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Rock bands and music

Bernie Tormé 1952-2019: a true guitar legend

I first became aware of Bernie Tormé as the colourful high-octane guitarist with Gillan back in 1981 when I was 15, when the band’s cover of ‘New Orleans’ was zooming up the charts. Bernie’s utterly distinctive, fuzzed-up, glam-punk, hard-riffing, rock guitar was as much an intrinsic part of that band’s sound as Ian Gillan’s vocals.

A year or two later I caught Bernie live couple of times with his post-Gillan outfit Electric Gypsies for two incendiary gigs at Clouds in Preston. The second of these gigs led to my first meeting with the man himself. A small group of us hung back after the gig and I was to discover what a warm-hearted and engaging man this was. This was someone who took the trouble to chat to a bunch of half-pissed teenagers, who joked around with us but who took our questions seriously and seemed genuinely moved by our enthusiasm. And that night Bernie signed my copy of Electric Gypsies for me – which I still have.

Fast forward thirty-odd years and, following a couple of equally incendiary gigs at London’s Borderline, the indefatigable Peter Cook put me in touch with Bernie and I ended up being approached by him to do the PR for his Dublin Cowboy album. A few months ahead of the release date I’d been gearing up the publicity for the launch of the crowdfund appeal. However, such was the unwavering support and love coming from Bernie’s fans, that the funding target was reached in less than nine hours on day one. It was a joy to work on the campaign for the album and I saw at first-hand Bernie’s sincerity and generosity in the way he engaged with fans. Dublin Cowboy deservedly attracted some great reviews and Bernie gave some great interviews but when I sent my invoice for the amount we agreed at the end of the campaign he emailed me back to tell me to alter the invoice because he wanted to pay me more.

A generous, warm-hearted man as well as a wonderful, unique musician and a superb showman, Bernie Tormé will be greatly missed by many. A true guitar legend.

Darren Johnson

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Hard rock: EP review – Animal Drive ‘Back To The Roots’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Following their well-received 2018 debut, and to give impatient fans something ahead of a promised new album, Croatian hard rockers Animal Drive have recorded a covers EP. The four-track EP comprises covers of Roxette’s ‘The Look’, Whitesnake’s ‘Judgement Day’, Skid Row’s ‘Monkey Business’ and Warrant’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.

Although formed in 2012 the band it took the band some six years before they released their debut album Bite! The polished professionalism of Animal Drive’s hard rocking debut, which drew comparisons with the likes of Whitesnake and Skid Row, showed the wisdom of their decision not to rush straight into the studio. However, given the positive impact of their first album I can fully understand why they now feel the pressure to get something into the hands of newly-won over fans, while they await the arrival of a follow-up. A covers EP makes perfect sense, therefore, but why these four songs in particular? Lead vocalist Dino Jelusic explains, “People used to, and still do sometimes, compare Animal Drive to Skid Row and their “Slave To The Grind” era. That song (Monkey Business) opens the “Slave To The Grind” album and it’s a monster jam, so it felt like a logical fit. Of the other covers on “Back To The Roots”, Jelusic continues, “the other three songs are “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Warrant, “Judgement Day” by Whitesnake and “The Look” by Roxette. I’ve always wanted to cover “The Look” in a heavy way, so it was cool to finally do it. We are big Whitesnake fans and had to go for one of their more epic jams. The Warrant song is one of their absolute best and shows what a great songwriters Jani and the band are, plus it’s a great fit for a heavy band to cover.”

The biggest surprise in terms of the choice of material is the inclusion of late 80s pop hit ‘The Look’ here given a hard rock makeover. It was clear from the songwriting on the debut album , however, that Jelusic has an ear for a catchy melody. And no-one can deny the catchiness of this particular little ditty when it was first released. Once Jelusic’s Coverdale-esque vocals and the band’s trademark polished, melodic hard rock sound is applied the band transform it into a great, great rock song. ‘Judgement Day’ is a fairly faithful if slightly more rocked-up cover of the Whitesnake original and their version of Skid Row’s ‘Monkey Business’ is hardly a million miles away from the original, either. However, both tracks demonstrate that these young guys can really play and celebrate two of their biggest influences as well. The ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ cover is more of a departure from the original and, once again, really gives Animal Drive a chance to do the magic with their trademark sound.

If you are tempted to purchase something from Animal Drive I would definitely recommend you start with their album Bite! but if you have it already and are clearly won over and hungry for more then this EP is worth checking out.

Released by: Frontiers 5th April 2019

http://animal-drive.com/

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Related review:

Album review: Animal Drive – Bite!

 

Live review: Seth Lakeman at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 7/3/19

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

It doesn’t seem too long ago that Seth Lakeman was being hotly-tipped as one of the young rising stars of the contemporary folk scene and, back in 2005, was being nominated for the Mercury Prize. Now in his early forties and a father of three, but still maintaining those boy-band good looks, he’s become one of the folk scene’s seasoned figures and has no problem packing out the De La Warr.

For this tour he’s supported by singer-songwriter, Carus Thompson. The singer/guitarist does a nice line in Aussie-flavoured Americana, including a love song that was inspired by playing in a maximum security German prison. Once part of Australian folk/country band Carus & The True Believers, Thompson’s music is well worth checking out.

Lakeman has the audience onside from the first song and takes us on a thrilling but thoroughly modern folk-rock romp. The set-list includes material from his 2018 album The Well Worn Path, as well as highlights from across his now-considerable back-catalogue – both traditional and self-composed.

Set highlights include ‘The Educated Man’, a song from the new album which is surely destined to be an audience favourite for many years to come. Another favourite is ‘Portrait of My Wife’ a traditional ballad that Lakeman initially performed as part of the Full English folk collaboration back in 2013. It’s just Lakeman and his fiddle right at the front of the stage for this – the band and even the microphone are dispensed with. The impact is stunning and the crowd join in the song’s chorus of ‘raise your glass to the one you love’.

Accompanying Lakeman, who alternates variously between fiddle and acoustic guitar, are Kit Hawes on guitar, Ben Nichols on double bass and Evan Jenkins on drums. Nichols’ bass playing produces a deep and powerful sound and Jenkins’ drumming really gives the band that folk rock oomph. However, it’s the interplay between Lakeman and Hawes that proves crucial to the dynamic on stage tonight. Whether it’s acoustic guitar versus electric, banjo versus acoustic, electric versus fiddle or acoustic versus fiddle it’s never less than totally captivating and the sound from the two musicians is glorious.

Lakeman tells us we’re the best audience of the tour so far and the band are clearly delighted with the response they get from the De La Warr tonight.

I volunteer for this project called Gig Buddies which is about giving adults with a learning disability opportunities to have an independent social life and I invited my gig buddy, Glenn, along to accompany me to this gig. The final verdict on Seth Lakeman’s performance tonight, therefore, goes to Glenn and he writes: “I enjoyed seeing Seth Lakeman and I love his songs. He was fantastic and I got to meet him afterwards.”

(Additional reporting by Glenn Harris)

https://www.sethlakeman.co.uk/

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Related reviews:

Seth Lakeman at Folk by the Oak 2014

Americana: album review – Elles Bailey ‘Road I Call Home’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

After attracting a slew of favourable reviews with her debut album, 2017’s Wildfire, the Bristol-based singer-songwriter Elles Bailey is back with a follow-up. Like its predecessor, recorded primarily in Nashville Road I Call Home is a slice of soulful, classy, bluesy Americana. With her husky, emotive vocals and a definite ear for a good song it’s not difficult to see why Bailey has been picking up fans and rave reviews across a range of genres – from rock to folk to country to blues.

Backed by some top class musicians from the Nashville recording scene the album just oozes professionalism and quality. ‘Hell Or High Water’ is a suitably dramatic slice of country rock to open the album, while songs like ‘Little Piece Of Heaven’ and ‘Miss Me When I’m Gone’ perfectly capture the spirit of modern Americana. Some of the tracks, like ‘Deeper’ and ‘Foolish Hearts’ with their deliciously soulful organ and bags and bags of brass give an impression of being recorded not in Nashville but some 200 miles away and a several decades ago in Memphis’s Stax studio. But it’s that skilful yet instinctive blend of influences that has helped Bailey build a solid fan-base. ‘What’s The Matter With You’ meanwhile is a slow, smoky, heartfelt blues while the rock influences come more to the fore in the title track ‘Road I Call Home’ with its superb guitar solo.

Co-writing credits include renowned UK hit songwriter Roger Cook, these days firmly part of the Nashville music scene, along with Nashville’s own Bobby Wood who has written for Elvis Presley and Dusty Springfield among others. Bailey explains the process as follows: “Road I Call Home is a year’s snapshot of being on the road. Eight of the 11 songs were written in two months. I’m very honest to what I write, and right now that’s what I know. I live in that constant state of tiredness, but I love it. I feel so blessed to live this life.”

An incredible voice, some great songwriting and some seriously good musicianship, with Road I Call Home Elles Bailey and her friends in Nashville have given us an impressive album.

Released by Outlaw Music March 8th 2019

https://www.ellesbailey.com/

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Live review: Glen Matlock headlines Hastings Fat Tuesday 5/3/19

It’s often remarked upon what a uniquely thriving local live music scene Hastings has. Nowhere is this more in evidence than the annual Fat Tuesday extravaganza. Taking in over 250 separate performances from over sixty different bands across more than twenty-five venues over five days simply a whirlwind of live music. And most of these gigs are completely free.

Headlining it all this year is none other than rock ‘n’ roll legend and former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock. Like the other bands performing on the final night – Fat Tuesday itself – Matlock plays several twenty minute sets in several different venues tonight. But, as the main headliner, he also gets an additional forty-minute slot after the other bands have finished, courtesy of the Carlisle.

While Matlock is whizzing around these other venues it gives me the chance to catch another couple of bands in the Carlisle first: the excellent Hastings-based punk-folk outfit Matilda’s Scoundrels and then the Tunbridge Wells outfit Suncharmer with their brand of riffed-up indie rock.

Both bands are well received but the place soon gets properly crammed in time for Matlock. Playing a mix of Sex Pistols classics (‘God Save The Queen’, ‘Pretty Vacant’), recent solo material (‘Keep On Pushing’, ‘Fisherman’s Friends’) and classic cover versions such as Bowie’s ‘John I’m Only Dancing’ and The Small Face’s ‘All Or Nothing’. With a great band behind him (bass, vocals and electric guitar) and Matlock on vocals and acoustic guitar, they cram a pile of great rock’n’roll into their forty-minute set. Matlock’s adulation of the rockabilly era is apparent throughout – but for all the year zero posturing back in the day, punk was always about rediscovering the format of the classic three-minute rock ‘n’ roll song. It’s a superb performance that goes down perfectly with a suitably raucous crowd.

There had been other highlights from the weekend for me, of course. Saturday – branded as the unplugged day – saw me catch more of Matilda’s Scoundrels, some Indie-ish pop-rock from Elephant Radio, a gloriously insane set from Brass Funkeys and an excellent acoustic set from indie-folk singer-songwriter Trevor Moss. But having a genuine legend to headline was a fitting end to the madness that is Fat Tuesday.

A bona fide rock ‘n’ roll icon. Performing in the pub. Free entry. On a Tuesday night. It can only be Hastings…

http://glenmatlock.co.uk/

 

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Related posts:

Fat Tuesday 2017 preview

Fat Tuesday unplugged 2017 review

Dodgy at Fat Tuesday 2017 review

 

Metal: album review – Spirits Of Fire ‘Spirits Of Fire’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Spirits Of Fire is the new outfit fronted by ex-Judas Priest singer Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens.

A supergroup of sorts the project brings together Owens (ex-Judas Priest, Iced Earth), guitarist Chris Caffery (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), bassist Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, Death) and drummer Mark Zonder (ex-Fates Warning, Warlord).

Hailed as “classic Priest meets Savatage” guitarist, Chris Caffery, says: “My influences for writing on this record were the bands that we were and are still in! I wanted to write songs that Priest, Savatage, Testament, and Fates Warning fans would like. But, I wanted them to have a personality of their own as well. To give it a vibe that was Spirits of Fire.”

And do they achieve that? There’s a satisfyingly Judas Priest-like vibe to the Spirits Of Fire album and it’s a great slice of classic heavy metal: well-written songs, powerful vocals, dynamic riffs and a thunderous rhythm section. Opening with a furious ‘Light Speed Marching’ it nicely sets the template for the album as a whole and showcases Owen’s considerable vocal range. Title track ‘Spirits Of Fire’, which ended up also providing a name for the band itself, is another furious assault with some nice soloing from Caffery.

Just like on a classic Priest album where you will typically find the odd slower number, here we get the excellent ‘A Game’ and the anthemic ‘Alone in the Darkness’ the latter of which closes the album, both tracks taking the tempo down while sacrificing none of the heaviness.

The whole Spirits Of Fire project has been masterminded by LA-based producer Roy Z who has worked with the likes Bruce Dickinson, Halford and Tribe Of Gypsies and does a sterling job on production duties here. Eleven tracks of classic, polished heavy metal – this debut from Spirits Of Fire is well worth checking out.

Released: 22.2.19 by Frontiers

https://www.facebook.com/SpiritsOfFireBand/

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Film review: ‘Bachman’ new rock documentary on guitar legend Randy Bachman – released 26 March 2019

If you’ve admired the music of Randy Bachman but you don’t know too much about the man himself beyond “the guy who was in Bachman Turner Overdrive”, “the guy who was in the Guess Who before that”, “Canadian” and, perhaps, “Mormon” – and are keen to find out a little more then this new 78-minute documentary by FilmRise could well be of interest. Scheduled for release in DVD and digital formats on 26th March it tells the story of aspiring young Winnipeg musician through to seventy-something rock legend still out on the road performing.

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Never one for the sex and drugs and rock and roll lifestyle and, in his own words, “not a party animal” there’s certainly none of the how-I-made-it-through-years-of-debauchery-and-came-out-the-other-side-alive narrative nor, given that Bachman is living a very comfortable life and clearly enjoying what he does, is there an Anvil-style struggling-against-the-odds-in-the-face-of-rock-n-roll-adversity tale. Through the interviews with Bachman and his family, as well as rock royalty like Neil Young, Peter Frampton, Alex Lifeson and BTO bandmate Fred Turner, you do start to get a feel for what makes Bachman tick, however. A common thread running through many of the talking head segments is just how driven Bachman was and how focused his life has been on the music. It’s telling that in spite of his having converted to the Mormon faith prior to his first marriage, one of Bachman’s musical associates asserts in the film that his “spirituality is rooted in the guitar” above anything else. And we find out Bachman loves guitars – an awful lot. In one scene the film crew accompany Bachman to a storage facility and we find out just how much he loves guitars as he opens up a seemingly infinite collection of guitar cases and exhibits one instrument after another.

Although Fred Turner appears in the film I was perhaps expecting it to delve a little more deeply into the on-off musical partnership between Bachman and Fred Turner. However, it must be stressed that this is very much a film about Randy Bachman – the man, as opposed to Bachman Turner Overdrive – the band. Nevertheless, it’s a very watchable documentary and, at 75, it’s heartening to see Bachman still performing music and still being driven by it.

“BACHMAN” will be available on DVD, to stream or download on iTunes, Prime Video and Google Play on 26th March 2019.

Live review: Holy Holy perform The Man Who Sold The World & Ziggy Stardust at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 17/2/19

The Bowie-inspired supergroup Holy Holy, featuring original Spider from Mars Woody Woodmansey and David Bowie collaborator and legendary producer Tony Visconti, first got together in 2014 when they toured Bowie’s groundbreaking The Man Who Sold The World album in full, which both men played on. This was followed with a 2017 tour playing The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars in full. Now, in 2019, Holy Holy are back with another tour performing not one, but both of these legendary albums in full, back-to-back. Bexhill’s De La Warr is absolutely packed out for an evening of Bowie worship. Fronted by Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory, Woodmansey and Visconti are joined by James Stevenson and Paul Cuddeford on guitar, Berenice Scott on keyboards and Jessica Lee Morgan on saxophone, guitar and additional vocals.

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Beginning with The Man Who Sold The World set, the heaviest of Bowie’s early 70s albums, the band don’t hold back on songs like the doom-laden All The Madmen and The Supermen as well as the lighter but no less brooding ‘After All’, not to mention a majestic rendition of the album’s title track. As I observed on a previous tour, Gregory is a powerful singer and great performer who does a nice line in Bowiesque vocals but without ever descending into play-acting or parody. Although the venue is all-seated tonight, many in the crowd don’t need much encouragement at all from Gregory when he says they are welcome to make their way to the front (even if the venue management appear to take a slightly different view).

If the atmosphere for the moody, dark proto-goth vibes of The Man Who Sold The World is reverential when the band switch to performing Ziggy Stardust, however, it’s one of unadulterated, joyous celebration. This is exactly as it should be for one of the truly classic albums of the second-half of the twentieth century. From ‘Five Years’ (track 1 side one on the original vinyl) through to ‘Rock n Roll Suicide’ (track 6, side 2) the classic songs keep rolling one after another, each one greeted with tumultuous, affectionate, thunderous applause.

Yes, those on stage didn’t write these songs and (in the majority of cases) weren’t the ones to originally perform them. Their creator, together with two of his three Spiders From Mars band-mates, is no longer with us. And yet, and yet… this is very much a band, not a disparate collection of musicians and competing egos coming together to reel off a tribute, but a band – one that has genuinely gelled musically, one that works the stage together and one that laps up the love shown by tonight’s audience. Everything about this performance screams out that this is something special, that this is something way beyond the myriad of Bowie tributes that can be found up and down the country.

The encore sees a surprise rendition of Bowie’s 2013 hit ‘Where Are We Now’, something the band only hit on part way through the current tour, Gregory tells us. That’s followed by a triumphant ‘Life On Mars’, a superbly energetic’Changes’ and a gloriously raucous ‘Rebel Rebel’.

Bowie’s music needs to be kept alive and deserves to be kept alive and, really, no-one does that better than Holy Holy.

Set-list:

Width of a Circle
All The Madmen
Black Country Rock
After All
Running Gun Blues
Saviour Machine
She Shook Me Cold
The Man Who Sold The World
The Supermen

Five Years
Soul Love
Moonage Daydream
Starman
It Ain’t Easy

Lady Stardust
Star
Hang On to Yourself
Ziggy Stardust
Suffragette City
Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide

Where Are We Now
Life On Mars
Changes
Rebel Rebel

http://www.holyholy.co.uk/

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When Darren met Woody…

Related reviews:

Holy Holy at Shepherd’s Bush Empire 2017

Mike Garson perfoms Aladdin Sane at Birmingham O2 2017

 

Book review: ‘Look Wot They Dun! – The ultimate guide to UK glam rock on TV in the 70s’ by Peter Checksfield

Rather than another biography giving an overview of the various glam acts of the 1970s ‘Look Wot They Dun’ is basically an encyclopedic directory that methodically lists all the TV appearances of numerous bands associated with the glam era throughout the 70s. Fifty different acts are covered in all, with the appearances for each in turn listed chronologically.

As much as I am fascinated by this era and as much as I will always love bands like Sweet and Slade and T. Rex, I must admit when I first picked up this book I wasn’t sure whether there would be enough in it to sustain my interest across a whopping 286 pages. However, I soon began to get engrossed, reading some of the fascinating little snippets and insights that accompany many of the entries. In one of his earliest TV appearances, Elton John, for example, is wearing “a horrible outfit of faded blue jeans, a long-sleeved orange T-shirt and a sleeveless striped cardigan” prior to the emergence of the flamboyantly-dressed larger-than-life character of later appearances. The Sweet’s Andy Scott had a run of appearances on Opportunity Knocks in late 1966 in an outfit called The Silverstone Set, we learn, several years before finding fame with the glam rockers. And Mud’s first TV appearance, back in 1968, is on the Basil Brush Show while David Essex’s first appears some two years earlier on the Five O’clock Club.

Indeed, although the book is presented in catalogue format and lacks an explicit overarching narrative there are, nevertheless, obvious patterns that begin to emerge across a significant number of bands. First we see tentative appearances on scratchy black and white shows during the 60s beat boom (Marc Bolan and David Bowie/Jones on Ready Steady Go, the aforementioned Andy Scott on Opportunity Knocks etc.) Then we fast-forward a few years and see those same people bedecked in glitter and glam hamming it up on Top Of The Pops in the period 1971-1973. Then by around 1974 we mostly see the glam bands to start putting away the bacofoil and the glitter and opting for a more conventional rock star jeans-and-leather jacket or cool-white-suit look. Then, finally, in many of the cases we see the number of entries for TV appearances steadily declining as the second half of the seventies draws to a close.

Though I would have welcomed a bit more by way of narrative thread, the book nevertheless provides a fascinating insight into how one of the most visual musical genres of the twentieth century projected itself on to our TV screens. And as an invaluable reference tool I’m sure ‘Look Wot They Dun’ will be something I’ll be going back to again and again.

Published: February 2019

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Book review: ‘Uncommon People – The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars’ by David Hepworth

From Little Richard through to Kurt Cobain (taking in the likes of Brian Wilson, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks and assorted others along the way) David Hepworth’s book is a fascinating collection of pen portraits of rock stars at key moments in post-war popular culture.

I’m not sure I completely buy his central thesis that the mystique-destroying power of the internet, changing tastes in popular music and a music industry that has transformed beyond recognition means we’ll never have anything approaching the slightly preposterous, larger-than-life, self-obsessed personality of the bona fide rock star ever again. Assuming the future of rock ‘n’ roll is one as a niche genre rather than a mass-market genre, surely we’re still going to see the odd flamboyant, charismatic, guitar-wielding eccentric who craves recognition and manages to make some sort of name for themselves, even if they are no longer driving mythological Rolls Royce’s into swimming pools or chucking TVs out of hotel room windows?

Even if you’re more optimistic about the future of rock ‘n’ roll than the author, there is plenty to keep the rock music fan totally engrossed in this book. Did you know the joys of anal sex provided the original inspiration for the lyrics to Little Richard’s Tutti Frutti or that Dave Clarke of the Dave Clarke Five was the one who was sitting with Freddie Mercury on the day he died? Uncommon People has certainly encouraged me to seek out a few more biographies of some of these exotic creatures we called rock stars.

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