Category Archives: Live reviews

Live review: Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2022

With all the performers originally booked for 2020, then rescheduled for 2021, then rescheduled again for 2022, a lot has happened since this festival line-up was first announced at the back-end of 2019. Festival mainstay, Richard Digance, could no longer make it. He had a booking at the Edinburgh Fringe this year so his Saturday lunchtime set was given over to Seth Lakeman. Matthews Southern Comfort, who had originally been down for the early Saturday evening slot, had now morphed into The Matthews Baartmans Experience, the band having gone their separate ways during their Covid-enforced career interlude leaving just Iain Matthews and BJ Baartmans to fly the flag as a duo. And for myself (who had originally booked tickets for me and my now ex-partner) I would now be accompanied by the lovely Simon (below right) who has stacks and stacks of camping experience but had never been to a musical festival before.

Simon’s verdict: “I couldn’t believe how well-organised it was . It was just like a proper campsite. I was expecting it to be really rowdy and nowhere near as civilised as it was.”

Day One – Thursday:

I’ve been at Cropredy in all sorts of weather conditions, from thunder and lightning to torrential rain to baking hot sun, but it soon became clear that we wouldn’t be able to just sit in the field all day watching pretty much every band that came along. Me and heatwaves don’t mix. I could just about cope with the mid-day sun and the late evenings were exceptionally pleasant once the sun had dipped below the horizon but after downing several pints waiting for Fairport Convention’s twenty-minute opening acoustic set on the Thursday afternoon it soon became abundantly clear that a very different strategy was needed this year.

This was fine as pretty much all of the artists I really, really wanted to see had either early lunchtime slots or later evening slots. It meant I would miss out on the experience of trying out some new bands in the afternoon but even a jam session with the reincarnation Elvis and Jimi Hendrix would not have got me back on that festival field in the afternoon sun.

Following a snooze to recover and then listening to Edward II from the comfort (and shade) of our campsite gazebo, we headed back over for Clannad. A band I’d long wanted to see, their set was absolutely stunning and a fitting finale to their 52-year career. Back in 2020 they had decided to call it a day but the pandemic has meant a two-year delay to the completion of their farewell tour. When Cropredy 2020 was cancelled I treated myself to a copy of their double-disc career retrospective so I was pretty familiar with pretty much all of their set-list (not just the ubiquitous TV theme-song classics) by the time it came to Cropredy. Well worth the wait.

When they last played Cropredy in 2017 The Trevor Horn Band went down an absolute storm. However, not particularly being a fan of either Buggles or 80s-era Yes, back then I decided to take a break for a snooze. I soon realised I’d made a big mistake as we heard Horn and co. churn out hit after hit from the comfort of the campsite. No such snobbery from me this time around and we made sure we were there for a set that encompassed songs from the back catalogues of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, 10CC, Tears For Fears, David Bowie, Dire Straits and many more – not to mention the obligatory Yes and Buggles hits. There were numerous guests, including Lol Crème from 10CC, Steve Hogarth from Marillion and the wonderful Toyah Wilcox and Robert Fripp who became those surprise YouTube sensations during lockdown. It was fun, brilliantly-performed and a wonderful party atmosphere, even for me who is generally quite snooty about 80s chart hits.

Day Two – Friday:

Our heatwave survival strategy came into play whereby we would catch a couple of lunchtime acts and then retreat from the afternoon sun until the evening. BBC Young Folk Award 2019 winner, Maddie Morris, finally got to perform and wowed the crowd with her sweet voice, socially-conscious lyrics and powerful advocacy of LGBT rights. Next up was Australian singer-songwriter, Emily Barker, who I’d enjoyed twice before, once doing an in-store performance promoting her wonderfully-soulful Sweet Kind of Blue album (recorded in Memphis) and once on tour with Marry Waterson (daughter of Lal) of the legendary Waterson family. The was no Marry on stage this time but we did get a wonderful rendering of the Watersons’ ‘Bright Phoebus’, alongside Emily Barker’s own unique blend of soulful Americana.

It was then time to escape the sun and also meet a late-comer to our ten-strong Cropredy camping group so I spent some time in one of the marquees at the Cream of The Crop campsite in Field 8 which runs its own parallel small festival alongside the official Fairport one. Anyone with a wristband for the main festival can get in and while I, unfortunately, missed the brilliant Dandelion Charm I did catch some other great music. After showing our new arrival to the camp it was then time to head off to the main stage for Turin Brakes.

Formed at the turn of the millennium their chilled-out and gorgeously-melodic brand of indie rock was just perfect for a summer evening and one of the weekend highlights for me. Playing a mixture of old favourites like their 2005 top five hit, ‘Painkiller (Summer Rain)’ alongside newer material, they certainly looked happy to finally be performing and it was an emotional moment for drummer, Rob Allum, when it was revealed his first visit to Cropredy was as a youngster way back in 1980.

If the previous night ended with the party sing-along atmosphere of the Trevor Horn Band’s set, this was not exactly what Steve Hackett was offering. I can dip in and out of early Genesis but this seemed very much a strictly-for-fans only set, I’m afraid, and after grabbing some pictures of the stunning full moon over the festival crowd we decided to call it a night.

Day Three – Saturday:

Seth Lakeman never disappoints at a festival and although his set is a world away from the entertaining mix of sentimentality and silliness served up by Richard Digance, he was an inspired choice to fill the latter’s regular Saturday lunchtime slot and a big enough name to guarantee that the field would be full by the time he came on stage to open proceedings.

After Seth Lakeman we slipped away, once again, before the afternoon sun really started doing it’s worst but were back at the main stage by early evening.

Early Fairport alumni, Iain Matthews, always seems as comfortable playing solo with just his guitar as he is playing with a full band, so the duo format suits him down to the ground. Playing a mixture of Matthews Southern Comfort and solo material, plus some well-chosen covers (including ‘Reno Nevada’, a regular live fixture from Fairport Convention’s early days) the Matthews Baartmans Experience are nicely timed to start off an evening of Fairport and friends. Richard Thompson (who would be back on shortly for both his own set and Fairport’s) comes on for one song. In a colourful shirt and baggy shorts sans his usual black stage uniform, he joins the duo to perform a crowd-pleasing cover of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’, Matthews Southern Comfort’s biggest and best-known hit.

Then it’s straight into a set from Richard Thompson. With a great mix of old favourites (‘Genesis Hall’, ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’, ‘Beeswing’, ‘Bright Lights’ et al) and newer material (‘Singapore Sadie’, ‘The Rattle Within’), he’s always a star turn any time he’s been at Cropredy and he had the crowd roaring for him from the word go. The voice, that guitar, those songs: this was always going to be a winning combination at Cropredy. And it was. Iain Matthews returned the favour by providing vocals on the wonderful ‘From Galway To Graceland’ and, all in all, it was the perfect prelude to the grand finale.

2020 marked the fiftieth anniversary of Fairport Convention’s first post-Sandy Denny album, the much-celebrated Full House) and two years later they finally get to perform it in full with all of the original line-up from that album, bar Dave Swarbrick (whose place was taken by current member, Chris Leslie, taking on the late Swarb’s fiddle and vocal parts). First, however, the current line-up deliver a handful of old favourites not from that album like ‘Ye Mariners All’ and ‘Fotheringay’, alongside a very hefty dose of songs from the most recent studio album, Shuffle And Go, which was released back in 2020. On their 2022 Winter Tour earlier this year Dave Pegg joked that given they had not had chance to flog them on tour for the last couple of years, there were still stacks of these albums sitting in his garage and so they were making no apologies for heavily pushing it. Clearly, the same rule applied but there are some pretty entertaining songs on the album and the musicianship is never less than excellent.

The moment virtually all of us were waiting for, however, was the start of the Full House segment and it was a really special seeing ex-Fairporters Dave Mattacks and Richard Thompson taking their places alongside Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg and Chris Leslie. Together they captured the drama, intensity and outright weirdness of that classic 1970 album – and some more. All are seasoned players compared to their younger selves and while Dave Swarbrick’s presence was sorely missed, they played and sang with such confidence and swagger that it almost felt better than the original album.

The between-song banter in the early part of the set and the non-negotiability around playing the Full House album in full meant that they had started to run short of time towards the end of the set, where they were up against an equally non-negotiable curfew. ‘Matty Groves’ was unceremoniously dumped but we still got a beautiful rendition of ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes’ with a lovely video introduction from Sandy Denny’s daughter, Georgia Lucas, as well as the traditional end-of festival emotional sing-along that is ‘Meet On The Ledge’.

I didn’t mind missing ‘Matty Groves’. My only real niggle is that I felt there should have been a proper on-stage tribute to original vocalist, Judy Dyble, who sadly passed away in 2020. I was expecting something to be played from the first album and perhaps an accompanying video tribute. Yes, she was only around for one album but she participated in numerous reunions and was an enthusiastic attendee of the festival each year.

Nevertheless, it was great to be back, it was a spectacular evening courtesy of Fairport and friends and it was an emotional end to the festival. It all comes round again (eventually).

Photo credits: Simon Putman

Related reviews:

Book review: ‘On Track: Fairport Convention – every album, every song’ by Kevan Furbank

Fairport Convention at Bexhill 2020

Live review: Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2018

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2017

Album review – Fairport Convention ‘Come All Ye: The First Ten Years’

Fairport Convention – 50th anniversary gig at Union Chapel 2017

Fairport Convention at Cropredy 2014

Fairport Convention at Union Chapel 2014

Iain Matthews in Etchingham 2016

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

Album review – Ashley Hutchings ‘From Psychedelia to Sonnets’

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

Album review – Sandy Denny ‘I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn: The Acoustic Sandy Denny’

Fotheringay at Under the Bridge, London 2015

Fotheringay at Great British Folk Festival 2015

Richard Thompson at Royal Festival Hall 2015

Richard Thompson at Folk By The Oak 2014

Album review – Richard Thompson ‘Acoustic Classics’

Judy Dyble at WM Jazz at The o2

Albion Christmas Band at Kings Place 16/12/14

Live review: the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park 3/7/22

It’s been over thirty years since attending my first and only previous Rolling Stones gig, when I went with my dad to Manchester’s Maine Road back in 1990. My dad’s thinking back then was that if I wanted to see them live then 1990’s Urban Jungle tour might be my last chance.

Thirty-two years later and they are still at it, well Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood anyway. The set opened with a poignant tribute to Charlie Watts up on the huge screens and Jagger dedicating the concert to him.

Opening up with a wonderfully energetic version of ‘Get Off My Cloud’ to get us all instantly in the mood, the hits keep rolling. Timeless classics all, I was particularly moved by a poignant rendition of ‘Angie’ and a beautiful ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, a song we played at my dad’s funeral back in 2007 so it has special meaning for me.

There was quite a lot of banter with the crowd, a playful Jagger welcoming us to the “American Express British Summer Time Covid super-spreader event” at one point. This is the fifth time the Stones have played Hyde Park, the vocalist reminds us. “The first one was free,” he says, recalling that legendary Hyde Park concert back in July 1969 following the tragic death of Brian Jones. “The following ones were not free,”  he says with a wry grin, acknowledging the hefty wads of cash that most of us had forked out for the privilege of being here tonight.

Keith Richards is in his element, taking lead vocals for a couple of songs,  ‘You Got The Silver’ (from Let It Bleed) and ‘Happy’ (from Exile On Main Street). It also gave Jagger a short rest back stage. But for the rest of the concert he’s bopping and preening and dashing out into the crowd on the famed ‘ego-ramp’, the same as he’s always done in a way that’s just impossible to believe he’s now almost 79.

As Matt, my gig partner for the day points out, it’s not a massive entourage of a backing band. Jagger, Richards and Wood are joined by the ever-present Darryl Jones, who took over from Bill Wyman back in 1994, and Steve Jordan filling in for Charlie Watts since the latter’s shock demise last year. Alongside them are Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford on keyboards, Bernard Fowler on backing vocals and percussion, Tim Ries and Karl Denson on saxophone, and Sasha Allen on backing vocals. Both the sound and on-stage vibe is perfection.

Jagger’s soon back on stage and the band launch into an extended, super-funked-up version of ‘Miss You’, an opportunity for a mass boogie by the Hyde Park crowd and communal “ooh-ooh ooh-ooh ooh-ooh-ooh” backing vocals before we move straight into a deliciously laid-back ‘Midnight Rambler’, with bags of harmonica from Jagger and Richards and Woods trading country-flavoured guitar licks.

And there’s still time to pack a whole more classics in: ‘Paint It Black’, ‘Start Me Up’, ‘Gimme Shelter’, ‘Jumping Jack Flash’. Another poignant moment comes as the big screens depict an eery tableau of bombed-out buildings during ‘Gimme Shelter’ as the band’s tribute to Ukraine, with backing singer, Sasha Allen, duetting with Jagger on this one and demonstrating what a fantastically soulful voice she’s got as she joins him on the ramp out into the crowd.

Unlike the Eagles last week, who launched straight into their encore set without the hassle of going off stage and coming back on again, we did have to wait a couple minutes for the band to return and conclude with ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and riotous, life-affirming ‘Satisfaction’.

I probably won’t get to see them again, regardless of the band’s future plans as they reach their sixtieth anniversary milestone. But this was special and something I’ll remember forever.

Set-list:

Get Off My Cloud

19th Nervous Breakdown

Tumbling Dice

Out of Time

Angie

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Like a Rolling Stone

You Got Me Rocking

Honky Tonk Women

You Got the Silver

Happy

Miss You

Midnight Rambler

Paint It Black

Start Me Up

Gimme Shelter

Jumping Jack Flash

Sympathy for the Devil

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

Related posts:

Review: The Rolling Stones ‘Exhibitionism’ at The Saatchi Gallery

Live review: the Eagles at Hyde Park 26/6/22

Live review: the Eagles at Hyde Park 26/6/22

My first BST Hyde Park festival since Blur in 2015, and I’ve not just got one this year, but two. First the Eagles then the Rolling Stones a week later.

Having long been on my bucket-list of must-see artists, I’d somehow managed to avoid seeing the Eagles until now so today was always going to be really special. It was made even more special by the early evening support slot from none other than Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. It’s a superb fit as their lush bluegrass-soaked Americana perfectly complements the laid-back, west coast, country rock of the headliners. Giving us a selection of tracks from their stunning 2007 Raising Sand album and its recent follow-up, Raise The Roof, the pair also manage to chuck in a couple of Zep covers, too – ‘Rock and Roll’ and a majestic version of ‘The Battle of Evermore’, originally a duet between Plant and Sandy Denny.

The sun continued to shine and the Eagles took to the stage on a lovely warm summer evening in Hyde Park. If there’s one band you don’t want to see performing against a backdrop of typically unreliable British weather, it’s got to be the Eagles. But everything is on their side tonight.

Following the sad passing of Glenn Frey back in 2016, the Eagles these days are Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit and new boy, Vince Gill. It’s a masterclass of a performance and the classics just keep rolling: ‘One Of These Nights’, ‘Witchy Woman’, Take It To The Limit’, Lyin’ Eyes’, They just keep coming.

Glenn Frey’s son, Deacon, who was officially part of the line-up for a time following his father’s death, joins as a special guest for a couple of songs, including a stunning ‘Take It Easy’.

Ever the rock star, and never one to really go for the regulation, trade-mark, laid-back Eagles  persona, Joe Walsh brings his flamboyance to the performance and gets to do a couple of his solo numbers, too. He’s still in fine voice and his guitar-playing is just a delight. Drummer and founder, Don Henley, also gives us one of his solo numbers, dedicating ‘The Boys of Summer’ to Taylor Hawkins.

Those Eagles classics keep coming though. They’ll be on for two hours by the end. Probably mindful of Westminster City Council’s ultra-strict curfew policy and given that we are now well past 10pm, “We’re not going to do that walk on and walk off thing,” we’re told. Before we know it, it’s ‘Hotel California’ and it just felt magical being in Hyde Park late on a summer evening watching the Eagles perform the song they’ll always be most famous for. We’re not quite finished yet and there’s time to squeeze in ‘Rocky Mountain Way’, ‘Desperado’  and ‘Already Gone’ before the curfew hits.

A truly magical evening and a chance to finally see one of my bucket-list bands. And next week it’s the Stones!

https://eagles.com/

Setlist:

Seven Bridges Road

One of These Nights

New Kid in Town

Witchy Woman

Take It to the Limit

Lyin’ Eyes

In the City

I Can’t Tell You Why

Victim of Love

Tequila Sunrise

Best of My Love

Peaceful Easy Feeling

Take It Easy

Life’s Been Good

Those Shoes

The Boys of Summer

Funk #49

Heartache Tonight

Life in the Fast Lane

Hotel California

Rocky Mountain Way

Desperado

Already Gone

Related review:

Live review: the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park 3/7/22

Live review: Suzi Quatro at the Royal Albert Hall 20/4/22

Given I’d spent a good chunk of 2021 and the first part of 2022 living and breathing all things Suzi Quatro, the timing of the celebratory Royal Albert Hall concert  couldn’t have been more perfect. Coming, as it did, just weeks after getting the final draft of Suzi Quatro in the 1970s off to the publishers, Suzi’s gig at the Royal Albert Hall was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time.

There is no support tonight, just Suzi and her band in this packed iconic venue, performing two sets equally packed with hits and other highlights from across her fifty-year solo career. Kicking off with ‘The Wild One’, the hits rolled thick and fast: ‘I May Be Too Young’, ‘Daytona Demon’, ‘Tear Me Apart’, Mama’s Boy’, ‘Stumblin’ In’ and ’48 Crash’. The backing band is polished and versatile and sounding great – and if you’ve not encountered Suzi Quatro live for some considerable years or your main memories are of seeing her performing on Top Of The Pops, the band now encompasses a brass section and backing singers.

Photo credit: Gary Cosby

We were promised some additional special guests, too, and I half-wondered whether Chris Norman would be brought on stage to reprise his role in ‘Stumblin’ In’ but it’s the guitarist, Tim, who gets to sing the duet instead. We don’t have to wait too long for the first special guest to appear, however, as Suzi brings up her guitarist son, Richard Tuckey, who worked with her on her two most recent albums, 2019’s No Control and last year’s The Devil In Me. Both albums picked up very favourable reviews at the time and together they perform a song from each. The mother and son dynamic works incredibly well, both in the studio and live on stage, recapturing the energy and raunch of Quatro’s early solo career and adding a contemporary edge. After the classic Chinn-Chapman glam era, this new Quatro/Tuckey partnership is fast becoming my next favourite chapter of Suzi’s long career.

We don’t have to wait long for the next set of special guests to appear, either. Paying tribute to the great bands that were around in the 1970s, Suzi welcomes her next two guests: Sweet’s Andy Scott and Slade’s Don Powell. The three worked together a few years ago, of course, releasing the excellent Quatro, Scott & Powell album back in 2017 and undertaking a successful tour of Australia. This will be the first time a British audience has had the chance to see the three perform together, however. Launching into ‘Slow Down’ from the trio’s album together they give us a gloriously energetic slice of 1950s rock and roll, followed by a blistering cover of Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’. I do hope we get to see more of this glam-era power trio in the not too distant future.

In a complete change of pace, and to prove that she can do soft, emotive balladry as well as any of them, Suzi sits alone at the piano for the final song of the first set, a beautiful rendition of ‘Can I Be Your Girl’ from the Unreleased Emotion album which is dedicated to her mother and father.

The second half sees more vintage hits as well as more songs from the new album. Indeed, the set opens with that wonderful tribute to her Detroit home-town, ‘Motor City Riders’, from The Devil In Me. Although she will always be best known for the thumping, raucous sounds of the Chinn and Chapman early ‘70s hits, Suzi Quatro’s illustrious back catalogue explores a range of styles and genres. Suzi and the band delve into a number of these tonight, including the funk groove of ‘Your Mamma Won’t Like Me’, the heavily new wave -influenced ‘She’s In Love With You’ and the country rock of ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love’, as well as more traditional Quatro fayre in the form of ‘Can The Can’ and ‘Devil Gate Drive’.

By the time we hear these two, of course, it’s a sign that things are starting to draw to a close, sadly. There’s just time for a riotous rendition of Chuck Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Rock n Roller’ before a complete change of mood, once again, this time with a cover of the Eagles ‘Desperado’.

Photo credit: Gary Cosby

Almost fifty years since she had her first big hit and almost forty years since I first saw her at Reading Festival when I was seventeen, Suzi Quatro gives a masterclass of a performance tonight. Still rocking, still singing, still pumping out those powerful bass sounds and still the consummate entertainer, Suzi Quatro definitely still has it.

My book Suzi Quatro in the 1970s will be published by Sonicbond Publishing on 28th July 2022. Details here

Set-list:

First half:

The Wild One

I May Be Too Young

Daytona Demon

Tear Me Apart

Mama’s Boy

Stumblin’ In

48 Crash

No Soul/No Control (with Richard Tuckey)

The Devil In Me (with Richard Tuckey)

Slow Down (with Andy Scott and Don Powell)

Rockin’ in the Free World (with Andy Scott and Don Powell)

Can I Be Your Girl?

Second half:

Motor City Riders

I Sold My Soul Today

Rock Hard

She’s in Love With You

Your Mamma Won’t Like Me

Too Big

Glycerine Queen

Can the Can

Devil Gate Drive

If You Can’t Give Me Love

Sweet Little Rock & Roller

Desperado

Related posts:

Interview with Andy Scott

Interview with Don Powell

New book: ‘Suzi Quatro In The 1970s’ by Darren Johnson coming in July 2022

Live review: the final ever Giants of Rock, Minehead 21-23 January 2022

This month saw a return to Minehead for what would turn out to be the last of the Giants of Rock weekends which have been running off-season at Butlins for the past eight years. I missed the first one, back in 2014, because I’d already committed to going to Skegness Butlins for the Rock and Blues weekend that year and, obviously, we all missed the one last year because it was cancelled due to Covid – but other than that it’s been an essential date in my gig calendar every year.

In truth, and no disrespect to any individual act playing, the festival line-up was starting to look a little threadbare. Past weekends had given us the likes of Uriah Heep, Michael Schenker and Ian Hunter but Butlins’ capacity for signing up genuine bona fide rock giants seemed to be on the wane somewhat. Admittedly, simple demographics have meant that performers from that classic era of classic rock (post-Beatles – pre-punk: 1969-1975) are becoming more and more of a rarity but Giants of Rock also seemed to be getting stuck in a bit of a rut with the same promoter relying on the same small roster of acts year in year out.

I was pondering whether this might be the last time I book but in the end the decision was made for me. From next year the slot previously filled by Giants of Rock will be given over to Bootleg Ball described in the publicity as “A tribute to the giants of rock – featuring the best tributes to the biggest rock bands on the planet past and present.” I’m not snobbish about tribute acts, I’ve seen some great tribute bands locally down here in Hastings but the idea that I’m going to make a 500-mile round trip to the West Country to see tribute acts is a non-starter, particularly when there are so many other festivals like Hard Rock Hell and Cornwall Rocks to choose from. I can see the attraction from Butlins’ perspective though. As well as aiming to hold on to some of the loyal Giants of Rock audience they’ll be able to substantially up attendance figures by appealing to the lucrative stag and hen market and those large groups that you get on so many other Butlins weekends on the look-out for some tongue-in-cheek fun.

Knowing it would be the last Giants of Rock did mean the weekend was tinged with a touch of sadness. One of the truly wonderful things about Giants of Rock is the strong sense of community that has built up amongst regular attendees. I therefore wanted this last hurrah to be a memorable one – thankfully it was.

Friday

I have some vague memories of seeing Ten Years After at Reading Festival as a 17yo in 1983. They were already well into ‘heritage act’ status even then but other than inheriting an Alvin Lee best-of CD from my dad, I mainly know them via Slade’s wonderful cover of ‘Hear Me Calling’ on the Slade Alive album. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect tonight. The late Alvin Lee had left the band a good ten years before his untimely death in 2013 and I recall reading of a further split in the ranks more recently. So I really had little idea what the Ten Years After of 2022 would have to offer and I’d done no research beforehand – but, my, they are absolutely mind-blowing. Still with original keyboard player, Chick Churchill, and original drummer, Ric Lee, vocalist/guitarist Marcus Bonfanti is a stunning blues rock performer who exudes energy and the interplay between him and keyboardist Chick Churchill is a thing of immense beauty and absolutely joyful to watch. This was definitely one of my “oh wow” highlights of the entire weekend and I will certainly be on the lookout to see them again – they were just incredible. Ironically, in the other room another band that I also remember from Reading in 1983 was on stage – Big Country. I never really got into them at the time and catching the end of their set while waiting for Praying Mantis, I can report that they still don’t really do much for me now either. They certainly had a packed-out room and an enthusiastic crowd though. Praying Mantis, on the other hand, lived up to all expectations and, once again, delivered a superb set of polished melodic metal.

Saturday

At festivals I tend to have a policy of trying not to cram in so many bands that I’m completely knackered before the end of the evening and end up missing acts I really want to see later on. As such, it was a leisurely start on the Saturday but I made it in time for Sad Café who were the last of the three acts on the main stage in the afternoon. Bizarrely, Sad Café were another band I remember seeing at Reading in 1983 so it seemed appropriate to give them a go for old time’s sake. I lasted about three songs but they weren’t doing anything at all for me I’m afraid so a catch-up with old friends outside the venue became the preferred alternative before heading off to the Introducing Stage. This year, the stage had moved from the cramped but intimate surroundings of Jaks bar to the big Skyline Pavilion. The acoustics are not good, it’s draughty as hell and while it’s still daylight it has all the atmosphere of a shopping centre on a rainy afternoon. Nevertheless, bluesy mother and daughter -fronted combo Lee Ainley’s Blues Storm impressed me enough for me to buy their recent CD – Evolution. Sussex-based (so fairly local to me) I look forward to seeing more of them. By 5pm it was now dark, there was a sizeable crowd and a more gig-like atmosphere for the next act: Matt Long and the Revenant Ones. Hard riffs, powerful songs and catchy choruses this classic power trio of Matt Long (guitars and vocals), Adam Pyke (bass) and Kev Hickman (drums) immediately had the crowd going and soon had me heading straight to the merch desk. I wanted to buy The Other Side their debut album – but they’d forgot to bring any! Never mind, I’ve just ordered one online as I write…

Saturday evening became a bit of a Giants of Rock nostalgia-fest with three acts that have very much become must-sees whenever they’ve been on. First, there is ex-Argent guitarist John Verity with his trademark blend of stunning blues rock solo compositions and classic hard rock covers.

John Verity

Next, we have the reformed Atomic Rooster which includes vocalist Pete French and guitarist Steve Boltz from the band’s early 70s era. Filling Vincent Crane’s shoes is a hard ask but Adrian Gautrey does an incredible job on Hammond organ bringing those signature heavy keyboard licks to a live set. I’d absolutely love to see them release a live CD from the modern-day Atomic Rooster. If you’re reading this please take this as a formal request. The final of my trio of past GOR favourites tonight is Geordie. Reformed in 2018, original members Tom Hill (bass) and Brian Gibson (drums) have given Brian Johnson’s pre-AC/DC band a fresh reboot and are joined by Steve Dawson (guitar) and Mark Wright (vocals). Originally notching up a handful of hit singles as an early 70s glam rock act before evolving into more traditional hard rock album territory in the years that followed, the band pull off both personas superbly and provide a perfect end to the evening.

Sunday

Young twenty-something Swiss guitarist, Félix Rabin, was one of the winners of the Introducing Stage in 2020 and he is back this year with the first slot of the day on the main stage. I missed him last time around but his incredible stage presence and virtuoso guitar skills make him a obvious winner with the crowd. As soon as he’s finished there is a huge queue forming at the merch desk. Unlike Matt Long, Félix Rabin did remember to bring along a big box of albums but they still managed to sell out before I could get to the head of the queue to buy one – definitely a name to watch. I stayed around for prog rock outfit the John Hackett Band but my energy levels dropped and after a couple of songs and some very obvious sound problems I sloped off for a long snooze. I was back in time for the awesome Gorilla Riot on the Introducing Stage. Frontman vocalist/guitarist Arjun Bhishma is gloriously cocky, cheekily irreverent and hugely talented. The band are an instant hit and their brand of raunchy, sleazy, bluesy rock and roll is delivered to perfection.

Gorilla Riot

Sunday evening’s entertainment is centred around another Giants Of Rock favourite Wille and The Bandits followed by Nazareth and Vambo. It meant missing the excellent King King but I’d already seen them just before Christmas and some good-time party rock and roll that the rejuvenated Nazareth provide in spades seemed just the ticket for the last night of the last ever Giants of Rock.

So that is that. Thank you Butlins Minehead. You’ve given me some incredible memories over the last seven years – from spending time back-stage with one of my all-time musical heroes, Ian Hunter, to meeting a very amiable Uriah Heep in the chippy, to discovering a host of superb bands like Hells Gazelles and Scarlet Rebels, to witnessing incredible performances from iconic performers like Procol Harum and the Pretty Things. And perhaps, most of all, the annual Giants of Rock weekend has helped build an incredibly friendly and welcoming community of rock fans, ably fostered by an extremely active Facebook group throughout the year. I am certain that some of that magic will long outlive the festival itself.

Thank you Giants of Rock and to everyone who has helped to make it special over the past eight years.

Giants of Rock 2020

Giants of Rock 2019

Giants of Rock 2018

Giants of Rock 2017

Graham Bonnet at Giants of Rock 2016

Ian Hunter at Giants of Rock 2016

Mick Ralphs Blues Band at Giants of Rock 2016

Procol Harum at Giants of Rock 2016

Bernie Marsden at Giants of Rock 2015

Slade at Giants of Rock 2015

Mick Ralphs Blues Band at Giants of Rock 2015

Live review: Sweet at Islington Assembly Hall 28/11/21

Back in 2019, when Sweet were faced with some unexpectedly sudden changes in personnel, it became clear that not only was the band embarking on a change in line-up it was also undergoing something of a change in personality, too. When I interviewed Andy Scott ahead of Sweet’s 2019 UK winter tour he hinted that the band was now headed in a harder rock direction:

“We felt like we ought to go for a bit more like it used to be in the 70s when we did a festival set. You’d get down to the nitty gritty. You play a couple of the heavier rock tunes that people want to hear so that’s what’s happening. It’s a work-in-progress.”

At that stage the refreshed/revitalised Sweet (with Paul Manzi taking over on lead vocals and Lee Small coming in on bass, following the departures of Pete Lincoln and Tony O’Hora, and with Steve Mann guesting on keyboards/second guitar) had only performed a handful of gigs. Back in 2019, as Andy Scott stressed, it was very much a work in progress. Limited rehearsal time before hitting the road probably meant a complete revamp of the setlist was out of the question. However, with a vastly expanded period of preparation following eighteen months of Covid-related postponements and rescheduling, we can now see this new vision for the band coming fully to fruition. Quite simply, this new line-up has given the band a whole new personality.

Sweet now is perhaps less a celebration of the band’s persona as era-defining singles act (albeit all the notable ones are still there in the set). Instead, it’s far about reconnecting with what the original band set out to achieve when they entered the studio to record the likes of Give Us A Wink and Off The Record. Although Andy Scott is now the last man standing (following the sad death of Steve Priest last year) it’s as though this new line-up have bottled up the spirit of what propelled Sweet onwards from the glam years into the mid to late 70s and unleashed it here and now in 2021.

Andy Scott is clearly very proud of this new line-up – as well as being very obviously delighted to be back on the road performing at long last. However, he makes no apology for the tight Covid-related security procedures in operation throughout this tour: “Basically, me and Brucey don’t wanna fucking die,” he tells us. Quite right, Andy. As our last surviving member from the classic foursome we want to hold on to you and no Sweet fan in their right mind would want to do anything to jeopardise that.

It’s an incredible gig tonight though. Paul Manzi is a hugely talented rock vocalist, Lee Small is an equally talented bass-player, the trademark harmonies are all top notch and, together with guest keyboard player/second guitarist Tom ‘TC’ Cory, the three inject a massive boost of energy alongside the truly heroic guitar-playing of Andy Scott and powerhouse drumming of Sweet veteran, Bruce Bisland.

As well as the big hits, the band power their way through the likes of ‘Windy City’, ‘Set Me Free’, ‘Defender’ (a bonus track originally recorded for a 2015 compilation) and an exceptional version of the band’s current single ‘Everything’. The latter is a song that first appeared on the Sweet Life album in 2002 – in my view by far the best Sweet album since the original band released Level Headed back in 1978. It’s great to see a song from this era finally make it back into the setlist – amazing what you can squeeze once you jettison the likes of ‘Co-Co’ and ‘Peppermint Twist’!

For casual fans there’s still a chance to sing along like crazy to ‘Wig-Wam Bam’, ‘Teenage Rampage’ ‘Hell Raiser’ et al and, of course, the band encore with blinding versions of ‘Blockbuster!’ and ‘Ballroom Blitz’. However, it’s now almost impossible to imagine this latest version of Sweet touring provincial theatres on package tours with the Rubettes and Mud as it was only a few years ago. Sweet is back – and in full-on rock god mode packing out decent venues with some energetic, re-invigorated and uncompromising melodic hard rock. And a glorious thing it is, too.

Setlist:

Action
New York Groove
Set Me Free
The Six Teens
Defender
Hell Raiser
Windy City
Everything
Wig-Wam Bam / Little Willy
Teenage Rampage
Love Is Like Oxygen
Fox on the Run
Blockbuster
The Ballroom Blitz

My book ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ is available from all major book retailers – visit here

https://www.thesweet.com/

Interview with Andy Scott

Review: Sweet at Bexhill 2019

News: All change at The Sweet

Review: Sweet 50th anniversary concert – Berlin

Review: Sweet live 2017, London and Bilston

The Sweet versus Bowie: the riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences

Review: Sweet at Dartford 2015

Review: Sweet at Bilston 2014

Live review: Peter Knight’s Gigspanner at Stables Theatre, Hastings 7/11/21

This review was also published by the Hastings Online Times here

Given both guitarist, Roger Flack, and percussionist Sacha Trochet are both Hastings residents and fiddle-player Peter Knight has a longstanding association with the town going right back to his Steeleye Span days, the Gigspanner concert at the Stables Theatre in Hastings old town was something of a post-lockdown homecoming gig. There was certainly a packed auditorium to welcome back the trio.

Peter Knight’s Gigspanner has now being going for well over a decade, with their first album released back in 2009. Initially starting out as a side project from his main work as part of Steeleye Span, Knight eventually left the folk rock icons in order to make Gigspanner his main priority. Now he’s back to juggling two different bands again with an expanded Gigspanner Big Band – which incorporates multi-instrumentalist dup Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin as well as Bellowhead icon John Spiers joining the core trio. The expanded set-up are in East Sussex next month, performing at Hailsham Pavilion on 4th December. Tonight, however, it’s the regular-size trio version of Gigspanner taking the stage.

With a set that included many Gigspanner live favourites like ‘Seagull’, ‘Butterfly’, ‘Bows of London’ and ‘Sharp Goes Walkabout’ each one is greeted like an old friend. There’s no letting up in the flair, inventiveness and spirit of improvisation to the performance, however, as they distil that trademark blend of English and Irish folk and a vast array of world music influences to deliver something that continues to be spell-binding and utterly mesmerising.

The newest member of the trio, Sacha Trochet, who took over from original percussionist Vincent Salzfaas, has help propel the already excellent Gigspanner to a whole new level, bringing in a much more experimental bent to the percussion and a broader texture of sounds.

It is always an absolute delight seeing Gigspanner and after a big Covid-shaped hole in my gig diary these past eighteen months it’s lovely to have them back.

https://www.gigspanner.com/

Gigspanner at Hastings 2017

Gigspanner Big Band at Hastings 2016

Gigspanner ‘Layers of Ages’ album

Steeleye Span in London 2015

Gigspanner at Hastings 2015

Gigspanner at Whitstable 2014

Live review: The Manfreds at Congress Theatre, Eastbourne 26/10/21

Given they had most of their hits before I was born or not long afterwards, Manfred Mann were never part of my youth – unlike the vast majority of tonight’s audience. However, I’ve long had a soft spot for many of their hits, not least the iconic theme tune they created for Ready Steady Go – again not part of my youth but I’ve seen enough clips to get a warm glow of nostalgia. A short trip along the coast to Eastbourne’s cavernous Congress Theatre then was therefore in order.

They can’t use the name Manfred Mann any more because the actual Manfred Mann has been happily ensconced in the world of prog since the collapse of the original band at the end of the 60s. But the lineage of this modern-day version, who have been gigging since the 90s, is impeccable. It includes Mike Hugg and Tom McGuinness from the original band and not one but both original frontmen, Paul Jones who was lead singer from 1962 to 1966 and Mike D’Abo who replaced him as lead singer from 1966 to 1969. Added into the mix are Jones’ long-time Blues Band colleague, Rob Townsend, on drums, bass-player Marcus Cliffe and saxophonist Simon Currie.

I had high hopes, especially after witnessing a highly-enjoyable gig by Paul Jones’ other main outfit The Blues Band a few years ago. It all seems to start off a little stilted, however, as they rattle through a number of hits – the two lead singers taking it in turns depending upon who was on the original single. Jones explained that a gash to the forehead had taken him off to Eastbourne A & E that afternoon so maybe that had something to do with it – but even D’Abo’s voice seemed to be a little under strain and he was shouting rather than singing the main refrain from ‘Ha Ha Said The Clown’. I don’t like giving bad reviews, especially for such an esteemed institution of  British pop as the Manfreds – but it all seemed to be a little lacking in energy. Then Jones announced that they would be finishing the first half with a blues classic that was the very first track on their very first album – and the band launched into an absolutely stunning – and smoking – version of Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightning’. The Manfreds seem to move into a completely different gear for this and I was optimistic for the second half.

The second set did not disappoint at all. We got more hits like ‘Semi Detached Suburban Mr James’, ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and ‘Fox On The Run’ but also some numbers, while not Manfred Mann hits were certainly part of the family tree: Paul Jones’ solo hit ‘I’ve Been a Bad Bad Boy’ and the McGuinness-Flint classic ‘When I’m Dead and Gone’.

Always an important component of the original band’s persona there was also far more of a jazz vibe to the second set, which really saw the band getting into the grove musically. The advertised special guest, Georgie Fame, could not make it due to illness and so in his stead the band brought out Zoot Money who entertained the crowds with a few numbers and self-deprecatingly referred to his one and only hit single. He proved a worthy last-minute replacement and was hugely entertaining.

After finishing the main set on a high with a sing-along version of ‘The Mighty Quinn’ the band were back for an encore with a final song that was a surprise to no-one – giving us all a blast and a communal sing-along of ‘Doo Wah Diddy’.

While it seemed to take a little while to get going this ended up being a great concert from some great icons of the 60s.

https://www.themanfreds.com/

Related post:

The Blues Band at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings

Live review: King King at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 19/10/21

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

After numerous attempts at rescheduling during the Covid crisis, King King’s tour in support of their 2020 album finally gets under way. Venue availability, as a myriad of bands all attempt to simultaneously reschedule gigs that have been postponed over the last eighteen months, has meant that the King King tour has ended up in two parts – with half of the dates being played this month and the rest being performed in February of next year. Bexhill is the fourth night of this first leg of the tour.

Supporting King King on this tour are husband-and-wife blues duo When Rivers Meet. Other than quickly skimming their bio on the seven-minute train journey from St Leonards to Bexhill I confess to knowing little about When Rivers Meet in advance of seeing them. When you think of a duo it can conjure up thoughts of some, mellow, semi-acoustic folky-type blues act. But nothing could be further from the truth. As soon as they walk on stage Grace and Aaron Bond deliver loud, raunchy, rocked-up blues with bags of noise and bags of power. “This is the biggest venue we’ve ever played in,” they confide to the Bexhill crowd. They had no need to worry. Their sound is big enough to fill the venue many times over and the De La Warr audience respond enthusiastically to the pair’s six-song set. There is certainly plenty that will appeal to both hard rock and blues fans in terms of this duo’s highly original output. They embark on their own headline tour next April (supported by the redoubtable Troy Redfern) and are well worth checking out.

While When Rivers Meet give us gritty, raucous raunch, King King, meanwhile, take us straight into a world of polished, soulful, big production virtuoso blues rock, instantly evoking the spirit of the genre’s early 70s golden age. While the support act may have been new to me the headliners are certainly not. My late father was a huge follower of vocalist/lead guitarist, Alan Nimmo’s previous outfit: the Nimmo Brothers. Indeed, so great was his dedication that we even had one of their songs played at his funeral. Paradoxically, Alan Nimmo is now reunited with his brother Steve who joined King King on rhythm guitar just in time to contribute to 2020’s Maverick album. There’s clearly a long-standing dynamic on stage between the two brothers and Alan Nimmo relates how one of tonight’s songs ‘You Stopped The Rain’ is written in tribute to his older brother.

Perhaps the most important relationship on stage tonight, however, is the interplay between lead guitarist Alan Nimmo and keyboard player Jonny Dyke. The stunning virtuosity on display between guitarist and organist and the seemingly effortless way the two interact to conjure up such a delicious cornucopia of lush, soulful and emotionally-laden licks is one of the real high points of this band.

Set-wise the songs are drawn from the recent Maverick album (now at long last the band finally having the opportunity to perform these songs live on stage in front of a live audience) interspersed with older material like ‘Long History of Love’ – one of the ever-green crowd-pleasers tonight.

For an encore, King King return sans drummer and bass-player for an uncharacteristically melancholic ‘When My Winter Comes’ – another track from the new album, before the full band return to ensure the audience are sent away with a spring in their step courtesy of stunning renditions of ‘Stranger to Love’ and ‘Let Love In’.

Joyful, life-affirming and exuding polish and class, as I ease myself back into the world of regular gig-going once more King King are just the thing to remind me exactly what I’ve been missing these past eighteen months.

Set-list – King King

She Don’t Gimme No Lovin
Fire In My Soul
One World
Waking Up
Rush Hour
Coming Home
A Long History Of Love
You Stopped The Rain
Never Give In
Whatever It Takes
I Will Not Fall
Encore:
When My Winter Comes
Stranger To Love
Let Love In

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

Photos credits: Bruce Biege

Related reviews:

King King at Hastings 2018

Album review: King King – Maverick

Live review: Big River at The Carlisle, Hastings 9/10/21

I’ve now been out to several live gigs since lockdown restrictions eased but it’s still feeling a bit of a novelty and there’s a definitely buzz from the novelty of being in a live music venue. This weekend was the first time I’d been out to my local rock pub, The Carlisle on Hastings seafront, in almost eighteen months, where I had the pleasure of seeing Kent-based blues rock sensations Big River. While little about the Carlisle seems to have changed in the past year-and-a-half (and why on earth would it) there have certainly been big changes afoot in the Big River camp.

Former lead singer Adam Bartholomew has departed and in his place comes another Adam – Adam Barron. While I’ve been following the career of Big River with interest these past few years, indeed ever since the band was formed back in 2016 when guitarist Damo Fawsett quit another Kent-based rock band – Slam Cartel. Similarly, I’ve also been a real fan of Adam Barron, ever since I first saw him fronting Mick Ralphs’ Blues Band at a Butlins Giants of Rock weekend back in 2015.

To say I’m delighted by these two joining forces is a massive understatement. Barron, hugely influenced by Paul Rodgers with a vocal every bit as rich and soulful and emotive as his hero, has an absolutely incredible voice. It’s not difficult to see why a bonafide rock giant like Mick Ralphs snapped him up prior to the former Bad Company guitarist’s sadly debilitating stroke put him out of action. For anyone with a love of classic-era blues rock Barron and Big River is literally a match made in heaven.

At the Carlisle tonight the new line-up certainly did not disappoint. Barron has effortlessly eased himself into the new frontman position, bringing to it both those incredible vocal performances as well as an immediate emotional connection with the audience. The band are in tremendous musical shape, as well. Guitarist Damo Fawsett delivers some stunning solos – his bluesy, soulful playing the perfect match for Barron’s vocals, together with great driving rhythm from bassist Ant Wellman and drummer Joe Martin.

The set-list is a mixture of Big River’s first album (written and recorded prior to Barron’s arrival) a couple of new songs (including the excellent recent single ‘Don’t Hold Out’ – where Barron brings out his ukulele, not something the Carlisle audience are used to seeing on a Saturday night) and a handful of blues and blues rock courtesy of Robert Johnson and Free.

The whole thing is executed with such style and panache I have to keep reminding myself I’m standing in a pub in Hastings rather than a 2,000-seat arena and an £80 hole in my bank balance somewhere. Big River were always a great blues rock band. Now, however, they are undeniably one of the absolute best. It will be fascinating seeing where Big River go from here. They are almost certainly going to be bigger concern than they were previously and I await their next release with eager anticipation.

https://www.facebook.com/bigriverblues

Related posts:

Single review – Big River – Don’t Hold Out

Album review – Big River – Redemption

Mick Ralphs Blues Band at Giants of Rock 2016

Dave “Bucket” Colwell at Leo’s Red Lion, Gravesend 2016