Category Archives: rock music

Rock bands and music

Live review: Pouk Hill Prophetz – charity gig for Dementia UK, St John’s Wood, London 15/6/19

Named after a piece of ruggedly inclined open space in the West Midlands and the title of an early Slade song, the Pouk Hill Prophetz got together and began to perform the occasional gig through a shared love of all things Slade. Tonight the three musicians, Nigel, Martin Brooks and Trevor West, get together to put on a charity gig – celebrating the 70th birthday of Slade’s Jim Lea with all money raised going to Dementia UK.

The gig tonight is just a stone’s throw from the historic Abbey Road studios and meant I had to cross that very famous street in order to get to the venue. Feeling a bit too embarrassed to use the zebra crossing along with all the tourists I thought I’d walk down a bit and make my own way across. I wasn’t concentrating properly, however, and almost got run over. That’ll teach me.

I get to the gig in one piece though. As usual, there’s a lot of Slade in the set-list – and it’s not just the well-known hits of the glory years, either. These guys like to dust down some of the very early material from Slade’s pre-glam days as well as the glam classics. And it’s not just about Slade either, with songs from Sweet, Queen and T-Rex thrown in for good measure. And while their stage-wear might suggest they are every inch the glam tribute act, their delivery is very much their own and draws on much broader rock influences. The absolute highlight of the evening, however, is not a cover version at all but an original. ‘Old New Borrowed and Blue’ is a poignant, bitter-sweet piano and vocal ballad that pays tribute to Wolverhampton’s finest, celebrating the Slade story with as much love and affection as ‘Saturday Gigs’ celebrates the Mott The Hoople story, albeit written from the fans’, rather than the band’s, point of view.

Some raucous glam classics, some poignant acoustic numbers and the first public performance of the aforementioned self-penned tribute, Pouk Hill Prophetz celebrate Mr Lea’s 70th birthday in fine fashion and raise a tidy sum for one his favourite charities in the process.

https://www.facebook.com/Pouk-Hill-Prophetz-852856794762299/

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Related:

Slade Convention 2016

Pouk Hill Prophetz raise thousands for brain tumour research

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Folk-rock: album review – Julie July Band ‘Lady of the First Light’

The Julie July Band and their reinterpretation and celebration of the music of Sandy Denny have been proving quite a hit on the festival and live folk circuit in recent years. So much so that last year they released a tribute album ‘Who Knows Where The Time Goes?’ – an album that certainly caught my attention along with other reviewers.

However, as extensive as Sandy Denny’s back catalogue is and as impressive as Julie July and her band’s interpretations are I doubt that there is an entire recording career to be built around simply recording more and more of her past material. The question then comes as to what form a follow-up album would take. Would it be covers of traditional songs that are given a suitably Sandy-esque treatment? Would the band seek inspiration from other singer-songwriters of that era? Would there be some new material, perhaps?

In fact, the band have opted for the latter approach with Lady of the First Light presenting eleven originals, each penned by various members of the band. Musically, it’s probably more within the vibe of Denny’s early to mid 70s solo singer-songwriter albums than, say, the more overt folk rock from her time with Fairport Convention and Fotheringay. However, it’s worth stressing that this is far more than simply a Sandy Denny pastiche or a North-Star-Grassman-and-the-Ravens-by-numbers. The Sandy influence is there, of course (and why not she remains one of the greatest singer-songwriters this country has ever produced) but it’s an influence rather than a straitjacket. There’s some quality songwriting here and, combined with Julie July’s beautifully clear voice and the strength of the band’s musicianship, the album more than stands up in its own right.

Title track, the upbeat ‘Lady of the First Light’ is an absolute stunner. More rockier than some of the other material with some gorgeous lead guitar and Julie July in fine voice, it’s not impossible to imagine a parallel universe where it’s a recently-discovered track from Fairport’s Unhalfbricking sessions. Likewise, ‘The Ballad of Rory Starp’ could equally have come from some long-lost session for the Liege & Lief album. These provide a nice contrast to the more sombre and reflective, yet no less gorgeous, material like the opening number ‘Broken Wing’. The end result is a lovely palette of contrasting textures, emotions and influences. The anthemic ‘Shine Together’ finishes the album in a pleasingly celebratory mood.

If the last album was a gorgeous tribute to the songs of Sandy Denny then this one is very much a celebration of the influences that combined to make the late 60s and early 70s such an incredibly exciting, vibrant and creative time for British music. Buy it!

Released: June 2019

https://juliejuly.co.uk/

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Previous review:

Julie July Band – Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

Book review: ‘Roots, Radicals & Rockers – How Skiffle Changed the World’ by Billy Bragg

For far too long the 50s skiffle boom was seen as a context-free curio and a bit of a novelty rather than as a vital component of Britain’s rock ‘n’ roll history. To be honest that was never my understanding. My dad had been a huge Lonnie Donegan fan before gravitating to the world of rock. I remember being ill in bed with measles aged 6 or 7 and him bringing his record player up so I’d have something to listen to in bed. This would have been around 1972/73. He obviously wasn’t going to trust me with his latest Stones album but I do remember playing a stack of Lonnie Donegan 45s that he brought up to me. My dad retained a lifelong affection for Donegan and even as a kid it was drilled into me that this man had been a huge inspiration to many of today’s rock stars.

Billy Bragg’s book basically sets out, in meticulously-researched detail what my dad tried to impress upon me while I was still at primary school. No stone is left unturned in exploring the roots of the movement, both in terms of how it emerged out of Britain’s post-war trad-jazz scene to how the songs that inspired the British skiffle boom themselves originated. He takes right back to America’s blues and folk scenes, tracing back songs like ‘Rock Island Line’ through a myriad of permutations in what is a really fascinating and inspiring read. The word skiffle originally emerged from piano-based music found at urban rent-parties in the States in the 20s and how it came to be used by the guitar, tea-chest, and washboard ensembles of late 50s Britain was largely a matter of chance as this new musical movement was grasping around for a name.

Bragg paints a vivid picture of the stultifying drabness of the immediate post-war years and what the advent of both American rock ‘n’ roll and American-inspired British skiffle represented in terms of colour, excitement and youthful rebellion. Parallels between the birth of skiffle in the UK and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll in the US at around the same time continue to be made and the styles of music that influenced both. Indeed, in the same month Elvis Presley was recording his breakthrough song That’s Alright, Lonnie Donegan was recording his breakthrough song Rock Island Line.

While the skiffle boom soon died out, Bragg devotes a considerable chunk of the final part of his book examining its legacy: from the bands that evolved out of skiffle outfits such as The Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers and The Who to individual musicians who first cut their teeth playing in home-grown skiffle bands such as Dave Davies, Rod Stewart and Ian Hunter. He also illustrates how skiffle played a part in fermenting the British folk revival of the early 60s as many aspiring musicians began to look at their own country’s traditional roots, not just those of the States.

The book is not perfect. When he discusses the English folk revival he is in danger of stereotyping the Edwardian folk collectors like Cecil Sharp while painting the second generation revivalists like A,L. Lloyd and Ewan MacColl as knights in shining armour. The reality is both generations made a major contribution and both had significant flaws, something that most studies acknowledge these days. Nevertheless, Roots, Radicals & Rockers is an extremely well-researched and well-referenced book and Bragg’s affection for the DIY anyone-can-do-it approach of skiffle is as for a very similar DIY youth movement that came along some twenty years that Bragg himself played a part in.

First published in 2017

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Hard rock: album review – Spitfish ‘Penny Dreadful’

Ask me about Gdansk and I’d immediately think of Polish shipyards, Lech Walesa and the birthplace of the Solidarity trade union and the anti-communist protests of the 1980s. In fact that’s the sum total of my entire knowledge of the place – but it’s also home to Spitfish.

A brooding industrial early 70s Sabbath-like feel combines with more upbeat classic rock elements and a taste of 90s grunge to produce a fine album of hard rock.

Formed three years ago by vocalist Boris Karloff the line-up now features Karloff on vocals and bass, Cyril Delevanti on guitar and A.J. on drums. The rumbling hard, heavy riffs meld nicely with Karloff’s warmer, more melodic vocals to produce something that’s both atmospheric and catchy.

Spitfish’s on-stage persona and album cover-art pays homage to old-school horror movies and there’s clearly a love of the theatrical but, importantly, there’s some serious quality hard rock behind the imagery.

“Even though only members of the band know the dark concept of Spitfish, it’s worth listening to their music,” their publicity blurb tells us. That I would agree with. I knew little of Gdansk and nothing of Spitfish but I’ve been giving Penny Dreadful numerous plays since the CD arrived through my door. It is, indeed, music worth listening to.

Released: October 16th 2018

https://www.facebook.com/spitfishband/

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Folk/rock: album review – Crooked Weather ‘Are We Lost’

In spite of originating from the windswept landscape of East Yorkshire, you don’t need to spend very long at all listening to Crooked Weather to work out that the band’s spiritual home is so evidently the sun-blessed uplands of America’s west coast, circa 1969. Warm harmony vocals, catchy acoustic guitar melodies, delicious interjections on the slide guitar and that sunny laid-back country-meets-folk Americana vibe that combines musical intricacy with seemingly effortless execution, Are We Lost is an impressive and highly likeable album.

Based around the vocals and guitar playing of both Holly Blackshaw and Will Bladen, the duo are backed by a stellar cast of supporting musicians in the shape of of Rob Burgess, Beth Nicholson, Dave Tomlinson and Tom Skelly. Song-wise the album is mainly a vehicle for the talented writing of Bladen but there’s also a deeply lovely arrangement of the traditional English folk number ‘Hares On The Mountain’.

The album climaxes with Bladen and Blackshaw’s ‘Easy’ an undulating and dramatic slice of epic folk-rock which also serves as the band’s current single.

“Easy was one of those songs that just wrote itself and it’s hard to say where this kind of a song comes from. It had been fermenting away in the background for a while and ideas would come now and again when outside cutting the grass and things like that. Then one afternoon it pretty much came out fully formed. It’s probably best not spending too long thinking about where it came from,” says Bladen.

It’s not at all difficult to close your eyes and imagine these as summer festival favourites – and having had quite a few such appearances under their belts they will be well worth checking out if you have a chance to see them. And obviously, do check out this album, too.

Released: 12th April 2019

https://www.crookedweather.com/

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Live review: Mott The Hoople ’74 at Shepherds Bush Empire 27/4/19

Back in the early 80s, I was on a voyage of discovery voraciously buying up the back catalogues of some of the great bands of the late 60s and 70s. Many of the big beasts – the likes of Deep Purple and Humble Pie and, yes, Mott The Hoople had called it a day by then. Even though such bands were at their commercial height less than a decade previously they seemed to inhabit a completely different world to the early 80s music world of my teenage years. I loved the records. I absolutely adored both the ‘Mott’ and ‘The Hoople’ albums, in particular, but I never really entertained the idea of seeing Mott The Hoople live on stage. A brilliant slice of rock n roll history? Indeed. But they were the past and I could, at least, enjoy Ian Hunter’s impressive solo career.

That all changed in 2009, of course, when the short run of reunion concerts by the original line-up were announced. Jubilant, emotional and electric the one small niggle about the reunion, and of a further run in 2013, is that while they rightly celebrated the band’s original line-up, they didn’t do justice to the input of the later members – namely Ariel Bender on guitar and Morgan Fisher on keyboards.

Again, I accepted this as a small niggle in an otherwise perfect reunion. I never really entertained the idea that I’d get the chance to see it put right. On the way to Shepherd’s Bush Empire I was feeling quite emotional about having the opportunity to see it become reality after all, and remembering back to the time when I first happened upon this veteran band in a second-hand shop in Preston as a teenager. This was always going to be more than just a gig. I want it to be special. They more than deliver on that.

Songs from ‘The Hoople’ – Mott The Hoople’s brilliant final studio album (and the only one to feature Fisher and Bender) feature prominently: the camp splendour of ‘The Golden Age of Rock n Roll’, the glammed-up deliciousness of ‘Roll Away The Stone’, the glorious insanity of ‘Marionette’ and many more.

At earlier dates on the tour there had been some online disquiet from fans about the quality of Bender’s playing. True, he was never going to be Jimmy Page (or Mick Ralphs for that matter) but his over the top antics and tongue-in-cheek craving for adulation were an essential component of late-period Mott’s 70s stage act – and so it proves tonight. Moreover, Bender’s blunt in-yer-face guitar work really suits the proto-punk of those early Mott songs like ‘Walking With a Mountain’ and ‘Rock n Roll Queen’ that Bender made his own when he became part of the band.

Fisher, always a magnificently talented pianist, when he’s not tottering around the stage with copious glasses of white wine, gives us many wonderful musical flourishes on the keys. With the untimely deaths of Dale Griffin and Overend Watts the ranks of Hooples are sadly depleted but Ian Hunter’s long-time side-kicks in the Rant Band, gifted musicians all, do a seamless job co-opted into the on-stage madness that is Mott The Hoople.

Hunter’s unmistakable voice, as ever, is in fine form. At 80 he shows no signs of slowing down, of losing his grip as a performer or his creativity as a songwriter. However, if this tour is to be the final chapter in the ballad of Mott the Hoople it serves as a fitting end to the career of a wonderful, unique and utterly, utterly irreplaceable band. Mott the Hoople – thanks for a great trip….

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Set-list:

American Pie / The Golden Age of Rock ‘N’ Roll
‪Lounge Lizard ‬
Alice
Honaloochie Boogie
Rest in Peace
I Wish I Was Your Mother
Pearl ‘n’ Roy (England)
Sucker
Sweet Jane
Rose
Walking With a Mountain
Roll Away the Stone
Marionette
Jerkin’ Crocus / One of the Boys
Medley: Rock ‘n Roll Queen / Crash Street Kidds / Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On / Mean Woman Blues / Johnny B. Goode / Violence / Cleveland Rocks / You Really Got Me
All the Way From Memphis
Saturday Gigs
All the Young Dudes

 

https://mottthehoople.com/classof74/

Related reviews:

Ian Hunter at Shepherds Bush Empire 2016

Ian Hunter at Shepherds Bush Empire 2014

Ian Hunter at Giants of Rock 2016

Mott The Hoople Fan Convention 2016

 

Rock/singer songwriter: album review – Craig Finn ‘I Need A New War’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Brooklyn-based band The Hold Steady had already made quite a name for themselves with their lyrical storytelling and classic rock influences when their front-man, Craig Finn, began a parallel solo career back in 2012. The classic riffs and catchy melodies of The Hold Steady had given way to a more mellow musical approach in a Johnny-Cash-meets-indie-rock sort of way but, clearly, Finn had happened upon something that many were looking for. Finn’s last solo album We All Want The Same Things, released in 2017, received no shortage of plaudits and he will be hoping to make a similar impact with I Need A New War. Again, Finn’s rich narratives, world-weary characters and laid-back, seen-it-all-before delivery take centre-stage on this new album.

“I saw this record as the third part of a trilogy,” says Finn. “Thematically, this was the third group of songs that I had written about smaller moments – people trying to stay afloat in modern times, attempting to find connection, achieving tiny triumphs and frustrating let downs in their day to day lives. Also, this was the third record in a row that I’d made with these musicians, along with engineer D. James Goodwin, following Faith in the Future (2015) and We All Want The Same Things (2017).”

Finn has moved effortlessly from twenty-first century rocker to timeless singer-songwriter and the musicians he has brought together evidently have a natural feel for what the artist is working to achieve. Horns, piano and sensitive guitar work fill out the sound and give the release the vibe of an album you instinctively know is trying to tell you something. I Need A New War will certainly help cement Craig Finn’s reputation of a modern-day singer-songwriter of some note.

Released: 26/4/19 Partisan Records

https://craigfinn.net/

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News: Cleveland Rocks – iconic independent record label relaunches

Cleveland International Records, the US independent record label that brought us the likes of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell and Ronnie Spector’s collaboration with the E Street Band in the late 70’s and early 80’s, is back in business,  relaunched earlier this year by the son of its late founder, Steve Popovich Sr.

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“My dad’s story is pretty fascinating, here’s this guy who grew up in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania to becoming one of the most beloved and respected people in the history of the record business,” says Popovich Jr. He began working at the label out of high school during its second incarnation (1995-2003). “The idea to relaunch had been simmering for a while,” he adds, “when my father’s estate was finally settled after seven in a half years after his passing, it seemed like the perfect segue to me transitioning away from my company, Wrecking Ball Entertainment to relaunching Cleveland International.”

In the 90’s Popovich Sr. famously took on the might of Sony – and won. Popovich sued Sony for non-payment of royalties from Bat Out of Hell royalties. The case was settled out of court for nearly $7 million. As part of the settlement, Sony was required to place the Cleveland International logo on reissues of Bat Out of Hell. When Sony failed to comply, Popovich took to the courts once again and a jury awarded him an additional $5 million in damages in 2005. In 2012, Sony reached a final out-of-court settlement with Popovich’s estate over more unpaid royalties revealed in an audit performed prior to Popovich’s death in 2011.

The label is marking its relaunch with a CD and LP re-release of its mid-90’s all-star compilation called, Cleveland Rocks. In addition to Meat Loaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” the 13 track collection includes classics by Ian Hunter (“Cleveland Rocks”), Ronnie Spector & the E Street Band (“Say Goodbye to Hollywood”), Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes (“I Don’t Wanna Go Home”), Just Us Girls (“Time Warp”), Iron City Houserockers (“Have a Good Time But Get Out Alive”), Euclid Beach Band (“There’s No Surf in Cleveland”), The Boyzz (“Too Wild To Tame”), Essence (“Sweet Fools”), Mike Berry (“I Am A Rocker”), The Rovers (“Wasn’t That A Party”) and Bat out of Hell collaborators Jim Steinman (“Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through”) and Ellen Foley (“We Belong To the Night”).

The album ends with Ian Hunter’s iconic paean to Cleveland. Although originally released by Chrysalis on the You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic album it became something of an anthem for both the city and the label. Hunter writes on his website The Horses Mouth, “The inspiration for Cleveland Rocks goes back to the old days when people used to make fun of Cleveland. Cleveland was ‘uncool’ and LA and NYC were ‘cool’. I didn’t see it that way. Lotta heart in Cleveland.”

Cover Art

Cleveland Rocks released by Cleveland International Records April 5th 2019

https://www.clevelandinternational.com/

Live review: Steeleye Span at St Mary the Virgin Church, Ashford 13/4/19

It’s 2019 and yet another band are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary. That post beat-boom period of the late 60s to early 1970s was a period of exceptional creativity in popular music, perhaps unparalleled. From hard rock, glam rock, prog rock and, indeed, folk rock so many bands and styles made their mark and we are lucky to have a good number of them still touring today.

Steeleye Span are not resting on their laurels, however. This tour is about far more than a career retrospective from the band’s weighty back catalogue. The band have a new album out and songs from that are given as much prominence in the set as some of the old favourites. The album is not officially released until June but it’s available for sale on the tour so you can get a sneak preview via both the stage and the merch desk. In contrast to the epic prog-folk of the band’s Wintersmith album of a few years ago Est’d 1969 is very much in the spirit of the band’s ‘classic era’ early 70s albums, both in terms of song choices and overall sound. A version of Dave Goulder’s ‘The January Man’, an adaptation of John Masefield’s poem ‘Roadways’ and various traditional ballads from the album are among the songs performed tonight. Of course, there is room, too, for a good number of Steeleye Span favourites like ‘One Misty Moisty Morning, Alison Gross and Black Jack Davey. A new song, the beautiful ‘Reclaimed’ written by Prior’s daughter and sung a capella forms part of the encore, along with the ever-present ‘All Around My Hat’.

With a line-up that’s always been evolving only Maddy Prior remains from the band’s earliest days. Unlike those other veterans of the folk rock scene, Fairport Convention (whose fluctuating line-up has stabilised in recent decades), Steeleye Span continues to evolve. Jessie May Smart, who replaced long-standing fiddle player Peter Knight a few years ago, is currently on maternity leave so her place on this tour is ably filled by classical violinist Violeta Barrena. Lining up alongside Maddy Prior, the rest of the band’s current members are Julian Littman, Andrew Sinclair, Roger Carey, Liam Genockey and Benji Kirkpatrick. Talented players all, they bring a fantastic assortment of instruments, sounds and techniques with them, not to mention a rich array of voices.

Although rightly celebrated as icons of folk rock this band have always continued to vary their style, their set-list and, very often, their line-up from tour to tour which means there’s always an element of the unexpected and nearly always something very special to look forward to. Long may that continue.

Set-list

Harvest
One Misty Moisty Morning
The Elf Knight
The January Man
Alison Gross
Old Matron
Thomas The Rhymer
Tam Lin
Roadways
Black Jack Davy
Little Sir Hugh
The Weaver And The Factory Maid
King Henry
Seventeen Come Sunday
Domestic
Reclaimed
All Around My Hat

http://steeleyespan.org.uk/

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Related reviews:

Steeleye Span live 2017

Interview with Julian Littman

Steeleye Span live 2015

Steeleye Span live 2014

 

 

Live review: UFO at Shepherds Bush Empire 4/4/19

The house lights dim on a packed auditorium and a bell tolls. This isn’t the doom-laden intro to an epic number like Sabbath’s ‘Black Sabbath’ or AC/DC’s ‘Hells Bells’ though but rather the familiar clink-clank-clank of time being called at your local. For this is UFO and this is the Last Orders Fiftieth Anniversary Tour, marking both the band’s five decades together and their final set of gigs together. Fiftieth anniversary tours and farewell tours are both, of course, something we are seeing rather a lot of in the world of classic rock these days.

The band’s legendary guitarists, Michael Schenker and his replacement Paul Chapman, are long gone and bass player, Pete Way, bailed out a decade ago. However, the band still boasts vocalist Phil Mogg, drummer Andy Parker and keyboard player/rhythm guitarist Paul Raymond. Three out of five is definitely not bad for a rock band of this vintage these days.

Although never in the mega-league of stadium rock bands UFO have been a phenomenal presence in the UK rock scene and beyond. While they are rightly acknowledged for Schenker’s virtuoso guitar work back in the day, it must also be remembered, that UFO gave us a slew of absolutely classic songs. Indeed they’ve probably left us with significantly more truly memorable songs than some of the bands in the stadium-filling mega-league. It’s very much about celebrating those songs tonight and the classics come thick and fast: ‘Lights Out’, ‘Only You Can Rock Me’. ‘Love To Love’, ‘Too Hot To Handle’ and many more. The impressive ‘Burn Your House Down’ from the band’s Seven Deadly album and ‘Run Boy Run’ from 2015’s A Conspiracy Of Stars get a look in representing the more recent material but it’s mainly a night for the familiar classics. The band are in fine form, guitarist Vinnie doing a great job replicating some of Schenker’s most famous solos.

Mogg’s trademark geezer-down-the-boozer stage patter belies the fact that this is a historic moment – as the band’s history as a live act draws to a close. There’s another gig in London tomorrow night but Mogg’s on-stage banter is firmly focused on such weighty matters as Albert Steptoe’s junkyard and some waitress in Glasgow not knowing who Jimmy Page is rather than any overblown pomposity or thank you speeches. The venue is absolutely rammed as we say our goodbyes, however. (Too rammed if truth be told – Shepherds Bush Empire frequently seem to be over-selling their gigs beyond human comfort levels these days,) Yelling along to ‘Doctor Doctor; and ‘Shoot Shoot’ as the guys come back on stage for an encore seems a fitting way to say farewell to a band whose music I’ve been enjoying for almost forty of their fifty years. Cheers UFO!

Set-list:
Mother Mary
We Belong to the Night
Run Boy Run
Venus
Lights Out
Baby Blue
Only You Can Rock Me
Burn Your House Down
Cherry
Love to Love
Makin’ Moves
Too Hot to Handle
Rock Bottom
Doctor Doctor
Shoot Shoot

http://www.ufo.band/latestNews.html

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Related review:

Michael Schenker Fest at Shepherds Bush Empire