Monthly Archives: January 2019

Live review: Giants of Rock, Minehead 25-28 January 2019

This was the sixth annual Giants of Rock weekend hosted by Butlins in Minehead – and my fifth. Here’s a small selection of bands that stood out for me this time, as well as one that I’m afraid just didn’t do it for me at all.

Worth seeing

Sometimes you want to see an artist, at least just the once, for the small part they played in rock ‘n’ roll history. For me, original Thin Lizzy guitarist, Eric Bell, was one of those names who fitted into that category. It meant missing the much-praised ‘New Wave Of Classic Rock’ band Ethyrfield on the other main stage, sadly, (but I made up for this by buying Ethyrfield’s CD from the merch stand later). Eric Bell gave us a run-through of rock ‘n’ roll and blues standards. It’s a little ragged in places but we’re soon into a rendition of ‘Whiskey In The Jar’ – a slightly different arrangement of the old folk song compared to Lizzy’s version that many of are used to but Bell’s unique guitar sound is unmistakable and this is basically what I came in to hear. Ironically, the drum-kit of Bell’s former band-mate, Brian Downey, sits unused behind Bell’s band because Downey’s own take on Thin Lizzy’s heritage, in the form of his Live & Dangerous tribute, was the next act. Anyone hoping for some form of cross-fertilisation between these two performances, however, would have been disappointed. There are no guest jam spots or even any acknowledgement that the two bands are in the same building on the same stage on the same evening. Compared to the revived Thin Lizzy of a few years ago (which ended up morphing into Black Star Riders) this is more faithful copy of classic-era Lizzy in conventional tribute act format. But Brian Downey has more than earned the right to perform and celebrate these songs as many times as he likes and the band get a good reception.

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Eric Bell http://www.eric-bell.com/

Ones to watch

Now performing under their new identity (but still down in the programme as VOiD due to them still using their old name when they were originally booked last year) Scarlet Rebels emerged as one of the stars of the introducing stage this year. “Unfortunately, there are about a million bands called Void and no-one could ever find us,” lead singer, Wayne Doyle, tells the crowd. I had caught these guys doing a support slot a year ago and what has not changed is their brand of classy, melodic hard rock which immediately impressed me first time around. Lead guitarist, Chris Jones, is an absolute live-wire on stage, injecting wave after wave of energy into the crowd with his soloing, while front-man, Doyle, has a great voice that’s just perfect for modern-day classic rock. Let’s hope any identity issues that the band suffered under their previous moniker are now firmly behind them and that Scarlet Rebels get the recognition they deserve. As one of the triumvirate of introducing stage winners over the three days they’ll be back at Butlins on one of the main stages next year. Thoroughly well deserved.

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Scarlet Rebels http://www.scarletrebels.com/

Surprise of the weekend

Playing only their second gig in 35 years (the first being at Skegness Butlins the week before) the newly-revived Geordie are one of the biggest surprises of the weekend. The band had a handful of hits in the mid 70s but are now best-known as the band that launched Brian Johnson’s career prior to him being tracked down by AC/DC in 1980. Original members Tom Hill (bass) and Brian Gibson (drums) are joined by Steve Dawson (guitar) and Mark Wright (vocals). Powerful, foghorn very Johnson-esque vocals from Wright with a very well-rehearsed band behind him served to breathe new life into some long-neglected songs. It was great to hear the likes of ‘Can You Do It’, ‘Don’t Do That’ and ‘All Because of You’ getting a live airing after all these years. I’ve seen numerous band revivals at weekends like this, sometimes on some really rather tenuous ground. I therefore approached this with a mixture of curiosity and cynicism but they massively, massively exceeded expectations. A real surprise. I was half-hoping that Geordie would encore with a cover of Back In Black or Rock n Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution as a cheeky little nod to the part they unwittingly played in rock ‘n’ roll history – but it wasn’t to be (Geordie – if you are reading this you should absolutely do it!). The job of delving into AC/DC’s back catalogue was instead left to the next act, Chris Slade’s Timeline when the current (and former) AC/DC drummer ran through a selection of classic songs from his various bands. For sheer impact and confounding expectations, however, the afternoon very much belonged to Geordie.

https://www.facebook.com/GeordieFanpage/

Old favourites

Sweet delivered a blistering set and hopefully gained a few more “oh, I just thought they were just a pop band I didn’t realise they were such a great rock band” converts in the process. However, I’ve written about this band many, many times before and readers of Darren’s music blog will be left in no doubt at all of my affection for all things Sweet. Instead, I’m going to give a mention to Oliver/Dawson Saxon. After they had both walked away from Biff Byford’s Saxon, guitarist, Graham Oliver, and bass player, Steve Dawson, got together and formed their own version of the band. Now I’m not saying Oliver Dawson Saxon are better than the actual continuing Saxon – but they are certainly more fun. With his on-stage patter, lead singer Brian Shaughnessy is more Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club than Hallo Wembleyyyy  and cuts a hilarious and quite bonkers stage presence but he is an absolute dynamo of a vocalist. When it comes to belting out all those old Saxon classics there is always so much energy from this band and Minehead 2019 was no exception. There are no pretensions to be anything else with this performance. It’s just good old-fashioned New Wave Of British Heavy Metal played exactly the way it should be. The perfect party band to end the night with on a weekend like this. Oliver/Dawson Saxon we salute you.

http://www.odsrock.co.uk/

And one that just wasn’t for me

Paul Manzi had quite a busy weekend. He did an excellent job filling in as a temporary member of Sweet on the Saturday night due to Pete Lincoln’s absence and then he was back on the Sunday night fronting Cats In Space. There’s another Sweet connection, too, because former Sweet bass player, Jeff Brown, now carries out that very same role for Cats In Space. Like Sweet, harmony vocals and hook-laden melodies are in integral part of the band’s sound. Rather than the British glam rock era of the early 70s, however, this band very much take their cues from the American AOR/ power pop era of the early 80s, when albums were as shiny, polished and lavishly-produced as an episode of Dynasty. Unfortunately, as with that TV series it’s a genre of rock that simply leaves me cold. It’s clear that Cats In Space love what they are doing and they execute it with total professionalism. I really wanted to like them but three songs in I realise it’s never going to be. If the previous night was Sweet this, for me, was saccharine. I up and leave for the other stage. Raw, raunchy down to earth blues rock from guitar maestro, Rob Tognoni was the perfect antidote to what I’d just walked away from – and someone I look forward to seeing more of.

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Rob Tognoni https://www.robtognoni.com/

Related reviews:

Giants of Rock 2018

Giants of Rock 2017

Rock & Blues weekend, Skegness 2018

Hard rock: album review – John Diva & The Rockets of Love ‘Mama Said Rock Is Dead’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Bouncy anthemic keyboards, smooth melodic riffs and catchy sing-along choruses John Diva & The Rockets of Love celebrate and take their cues from that mid-80s era of rock when the likes of Van Halen, Whitesnake (the rebooted American version) and Bon Jovi ruled.

Neither the band nor the album wear their influences lightly so when you listen to these guys there is absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, to suggest the past thirty-five years have actually happened. The sound, the songs, the riffs, the lyrics, even the names of the band members (I give you guitarists Snake Rocket and J.J. Love) all suggest we are somewhere midway through 1984. This is good in many ways. After all, it was a much-celebrated period for hard rock where a number of bands became absolutely huge. However, some acknowledgement that life had moved on just a bit would not have have gone amiss either. In this post-Jimmy Savile, post-#MeToo era does the world really need a new song called ‘Lolita’ (the band’s single from the album)?

What they do, they do well though and there’s lots to like in tracks like ‘Whiplash’, ‘Wild Life’ and ‘Rocket of Love’ (even if the lyrics of the latter deploy every rock ‘n’ roll cliché known to man). We should also mention the obligatory power ballad ‘Just A Night Away’ – it is the 80s after all!

Frontman, John Diva, describes the album as follows: “It’s a trip for those who have lived and loved Rock ‘N’ Roll, for all those who still do so and for all the millions of people who up to now didn’t even know what they’ve been missing. We’re having a party as big as the eighties and you’re invited to let your imagination take flight by my wild and wonderful life.”

Personally, I think if I was going to travel back in time and permanently inhabit a past era of music, I’d be opting for the mid-60s British R&B scene or the late 70s NWOBHM scene – but if you love that mid-80s American rock scene you will no doubt absolutely love this album.

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Released: SPV/Steamhammer 8th February 2019

https://johndiva.com/

Folk: album review – John Smith ‘Hummingbird’

This review was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

Two years after recording the album Headlong in Sam Lakeman’s Somerset studio, John Smith returned to lay down another new album. Unlike the former, however, which was built around Smith’s song-writing, Hummingbird is very much about celebrating traditional songs and paying tribute to the artists like John Renbourn, John Martyn and Bert Jansch who inspired Smith in the first place. Six of the album’s ten tracks are traditional songs with one cover version and three original numbers.

Less is more was the motto that Smith and Lakeman adopted while making the album. “A folk song’s clarity of purpose is exactly the reason why it has been played in pubs, living rooms and concert halls for hundreds of years,” says Smith. Indeed, this approach has absolutely paid off. Shorn of the typical embellishments we might have come to expect on a modern-day folk album there is beauty and simplicity in the the delivery that gives the lyrics in songs like Hares On The Mountain and Lord Franklin a real resonance.

The lone cover is Anna Briggs’ The Time Has Come which Smith first heard, like many readers will have done, on a Bert Jansch and John Renbourn album. Smith’s three original songs, like the beautiful title track, stand sympathetically alongside the much older material.

A gifted guitarist, a unique vocalist and an impassioned interpreter of traditional material, if John Smith has made this album for his musical heroes then he’s done them proud.

Released: October 2018

https://www.johnsmithjohnsmith.com/

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Folk/indie: album review – Trevor Moss & Hannah Lou ‘Fair Lady London’

This review was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

An integral part of London’s emerging indie folk scene for a number of years, Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou left the capital for Hastings and are now firmly ensconced in the Sussex seaside town’s thriving local music scene. Three years on from their last album, Fair Lady London is the product of their changed setting and changed priorities.

There is still plenty to showcase the duo’s talent as songwriters here, however. The poignantly bitter-sweet We Should’ve Gone Dancing is immediately and utterly unforgettable while the guitar line on Everything You Need is as beautifully infectious as something that Bert Jansch might have come up with.

For their previous album the duo worked with renowned producer Ethan Johns but now they are back with the trusty 4-track recorder they used on their 2012 album, this time setting up in a castle in the East Sussex countryside. “I’ve never really liked studios,” confesses Moss. “The first one we ever stepped foot in was Olympic as teenagers, the same room as Hendrix, Zeppelin, Stones. I didn’t like it. It felt like a spaceship.”

The lo-fi approach works extremely well and gives the album exactly the kind of understated intimacy the duo’s songs warrant.

Now five albums into their career as a duo Fair Lady London sees Trevor Moss and Hannah-Lou continuing to make music that in its own delicate, gentle and thoughtful way continues to demand your attention.

Released: November 2018

http://www.trevormossandhannahlou.com/

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Folk: album review – The Trials of Cato ‘Hide and Hair’

This review was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of fRoots magazine

Energetic, innovative and dynamic the press blurb hailing Trials Of Cato as a band that “arrived fully formed” is not just PR hype in this instance. Hide & Hair is a bona fide sweep-you-off-your-feet debut. The three young men from Yorkshire and North Wales met in Beirut while teaching, quickly enthused audiences in Lebanon and arrived back in the UK two years ago. With Hide & Hair they deliver us a lovely blend of mandolin, banjo, bouzouki and guitar, their stunning instrumentation and rich harmonising vocals breathing new life into traditional songs and tunes.

Older songs like My Love’s In Germany, the seventeenth century window’s lament for a fallen soldier, and Tom Paine’s Bones, Graham Moore’s rousing anthem for rights and liberty, rub shoulders with new songs like the equally rousing These Are The Things. Of the instrumental pieces Difyrrwch is the band’s arrangement of three traditional Welsh and English melodies while Kadisha is their own composition inspired and named after a valley in northern Lebanon.

The trio are Robin Jones (mandolin/tenor banjo/vocals), William Addison (Irish bouzouki/vocals) and Tomos Williams (guitar/vocals) with Addison and Jones alternating lead vocal duties across the album.

Few debuts have as much vitality and impact as this one and they have already been receiving plaudits from the likes of the BBC’s Mark Radcliffe who has lauded them as “one of the real discoveries on the folk circuit in recent times”. We shall certainly be hearing a lot more of The Trials Of Cato.

Released: November 2018

https://thetrialsofcato.com/

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