Monthly Archives: March 2014

Peter Knight’s Gigspanner at Horsebridge Centre, Whitstable 29/3/14

“It’s like magic isn’t it – trying to work out how they manage to get all of those sounds from those instruments.”

Neither my words, nor the words from some cheesy promotional blurb but an off-the-cuff remark from a fellow audience member at  Gigspanner’s performance  in Whitstable. Fronted by Peter Knight, until recently the longstanding virtuoso fiddle player with folk rock legends, Steeleye Span,  Peter is joined by Roger Flack on guitar and Vincent Salzfaas on conga drums.  The three produce some truly amazing sounds together and, while there are undoubtedly strong English folk influences, their music embraces a whole range of influences, including French, Cajun and African sounds.

While I was very familiar with Peter’s work in Steeleye Span, until I saw them for the first time two years ago I was only vaguely aware of his side-project, Gigspanner . And it’s a long time since a single act has had as much of an impact on me in such a short space of time, as Gigspanner has. Tonight is the sixth time I’ve caught up with them in two years and each time I’ve found their performance even more spellbinding than the last. At times Roger Flack’s beautiful melodic guitar reminds me of an early Peter Green, particularly on opening instrumental, The Butterfly. Combined with Knight’s haunting fiddle and Salzfaas’s beautifully subtle but infectiously rhythmic pounding of the congas brings a mesmerising start to the set. Dave Roberts French Waltz, another favourite of mine in the Gigspanner set, is an old French waltz that they learnt from the late Mr Roberts, Knight explains. They’ve never been able to find the original title so the title, Dave Roberts French Waltz, has stuck.

There are songs, too. Those familiar with Steeleye Span’s large back catalogue will know that as well as Maddy Prior’s unmistakable vocals, there is often the odd contrasting but beautifully sung song from Peter Knight. Some of these, like Bonny Birdy and Seagull (Knight’s paean to the pub game shove ha’penny)  are performed tonight, but given the unmistakable Gigspanner treatment. New additions to the set include a lovely version of folk standard, She Moves through the Fair, and a slowed down take on the old Steeleye favourite, Hard Times of Old England.

Although audiences at the Horsebridge, a beautifully constructed contemporary arts centre close to the seafront, generally tend to be on the restrained side they certainly showed their appreciation tonight and the standing ovation, whopping and cheering at the end of the set was thoroughly deserved.

Gigspanner have now been performing several years and their first album came out in 2009. However, it was only at the end of last year that Knight finally said farewell to Steeleye Span. I’m a huge fan of both bands but when I read the announcement I felt a sense of relief that at least Knight was leaving Steeleye Span to concentrate on Gigspanner, rather than the other way round. Although a hard act to follow, Steeleye will, I’m sure, find an able replacement for Knight. What would be a real tragedy, as tonight’s performance demonstrated, would be if the world were to be denied more live performances of the wonderful and totally unique music of Gigspanner.


Status Quo at Hammersmith Apollo 28/3/14

Normally, I’m all for big named bands giving up-and -coming ones a helping hand with a support slot on tour. But when it comes to big rock reunions, and I’ve seen a few, nothing beats a well-chosen,  established act from a similar era to kick things off. Status Quo have chosen brilliantly here by getting in Wilko Johnson as the support for their “frantic four” classic-era reunion tour. Diagnosed with terminal cancer in early 2013, former Dr Feelgood guitarist, Johnson, made the brave, inspirational and utterly life-affirming decision to use his remaining time, not pursuing a debilitating and ultimately futile course of treatment, but by saying farewell to his fans with a series of live dates. There has been no sign of his being incapacitated just yet and so further dates have been added, the Quo tour being the latest. And what a magnificent performance, not only from Wilko but from bass player Norman Watt-Roy and drummer, Dylan Howe. The crowd roared its approval as the trio delivered blistering performances of Feelgood classics like Roxette, Back in the Night and She Does it right. The admiration and affection for the man tonight was moving but this was no mere sympathy vote. It was a genuinely magnificent set and the crowd responded accordingly. Quo could not have chosen a better way to open up the evening.

After a shortish break the lights dimmed, the famous spoken intro from the 1977 live album was relayed over the PA, the silhouette backdrop made famous by the “Hello” album cover came down and Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan walked on stage. The four are reunited for a second time after their reunion tour last year following a 32-year break. Since the demise of the classic line-up in the 80s Status Quo, under Rossi and Parfitt, has very much continued, of course. But what we saw tonight was something very different from the lighter keyboard-heavy pop-rock act that continues to fill arenas every year. Like last year’s  Quo re-union tour, again there was a focus on material from the early 70s albums, rather than the big hits of later years. It was a very similar, setlist too, but although lacking the emotional resonance of seeing four guys walking out on stage together for the first time in over 30 years, it more than made up for that by being a somewhat tighter performance from the band than in 2013.

As in last year’s reunion, returning bass player, Alan Lancaster, got a hefty slice of the lead vocal duties, Lancaster’s gritty vocals being something that later versions of the band have definitely missed out on. I’ve seen the post-Lancaster/Coghlan Status Quo at a couple of festivals, and while they are undeniably fun and entertaining, the quality of songs and the earthiness of the performance when the original four get on stage together provides something different altogether. Highlights for me were Lancaster opening with Junior’s Wailing, Rossi singing In My Chair, and a magnificent performance of perennial crowd-pleaser Forty Five Hundred Times. Although the focus was very much on album classics, I must confess when I saw them last year I was ever so slightly disappointed that they had chosen not to play one of their greatest ever hit singles, Caroline. Tonight, though that was rectified and the band encored with a magnificent version of Caroline, followed by traditional show closer, Chuck Berry’s Bye Bye Johnny. Definitely, a memorable night for British rock.

Junior’s Wailing
Just Take Me
Is There a Better Way
In My Chair
Blue Eyed Lady
Little Lady
Most of the Time
(April) Spring, Summer and Wednesdays
Oh Baby
Forty-Five Hundred Times / Gotta Go Home
Big Fat Mama
Down Down
Roadhouse Blues
Bye Bye Johnny


The Elizabethan Session at Cecil Sharp House 22/3/14

It could almost be an idea for a trashy reality TV show. Get eight musicians confine them to a country house and set them the challenge of writing some songs that they would all perform live together a week later. Oh, and the musicians would all be folk musicians and the music would be inspired by the music and personalities of the Elizabethan era…. In some ways I was wondering what I was letting myself in for when I saw this advertised. But catching sight of the line-up of musicians involved I had little doubt that it was going to be something worth watching. And it was. An absolutely stunning evening.

I can’t pretend I know much at all about sixteenth century music. But anyone thinking an Elizabethan session was going to involve an evening of twee songs about Merrie England, perhaps performed in the style of the theme music from Blackadder, would soon be disabused by the first song.  Shores of Hispaniola, a haunting but beautiful song reflected on Elizabethan England’s gruesome and sordid involvement in the early transatlantic slave trade. Remarkably, we were told, Nancy Kerr had the thing written before breakfast on the very first morning, following a talk to the musicians from an esteemed Elizabethan historian the night before.

The Elizabethan Sessions project was initiated by those behind the Folk by the Oak folk festival working with the English Folk Dance and Song Society. They brought together an amazing line-up of established and up-and-coming artists: Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Jim Moray, Bella Hardy, John Smith, Hannah James, Rachel Newton and Emily Askew.  A packed out main hall at Cecil Sharp House was there to see them.

As well a great collection of new songs, including ones evoking Shakespeare, a “feminist sea shanty” and Martin Simpson’s beautiful song about “brawling, murdering, gay, atheist playwright” Christopher Marlowe’s untimely death in a Deptford bar, we also got some amazing instrumentals, too. Early English music specialist, Emily Askew, brought out and played a weird and wonderful collection of Elizabethan-era instruments throughout the evening.

It was incredible to think that a week before the performance at Cecil Sharp House none of these songs or tunes even existed. But hearing them for the first time and ordering the soon-to-be-released live CD of the sessions immediately after the show, I do know that the music performed tonight was going to become just as familiar to me over the coming months as the songs from another recent stunning folk collaboration, the Full English, have become.


Graham Bonnet at The Garage, Highbury 19/3/14

In the late 70s/early 80s every collection of hard rock/heavy metal would include at least a few records by Rainbow.  By 1979 the initial mystical/medieval-tinged lyrics had given way to more traditional rock content and original singer, Ronnie James Dio, had been replaced by Lincolnshire-born Graham Bonnet with whom they  recorded the album Down to Earth. This turned out to be Bonnet’s one and only album with Rainbow. As a teenager this is one of the first rock albums I ever bought and was played very, very frequently. Sadly, Rainbow was one of the few big-name rock bands I didn’t get to see at the time. So the chance to catch up with Graham Bonnet performing Rainbow classics at the Garage in Islington for a very reasonable £16.50 seemed like a tempting offer. Of course, of the rest of the band who created the Down to Earth album, bass player Roger Glover has long been back with Deep Purple, now joined by keyboard player, Don Airy. Rainbow guitarist, Richie Blackmore, is now performing with his wife Candice in a medieval style minstrel band and drummer, Coz Powell was tragically killed on the M4. The only connection to the original band on stage tonight, therefore, was Bonnet himself, although Cozy Powell’s drum kit was did make a welcome appearance on stage and was used throughout the gig. As they were on the Down to Earth album, Bonnet’s vocals were powerful and melodic and a strong backing band delivered superb renditions of classics from that album. Certainly, the crowd sang along to them, particularly when Since You’ve Been Gone made an early appearance as the third song in the set. It was great to hear other Bonnet-era Rainbow classics, too, like Eyes of the World, Love’s no Friend and, of course, All Night Long.

Good as Down to Earth as an album was, however, I did wonder whether there was enough material on it to sustain a whole gig, knowing this album was only a small albeit significant part of Rainbow’s total output. My fears were unfounded, though, firstly because the tracks on Down to Earth are so bloody good. And secondly, because Bonnet supplemented them with a couple of well-chosen Dio-era Rainbow classics: Catch the Rainbow and Long Live Rock n Roll. That nod towards Rainbow’s earlier history, presumably songs that Bonnet would regularly have performed with the band when he was in Rainbow, were very well received by the crowd, many of whom it’s fair to say looked like they had been followers of Rainbow through its many different incantations.

North London is blessed with some excellent mid-sized live music venues, the Garage being just one of them, and if they continue to have rock acts on of this calibre it won’t be long before I’m back there, I’m sure.

Eyes of the World
Love’s No Friend
Since You Been Gone
Bad Girl
Makin’ Love
Kill The King
Catch the Rainbow
All Night Long
Lost in Hollywood
Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll

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Judy Dyble at WM Jazz at The o2 16/3/14

Before iconic singer-songwriter, Sandy Denny, joined Fairport Convention the band had a previous and lesser-known female vocalist, Judy Dyble, who sang on their first album. After her time with Fairport, Judy was involved in a handful of projects before quitting the music business altogether in the early 70s, spending time bringing up a family and working as a librarian. The story doesn’t end there, though, as the early 2000s saw Judy begin writing, recording and performing once more. Which brings us to today’s gig in the O2. The main arena at the O2 is one of the busiest and largest music venues in the world, with a seating capacity of 20,000. The WM Jazz bar at the O2 is a somewhat smaller affair, with a seating capacity of 84. But the intimate setting was perfectly suited to Judy’s performance. Judy and her talented six-piece backing band performed numerous songs from her two most recent albums, 2009’s Talking with Strangers and 2013’s Flow & Change, delivered with the same pure, fresh, English vocals that we heard on that first ever Fairport album. They are beautifully written songs, too, such as Jazzbirds, Grey October Day, Wintersong and The Sisterhood of Ruralists

We also got a few glimpses back into the past, too. She gave us Jenny May, a track from her album with her post-Fairport band, Trader Horn, and a perfect recreation of If I Have a Ribbon Bow, the wonderfully eccentric first ever single from Fairport Convention.

Judy is quite possibly the least showbizzy singer you could ever hope to meet: the complete lack of ego meant they didn’t even have an encore prepared and thus gave a repeat performance of If I Had a Ribbon Bow. However, what you do get is beautiful songs, beautifully performed. And, as Judy’s first and very wonderful album with Fairport Convention edges closer towards its 50th anniversary, it would be nice if her more recent music also became known to a wider audience.

Judy Dyble

Fairport Convention at Union Chapel 9/3/14

“Don’t worry, if you are not enjoying it and can’t wait for me to finish – I’m only on for twenty minutes.” So explained support act Edwina Hayes. The singer-songwriter turned out to be very much more than bearable and was later welcomed back on to the stage by Fairport Convention towards the end of the night to join them in a performance of the Sandy Denny-era classic “Who Knows Where the Time Goes.” I’ve seen Fairport fifteen times now. Although they have always been adamant that they could not and should not attempt to replace the late Sandy Denny; for me, what turns a good Fairport performance into something very special  indeed is when they are able to enlist the assistance of a talented female guest vocalist to sing one or two of Sandy’s songs.

This wasn’t the only noteworthy thing about the performance, tonight either. The setlist, which has possibly been getting a bit samey these past few years,  has been spruced up for this tour with some new songs as well as some old favourites that had not been heard for a while being brought back. Also notable, on this tour has been the addition of a stand-in bass player. Dave Pegg, who has played with the band since 1970, managed to damage the tendons in his hand and has been unable to play. Although he came on stage to introduce the band and hung around for some occasional backing vocals and on-stage banter, it was his son Matt Pegg on the bass. An excellent replacement who was warmly applauded.

The audience were far more reserved than at Fairport’s Cropredy Convention, their Summer festival which takes place each August and which got constant plugs throughout the night. Nevertheless, it was a fitting performance for the final night of their winter tour in what is one of London’s most beautiful venues. To absolutely no-one’s surprise and everyone’s delight the band finished with their usual sing-along encore “Meet on the Ledge.”

Jewel in the Crown
Doctor of Physick
Already There/Sailing into Walpole’s Marsh
Theodore’s Song
Dirty Linen
Cell Song
Mercy Bay
– Interval –
Festival Bell
Wassail Song
Farewell Farewell
Happy Man
Myths and Heroes
Close to the Wind
Grace and Favour
Who Knows Where The Time Goes
Danny Jack’s Reward
Matty Groves
Meet on the Ledge

The Young ‘uns at Cecil Sharp House 5/3/14

Fascism. Fighting it, defeating it, singing about it. Fascism looms large in the life of the Young ‘uns, three twenty-somethings who’ve been singing together ten years now (hence the cringe-worthy name). But if anyone was expecting  unsubtle diatribes, as ranty as a street-corner seller of the Socialist Worker, you couldn’t be further from the truth. What you get is beautifully sung, evocative and thoughtful songs. Their last album “When our Grandfathers’ Said No” marks the time poverty-stricken Hartlepool sent Oswald Mosely and his crew packing in the 1930s. Their latest album similarly reflects on how members of a Bradford mosque disarmed an EDL rally outside through the simple act of offering them tea and biscuits. Songs from each of these albums were performed beautifully at Cecil Sharp House, HQ of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

But as the Cecil Sharp House Director made clear in her introduction it’s not just the beautiful songs and amazing harmonies that you get at a Young ‘uns  gig, a major part of it is their brilliant on-stage humour;  three friends who are constantly taking the piss out of each other, the audience and fellow musicians in a warm but hilarious and totally unscripted way.

They sing a mixture of traditional and original songs and, don’t worry, it’s not all about Oswald Mosley or the EDL. One of my favourite songs of theirs is “Love in a Northern Town” describing how the group’s songwriter Sean Cooney’s nana met her husband and reflecting on the changing fortunes of Hartlepool. Highly recommended.

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Uriah Heep at Koko 4/3/14

When I first saw the Heep in 1985 it was virtually a completely different band compared to what we saw tonight – with only guitarist, Mick Box, remaining from that appearance. What has remained though is consistency in delivering melodic hard rock. Tonight we got many of the classic songs from the early and mid 70s but also material from the coming new album, too. Highlights for me were Traveller in Time, Gypsy, July Morning and what Mick Box introduced as a “happy hippy song” for strumming around campfires: Lady in Black. The new material was very much in the style of 70s era classic Heep (you are not going to buy a new Uriah Heep album if you are looking for something up to the minute and contemporary are you?) and new songs like One Minute fitted in well. They encored with a repeat performance of this new song, followed by Free and Easy and the wonderful Easy Living.

The quality of the musicianship was superb, the vocals were amazing and all in all it was a pretty spectacular gig. It was being filmed so those present may catch a glimpse of themselves on DVD at some point in the future. Koko itself is a great venue. It’s been through many different incarnations over the years and although it’s been sympathetically restored in a way that shows of its Edwardian-era music hall grandeur, it’s done in a way that works really well as a rock venue.

Against the Odds
Traveller in Time
I’m Ready
Between Two Worlds
Can’t Take That Away
One Minute
Nail on the Head
Into the Wild
Look at Yourself
July Morning
Lady in Black
One Minute
Free ‘n’ Easy
Easy Livin’


Welcome to Darren’s music blog

Live reviews, album reviews and more. From classic rock to contemporary folk.

Welcome to my music blog. I have fairly varied tastes in music: folk, rock, glam, heavy metal and more. My first ever gig was the Donington Monsters of Rock festival (Slade, Whitesnake, AC/DC…) back in 1981, aged 15. Live music has been an important part of my life ever since but, finding I have more free evenings than I used to, one of the things I was determined to do was see more live bands.  I am using this blog to post my reviews of many of the gigs I’ve been to, as well as occasional album reviews. Feedback is welcome so do please feel free to leave any comments.

For those bemused by the eclectic nature of the artists covered here, let me try and explain. Since being a teenager I have always enjoyed discovering and exploring different genres, but when I did chance upon a new discovery I was always adding to what I liked already rather than discarding anything. As a teenager, I started off getting intorock/metal around in the early 80s (Status Quo, AC/DC, Rainbow) but, prompted by the revival of Slade’s fortunes in 80/81, I  was soon also exploring 70s glam rock bands (Slade, Sweet, T-Rex). The pop-rock of the previous decade sounded so much more exciting than that of the 80s, which I had little interest in. Delving back into the 70s prompted me to start exploring the 60s, too, (The Stones, The Small Faces and notably The Byrds). As well as my love of glam rock and heavy metal, I acquired a love of the folk-rock sounds of The Byrds. But having, bit by bit,  bought up the entire back catalogue of The Byrds, I decided that if I enjoyed American folk-rock so much it might be time to start exploring British folk-rock, too (Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span). And through enjoying those bands so much it actually led to me to begin an appreciation of more traditional folk, too. Which pretty much explains my journey of musical discovery over the years and the eclectic range of reviews you will find on this blog.

Scroll down the home page to see all the gigs and albums I’ve reviewed. If you just want to see the rock stuff click here and if you just want to see the folk stuff click here.

Given my passion for live music I am also passionate about protecting our live music venues. More info here.

Feel free to quote from, link to or re-blog any of the reviews on this site. Thanks for visiting.