All posts by Darren Johnson

About Darren Johnson

PR, writing, campaigning and blogging

Bernie Tormé 1952-2019: a true guitar legend

I first became aware of Bernie Tormé as the colourful high-octane guitarist with Gillan back in 1981 when I was 15, when the band’s cover of ‘New Orleans’ was zooming up the charts. Bernie’s utterly distinctive, fuzzed-up, glam-punk, hard-riffing, rock guitar was as much an intrinsic part of that band’s sound as Ian Gillan’s vocals.

A year or two later I caught Bernie live couple of times with his post-Gillan outfit Electric Gypsies for two incendiary gigs at Clouds in Preston. The second of these gigs led to my first meeting with the man himself. A small group of us hung back after the gig and I was to discover what a warm-hearted and engaging man this was. This was someone who took the trouble to chat to a bunch of half-pissed teenagers, who joked around with us but who took our questions seriously and seemed genuinely moved by our enthusiasm. And that night Bernie signed my copy of Electric Gypsies for me – which I still have.

Fast forward thirty-odd years and, following a couple of equally incendiary gigs at London’s Borderline, the indefatigable Peter Cook put me in touch with Bernie and I ended up being approached by him to do the PR for his Dublin Cowboy album. A few months ahead of the release date I’d been gearing up the publicity for the launch of the crowdfund appeal. However, such was the unwavering support and love coming from Bernie’s fans, that the funding target was reached in less than nine hours on day one. It was a joy to work on the campaign for the album and I saw at first-hand Bernie’s sincerity and generosity in the way he engaged with fans. Dublin Cowboy deservedly attracted some great reviews and Bernie gave some great interviews but when I sent my invoice for the amount we agreed at the end of the campaign he emailed me back to tell me to alter the invoice because he wanted to pay me more.

A generous, warm-hearted man as well as a wonderful, unique musician and a superb showman, Bernie Tormé will be greatly missed by many. A true guitar legend.

Darren Johnson

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Folk: album review – Dan Rauchwerk ‘We Are More Than What We Leave Behind’

Part of New York-base folk band The Lords of Liechtenstein, the harmony vocals of Dan Rauchwerk, in tandem with his brother Noah, have hitherto drawn comparisons with the Everlys. Now he’s doing a Don (or is it a Phil?) and branching out into a solo career. We Are More Than We Leave Behind represents Rauchwerk’s first album released under his own name.

Witty, quick-fire, thought-provoking lyrics reveal a real gift for storytelling. Whether real or imagined we are introduced to some intriguing and compelling characters in Rachwerk’s quirky ten-song alternative history lesson. Mrs McLaughlin is cautionary tale about war and young men signing up but rather than ending in death and mourning like so many folk songs it finishes with the would-be soldier’s mother visiting the recruiting sergeant to give him a piece of her mind. Victoria, meanwhile, “a devil to the Irish, grandmother to the Czar” is a wry look at the legacy of empire.

There is an attractive quirkiness to the music, too, with Rauchwerk’s collection of old instruments including a vintage parlour guitar, an oversized mandola and an Irish button accordeon all being heard on the album. Kyle Joseph on bass guitars and keyboards, Sam Kestenbaum on keyboards, and Spencer Inch on bodhran and assorted percussion assist Rauchwerk, along with Caitlin Mahoney on additional vocals.

Strong melodies and captivating lyrics, We Are More Than What We Leave Behind provides a modern and endearing take on traditional folk storytelling.

Released: December 2018

https://danrauchwerk.com/

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Singer songwriter: album review – Mike Silver ‘Alchemy: Fifty Years In Song’

The independent label Folkstock has had an enviable record in bringing young up and coming artists like Kelly Oliver to wider attention. Here, however, Folkstock give us a 16-track career retrospective of singer-songwriter Mike Silver.

As the press blurb itself notes: “Despite a few brushes with national media, Mike has remained the preserve of the initiated.” Such brief brushes include a session for Bob Harris on Radio 1 in the 70’s and airplay on radio 2 for his 2003 song ‘Not a Matter of Pride’ but I must admit Silver had completely bypassed my radar. It’s to the credit of Helen Meissner’s Folkstock label, therefore, in aiming to redress that.

Learning to play guitar at a young age, successfully auditioning for a place in John ‘Johnny Remember Me’ Leyton’s backing band at 16 but turning it down for the security of the South Eastern Gas Board instead, Silver eventually found his artistic calling and re-invented himself as an acoustic singer-songwriter in 1969.

Mike Silver for BBC profile

This compilation therefore marks Silver’s fifty years in this guise and is a fitting celebration of his undoubted talents as both a songwriter and performer. Some beautifully intricate guitar work, thought-provoking lyrics and a warm and engaging vocal delivery make Alchemy: Fifty Years In Song a pleasure to listen to.

Personally selected by Silver, the tracks span from 1984 through to 2012 (Were there licensing issues with accessing the earlier material or has Silver simply made a personal preference for songs from his later era?) Highlights include the addictively catchy ‘Walk Away’, the self-pitying sing-along drinking song ‘Oh Doctor’ and the poignant and beautifully played ‘Breaking the Silence’ reflecting on the plight of Europe’s Jewish population in the 1930s and 40s.

A fine singer-songwriter and something of an unsung hero these past few decades, Mike Silver and his Alchemy compilation are well worth checking out by anyone with an interest in the acoustic singer-songwriter genre.

Released by Folkstock Records 26th March 2019

http://mikesilver.co.uk/

Alchemy cover art Mike Silver

Photo credit: artist publicity

Folk: album review – Julie Felix ‘Rock Me Goddess’

Although born and brought up in the US Julie Felix made the UK at home and established herself as a folk singer of repute in the mid 1960s, embracing the hippy scene and being a regular fixture on TV screens. Now aged 80, Felix is still singing and recording.

A personal message in the album’s sleeve-notes is all star signs, goddesses and mother earth, accompanied by a picture, of course, of a serene-looking Felix in the lotus position. You suspect her spiritual home, in time and in place, will forever be located somewhere equidistant between Woodstock and Greenham Common. No-one but no-one, however, should doubt the sincerity of Felix’s message nor the importance of the themes she tackles. Songs about ecological destruction, war, peace, power and love loom large, the anger and the hope embodied in the lyrics more relevant and certainly more urgent than ever before.

Woman, with its heartfelt message of female empowerment, is Felix’s perspective on the rise #MeToo movement. Tiger Eyes, meanwhile, takes on modern consumer culture and includes some amazing guitar soloing from guest guitarist, Doug Nofsinger. Amongst the other guests, Peter Knight (Steeleye Span, Gigspanner) provides some beautiful violin on three tracks, including a cover of Knight’s own Lullaby Kiss.

The protest singer personified, today’s world has not left Julie Felix any shortage of issues to protest about. Rock Me Goddess sees her in fine voice continuing to speak (or at least sing) truth to power.

Released: October 2018 by Talking Elephant

https://www.juliefelix.co.uk/

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Hard rock: EP review – Animal Drive ‘Back To The Roots’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Following their well-received 2018 debut, and to give impatient fans something ahead of a promised new album, Croatian hard rockers Animal Drive have recorded a covers EP. The four-track EP comprises covers of Roxette’s ‘The Look’, Whitesnake’s ‘Judgement Day’, Skid Row’s ‘Monkey Business’ and Warrant’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.

Although formed in 2012 the band it took the band some six years before they released their debut album Bite! The polished professionalism of Animal Drive’s hard rocking debut, which drew comparisons with the likes of Whitesnake and Skid Row, showed the wisdom of their decision not to rush straight into the studio. However, given the positive impact of their first album I can fully understand why they now feel the pressure to get something into the hands of newly-won over fans, while they await the arrival of a follow-up. A covers EP makes perfect sense, therefore, but why these four songs in particular? Lead vocalist Dino Jelusic explains, “People used to, and still do sometimes, compare Animal Drive to Skid Row and their “Slave To The Grind” era. That song (Monkey Business) opens the “Slave To The Grind” album and it’s a monster jam, so it felt like a logical fit. Of the other covers on “Back To The Roots”, Jelusic continues, “the other three songs are “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Warrant, “Judgement Day” by Whitesnake and “The Look” by Roxette. I’ve always wanted to cover “The Look” in a heavy way, so it was cool to finally do it. We are big Whitesnake fans and had to go for one of their more epic jams. The Warrant song is one of their absolute best and shows what a great songwriters Jani and the band are, plus it’s a great fit for a heavy band to cover.”

The biggest surprise in terms of the choice of material is the inclusion of late 80s pop hit ‘The Look’ here given a hard rock makeover. It was clear from the songwriting on the debut album , however, that Jelusic has an ear for a catchy melody. And no-one can deny the catchiness of this particular little ditty when it was first released. Once Jelusic’s Coverdale-esque vocals and the band’s trademark polished, melodic hard rock sound is applied the band transform it into a great, great rock song. ‘Judgement Day’ is a fairly faithful if slightly more rocked-up cover of the Whitesnake original and their version of Skid Row’s ‘Monkey Business’ is hardly a million miles away from the original, either. However, both tracks demonstrate that these young guys can really play and celebrate two of their biggest influences as well. The ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ cover is more of a departure from the original and, once again, really gives Animal Drive a chance to do the magic with their trademark sound.

If you are tempted to purchase something from Animal Drive I would definitely recommend you start with their album Bite! but if you have it already and are clearly won over and hungry for more then this EP is worth checking out.

Released by: Frontiers 5th April 2019

http://animal-drive.com/

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Related review:

Album review: Animal Drive – Bite!

 

Live review: Seth Lakeman at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 7/3/19

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

It doesn’t seem too long ago that Seth Lakeman was being hotly-tipped as one of the young rising stars of the contemporary folk scene and, back in 2005, was being nominated for the Mercury Prize. Now in his early forties and a father of three, but still maintaining those boy-band good looks, he’s become one of the folk scene’s seasoned figures and has no problem packing out the De La Warr.

For this tour he’s supported by singer-songwriter, Carus Thompson. The singer/guitarist does a nice line in Aussie-flavoured Americana, including a love song that was inspired by playing in a maximum security German prison. Once part of Australian folk/country band Carus & The True Believers, Thompson’s music is well worth checking out.

Lakeman has the audience onside from the first song and takes us on a thrilling but thoroughly modern folk-rock romp. The set-list includes material from his 2018 album The Well Worn Path, as well as highlights from across his now-considerable back-catalogue – both traditional and self-composed.

Set highlights include ‘The Educated Man’, a song from the new album which is surely destined to be an audience favourite for many years to come. Another favourite is ‘Portrait of My Wife’ a traditional ballad that Lakeman initially performed as part of the Full English folk collaboration back in 2013. It’s just Lakeman and his fiddle right at the front of the stage for this – the band and even the microphone are dispensed with. The impact is stunning and the crowd join in the song’s chorus of ‘raise your glass to the one you love’.

Accompanying Lakeman, who alternates variously between fiddle and acoustic guitar, are Kit Hawes on guitar, Ben Nichols on double bass and Evan Jenkins on drums. Nichols’ bass playing produces a deep and powerful sound and Jenkins’ drumming really gives the band that folk rock oomph. However, it’s the interplay between Lakeman and Hawes that proves crucial to the dynamic on stage tonight. Whether it’s acoustic guitar versus electric, banjo versus acoustic, electric versus fiddle or acoustic versus fiddle it’s never less than totally captivating and the sound from the two musicians is glorious.

Lakeman tells us we’re the best audience of the tour so far and the band are clearly delighted with the response they get from the De La Warr tonight.

I volunteer for this project called Gig Buddies which is about giving adults with a learning disability opportunities to have an independent social life and I invited my gig buddy, Glenn, along to accompany me to this gig. The final verdict on Seth Lakeman’s performance tonight, therefore, goes to Glenn and he writes: “I enjoyed seeing Seth Lakeman and I love his songs. He was fantastic and I got to meet him afterwards.”

(Additional reporting by Glenn Harris)

https://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/

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Related reviews:

Seth Lakeman at Folk by the Oak 2014

Americana: album review – Elles Bailey ‘Road I Call Home’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

After attracting a slew of favourable reviews with her debut album, 2017’s Wildfire, the Bristol-based singer-songwriter Elles Bailey is back with a follow-up. Like its predecessor, recorded primarily in Nashville Road I Call Home is a slice of soulful, classy, bluesy Americana. With her husky, emotive vocals and a definite ear for a good song it’s not difficult to see why Bailey has been picking up fans and rave reviews across a range of genres – from rock to folk to country to blues.

Backed by some top class musicians from the Nashville recording scene the album just oozes professionalism and quality. ‘Hell Or High Water’ is a suitably dramatic slice of country rock to open the album, while songs like ‘Little Piece Of Heaven’ and ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’ perfectly capture the spirit of modern Americana. Some of the tracks, like ‘Deeper’ and ‘Foolish Hearts’ with their deliciously soulful organ and bags and bags of brass give an impression of being recorded not in Nashville but some 200 miles away and a several decades ago in Memphis’s Stax studio. But it’s that skilful yet instinctive blend of influences that has helped Bailey build a solid fan-base. ‘What’s The Matter With You’ meanwhile is a slow, smoky, heartfelt blues while the rock influences come more to the fore in the title track ‘Road I Call Home’ with its superb guitar solo.

Co-writing credits include renowned UK hit songwriter Roger Cook, these days firmly part of the Nashville music scene, along with Nashville’s own Bobby Wood who has written for Elvis Presley and Dusty Springfield among others. Bailey explains the process as follows: “Road I Call Home is a year’s snapshot of being on the road. Eight of the 11 songs were written in two months. I’m very honest to what I write, and right now that’s what I know. I live in that constant state of tiredness, but I love it. I feel so blessed to live this life.”

An incredible voice, some great songwriting and some seriously good musicianship, with Road I Call Home Elles Bailey and her friends in Nashville have given us an impressive album.

Released by Outlaw Music March 8th 2019

https://www.ellesbailey.com/

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

It’s often remarked upon what a uniquely thriving local live music scene Hastings has. Nowhere is this more in evidence than the annual Fat Tuesday extravaganza. Taking in over 250 separate performances from over sixty different bands across more than twenty-five venues over five days simply a whirlwind of live music. And most of these gigs are completely free.

Headlining it all this year is none other than rock ‘n’ roll legend and former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock. Like the other bands performing on the final night – Fat Tuesday itself – Matlock plays several twenty minute sets in several different venues tonight. But, as the main headliner, he also gets an additional forty-minute slot after the other bands have finished, courtesy of the Carlisle.

While Matlock is whizzing around these other venues it gives me the chance to catch another couple of bands in the Carlisle first: the excellent Hastings-based punk-folk outfit Matilda’s Scoundrels and then the Tunbridge Wells outfit Suncharmer with their brand of riffed-up indie rock.

Both bands are well received but the place soon gets properly crammed in time for Matlock. Playing a mix of Sex Pistols classics (‘God Save The Queen’, ‘Pretty Vacant’), recent solo material (‘Keep On Pushing’, ‘Fisherman’s Friends’) and classic cover versions such as Bowie’s ‘John I’m Only Dancing’ and The Small Face’s ‘All Or Nothing’. With a great band behind him (bass, vocals and electric guitar) and Matlock on vocals and acoustic guitar, they cram a pile of great rock’n’roll into their forty-minute set. Matlock’s adulation of the rockabilly era is apparent throughout – but for all the year zero posturing back in the day, punk was always about rediscovering the format of the classic three-minute rock ‘n’ roll song. It’s a superb performance that goes down perfectly with a suitably raucous crowd.

There had been other highlights from the weekend for me, of course. Saturday – branded as the unplugged day – saw me catch more of Matilda’s Scoundrels, some Indie-ish pop-rock from Elephant Radio, a gloriously insane set from Brass Funkeys and an excellent acoustic set from indie-folk singer-songwriter Trevor Moss. But having a genuine legend to headline was a fitting end to the madness that is Fat Tuesday.

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

http://glenmatlock.co.uk/

 

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Related posts:

Fat Tuesday 2017 preview

Fat Tuesday unplugged 2017 review

Dodgy at Fat Tuesday 2017 review

 

Welcome to Darren’s music blog

Darren’s music blog. Five years old today. Something I started on 8th March 2014. 286 posts and 119,000 visits later I’d like to thank everyone for their support and express my gratitude to anyone who’s found anything of interest here over the past five years.

Darren's music blog

Live reviews, album reviews and more. From classic rock to contemporary folk.

Welcome to my music blog. I have fairly varied tastes in music: folk, rock, glam, heavy metal and more. My first ever gig was the Donington Monsters of Rock festival (Slade, Whitesnake, AC/DC…) back in 1981, aged 15. Live music has been an important part of my life ever since but, finding I have more free evenings than I used to, one of the things I was determined to do was see more live bands.  I am using this blog to post my reviews of many of the gigs I’ve been to, as well as occasional album reviews. Feedback is welcome so do please feel free to leave any comments.

For those bemused by the eclectic nature of the artists covered here, let me try and explain. Since being a teenager I have always enjoyed discovering and…

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Metal: album review – Spirits Of Fire ‘Spirits Of Fire’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Spirits Of Fire is the new outfit fronted by ex-Judas Priest singer Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens.

A supergroup of sorts the project brings together Owens (ex-Judas Priest, Iced Earth), guitarist Chris Caffery (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, Death) and drummer Mark Zonder (ex-Fates Warning, Warlord).

Hailed as “classic Priest meets Savatage” guitarist, Chris Caffery, says: “My influences for writing on this record were the bands that we were and are still in! I wanted to write songs that Priest, Savatage, Testament, and Fates Warning fans would like. But, I wanted them to have a personality of their own as well. To give it a vibe that was Spirits of Fire.”

And do they achieve that? There’s a satisfyingly Judas Priest-like vibe to the Spirits Of Fire album and it’s a great slice of classic heavy metal: well-written songs, powerful vocals, dynamic riffs and a thunderous rhythm section. Opening with a furious ‘Light Speed Marching’ it nicely sets the template for the album as a whole and showcases Owen’s considerable vocal range. Title track ‘Spirits Of Fire’, which ended up also providing a name for the band itself, is another furious assault with some nice soloing from Caffery.

Just like on a classic Priest album where you will typically find the odd slower number, here we get the excellent ‘A Game’ and the anthemic ‘Alone in the Darkness’ the latter of which closes the album, both tracks taking the tempo down while sacrificing none of the heaviness.

The whole Spirits Of Fire project has been masterminded by LA-based producer Roy Z who has worked with the likes Bruce Dickinson, Halford and Tribe Of Gypsies and does a sterling job on production duties here. Eleven tracks of classic, polished heavy metal – this debut from Spirits Of Fire is well worth checking out.

Released: 22.2.19 by Frontiers

https://www.facebook.com/SpiritsOfFireBand/

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