Monthly Archives: August 2017

Folk/rock/renaissance: album review – Blackmore’s Night ‘To The Moon and Back’

20 years and beyond – 2 CD compilation

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

In spite of being a long-time admirer of Ritchie Blackmore and in spite, also, of a real love of acoustic folk-rock, Blackmore’s post-Rainbow outfit is something that has largely passed me by. Incredibly, it has now been twenty years since Blackmore and his wife, Candice Night, started up the Renaissance outfit Blackmore’s Night. This 26-track double CD gathers tracks from across their various albums, together with some bonus material.

Blackmore and his band of merry minstrels have come in for quite a bit of stick from rock fans over the years, ever since he swapped his Fender for a mandolin. In truth, however, there is a huge amount of variety on this album: from lush, Enya-esque tracks with beautifully atmospheric vocals from Candice Night; to jolly, folksy sing-alongs; to renaissance-inspired instrumental tracks; to straightforward soft rock covers.

For me, some of the material works far better than others. I found songs like ‘Home Again’ a bit twee and cloying, satisfying neither my folk appetite nor my rock appetite. There are, however, plenty of highly listenable tracks in the collection, too. The ones that worked best for me included songs like ‘Somewhere Over The Sea’ which really showcase Night’s vocals in a lush musical setting, as well as some of the instrumental tracks which really showcase Blackmore’s musicianship. Tracks like ‘Minstrel Hall’ build on the baroque-inspired themes that he began to explore in his early Rainbow days. It’s not all acoustic, either. On tracks like ‘Fires at Midnight’ there are some stunning electric guitar solos that put one in mind of early Rainbow. Rainbow fans will also appreciate a nicely done cover of ‘I Surrender’.

Overall, there is much to like in this collection. Blackmore is an incredible musician, regardless of whether he’s playing a Fender, an acoustic guitar or a hurdy-gurdy; while Candice Night is a fine singer with a beautiful voice. I only wish they would exercise a bit more quality control on some of the more obvious material.

Released: August 2017

http://www.blackmoresnight.com/

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Related review:
Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow live at Birmingham 2017

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Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2017

This review was also published by Get Ready To Rock here

Fairport Convention’s festival at Cropredy has been an annual fixture for almost four decades now but the big celebration this year was marking the fiftieth anniversary of the band’s formation. In the eight years since I have been going it has always been quite an eclectic bill, straddling folk, rock and retro pop. This year it leaned more towards the folk-rock end than normal because, it being the fiftieth anniversary, a number of sets from ex-Fairport members and close associates were on the bill. This meant there were lots of acts that I was really looking forward to, this time, even if there was perhaps a little less variety in the festival line-up than normal.

Before we got to the three-hour set from Fairport Convention on the Saturday night, therefore, there were plenty of highlights over the three days: including the ever-impressive Show of Hands; last year’s festival darlings, The Pierce Brothers, who returned for a repeat performance; and the Gigspanner Big Band (where Peter Knight’s trio join forces with folk duo Phillip Henry & Hannah Martin). Of the Fairport friends and family spin-offs we had Ashley Hutchings’ recreation of Morris On, a stunning solo set from Richard Thompson and original Fairport vocalists, Judy Dyble with her Band of Perfect Strangers and Iain Matthews with Plainsong. Lots of highlights there.

And niggles? With a three day festival and three days of camping and drinking and music we normally choose an act we’re not too bothered about for a bit of early evening down time back at the camp-site. On the Friday, the Trevor Horn Band drew the short straw for us this time. I’ve never been too bothered about either ’80s Yes or Buggles I figured. But sadly it meant missing a surprise guest appearance from Russ Ballard. ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ (Ballard’s hit for Rainbow) and ‘God Gave Rock n Roll To You’ (the Argent classic). Both sounded great from the comfort of our gazebo anyway…

Marillion sounded good but they did a dedicated fans’ set rather than a festival set. I’ve got my one greatest hits album and was really hoping to hear a few more songs I was familiar with that I could sing along to. To me, Marillion not doing ‘Kayleigh’ at a festival is as daft as Petula Clark not doing ‘Downtown’. Happily the latter obliged. Would I pay to go and see a Petula Clark gig? Probably not. But was singing along to ‘Downtown’ in a field with several thousand others one of those not-to-be-missed life-affirming moments? Absolutely!

While it might not have been my favourite Cropredy line-up ever, it was definitely, without a doubt my favourite Fairport performance of all time. Fairport Convention are a band that never knowingly pass over the chance to celebrate an anniversary and they certainly pulled out all the stops for this one.

Things began with a couple of songs from the modern-day Fairport and then suddenly, magically we were transported back to 1967 with all of the surviving members from the first album reconvening on stage for a stunning recreation of the first track on the first album ‘Time Will Show The Wiser’, followed by ‘I Don’t Know Where I Stand’ and ‘Reno, Nevada’. It completely captured the magic of that first album and was really special seeing Ashley Hutchings, Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson, Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews sharing a stage together. When early Fairport reconvene like this I am always reminded of when groups of old school friends get together they often seem to slot back into the roles and pecking orders of decades ago. Even though he has not been a member of the band for 48 years, Ashley Hutchings effortlessly slots back into the role of band leader, doing all the talking and introducing the songs.

Tragically, it is now increasingly challenging to reconvene some of the later later line-ups of the band and more and more stand-ins are required. Nevertheless, Chris While does a superb job filling in for Sandy Denny and likewise Chris Leslie for Dave Swarbrick’s fiddle parts, in renditions from the iconic Liege & Lief album. Songs from other classic albums Full House, Nine and Rising From The Moon (with Sally Barker on vocals) also get a good airing.

The set-list is heavily weighted towards the band’s first eight years or so, with only a smattering of songs from later eras but considering Fairport’s outstanding legacy of truly groundbreaking from this period that seems entirely appropriate.

Having seen Fairport Convention on stage some twenty-five times now and never once failing to enjoy them, for me this has easily been the best. A stunning way to celebrate fifty years.

Fairport Convention set-list:
Bottom of the Punchbowl / East Neuke of Fife / Ye Mariners All
Summer By The Cherwell
Time Will Show the Wiser
I Don’t Know Where I Stand
Reno Nevada
Suzanne
Farewell, Farewell
Crazy Man Michael
Come All Ye
The Deserter
The Lark in the Morning Medley
Tam Lin
Walk Awhile
Poor Will and the Jolly Hangman
Sloth
Now Be Thankful
Sir Patrick Spens
Fotheringay
The Ballad of Ned Kelly
Talk About Money
Rising for the Moon
White Dress
A Surfeit of Lampreys
The Hiring Fair
The Hexhamshire Lass
Jewel in the Crown
Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
Our Bus Rolls On
Dirty Linen
Matty Groves
Meet on the Ledge

http://www.fairportconvention.com/

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Other recent reviews:
Come All Ye box set – album review
Fairport’s 50th anniversary concert at Union Chapel

The death of Elvis is relayed to a caravan in Morecambe. August 1977

A caravan site in Morecambe, Lancashire. My older stepsister returns with the morning paper and attempts to relay the day’s main news to my mum.

“Elvis dead.”

“Elvis’s dad? What about Elvis’s dad?”

“No. Elvis is dead.”

“Elvis’s dad’s dead?”

No. Elvis is dead.”

At this point my mum bursts into tears. It had always been her ambition to see him, she tells us. And now she would never get the chance.13615008_10154293790751449_4858489364011888766_n

Looking back, the death of Elvis was a bit like a prototype Diana moment for 1970s Britain. And for this 11 year-old it certainly didn’t seem very cool. And throughout my teenage years thoughts of Elvis tended to revolve around cheeseburgers and white jumpsuits and awful films and general excess.

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But slowly that began to change. As my voyage of discovery with rock music careered back through the 70s and then the 60s and then the 50s it was impossible to ignore the presence of Elvis and it was impossible the brilliance of songs like Jailhouse Rock and Hound Dog and That’s All Right Mama.

Gradually, Elvis started becoming cool for me. Indeed, when I began switching from vinyl to CDs in the early 90s one of the first discs that I bought was Elvis’s greatest hits. And not long afterwards that was joined by a compilation of Elvis’s early Sun recordings where you can sense the palpable excitement as Elvis and his fellow musicians bring together white country influences and black rhythm and blues influences to create something truly special.

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Indeed, everything about the tiny Sun Records studio in Memphis held a growing fascination for me. My mum, of course, never got to see Elvis. But she did still harbour a lifelong ambition to visit his Graceland home. And I was just as keen to set foot in Sun studio. So last year we arranged a trip to Memphis together and both got to fulfil our ambitions and pay our respective homages.

Thank you Elvis. January 8th 1935 – August 16th 1977.

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Folk-rock: album review – Fairport Convention ‘Come All Ye: The First Ten Years’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

In the year of the band’s historic fiftieth anniversary a Fairport Convention box set, joining the long list of other compilations, box sets and reissued material from the Fairport family in recent years, is perhaps not entirely unexpected.

Titled Come All Ye: The First Ten Years this seven-disc anthology collects material from across the changing line-ups and evolving musical styles that characterised the band’s first decade in existence; from the US west coast-influenced beginnings in the late 1960s to exploring and ultimately defining English folk rock, with several journeys into diverse musical territories along the way.

What this box set does not do is deliver a full repackage and reissue of all of the albums from this period. Rather, while it does include a selection of songs from across the band’s first 13 studio albums (from 1967’s Fairport Convention through to 1978’s Tipplers Tales) the meat of the anthology is the myriad of out-takes, alternative versions, B-sides, sessions and live recordings. 55 of the 121 tracks are previously unreleased, albeit that most of the songs will be familiar to Fairport fans even if the exact recordings are not.

The first two discs span the period of the band’s first four studio albums. Not withstanding that at least a couple of these rank amongst some of the greatest albums ever recorded, the avid Fairport Convention collector could be forgiven for thinking that they are not getting a huge amount of new material here.

While there are some real gems, some of the tracks are BBC sessions that differ little from the album versions, and even where they do, a significant number of the less familiar versions of songs have previously been released elsewhere, such as the 2010 Sandy Denny box set or as bonus tracks on album re-issues. Some of the most interesting and unexpected moments come in the later discs.

Disc Three includes some alternative versions of songs from the Babbacombe Lee album. Performed live for a BBC TV documentary ’The Man They Could Not Hang’ on the life of John ’Babbacombe’ Lee, they have a much looser feel than the original versions and also include a song written especially for the programme: Farewell To A Poor Man’s Son.

Disc Four holds some of the biggest surprises. It includes a number of hitherto unheard tracks from an abortive album from the time when Dave Pegg and Dave Swarbrick invited Canadian singer-songwriter David Rea into the band. The result is a laid-back kind of Americana rather than English folk rock. Indeed, few would ever guess that a track like Maverick Child could be Fairport Convention until, that is, the unmistakable sound of Swarb’s fiddle cuts in about two thirds of the way through. Nevertheless, it provides a fascinating insight into a short-lived and little-known line-up.

Disc Five includes Sandy Denny’s previously unreleased original demo of After Halloween from the Rising For The Moon album. It was recorded at her home in Byfield during her second stint with the band and captures her voice beautifully. This disc also gathers together some previously unreleased live recordings from 1976 after Denny had left the band for the second time and Simon Nicol had rejoined.

The final two discs are devoted to two full concert recordings. The first of these, with the line-up that recorded the Nine album performing at Croydon’s Fairfield Hall in 1973, has lain unreleased for over four decades and shows the band in cracking form with some excellent guitar from Jerry Donahue.

The second heralds Sandy Denny’s return to the band with a performance from the LA Troubadour in 1974. Although, unlike the previous disc, most of this material has been previously available, it is a superb concert that notably captures the band performing some of Denny’s solo material as well as a version of Richard Thompson’s post-Fairport Convention song Down Where The Drunkards Roll.

Although there is some repetition with other anthologies, overall Come All Ye: The First Ten Years has plenty to offer the dedicated Fairport fan and includes some thrilling material that has not been released before.

However, for the less committed it should be seen as something to complement the purchase of the classic early albums, not to act as a substitute for them. No-one is advised to even contemplate buying this box set, therefore, until they have at least picked up the What We Did On Our Holidays, Unhalfbricking, Liege & Lief and Full House albums and enjoyed the full magic of them in the way they were originally conceived.

Released July 2017

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DISC ONE
1. Time Will Show The Wiser
2. Decameron
3. Jack O’ Diamonds
4. One Sure Thing
5. I Don’t Know Where I Stand (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 2/6/1968)
6. You Never Wanted Me (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 2/6/1968)
7. Fotheringay
8. I’ll Keep It With Mine
9. Mr Lacey (from the Sandy Denny box set)
10. Eastern Rain (Previously Unreleased)
11. Nottamun Town (Previously Unreleased)
12. Meet On The Ledge
13. Throwaway Street Puzzle (B Side on What We Did On Our Holidays remastered)
14. Reno Nevada (David Symonds radio show 6/1/1969)
15. Suzanne (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 1/9/1968)
16. A Sailors Wife (from the Sandy Denny box set)
17. Genesis Hall
18. Autopsy (Previously Unreleased)
19. Who Knows Where The Time Goes? (Previously Unreleased)

DISC TWO
1. Dear Landlord
2. Si Tu Doir Partir (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 6/4/1969)
3. Percys Song (John Peels Top Gear programme 1/9/1968)
4. Ballad of Easy Rider
5. The Deserter – Rehearsal version (Previously Unreleased)
6. Come All Ye (from the Sandy Denny box set)
7. Reynardine
8. Matty Groves (from the Sandy Denny box set)
9. Farewell Farewell
10. Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood (Take 1 edit, Liege & Lief Deluxe Edition)
11. Tam Lin (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 27/9/1969)
12. Sir Patrick Spens (John Peel’s Top Gear programme 27/9/1969)
13. The Lark In The Morning medley (John Peel’s Top Gear 27/9/1969)
14. Bonny Bunch Of Roses (Full House Out-Take)

DISC THREE
1. Walk Awhile (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
2. Dirty Linen (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
3. Sloth (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
4. Journeyman’s Grace (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
5. Sir B.McKenzie (Live on Pop2 5/12/1970)
6. Flatback Caper – Live 1970 (Previously Unreleased)
7. Doctor of Physick – Live 1970 (Previously Unreleased)
8. Poor Will and The Jolly Hangman
9. Bonnie Black Hare (Previously Unreleased)
10. Lord Marlborough
11. Banks of the Sweet Primroses
12. Breakfast In Mayfair
13. Little Did I Think (Previously Unreleased)
14. John Lee (Previously Unreleased)
15. Cell Song (Previously Unreleased)
16. Time Is Near (Previously Unreleased)
17. Dream Song (Previously Unreleased)
18. Farewell To A Poor Man’s Son

DISC FOUR
1. Sweet Little Rock n Roller – Live at the LA Troubadour
2. That’ll Be The Day
3. Think It Over (Previously Unreleased)
4. Maverick Child (Previously Unreleased)
5. Sad Song aka As Long As It Is Mine (Previously Unreleased)
6. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John (Previously Unreleased)
7. Rattle Trap (Previously Unreleased)
8. Sheep In The Meadow (Previously Unreleased)
9. Rosie (Previously Unreleased)
10. Country Judy Jane (Previously Unreleased)
11. Me With You (Previously Unreleased)
12. My Girl (Previously Unreleased)
13. To Althea from Prison (Previously Unreleased)
14. Knights Of The Road
15. The Plainsman
16. Matthew, Mark, Luke & John (Old Grey Whistle Test)
17. Brilliancy medley (Old Grey Whistle Test)
18. Polly On The Shore
19. Fiddlestix (The Devil In The Kitchen) (Previously Unreleased)
20. Possibly Parsons Green (Previously Unreleased)
21. Bring Em Down

DISC FIVE
1. Sloth – Live in Sydney
2. John The Gun (John Peel session 6/8/1974)
3. Down In The Flood (John Peel session 6/8/1974)
4. Rising For The Moon (John Peel session 6/8/1974)
5. After Halloween (Byfield Demo – Previously Unreleased)
6. Restless
7. White Dress (Live on LWT)
8. Stranger To Himself
9. Dawn (from the Sandy Denny box set)
10. One More Chance (Previously Unreleased)
11. All Along The Watchtower (Live in Oslo 1975)
12. When First Into This Country
13. Sandy’s Song aka Take Away The Load
14. Royal Seleccion No 13 (Previously Unreleased)
15. Adieu Adieu (Previously Unreleased)
16. Reynard The Fox
17. Poor Ditching Boy (Previously Unreleased)
18. Flowers Of T

New Thunderstick album – news, reviews and interviews round-up

Darren Johnson Music PR

Some great reviews coming in for ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ the first new Thunderstick album in over 30 years. Here is a selection of what has been said so far:

Knac.com Pure Rock:“And what an album it is. As the first album with new THUNDERSTICK material in thirty years, its ten tracks literally burst with ideas.”
Read full review here

Sea of Tranquility:“Considering it’s been over thirty years since we’ve heard new material from this outfit, the band are locked and loaded here on Something Wicked This Way Comes, their blend of melodic metal, hard rock, and a touch of punk gives songs such as Dark Night Black Light.”
Read full review here

Eternal Terror:“Hats off to Thunderstick (the drummer) and his cohorts for managing to craft a wonderfully organic and raw record that perfectly captures the mood of the old days and yet sounds sharp…

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