Monthly Archives: December 2015

Folk/country: album review – Marina Florance ‘This, That & The Other’

Folky, countryfied, bluesy, Americana, Marina Florance’s rich, velvety vocals and deft, expressive acoustic guitar playing have the effect of making every song she plays sound like a timeless classic. I first became aware of this extremely talented singer-songwrter at Folkstock’s Emerging Talent Showcase back in November. Her incredible voice and heartfelt songs bowled me over. Though not exactly a household name, Florance has been picking up more and more fans wherever she’s played and sung. Tom Robinson has championed her on his BBC 6 music show and she’s wowed audiences at the Cambridge Folk Festival.

The album opens with I Told You My Troubles. Florance has a knack of turning an initial world-weary and burdonsome vocal into a defiant and uplifting song of hope and joy. This is one of those songs, as is the next one, Little Black Cloud, a beautiful song which is the stand-out track on an exceptionally strong album.

Mostly, the album is just Florance’s rich, heartfelt vocals and her beautiful acoustic guitar-playing. But there are some nice guest contributions, too: some lovely melodeon on a couple of tracks and additional guitar from Ben Smith and alto-sax from Greg Camburn on one track. All of the songs are penned by Florance alone or with one of her writing partners. It’s testimony to her talents as a songwriter that an album as strong as this from a relative newcomer to recording succeeds without the need for a single cover version.

Let’s hope that 2016 becomes the year where Marina Florance comes to much wider public attention. This, That & The Other couldn’t be a better showcase for doing that. As soon as you put it on it has the sound and feel of a classic album, one that can happily sit by the likes of Alison Krauss, Joni Mitchell and Carole King in my CD collection.

Released: January 2016

http://www.marinaflorance.com/

a0692132365_10

Previous review: Marina Florance at The Islington

Advertisements

Dave Davies (and Ray!) at Islington Assembly Hall 18/12/15

A couple of years ago I drew up a list of some of the bands I wanted to try and catch at least once before they (or I!) died, became otherwise indisposed or packed up for good. Black Sabbath with Ozzy, The Who, The Beach Boys with Brian Wilson, Deep Purple and, given rumours of a possible reunion, The Kinks. One by one I worked through all the bands on my list, but The Kinks reunion remained elusive. So the next best thing seemed to be to at least catch the surviving members perform solo. I’d already seen original drummer, Mick Avory, perform with several 70s-era ex-members of The Kinks. So a Dave Davies solo gig in Islington seemed like a good idea and I could hopefully get to see a Ray Davies solo gig at some future date, too.

The Islington Assembly Hall, part of the town hall complex, is not the largest of venues but it’s filled up nicely as Dave Davies takes the stage, backed by three supporting musicians. We get a nice mixture of classic 60s Kinks singles, some lesser known tracks from the band and a selection of Dave Davies’ solo material. Although his speaking voice sounds frail at times, his singing voice is much stronger and his mastery of the guitar (arguably, on You Really Got Me, the man who invented the heavy metal riff) is as powerful as ever. It’s a particular joy singing along to those old Kinks numbers especially: All Day and All of The Night, Tired Of Waiting For You, See My Friends, Death of a Clown and I’m Not Like Everybody Else.

Of course, when he came back on for an encore we could all guess absolutely what the song was going to be. What we couldn’t guess, though, was who would be joining him for that final song. “A surprise for Christmas!” announced Dave and on walked his brother Ray, the two of them sharing a stage together for the first time in 19 years. The audience as one are hit with amazement and wonderment at this beautiful and unexpected moment in rock’n’ roll history. Ray was in fine voice as he sang You Really Got Me and Dave cranked up the guitar. The audience went wild. Excitement, joy and genuine emotion as that 2 minutes and 14 seconds of one of the greatest rock’n’roll songs of all time blasted out from the stage. An early Christmas present indeed.

Setlist:
Ripping Up
All Day and All of the Night
She’s got everything
Creeping Jean
Tired of Waiting For You
See My Friends
In You I Believe
Strangers
Flowers in the Rain
Young and Innocent Days
The Man He Weeps Tonight
Death of a Clown
Living on a Thin Line
Dead End Street
Where have all the Good Times Gone?
I’m Not Like Everybody Else
You Really Got Me (with Ray Davies)

http://www.davedavies.com/

2015-12-18 22.28.47

 

Steeleye Span at Cadogan Hall, London 14/12/15

Although always described as a folk rock band, just how much weight Steeleye Span attach to one or the other of those two influences has tended to ebb and flow over time. They started off very folky, then got more rocky, then more folky, then more rocky… and so on and so on. At the moment we are at a particularly rock phase in Steeleye’s history.

Wintersmith, the Terry Pratchett-inspired 2013 album, set the band in a prog-infused direction and really gave guitarist/keyboardist, Julian Littman, a chance to come into his own and stamp his own influence on the band. It’s not a direction that’s going to please all fans but it’s one I’m certainly enjoying. “We keep movng forward – we’re not a Steeleye Span tribute act,” explains Maddy Prior at one point, as she introduces some of the newer material. And it is genuinely fascinating to witness.

We do get old songs from the back catalogue, even going back to the very first album. But the dark, heavy, progged-up feel of Wintersmith is carried through into much of the older material too, with lush keyboard passages, crunching bass lines and high-octane, melodic, screeching guitar solos. There have been a couple of personnel changes lately in this constantly-evolving band. New second guitarist, Spud Sinclair, and new fiddle player, Jessie May Smart, both bring something worthwhile to this latest musical direction the band are currently headed in. Smart is a versatile player, deftly moving from haunting and melodic to spiky and rocky, and she’s proving a worthy replacement for the legendary Peter Knight. Plus having another set of female backing vocals compliment’s Prior’s voice nicely.

It’s a well chosen selection of songs in the setlist for this tour. The excellent Wintersmith album is well-represented, of course, with songs like Crown of Ice, You and the brilliant The Dark Morris Song. But there’s some nice surprises, too. New York Girls, which I’ve always considered a fun but extremely lightweight novelty song from 1975’s Commoners Crown album (with Peter Sellers on ukele!), is transformed into something far more meaty and substantial. Cromwell’s Skull, a new song with (in the words of Rick Kemp) a real Floyd-ified bit at the end is absolutely fantastic and it’s great to see the band really rocking and progging it up. There’s the glam-folk 70s smash All Around My Hat, of course and there’s Blackleg Miner and Boys of Bedlam. But rather than encoring with the acapela Christmas hit, Gaudette, as on many previous the band all come back to stand at the mic stands to do a beautiful acapela Somewhere Along the Road, an old song of bass player, Rick Kemp, that has finally been given the Steeleye treatment.

The Steeleye Span bus continues to take us on a long, winding and unpredictable yet thoroughly satisfying journey.

http://steeleyespan.org.uk/

2015-12-14 20.59.25

Previous Review: Steeleye Span at New Forest Folk Festival

Fotheringay at Great British Folk Festival 6/12/15

Having seen Fotheringay on their short summer reunion tour (after a modest break of some 45 years) one of the most delightful things about tonight’s performance is, founder member, Jerry Donahue’s assertion that what started as a temporary project to promote the band’s retrospective box set is now set to become permanent. So the band that was formed by the late Sandy Denny, her late husband, Trevor Lucas, and the still very much alive Jerry Donahue, Pat Donaldson and Gerry Conway lives once more.

Donahue talks with great fondness tonight about his time in Fotheringay. But, given a band whose overlap in membership with Fairport Convention was often mocked by critics back in the 70s, Donahue managed to commit the ultimate faux pas by getting his two former bands muddled up and referring to the band on stage as Fairport at one point. Pat Donaldson, the only member of the original Fotheringay never to have ended up in Fairport, made to leave the stage in mock disgust. The spirit of Fotheringport or Fairport Confusion clearly lives on…

What a wonderful show we get though. Some of Sandy Denny’s most beautiful songs brought to life once again and performed live for audiences in the 21st Century. Between them, both Kathryn Roberts and Sally Barker do an amazing job handling Sandy Denny’s vocal parts with passion, beauty and respect. I was terribly dismissive about Sally Barker’s vocals when she sang a Sandy song during a guest slot at Fairport’s Cropredy appearance in 2014. But after seeing Fotheringay twice now I happily own up to being completely, absolutely 100% utterly wrong about Barker, my guilt being compounded even more because, not only did she give us such a wonderful performance tonight, she also took the trouble to personally run around backstage for me to ensure I had all three surviving members’ autographs on my Fotheringay CD. Sorry Sally!

PJ Wright also does a fine and convincing job handling the vocals originally sung by Sandy Denny’s late husband, Trevor Lucas, as well as delivering some beautiful pedal steel guitar on a couple of Sandy Denny solo tracks the band perform tonight.

Song highlights: there were so many. Nothing More, John The Gun, Knights of the Road, Solo, Peace in the End and many more, even though they have to trim their planned setlist slightly due to time pressures.

Had she lived would we now be seeing Sandy Denny joining her erstwhile folk-rock contemporaries, Jacqui McShee and Maddy Prior, at Butlins folk festival this weekend? That we’ll never know. But we have got Fotheringay brought to life once more. There have been various tributes to Sandy Denny (arguably the most gifted female singer-songwriter that Britain has ever produced) in recent years. In addition to the boxed sets and the various books we’ve had the all-star The Lady tribute show put together by Andrew Batt, we’ve had Thea Gilmore’s interpretation of Denny’s newly unearthed lyrics and, of course, we can always expect some sort of tribute in any performance of Denny’s old band, Fairport Convention. But of all the tributes, and they’ve all been wonderful in their own way, for me the one that has been the most special, the most authentic and the most spine-tinglingly, amazingly beautiful has been this current Fotheringay reunion. Long may they continue.

http://www.fotheringay.com/

2015-12-06 21.33.48

Previous review: Fotheringay in London

Tom Robinson at Great British Folk Festival 5/12/15

Amidst those stalwarts of early 70s folk-rock (Steeleye Span, Fotheringay, Pentangle) this year’s Great British Folk Festival at Butlins Skegness, also had a bit of late 70s new wave protest-singer vibe to it, with both Billy Bragg and Tom Robinson on the bill. Apart from seeing him do a guest spot for one song at Fairport’s Cropredy festival, I’d never seen a full Tom Robinson set until this evening. Robinson is one of those artists that I’ve long been aware of but I’ve only really ever been familiar with a handful of his songs. I remember being amazed (and pleasantly surprised) hearing Glad To Be Gay on the Secret Policeman’s Ball album as a young teenager. I remember his early 80s hit War Baby being on the juke box when I had a job collecting glasses in my local. And, of course, I was familiar with the wonderful 2-4-6-8 Motorway which we all sang along to at Cropredy when he did his guest spot with Fairport there a couple of years ago. But beyond that, my knowledge was pretty thin. We had a bit of a crash course from one of our number who is a serious fan on the way there and got to hear his new album in the car on the way up.

So what did I find? A really engaging performer. A singer and musician whose passion and sense of justice burns as brightly now as it did thirty-odd years ago. Some great entertaining songs – new and old. A really amusing and often hilarious raconteur. And a sincere and convincing advocate for the power of music as a force for good. In short – he impressed.

Songs from his new album, Only The Now, sat well against older material. Tracks like Risky Business, railing against the bankers, exhibited much in the way of both the style and passion of the 70s era Tom Robinson Band material, yet the subject matter is bang up to date. He didn’t disappoint in performing all of the songs I actually knew, either. A stripped-back acoustic War Baby. A mass-singalong 2-4-6-8 Motorway. And, of course, the song that was such a political statement for the mid to late 70s…

A quick scan of our Grindr apps (purely in the interests of demographic research you understand) would suggest that early December at Butlins in Skegness is perhaps not the gayest of venues. But what the folk scene lacks in diversity, it certainly makes up for in tolerance. One of the absolute highlights in a weekend of many highlights was seeing the massed ranks of the Bulins crowd bellowing out each chorus to Glad To Be Gay. I’m certainly glad to have seen Tom Robinson. And I look forward to exploring further.

http://www.tomrobinson.com/

2015-12-05 19.51.25

Deep Purple at The O2 3/12/15

In the world of classic rock/heritage rock/dad rock, call it what you will, three out of five members from the heyday era of a late 60s/early 70s rock band is pretty good going these days. So those buying a ticket for Deep Purple at the O2 still get to see Ian Gillan on stage, joined by the rhythm section for much of the band’s history Ian Paice and Roger Glover, just like when the classic Mark 2 incarnation of the band recorded Deep Purple In Rock, Machine Head and Made in Japan. And while Ian Gillan, Ian Paice and Roger Glover are on fine form tonight it would be unfair to suggest that it is only the presence of these three that make the band worth seeing.

Guitarist, Steve Morse, has now been with the band 21 years, joining not long after Ritchie Blackmore walked out seemingly for the very last time. And keyboard player, Don Airey, who many will recall from his time in Blackmore’s original post-Purple project Rainbow, has now been with the band 13 years, ever since founding keyboardist Jon Lord retired from the band before tragically succumbing to cancer. Both of these“new boys” are serious, world-class, heavyweight additions to the band as they demonstrate tonight.

Set-wise there’s a lot that fans of 1972’s Made In Japan (one of the best live rock albums of all time) will be familiar with: Highway Star, Strange Kind of Woman, The Mule, Lazy, Space Truckin’, Smoke on the Water (everything from the acclaimed live album, in fact, bar Child In Time). The classic 70s tracks are complemented by a few “best of the rest” from the post-84 period, like Perfect Strangers, as well as stand-out tracks from the latest album Now What?! It being a gig by 70s rock legends, of course, there are the obligatory solo spots: guitar solo, drum solo, bass solo and a gloriously eccentric keyboard solo from Don Airey (encompassing everything from Land of Hope and Glory to Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner (Elgar meets Chas and Dave?)

The O2 is a great venue for really big arena gigs in many respects. But I’ve noticed on several different occasions now that for those in the banks of seating around the sides, where we were seated tonight, the audience can take a little bit of time to warm up. Clearly, they were enjoying it. But unlike those on the main floor the audience remained resolutely seated. Given I was starting to get cramp and given there was no way I was going to remain seated for Smoke On The Water I decided that as soon as I heard the opening da da der – da da da der, I would jump up in my seat and hope that everyone else would follow me. They did. And the band stormed through Smoke, through their first ever single Hush and, finally, through a roaring version of Black Knight. The crowd lapped it up. O2 audiences can take a bit of warming up but they get there in the end.

Setlist:
Highway Star
Bloodsucker
Hard Lovin’ Man
Strange Kind of Woman
Vincent Price
Uncommon Man
The Well-Dressed Guitar
The Mule
Lazy
Demon’s EyeH
Hell to Pay
Perfect Strangers
Space Truckin’
Smoke on the Water
Hush
Black Night

http://www.deeppurple.com/

2015-12-03 20.47.36

Judas Priest at Brixton Academy 1/12/15

The evening kicked off with excellent support from Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock. And Schenker clearly understood the golden rule of being an effective support act: unlike the headliners that everyone has paid to see, hit the crowd between the eyes with your best song first – don’t save it ’til the end! So we begin the night with a cracking version of Doctor Doctor. It couldn’t have been a better start to the evening in an absolutely jam-packed Brixton Academy.

I first discovered Judas Priest as a teenager back in the early 80s not long after British Steel came out and the band can still be heard regularly blasting out from my speakers. But as a gay heavy metal fan I can’t also fail to mention my personal admiration for lead singer Rob Halford. In a genre that always seemed so resolutely heterosexual, Halford’s decision to be open about being gay back in 1998 was a big moment both for him personally and for heavy metal generally. Seeing his total command of an adoring crowd tonight it’s hard to believe that Halford’s sexuality could ever even have been an issue. But there must be many a teenage rock fan across the globe who can personally thank Rob Halford for demonstrating so visibly that, yes, it’s ok to be both gay and like heavy metal. Cheers Rob.

Halford is not a frontman who goes for a lot of between-song chat and audience banter but, boy, does he know how to work a crowd: mass chanting, crowd sing-alongs, every stage movement eliciting a multitude of fists in the air and more costume changes than Elton John, Halford knows how to squeeze every last drop of adulation from an audience. His vocal range is as wide and as powerful as it always was. He growls the lowest of the low notes and howls the highest of the high notes just as he always did. It’s a performance of utter brilliance in every respect, as is that of the whole band. The unmistakeable twin lead guitars are as powerful as ever, with Glen Tipton being joined by new guitarist Richie Falkner (who replaced Priest veteran, KK Downing, in 2011).

And let’s not forget the songs of course. They deliver a great mix of songs representing different eras of the band’s history, the relevant album cover for each song flashing up on the giant screens on stage beforehand, fuelling anticipation of what might be coming next. We get some new songs from last year’s album, Redeemer of Souls, of course – the first with new guitarist, Falkner. But as we move through the hour-and-a-half set, more and more of the unforgettable classics of the 80s emerge: Breaking The Law, Hell Bent for Leather, You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.

Soon we are nearing to a close, however, with the crowd going wild to a high-octane version of Painkiller and a brilliant sing-along Living After Midnight. Always metal. Always Loud. Never just noise. Judas Priest are still on form and are truly still the Metal Gods.

Setlist:
Battle Cry
Dragonaut
Metal Gods
Desert Plains
Victim of Changes
Halls of Valhalla
The Rage
Turbo Lover
Redeemer of Souls
Beyond the Realms of Death
Screaming for Vengeance
Breaking the Law
Hell Bent for Leather
The Hellion
Electric Eye
You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’
Painkiller
Living After Midnight

http://judaspriest.com/

2015-12-01 20.36.07