Monthly Archives: March 2020

Folk / singer-songwriter: album review – Kevin Hunt ‘Devil’s Daughter’

In spite of being something of a regular fixture on the UK folk circuit, over two decades of writing songs ever since his teenage years and a long-term collaboration with violinist Ian Pearson, Irish-born singer-songwriter Kevin Hunt has waited until now before releasing his debut album. Devil’s Daughter comprises ten tracks of self-composed. In addition to Hunt (vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica) and Pearson (violin) it includes an impressive line-up of session musicians: double bassist John Parker (better known as one half of the acoustic duo Nizlopi), Dan Wilde on guitars, piano and organ, Jamie Welsted on drums and singer-songwriter Anna Hester providing backing vocals.

It’s apparent that the years Hunt has spent honing his craft as a songwriter have not been wasted and he delivers an impressive debut here.

“One of the first songs I wrote was about the troubles in Northern Ireland and I discovered I could more effectively express how I felt about complex subjects in song than I could any other way so I guess that’s when song-writing started for me, “ he notes.

​”I’ve realised that the meaning of songs is in who hears them and over time those songs change and what the listener takes from them will change too. As long as they are written from a genuine place – good, bad or ugly – then they will carry in some shape or form. What a song might be about is not really up to me to define even if I’ve written it. That’s for someone else to decide for themselves. That’s what makes music pretty special as an art form. Songs are just moments, that’s all. Not definitions or dogmas.”

A gift for lyrical storytelling combines with a warmly satisfying voice and some deft musical interplay between the assembled musicians to make this an album that you get more and more from with each repeated listen. No-one could ever accuse Hunt of rushing himself in bringing his songs to the recording studio but it has certainly been worth the wait. Devil’s Daughter is a very welcome debut. Like many musicians the world over any gigs that Hunt had lined up in support of this album will now be completely up in the air. However, whether you have seen him live previously or just looking for something new as you contemplate what is likely to be many weeks without any gigs to out to this album is well worth seeking out.

Released: 5th June 2020

kevin hunt

https://www.kevinhuntband.com/

Singer-songwriter: album review – A Choir of Ghosts ‘An Ounce of Gold’

A Choir of Ghosts is the alter-ego of Swedish singer-songwriter James Auger and An Ounce of Ghosts is his debut album. Written over a three -year period this highly personal album is influenced by both the thick forests of the Scandinavian landscape and the experiences and feelings he went through over that time.

Right from your first listen of the album a number of things become immediately apparent. First, Auger has a fantastic voice – with that slight Americana vibe that makes for perfect singer-songwriter territory. Secondly, he’s really got a good ear for catchy memorable melodies – even after an initial couple of plays this album feels like it’s been a much-loved part of your collection. And finally, this is a really well-constructed, beautifully-produced debut album – from the epic orchestral soundscapes that dominate tracks like the grandly-titled ‘Sinner In Rapture’ (also released as a single) to the warm, introspective feel of stripped-back acoustic numbers like ‘Driving Home’.

Beautiful melodies, thought-provoking lyrics and gorgeous production An Ounce of Gold is an extremely impressive debut album and one well worth seeking out.

Released: Greywood Records 3/4/20

ACOG+-+An+Ounce+of+Gold+_Album_+-+Front+Cover+-+72dpi

Available from: https://greywoodrecords.bigcartel.com/product/a-choir-of-ghosts-an-ounce-of-gold-cd

http://www.achoirofghosts.com/

Folk: album review – Siobhan Miller ‘All Is Not Forgotten’

All Is Not Forgotten is the fourth solo album from Scottish folk singer Siobhan Miller, three times winner of MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards and a 2018 BBC Folk Awards recipient. Featuring a mixture of new arrangements of traditional songs and newly-composed original material, Miller has drawn together a stellar team of supporting musicians from across the Scottish folk scene. Lau’s Kris Drever plays guitar, Miller’s husband and musician/producer Euan Burton plays bass (both of whom also collaborate in the song-writing), while Braebach’s Megan Henderson plays fiddle, Innes White plays acoustic guitar, John Lowrie plays piano and Kim Carnie contributes backing vocals.

A more stripped-back slightly less commercial affair than her 2018 album, Miller reflects:

“After releasing Mercury I really wanted to create something reflective of our live shows, mixing original songs with new arrangements of traditional songs I’ve learned and making it as raw and as honest as possible.”

A beautifully pure voice that is just made for Scottish folk along with some exquisitely lovely musical arrangements and some instantly appealing songwriting ‘All Is Not Forgotten’ commends itself to you as a stand-out album as soon as you put it on.

Among the album’s nine tracks highlights include ‘Selkie’ a lovely arrangement of the traditional song immortalising the Scottish legend of those beasts that are seals in water but human on land. The gentle beauty of ‘While The World Weeps’, co-written by Euan Burton with Findlay Napier, is another real highlight, while a complete contrast comes in the shape of the music hall feel of the wittily tongue-in-cheek ‘Cholesterol’ that closes the album.

A string of tour dates were announced to promote All Is Not Forgotten, sadly and inevitably now all cancelled. So if you want to support Siobhan Miller while at the same time adding some thoughtful songwriting and creative arrangements of traditional Scottish folk to your collection then do visit her website and purchase a copy of this beautiful album.

Released: 3 April 2020 by Songprint Recordings via Proper Music

SM

https://www.siobhanmiller.com/

News: 40 years of Thunderstick celebrated with limited-edition live album – released 20/3/20

Something Wicked This Way Came – Live in France

Released 20/3/20 on Roulette Records

Order from: https://www.roulettemedia.uk/thunderstick-store

By way of marking forty years since the emergence of the infamous masked drummer ‘Thunderstick’, who became the iconic figure for the then burgeoning ‘New Wave Of British Heavy Metal’ movement, his eponymously-named band are ready to release their first ever official live album. The limited-edition CD will be released by Roulette Records on 20th March.

Thunderstick’s alter ego and creator Barry Graham Purkis announces: “I am so happy to announce that after 40 years of ‘Thunderstick’ a live album will be released this month to celebrate. Comprising both Thunderstick and Samson material with the odd ‘cover’ thrown in for good measure, there has never been any official recordings of the band in concert before so for us this is pretty damn special..!!”

Lead singer Raven Blackwing adds: “I am really excited about the upcoming release of our live album ‘Something Wicked This Way Came’ Thunderstick live in France. The whole gig was a blast from start to finish with so many new friends made, a beautiful way for me to cherish that memory of that performance. It’s my first album with the band and I’m really hoping that people listening to it will pick up on the enjoyment that I and the guys had on stage that night. Much love Raven xx”

Live in France - cover artwork

Recorded live in France in November 2019 the album features a full concert with the following track listing:
Riding With The Angels
Go Sleep With the Enemy (I Dare Ya)
Earth Mother
Buried Alive
Dark Night Black Light Monologue Teenage Suicide)
Dark Night Black Light
Vice Versa
Witches Trial
Blackwing …… The Curse
Dark Princess Thunder
Thunder Thunder
Time Warp

Best known for his time with Samson and an early Iron Maiden Barry Graham Purkis (AKA Thunderstick) has been the legendary icon for the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) scene since the late 70s. His eponymously named band, renowned for its female fronted power rock and theatricality, have a considerable heritage. The band played live and recorded for six years both in the UK and in the United States until playing their last gig in October 1986.

Then In 2016 former lead vocalist, Jodee Valentine, tragically died. In recognition of her memory Barry decided to record some songs that Jodee had performed live. This became the ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ album, the first new Thunderstick product in over thirty years. It was released in July 2017 to enthusiastic reviews worldwide. Following the success of the album Barry put a live band together who have brought the Thunderstick magic to a series of festival dates and live gigs. Now signed to Roulette Records an eagerly-anticipated follow-up studio album is currently being recorded and is scheduled for release in July 2020.

Baz Crowcroft, the band’s resident artist has, once again, delivered spectacular artwork for the album. He was responsible for the artwork on the last album as well as the recent single ‘Go Sleep With The Enemy’. He will, of course, also be creating artwork for the forthcoming new studio album in the summer.

The full Thunderstick band line-up is:

Vocals – Raven Blackwing
Drums – Barry Graham Purkis aka Thunderstick
Guitar – Vinny Konrad
Guitar – Lee Quenby
Bass – Rex Thunderbolt

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thunderstickofficial/
Roulette Records: https://www.roulettemedia.uk/

Folk: album review – Peter Knight’s Gigspanner Big Band ‘Natural Invention’

Initially starting out as a side project from his work with Steeleye Span, Peter Knight’s Gigspanner rapidly began establishing itself as the folk rock fiddle maestro’s main creative outlet. Steeleye Span were consequently left to find a new fiddle player and Gigspanner’s reputation grew with a string of albums and an almost permanent touring presence around the country’s arts centres, village halls, churches, pubs and theatres. It’s not only reputations that have grown, however, but the size of the band, too. Forming first as a violin-guitar-percussion trio creating a wonderful fusion of traditional English folk and a beguiling blend of international influences, the duo of Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin subsequently joined for occasional tours and a live album under the delightful Gigspanner Big Band moniker. Now, the big band has got even bigger – with former Bellowhead legend John Spiers joining.

Natural Invention is the first studio album of this six-piece collaboration. Of course you’re going to have exquisitely good musicianship with such a line-up. One niggling question for fans who have grown to love the vastly varied yet utterly unique sounds of the trio format, with its perfect interaction between violin, percussion and guitar, is whether having six musicians in the studio starts to over-complicate the unmistakable Gigspanner formula. It absolutely 100% doesn’t. This new album is pure Gigspanner through and through. Spiers’ melodeon, Henry’s slide guitars and Martin banjo and vocals all sound like they were forever destined to be part of the Gigspanner sound. Moreover, with beautifully creative arrangements of ten traditional songs (from the Child ballad ‘Betsy Bell and Mary Grey through to ‘Daddy Fox’ whose origins go back as far as the fifteenth century) the six have produced something absolutely magical.

Obviously, during the unfolding crisis of the pandemic musicians have been finding every gig and every forthcoming tour cancelled and their income rapidly disappearing. Bands will be reliant on album sales now more than ever before and, obviously, if you’re stuck in the house for weeks on end you’ll maybe want some new stuff to listen to. So buy buy buy buy. But don’t just buy to be charitable Natural Invention is a stunningly good album. Even if you’re stingy enough to only buy one folk album this year make sure it’s this one.

Released: 10th April 2020

https://www.gigspanner.com/gigspanner-big-band

gigspanner cover

Previous reviews:

Gigspanner at Hastings 2017
Gigspanner Big Band at Hastings 2016
Gigspanner ‘Layers of Ages’ album
Steeleye Span in London 2015
Gigspanner at Hastings 2015
Gigspanner at Whitstable 2014

Visit to the birthplace of British rock ‘n’ roll – the 2i’s coffee bar, Soho

London has been getting better at celebrating its rock ‘n’ roll history in recent years. More blue plaques are going up, you’ve got attractions like the Hendrix flat and generally more and more effort is being made to mark some of London’s historic musical legacy. One place you might want to take a look at if you’re in central London is Poppies Fish & Chips restaurant on Old Compton Street in Soho. True, the fish and chips are indeed very tasty but of interest to rock fans is the fact this premises at 59 Old Compton Street was once the legendary 2i’s coffee bar.

2is outside

The 2i’s name came from the cafe’s original owners, Freddie and Sammy Irani, who ran the venue until 1955. They then leased it out to two wrestling promoters, Paul Lincoln and Ray Hunter, who opened it as a coffee bar in April 1956.

2is old

 

In his book ‘Roots, Radicals and Rockers – How Skiffle Changed The World’ Billy Bragg writes of the day that the Vipers skiffle group turned up at the 2i’s in need of refreshment after taking part in the Soho Fair parade on 14th July 1956.

“The proprietor of the 2i’s was happy to have the band playing in his cafe. He’s been trying to draw customers in by employing singer Max Bard… but that wasn’t bringing in the teenagers. These guys seemed to have that young sound, so as they finished up their coffees and headed back out into the rowdy rush of the Fair, he invited them to come back and play any time. They promised to return the following week.”

There’s a nice little Pathé news clip here of the 2i’s in action.

Live music performances took place in the coffee bar’s basement which had room for around twenty people and the Vipers became the resident band there. However, during a break in one of the Vipers sets a young guy named Tommy Hicks took to the stage to sing some rock ‘n’ roll. Hick was soon talent-spotted, renamed Tommy Steele and had his first single out ‘Rock With The Cavemen’.

2is display

Numerous future recording stars would go on to perform and be discovered at the 2i’s. These include Cliff Richard and the Shadows, Vince Eager, Adam Faith, Carlo Little, Joe Brown, Clem Cattini, Eden Kane, Tony Sheridan, Albert Lee, Johnny Kidd, Ritchie Blackmore and Big Jim Sullivan.

“When Hank and I came to London at the age of 16 we went to the 2 I’s coffee bar to be discovered, as did Cliff as did lots of other people,” recalled the Shadows’ Bruce Welch in a documentary.

2is plaque

The 2i’s closed towards the end of the 60s, becoming a series of cafe bars and restaurants. A plaque was installed in September 2006 but it was only with the opening of Poppies Fish & Chips restaurant in 2016 that they really went to town in celebrating the venue’s historic legacy. There’s old photos on the walls, part of the old painted plasterwork has been uncovered and there’s a neon sign at the top of the stairs to the basement recreating the coffee bar’s famous logo.

And the basement? Now it’s just the gents and ladies toilets and a narrow corridor with some memorabilia on display but you can pop down there and think about all of those who performed down here and helped shape the course of British rock history.

2is neon

 

Related posts:

The Hendrix Flat, London

Sun Studios, Memphis

Book review: ‘Roots, Radicals & Rockers – How Skiffle Changed the World’ by Billy Bragg

 

Live review: Supergrass at Alexandra Palace 6/3/20

Without a doubt, for me, the greatest band of the Britpop era, I was at the Brixton Academy on the Supergrass farewell tour in 2010 and ten years later I find myself in a state of some excitement for their first of two nights at Alexandra Palace on this long-awaited reunion tour. Given there was no particular acrimony when the band originally broke up, and certainly no Gallagher-style public feuding, in the intervening years I’d long suspected (and certainly hoped) that a reunion would happen at some point.

Formed of members of Gorillaz and The Feeling along with producer and Libertines collaborator, Ed Harcourt, support act Loup Garoux are a supergroup of sorts and their alt-rock take on stoner rock is well-received but I suspect most of tonight’s crowd are still making their way up the hill to Ally Pally while they play their half-hour opening set.

The cavernous Great Hall, however, rapidly fills up for The Coral. An inspired choice by Supergrass, they proceed to deliver a masterclass in making the most of a half-hour support slot with devastating efficiency. Giving the crowd a tour de force of some of their best-loved songs (‘Jacqueline’, ‘In The Morning’ et al) by the time they finish with a glorious, crowd-pleasing ‘Dreaming Of You’ they leave the stage to the sort of thunderous applause that most headline acts would hanker after.

After The Coral’s storming set we don’t have to wait too long for Supergrass, however – and what else would you possibly want to open with on a much publicised and presumably lucrative reunion tour when you’ve written a song called ‘In It For The Money’?

“Gaz has done his neck in and we were advised to cancel these gigs,” drummer Danny Goffey tells the crowd. “But instead we found one of those London rock ‘n’ roll doctors who’s pumped him full of drugs.”

The rock ‘n’ roll doctor clearly knows what they are doing. Gaz Coombes and his band-mates go on to deliver a blistering, joyous and uproarious celebration of the Supergrass legacy.

When I last saw Supergrass, on their 2010 farewell tour, the set-list was carefully constructed with a representative selection from each of their six albums – all presented in reverse chronological order. Tonight, however, the set-list is heavily dominated by songs from their first album, the hyperactive teen insanity of I Should Coco is celebrated in all its glory with a whopping ten songs from this 1995 debut. It makes sense. While it’s ten years since Supergrass originally came to and end, it’s actually twenty-five years since I Should Coco first hit the shelves. And, phew, they includes ‘Alright’, too, the crowd going suitably crazy as keyboardist Rob Coombes bangs out the familiar intro of that unforgettable slice of mid 90s pop perfection. I was getting close to 30 by the time this came out and, looking around, I’m about a decade older than most people in the room. So this was not exactly a teen anthem for me but, hey, I’m not too musically snobbish to say it will always be one of my favourites.

Crowd-pleasers from the band’s other albums aren’t neglected though and as well as a good smattering of songs from their second album (‘In It For The Money’, ‘Going Out’, ‘Late in the Day’, ‘Richard III’, ‘Sun Hits the Sky’) there’s still plenty of room for later hits like the introspective ‘Moving’ and the glamtastic ‘Grace’ and, of course, the unmissable ‘Pumping On Your Stereo’ which is the grand finale of the encore.

What do you do a reunion for? In it for the money? Or in it for the adoration? Supergrass probably got a very healthy wodge of the former tonight but they most certainly got a huge room full of the latter as well.

Set-list:

In It for the Money
I’d Like to Know
Mansize Rooster
Mary
Moving
Seen the Light
Time
Sitting Up Straight
Late in the Day
Richard III
Rebel in You
St. Petersburg
Going Out
Lose It
She’s So Loose
Grace
Alright
Sun Hits the Sky
Lenny
Caught by the Fuzz
Strange Ones
Pumping on Your Stereo

supergrass tour

https://www.supergrass.com/

Related reviews:

Gaz Coombes at ULU 2018
Gaz Coombes at the Roundhouse 2016
Gaz Coombes – Matador
Vangoffey at the Social 2016

News: Slade’s Don Powell recovering from stroke

Drummer and veteran Slade legend, Don Powell, suffered a stroke on Saturday 29th February at his home in Denmark. Fortunately, his step-daughter Emilie, a doctor, was with him when it happened and was able to act swiftly to call an ambulance and get him to hospital. The subsequent day, 1st March, his wife Hanne released the following statement via Don’s website:

“On Sunday afternoon I picked Don up from the hospital. He will be monitored from home until Wednesday afternoon as it is less stressful for him to be at home, and that is important at the moment. The MRI and CT scan results shows two blood clots in the left frontal lobe, and he is now on medication. There is a narrowing on his artery on his neck so we will know in a few days if he will need an operation. The scan results are sent to the cardiology surgeons to decide. Don is tired but in good spirits and he is happy that he can use/feel his right arm and leg again. So we are all very relieved and thankful.”

Accompanying the update was a photo of a convalescing Don looking in very good spirits.

don-stroke-2

The stroke follows a snapped tendon in 2019 which put Don out of action as a drummer for the rest of the year as well as more recent news of Don’s sacking from Dave Hill’s continuing version of Slade last month.

http://www.donpowellofficial.com/

Don’s former colleague Jim Lea, who played with him from the original band’s formation in 1996 through to 1991 released the following statement via his own website:

“Hi Don – It was terrible to hear of your stroke. A real body blow!! Although the band finished many moons ago, we were like brothers during that 25 years together. You were and still are the quickest wit in the band. You kept us laughing through the ups and downs of those years. I’m sure that everyone who’s met you thinks the same. Keep smiling Don and get through this. Get well soon. Jim.”

http://www.jimleamusic.com/

The Sweet’s Andy Scott, who collaborated with Don ,along with Suzi Quatro, on the QSP project in recent years also released his own statement via his band’s Facebook page.

“I am in touch with Don on a daily basis and of course wish him the speediest recovery. After the trauma of injury in 2018 and his fight back to fitness in 2019 the last thing one needs in 2020 is another setback. Knowing Don he will be cracking jokes again very soon. Chin up my old mate. I am in DK this week so will pop in with some good cheer if you are receiving visitors. Love & best wishes from all in the Sweet camp x. Andy.”

https://www.facebook.com/TheSweetOfficial/

Related posts:

Veteran drummer Don Powell out of Slade

Slade legend Jim Lea releases video footage in bid to locate recently stolen guitar

EP review – Jim Lea ‘Lost In Space’

Interview with former Slade legend Jim Lea

Jim Lea at the Robin 2, Bilston 2017

Header photo: Don and Darren in Birmingham
Photo of Don: via his website

News: The Roke – debut album from Scottish piper Ross Miller

The Roke is the town tune of the Ancient and Royal Burgh of Linlithgow where Ross Miller was brought up and where he is the official Town Piper. The Roke is also the title of Miller’s debut album, released on 9th March – his 25th birthday.

“This album has been years in the making,” Ross Miller tells Darren’s music blog. “I’ve been writing tunes and putting sets together for years with a variety of different groups but I felt that the time had come to record my music and release it into the world. The recording process was spaced out over three months and the sound evolved so much into what you hear on the CD. I am over the moon with the way it has turned out and I am hugely grateful to everyone who has supported me through the process either musically, financially or just generally being there to listen to my constant thinking out loud!”

A finalist in the 2019 BBC Radio Scotland Young Traditional Musician of the Year and a Celtic Connections award winner, Miller has also won the World Pipe Band Championships and an array of Solo Piping prizes in his career so far. The tunes on this instrumental album are all either Miller’s compositions or his personal favourites to play. The music ranges from tunes he has played in pipe bands that have been given a new twist to modern Reels and Jigs. The album features full band arrangements as well as more stripped back solo performances and even includes a pipe quartet where Miller performs all four parts.

Co-produced with Craig Irving,  Ross Miller has assembled a strong cast of musicians for the album:

Ross Miller – Bagpipes
Craig Irivng – Guitar (a BBC Young Folk Award winner and former member of Scottish bands Manran and Talisk)
Charlie Stewart – Fiddle, Double Bass (BBC Young Traditional Musician of the Year 2017)
Rory Matheson – Piano (Fara)
Callum Edwards – Drums, percussion, marching snare drum (Red Hot Chilli Pipers)
Craig Baxter – Bodhran (Gnoss)

The Roke by Ross Miller is released on 9th March 2020 by Avontoun Records.

RossMiller_PR1

Photo credits: Martin Venherm

https://www.rossmillermusic.com/