Category Archives: rock music

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Blues/rock/soul: album review – Rainbreakers ‘Face To Face’

At the start of the year, towards the end of a long day of drinking and music at Skegness’s Rock and Blues festival, I was about to call it a day and give the last band on the late-night stage a miss when we were suddenly confronted by Rainbreakers. Soulful, bluesy, emotive and powerful, I was immediately captivated. All thoughts of an early(ish) night were rapidly abandoned and Rainbreakers turned out to be one of my favourite acts of the entire festival.

Fast forward a few months and Rainbreakers’ debut album Face To Face is equally captivating. Ten tracks of soulful, classy blues rock it captures the spirit of an earlier classic era while at the same time being fresh, contemporary-sounding and full of energy. Big riffs, deliciously bluesy licks, great melodies and vocals dripping with emotion and soul this a fantastic debut album. Lyrically, the band tackle some powerful themes, too. The opening track Heavy Soul is no trite cock rock number but rather tells the story of vocalist Ben Edwards’ personal battles with his mental health. On tracks like Lost With You, the band amply demonstrate they can handle the slower material with elegance and sensitivity.

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Rainbreakers are Ben Edwards (vocals, guitar), Charlie Richards (lead guitar), Pete Adam (bass), Sam Edwards (drums). Already making a significant impact on the live scene and the festival circuit (and I can personally vouch for that!) both the writing and the musicianship on this album deserves to make Rainbreakers a much bigger name in the UK music scene. A stunningly good debut.

Released: 31 August 2018

http://www.therainbreakers.com/

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Folk-rock: album review – Julie July Band ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – A Tribute To Sandy Denny

Sandy Denny died forty years ago this year. Although her old band, Fairport Convention, never let a gig go by without still playing at least a couple of songs in tribute to her and although Fairport’s Simon Nicol has a wonderfully rich voice, there is something about hearing Denny’s songs delivered live with a beautiful pure female vocal that has made the Julie July Band a popular choice at festivals and folk gigs. I was certainly immediately won over when I saw them at Warwick Festival last year.

However, with my Sandy Denny boxed set, my Fotheringay boxed set, all my Fairport albums and everything else Sandy-related in my collection the question is do I really need a CD of someone singing Sandy’s songs? I’ve certainly played it a fair few times since it arrived so that’s looking like a very definite yes.

Although not necessarily a complete carbon copy of Denny’s unmistakable vocals, Julie July certainly has a lovely voice and delivers her songs sympathetically. The band, themselves, are a talented bunch and what I find pleasing is that when covering some the material from Denny’s solo albums rather than going for those over-produced slightly schmaltzy arrangements that you get on some of the originals, the band have gone for a more stripped-back sound that lets the songs and the vocals do the main work.

As a devoted Sandy fan there’s absolutely nothing not to love on this gorgeous and heartfelt album. Eleven timeless songs written by Sandy Denny along with Richard Farina’s ‘The Quiet Joys Of Brotherhood’. My only niggle is maybe there could have been one or two left-field surprises as well to make this album just that little bit more unique – say a cover of one of the unearthed Sandy lyrics that Thea Gilmore put to music a few years ago, or a traditional song not generally associated with Denny, or perhaps even a post-Denny Fairport song that was given a full-on Sandy-esque makeover, that just might have given us a glimpse of an alternative universe. But these are minor niggles.

I salute the July Julie Band for their dedication in keeping Sandy Denny’s music alive. Both their live performances and this album do justice to her enormous legacy.

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Released 27th July 2018 by Aurora Folk Records

http://www.juliejuly.co.uk/

 

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’

 

Rock/garage/punk: album review – Metro Velour ‘Hey You’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Based in the small picturesque village of Montauroux in the Côte d’Azur region of the south of France, Metro Velour are an old school garage punk band. The four-piece is composed of Sebastian Smith (rhythm guitar and vocals), Louis Chevallier (lead guitar), J B Caramellino (drums) and Nico Pasqual (bass). While the latter three are all French, the front-man, Sebastian Smith, is actually an old English rocker whose been around the music scene a long, long time – ever since he formed his first band in 1959, aged 17!

Now in his mid 70s, Smith still clearly has rock n roll in his blood. “Most of the music today is a complete pile of crap,” muses Smith in the documentary on the band’s YouTube site. “The stuff today just pisses me off so much and I thought hell. Let’s get rock ‘n’ roll back where it should be.”

While plenty of us following Get Ready To Rock will counter that music today is not all X Factor and manufactured pop and that there are decent new rock bands about if you look that bit harder, nevertheless you cannot fault Smith’s (and the rest of the band’s) enthusiasm in pursuing their mission.

‘Hey You’ is the band’s debut album. Sound-wise, there’s definitely a flavour of US garage/punk acts like The Stooges, The New York Dolls and The Ramones but there’s also the spirit of British punk in there, too, particularly on account of Smith’s vocals and tongue-in-cheek lyrics (‘I’m in love with those dirty girls…’).

The songs are catchy and well-written and the band are tight and together. You may struggle to believe that this was recorded in 2018, not 1978. But if you fancy a bit of old-school punk blasting out of your speakers this album is well worth checking out.

https://www.facebook.com/www.metrovelour.fr/

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Rock: EP review – Jim Lea ‘Lost In Space’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Formed in the 60s, massive in the 70s and enjoying something of a revival in the 80s, the original Slade finally came to an end in 1991. Since then vocalist, Noddy Holder, has become a a perennial favourite on the nation’s chat show sofas talking about the old days. Guitarist, Dave Hill, and drummer, Don Powell, have resurrected the Slade name and continued to tour Britain and Europe belting out the old hits, with the latter also involved in a well-received collaboration with Suzi Quatro and Sweet’s Andy Scott. Arguably, however, it is bass-player, Jim Lea, who has delivered the most interesting musical output, post-Slade, of all four members. It’s not been a prolific output – family caring responsibilities and health issues put paid to that. However, 2007’s excellent solo album ‘Therapy’ has now been followed up with a six-track EP of new material: ‘Lost In Space’.

The title track is a great catchy slice of melodic pop-rock, proving that Lea has not lost none of his song-writing knack in that department. Semi-autobiographical, lyrically, the words are a paean to living life in an inner world, barely aware of what’s going on in normal life.

The rest of the EP takes on a decidedly more rocky approach. Whereas the the previous solo album took on a wistful, slightly Lennon-esque tone, a number of tracks here put me in mind of Slade in the early 80s – when the former glamsters enjoyed something of a renaissance at the hands of the emerging New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement thanks to the band’s triumph at Reading festival in 1980. Tracks like ‘What In The World’, all catchy choruses, pounding drums and crunching guitars, would not have been at all out of place on Slade’s 1983 album ‘The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome’.

Although it’s all previously unreleased tracks some of these songs have been around in demo form for quite some time prior to being worked up for release. Lea’s ‘Going Back To Birmingham’, which appears as a live track on the ‘Live At The Robin’ bonus disc accompanying ‘Therapy’, also finally gets a studio release here.

Anyone who has ever been wowed by Slade at one time or another should rush to buy this EP – not because it’s an interesting curio from the latter years of a former member but because it’s a great rocking EP with some great new songs and some great new music. It’s excellent. Buy it!

Lost in Space EP is released on 22nd June 2018 by Wienerworld

Read my interview with Jim Lea ahead of the release of his new EP here

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http://www.jimleamusic.com/

Related posts

Jim Lea For One Night Only – At The Robin
Slade at Donnington 1981
Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the greatest Christmas record ever made

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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News: Glamsters Pouk Hill Prophetz raise thousands for brain tumour research

Three rock musicians, all members of Glam Rock inspired band Pouk Hill Prophetz, who lost a friend to a brain tumour have raised thousands to help fund scientific research into finding a cure for the disease.

Lead singer and bassist, Nigel Hart, aged 55, from Dollis Hill, North West London, guitarist, Martin Brooks, 54, from Burton Latimer near Kettering and drummer, Trevor West, 56, from Radcliffe-On-Trent, Nottingham, chose to fundraise for the Brain Tumour Research charity when they learned that a fan, who quickly became a good friend, was fighting a brain tumour.

Cat Anderson, who grew up in Corby and later lived in Uppingham, was diagnosed with an aggressive and incurable brain tumour in 2014 and, after surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment, seemed to be doing well. Shocked to discover that brain tumours kill more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer, Cat and her parents, Rab and Margo Anderson of Kettering, set up a fundraising group called Cat in a Hat under the umbrella of Brain Tumour Research.

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Sadly Cat’s brain tumour returned and she lost her life on 14th June last year, aged just 38.

On Wednesday 6th June, Nigel, Martin and Trevor were invited by the charity to visit the Brain Tumour Research Centre of Excellence at Queen Mary University London to see how all money raised contributes towards research. The musical trio, whose repertoire includes many of the big hits from the 70s by bands like Slade, Sweet and T.Rex, also had the opportunity to place a tile on the Wall of Hope at the research centre.

The centre, one of four receiving funding from the charity, is focused on research to improve treatments for patients with brain tumours and, ultimately, finding a cure. Each tile laid on the wall represents the £2,740 it costs to fund a day of research.

Led by Prof. Silvia Marino, in collaboration with University College London, the team at the centre are studying glioblastoma tumours – one of the most aggressive and deadly types of brain cancer and the tumour that Cat died from.

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Nigel said: “We quickly decided we wanted to get involved with supporting Cat in a Hat and organised charity shows and a rock memorabilia auction which together have raised more than £10,000 to date, including match-funding from Deutsche Bank. Today has been a fantastic opportunity to see how it’s making a difference to researchers.”

Trevor commented: “It’s an honour to visit one of the Brain Tumour Research Centres of Excellence and see where all the research takes place. When we met Cat a couple of years before she passed away, we were amazed at how positive she was, yet stunned that the life expectancy for brain tumour patients was so poor with less than 20% surviving for more than five years, compared with an average of 50% across all cancers.”

Martin added: “The tile we placed symbolises not only the money we’ve raised for research into brain tumours, but also commemorates our dear friend Cat who is sorely missed by so many, not least her parents, who have both become good friends of ours too.”

Brain tumours are indiscriminate; they can affect anyone at any age, yet just 1% of the national spend on cancer research has been allocated to this devastating disease.

Michael Thelwall, Head of Community Fundraising for Brain Tumour Research, said: “Nigel, Trevor and Martin have raised an incredible amount for Brain Tumour Research and we’re really pleased they have been to see the research taking place at Queen Mary University London, and also place a tile on the Wall of Hope. Stories like Cat’s remind us all that we cannot allow this desperate situation to continue.”

To make a donation to Brain Tumour Research: https://www.braintumourresearch.org/donation

Follow Pouk Hill Prophetz on Facebook here:
https://www.facebook.com/Pouk-Hill-Prophetz-852856794762299/

Related article:
Pouk Hill Prophetz at Slade Fan Event 2016

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

Lost In Space: interview with former Slade legend Jim Lea

This interview was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Jim Lea, the former Slade bass-player and one half of the mega-hit Holder-Lea song-writing duo, has a brand new six-track EP out: Lost In Space. I catch up with Jim to discuss the inspiration behind the title track and the other songs on the EP, to talk about his appearance at Wolverhampton’s Robin 2 venue last Autumn and, of course, to hear a few recollections from the old Slade days as well as the challenges that life throws up outside the world of music.

“Lost In Space was written deliberately as a pop song. Of all the songs I have come up with, this is one of my favourites. The ideas portrayed in the song are of someone spending their life living in an inner world, virtually oblivious to normal life. Some might say I have unwittingly written about myself,” states the press release accompanying the EP.

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So often, introspection is portrayed as being sad and angst-ridden yet Lost In Space is a very uplifting song with a great catchy chorus. Jim has certainly lost none of his knack for writing catchy uplifting choruses. For such an upbeat song I put it to Jim whether there is a subtle inference here that being caught up in your own world can actually be a pretty happy place.

JL: “It is when you’re happy yeah but you have to find yourself first. You have to be happy with it. I think a lot of people do it to escape. It’s one of the autistic symptoms when people are being diagnosed. They don’t connect. I’ll tell you who came out and spoke about it – Chris Packham from Springwatch. Millions of people must have seen that programme about it. I’m sure I’ve got grains of autism in me but I’m nowhere near as bad as him. He just lives in a tiny little cottage in the middle of a wood with his animals. But to be quite honest for a big part of my life I was not a big communicator. I didn’t really do interviews at all. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I began to look at myself and went into psychotherapy and completely changed my personality. I almost changed my DNA.”

Is that partly why we are hearing more from Jim recently, I wonder. A new DVD, a live appearance at the Robin in Wolverhampton last Autumn and now a new EP. Are we seeing a new Jim?

JL: “Yes, yes. This is the new me. I’m obviously not bothered about talking to you at all. You seem quite a nice chap! I’m a lot more relaxed about the whole thing. Whereas back in the day with the band for a long time I wasn’t. I was better off in the eighties and going into the nineties, but in the seventies I couldn’t cope with all that. If you look at the band there were two who wanted to get their face in the camera and two who didn’t. The idea of fame is very nice. You think that’s what you want but when it comes – well it took me all of a couple of weeks to think hang on I haven’t got a life here. You couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t do anything. So a lot of people want that and they want that attention, whereas with me I wanted to go back to how I was before going on television.”

With that in mind I suppose when Slade were less in the spotlight in the late seventies that was OK for you, as long as the band were still gigging and recording?

JL: “That’s right. That was a good blueprint for me. That was great. And, of course, when we started having hits again in the eighties it was much easier to cope with because it wasn’t that mad teenage chasing-you-down-the-street type stuff.”

Lost In Space is a great catchy pop song. But the rest of the EP really rocks out. For me it seems to channel some of the spirit of Slade in the early 80s when the band had a comeback thanks in part to the heavy rock crowd post-Reading. Was it a conscious decision to go for a more rocky approach here compared to Therapy, your previous solo album?

JL: “No. The songs on this EP – I don’t know whether you know I had cancer – and these songs are from pre-cancer. They’re quite old. You can probably tell I’ve got a frog in my throat and I’ve never been able to get rid of that since I’ve had my cancer treatment. I’m not on the treatment any more but it just doesn’t go away. Luckily I’ve got some vocal tapes from god knows how many years ago that I just re-recorded quickly. Because my brother, who’s looking after me from the record point of view, says do you fancy doing an EP. He’d been talking to the record company. I said yes – four tracks? He said no, it’s six tracks for an EP these days. I said that’s half an album, when do you need it for? He said next Monday! But I did it because the songs were there. I had a vocal. I just slung everything at it and came up with what you hear.”

Jim Lea - press shot 2

Live at the Robin

You took the stage at the Robin last November for a Q&A session to launch your new DVD (a live recording of his 2002 solo gig at that same venue) but at the end you surprise everyone when you come back on stage with your guitar to blast out some old Slade classics.

JL: “When I went off – we had a bit of a scam me and Paul Franks (radio presenter and interviewer that day) and he said Jim wanted to share something and he’s just going off. But when I got down there the people who are looking after the stage side of things they’re all chatting together. And I said what are you doing I need my guitar. Where’s my guitar? I was shouting at them and I was really in a bad mood and I said to the sound guy get out the front and get on the desk…. and it was at least three or four minutes before I came out. And there is some fan footage (and we are going to put that out) but just before I come on you can hear people saying ‘where’s he gone?’ Just coming over the microphones you know. And the audience I could hear what they’re saying. And this one female voice says (adopts exaggerated Yorkshire accent) ‘Do you think he’s gone for a lie down?’ Oh dear, it did crack me up that did. And to be quite honest that’s what I do a lot of these days. I have to go and have a sleep.”

It was his brother Frank who had encouraged Jim to do a few songs at the end of the Q&A.

JL: “You’d see these old singers like Frank Sinatra when they’re past it and their voice just cracks up and I said I can’t do that. And then I got this idea of knocking a few backing tracks up and I did some vocals to see what it sounded like. But I only did four tracks and then I thought hang on I could play along. And in this day and age that was my justification. I would have loved to have had the same line-up as the Robin in 2002 – just a drummer and bass player and really thrash it out. But that whole complicated thing with equipment for four songs meant we wouldn’t have even got the balance sorted out.”

Playing along to backing tapes it may have been but that didn’t dampen the outpouring of emotion from fans at the event, seeing Jim Lea playing on stage again, fifteen years after his one and only solo gig and some thirty-four years after Slade’s final UK tour. Jim only became aware of just how emotional the event had been for the audience, however, when his brother finally caught up with Jim and the rest of the family some time later that day.

JL: “All the family went for dinner and my brother was an hour late and we were all starving. Well he said he stayed ’til the end. Nobody wanted to go. People were crying. And the boss of the club came over and my brother asked him why is everybody crying? Why won’t they go? And as the boss was walking towards him he saw that he was crying as well!”

While he is thoroughly bemused at the emotional audience reaction it has clearly made him ponder on how much he enjoyed playing on stage.

JL: “I wish I could find some way of getting on stage again. That would be really good. But you know I was very tired when I played the Robin in November.”

Coz I Luv You

From recent ventures we then delve back into the early days. I mention that he was one of the first to bring the electric violin into a pop-rock setting. Given that this was around the same time the folk rock thing going on I ask if he was conscious of what people like Dave Swarbrick were doing with Fairport Convention around the same time as Jim was putting a violin solo on Coz I Luv You.

JL: “Well I used to play the violin on stage. Really it was the band trying to stand out and I think it was about the end of the sixties and you are quite right about Fairport Convention and Dave Swarbrick and there was East of Eden and Dave Arbus. And that guy played on The Who’s Baba O’Riley on the Who’s Next album. In the studio Pete Townsend came walking through. I was there messing about with my violin and he said here mate can I look at your violin. And I said I’m not giving it to you. You’ll smash it up. No mate that’s just stuff on stage. I don’t do any of that. Can I have a look? I want to play a violin. And the next thing I know it’s on Baba O’Riley with Dave Arbus playing. But with Coz I Luv You we’d had Get Down And Get With It as our first hit and it was about coming up with the next one. Because Get Down And Get With It was an everybody-join-in type thing I thought to write something like that is just going to be a cop-out. So I thought about bridging the fact that we were going to make a pop single with trying to make it a bit gritty as well. So I came up with (sings melody) and I got my acoustic guitar and I went over to Nod’s. I’d never written with Nod before and really it was like trying to get the singer on board so it’s kind of political in case it was a ‘well I don’t want to do anything with a violin’. That’s what could have happened but it didn’t. And we worked on the ‘I just like the things you do’ bit and obviously I knew that this was going to be really big. And it was and it got to number one within three weeks. And it’s only recently where people have said I saw Jim Lea from Slade with an electric violin playing on Top Of The Pops and that’s why I started playing violin. And you know it’s really edifying to think that you might have set some trail for something that happens in the future.”

While Jim is not exactly comfortable with his former band’s often outlandish image, there is clearly pride at what the four of them achieved together back in the day.

JL: “And the other thing with the band was because of our sort of wacky image which we kept going on with for too long. Well not we but Dave did. You know look at Quo back when they did Ice In The Sun and they changed the way they looked to do a different thing. Same as the Beatles changed but you know that never happened with us. But there was something from the wacky side of it and because we were having hit singles. Back then if you were having hit singles you were a pop band and we weren’t a pop band. I mean we could always blow off anybody we were playing with. OK there wasn’t the musical virtuosity in the band but it was a fantastic band. And together – you can forget the recording and all that because you can always mess around with that and try to make it sound a bit more sort of credible – but there was something about the four of us playing when we were on stage. And we went to that big studio at Olympic. Get Down And Get With It was the first thing we ever recorded in that studio. And we always went to that studio because it was like doing a gig and we were comfortable with that because we were really bloody good. And I look at people now and you know big names and so on and they all came out to watch us… But we were something special right from the first few notes we ever played.”

Jim Lea - press shot 3

Jim’s story?

With so many insights we then get on to the topic of autobiographies. We’ve seen tomes from all the other three members of Slade but I put it to Jim that many Slade fans would say that the most fascinating and revealing of all would be a Jim Lea autobiography.

JL: (Laughs) “At times I thought about doing it. In fact, I was probably the first one to think about doing it. That was back in post-Reading days. But there seemed to be a reaction that I shouldn’t do that and that if there was going to be any book it should be a Slade book, not me. So I just left it and then Nod did one – which I’ve never looked at and Don did one which I’ve never read either but it’s supposed to be very good I’ve heard. The thing is I’d want to write it myself rather than sitting down with someone with a tape machine. You’d have to be able to taste it and smell it. If I’m talking about the smoke-filled rooms you’d have to be able to visualise from the words what that was like. The way it used to hang in the air in these grey layers.”

Jim also emphasises that his life hasn’t just been about music, particularly in the post-Slade years.

JL: “My musical career has been punctuated by having to look after my father to save my mother because he was driving my mother mad. He’d got dementia and then there were two or three years with my (older) brother the same thing happened and I was on care duty for both. So that’s six year’s gone and now my mum herself is housebound. I’ve just come from her now and I’ve always thought being of service to others is a big thing to do in life. It’s hard work because you have to give up your own wishes and your own life. You have to hand over what you want to do in order to help the person that needs the help. So being of service it’s a big thing. So with my mother as well it’s probably seven years gone. She became ill about a year ago and so put it all together you’ve got a whole chunk of life that’s nothing to do with music.”

For all of his musical legacy it’s clear that family is very important to Jim and you get the idea that there is no way he would not have been there for those who needed him most. But it’s also clear that Jim Lea still has something to contribute musically and is enthusiastic about his latest EP. He doesn’t even baulk at the round of promotional interviews that need to be done these days as long as, given his current health, there are not too many of them.

“I’m alright with you today, Darren, because I’ve only got you today – but the other day I had fifteen!”

Lost in Space EP is released on 22nd June 2018 by Wienerworld

Jim Lea - Lost In Space - EP artwpork

All photo credits: official artist publicity

http://www.jimleamusic.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released: May 18th 2018

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

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Related review:

Mearfest at the Carlisle, Hastings 2017