Monthly Archives: November 2016

Review: ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’ Exhibition at the V&A

The Victoria & Albert Museum’s ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records & Rebels’ covers the period 1966-1970, a time I recall as one of starting nursery school, learning to ride a red plastic motorbike and amassing a collection of soft toys. The music I probably took in by osmosis while still in the womb but the rest of it, I’m obviously grateful for exhibitions like this to show me what else I missed.

On first entering I’m slightly underwhelmed: displays of LP covers many of which I have in my collection and posters I’d seen many times before. Moving on, there’s numerous displays of Carnaby Street-era swinging sixties (that famous pink mirrored mini-dress that Sandie Shaw wore, a life-size re-enactment of the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover – with the actual fluorescent suits that John and George wore for the photo-shoot) and the exhibition begins to widen it’s scope. As well as fashion and music we get snapshots of the US civil rights and UK gay liberation campaigns as well as students in Paris in 1968 and the moon landing in 1969.

There’s definitely some fascinating exhibits but I’m still not exactly clear what the overall story is at this stage, other than lots of different and exciting things happened in this period of history: musically, culturally, technologically and politically. When I compared it to my experience of, say, visiting the Stax Studio museum in Memphis (where the interconnectedness of the fight for civil rights and the vision for making great music emanates from every single fibre of every single exhibit) or, say, the Rolling Stones exhibition where many of these issues are addressed through the eyes of a single band, I wasn’t experiencing the same visceral feeling in my gut.

That changed, towards the end of the exhibition, however, which looked at the festival culture of the era: specifically the gallery devoted to Woodstock with its huge screens showing clips of the festival, decked out in fake grass on the floor and even beanbags so you could lie back, soak it all in and be transported back to the fields of a New York State dairy farm in August 1969. Seeing scenes of Country Joe MacDonald singing the ‘Fixing to Die Rag’ and the hope, joy and genuine optimism of the young people in the crowd and comparing it to the scenes of utter despair among America’s youthful protesters this very week as they contemplate a future with Donald Trump as President was the moment the exhibition moved from being interesting to being genuinely moving and bitingly culturally relevant. I left with a lump in my throat.

https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/you-say-you-want-a-revolution-records-and-rebels-1966-70
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Related reviews:
Rolling Stones “Exhibitionism”
Sun Studios tour

Ian Hunter at Shepherd’s Bush Empire 11/11/16

77 and still putting out great albums, I’ve been eagerly anticipating each new Ian Hunter release for around three decades now. Fingers Crossed, Ian’s latest album with his superb Rant Band came out in September and it’s great to be seeing Hunter performing songs from that album live so soon afterwards.

A raunchy, rocky ‘That’s When The Trouble Starts’, opens the set, also the opening track on the new album. Over the next couple of hours we get several of the other new ones, too, including the lovely new piano ballad ‘Fingers Crossed’ and ‘Ghosts’ which is Hunter’s reflection on a visit to Sun Studio. Having, visited there myself earlier this year I completely relate to the evocative magic conjured up by the lyrics “All the wonders of the word assembled here to jam..”

‘Dandy’ is Hunter’s tribute to David Bowie, the man who was so alarmed to hear that Mott The Hoople was on the verge of splitting up after being a constant live draw but failing to shift many records, he offered to give them a hit, gifted them ‘All The Young Dudes’ and the rest is history. An affectionate, melancholic, Bowie-esque singalong it name-checks various Bowie songs: “Dandy – you’re the prettiest star. There ain’t no life on Mars. But we always thought there might be…”

Other songs from his more recent career also make there way into the set. ‘When I’m President’, his caustic take on US politics seemed particularly apt tonight as we all still try to comprehend the future in the light of this week’s presidential election results.

In his solo career Hunter has never been one simply to rest on past glories and has always sought to introduce new material into his set. But at the same time, however, it wouldn’t be an Ian Hunter concert without a selection of vintage classics interspersed with the newer material. From the Ian Hunter solo back catalogue ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’, ‘Cleveland Rocks’ and ‘All American Alien Boy’ each made an appearance, while from the Mott The Hoople archive we got storming versions of ‘Honaloochie Boogie’, ‘All The Way From Memphis’ and ‘All The Young Dudes’.

The Rant Band are on great form, as ever. Ian Hunter continues to be both a great rock and roll performer, as ever, and a thought-provoking singer-songwriter, as ever. Let’s hope there’s a good few more tours in him yet.

http://ianhunter.com/main/

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Related reviews:
Ian Hunter at Minehead 2016
Ian Hunter at Shepherds Bush Empire 2014

Eliza Carthy at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 4/11/16

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

We see it in other musical genres, but with this one perhaps even more so, and second and third generation offspring of the 50s/60s folk revival have been making a significant impact on the contemporary folk scene.

This is unsurprising in a way, given that folk in its original sense was always about songs being passed down through generations.And there aren’t many singers with more impeccable credentials than Eliza Carthy, daughter of folk mainstay, Martin Carthy, and Norma Waterson, of the renowned Waterson singers.First up tonight, however, and keeping it within that illustrious family, is none other than Eliza’s cousin, Marry Waterson, performing with guitarist, David A Jaycock, with whom she’s just released an album.A warm, earthy and passionate singer she’s a good choice for support act, singing a mixture of songs from the duo’s album and from her family’s incredible back catalogue.

Although there are some similarities in the voices of both Eliza and Marry, the contrast between the opening act and the main act couldn’t be greater.

Where the first is stripped back, intimate and reflective the second is big, bold and theatrical. Eliza Carthy and the other eleven members of her latest venture, The Wayward Band, make an instant and lasting impact the minute they hit the stage.

It’s been called a folk supergroup and includes musicians from the likes of Bellowhead, Mawkin, Edward II and Peatbog Fairies.

It’s a very full sound (fiddles, cello, bass, guitar, keyboards, accordion, drums, percussion, brass section) and it’s possible that other folk singers could get a bit drowned out by such backing.

Not Eliza Carthy, though, who has both the strength of voice and the charismatic stage presence to never risk being overwhelmed.

Furthermore, they’ve put together a great selection of songs, too.

There will be a full album out in February but tonight those who wanted to hear more of The Wayward Band had to settle for buying the band’s EP.

Definite highlights from tonight’s set included a gloriously rumbustious ‘Good Morning Mr Walker’ and Carthy’s thoughtful reflection on the refugee crisis: ‘You Know Me’.

Introducing the song she said she felt moved to speak up for the long-standing and ancient tradition of offering hospitality to strangers.

Throughout the night the band were rewarded with a great reception from the crowd.

“Is this the new Bellowhead?” asks the poster advertising tonight’s gig. There are obvious similarities.

But there are obvious differences, too. Although there’s brass it’s not as dominant in the overall sound mix as it is in Bellowhead and in The Wayward Band there’s also an emphasis on Carthy’s own material as well as interpretations of traditional songs.

However, for those on the look-out for a big band that fills the stage and a big sound that fills the auditorium and an act that keeps folk music well and truly in the 21st century, Eliza Carthy and The  Wayward Band is definitely one to look out for.

Marry Waterson website: http://marrywaterson.com/

Eliza Carthy website http://www.eliza-carthy.com/
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Saxon / Fastway / Girlschool at Shepherd’s Bush Empire 5/11/16

So it’s another trip to London and another trip to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire for New Wave Of British Heavy Metal veterans Saxon, who are currently headlining a tour that also includes includes Fastway and Girlschool.

Girlschool are first up and deliver a great opening set. Even those unfamiliar with pretty much anything the band have put out since the 80s would find lots to like here. I always thought Girlschool’s brand of heavy metal worked best for them when they channelled their inner glam-pop sensibilities (something they always acknowledged was a key influence) and delivered songs that were loud, hard and heavy but laden with unmissable hooks, catchy choruses and memorable riffs. And for much of the set that’s exactly what we get: old favourites like Demolition Boys, Hit and Run, Emergency and (Gun cover) the fantastic Race With The Devil. Fitting very much into that template, too, is new song Come The Revolution, from their latest album: 2015’s Guilty as Sin.

Even thirty-odd years after Girlschool formed all-female rock bands are few and far between but well done the women of Girlschool for keeping the flag flying all these years and for doing it so brilliantly in 2016. A definite thumbs up from me.

Girlschool setlist
Demolition Boys
Hit and Run
Come the Revolution
Take It Like a Band
Future Flash
Watch Your Step
Race with the Devil
Emergency

http://www.girlschool.co.uk/

When Fastway was launched in 1983 a heavy rock supergroup was in the offing, featuring former members of Motörhead, UFO, and Humble Pie. Pete Way of UFO left before they even made their first album and, incredible a guitarist though ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke undoubtedly is, the band never really stayed on my musical radar. But at least that allowed me to approach their set tonight with a completely open mind. And my verdict: probably among the most talented performers of all three bands this evening. Eddie Clarke is an awesome guitarist, in particular, and Toby Jepsom (lead singer since 2007) has a great voice and a charismatic stage presence. And all the musicians had a good musical vibe and worked well on stage together. But… and this is a big but … compared to the other two bands this evening with their fistfuls of songs that are always imprinted on your brain and you can sing in the shower, this lot simply don’t reach that bar. In spite of some superb musicianship and a great stage presence having a great set of songs is, for me, a crucial component in distinguishing a good rock band from a truly exceptional one. However, Eddie Clarke’s greatest moment of the night is yet to come.

Fastway setlist:
Misunderstood
All Fired Up
Another Day
Deliver Me
Telephone
Heft!
Feel Me, Touch Me (Do Anything You Want)
Easy Livin’

http://www.fastwayofficial.com/site/

By the time Saxon come on at around 9pm every last square inch of floorspace in the Shepherds Bush Empire is completely rammed. I like being part of a sell-out audience in a packed venue but this bordered on being too close for comfort. Perhaps it’s a welcome sign that Saxon need to start booking bigger venues for their next tour.

Now Saxon have had their ups and downs over the years. After the initial wave of early 80s success, they never managed to attain the dizzy stadium-filling heights of their contemporaries like Iron Maiden (though personally I think Saxon are by far the superior band). Saxon risked being derided as heavy metal has-beens and written off as a bit of a joke. A much publicised documentary in 2007 saw them at constant loggerheads with Harvey Goldsmith as he took up the challenge to help restore the band’s popularity. But whether the band took on board any of Goldsmith’s advice or not it inevitably lead them to reflect on their music and their career. There’s been a significant change around in fortunes since and their bloody-minded determination to carry on serving their old fans as well as looking to gain a next generation of new ones has seen them through.

The album currently being toured Battering Ram stands up well against any of their early classics and it’s great to hear the album’s title track open the set. The album has been played and played on my stereo and so songs like The Devil’s Footprint and Queen of Hearts have become familiar old friends to me now and sit well in the set alongside earlier material. The last third of the set, however, is a non-stop run-through of those early Saxon classics: And The Bands Played On, Dallas 1PM, Wheels of Steel . It’s briefly broken for one of those ‘need-to-be-there’ moments when Eddie Clarke returns to the stage for a cover of his old band’s Ace of Spades as Saxon’s very special tribute to Lemmy Kilmister. Then it’s on with more timeless classics: 747 (Strangers in the Night), Denim and Leather and Princess of the Night.

Saxon in 2016 deliver the old material as good as they ever did, produce truly stunning new material and perform with a confidence and authority as befits one of British rock’s truly great bands. Just book a bigger venue next time, Biff!

Saxon setlist:
Battering Ram
Let Me Feel Your Power
Sacrifice
Solid Ball of Rock
Never Surrender
Crusader
Stand Up and Be Counted
The Devil’s Footprint
Strong Arm of the Law
Killing Ground
The Eagle Has Landed
Queen of Hearts
And the Bands Played On
Dallas 1 PM
Wheels of Steel
Ace of Spades (with Eddie Clarke)
747 (Strangers in the Night)
Denim and Leather
Princess of the Night

http://www.saxon747.com/

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Related review:
Saxon – album review: Battering Ram