Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Sweet at The Robin 2, Bilston 22/12/14

If British glam rock could be said to have a spiritual home then Bilston, on the outskirts of Wolverhampton, has a strong claim to the title. Not only was it the place where Slade came together in the early days, for a number of years now its main live music venue The Robin 2 has seen a convergence of Sweet fans from all over Europe (and even further afield) on the occasions the band performs there. Before tonight’s gig Sweet fans from around Britain mingle with those from Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium and Germany and even a lady who has flown in from Tokyo.

So what inspires such devotion? Great songs of course – and we get the classic early 70s hits and much more besides; superb musicianship, too – although Andy Scott is the sole member from the classic 70s line-up this is a band of top-class rock musicians who most certainly are not just going through the motions; and exquisite harmonies – the high-range vocal harmonies are an iconic part of The Sweet’s trademark sound and this is a band made up of very talented vocalists.

Sadly, I never got to see the Connolly-Priest-Scott-Tucker version of the band. Only months after discovering The Sweet’s classic albums via the second-hand shops of Preston in the early 80s, the band rewarded my efforts by calling it a day. Since then I’ve seen numerous permutations of the revived band over the years. Without doubt, however, the current line up (Andy Scott on vocals guitar, Pete Lincoln on lead vocals and bass, Tony O’Hora on keyboards, guitar and vocals and Bruce Bisland on drums) is easily the strongest since the 70s.

Tonight, as you would expect,  we get those big hits of the glam era from songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman: Hellraiser, Blockbuster!, Wig-Wam-Bam, Teenage Rampage and The Ballroom Blitz. We also get a couple of songs from their 2012 covers album: New York Groove and You Spin Me Round which are both given the trademark Sweet sound or “sweetified” as Lincoln would have it. Plus we get great renditions of some of their later self-penned singles: Fox on the Run, Action and the magnificent late-70s pomp rock of Love Is Like Oxygen. However, as the 70s progressed Sweet strove to become recognised as more of an albums band than a singles band. It never quite worked out that way, though they did produce some bloody brilliant albums in the process. And tonight we get a real flavour of Sweet the albums band, too, something fans won’t always hear from the band on the European festival circuit or the British Xmas tour circuit. Into The Night, AC-DC and Set Me Free are performed from the Sweet Fanny Adams album, all blistering rockers, together with  a very lovely rendition of the acoustic number Lady Starlight (“my mum’s favourite Sweet song” Scott tells the crowd) from Desolation Boulevard, sung by Scott with just him and Lincoln on acoustic guitars.

The band won’t be around forever. Scott had a major cancer scare five years ago which he thankfully fully recovered from. Their European tour is billed as The Finale. “But a finale is followed by an encore…” Scott reassures the crowd. Tonight’s performance is proof that the band are still delivering musically and thirty-three years after buying my first second-hand Sweet album my own love affair with this band shows no signs of abating. A magnificent show from a magnificent, but criminally underrated, band.

Setlist:

New York Groove
Hell Raiser
Turn It Down
The Six Teens
Peppermint Twist
Into The Night
AC-DC
Wig-Wam-Bam/Little Willy
Teenage Rampage
You Spin Me Round
Love Is Like Oxygen
Set Me Free
Blockbuster!
Fox On The Run
Lady Starlight
Action
The Ballroom Blitz

http://www.thesweet.com/

10712939_10152960360411449_560567260625410906_n

Advertisements

Albion Christmas Band at Kings Place 16/12/14

Although there have been many, many different versions of folk rock stalwarts The Albion Band over the decades, its seasonal variation The Albion Christmas Band is now into its sixteenth annual tour with the same line-up. This could be due to the respective personnel (Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Kellie While and Simon Care) getting fifty out of every fifty-two weeks off from one another every year, joked Nicol. They produce a simple but very effective sound based on electric bass, acoustic guitars, melodeon and percussion with vocals shared between the four.

I’ll be upfront that my attachment to religion is somewhere at the Richard Dawkins end of the scale. But just as you don’t need to believe in wizards to enjoy prog rock, you don’t need to believe in Jesus to enjoy a few Christmas songs and carols. This is especially true if they are played and sung as well as they are by the Albion Christmas Band. We get to some classic carols later but one of the early songs tonight is The King. The “king” in this case is not Jesus but rather the wren, the song being based on the winter old custom where a wren was placed in a garlanded box and taken door to door.

As well as his founding role in Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and The Albion Band, Hutchings is also acclaimed for his album Morris On. And we get a selection of pounding Border Morris tunes tonight which, unlike its Oxfordshire counterpart with its focus on spring, the variety along the Welsh borders always had strong associations with winter festivities. Mad World is a song by 80s synth-pop act Tears for Fears and for a while was constantly on the juke box in the refectory at my sixth form in Preston. It was then given a bleak but very effective stripped down makeover in 2003 and became a surprise Christmas number 1. And now The Albions have given it the folk treatment.  Beautifully sung by While it was one of the real highlights of the evening, even though its connections to Christmas are tenuous to say the least.

Part of the band’s set is usually given over to Christmas readings of one sort or another. These have included historical excerpts describing a variety of Victorian Christmases and big family celebrations in rural village inns. Tonight Nicol got to do a modern take on the nativity. It all got a bit passé and UKIP-y (in a “they’ve-banned-Christmas –political-correctness-gone-mad sort of way) and seemed a not particularly funny and un-necessary diversion from the Albion Band’s uplifting brand of Christmas magic. The same could not be said of Christmas 1914, a song written by Mike Harding which is a poignant and moving commemoration of the famous Christmas truce, told from the perspective of an ordinary British and ordinary German soldier as they “lost the will to fight.” There was also a good selection of more well-known songs, too, including a lovely rendition of In The Bleak Midwinter and a rousing sing-along in We Three Kings.

The venue is a beautiful modern performance space, the singing and playing is great but in some ways there seemed to be slightly less of a buzz in the air than when the band played the same venue this time last year, available now as a newly-released live album. Of course, last year had the added sparkle of Ashley Hutchings being presented with his Gold Badge Award from the English Folk Dance and Song Society by the renowned 60s/70s record producer (and discoverer of Fairport Convention)  Joe Boyd. But, if you set aside the laboured attempt at satire it was a great evening with great music.

http://www.albionchristmas.co.uk/

10422982_327670394024251_8787430105764155731_n

The Full English at Great British Folk Festival 7/12/14

The Full English archive has been a major cultural heritage exercise pulled together by the English Folk Song and Dance Society, resulting in a gigantic online resource of songs, tunes and dances that were originally assembled by some of the most renowned late Victorian and Edwardian era folk song collectors. There have been numerous spin-offs from the project, including study days, schools programmes, not to mention an album and a live band.

Academic and performer, Fay Hield, was commissioned to pull the musical project together and assembled a band with some of the key figures from contemporary folk.  Joining Hield were Seth Lakeman, Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr, Ben Nichols, Rob Harbron and Sam Sweeney. A successful tour and album followed, so successful in fact that they’ve all got together again a year later for another tour which culminates in tonight’s performance at the Centre Stage venue at Butlin’s Skegness. Although this is very much a folk gig rather than a folk-rock gig (acoustic instruments, no drums), it is impossible to overstate the sheer instrumental power of the band on stage tonight.  The quality of the musicianship and the singing is absolutely superb but the Full English was always about celebrating the songs and they have the most brilliant set of songs to offer.

As with the album, the band opens with Awake Awake. The sound (which had caused problems for other acts over the weekend) was perfect, the atmosphere was electric and it became clear that this performance would be the definite highlight of the 2014 Great British Folk Festival.  I have played the Full English CD over and over again this past year but those watching the live show are treated to additional songs as well that are not on the original album. This includes a wonderfully eccentric version of King of the Cannibal Island sung by Nichols. Apparently, 19th century missionaries had a vested interest in whipping up public hysteria about cannibalism as it was great for the fundraising for future missions. This song has its roots in such propaganda. I Wandered By a Brookside and High Banbaree are other welcome additions. Fans of the album, though, will have been pleased to hear Simpson sing Creeping Jane, Portrait of My Wife sung by Lakeman and  Hield and Kerr’s wonderful duet on Arthur O’Bradley, the traditional tale of the archetypal wedding from hell.

Not all of the songs are actually from the original archive. Fol-the Day-o is a new song written by Kerr to celebrate the traditional songs and music in the archive while Linden Lea (a song I remember learning at primary school for an evening of patriotic songs to celebrate the Silver Jubilee) the William Barnes poem that Ralph Vaughan Williams set to music. Both are there to demonstrate that folk music survives and thrives well beyond the era of the golden age of Edwardian folk-song collectors.

Coming back on to rapturous applause they encored with Man In The Moon, an old music hall song who’s lyrics and tune somehow became separated but were re-united once more thanks to the Full English archive. It’s one of the most memorable songs on the album and this long lost song is well on its way to becoming a modern-day folk classic. We were all encouraged to sing along enthusiastically, perhaps demonstrating Cecil Sharp’s maxim that it’s the selection for community singing that makes a song a folk song, rather than the format for which it was originally written.  Or maybe an out-of-season performance in the main show-bar at Butlin’s isn’t too far from music hall anyway. Whatever, it was a great song to finish a spectacular performance of one of the most significant folk music projects in many, many years.

http://www.thefullenglishband.co.uk/

10857911_326153084175982_3414022004570061119_n

The Young ‘uns at Great British Folk Festival 7/12/14

A bit of humorous banter between songs and a few amusing anecdotes do often help bring a folk gig to life and allow the artist to interact properly with the audience. But all too often the off-the-cuff “spontaneous” banter starts to become a bit repetitive when you see the same artist trotting out the same old carefully rehearsed lines gig after gig. No-one could ever, ever accuse the Young ‘uns of doing this, however. So side-splittingly hilarious are these three twenty-something Teesiders that a gig like tonight’s at times threatens to descend into riotous chaos. The music they produce together, though, is to be taken very seriously indeed. The three, Sean Cooney, David Eagle and Michael Hughes, got into folk in their teens and have been performing together ever since. Beautiful harmony singing with simple accordion and acoustic guitar backing they are definitely one of the highlights of this year’s Great British Folk Festival, which comes to Skegness’s out-of -season Butlin’s holiday camp each December

Traditional sea shanties, juxtaposed with songs reflecting the north-east’s industrial heritage, mixed in with some biting but elegantly-written social commentary, together with a few well-chosen covers – it all makes for a varied and fascinating set-list. And given it’s almost Christmas we also get a few traditional wassailing songs thrown in as well. Tonight’s performance saw them introducing some songs from their forthcoming album (to be released next Spring). When a film crew from the notorious Channel 4 show, Benefits Street, descended on one street in Stockton-on-Tees they were physically chased away by local residents. You Won’t Find Me on Benefits Street appears on the album and is performed tonight – celebrating proud defiance in the face of grinding poverty and humiliating set-backs.

Having already released three albums, the trio have now gathered a strong back catalogue of material to draw on.  One song that always goes down exceptionally well at live shows is Cooney’s Love in a Northern Town, documenting not only the true story of how his grandparents met but also the wholesale decline of the Wearside shipyards “where all her ships and men are gone.”

Well-written meaningful songs that are beautifully sung it is well worth getting hold of the Young ‘uns albums. But for a real taste of the trio’s infectious humour and brilliant stage presence you have really, really got to see them live as well.

http://www.theyounguns.co.uk/

10153674_325928954198395_5149401715440996449_n

Previous review: Young ‘uns at Cecil Sharp House

Ray Jackson’s Lindisfarne at Great British Folk Festival 6/12/14

The appetite for band resurrections and reunions appears undiminished, sometimes with a worrying lack of quality control and often with the use of an old band name (or some variation of it) aimed at maximising ticket sales over any genuine consideration for the band’s legacy.  One of the latest returns to the gig circuit is Newcastle-based folk-rockers, Lindisfarne. No-one can deny how popular this band were in the early 70s and no-one can deny the huge affection there still is for this band, especially in the north-east. But although they were one of the Saturday night headliners at this year’s Great British Folk Festival at Skegness Butlins, I was more than a little sceptical. They are billed as Ray Jackson’s Lindisfarne for starters, always a tell-tale sign that you are unlikely to be seeing more than one original member on stage. The programme advertises them as “containing former members from all three past eras of the band.” This was not actually a reunion of bandmates who had actually worked on stage together in the same band at the same time therefore. Indeed, one could be forgiven for thinking that Jackson had merely worked his way through a list of ex-members in his old address book until he had almost assembled a full set (but scratching his head when it came to locating a drummer and having to recruit ex-Roxy Music drummer, Paul Thompson instead).

However, as the band start playing it is clear that Jackson has assembled a very strong line-up of musicians who actually gel together really well. The atmosphere gets better and better as the gig proceeds and the mood in the crowd gets ever livelier and ever more celebratory.   Classic songs like Lady Eleanor, Meet Me On The Corner as well as what was introduced as a song you may have heard of about “weather conditions on a river”, their most famous number Fog on the Tyne.  Vocal duties are shared between Jackson and Dave Hull-Denholm, son-in-law of the late frontman, who sings the songs written by his father-in-law, Alan Hull in a vocal style that is very reminiscent of the original.

The band sound good. My scepticism was indeed misplaced. This is an affectionate, credible and highly enjoyable celebration of one of Newcastle’s most loved bands, fronted with conviction by one of their founder members. When the band resurrected their famous annual Christmas show at Newcastle City Hall last year it is not difficult to see why it sold out in just six hours.

http://www.lindisfarne.co/
10858621_10152927503136449_6925090259892882235_n