with Tom Jones on The Voice and about his forthcoming album.
10. Let there be drums! interview with Slade legend Don Powell
One of my all-time musical heroes I catch up with founding member of Slade and drumming legend, Don Powell. Via Zoom in Don’s home in Denmark we talk about his single ‘Let There Be Drums’ raising money for crew, engineers and technicians hit by the pandemic, about the old Slade days, about working with Suzi Quatro and Andy Scott, about recovering from a stroke and much, much more besides.
Apart from my traditional end of year round-up this will be my final post of the year. This is just to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and thank everyone who has visited the site over the past year and hopefully enjoyed some of the reviews, features and interviews I’ve done. Thanks to artists like Grand Funk Railroad legend Mark Farnerand Slade legend Don Powell who were kind enough to find time to talk to me along with numerous others.
And thanks to everyone who bought my book‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ when it came out this year and gave such positive feedback.
On the PR side it’s also been a pleasure to work for some wonderful artists over the past year: Milton Hide, Green Diesel, Maniac Squat, Across The Sea, Little Lore and Roly Witherow – all of whom released some excellent music this year I was proud to promote.
I’ll leave you with the Christmas video of the learning disability charity I work for – Stay Up Late. As well as campaigning to transform social care so that no-one with a learning disability is prevented from accessing the support they need to go out to gigs, have an active social life and stay up late, we also run the successful Gig Buddies project. This year we decided to do our own tribute to Slade’s Christmas classic and I found myself donning my gold jacket and becoming impromptu choir master. Enjoy!
You can find out more about Stay Up Late and Gig Buddies here
Douze Noëls is the latest album from harpist Gwen Màiri – twelve traditional Basque tunes for the Christmas season arranged and performed on lever harp by Gwen Màiri. The collection was published in 1897 as Douze Noëls populaires Basques en dialecte Souletin (Twelve popular Basque carols in the Zuberoan dialect). It formed part of the Archive de la tradition Basque, the result of musicologist Charles Bordes’s many years of documenting traditional songs and tunes in the Basque Country, Euskal Herria.
Gwen Màiri was brought up in a Welsh-speaking household in north-east Fife. Both her parents were keen folk singers – her father in Scots and her mother in Welsh – and Gwen grew up singing the songs of both traditions. Her Stirling-born father had learnt Welsh but Scots was often used with his side of the family (and in the playground, of course), while long holidays grandparents in Lampeter, Ceredigion kept a very strong sense of belonging on the Welsh side.
Gwen Màiri is a graduate of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), BA(Hons) PGDipMus, where she studied pedal harp with Karen Vaughan (co-principal harp, LSO) and clàrsach (traditional Scottish lever harp) with Karen Marshalsay. Her career has been very varied, including work with professional orchestras (Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and the orchestra and education department of Scottish Opera), chamber music, teaching, publishing music for the lever harp and her main passion; researching, arranging and performing the music of Wales and Scotland in a traditionally informed contemporary style.
Gwen brings her traditional and classical influences together in her arrangement of these beautiful and unique Christmas tunes from Zuberoa. This album was recorded at home in Glasgow and is supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland. The stunning artwork and animation is by Léa Sautin.
Douze Noëls is now streaming on all the usual platforms and the CD is available to buy from Birnam
Ed Blunt is a singer-songwriter with a debut album out in February 2022. London-based Blunt, whose family home is in Graffham, Sussex, is a jazz and classically trained pianist, who earned his stripes on the London scene, and is in demand as a performer, arranger and choir leader (he is Musical Director and founder of the ensemble, Camden Voices).
As a foretaste of his coming album he has recently released a Christmas single, a heart-warming Christmas song inspired by the last big blizzard in the City of London.
‘The Dome of St Paul’s’ was written during lockdown and recounts a night in 2009 when the capital saw its biggest snowfall for several decades. The song is accompanied by a magical animated video created by London’s Chicken Fruit Studio and set on Christmas Eve.
At the time, Ed was a student at Guildhall School of Music and Drama living in its hall of residence close to The Barbican.
Blunt:“One freezing Sunday night it started to snow, at first just a few flakes, then soon enough a proper whiteout. As we walked the streets the city that was usually loud and frenetic stood perfectly still and quiet in the snow like a dreamland – it was one of those nights you will never forget.”
But it took 12 years before Ed’s memory of that snowstorm triggered a song. He started writing the melody and lyrics during a lockdown Zoom workshop with Chris Difford, of legendary band Squeeze, who describes the song as “brilliant”.
“The challenge Chris set was to write a song about London and, for some reason, the day the snow transformed the city into a winter wonderland came vividly to mind.”
Besides the city cathedral, it namechecks a number of other London landmarks – Finsbury Square, London Wall and Chancery Lane.
Recorded and mixed by David Simpson at the Crypt Studio, London it features James Nall on drums and percussion, Charlie Laffer on guitars and Tom Farmer on bass.
Ed Blunt’s debut album, Over the Moon is due out in February 2022, and serves up a rich mix of folk, rock, blues and gospel – original songs inspired by subjects as diverse as cinematic stories of men on the moon to the folklore of his home city — often cut through with a touch of humour.
The Dome of St Paul’s is out now on all digital platforms.
Drawing parallels between the age-old patterns of migration in the animal kingdom and the experiences of modern humans in today’s increasingly fraught world, acclaimed classically-trained flautist Eliza Marshall has brought together a collection of top-flight musicians to create the Freedom To Roam project. Under the banner The Rhythms of Migration the album comprises fourteen specially-commissioned instrumental pieces symbolising, celebrating and capturing migratory journeys.
Conceived as both a humanitarian and an environmental project it explores themes such as climate change, environmental destruction, rewilding, conflict and displacement.
Eliza Marshall:“This album approaches the interconnected challenges of climate change, environmental destruction and human displacement within the context of our needs for freedom, empathy and hopefulness. It’s the starting point to an all-encompassing project that aims to change our understanding of nature, wildness and our pivotal role in the future of life on this planet.”
Melding folk and classical influences to produce a collection of stunning and evocative soundscapes the project can boast a stellar cast of players:
Virginia McKenna, icon of wildlife conservation, and the project she founded the Born Free Foundation emerged as champions of the project and as well as the album it also includes a documentary film and a special launch concert at Cecil Sharp House on 18th December.
Gentle, stirring, dramatic, haunting and utterly immersive Freedom To Roam: The Rhythms of Migration is a wonderfully evocative collection of music that will take all but the most stone-hearted of us on a quite magical journey.
Back in 2020 I reviewed Chasing Shadows – Adrian Jarvis’s book about his ultimately fruitless quest to locate original Deep Purple singer, Rod Evans, who vanished in 1980 following a deeply unwise scam involving misuse of his former band’s name and was never heard from again.
Nick Griffiths’ novel DeadStar takes a similar premise albeit the central character, Garth Tyson, never enjoyed anything like the brief taste of fame that Evans had with the first line-up of Deep Purple. Following a minor hit in the mid-80s with his fictional band Speed of Life Tyson disappears after a part utterly disastrous, part weirdly triumphant appearance at Glastonbury. However, outside of his immediate family and former bandmates, public speculation about Tyson’s whereabouts is precisely zero.
What really holds the reader’s imagination, however, is Griffiths’ attention to period detail in documenting the highs and lows of a wannabe rock star and his fellow travellers. From schoolboy misfits inspired by glam-era Bowie and then moving through boisterous teen punk, moody post-punk and chirpier synth-pop, it’s a journey that many bands have taken. Griffiths, himself a former music journalist who worked on the likes of Sounds and Select magazine in the late 80s and early 90s, captures the mood of the times and the shifting musical trends with accuracy, empathy and good humour.
Stuck inside during a period of Covid-induced self-isolation, when I was feeling well enough to read but not well enough to do much else, DeadStar proved both gripping and highly entertaining.
And does Griffiths’ fictional narrator succeed with Garth Tyson where Adrian Jarvis singularly failed with Rod Evans? Does he end up actually tracking him down? That would be telling but, as with the Jarvis book, the journey is definitely as important as the destination.
Published: 25th January 2022 by New Generation Publishing
The #FolkForChristmas hashtag came about last year as a means of supporting artists whose income had been hit by the impact of the pandemic, with people being encouraged to support independent artists and, in particular, order directly from them this Christmas rather than head off to Amazon. In putting this list of recommendations together I’ve again used the not exactly scientific method of ranking them in order according to the number of hits each of these reviews received on my website.
No. 1: Ninebarrow – A Pocket Full of Acorns
With a mix of original song-writing, covers, traditional numbers and musical adaptations of classic poetry, the duo apply their trademark harmonies to produce eleven tracks of exquisite contemporary folk. Highlights include the haunting but utterly beautiful ‘Cold, Haily, Windy Night’ a song about migration inspired by the scenes of destitution at the Calais refugee camp.
No. 2: Steve Tyler -The Enduring and the Ephemeral
Steve Tyler is a renowned hurdy gurdy player and from early music to traditional folk to industrial electronica he is at home playing within a variety of genres. The Enduring and the Ephemeral, however, is Tyler’s first album comprised fully of his own original material. The unique, utterly mesmerising sound of the hurdy gurdy takes centre-stage in this album of rich, layered, experimental prog-folk subtitled ‘Hurdy gurdy based multitrack music for the end of time’.
No. 3: John Edwin & the Banjodasha Hillbillies – Divine Life of Punarvasu
Swedish singer-songwriter-instrumentalist, Peter Danielsson, had spent time on the road performing in a variety of different outfits. Around a decade ago he felt it was time to go solo and that a change in musical direction was in order. He bought himself a banjo, taught himself to play clawhammer (the distinctive banjo playing style common to a lot of old-time American music) and reinvented himself as bluegrass performer, John Edwin.
The themes range from mythical creatures to long lost love to banishment to battle laments. An especially poignant moment is at the end of the first song ‘Wily Margaret’ where a few verses from an original field recording of the song, now in the custody of National Trust for Scotland, are spliced into MacMillan’s own version. A beautifully-made album that will find a suitable home with anyone who has a love for Gaelic songs and traditions.
I’ve much enjoyed seeing this husband-and-wife acoustic duo, Jim and Josie Tipler, out on the live scene here in East Sussex on a number of occasions. Their thought-provoking, observational and often humorous self-written songs were always a treat to witness and it was a delight, therefore, to get my hands on their debut album.
The album is not a leap into the dark musically but from his early days as ‘the poster boy of English folk’ through to now, Seth Lakeman’s albums have demonstrated a quality and consistency in delivering fine folk songs, superb musicianship and those instantly-recognisable vocals. Fans will not be disappointed.
No. 7: Sons of the Never Wrong – Undertaker’s Songbook
Formed in Chicago almost thirty years ago Sons of the Never Wrong are an alt-folk trio with a signature sound of soaring harmonies and lush acoustic arrangements built around of thoughtful, witty song-writing. Their ninth studio album, Undertaker’s Songbook is something of a celebratory release as the band approach their 30th anniversary.
Put together by singer-songwriter David Boardman back in 2016 there’s harmony vocals, exquisite pedal steel, infectious fiddle, great melodies and heartfelt lyrics. The song-writing is a joint endeavour between Boardman, who cooked up the tunes and the band’s drummer, BBC presenter and all-round music maestro, Mark Radcliffe, who came up with the lyrics. Radcliffe proves himself to be a talented lyricist. His observational storytelling perfectly captures the overall mood that the album evokes.
Ronan Gallagher has the sort of rich, seasoned, easy-going vocal delivery that makes it sound like’s he’s been performing around the pubs and bars of Ireland for decades. Married to some irresistibly catchy melodies, some thoughtful every-man style lyrics and a great cast of supporting musicians who deliver a fine blend of Celtic-infused Americana, it’s a sure-fire winner. Incredibly, however, Gallagher did not begin singing or learning to play the guitar until just over five years ago.
No. 10: Honey and The Bear – Journey Through The Roke
Honey and The Bear are folk duo and singer-songwriters Lucy and Jon Hart. The Suffolk-based couple originally met at a song-writing event, began writing and performing together and spent several years touring the folk circuit before releasing their debut album Made in Aker, back in 2019. Journey Though the Roke is the follow-up, ‘Roke being an old East Anglian word for the evening mist that rises from the region’s marshes and water meadows.