Category Archives: exhibitions, books and music culture

Review: For One Night Only – Jim Lea at the Robin 2, Bilston 5/11/17

Back in 2002 Slade’s Jim Lea performed a unique one-off solo gig at Bilston’s Robin 2 venue, the only solo gig of his entire career. Now, some fifteen years later, Jim was to take to the stage at the Robin once again for a Q and A session for fans that would immediately follow an official first screening of the new live DVD from that gig.

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Today’s event was not going to be a live performance we were all warned when we booked: “Unfortunately due to Jim’s illness he will be unable to perform musically at this event.” That was fine I thought to myself. It will still be something special, a unique Slade event, a chance to hear directly from Jim and, for me, an opportunity to see him up on a stage for the first time since I saw Slade on the My Oh My tour when I was still at sixth form.

The film itself is a nice memento. It’s fan-shot footage from the audience rather than a professional film but the quality is considerably better than the average blurry, wonky you-tube concert video and, coupled with the official CD soundtrack of the concert and some brand new interview segments with Jim as he reflects back on that night, it’s definitely a must-have for fans.

The DVD screening is then followed by a short warm-up from poet, Paul Cookson. Dubbed Slade’s official Poet Laureate by Noddy Holder, Cookson delivers two wonderfully affectionate Slade-themed poems, including one written especially for today. And then it’s time for the main event. Jim Lea takes the stage to warm applause as he begins his Q&A session with local BBC radio presenter, Paul Franks.

While there are many oft-repeated Slade anecdotes that fans, and many chat-show viewers, will have heard many, many times before from his less publicity-shy erstwhile band-mates, Jim delves deep with his recollections today. Fascinating insights emerge: such as his wife Louise being an uncredited co-writer of Slade’s 1974 hit Everyday; about the piano refrain in How Does It Feel being the very first thing he ever composed; about how the violin solo in the band’s first number one Coz I Luv You originally emerged out of his regular dressing room jamming sessions with Noddy Holder when they were channelling the spirit of Django Reinhardt. And for this famously private musician who has studiously eschewed the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle he also told us a lot about himself today. “Why now?” he was asked. “Well I realised I was no longer shy any more!” he confided. Sharing with the audience that he now understands he is probably autistic (although he’s never had any formal diagnosis) he suggests that this has likely been a key factor in both his levels of creativity and his introspection.

Always the most thoughtful, the most creative and the most fascinating member of Slade, notwithstanding that all four members played an irreplaceable part, Jim Lea was the genuine musical genius of the band. In the DVD he recollects the time he was asked by late manager, Chas Chandler, why he became a bass player when, like Hendrix, he was such an instinctive natural on lead guitar. “I didn’t want to get noticed,” Jim replied.

And so, as the Q&A draws to a close, I start thinking what a special day today has been: getting to pose with Jim’s bass in the morning after much, much queuing, seeing the inaugural screening of Jim’s DVD on the very stage where it was originally filmed, hearing Jim share his fascinating insights into the band and, of course, getting to meet lots of fellow Slade fans.

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And then it all started to get ever so slightly odd on stage. Jim went off stage to get something. Something about some notes for the final question host, Paul Franks, said. But then microphone stands start appearing. Surely he can’t be? He can’t be playing for us can he? Oh my God, there he is back on stage with his guitar. Is he really going to do this?

He’d not got a full band he confessed but he had recorded some backing tapes to play along to and he wanted to do something special to finish the session, he said. And he did. Launching into a blistering version of Cum On Feel The Noize, he rocked out on lead guitar and sang for all he was worth in his first public performance since that last Robin gig fifteen years ago. Gudbuy T Jane and We’ll Bring The House Down quickly followed and, with an ecstatic demand for an encore, he finishes by giving the emotional crowd of Slade fans Mamma Weer All Crazee Now.

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We had been warned not to expect a live performance. But he certainly gave us one, and not some gentle, reflective, soul-searching, acoustic reinterpretation but a full-on, amped-up, raucous rock performance that so perfectly captured the spirit of Slade.

The man who didn’t want to get noticed certainly got noticed today.

Thank you Jim for what you did for us today. We wish you the best of health in your ongoing treatment and we thank you for all the music you gave us in the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band the world has ever known.

http://www.jimleamusic.com/

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Related posts:
Slade at Donington 1981
Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the greatest Christmas record ever made
Slade UK and Pouk Hill Prophetz at Wolverhampton
Slade at White Rock Theatre, Hastings
Slade at Giants of Rock, Minehead

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A tribute to my dad and an appreciation of a huge, life-long, deep musical education

Ok, so it’s not the usual theme for my blog but ten years after my dad passed away I want to pay tribute to him and the wonderful, passionate, life-long love of music he helped give me. This is the speech I gave at his funeral ten years ago:

“On behalf of the family I would like to thank everyone for coming today and paying their respects to Alan Johnson, my dad. Of course, I have no need to remind any of you what a lovely man my dad was – what a sense of fun he would bring to every occasion, what a great help he was to everyone and what a fantastic friend.

As his family we got all of that and much, much more. He was a wonderful father to myself and Lisa, a wonderful step-dad to Ann and a wonderful grandad to Rosa and Isabella. But most of all he was a wonderful husband to Jackie – two people who not only loved each but loved every minute of each other’s company.

Growing up, my early memories of my dad was when he was working in a bakery then a sweet factory. Now obviously it’s every kid’s dream to have a dad who baked cakes and made sweets for a living but unfortunately neither of these were well-paid jobs. I remember him and my mum spending night after night assembling stacks and stacks of toy watches and at Christmas time sticking wings on Christmas tree fairies to earn some extra money. But as a child I was totally oblivious to any financial hardship. There was always so much love and so much fun when my dad was around I only found out much later on how tight money was at that time.

One thing I have certainly inherited from my dad is his love of music. I remember being ill in bed when I was about six or seven. In those days kids’ bedrooms were not what they are today – there were no TVs, stereos or computer games. But my dad carried his record player up to my room with a big stack of records so I had something to do. I remember playing all the records until I found the one I liked best and then playing it over and over again. My dad heard what I was doing and came up and we listened to it together. And we enjoyed listening to music together ever since. The list of bands I have seen with my dad reads like a who’s who of British Rock: Slade, Status Quo, the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Whitesnake, Uriah Heep and Dr Feelgood. And I am not even going to mention the annual family outings to see Gary Glitter every Christmas….

I remember the first time they went on a cruise. Jackie told me how they had been invited to have dinner at the captain’s table. Jackie asked the stewardess why, of all the people on the ship they were to be given this honour. The stewardess explained to Jackie that the Captain liked to surround himself with interesting and unusual people, and that her husband was the first person he’d ever seen playing air guitar in the ship’s ballroom.

Something else I have inherited from my dad is love of a good debate. My dad had an opinion on everything (and you would often get to hear all of them in a single evening!). He was always proud of my political career but I think he was also slightly envious that anyone could be paid for arguing with people as a full time job and not just have to make do with doing it in the evening as a hobby. But there was a much deeper side to it than this. Like his parents before him he really did care about the world about him. He cared about justice. He cared about making life fairer and that is something I have been able to take forward in my own work. And though he argued with everyone I don’t remember him ever falling out with anyone.

Something I have not inherited from my dad, sadly, was his DIY skills. No challenge was ever too big for him. Whether it was rebuilding the battered bodywork of his Ford Anglia with hardboard and bits of wood – respraying it and painting on some home made “go-faster” stripes and it was as good as new. Or a few years ago when there were damp problems in his badly-built kitchen extension – he simply removed the bottom few layers of bricks, jacked up the entire kitchen on car jacks and then replaced the bricks. But it was not just do it yourself for himself – it was do it for everyone else as well. I know there must be so many people here today who remember him doing things for them – fitting new washing machines, helping with wiring. He just loved helping people.

It was a life cut tragically short. But it was not a life of regrets. He absolutely lived life to the full and he brought so much fun to every occasion and so much pleasure to those around him. I am proud of him. Goodbye dad – my friend.”

Darren Johnson 30 October 2007

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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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Book Review: ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ by Daniel Rachel

‘The music and politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge’

For someone like me who has long had a burning passion for both music and a range of progressive causes ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ was an interesting read. It is written as an ‘oral history’ which means that you don’t necessarily want to read it continuously for hours on end, given it is just one long succession of quotes from key players rather than being wrapped up into an overarching narrative and analysis. Nevertheless, it is an absolutely fascinating read. It covers the period from the late 70s to around 1990 with insights into the Rock Against Racism movement, the bands brought together under the 2 Tone label and finally the Red Wedge initiative which worked to try and build support for Labour in the run-up 1987 General Election.

In terms of how well popular music and political activism can mix the main message I came away with from this book is that it can be a great force for change on particular issues at particular moments in time (Rock Against Racism, Free Nelson Mandela) but it all starts to get a bit complicated and a bit messy when you try and combine it with party politics and a long-term programme (Red Wedge). There are real parallels here with John Harris’s ‘The Last Party’ which covers Britpop’s flirtation with New Labour a decade later.

Published 2016 Picador

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http://danielrachel.com/

Review: ‘Their Mortal Remains’ Pink Floyd Exhibition at the V&A

I was raving about the Rolling Stones exhibition last year, saying they have utterly rewritten the template for what a successful rock memorabilia exhibition should look like and set a new global standard. So when a Pink Floyd exhibition was announced at the V&A I was expecting something really creative. Surely, an arty band like Floyd, and one that has always loved spectacle and grand statements, wouldn’t allow themselves to be outdone by the Stones?

The Pink Floyd exhibition is meticulously curated and a fascinating insight into the band’s history but for the most part I found it very, very traditional. Whereas, the Stones went for breathtaking recreations of their squalid Edith Grove flat, of the studio where many Jagger/Richards classics were laid down and of the very private world of the Stones’ backstage area, Floyd have gone for things displayed neatly in glass cases in chronological order. Don’t get me wrong I loved seeing these items but an exact recreation of the interior of the UFO Club in 1967 or a mock-up of the studio where Dark Side Of The Moon was recorded there was none.

Towards the end of the tour we did get some 3D installations of images from The Wall and Battersea Power Station – and the room devoted to the sculpture from the Division Bell album cover was particularly poignant. Overall, however, while I felt with The Stones I was being taken on a very personal journey through the life of the band, with Pink Floyd I never really felt much more than a visitor to a museum looking at some artefacts, albeit very, very interesting ones.

https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/pink-floyd

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Interview: Diggeth – The Dutch heavy metal band with the ‘acoustic guitar test’

This interview was originally published by the Get Ready To Rock Website here

Some bands, regardless of how big they they are, what size venue they are playing or how many albums they have released just manage to grab you straight away with hard, punchy, instantly memorable rock tunes. When I wandered into Hastings’ historic rock pub, The Carlisle, with an old friend last summer I was immediately taken with the band who came on stage a few minutes later – Diggeth.

It’s all down to the “acoustic guitar test” claims guitarist and lead singer, Harald: “Everything we write we always have a criteria. We must be able to play it on an acoustic guitar. That’s the test. Because it is very easy to write all kinds of guitar riffs and string them together and on electric guitar everything sounds big. But we always do the test, grab an acoustic guitar and sing into it. Is there a song?”

Diggeth are Harald te Grotenhuis (guitar/vocals), Alco Emaus (bass) and Casper Bongers (drums) and are a metal three-piece from the eastern side of the Netherlands. I catch up with the band in after a sound-check prior to a return to the Carlisle stage later that evening as part of a UK tour.

The songs

Citing influences like AC/DC, Metallica and Lynyrd Skynyrd, songs like ‘Kings of the Underworld’ and ‘See You In Hell’ (from the band’s last album) have all the hallmarks of classic metal anthems and stand up well alongside those of much better-known bands.

They explain a bit more about the process behind them.

Harald “We jam a lot together. We are really a jamming band. I guess like the classic bands did. It’s not that difficult to come up with all kinds of intricate guitar riffs but the thing is to write something you can sing over. My wife is my best critic. Sometimes I play her a song and sometimes she says to me well it’s still in my head after a day or two and sometimes she says nah I’ve completely forgot about it. Sometimes we come together and write something on the spot. Sometimes it’s something I’ve worked on for days or weeks.

Casper: “We spend a lot of time jamming together with the three of us getting the sound, the bass, the whole dynamic.”

Alco: “We have a certain frame that we work in and we have a certain sound. That’s the starting point.”

Harald: “We always try to keep it as simple as we can. We’ve played in bands before and we were always gluing stuff together you know, riffing: A riff, B riff, C and here we’re gonna do a break but that to me is like a puzzle. If you listen to a classic band like the Beatles or the Stones or Creedence Clearwater Revival they have memorable songs. It’s the same thing with playing a guitar solo. You can play a lot of notes and do all kinds of techniques and it’s amazing if you can do that. But to me the best is if you can play a melody that sticks in your head. So that if you are on your bicycle to work tomorrow morning and you whistle that melody that’s the thing for me.”

Alco: “In a three-piece band the drums and the bass have to be tight, all together. So Harald can do his singing and when he plays a solo we go to the back of the sound a little bit but we still provide solid bass and drums.”

Harald: “What I like about it is sometimes I come up with stuff and as soon as he starts playing the bass to it and the drums come in nine times out of ten we have already started to simplify it. OK I came up with something and it’s already too much – bring it back to something that is memorable and sticks. There are many bands that play music and you have to listen a couple of times before you get it and we sometimes do that, too, but I also like it something that grabs you.”

Casper: “When the first note is like woah!”

The Band

Diggeth has been around since 2004 but Harald and Alco have been playing together in bands even before that, for around 17/18 years now. Casper, a couple of decades younger than the other two, is the new boy in Diggeth. Becoming a member two years ago was something of a dream come true for him.

Casper: “I first saw Diggeth when I was 13 and I was like wow! What the fuck is this? I was so excited. I had been playing drums and at home in the basement with the drum-kit. I would put on the first LP and play along with it. And I went to every show with my neighbour in my home town and one time, one new year’s day I think, they asked they asked me to join them for a jam in the studio, just for fun. Then about five years later I was with the band as a stand in drummer. Twenty songs and one week to learn them…”

Alco: “We recorded our last album ‘Kings of the Underworld’ and we got a lot of gigs lined up to promote the album -big ones, small ones and some festivals. But then our drummer decided to quit. We asked Casper to help us out and after two or three shows he joined us officially.”

Harald: ”With a three-piece band everything just has to be right, especially the drums and the bass. It gives me as guitarist and singer a freedom to do all kinds of stuff. It has to be spot on. Since we have had Caspar in the band it’s given us a lot of energy. It’s like wow things are taking off. We are playing a lot more gigs. We have just finished the basic tracks for our next albums. We have recorded ten new songs. We built our own studio last year. That gives us a lot of freedom. And now all of a sudden there are labels and bookers that are interested.”

Alco: “We are getting noticed.”

The shows

This is the band’s second tour in the UK, following an initial series of gigs last summer where I first encountered them

Harald: “We played our first gig [of this tour] on Thursday in London and there were people in but they we in the corners and we said OK let’s see what happens when we start to play people were like woah what’s happening and all of a sudden there were all the people in front of us. Everyone was paying attention.”

Alco: “We try to make a show of it.”

Harald: “The people who gave us feedback afterwards were like ‘wow there is something happening between the three of you – it’s good music but it’s also great to watch’ and I think that’s the biggest complement you can get as a band.”

Casper: “Obviously being a rock fan and a metal fan I feel very humbled to be able to come to England with Diggeth and play. All those famous bands that originated here it’s like wow we’re in England.”

Alco: “I never imagined when I was young that at 40 I would be in England, playing with a band playing the music that I love to play. Yesterday someone told us that the place we at in Reading Motorhead had played here and Iron Maiden. And we were like are you kidding me? Amazing.”

Harald: “If someone would have told me thirty years ago that in thirty years you will be playing in England and you will be playing clubs were like Iron Maiden had played I would have gone insane probably.”

The band’s third (as yet untitled) album will be released later this year.

https://www.facebook.com/Diggethmusic/

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Related article:

Review – Diggeth at Hastings 2016

Record Store Day 2017 – live from Music’s Not Dead, Bexhill-on-Sea 22/4/17

My article was originally published by The Stinger here

When he arrived at 7.30am they were snaking around the block confirms Richard, one of the co-owners (along with his business partner Del) of Music’s Not Dead. Bexhill’s independent record store was set for another busy Record Store Day.

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Going some ten years now, with the aim of championing the nation’s remaining independent record stores, Record Store Day has been coming in for a fair bit of stick in recent years. Record companies release a load of limited edition vinyl while punters out to make a fast buck snap it up first thing and then sell it on at vastly inflated prices on ebay later that day. The whole thing is little more than a cynical exercise in profiteering, so the argument goes.

The reality, however, is quite different maintains Richard when I catch up with him during a temporary lull,”There’s always one or two in the queue like that, and you know who they here, but the vast, vast majority are here because they want to buy a record from an artist whose music they love.” He is also keen to stress that it has helped them gain loyal customers who proceed to then come in throughout the year – which was the main motivation for the whole initiative in the first place.

So, in spite of some of the press cynicism, at Music’s Not Dead they are wholehearted champions of Record Store Day and are happily shifting 1,000 units of special limited edition releases to purchasers who are in the main real, genuine fans.

Personally, however, I would no more queue up at a record shop at 7.00am in the morning than I would camp out overnight to buy a cheap sofa in the Boxing Day sales. And while I’ve been a happy participant in numerous Record Store Days, my purchases in recent years have included a second-hand Status Quo Live CD, a stack of half price Blur CDs and the most recent Santana album in bog-standard format, hardly exclusive limited editions any of them. But there is far, far more to Record Store Day than queuing up for limited edition vinyl, a point Richard is keen to stress as I make my way in to Music’s Not Dead around mid-day shortly before the programme of live acts kicks off. “We don’t want it to be just about us filling the till all day. It is also about us giving something back to the community and supporting artists.”

They have an impressive line-up for Record Store Day this year: 80s/90s indie front-man, Pete Astor, performing a solo acoustic set; alt-folk band, Noble Jacks (minus their drummer due to space restrictions); guitar/double bass acoustic duo, Moss & Clarkson; solo Americana artists, Jason McNiff; Nashville-tinged country duo, The Worry Dolls; and headliner, the soulful, folky, bluesy rising star, Emily Barker.

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Trevor Moss who performed as half of Moss & Clarkson today remains an enthusiastic supporter of Record Store Day. As well as the fun of performing he sees it playing a small but significant redistributive role for “the poorer end of the music industry,” as he puts it, whether shops, labels or performers. “We know about some of the things that go on. But on the whole all the people we come across are here because they’re sincere,” he enthuses to me after his well-received performance.

By late afternoon the sun had come out and was shining brightly through the shop windows, parents and their kids lounged about on the floor soaking in the ambience, Jason McNiff gave a lovely laid-back set and somehow it all began to take on the vibe of a very, very minature summer festival.

Emily Barker, the final act of the day, gave an utterly stunning set with selections from her new album recorded in Memphis, including an incredible tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She’s appeared on the small shop-window stage at Music’s Not Dead some half a dozen times now and is also an enthusiastic champion of Record Store Day. She had already performed sets in stores at both Portsmouth and Lewes before turning up in Bexhill. “I had to leave Stroud at 5am this morning. I’ve had four hours sleep but the minute I got in the car and started up the engine this morning I was excited about Record Store Day.”

Certainly the view from where I was standing at Music’s Not Dead was that it was about celebrating independents – labels, stores and artists, it was about a genuine community event and it was definitely very much all about the love of the music.

And today’s purchase? The very unlimited and non-exclusive edition of the new Fairport Convention CD for a tenner – but with cakes, live music and friendly company thrown in for free. You don’t get that at Amazon.

http://musicsnotdead.com/

In praise of fan-led music groups: a Facebook phenomenon

From the ongoing controversy over fake news to the vicious nature of many political discussions on social media, Facebook has been facing a fair bit of criticism lately. If it’s not that, so the criticism goes, then it’s just a long series of tedious updates about what people are eating and random pictures of cats. But, somewhere in the middle there are ways in which Facebook is helping build genuine communities of people who share a passion or interest. Obviously, virtually all music acts these days have their own Facebook page where they share information with fans, but what we have also seen is the significant growth in Facebook discussion groups set up by the fans themselves.

Here we take a look at a number of such groups, from those with just a couple of hundred members to those with tens of thousands, and talk to some of the people involved in setting them up, running them or contributing to them.

Fairporters

Over 3,000 strong Fairporters is the group set up for fans of the folk-rock legends Fairport Convention and attendees of the band’s annual three-day festival at Cropredy. Iain, a regular contributor, reflects: “I think this group is pretty unique as we mostly expect to meet up at some point. It’s certainly the friendliest group of this sort that I’m a member of. Maybe this is why we have to behave! I’ve already met up with many of the people on here at Cropredy and other gigs. There are many more people we hope to meet this year and we’ve made friends with bands as well as fans. Bloody marvellous!”

In a number of Facebook groups not only do fans contribute but you will often find past and present members of the bands themselves contributing. Fairporters is no exception and original Fairport Convention singer Judy Dyble is a regular contributor. “It’s a great way to keep those who are interested in my music up-dated in my musical collaborations and events and to let people know when things are happening and about releases of albums or books or err tea towels, and I try very hard not to overload people with continual repetitive updates. They bore me to bits and I’m sure it bores other people! A lot of my private life is just that – private but I don’t mind giving glimpses into how things occur and possibly why.”

You can find the Fairporters group here

1970-92 Rock & Metal Heaven

Not simply based around one band but a genre, the 1970-92 Rock & Metal Heaven group was started up just over two years ago and has grown dramatically. Founder Jeremy recalls, “I originally started the group up just for around 20 mates that I grew up with in the 80s, to reminisce about the good old days. Then within a month we had 1,000 members and within a year we had 20,000. Now 2 years in we have 32,000 members.”

A common feature of a number of the most successful groups is that even if they start of as a purely online concern they can take on a life of their own and become a community in their own right. Jeremy, “We have yearly group meet-ups for charity. The latest was last week. These also include charity auctions with donations from the likes of Thunder, Saxon, Dan Reed, Kruhser and many more.”

You can find the 1970-92 Rock & Metal Heaven group here

Gaz Coombes Fanfare Family

This is a group for fans of former Supergrass lead singer, Gaz Coombes, and his subsequent solo career. Jackie explains how she came to set up the group. “It was after I had noticed a girl on a Gaz Coombes discussion thread asking about who was going to a particular show and having a couple of people approach me about tagging along that I decided to set up the Gaz Coombes Fanfare Family.” That was three years ago. “I love this work and it felt like a good opportunity to set something up for the fans. There has been a few members that have got to know each other and have met up and become friends outside of the social media side of things. We had a couple of members who because of their similar tastes in music had met up and enjoyed a gig by the band Space.”

You can find the Gaz Coombes Fanfare Family group here

Slade

Mark is one of the co-admins of the Slade Facebook group which is dedicated to celebrating well, what else but Slade! The Facebook group has been in existence some ten years now, although Mark wasn’t actually involved in setting up the group but came in to help run it four years ago. He explains, “I was asked to become admin, after being a member for some time, to help keep some order. That is, to help reign in some of the more outlandish stories. I try to point people to verified factual information. Being a member, and admin, is interesting as there are fans from all over the world, and of all ages. It can be hard sometimes to communicate effectively in a written medium. Handling the disappointment of people when some of the long held beliefs are shattered or dispelled with facts.”

Again there are meet-ups and other real-life spin-offs, “Slade fans do get together at conventions. There was also a “Slade sight seeing tour of London” that people attended. I don’t go to conventions myself but others do.”

You can find the Slade group here

Giants of Rock Minehead

While other discussion groups are formed around a certain band or genre some form around an event. Giants of Rock is a three day classic rock and metal festival that takes place at Butlins Minehead each January. Richard, who co-founded the group after the first Giants of Rock Weekend three years ago, takes up the story of how it took off, “After an excellent weekend at Butlins GOR I, Grant and I began talking on Butlins Facebook page. Through this chat, Grant created the group and invited me to co-run it with him. We started it in February 2014 with numerous Facebook friends of mine being made members of the group, just to get the numbers up in the first place. It does bring people together outside of social media,” says Richard, “including a fan from Paris and personally I have met and made many friends through the group, to go to other gigs with. As the group continues to grow more friendships are made. Interestingly I have had people come and say hello and introduce themselves from the group at different gigs in several different locations. The group continues to grow and Grant and myself have been congratulated, which we appreciate . But it is the members who make the group and we thoroughly enjoy watching our community grow and develop. We even had a family group photo taken this year with 100+ members.”

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Photo credit: SD Photography

You can find the Giants of Rock Minehead group here

Gay Metalheads United

Some of the groups are able to bring like-minded people together who may otherwise find it more difficult to meet. From personal experience you would probably have to go to a lot of gay pubs before you met many punters who were into heavy metal. Likewise, in contrast to, say, a Beyonce gig you might not bump into too many gay guys (or gals) at a metal gig. However, lots of gay metal fans do exist out there and Gay Metalheads United, set up four years ago, now boasts over 1,200 members. Early participant, Jay, and one of the group’s admins is proud of the fact it was the first gay metal group on Facebook. His rationale for the group being set up? He says quite simply, “Metalheads are family.” James, a regular contributor to the group, explains, “Social media in general has been a great platform for interacting with people from across the globe at near instantaneous speed. It’s a good way to meet new people with similar likes and opinions, and debate those of opposing viewpoints.” On the Gay Metalheads Group, James says, “It’s liberating. In other metal groups they’re usually filled with heterosexual men, even Judas Priest. It feels like I have to walk on eggshells in some of these groups. So having a group for gay metalheads allows us to let out hair down.”

You can find the Gay Metalheads United Group here

And so…

While there can be a lot of negativity about social media let’s hear it for all of those who help maintain the vast array of music discussion groups out there: the people who set them up, the fans who contribute, the artists who engage directly with those who buy their albums and attend their gigs, and the admins who sometimes step in if things get a little heated. Thank you!

A love letter to The Byrds – and the part they played in a musical journey

I love folk and have attended numerous folk festivals and countless gigs, taken part in seminars on the history of English folk song and enjoy writing about it, both on here and in other publications. However, unlike rock which I loved from my early teens, my appreciation of folk came later in life. But after getting into heavy metal as teenager in the early 80s, I started exploring back – to 70s glam rock and 60s beat groups.

And the key link that took me on a musical journey that led me to appreciating what folk music, as well as rock music, had to offer was The Byrds. I knew Mr Tambourine Man, of course, that perfect slice of 60s pop-rock and so one day at Preston Record Library I happened across a greatest hits compilation LP of The Byrds, which I decided to borrow. I taped it and soon fell in love with, not only the aforementioned Mr Tambourine Man, but many other gems like Turn! Turn! Turn, Eight Miles High and Mr Spaceman.

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One song, however, particularly intrigued me and that was the strangely-titled but beautifully sung The Bells of Rhymney. I learnt from the sleeve-notes that it was originally recorded by folk singer Pete Seeger, based on much older words commemorating a real-life mining tragedy in a Welsh coal mining village. It was my first taste of seeing folk songs as something that could be touching and moving and not simply something to joke about with your finger in your ear.

Over the years, I switched to CDs and began amassing the entire back catalogue of The Byrds and also began exploring other artists in the American folk rock vein, too. After a while I thought to myself that if I actually enjoyed American folk rock so much, maybe I might actually enjoy English folk rock, too. Fairport Convention followed, then Steeleye Span and then, as I got more and more enthralled with the beautiful singing of Sandy Denny and Maddy Prior and the fascinating stories behind many of the traditional songs they sung, I took the plunge and began getting into actual folk folk not just folk rock. It opened up a whole new chapter of musical appreciation.

While nothing in the world is ever going to stop me enjoying Black Sabbath’s Paranoid or Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize at full volume I am also tremendously grateful to Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke for helping open up the world of folk to me as well. In particular, a big thanks to The Bells of Rhymney which served as my gateway drug from rock to folk.

For Those About To Blog…We Salute You: Darren’s Music Blog

I was interviewed by Jason “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Oatcake” about my music blogging for his Rockin’ Chair blog. You can read it here.

The Rockin' Chair

There are loads of music and reviews blogs out there, more seem to pop-up daily, although you do need to filter out the cut ‘n’ paste reviews ones. Here we have Darren Johnson, of the aptly titled Darren’s Music Blogis well worth a read covering rock, folk and more.

What inspired you to start writing/blogging about music?

I’ve always been passionate about music. However, I was a local councillor for years and it often meant that I when saw gigs advertised I couldn’t go because I’d be at a council meeting or a residents meeting or knocking on doors or something. I was telling my brother that when I stepped down I was going to take advantage of all the free evenings and start going to loads of gigs. He said I should keep a blog of them all. Three years ago that’s how the idea of Darren’s…

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