Category Archives: live reviews

Live review: The Blues Band at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 16/6/18

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

Vocalist and harmonica player, Paul Jones, departed pop/r&b group Manfred Mann for a solo career in the mid 1960s but in the event said career ended up being more about acting than about singing. However, in 1979 he and some friends got together The Blues Band and, almost forty years later, they are still gigging and recording.

The first half of their set at St Mary In The Castle tonight is heavily dominated by songs from the brand new album which the band are completely shameless in endlessly plugging tonight, so much so that it becomes something of a running joke between each song. (For this most civilised bunch of blues hellraisers there is also a plug for the band’s roadie’s art exhibition which comes to Hastings this summer, too.) The relentless plugging seems to have done the trick, however, and there is a very healthy queue to buy the album and get it signed by the five band members during the interval. Indeed, with the quality of songs on offer tonight it is easy to see why the band are understandably very proud of the album. Comprising nine original tracks and three arrangements of old traditional songs ‘The Rooster Crowed’ is released this month.

When we think of the blues musicians we tend to think of the guitar first and foremost, and there is some excellent blues guitar tonight, but the harmonica is as much a signature sound of traditional blues as the guitar and I was struck by how central Jones’ harmonica-playing is to the performance tonight and, moreover, what a brilliantly emotive player he is.

The second half sees the band delve back into some earlier material. However, unlike Jones’ other outfit, The Manfreds (who guitarist, Tom McGuinness, and drummer, Rob Townsend, also tour with) it’s less about rattling through a back catalogue of top ten hits and more about celebrating the history of the blues over many, many decades. Accordingly, band material is interspersed with renowned classics like Fats Domino’s ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’ and Big Joe Turner’s ‘Shake Rattle and Roll’.

Seeing the Blues Band live was a first for me, although I do remember my dad buying their debut album not longer after it came out. However, it is clear the band are able to deliver seemingly effortless musicianship without ever losing that all-important ability to really connect with an audience on an emotional level. A highly enjoyable gig.

http://www.thebluesband.net/

81lXpbklCQL._SL1200_

Advertisements

Live review: Sweet – fiftieth anniversary concert at Spandau Citadel, Berlin 9/6/18

From a small trickle (The Stones, The Beach Boys et al) fiftieth anniversaries are now coming thick and fast in the rock world. 1968 was the year The Sweet were formed so this year it’s their turn and a special celebratory outdoor gig in Berlin.

Guitarist Andy Scott didn’t join until 1970 but, save for a short period in the early 80s when the band was on hiatus, Scott has been consistently touring and flying the Sweet flag for the past five decades. Germany, where Sweet have enjoyed a strong and dependable following over the years seems as good a place as any to host it and fans have flocked from all over Europe, including quite a sizeable contingent from the UK. Indeed most of us from the British contingent are still sitting at the back leisurely quaffing beer when the opening bars of ‘The Stripper’ blast from the PA system. An unexpectedly early start to the gig, we hurriedly race to the stage area to make sure we don’t miss anything.

The band rip into ‘Hellraiser’ but, lest anyone think this is just going to be a standard greatest hits set, we soon get some nice surprises. ‘Turn It Down’ never a big hit in the UK but the heaviest and the rawest of the Chinn-Chapman singles gets a welcome airing, as does ‘Defender’ the band’s most recent single, a sing-along slice of melodic hard rock released in 2015.

Former Sweet guitarist Steve Mann, who was with the band for seven years in the early 90s but was also a key figure in the NWOBHM metal scene in the 80s, is welcomed on stage to guest with the band for much of the gig. And before too long Krokus’s Marc Storace is also introduced to the crowd. Performing ‘American Woman’ and Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’ this is a nice touch, demonstrating how much Sweet in the early 70s helped lay the the foundations for the generation of rock bands that came afterwards. Another guest is German metal vocalist Doro, who delivers a fantastic version of ‘All We Are’ and proves a perfect fit for the Sweet. Harmony vocals, always an intrinsic part of the Sweet sound, are boosted on stage tonight by the additional presence of some of the Rock Meets Classic touring band.

20180609_201816

A visibly moved Scott makes dedications to the original band members who are no longer with us, Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker, but amidst the plethora of special guests one person is notable by his absence. Apparently, attempts were made to get Steve Priest along but to no avail. Whatever has gone on between the two in the past it would have been nice to see the two surviving members of the classic 70s era of the band reunite on stage for the band’s fiftieth but it was not to be. None of this prevented this from being a very, very special gig, however. The band unleash powerful versions of some of their more hard-rocking album classics ‘Windy City’, ‘Set Me Free’ and ‘AC/DC’ – proving to any doubters that there was always far more to this band than just the glam hits.

Acoustic versions of ‘Lady Starlight’ and ‘Lost Angels’ follow, along with a medley of the band’s earliest bubblegum hits. Then, after an energetic workout from long-time drummer Bruce Bisland, it’s time to whip the crowd up with some of the glam-era smashes like ‘Teenage Rampage’ and ‘Wig Wam Bam’, not to mention a majestic ‘Love Is Like Oxygen’ and a fabulously rocking ‘Fox On The Run’, the band’s first self-composed mega-hit.

20180609_203625

There is an electric atmosphere in the huge outdoor courtyard of the historic Spandau Citadel (not the place where Rudolph Hess was sent to prison by the way, which was demolished after his death to prevent it becoming some sort of weird neo-Nazi shrine). Andy Scott and his band-mates (Bruce Bisland, Tony O’Hora and Pete Lincoln) are clearly moved by the reaction they get tonight and there’s soon thunderous cries for an encore. The band oblige, returning to blast out ‘Action’, Blockbuster’ and, finally, ‘Ballroom Blitz’ the latter with Marc Storace and Doro returning to the stage once more to share vocals with the band.

20180609_214447

Sweet (and their special guests) truly give fans a night to remember in Berlin. What a fantastic way to celebrate 50 years of this iconic band.

34860810_1894299917256434_4302479984074686464_o

http://www.thesweet.com/

Related posts:

Sweet at London and Bilston 2017
Sweet with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow
Sweet at Bilston 2016
Sweet at Dartford 2015
Sweet at Bilston 2014
The riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie

Live review: Toledo Steel at The Dev, Camden 12/5/18 (album launch gig for ‘No Quarter’)

The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) gave a shot in the arm to the hard rock/heavy metal scene in the late 70s/early80s. By the second half of the seventies many of the original pioneers from the late 60s/early 70s were on hiatus or running out of steam and a crop of new bands took the can-do spirit of punk and began taking hard rock out of the mega stadiums and into the altogether more accessible pubs and small venues. The scene didn’t last long and apart from a few bands who made it into the mega stadiums themselves, many fell by the wayside. In recent years, however, there has been a renewed interest in the NWOBHM. A number of the old bands have reformed and are out gigging again but, importantly, a whole new generation of younger bands, many of them taking direct musical inspiration from that scene, are once again filling up pubs and small venues, releasing albums and building up solid fan-bases.

One of those bands is Toledo Steel who are releasing their debut album ‘No Quarter’ and, in the guise of playing the official after-show party for the Frost & Fire heavy metal all-dayer at Camden’s Underworld, are at The Dev to formally launch it with a special gig.

Formed in 2011 in Southampton and with two well-received EPs under their belt the five-piece combine melodic vocals, a twin guitar attack, furiously heavy delivery and a ear for a catchy well-written song. Indeed, those very qualities that made NWOBHM bands like Saxon and Iron Maiden such a breath of fresh air back in the late 70s.

With two EPs and a brand new album the band have a really decent stash of powerful material to draw from, their set-list tonight combining earlier material like the utterly unforgettable ‘City Lights’ with material from the new album like the excellent title track ‘No Quarter’ and a song that celebrates the curse of tinnitus ‘Heavy Metal Headache.’

Looking around the crowd packed into this smallish boozer tonight it’s noticeable that there are a fair few of us in our late 40s/early 50s, clearly drawn to this renaissance of classic-sounding metal. But what is more significant is that we are far outnumbered by much younger guys and girls around the same age as the band. This is looking far less like a mid-life crisis driven nostalgia-fest and far more like a genuine movement – and that is a very hopeful sign for the future of rock.

Fast and furious, loud and heavy as hell but never less than tuneful and melodic Toledo Steel are everything you want from a truly great heavy metal band and ‘No Quarter’ is a brilliant debut album.

Released: May 18th 2018

http://www.toledosteel.co.uk/

61BGSrxzTNL

Related review:

Mearfest at the Carlisle, Hastings 2017

Live review: Show Of Hands at St Mary in the Castle 4/5/18

This review was originally published by Hastings Online Times here

Touring together since the early 90s, picking up more awards than you’d care to mention and selling out the Albert Hall on several occasions, Devon’s Show Of Hands are one of the best-known names on the contemporary folk scene. As the venues got bigger and the album sales increased the original duo of Steve Knightley and Phil Beer were joined by double bass virtuosos, Miranda Sykes, along the way.

For this tour however, sans Sykes, the duo have decided to go back to their roots, performing songs from early on in their career. They are ably supported by Geoff Lakeman, father of a whole brood of award-winning folk musicians in Sean, Sam and Seth Lakeman. An engaging folk singer and concertina player with a lifetime’s experience as part of the local west country folk scene, Lakeman entertains the audience as he adopts the bemused persona of someone who finds themselves touring in support of their very first album at the age of 69.

Show Of Hands’ set features songs from Knightly and Beer’s early years of playing together at the Deer Leap folk club in Devon, in addition to songs voted for by their fans from the duo’s first five albums. There’s a nice variety in terms of both traditional material and Knightley’s own songs. As one would expect, it’s also a great showcase for Beer’s musical genius on fiddle, guitar and mandolin. Perhaps more so than a typical Show Of Hands gig, however, the nature of the performance gives the two a real opportunity to talk about their original coming together as a duo, their musical influences and some of the things that had happened to them over the years – both the hilarious and the poignant.

Introducing ‘Seven Yellow Gypsies’ Knightley explains that they were once playing the song to a group of musicians in India when the host musicians responded with a song of their own that had an almost identical melody and subject matter. It’s a lesson in realising however English we might think many of these old folk songs are there is something universal about much traditional music and also reminds us how well-travelled some of these songs are.

It isn’t all music from the early days though. The duo wrap up with a ‘greatest hits’ collection, giving some of their best-known anthems like ‘Arrogance, Ignorance and Greed’, ‘Country Life’ and ‘Cousin Jack’ a good airing. There’s plenty of Life In Show Of Hands yet and, I’m certain, there’ll be plenty more caustic observations of modern-day life but for this tour it was nice, also, to celebrate the duo’s early days with them and to learn a bit more about what brought them together.

https://www.showofhands.co.uk/

Show of Hands

Photo Credit: Simon Putman

 

Live review: King King at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 3/5/18

This review was originally published by The Stinger here 

Four-piece King King have been building quite a formidable reputation since forming a decade ago. ‘The best blues rock band in the world’ no less, according to Blues Rock Review.

It’s a big sound and a very classy sound that fills the cavernous St Mary In The Castle tonight, and one that just oozes the confident charm and riff-laden swagger from classic rock’s heyday when band’s like Bad Company dominated the album charts and filled the stadiums. Integral to the whole sound, and one of the things that really makes the gig special for me, is the interplay between guitarist Alan Nimmo and keyboard player Jonny Dyke. Dyke, the new boy in the band who replaced departing keyboard player Bob Fridzema last year, delivers deliciously soulful Hammond that perfectly compliments Nimmo’s guitar wizardry and bluesy vocals.

At the heart of all great blues rock, however, are great songs and King King certainly don’t disappoint in that department either. Songs like ‘You Stopped The Rain’ and ‘Rush Hour’ show some quality song-writing. And lyrically it’s not just standard stadium blues rock fare of feeling alright or looking for love. Material from the new album ‘Exile & Grace’, in particular, concentrates on some altogether more profound subject matter. “There’s an underlying theme on this latest album,” explained Nimmo, when launching the album late last year. “Some of the main songs are about the state of the world, y’know, this beautiful blue planet that’s turning into a battlefield.” ‘Broken’ one of the songs tonight from the new album is very much on that theme of a troubled world. In spite of the uncompromising lyrics though it’s delivered with the same class and seemingly effortless appeal that defines all the great songs of this genre.

While Nimmo has had issues with his voice in recent years and had to undergo treatment on his vocal chords, there’s no sign of that hampering the performance tonight and the whole band give an absolute master-class in classic blues rock.

Setlist:

She Don’t Gimme No Lovin’
Waking Up
You Stopped The Rain
Broken
Long History
Lose Control
Rush Hour
Long Time Running
All Your Life
Stranger To Love
Let Love In

https://www.kingking.co.uk/

20180503_212807

Live review: Four Sticks – Classic Rock All Dayer at the New Cross Inn, London 25/3/18

More evidence of the avalanche of impressive talents that constitute what has been loosely labelled the New Wave of Classic Rock came in the shape of the Four Sticks event at south London’s New Cross Inn last Sunday. From 2pm through until 11pm ten bands took to the stage and cranked up the volume.

I arrived just in time to catch New Device begin their set. Polished melodic hard rock and catchy well-written songs, New Device proved to be a great start to the day for me (even though I missed the first couple of bands…) I picked up a copy of their 2013 album ‘Here We Stand’ and my initial positive impressions were definitely confirmed. Lead singer Daniel Leigh is an impressive vocalist, both when handling the all-out rockers as well as the slower, more sensitive material.

http://www.newdevice.co.uk/

From there it’s on to Hammerjack who offered a brand of sleazy, raunchy rock ‘n’ roll that put me in mind of AC/DC, Aerosmith and Guns N Roses. The Guildford-based band have been around five years now. Definitely worth keeping an eye on.

http://www.hammerjackuk.com/

Next up were Black Whiskey who appeared on the introducing stage at Giants of Rock and will be returning to Butlins Minehead in 2019 on the main stage. A band who drip with classic rock influences, from Free to Led Zeppelin to Thin Lizzy, they effortlessly give the impression that they’ve been playing this way for for decades yet still manage to deliver something that is both original and compelling. I’d seen this band once before at the aforementioned Giants of Rock and picked up their album – but seeing them a second time they grew on me even more. Their debut album Heavy Train is well worth listening to and they’ve another album out later this year.

https://www.facebook.com/BlackWhiskeyUK/

After that it was time for the unbelievably talented Ethyrfield. Absolutely everyone who saw them at Minehead’s Giants of Rock this year was raving about them. Not me I’m afraid – a man’s got to eat at some point and this was one of the bands I sadly missed at Minehead. However, I finally managed to catch Ethyrfield at the New Cross Inn and it was well worth the wait. Aged just 17, 16 and 14, Zach Cornish (vocals/bass), Ben Cornish, (vocals/lead guitar) and Dan Aston (drums) put in an absolutely incredible performance. Tony Iommi has mentored the band, they’ve picked up various awards and were voted winners of the introducing stage at Giants of Rock this year and will thus be returning to the main stage next year. I’ll be there. Simply incredible.

https://www.ethyrfield.com/

Then it was time for StoneWire. Classic heavy, bluesy rock fronted by a female vocalist with a great voice, this London-based five-piece continued to keep the New Cross crowd entertained.

http://www.stonewire.net/

One of the great things about the slew of bands who are finding themselves thrown together under the New Wave of Classic Rock label is the huge variety in sound and styles. So from the precocious virtuoso talents of Ethyrfield and the experienced bluesy southern-flavoured rock of StoneWire we go straight to The Black Bullets who, if I had to describe them, bring to mind a meeting of Bon Scott and Angus Young circa 1975 and The New York Dolls. Sleazy, raunchy, dirty and brilliantly fun this is the kind of music you could never tire of. From an amazingly strong line-up of acts The Black Bullets were one of my favourite bands of the day.

https://www.facebook.com/TheBlackBulletsUK

Then it’s time for for penultimate headliners Beth Blade and The Beautiful Disasters. Big loud riffs, quality hard rock, great catchy songs and another female singer with a great voice, Beth and her band-mates certainly kept the quality levels high. I picked up a copy of their 2016 album Bad Habit which deservedly picked up a pile of rave reviews.

https://bethbladeandthebeautifuldisasters.com/

And so on to the headliners Burnt Out Wreck, the band fronted by former Heavy Pettin’ drummer, Gary Moat. When I saw these a few weeks ago supporting Anvil I actually thought they were much better than the headliners. But now they are headlining, over eight hours of bands and much alcohol, appears to have taken its toll on the New Cross audience and there don’t seem to be many of us who’ve stayed the course. This does not dampen Moat and co though who deliver an awesome set of rock ‘n’ roll swagger that has ‘headliner’ written all over it, regardless of how many they are playing to.

https://www.burntoutwreck.com/

So a fantastic day, some fantastic bands and, for me, my first all-day drinking session in the New Cross Inn since I was a student at Goldsmiths College across the road in the mid 90s. I’ll be back there for a full weekend in the Autumn – if not before.

29543324_561273827564119_6305066321676230029_n

Live review: Lindisfarne at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 24/3/18

This review was also published by the Hastings Online Times here 

After well-received performances from both Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span at Hastings’ St Mary in the Castle this past year, it perhaps came as no surprise that it was time for that other giant of the late 60s/early 70s folk-rock: Lindisfarne.

The band had been on hiatus for around a decade but the Lindisfarne name was resurrected in 2013 when founder member, Ray Jackson, began touring with a number of other former members from various eras of the band. They were soon to find that there was clearly a huge amount of affection out there for the Tyneside folk-rockers but after a couple of years Jackson stepped back and retired. That was not the end of the reunion, however, as in stepped another founder member with Rod Clements from the band’s classic line-up taking Jackson’s place.

IMGP7113

Audiences are no longer treated to Jackson’s brilliantly distinctive and instantly recognisable mandolin-playing (the man who came up with the mandolin intro on Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May let’s not forget) but Clements is a gifted musician (switching between electric fiddle, mandolin and slide guitar) and an engaging presence on stage. He’s joined by Dave Hull-Denholm, son-in-law of original front-man the late Alan Hull, on vocals/guitar; Charlie Harcourt, who originally played with the band in the mid 70s, on guitar; Steve Daggett, who toured with the band in the 80s, on keyboards; Ian Thompson who, like Hull-Denholm, has been around since the 90s, on bass; and, finally, former Roxy Music drummer, Paul Thompson, on drums.

Denholm-Hull’s voice is surprisingly reminiscent of Alan Hull’s distinctive vocals and he does the band’s legacy, and his late father-in-law proud. There are plenty of Lindisfarne classics to keep the Hastings crowd entertained, too: ‘Lady Eleanor’, Road To Kingdom Come’, ‘Wake Up Little Sister’, ‘We Can Swing Together’, ‘Meet Me on the Corner’ and, of course, ‘Fog On The Tyne’, Newcastle’s finest produced so many unforgettable songs back in the day and the band tonight cram so many of them into two hours.

IMGP7106

With bands like the aforementioned Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention going from strength to strength in recent years it’s nice also to also see Lindisfarne firmly back in business – and playing and sounding great. Maybe it’s time for an album, too, guys?

 

IMGP7104

Photo credits: Richard Broady

http://www.lindisfarne.com

Related review:
Lindisfarne at Great British Folk Festival

Live review: The Young ‘uns – The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 22/3/18

Teesside-based folk trio The Young ‘uns have been singing about injustices, historical and modern, for some years now, releasing four well-received albums and touring folk venues and festivals up and down the country. Their songs, written by the trio’s Sean Cooney, have covered everything from fighting poverty in the 1930s to fighting homophobia in the 2010s.

The Young ‘uns latest tour, however, The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff is devoted to a single theme. Johnny Longstaff was born in Stockton-on-Tees just after the First World War. Poverty and unemployment drove him to London as a teenager, via the Hunger March of 1934. Whilst in London Longstaff became more and more politicised, volunteering for the Spanish Civil War in 1936 as a young man of just seventeen. Longstaff recalled his experiences in a series of recordings in the 1980s. Using excerpts from these tapes and photo montages from the period interspersed with their songs, The Young Uns bring his story to life once more.

With sixteen songs composed by Cooney the trio sing their way through Longstaff’s remarkable life. Songs like ‘Any Bread’ and ‘Carrying The Coffin’ recall the poverty and destitution of life in the north-east in the Great Depression while ‘Cable Street’ retells the tale of the famous battle with Moseley’s fascists on the streets of London. As the show unfolds songs like ‘The Great Tomorrow’, ‘Trench Tales’ and ‘David Guest’ recall the experiences of fighting Franco’s fascists, from the bitter conditions and lack of food to the heroics of fallen comrades that Longstaff fought alongside. The show ends with a rendition of ‘The Valley Of Jarama’, a song song sung by Spanish Civil War veterans and written by Alex McDade, himself one of the volunteers of the British Battalion fighting the fascists. Although the forces against fascism were defeated in Spain, Longstaff, who died in 2000, was adamant that the Spanish Civil War was a vital prerequisite for the successful defeat of fascism in the guise of Hitler’s Nazism just a few years later.

I’ve seen the Young ‘uns on multiple occasions now and their live performances, in addition to their brand of movingly defiant songs, usually involve much hilarious ad-libbed banter, both between themselves and with the audience. With The Ballad Of Johnny Longstaff, however, the guys prove that their gift for storytelling and their natural affinity with the underdog also means they can pull of a project as ambitious as this and move an audience to tears in the process.

http://www.theyounguns.co.uk/

20180322_193700.jpg

Related reviews:
The Young ‘uns at Cecil Sharp House
The Young ‘uns at Great British Folk Festival

Live review: Gaz Coombes at ULU, London 28/2/18

Doing a handful of UK warm-up dates prior to the release of the album ‘World’s Strongest Man’ and a full UK tour in May, I catch up with Gaz Coombes and his band at the old University of London ULU building, now rebranded Student Central.

Stepping out on to a stage so packed out with twinkling retro sound equipment, kitsch standard lamps and vintage keyboards that the uninitiated may have mistaken it for a particularly camp car-boot sale, Coombes is clearly delighted that the crowd have braved the snow and ice to turn out for him.

My fascination with Gaz Coombes began when Supergrass first burst on to the scene in the mid 90s as that cheeky, wacky, slightly zany antidote to Blur and Oasis’s ongoing battle for the crown of Britpop. And since the band’s split in 2010 my fascination has continued as I’ve followed Coombes through his solo career – where he’s just about to release his third album ‘World’s Strongest Man’.

We began to get hints of a more mature, more introspective side to Coombes’ writing with the release of Supergrass’s third album, via tracks like ‘Moving’, and this is very much the path that his solo career has continued along. Coombes has eschewed any temptation to become a one-man Supergrass tribute and, save for the odd rendition from his former band like the aforementioned ‘Moving’, he’s tended to stick resolutely to solo material for his live shows. And, clearly, he’s now getting to the place where he’s got a really strong and growing body of work to draw from. Coombes’ first solo album ‘Here Comes The Bombs’ showed some real promise but was a somewhat austere electronica-influenced affair that took many by surprise. The second, the Mercury prize-nominated ‘Matador’ with its fuller production, beautiful melodies and sensitive song-writing understandably drew considerable praise from many quarters. With Coombes’ third album, however, it may well be that he’s on to something even more special.

28576472_10154906975390904_3637241116322100207_n

Photo credit: Steve Smith

Tonight’s set-list includes songs from all three albums but, unusually for a live gig promoting any new or soon-to-be-released album, the new songs were amongst the strongest and the most memorable and dare we say it the biggest crowd-pleasers. In terms of highlights tracks from the new album like current single ‘Deep Pockets’ sit really well alongside earlier material from the such as ‘Buffalo’, ‘Hot Fruit’, ‘20/20’ and ‘Matador’. And there’s no risk of austerity in terms of sound on this tour either: we have lush sonic textures on the keys, a captivating rhythm section and a divine-sounding trio of female backing singers supporting Gaz’s unmistakable voice and nifty guitar-playing.

Just as, nearly a quarter of a century ago, Supergrass grabbed my attention because I thought that they were doing something more interesting than either Blur or Oasis at the time, so it seems when it comes to the matter of solo careers, too. I am tempted to conclude that Coombes is doing something more interesting than either Damon Albarn or Noel Gallagher these days and I do think we are going to be in for a real treat when ‘Worlds’ Strongest Man’ is released.

28377646_10209815314772762_7176146579244449792_o

Photo credit: Tom Rose

http://www.gazcoombes.com/

Related reviews:
Gaz Coombes at the Roundhouse 2016
Gaz Coombes – Matador
Vangoffey at the Social 2016

Live review: Kevin Armstrong at the Kino, St Leonards 15/2/18

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

Kevin Armstrong’s guitar playing has accompanied stars including David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Morrissey, Prefab Sprout, Sinéad O’Connor, Roy Orbison, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Paul McCartney and Gil Evans. For one night only Kevin guides us through his legendary career.

As a child Kevin Armstrong grew up with Beatlemania. By his teens he was buying his first guitar and living and breathing music. Experiencing life as a professional musician in the post-punk scene of the late 70s/early 80s he then found himself in a band that suddenly got dropped by their record label and, looking around at the changed Duran Duran/Spandau Ballet era-music scene, it became, in Armstrong’s words, “all c*nts in suits singing about their holidays.”

A new opportunity arose, however, when Armstrong was ushered in to Abbey Road studios to do a session to find out he would be working with David Bowie on songs for the Absolute Beginners film. Although the film would be critically panned on release, the title track was a commercial success and, importantly, got Armstrong noticed by Bowie as a musician he could work with and was asked to put a band together for Bowie’s Live Aid appearance. Breaking from his easy chat tonight, Armstrong reads out a passage describing in detail the emotions running through his head on that momentous day. Highlighting Bowie’s generosity, Armstrong talks of him taking the trouble to introduce each member of his band on stage at Wembley that day, knowing full well the impact it would have on their careers; as well as personally thanking Armstrong for the role he played in putting the band together in interviews afterwards.

In spite of being a Beatles fan Armstrong’s collaborations with Paul McCartney proved less personally rewarding, however. “We had to sit around all day listening to these very long Beatles anecdotes that never seemed to have a punchline,” he reveals to tonight’s audience, emphasising the importance of a personal spark in a relationship for a musical collaboration to really work.

What did turn out to be a very enduring collaboration though was when Armstrong was invited to play guitar on the Bowie-produced Iggy Pop album Blah Blah Blah and to subsequently tour with him. That musical collaboration was rekindled in recent years with Armstrong putting a band together and touring with Iggy once more. There are many amusing anecdotes this evening but one of the funniest is Armstrong’s description of the metamorphosis that the normally urbane, well-spoken James Osterberg goes through in the hours leading up to a show as he transforms into the crazed madman called Iggy Pop.

Armstrong is one of rock’s archetypal great side-men, a musician with that instinctive feel for what the headline artist needs and delivering it with style and creativity rather than ego and me-too-ism. By way of illustration, he plays us a clip from the Tin Machine tour that Armstrong was briefly involved with, which was the sound of every musician on stage competing against one another in a wall of noise and pretty much drowning Bowie out completely.

I’ve seen many of these type of artist talk events over the years. But with a mix of live songs, film clips, spoken passages and lots of relaxed informal chat this was genuinely one of the most thought-provoking, funny and insightful that I’ve experienced. Gavin Martin (renowned former NME journalist and now music editor for the Daily Mirror and himself, like Armstrong, a local Hastings resident) is a skilled operator at teasing out revealing nuggets from his on-stage guests at events like this. But he hardly needs to say a word as host this evening. I was surprised afterwards that this was Armstrong’s first ever gig of this type. However, if it was a case of starting out with a friendly home crowd he has absolutely nothing to worry about in taking this format elsewhere. An evening with Kevin Armstrong like this is going to be well-received by audiences wherever.

http://www.kevin-armstrong.com/

1518959714633
Photo: artist publicity

Related review:
Mike Garson performs Aladdin Sane at Birmingham O2 2017