Category Archives: live reviews

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.


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.


Photo credit: Tom Rose

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.

Photo: artist publicity

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

Live review: Towers of London at The New Cross Inn, London 14/2/18

This review was also published by Get Ready To Rock here

A decade or so ago glam punk outfit the Towers Of London were steadlily building up a reputation. Tours supporting the likes of the Pogues and the New York Dolls. Festival slots at Reading and Leeds and Download. But then came lead singer Donny Tourette’s appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. Pissed, bratish and annoying, the Sex Pistols with Bill Grundy this was not. It was more like a bad episode of Grange Hill. An equally ill-chosen appearance on Never Mind The Buzzcocks only made things worse and though the band soldiered on for another couple of years it was pretty much all over.

Fast forward to 2018, however and they are back. “I’ve been following these guys for a while – they’ve now grown up, sorted their shit out but importantly they still retain their bite. This album blows the shit out of what they’ve done in the past!” says former Oasis manager/Creation Records boss, Alan McGee, in the publicity blurb.

So I popped along to the New Cross Inn, south-east London, to see for myself what these guys are up to nowadays. And the verdict? Yes – the band deliver a great energetic set and have, indeed, got their shit together. New single ‘Send In The Roses’ is a superb slice of anthemic, catchy glam-punk meets indie disco. Their new material is sounding great and, of course, there’s a few songs from their early days, too – raucous punky work-outs like ‘Air Guitar’ and ‘Fuck It Up’ and campy New York Dolls-esque ditties like ‘How Rude She Was’. The world needs a few more bands like this and it’s good to see them back in business.

The Towers forthcoming new album ‘Super Sounds Of K-Town’ will be released in spring this year. We all deserve a second chance at times. I genuinely hope this band do well and, hopefully, stay around for a little longer this time.

Catch the new video for ‘Send In The Roses’ here




Live review: Anvil / Burnt Out Wreck / VOiD at The Underworld, Camden 6/2/18

Ever since they played their first ever gig at the start of Butlins’ Giants Of Rock festival in January 2017, I’d been hearing good things about Burnt Out Wreck. I was watching a band on the other stage at the time so never got to see them. I’d made a mental note, however, and when former AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd announced a solo tour with his new outfit, with Burnt Out Wreck as the support act, it seemed an ideal opportunity. That was cancelled and then rescheduled and then cancelled again. Third time lucky then when Anvil announced supported by Burnt Out Wreck. An opportunity to finally catch this band, along with Anvil, who I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager when they were supporting Motorhead.

It was a triple bill at Camden’s Underworld, first up were Welsh rockers VOiD. Formed in 2002 with three albums under the belt, VOiD’s brand of classy, melodic hard rock proved a good opener for the evening. I was particularly impressed with their extremely talented lead guitarist, Chris Jones, and even more impressed when the lead singer told the crowd it was Jones’ first ever gig with the band.

Next up were Burnt Out Wreck. Formed by Gary Moat, drummer and chief songwriter of 80s band Heavy Pettin’, Burnt Out Wreck put out their debut album in early 2017 – not long after that first gig at Giants Of Rock. Their brand of bouncy, good-time, hard rock, reminiscent of Bon Scott-era AC/DC, immediately had the audience on their side. Songs like ‘Swallow’ brilliantly bring back some of that sleazy, rock ‘n’ roll boogie swagger, that late 70s pre-stadium AC/DC were so renowned for.

Things could only get even better when the mighty Anvil took the stage couldn’t it? You cannot fault this band’s dedication, enthusiasm and sincerity, or their undying commitment to the rock ‘n’ roll dream – captured so well in the film smash The Story Of Anvil. But to be truthful I was a little underwhelmed by what I saw tonight. I remember when I first saw Anvil in 1983, I couldn’t help thinking that this was a band that sounded better on record than on stage and thirty-odd years later that same thought was occurring to me. For a start the sound wasn’t good. The amps were cranked up a good few notches compared to the support bands. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, except that it lifted the drums and bass to a fairly deafening level while the guitar was barely audible in comparison. It was a shame because I enjoyed their new album and was looking forward to hearing a selection of songs from that, as well as earlier classics like the iconic ‘ Metal On Metal’. We got a good selection of each, plus a rousing rendition of the Steppenwolf classic ‘Born To Be Wild’. However, I came out of the gig 35 years after I last saw Anvil still convinced that they sound better on record than they do live.

That’s not to say I am not very happy to celebrate Anvil’s career renaissance in recent years. “I haven’t delivered a meal in ten fucking years,” Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow told the crowd, alluding to the opening scenes in the Story Of Anvil film which saw him driving around in a van delivering school meals between gigs. And I finally got to see the fantastic Burnt Out Wreck and also become acquainted with Void, who are another band on my ‘ones to watch’ list. All in all a good night.




A renaissance in classic heavy metal: six bands to watch out for

There was a time not too long ago when anything described as a ‘new’ heavy metal band I simply did not get at all. All these weirdly-named sub-genres and even weirder-sounding vocals that just left me feeling old, bewildered and confused.

But in recent years there seems to have been a real renaissance in classic heavy metal from young, upcoming bands who cite influences such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Saxon and a host of others from the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) stable from the late 70s/early 80s. Well-written songs, great guitar solos, melodic vocals and crunching riffs: classic heavy metal seems to be in better shape than it’s been for many, many years. There’s plenty out there but here’s a quick round-up of bands that have really captured my imagination recently.

Hell’s Gazelles

Stage presence, charisma, good songs, great riffs, quality musicianship. Many upcoming young bands have some of these elements. Few have them all. But Hell’s Gazelles had absolutely everything – in spades. A young four-piece from Oxford, vocalist Cole Bryant has an immense vocal range and proved himself an incredible front-man. Similarly, the young Nath Digman is a great lead guitarist. Amongst very stiff competition Hell’s Gazelles were definitely the stand-out new act of the weekend for me. It’s hard to predict what the music industry or the rock scene is going to be like in twenty year’s time but if Hell’s Gazelles are not up there alongside whatever 2040’s equivalent of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest is by then there’s no justice in the world. Get their debut EP ‘Hell’s Gazelles’.



Dubbed the ‘new queens of rock’ JoanovArc immediately impressed with an energetic and high-quality performance. Big drums, powerful bass, nice heavy guitar and great vocals, their songs stand up nicely alongside the likes of female hard-rock trailblazers Girlschool, Rock Goddess and Joan Jett. Formed in 2004 by sisters Sam and Shelley Walker, they were soon joined by Deborah Wildish. After five years as a trio, Laura Ozholl completed the line-up. These new queens of rock are definitely worth watching out for.



Kaine is a four-piece formed in 2009 and musically inspired by the late 70s/early 80s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal boom. Powerful well-written songs and powerful delivery, you can hear the influences from their musical heroes like Iron Maiden in their performance. The band released its debut album ‘Falling Through Freedom’ in 2012, and it’s follow-up ‘The Waystone’ in 2014. New album ‘A Crisis of Faith’ is now on pre-order and due for release in 2018. Definitely on my ‘ones to watch list’.



Killit are one of the most impressive bands I’ve come across in recent years. They just have that knack of coming up with instantly catchy, instantly memorable songs and demonstrate the centrality of great song-writing to truly great classic rock. They are awesome performers, too, with vocalist Gaz Twist a talented front-man with a great voice. Numbers like ‘Calm Before The Storm’ and ‘Shut It Down’ from their debut album meant that this classic-sounding heavy metal band can wow audiences with some classic-sounding heavy metal songs.


The Mighty Wraith

Hailing from the spiritual home of heavy metal itself, Birmingham-based four-piece The Mighty Wraith deliver powerful vocals and mighty riffs. Catching them on the off-chance one night while at a loose end in Wolverhampton last Autumn, frontman Matt Gore and his bandmates immediately stood out alongside the other bands taking the stage that evening. 2017 was an important year for the band, with a new EP ‘Outcast’ released, support slots for the likes of of Armored Saint and even hosting their own festival ‘Wraith Fest’. Looking forward to seeing more from these in 2018.


Toledo Steel

Powerfully majestic but hard and heavy Toledo Steel put me in mind of classic-era Dio and Rich Rutter’s vocals and Tom Potter’s and Josh Haysom’s guitars are the perfect combination for this brand of hard-hitting melodic rock metal. Toledo Steel are definitely on my list to see and hear more of and I am certainly enjoying their excellent six-track EP ‘Zero Hour’. The band’s debut album ‘ No Quarter’ is released in May this year.



Live Review – Giants of Rock, Minehead 26-29 January 2018

Another weekend, another Butlins music festival. Giants of Rock at Minehead has become an absolute must in my musical calendar each January now. With three stages, forty-three bands and many, many clashes it’s obvious you can’t see everything – and I don’t even try. Inevitably, I missed some great performances but my general approach at weekends like this is as follows:

– I do like to watch act in full and properly appreciate their performance, from the minute they walk on stage to their final encore, rather than flitting about catching half an hour here and half an hour there.

– I also do like to eat, chill, socialise (and sleep) so I inevitably miss a good few bands – but the ones I do see generally get my full attention.

With those caveats here then are my highlights (and a couple of lowlights) from Giants of Rock 2018:


Taking a chance on Curved Air I thought they might be an Atomic Rooster-like surprise for me whom I enjoyed at Butlins Skegness so much the previous week. Unfortunately, it was not to be. It took me less than five minutes to realise that Curved Air were really, really not my cup of tea at all. That opened the way, however, for moving on to the Introducing Stage just as all-female foursome JoanovArc were about to start…

Dubbed the ‘new queens of rock’ JoanovArc immediately impressed with an energetic and high-quality performance. Big drums, powerful bass, nice heavy guitar and great vocals, their songs stand up nicely alongside the likes of female hard-rock trailblazers Girlschool, Rock Goddess and Joan Jett. These new queens of rock are definitely worth watching out for.

Then it was a return to one of the two main stages to watch former Wishbone Ash man, Martin Turner and his band wow the crowd with their performance of the classic 1972 album, Argus. I’d really enjoyed Andy Powell’s continuing ‘official’ version of Wishbone Ash at Giants of Rock two years ago. But Turner’s interpretation of this early material is just perfection. ‘Time Was’, ‘Blowin’ Free’, ‘The King Will Come’… No-one will ever do these songs better.


I was greatly entertained by ex-Argent guitarist John Verity at Giants of Rock two years ago and he was back once more with a lunchtime slot delivering a mix of rock classics, blues standards and material from his recent solo albums as well as, of course, a version of Argent’s irresistible classic ‘Hold Your Head Up’. A great way to start the day’s music.

Stage presence, charisma, good songs, great riffs, quality musicianship. Many upcoming young bands have some of these elements. Few have them all. But Hell’s Gazelles had absolutely everything – in spades. A young four-piece from Oxford, vocalist Cole Bryant has an immense vocal range and proved himself an incredible front-man. Similarly, the young Nath Digman is a great lead guitarist. Amongst very stiff competition Hell’s Gazelles were definitely the stand-out new act of the weekend for me. It’s hard to predict what the music industry or the rock scene is going to be like in twenty year’s time but if Hell’s Gazelles are not up there alongside whatever 2040’s equivalent of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest is by then there’s no justice in the world.


After bumping into Uriah Heep in the chippy and having a lovely chat with a very affable Mick Box and co, it was soon time to see them up on stage. Playing mainly Byron-era classics: ‘Gypsy’ followed by ‘Look At Yourself’ followed by ‘Sunrise’ followed by ‘Stealin’, they threw in one song from the last studio album (the excellent ‘One Minute’ from 2014’s The Outsider) before going on to 1998’s ‘Between Two Worlds’ then incredible versions of ‘July Morning’ ‘Lady in Black’ and ‘Easy Livin’. Pounding hammond, stunning vocals and Mick Box on guitar having the time of his life, not only did it rank of one of my favourite Giants of Rock performances ever, it’s now up there as one of my favourite performances by anyone, anywhere ever.


Things were slightly different next door on the other main stage with rumblings from audience members that Hawkwind only got to play for an hour and didn’t have time for any well-known crowd pleasers like ‘Silver Machine’ at the end. But all bands get an hour – to use exactly as they see fit. While Uriah Heep used their allotted hour with devastating efficiency to give us an out-of-this-world-performance of some of their greatest songs ever, Hawkwind chose a different approach. But at the end of the day you only get an hour. It’s Butlins not Stonehenge…

From probably the best Giants of Rock performance ever to possibly the worst…

After Uriah Heep I wandered over to the other main stage to watch a bit of ex-Toto singer, Bobby Kimball. Never really a fan of that very polished, very commercial, very shiny American AOR anyway, this was more out of morbid curiosity than anything else. In the week’s building up to his appearance numerous videos circulated on social media showing some shockingly out-of-tune vocals as Kimball murdered numerous Toto hits like ‘Africa’. If Kimball would be able to turn things around and put in a half-decent performance at Butlins it would be one of the big surprises of the festival. If he wasn’t it was going to be one horrific car-crash. Unfortunately, it was the latter. I lasted three songs – just long enough to see him murder ‘Africa’ again, before joining the mass of exodus next door to catch Stray. At least Del Bromham and his band were guaranteed a large crowd. The place was absolutely rammed and Stray put in a blistering set. The second-time I’d seen them in a week, it was a great way to end the second day.


Killit, who were one of the Introducing Stage winners last year, were on one of the main stages this year starting the day with a lunchtime set. One of the most impressive bands I’ve come across in recent years, they have a knack of coming up with instantly catchy, instantly memorable songs and demonstrate the centrality of great song-writing to truly great classic rock. They are awesome performers, too, with vocalist Gaz Twist a talented front-man with a great voice. I so want this band to do well.

My visit to the Introducing Stage on the Sunday was to catch Black Whiskey, who would go on to be that day’s winners and thus will be appearing on the main stage next year. Citing influences like Zeppelin, Free, Purple and UFO, Black Whiskey very much opt for a classic rock sound. Bluesy guitar, soulful vocals and solid rhythm. It’s a timeless, infectious mix and I am definitely happy to see more of them in future.

My absolute must-see band for the Sunday night was Slade. It would be the twenty-fifth time I had seen this band since I first saw the original line-up send the crowd at Donington Monsters of Rock absolutely crazy as a 15-year old teenager back in 1981. Noddy Holder and Jim Lea have long gone, of course, but Dave Hill and Don Powell are still flying the flag with a stable line-up of vocalist/guitarist Mal McNulty and vocalist/bass-player John Berry. Anyone expecting a note-for-note musically and vocally perfect copy of the original Slade you’re going to be disappointed. But if you want a crazy, fun-packed, non-stop celebration of some of the greatest songs ever – clapping your hands, stamping your feet, getting your boots off, singing along at the top of your voice, and generally waving your arms about – you’re in for a treat. A brilliantly fun twenty-fifth Slade gig for me – I can’t wait for my twenty-sixth…


After Slade finished I opted not to stick around for Nazareth having already enjoyed them at Skegness the weekend before. (Read my review here to find out what I thought of Nazareth). Instead, I headed over to the other main stage to watch the AC/DC tribute, Bon, who were performing the Powerage album in full. I’ve nothing against tributes and have enjoyed quite a few of them at my local rock pub back home but generally it’s not what I travel hundreds of miles to Minehead for. However, a great bunch of musicians performing a classic album in full followed by a run-through of all the iconic title tracks from every Bon Scott-era AC/DC album seemed like a great party band and a great way to finish the weekend on a high – and it was.

Hard rock, prog rock, glam rock, space rock, blues rock, contemporary heavy metal… One of the great things about Giants of Rock is that if you are a classic rock fan there really is something for everyone. Another great thing is the strong sense of community amongst those coming together at Minehead to celebrate their shared love of rock. A vibrant and active presence on social media via the Giants of Rock Facebook group (set up by fans for fans completely independently of Butlins) has meant that many close bonds have been made over the four years since the the festival started. It makes for one of the friendliest weekends of this type you can possibly imagine. Roll on Giants of Rock 2019!

You can join the Giants of Rock Minehead Facebook discussion group here 

Related reviews:
Skegness Rock and Blues 2018
Minehead Giants of Rock 2017
Slade at Giants of Rock 2015


Live Review – The Great British Rock & Blues Festival – Skegness 19-22 January 2018

This review was also published on the Get Ready To Rock website here

I’ve enjoyed various Butlins music weekends over the years but 2018 will be the first where I’ve done two on two such weekends on the trot. My Butlins blow-out started off with the Rock & Blues weekend in Skegness – with just a few days respite before I head off to Minehead for the Giants of Rock weekend in Minehead. With so many bands on a number of different stages, reviews of weekends like this are always going to be one person’s snapshot but I had a fantastic weekend and this is what I saw.


Friday night began at what was designated the “Rock Stage” (Butlins dividing up the acts on the two main stages as either Rock or Blues, as well as providing two smaller stages: a second blues stage sponsored by Blues Matters mag and an Introducing Stage). The first band, Northern Ireland’s Screaming Eagles, had a great stage presence, some great catchy songs and a handful of great covers, too. A nice, energetic start to the weekend.

Atomic Rooster on next were, for me, probably the biggest surprise of the weekend. They are one of those bands that I’d always been aware of but was never really that familiar with. Other than knowing they were formed by the late Vincent Crane (the guy who did the unmistakable keyboard pounding in Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’) before this weekend I could have told you very little about Atomic Rooster. But they were absolutely, out-of-this world, stupendously, brilliantly, amazing. Vincent Crane and the rest of the earliest line-up are sadly no longer with us. But the revived band contains both Pete French on vocals and Steve Bolton on guitar who were both in the band in the early 70s and they have been given the blessing of Crane’s widow to reform under the Atomic Rooster banner. They have the songs, the set-list, the charisma and the sound. Really, this band should have been far, far bigger than they were back in the day. Similarly, the modern-day version should be far, far better known than they are today. Absolutely majestic classic rock that stands proudly against any of the rock giants, I will be seeing more of this band for certain.


The Frankie Miller’s Full House tribute that came afterwards failed to inspire the same degree of energy and enthusiasm I’m afraid and after moving to the other main stage just as the final band were finishing their last song, we headed to the Blues Matters Stage to enjoy the late bar and some late night blues.


At lunchtime we caught Southbound on the Rock Stage. Their set combined soulful blues rock with some choppy, Feelgood-esque R&B. The latter they did particularly well.

Saturday evening began for us with the legend that is Bernie Marsden. I’ve seen Marsden in various guises over the years: with a full band playing acoustic, solo playing acoustic, with a full band playing an electric blues set and, back in the day, with the best Whitesnake line-up ever. Whether electric or acoustic he’s a stunningly good guitarist and he gave us a solo acoustic set of mainly Whitesnake material. His is never a showy stage presence but few ever look as contented or as at home on stage as does Marsden playing his music and bantering with the crowds.


I left my companions to enjoy Roger Chapman Family & Friends while I headed off to the Blues Matters Stage to catch Troy Redfern. With a classic power trio format they deliver infectiously energetic hard rocking blues that just seems to get better and better every time I see them. I thought I might call it a night after that but then came Rainbreakers. They are a group of young guys from Shrewsbury playing a small stage Skegness in 2018 but to hear them they could have been playing some sun-kissed stadium in California in 1971. Channelling the spirit of the classic era of soulful early 70s blues rock they were one of the absolute highlights of the weekend and went down a storm. Great writers, great musicians and great vocals; this was an utterly spellbinding performance from start to finish.


Over the course of the Sunday lunchtime slot I did a fair bit of wandering around Stray were the stand-out act for me with a great set from Del Bromham and co.

For our final evening we opted to start with some raunchy, good-time boogie from perennial Rock & Blues weekend favourites, Roadhouse, before heading to the Rock Stage to catch Nazareth. With only bass-player, Pete Agnew, remaining from the band’s 70s/early 80s heyday, it’s more a tribute than anything – but I mean that in a positive sense. New vocalist, Carl Sentance, does a superb job handling Dan McCafferty’s vocals on classic songs like ‘My White Bicycle’ and ‘Expect No Mercy’ and the band rock hard paying tribute to those great songs.


From only one original member in Nazareth to zero in Dr Feelgood, we head over to the main Blues Stage to finish the weekend with Canvey Island’s finest. Unfortunately, there seems to have been some sound problems on that stage all night. The band start much later than advertised and from where we were on the right-hand side at the front the sound was utterly abysmal. All I could hear was the bass-line and the drums, the guitar and vocals being pretty much drowned out. They are great songs, though, and we all know them. Singing along to these was a good way to finish the weekend and I came away being far more familiar with the bass-line in Dr Feelgood’s illustrious back-catalogue than I’d ever been before. Probably the most fun I’d ever had at a performance with shockingly bad sound.


The verdict overall

When I first saw the line-up I was a little underwhelmed but I was unexpectedly impressed by some of the veteran acts and completely blown away by some of the newer ones. This will go down for me as the weekend when I finally acquainted with the brilliant Atomic Rooster and when I first discovered the amazing Rainbreakers. Thanks guys.

And thanks!

One final word should go to the marvellously helpful Butlins Guest Services staff. Like many previous weekends I had bought a big stack of CDs. But, stupidly, I’d left them in my room in my rush to leave on Monday morning. A quick phone call to Butlins and my CDs were immediately located and sent back to me. Phew!

Related Review:
Giants of Rock Weekend 2017


The top ten posts of 2017 on Darren’s music blog

Wishing you a happy New Year and thanks to everyone who has visited Darren’s music blog during 2017. Here are the top ten most popular posts from the year, with the highest number of visits:

1. The Sweet versus Bowie: the riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences: actually written in late 2016 but consistently the most popular post throughout the year. Here I trace the origin of that famous riff – back through the glam era, the Yardbirds and those blues masters. Full post here.

2. Stone Roses at Wembley Stadium: “From the moment they first walk on stage to play ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ to the last climatic strains of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ the whole show is pretty much a celebration of that unforgettable and seemingly unrepeatable debut album.” Full review here.

3. Giants of Rock weekend at Minehead: Excellent performances from Troy Redfern, Focus, Bernie Torme, Bernie Marsden, Oliver-Dawson Saxon, The Pretty Things and Killit captured here. Here’s to Giants of Rock 2018. Full review here.

4. In praise of the CD: It was only a few years ago that people were finding it hilarious that I was clinging obstinately to the CD rather than embracing digital formats. Now, with the renaissance of vinyl, some still regard me as a Luddite dinosaur for not embracing the switch back to the 12 inch. Here I gave seven reasons why the CD is king for me. Full article here.

5. For One Night Only – Slade’s Jim Lea in Bilston: “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.” Full review here.

6. Sweet in London & Bilston: “This is a small venue with a tiny stage and it was absolutely rammed but the atmosphere was electric. It was evident that the band were also getting a huge buzz from playing to such a responsive audience, too.” Full review here.

7. The changing demographics behind charity shop CDs: another piece exploring my CD obsession. Here I talk through my observations hunting down charity shop bargains. Full review here.

8. Hastings Fat Tuesday 2017: my preview piece ahead of Hastings’ annual Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) celebrations with many, many dozens of gigs across the town was shared widely. Full article here.

9. Holy Holy perform Ziggy Stardust at Shepherd’s Bush Empire: “Holy Holy shows a way forward as to how we can continue to enjoy some of the greatest music of the twentieth century well into the twenty-first. A genuinely and truly impressive gig.” Full review here.

10. W.A.S.P. at White Rock Theatre, Hastings: “The Crimson Idol tells the story of a boy Jonathan and explores themes of estrangement, drugs, fame, money and suicide. It has become something of a cult heavy metal album and, twenty-five years since it was originally released, Lawless and his band are touring it in full.” Full review here.

Thanks for visiting Darren’s music blog everyone. Thanks also to publications like Get Ready Rock, the Hastings Independent, The Stinger, fRoots Magazine, Bright Young Folk and the Hastings Online Time for running many of my reviews and articles.

Here’s to 2018!



Live review: Sweet in London and Bilston 15/12/17 & 18/12/17

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

After perhaps rather too many Christmas tours of provincial theatres in recent years and, ahem, a tour supporting the Bay City Rollers last year it was gratifying to have Sweet do a short tour of proper rock venues this year. And I was lucky enough to catch them not once but twice. The renowned Robin 2 venue in Bilston, where the tour culminated, has been something of an annual pilgrimage for hardcore Sweet fans, with people travelling in from all over Europe.

First, however, I caught the band a few nights earlier at Nell’s Jazz & Blues in London. This is a small venue with a tiny stage and it was absolutely rammed but the atmosphere was electric. It was evident that the band were also getting a huge buzz from playing to such a responsive audience, too. This was confirmed by Andy Scott when we chatted briefly after the gig and the Sweet legend is clearly humbled by the reservoir of affection for the band as the Sweet approaches its 50th anniversary in 2018.


With Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker no longer with us and Steve Priest in the States with his own version of the Sweet it’s been left to Andy Scott to fly the flag for the band’s legacy in the UK and Europe. Consistently exacting in his high standards Andy Scott has never been one to just go through the motions when he goes out under the Sweet name. The current line-up of Pete Lincoln (lead vocals/bass), Tony O’Hora (keyboard/guitars/vocals) and Bruce Bisland (drums) have been together a good few years now (twenty-five in Bisland’s case) and it’s clear just seeing them on stage they work exceedingly well together as a unit. The unforgettable riffs and the trademark harmonies are delivered as powerfully now as they were when the band was at its commercial peak.


Set-wise, for this tour there was a nice mix between pumping versions of the glam-era singles like ‘Hellraiser’ and ‘Teenage Rampage’ and some of the classic harder-edged album tracks like ‘ACDC’ and ‘Set Me Free’ from the ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ album. In the middle of it all the stools came out for a nice little acoustic set – Andy Scott and Pete Lincoln delivering blinding versions of ‘Lady Starlight’ and ‘Lost Angels’. Tony O’Hora then joined the two for an acoustic run-through of some of the band’s very earliest (pre-glam) bubblegum hits. It’s testimony to the guys’ creativity, not to mention sheer chutzpah, that they can somehow give added meaning to the lyrics of ‘Co-Co’ and ‘Funny Funny’ and get a packed-out rock crowd singing along to every word.

Throw in some majestically symphonic versions of ‘Love Is Like Oxygen’ and ‘Fox On The Run’ and add in a barnstorming encore of ‘Blockbuster’ and ‘Ballroom Blitz’ and on both nights I witnessed very memorable gigs and a very satisfied audiences. Here’s to The Sweet at 50 next year.


Live photo credits: Eileen Handley, Set-list photo: Darren Johnson

Related reviews:

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: Steeleye Span at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 14/12/17

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

It’s only been a year since I last saw Steeleye Span but already, in this constantly evolving band, there have been a couple more line-up changes. In comes renowned ex-Bellowhead alumni, Benji Kirkpatrick, (whose father John also did a couple of stints in the band back in the day) alongside Roger Carey (who will be known to many Hastings gig-goers as a member of The Tabs) who replaces long-standing Steeleye bass-player, Rick Kemp.

Tonight’s performance is in two parts. While the second set is mainly a selection of well-known Steeleye Span favourites, the first takes us right back to the band’s debut album ‘Hark The Village Wait’ from 1970, which they perform in full from start to finish. For those who immediately, on hearing the name Steeleye Span, think of the band’s electrified rocked-up persona from their mid 70s commercial peak, the first couple of albums are an altogether more pastoral affair. Some would say this tends to be a neglected era of the band’s legacy so it’s nice to see the rejuvenated 2017 line-up take it on. They deliver stunningly beautiful versions of songs like ‘Black Leg Miner’, ‘The Dark-Eyed Sailor’ and ‘The Hills of Greenmoore’.

The second set takes in some familiar rocked-up classics from the band’s illustrious back catalogue, including everyone’s favourite ugly witch song ‘Alison Gross’, as well as a handful of more recent material like ‘The Dark Morris Song’ from the Terry Pratchett-inspired 2013 album ‘Wintersmith’ and a couple of songs from the new album, ‘Dodgy Bastards’.

On past tours I have seen Maddy Prior struggle a bit with some of the vocals but there are no such problems tonight. Maddy plays to her strengths and the vocals are shared out in such a way that her wonderfully distinctive voice remains an essential part of the performance but isn’t put into a position where it’s strained over songs she’s no longer suited to. She pulls off a magnificent vocal performance on the trad. arr. favourite ‘Tam Lin’, for example. But Steeleye Span as a band has always evolved, changed and adapted with each arrival of fresh blood and it would be entirely wrong to see it as little more than Maddy Prior’s backing band. It’s good, therefore, to see the newer members taking a prominent role vocally. In particular, the arrival of Julian Littman, Andrew ‘Spud’ Sinclair and, most recently, Benji Kirkpatrick has really breathed new life into the band.

They encore, of course, with ‘All Around My Hat’. It comes with an invitation from Maddy Prior for everyone to sing along. I do, of course, know all the words to this (my sister had to learn it for the Brownies when it made the charts back in the mid 70s and it has been imprinted on my brain ever since). Sing along? It would be rude not to.

From tonight’s performance it is clear that Steeleye Span has now really found its feet following the departure of long-standing fiddle maestro Peter Knight, back in 2013. Tonight’s performance is the best I’ve seen from the band in several years. Let’s hope the current line-up will be around for a while.


First Set:
A Calling-On Song
The Blacksmith
Fisherman’s Wife
Blackleg Miner
Dark-Eyed Sailor
Copshawholme Fair
All Things Are Quite Silent
The Hills of Greenmore
My Johnny Was a Shoemaker
Lowlands of Holland
Twa Corbies
One Night as I Lay on My Bed

Second Set:
Cruel Brother
Alison Gross
Little Sir Hugh
Tam Lin
The Dark Morris Song
All Around My Hat
Dodgy Bastards


IMGP6510 (1)
Photo Credit: Richard Broady

Related posts:
Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band at Hastings 2016
Steeleye Span in London 2015
Steeleye Span at New Forest Folk Festival 2014