Category Archives: live reviews

Live review: Toledo Steel at The Carlisle, Hastings 3/11/18

A third live blast of this band for me in recent months, Toledo Steel are rapidly becoming one of my absolute favourite modern-era heavy metal bands.

Although they released their debut album ‘No Quarter’ earlier this year, the band are not quite new kids on the block, having been around since 2011 and with two prior EPs and a relentless round of gigging under their belts. Unlike a number of similar bands, however, their line-up has been relatively stable during that time and on-stage they are a formidable unit together.

Rich Rutter’s powerfully melodic vocals, combined with the twin guitar assault of Tom Potter and Josh Haysom and some truly, truly memorable songs make Toledo Steel a really great classic heavy metal outfit.

Storming through a set-list including ‘Heavy Metal Headache’ and ‘No Quarter’ from their recent album and ‘City Lights’ and ‘Speed Killer’ from their last EP the impact on the crowd is instant. These are not just great songs. They are fully-formed heavy metal anthems.

And with a nod to the classic era of heavy metal that has done so much to help shape and influence this band we also get a brilliant cover of Judas Priest’s ‘Heading Out to the Highway’.

Following in the footsteps of Black Sabbath and Motorhead in having an eponymously-named killer track they leave us with a momentous blast of ‘Toledo Steel’ for an encore and for everyone to roar along to. Superb!

While the Carlisle is not packed tonight the band absolutely storm the place and it’s clear Toledo Steel have some committed fans in the audience, myself included. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before they are playing on far bigger stages to far bigger crowds. They 100% deserve it.

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

Related reviews:

Toledo Steel – album launch gig in London

Toledo Steel at Mearfest 2017

 

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Live review: Ashley Hutchings ‘The Beginnings of Fairport Convention’ at Cecil Sharp House 1/11/18

As well as being a hugely influential musician Ashley Hutchings is a natural raconteur and an elegant wordsmith and here he’s built on his previous touring show (captured on the album ‘From Psychedelia To Sonnets’ in 2016) to put something together specifically about the early days of the band he founded: Fairport Convention.

Part book reading, part anecdotal reflection, part theatrical performance, part quiz show (!) and part full-on folk-rock concert, The Beginnings Of Fairport Convention is a two-hour show celebrating Hutchings’ period with the band 1967-69 and the four iconic albums they released.

For these performances Hutchings has put a full five-piece band together. Initially influenced by the folk rock that was springing up on America’s west coast and the burgeoning singer-songwriter genre Hutchings and his band-mates perform material that the original Fairport performed in their early days: songs like Eric Anderson’s ‘Close The Door Lightly When You Go’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Bird On A Wire’. It’s far removed from the English folk rock that Fairport Convention would move on to in just a year or two’s time and Cecil Sharp might be turning in his grave if he were to hear what was being performed in the hallowed venue he gave his name to but Hutchings and co. do a superb job of capturing the sound, and some of the energy, of those early Fairport gigs. (Well I was only a toddler at time so what do I know but to my ears it was like having some of the BBC sessions from Fairport’s Heyday album being brought to life some fifty years later.)

There’s anecdotes, too, of course: the band’s first gig, Jimi Hendrix asking if he could jam with them one night and, for their second album, Sandy Denny joining.

After a short break the band return and Hutchings talks us through the band’s evolution from ‘Britain’s Jefferson Airplane’ to the pioneers of English folk rock, following the band’s tragic crash on the M1. Hutchings recalls the weeks spent poring over manuscripts in the library next door and the revolutionary sounds they began to create together rehearsing in the Hampshire countryside ahead of the recording and release of the iconic ‘Liege and Lief’ album. The unforgettable instrumental from that album (‘The Lark In The Morning’ Medley) is recreated together with a beautiful version of Richard Thompson’s and Dave Swarbrick’s ‘Crazy Man Michael’. Becky Mills, who performs on the aforementioned ‘From Psychedelia To Sonnets’ album, does a beautiful job throughout the evening performing songs once sung by Sandy Denny, Judy Dyble and Iain Matthews.

Ashley Hutchings “the single most important figure in English folk rock” as Bob Dylan puts it, has more than earned his right to celebrate the legacy of the band he helped create in this way and, with the help of some talented musicians, gives us a very entertaining two-hour show.

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http://ashleyhutchings.co.uk/

Related reviews:

Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘Twangin’ ‘n’ a-Traddin’ Revisited’

Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘From Psychedelia to Sonnets’

Album review – Fairport Convention ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2017

Albion Christmas Band at Kings Place 16/12/14

Live review: John Fogerty at the O2 25/10/18

A few years ago when, tragically, we began to lose more and more of our rock ‘n’ roll icons I made list of artists I had never seen live before but wanted to catch before they finally stopped touring. I had pretty much ticked off everyone on my list (Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sabbath with Ozzy, The Who, Steve Winwood, Roger McGuinn) apart from two – Chuck Berry and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s John Fogerty. Sadly, a Chuck Berry gig was not to be but at London’s O2 I finally got the chance to see John Fogerty.

Before Fogerty we have a full set from the Steve Miller Band, Miller himself celebrating fifty years in the business as he delights us with classics like ‘Abracadabra’, ‘Space Cowboy’ and ‘The Joker’. I’ve sometimes found the atmosphere in the O2 a bit sterile at times, particularly for support acts, and even though I can’t help feeling I would have liked to have seen this hour-long set in a more intimate venue nevertheless he and his band are warmly received and there is genuine affection for Miller and co.

After the interval the atmosphere is simply buzzing as John Fogerty takes the stage. His voice, his guitar, his songs and his stage demeanour leave every member of the packed O2 in no doubt that we are in the presence of one of the true icons of American rock music. The classic songs come thick and fast: ‘Travelin’ Band’, ‘Up Around The Bend, ‘Who’ll Stop The Rain’, ‘Born On The Bayou’ and many, many more. And paying tribute to the musical traditions of the American south the band deliver fine covers of ‘My Toot Toot’, ‘Jamabalya’ and ‘New Orleans’ before launching into another round of era-defining Creedence classics, including ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain’, ‘Fortunate Son’ ‘Bad Moon Rising’, ‘Proud Mary’. Fogerty’s post-Creedence output is represented by ‘The Old Man Down The Road’ (the track for which Fogerty was famously accused of plagiarising one of his own earlier songs in one of his many legal battles) and ‘Rockin’ All Over The World’ (indelibly imprinted in the minds of every British rock fan due to Status Quo’s legendary cover – but it’s great, for once, to see the song performed by the man who wrote it).

My one tiny regret is that we don’t get ‘Some Day Never Comes’ a moment of sheer unadulterated brilliance on CCR’s very patchy final album, recorded just as the band were imploding. Nevertheless, every single second of John Fogerty’s set tonight is a bucket-list performance at a bucket-list gig. I am very happy I was there to witness it.

Set-list:

Travelin’ Band
Green River
Hey Tonight
Up Around the Bend
Who’ll Stop the Rain
Lookin’ Out My Back Door
Rock and Roll Girls
Good Golly Miss Molly
Psycho
Long as I Can See the Light
Mystic Highway
Born on the Bayou
My Toot Toot
Jambalaya (On the Bayou)
New Orleans
Have You Ever Seen the Rain?
Rockin’ All Over the World
Down on the Corner
The Old Man Down the Road
Keep On Chooglin’
Fortunate Son
Bad Moon Rising
Proud Mary

https://johnfogerty.com/

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Live review: John Verity Band at Printers Playhouse, Eastbourne 20/10/18

When the booking for another venue in the town had fallen through and John Verity’s wife/manager, Carole, put out a call out on social media asking for possible alternatives I suggested Eastbourne’s Printers Playhouse, fast establishing itself as a decent small venue. Given that my off-the-cuff suggestion actually worked out and the John Verity Band were able to secure a booking there I thought the least I could do was get myself along. No chore this though. I have seen the former Argent guitarist at various Butlins weekends and it’s always a highly enjoyable set.

Playing some beautifully emotive slow blues as well as a few well-chosen rock classics, John Verity and his band-mates, John Gordon on bass and Liam Gray on drums, give us ninety minutes of sheer quality in this intimate and tightly-packed upstairs venue. While there are a fair few self-written songs played tonight, like ‘Blues in Heaven’ a beautiful tribute he had written for a former colleague and friend who passed away, there’s no shortage of covers either. Verity has never been at all snobbish about doing cover versions, whether blues standards or rock classics, but he always puts his own indelible stamp on them with his own inimitable guitar sound. As well as a cracking cover of a late-period Etta James song ‘The Blues Is My Business’ we are treated to J.J. Cale’s ‘Cocaine’ and, towards the end an awesome version of Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’.

Though he defines himself as a blues guitarist through and through, Verity does tell the audience, he “did have a little diversion at one point” before launching into the familiar powerful chugging intro of ‘Hold Your Head Up’ for a superb version of the Argent classic.

A hugely-talented blues guitarist, a genuine rock legend, an engaging stage personality with a nice line in self-deprecation and a really, really tight, together band it is well catching John Verity on one of his frequent tours.

http://www.johnverity.com/

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The new wave of classic rock: six more bands to watch out for

There has been a definite groundswell of bands forming in recent years playing their own original brand of classic hard rock/metal, influenced by both the first wave of hard rock/metal bands formed in the late 60s/early 70s and the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) formed a decade later. Following my last round-up a few months ago, here is another batch of bands that have gone out of their way to impress me recently.

1. Ethyrfield

Absolutely everyone who saw them at Minehead’s Giants of Rock this year was raving about Ethyrfield. Not me I’m afraid – 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.

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https://www.ethyrfield.com/

2. Saints Of Sin

If many of the bands flying under the NWOCR look to the NWOBHM scene of the late 70s/early 80s for inspiration Saints Of Sin appear to have stepped straight out of the LA metal scene circa 1987. Big hooks, catchy choruses and bags of attitude they were one of Friday’s highlights for me. The band’s excellent album ‘Welcome To The Circus’ is well worth getting hold of.

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https://www.saintsofsin.band/

3. The Black Bullets

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 at the New Cross Inn’s Four Sticks Classic Rock All Dayer back in March The Black Bullets were one of my favourite bands of the day.

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https://www.facebook.com/TheBlackBulletsUK

4. Tomorrow Is Lost

Tomorrow Is Lost, a young band from Newcastle formed last year and fronted by female singer, Cass King, were one of the highlights at the New Cross Inn’s second Four Sticks event this October. Great vocals and a real sense of showmanship I snapped up their two recent EPs after their set and they are now a definite addition to my ‘ones to watch’ list.

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https://tomorrowislost.com/

5. Animal Drive

Bite! Is the debut album from Croatian hard rock band Animal Drive. Four guys in their mid to late twenties, front-man Dino Jelusic has toured as a vocalist with the Trans Siberian Orchestra. I came equipped with zero knowledge of the Croatian rock/metal scene prior to reviewing this CD but extremely polished production, a thunderous rhythm section some blinding guitar work and powerfully melodic vocals means there’s much to like about this album. Such is the sheer professionalism of Bite! that it wouldn’t be out of place sitting alongside releases from much more experienced and established bands. One of the most impressive debuts I’ve heard in a while.

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http://animal-drive.com/

6. New Device

Polished melodic hard rock and catchy well-written songs, New Device proved to be a great start to the day for when I caught them at the New Cross Inn’s first Four Sticks classic rock event. 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.

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

Related post:

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

 

Live review: Four Sticks Classic Rock Weekender at the New Cross Inn, London 5-7 October 2018

This review was also published by Get Ready To Rock here

Following a successful all-dayer at the same venue back in March the Four Sticks classic rock event was back for a full weekend this time. With twenty-six bands over three days it showcased the breadth of talent on the NWOCR (New Wave Of Classic Rock) scene as well as featuring a couple of veteran stalwarts from the original New Wave Of British Heavy Metal scene as headliners, Diamond Head and Praying Mantis.

There were just too many quality bands to give a detailed run-down of each one but it’s worth noting that the overall quality was exceptionally high as was the range of styles and influences on display falling under the NWOCR banner.

On the Friday evening power trio Alteration got things off to a fine start and Neuronspolier combined charisma, good songs and great riffs to deliver an entertaining set. If many of the bands flying under the NWOCR look to the NWOBHM scene of the late 70s/early 80s for inspiration Saints Of Sin appear to have stepped straight out of the LA metal scene circa 1987. Big hooks, catchy choruses and bags of attitude they were one of Friday’s highlights for me. The band’s excellent album ‘Welcome To The Circus’ is well worth getting hold of. Reliable as ever and somehow bottling up that spirit of early AC/DC to unleash some raunchy good time rock ‘n’ roll Burnt Out Wreck, who headlined last time, got the crowd brilliantly warmed-up for the main headliners, even finishing with a cover of DC’s Highway To Hell. Diamond Head largely passed me by back in the day but their influence on heavy metal has been phenomenal, inspiring the likes of Metallica and the thrash scene. Finally, I get to see what all the fuss is about as Brian Tatler and co. deliver an awesome set with the crowd going to crazy to classics like ‘Shoot Out The Lights’ and ‘Am I Evil?’

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Saturday delivered lots of new faces on stage for me. Tomorrow Is Lost, a young band from Newcastle formed last year and fronted by female singer, Cass King, were one of the highlights. Great vocals and a real sense of showmanship I snapped up their two recent EPs after their set and they are now a definite addition to my ‘ones to watch’ list. Black Whiskey, another band who were on the bill last time – and the only band of the day who I had encountered several times before, also delivered an impressive set. With a new album due to be officially launched imminently it was good to see them expanding their repertoire with some great new tunes. Belfast’s Baleful Creed, with their brand of hard and heavy blues rock, were another of my favourites from Saturday. All chunky riffs and soulful vocals they instantly transported us away from a packed boozer in south London back to a time and a place where stadium giants ruled the rock world. Big Foot’s melodic-sounding metal then got us all nicely in the mood for Saturday’s headliners, Praying Mantis. With a slew of renowned rock vocalists passing through the band over the years, lead singer John Cuijpers has been gigging with the Troy brothers for several years now and the band has undergone a real creative renaissance with two quality albums picking up excellent reviews. Mantis deliver a supremely polished performance and some great songs, new and old. You just can’t quite believe the strength of the line-up of bands that the promoter has managed to pull together for Four Sticks this weekend.

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Sunday was a packed day with eleven bands appearing. I didn’t get to see them all but, as with Saturday, although there were some unfamiliar faces taking the stage there were also some old friends, too. Hammerjack and New Device, who were both on the bill back in March, returned to deliver impressive sets once again. The absolute stand-out act though, who I will never tire of enthusing about, were the Oxford-based Hell’s Gazelles. As one of the bands on the Introducing Stage at Minehead’s Giants Of Rock weekend in January I’d seen them set the crowd alight, tear the place apart and deliver an absolutely stunning set of hard rocking heavy metal. And the band did exactly the same here. They instantly lifted the atmosphere in the place ten-fold with their on-stage energy. With an incredible vocal range the band’s hyperactive front-man, Cole Bryant, exudes star quality from every pore. And his band-mates, Nath Digman (guitar), Rik Ridemark (bass) and Luke Evans (drums) deliver a phenomenal wall of noise behind him. There really is something very special about this band and with a new EP out ‘Take Your Medicine’ it’s heartening to see the band picking up great reviews and recognition in the likes of Kerrang. This band deserve to be huge!

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I didn’t get to see everything but overall the weekend was a brilliant showcase for some newly emerging rock bands as well as a great chance to see some well-respected veterans of the scene – all for £40 for a weekend ticket. Superb!

Related reviews:

Four Stick Classic Rock All Day March 2018
A renaissance in classic heavy metal: six bands to watch out for

Review: ‘A Brighter Day’ charity CD and benefit concert for Hastings Citizens Advice service

Hastings is not short of musical talent and neither, can it be said, is it lacking in community spirit or a social conscience either. So, back in the summer, all of this was harnessed for a benefit CD to raise funds for the town’s Citizens Advice service. Spanning everything from orchestral, folk, blues, rock, electro-pop and indie ‘A Brighter Day’ comprises 22 tracks especially recorded by local musicians.

The tracks were compiled by local resident Keith Rodway. The striking cover artwork was created by artist Peter Quinnell. The artists who contributed their work: Polo Piatti, Anita Jardine, Kat Lee-Ryan, Josephine Claire Hamill, Philip George Thornton, Nick Monaghan, Tim Scullion, Carol Prior, Otti A-i, Toby Warren (Elf and Stacey), Fritz Catlin, Simon Charterton, Dave Arnold, Richard James Burley, Tim Hoyte, Alice Trueman (CLUBBS), Charlotte Tingley and Leo Snook (Chasing Shadows), Keith Foster, Steve Stone, Tony May, Phil Little, Ken Edwards (The Moors).

On Sunday 30th September many of the artists featured on the album reconvened for a special benefit concert at Hastings’ fabulously atmospheric Printworks venue. As with the album, we witnessed a fantastically varied mix of styles and genres. Among the stand-outs for me were singer-songwriter Carol Prior, who immediately struck a connection wit the audience and segued effortlessly from a hilarious faux-protest song about getting a police caution for topless bathing into a stunning rendition of a Sikh prayer set to music, the latter of which appears on the album. Another stand-out was Tim Hoyte, whose beautifully elegant acoustic guitar playing graces his self-composed track ‘Flying Dreams’ on the album. A special mention must also go to young acoustic duo Chasing Shadows who do a nice line in Americana-tinged story songs and who I saw at St Leonards Kino Teatre a couple of years ago in what transpired to be one of their first ever gigs. Nice to see these two, Charlotte Tingley and Leo Snook,  developing and growing as performers.

A really talented bunch of musicians, a great atmosphere and a great cause – let’s hope the benefit raised some much-needed cash for those providing advice and support to local people in these tough times.

The album ‘A Brighter Day’ is available to stream and purchase in CD format on Bandcamp at: https://ca1066.bandcamp.com. Priced at just £5 (or pay more if you you like) all proceeds go to Citizens Advice 1066.

CD copies are also available from the following local shops:

– Sea Kale, London Road, St Leonards (opposite the Co-op),
– Borough Wines, Robertson Street, Hastings
– Wow and Flutter, Trinity Street, Hastings

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Live review: Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2018

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Day one: Thursday

Cropredy 2018 kicks off with Fairport Convention doing a brief twenty-minute acoustic stint. We’ll be hearing a lot more from them later on in the weekend, of course, but a short opening set from the hosts has become something of a Cropredy tradition.

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Fairport are then swiftly followed by Smith & Brewer. Ben Smith and Jimmy Brewer met a few years ago while on tour with Joan Armatrading and their Americana-infused acoustic playing, combined with August sun and a few beers is the perfect way to get us into the festival vibe for this most friendly and laid-back of festivals. Next up and on a similar sort of theme is Police Dog Hogan. Guardian readers will perhaps be aware of them through Guardian writer, Tim Dowling’s regular exploits as banjo player for the band in his regular Saturday column. No reflection on Tim or the rest of the band but your GRTR crew departed at this stage for a bit of chill-out time back at the campsite ahead of the evening’s headliners – 80s folk rock veterans Oysterband and surf supremo, Brian Wilson.

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Oysterband are as good as ever but for me, and many others, it’s Brian Wilson’s night. A visibly frail Brian Wilson took to the stage assisted by a walking frame and a couple of roadies. Seated at his huge white keyboard in the centre of the stage, however, he was master of all he surveyed giving us an hour and a half of sheer magic. He’s accompanied, of course, by a stage full of top class musicians and amazing vocalists and hit after hit of Beach Boys classics come thick and fast, followed by a rendition in full of the masterpiece that is Pet Sounds, followed by yet more hits. Wilson these days is also often accompanied by his old Beach Boys colleague Al Jardine. At 75 his voice sounds almost as fresh as it did at 20. Jardine’s son Matt, blessed with equally amazing vocal abilities, is also part of the line-up. If there comes a time when the last surviving Wilson brother becomes too frail to tour I would happily pay good money to see Jardine and his son continuing the Beach Boys legacy. Definitely one of the highlights of the weekend for me.

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Day Two – Friday

Festival-goers will be familiar with those days when the skies are grey, the temperature drops, the rain is relentless and everything – just everything – becomes an ordeal. Friday is one of those mornings. None of our group can face the thought of standing in the wet and cold all day and we head off to explore the ‘Cropredy Fringe’. Although Fairport have resisted the pressure to go down the route of other festivals and introduce multiple stages, a mixture of local pubs and enterprising landowners have put together their own programmes of entertainment to compliment (or compete with?) the action on the main stage. We therefore spent the first couple of hours in a marquee full of soggy festival-goers drinking cider and looking out on some truly depressing weather. Missing the first two acts on the main stage we were contemplating whether to brave it for the third when the sky brightened, the sun shone and we made it back to the main arena on a glorious August afternoon just in time to catch The Travelling Band begin their set. This talented band’s brand of Mancunian Americana was the perfect tonic as the day morphed from a horrendously cold and wet morning into a beautiful lazy sunny afternoon.

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I assume that a big chunk of this year’s artist budget had been blown on securing Brian Wilson (a decision I thoroughly, thoroughly approve of by the way). In consequence, compared to other years this year’s line-up was perhaps a touch lighter on household names. However, even if it lacked many big names we did have the likes of Jim Cregan who had an 18-year stint with one of the biggest names ever – Rod Stewart. A talented musician and songwriter Cregan co-wrote a number of Stewart’s hits and Cregan and Co turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of the whole weekend. 20,000 people up dancing and singing along to the likes of Baby Jane, You’re In My Heart and Tonight I’m Yours as hit followed hit followed hit. Cregan also reminded us he’d done a stint with Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – before launching into a wondrous Come Up And See Me (Make Me Smile) which sent the crowd even crazier. We even got a special treat right at the end as the Fairport boys came out en masse to do the mandolin part on Maggie May.

Larger than life Quebec folkies Le Vent Du Nord never disappoint and they wowed the crowd at Cropredy, just as I’d seen them wowing the crowd at Womad a couple of years earlier. Then it was the former Marillion main-man, Fish, but sadly coming on for that early evening slot where, once again. we really needed some chill-out time if we were to keep going until midnight.

We did make it back to the arena to see an utterly stunning set from Kate Rusby. Witty, passionate and engaging, with beautiful voice and deeply emotional songs the Barnsley-based folkie absolutely stormed it, in a time-slot where, to be truthful, I’d seen other female folkies struggle a bit to keep the crowd’s attention in the past.

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Then came Friday headliners, The Levellers, who I found to be a real disappointment to be perfectly frank. I’d seen them only a few weeks ago where they have been completely reworking their material in a sit-down, mellow, acoustic set accompanied by a string orchestra. Now while that was well-received in a medium-sized theatre with an audience of devoted fans, it is really not what you want for a festival set – certainly not when you are headlining and it’s late at night, it’s getting cold and the majority of the crowd were probably expecting to warm themselves up bouncing around to a full-on, rocked-up, classic Levellers set. A huge missed opportunity for the band – an innovative idea but just completely the wrong approach for a festival.

Day Three: Saturday

No relentless rain to put a damper on things on the Saturday morning, we have bright sunshine for Richard Digance, who has become quite a Cropredy institution over the years. His sentimental and gently humorous songs may not be everyone’s cup of tea but his set is worth it alone for the surreal sight of 20,000 white hankies waving in the air when Digance finishes his spot each year by getting the whole crowd on their feet for some mass morris dancing.

With a brief interlude from singer song-writer Eric Sedge, it’s time for yet more insanity, this time from the Bar-Steward Sons Of Val Doonican. Their formula isn’t a million miles away from the path trodden over many years by the likes of the Baron Knights, the Wurzels et al – humorously silly alternative lyrics to well-known pop songs. But the Doonicans dress it up with a bit of very twenty-first century surrealism including, at one point, the lead singer launching himself off the stage to surf above the crowd in a rubber dinghy. I spoke to people who had been crying with laughter and had them down as one of the absolute highlights of their weekend while my brother (and GRTR’s official photographer for the weekend) was adamant that they were the worst act ever to appear at a festival in his entire existence. I quite liked them.

Next up is young singer-songwriter Will Varley. A great voice and superb musicianship I felt at times, that he perhaps has to develop a bit more as a writer in order to give us some truly memorable songs – but I’m sure that will come. Then it’s time one of the weekend’s highlights for me was a cracking set from Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys. Putting a modern edge on traditional folk, Kelly and his band-mates really get the crowd up and jigging. Definitely one of the most exciting bands to emerge on the contemporary folk scene in recent years.

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Then it was back to the van for a big long snooze, missing both Afro Celt Sound System and Al Stewart. In my mitigation I thought the Old Speckled Hen mini keg that I’d polished off that afternoon contained five litres rather than five pints. Still, I was up bright, refreshed and rested for Fairport Convention’s Saturday night headline slot and, even more impressive, I’d completely missed out on all the heavy rain.

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Fairport Convention always strive to give us something a bit different with their mammoth Saturday night set each Cropredy festival. Last year was very much a celebration of the band’s fiftieth anniversary, with surviving former members from each era reuniting on stage. This year the two stand-out sections of the set were a lengthy and poignant tribute to former lead singer, Sandy Denny, who died forty years ago this year, and an emotional and amazingly touching tribute to another former member, multi-instrumentalist Maartin Allcock. The latter’s musical input was a huge part of the band’s renaissance as a touring, recording, functioning outfit in the 80s and early 90s. A couple of months before this year’s festival, however, Allcock announced on his website that he had been diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, was unlikely to be around for very much longer and that Cropredy would be his final public performance. An incredibly brave way of facing the final chapter of his life but what a performance it was and what love for him in the assembled crowd. Playing the rocked up ‘Metal Matty’ version of Fairport’s traditional classic. Matty Groves, that Allcock helped create back in his days with the band and, finally, taking centre stage to play out the encore Meet On The Ledge he said goodbye to the Cropredy Fairport family in true style with grace, dignity and some stunning playing. Certainly one of the most emotional moments I’ve ever experienced in thirty-odd years of festival-going. Thank you for your contribution Maartin and may your final days be full of love and free of pain.

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All photo credits: Sam Reynolds

Related reviews:

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2017

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2014

Album review – Fairport Convention ‘What We Did On Our Saturday’

 

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/

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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