All posts by Darren Johnson

About Darren Johnson

PR, writing, campaigning and blogging

Rock and pop memorabilia at the V&A’s Theatre & Performance exhibition

With a free afternoon in London before heading off to Minehead for the Butlins rock weekend I thought I’d take a look at the V&A’s Theatre and Performance exhibition. This permanent exhibition is about stage performance in its widest sense, but amidst the magnificently ornate costumes from nineteenth century productions of Shakespeare, a sparkling line-up of pantomime dame outfits and Dame Edna’s famous Sydney Opera House-shaped hat, there are a number of exhibits that are of particular interest to rock and pop enthusiasts.

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Madness memorabilia

From a small display devoted to Madness memorabilia, to stage outfits worn by the likes of Elton John and Jimmy Page, to a ukulele played by George Formby, there’s some interesting artefacts, even if the selection seems somewhat random.

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L-r: Jimmy Page's peacock suit, Elton John's bicycle outfit and George Formby's ukulele

However, the exhibition really needs to be seen in it’s wider context to properly appreciate it and the way that twentieth century rock and pop acts fitted into a tradition of stage performance stretching back centuries.

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Recreation of Kylie Minogue's backstage dressing room

If you are taking a trip to London’s museum quarter in South Kensington anyway it’s definitely worth taking a look at – and like all other permanent exhibitions in the capital’s main museums it’s completely free.

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L-r: Coldplay's Chris Martin's stagewear and Adam Ant's Dandy Highwayman outfit

 

News: ‘The Final Trawl’ – 19th annual CD of the students of the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music

Situated in Plockton on the West Coast of Scotland, the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music first opened its doors to students in 2000. Uniquely, each year the Centre has produced a CD of material chosen and arranged by the students themselves. Featuring twenty-one musicians this year, The Final Trawl double disc CD features both traditional material and the students’ own compositions.

Writing in the album’s sleeve-notes Dougie Pincock, Director of the Centre, remarks:

“The student’s choice of Archie Fisher’s great but gloomy song as the title track is singularly appropriate given that the state of the Scottish fishing industry is one of the more contentious issues of the day. But while, as in the past, I’m happy to commend our young people for their political awareness, I’m always glad to be able to say that they counterbalance the doom and gloom with their creative energy and the joy they take, and give, in the creation and performance of their music.”

The Centre came about when, following devolution in 1999, the Scottish Executive established its Excellence Fund for education, and invited the 32 Scottish local authorities to submit bids for appropriate projects. Recognising the wealth of traditional music activity generated by the Fèis movement and others, the Highland Council submitted a bid for a residential Centre of Excellence specialising in traditional music. The bid was successful and the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music was established at Plockton High School in May 2000 with funding of £500,000 from the Scottish Executive’s Excellence Fund. The Centre is now directly funded by the Highland Council.

The CD is available for purchase via the Centre’s website

https://www.musicplockton.org/

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Folk: EP review – The Tweed Project ‘The Tweed Project’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

The Tweed Project was originally formed in 2015, aiming to both celebrate and fuse English and Scottish traditional music. After a few years on the back-burner The Tweed Project is now back, performing a short tour last autumn and releasing this EP. With a new line-up, Greg Russell and Ciaran Algar are joined by vocalist Josie Duncan, guitarist Pablo Lafuente, piper and whistle player Ali Levack and percussionist Evan Carson.

Josie Duncan sings beautifully, whether it’s in English on songs like Dick Gaughan’s ‘Both Sides the Tweed’ whose message of friendship flourishing on both sides of the famous river straddling the English and Scottish borders is something of a musical manifesto for the band; or in Gaelic as on the wonderfully frenetic ‘B’fhearr leam fhin’. There is some splendid playing on the release, too, as one would expect from an EP packed full of past Young Folk Award winners. The combination of pipes, fiddle, guitar and percussion makes for some wonderfully atmospheric moods created throughout the EP’s six tracks.

For admirers of Greg Russell’s superb singing voice he makes just one lead vocal contribution, singing on the final track ‘Turn That Page Again’. A song about hope and optimism for the future, it concludes the EP in style.

With a refreshed and revitalised line-up and a release just brimming with virtuoso musicality, love and passion it is wonderful to experience the creativity of the Tweed Project flowing once more.

Released: Haystack Records 18th October 2019

https://thetweedprojectband.com/

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Related reviews:

Album review – Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar ‘Utopia and Wasteland’
Luke Jackson and Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at Cecil Sharp House 2016
Greg Russell and Rex Preston at The Green Note 2015
Greg Russell & Ciaran Algar at The Green Note 2014

Singer-songwriter: album review – Lorraine Jordan ‘Send My Soul’

Send My Soul is the fifth studio album from singer song-writer Lorraine Jordan. Memorably described as ‘Celtic soul’ her music builds on her family’s Irish roots while also embracing more contemporary influences.

It’s a combination that works fantastically well and from the moment you put it on the album oozes soulful sophistication and captivating musicality. Indeed, such is the powerfully understated beauty of the title track that I had to double-check that this was a brand new song and not a modern interpretation of a long lost gospel soul classic.

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Not only is Jordan is a talented songwriter with a passionate soulful voice she’s succeeded in assembling a suitably talented line-up of musicians for the album. Jordan’s own guitar and bouzouki playing is complimented by a sensitive yet wondrous accompaniment of mandolin, piano, strings, whistle and percussion that help give these songs such a unique Celtic-inspired flavour.

If Celtic soul is truly a thing then ‘Send My Soul’ is surely a classic of the genre. Jordan has delivered an exquisitely appealing album here.

Released: October 2019 by Hazellville Music

https://www.lorrainejordan.net/

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Review: The Clash – London Calling exhibition at the Museum of London

Moving out of London four years ago if I find myself at a loose end for a couple of hours on my visits to the capital these days I often try to fit in an exhibition. And as far as music lovers go there have been plenty to choose from in recent years, giving me opportunities to enjoy the Stones and Pink Floyd exhibitions, not to mention the exhibition on late 60s counter-culture ‘So You Want a Revolution?’ at the V&A and the ‘Rebel Sounds’ exhibition on music in war-zones at the Imperial War Museum. For that archetypal London band, the Clash, though there can only be one venue. So in the lull between Christmas and New Year I found myself getting a tube to the Museum of London to check out the ‘London Calling’ exhibition.

At first, seeing all the information panels about the band in 1979 and I thought I’d started at the wrong place. Other band exhibitions I’d seen always tended to feature some ‘early days’ displays – but then it dawned on me that the entire exhibition was dedicated to celebrating the Clash’s era-defining London Calling album rather than the entire band’s history. Released in December 1979 the exhibition celebrates the album’s fortieth anniversary. Ah, it all makes sense now!

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It’s a small, compact exhibition taking up just a single gallery at the museum but it’s packed full of memorabilia: Paul Simonon’s smashed-up bass and Joe Strummer’s notebooks along with lyrics, stage gear, photographs and artwork. The latter looms large. With an album cover as iconic as this they absolutely go to town on the familiar pink and green typeface (borrowed from Elvis Presley’s 1956 debut album for RCA) and grainy black and white photos. There’s a nice little section on album producer, the late Guy Stevens, whose insane approach to production on the early Mott The Hoople albums so impressed Mott mega-fan, Mick Jones.

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You don’t really need more than thirty minutes or so to take it all in but it’s an insightful exhibition that’s well worth taking a look at – and it’s all completely free.

The Clash: London Calling exhibition runs until 19th April 2020

https://www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london/whats-on/exhibitions/london-calling-40-years-clash

 

2019 in Darren’s music blog – the ten most popular posts of the year

I wish everyone a happy New Year and give my special thanks to all those who have visited (and hopefully enjoyed) Darren’s music blog during 2019. Looking back over the year, here are my ten most popular blog posts from 2019. A bit of a 70s theme going on here as we look at icons of glam rock, heavy rock, folk rock and punk rock…

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

The sixth annual classic rock weekend at Butlins including Eric Bell, Scarlet Rebels (pictured above), Geordie and Oliver-Dawson Saxon. Full review here

2. Live review: Mott The Hoople ’74 at Shepherds Bush Empire 27/4/19

If this tour is to be the final chapter in the ballad of Mott the Hoople it serves as a fitting end to the career of a wonderful, unique and utterly, utterly irreplaceable band. Full review here

3. News: All change at The Sweet

With little creative input from me I simply endeavoured to keep fans rapidly updated on changes in the band by publishing the band’s official statement. Full post here

4. Six recently revived rock bands that are turning out to be dynamite

Focusing on Atomic Rooster, Lindisfarne, Geordie, Satan’s Empire, Rock Goddess and Towers of London. Full post here

5. Live review: Steeleye Span at St Mary, Ashford 13/4/19

Lining up alongside Maddy Prior are Julian Littman, Andrew Sinclair, Roger Carey, Liam Genockey and Benji Kirkpatrick. Talented players all, they bring a fantastic assortment of instruments, sounds and techniques with them, not to mention a rich array of voices. Full review here

6. Live review: Slade at Concorde 2, Brighton 21/9/19

Dave Hill is, of course, Dave Hill. Eccentrically-dressed as ever: a diminutive figure bouncing all over the stage, delivering the familiar solos and holding the whole thing together. Full review here

7. Interview with Andy Scott ahead of Sweet’s 2019 UK winter tour

The new line-up, the winter tour, the split in the early 80s, keeping in touch with Steve Priest and Rock Against Cancer I was delighted to have a long chat with Andy. Full interview here

8. Live review: UFO at Shepherds Bush Empire 4/4/19

Yelling along to ‘Doctor Doctor; and ‘Shoot Shoot’ as the guys come back on stage for an encore seems a fitting way to say farewell to a band whose music I’ve been enjoying for almost forty of their fifty years. Full review here

9. Steeleye Span at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 21/11/19

A second trip to see Steeleye Span this year and a second review that seemed to rack up the hits. Full review here

10. Live review: Glen Matlock headlines Hastings Fat Tuesday 5/3/19

A bona fide rock ‘n’ roll icon. Performing in the pub. Free entry. On a Tuesday night. It can only be Hastings Fat Tuesday. Full review here

Here’s to 2020!

Best wishes

Darren

 

 

 

Live review: Sweet at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 21/12/19

My last gig of the year and my first time seeing the Sweet with their all-new line-up. I’d seen the previous line-up (Andy Scott, Bruce Bisland Pete Lincoln and Tony O’Hora) many times but when I interviewed Andy Scott recently he was positively brimming about how much the new line-up rocked. Lincoln and O’Hara are gone, replaced by Paul Manzi (ex Cats in Space) on lead vocals and Lee Small on bass – and, assisting temporarily, Sweet alumni and ex MSG man Steve Mann on keyboards/rhythm guitar.

Scott promised that as well as the glam singles this new line-up would certainly be delving into the hard rock side of the band’s persona. The Sweet Fanny Adams and Desolation Boulevard albums are duly raided for tracks like ‘Burn On The Flame’, ‘AC/DC’, ‘Sweet FA’ and ‘Set Me Free’ and acoustic versions of the band’s early bubblegum singles are abandoned.

Impressions: the new-look band are definitely fired up, the band rock hard (whether delivering the glam singles or the classic album tracks) while still maintaining those exquisite harmony vocals that are such an essential element of the overall sound. On top of that it has to be stressed that Manzi is just an incredible, incredible front-man. Unlike the previous line-up the vocalist does not have an instrument in his hands and uses every single minute of the gig to zip all over the stage and engage the audience in the most direct way possible.

It’s also very satisfying to see the Sweet boys filling out this considerable venue, too. We might be besides the sea and it might be late December but this is not some Christmas package tour in some rundown venue squeezed in between the tribute acts and the panto but rather a high-octane rock show in the prestigious (and packed out) Grade I listed De La Warr Pavilion.

Of course, we get all the big hits as well: ‘Hellraiser’. The Six Teens’, Wig Wam Bam’, ‘Fox On the Run’ et al and the band encored with some exceptionally energetic delivery of ‘Blockbuster’ and ‘Ballroom Blitz’. The band have proved, beyond doubt, that there’s plenty of life left in the Sweet yet – and, as Andy Scott tells the audience this new version of the band is just in its infancy. We want Sweet!

Set-list:

Action
New York Groove
Hell Raiser
Burn on the Flame
The Six Teens
Peppermint Twist
AC/DC
Turn It Down
Sweet F.A.
Set Me Free
Teenage Rampage
Wig-Wam Bam
Little Willy
Love Is Like Oxygen
Fox on the Run
Blockbuster
The Ballroom Blitz

Sweet Bexhill pic

http://www.thesweet.com/

Related posts:

Interview with Andy Scott

News: All change at The Sweet

Review: Sweet 50th anniversary concert – Berlin

Review: Sweet live 2017, London and Bilston

Review: Rainbow and Sweet, Birmingham 2017

Review: Sweet, Bilston 2016

The Sweet versus Bowie: the riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences

Review: Sweet at Dartford 2015

Review: Sweet at Bilston 2014

Interview with singer-songwriter Dan Korn of folk/acoustic duo Dan Korn & Joe Sharp

Released back in July Polaris is the new album from singer-songwriter Dan Korn and classically-trained musician Joe Sharp. The two first worked together in 2010, collaborating on a number of releases. Polaris is their first release as a duo, although there have been hundreds of shows across the UK and Europe in recent years and a tour of the US. I caught up with Dan Korn recently to discuss the album, their work as a duo and next steps.

For those who haven’t heard the album how would you describe Polaris and what particular highlights would you point listeners to?

Polaris is an album of ten new songs recorded live at Roedean Moira House Studios in Eastbourne. We see it as an intimate exploration of love and identity in the modern world.

We were keen to capture the raw energy of our live performances by recording the album live. We are the only two musicians on the album, though we play a number of acoustic instruments.

I have different favourite moments from time to time, but at the moment I am particularly fond of the track Idaho, which was conceived in a chilly tent in a campsite off an Idaho Highway. I toured in the US in the summer of 2016 and shivering in that tent was definitely a low point of the tour. It’s a hopeful song though, imagining a time in the future when my ex-girlfriend and I will be friends again and we’ll be able to sit on a park bench together and laugh at the past.

Another highlight for me is Joe’s song, The Promise, the final track on the album. It’s the only song I don’t play guitar on, which makes it both liberating and nerve-wracking to play live. It’s a beautiful song and a great way to finish the record.

This is your first release as a duo but you’ve worked together on a number of projects. How did you first begin working together?

We started working together back in 2010. I was going into the studio to record my debut EP, Dustbowl. We felt a couple of tracks would benefit from the addition of some brass. Joe was a friend of a friend and a trumpet player by trade, so we asked him to play trumpet and flugelhorn on the record. He did so with aplomb. We soon became firm friends and musical collaborators, though Joe has mostly played bass and supplied backing vocals since then.

And you’ve been performing live together as a duo for several years with hundreds of gigs behind you. Was it a conscious creative decision to wait for a while before releasing an album or was it just the way things turned out?

Our setup has evolved considerably over the years. In different configurations, we have recorded two EPs and one LP before this one. Between 2016 and 2018, I toured a lot my own and accumulated quite a few new songs. Joe had a couple of songs he wanted to record too. We were playing better together than ever, so it felt like the right time to enter the studio. For it to be a duo project felt like the most honest and authentic way to go about things at that time.

What have been some of your most memorable gigs?

In 2015, the full band went on a UK tour to promote the release of our Of The Sea LP. We were in Inverness, in a tiny venue with a miniature stage we were somehow all supposed to fit on with a drum-kit. It was a pretty rowdy audience. At one point during the set, we couldn’t help but notice a man’s glass eye fall out and roll across the floor in front of the stage. We watched him proceed to pick it up, blow on it and pop it back in!

The final concert of a tour often turns out to be a favourite. By this time, you’re in great nick because you’ve been playing so much. You’re tired of course, but there’s a feeling of throwing caution to the wind. You don’t have to get up and play again tomorrow, you can just enjoy it. In the days that follow, the post-tour blues will descend as you try to reintegrate yourself into humdrum life. The absence of the adrenaline you have grown accustomed to experiencing performing on stage can be quite difficult to deal with.

In recent years, we have loved playing house concerts, particularly in Germany, where there is a pretty well established scene. It can be a very intimate experience, where you can literally hear the audience breathing. You can’t get away with much. You have to be able to chat in between songs. It’s a really good way to develop your performance skills. I’d recommend it as a good avenue to explore for any singer-songwriter, learning his or her craft.

Name some of the artists that have particularly influenced you.

At the moment, I’m really enjoying Cate Le Bon and Bill Callahan. I went to a Villagers gig in Rotterdam recently, which I found very inspiring.

Given the extremely positive reviews for Polaris when it was released in the summer what are your future plans now, both as a duo and as individual artists?

We’ve been working on another full band album for the last couple of years. It’s being recorded by our guitarist Bob Turley at his Cosy Studios in Kent, where we recorded Of The Sea. We each live in different places and have a lot going on, so it’s a good thing we’re not in any great rush to release it. We’re getting together over Christmas to review things and to work out what our next steps should be. It will be quite different from anything we’ve released before. Watch this space!

Polaris cover

Polaris was released on 19th July 2019 and is available via the duo’s website 

http://www.dankornjoesharp.com/

Photo credits: Carsten Bunnemann

 

Hard rock: album review – Burnt Out Wreck ‘This Is Hell’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

After an extremely well-received 2017 debut ‘Swallow’, some barnstorming festival appearances and support slots for the likes of Anvil, Burnt Out Wreck – the band created by former Heavy Pettin’ drummer Gary Moat – ratchet up their impact with a second album.

While Heavy Pettin’ in the 80s (who had their back catalogue re-released recently) took their musical cues from the more polished classic rock albums of the previous decade, Burnt Out Wreck channel the down-n-dirty spirit of Bon Scott and early AC/DC.

As Moat says when I interviewed him for GRTR recently, “At 15/16 AC/DC were just the best thing in the world and Bon Scott was amazing. And so that’s why I sing like that, not because I wanted to copy what he was doing but just because that’s the way that my voice developed.”

As well as Moat on lead vocals the band are: Alex Carmichael on bass, Paul Gray on drums, Adrian Dunn on lead guitar and backing vocals, and Miles Goodman on rhythm Guitar and backing vocals. Moat’s vocal style developed in Mother’s Ruin, the band he put together in the early 90s following the demise of Heavy Pettin’. However, around five years ago he put Mother’s Ruin to bed in order to concentrate on songwriting. A number of songs that had lain half-written were finally completed for this album.

From the faux-dramatic introduction and killer riff on ‘Positive’ to the relentless boogie and tongue-in-cheek lyrics of ‘Paddywack’ to the seen-it-all-done-it-all-tales of rock ‘n’ roll life in ‘Guitars Electrified’ it blasts out the speakers like some long lost AC/DC album circa 1976. But the guys deliver with passion and conviction, Moat proves himself a very able songwriter and vocalist and Burnt Out Wreck easily demonstrate that they are far more than a poor man’s pastiche.

This Is Hell is a perfect album of sleazy, hard-hitting, in-your-face bluesy hard rock. Sure, it sounds like AC/DC but even if Angus and co. do release another album it’s not going to sound like this. Buy it!

https://www.burntoutwreck.com/

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Related posts:

Interview with Gary Moat

Heavy Pettin Reissues

Anvil / Burnt Out Wreck / VOiD at The Underworld, Camden 2018

Burnt Out Wreck at Classic Rock Weekender 2018

Burnt Out Wreck at Classic Rock All Dayer 2018

 

Live review: Diamond Head and Uriah Heep at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 6/12/19

Bexhill’s Grade 1 listed modernist masterpiece have had a really impressive programme this year. In the last couple of months I’ve been here to see Justin Hayward and Glenn Hughes – and I’m rounding off the year with a trip to see the Sweet. But tonight we have not one but two classic British hard rock acts.

Filling the support slot for Uriah Heep on this tour are New Wave Of British Heavy Metal veterans Diamond Head. Quite the heaviest band I’ve seen on the De La Warr stage they hit the crowd with classics like ‘In The Heat of The Night’, ‘Shoot Out The Lights’ and ‘Am I Evil’. As with Heep themselves, it’s the lead guitarist who is the mainstay of the band through many line-up changes. But, like Heep’s Mick Box, Brian Tatler has assembled a talented group of musicians and a strong vocalist in Danish-born Rasmus Bom Andersen and they deliver a powerful set. They work the Heep audience nicely and get a very warm response in return.

https://www.diamondheadofficial.com/

With one exception the songs performed by Uriah Heep tonight are either very, very old or very, very new. Apart from ‘Too Scared To Run’, when the band completely re-invented its sound in the early 80s, the set is either songs from the band’s classic early 70s Byron- fronted era or from the band’s latest album Living The Dream.

After experimenting with a more modern sound (the 80s production sheen of the band’s albums from that period now sounds terribly dated, ironically) with the Heep of today it is forever 1972 – in all its progged up, Hammond pounding, era-defining glory. And that is exactly how we love it!

Vocalist Bernie Shaw and Keyboard player Phil Lanzon may have only come on board in the mid 80s – a good decade after the band’s golden period of the early 70s – but they completely get what the classic Heep sound is all about and know exactly what to deliver, whether that’s on songs originally performed by David Byron and Ken Hensley or songs from their latest album. Following the retirement and tragic death of Lee Kerslake and Trevor Bolder respectively, drummer Russell Gilbrook and bass-player Davey Rimmer have also prove worthy additions to the band. Tracks like set opener ‘Grazed by Heaven’ from their recent album sit neatly alongside those from the Demons & Wizards and Look at Yourself albums.

When it comes to introducing one of the real highlights of the set, Mick Box recalls the time the band were in the studio but he had to take a few days out due to contracting some sort of bug. When he returned the band had worked up three separate pieces. Box, however, observed that all three were in the same key and suggested joining the them together and adding a dramatic introduction to create something really special. ‘July Morning’ was born. The band deliver a truly majestic rendition tonight. That’s followed by a much less complex but no less memorable ‘Lady In Black’, Box donning his acoustic guitar and the crowd all joining in with this folky strum-along.

Back for a quick encore of ‘Sunrise’ and the glorious ‘Easy Livin’ the band have certainly delighted their Bexhill audience tonight.

http://www.uriah-heep.com/newa/index.php

Set-list:

Grazed by Heaven
Too Scared to Run
Living the Dream
Take Away My Soul
Rainbow Demon
Rocks in the Road
Gypsy
Look at Yourself
July Morning
Lady in Black
Sunrise
Easy Livin’

Related reviews:

Uriah Heep, London 2014
Uriah Heep at Giants of Rock 2018