Review: Hastings Fat Tuesday 2017 – Unplugged Saturday 25/2/17

The view from The Royal Standard

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

The ‘Unplugged Saturday’ ran across sixteen different pubs in Hastings Old Town on Saturday afternoon as part of the Fat Tuesday weekend.

Each bar was hosting ten different acts for fifteen minute acoustic slots between 1-6pm, with each performing at multiple venues. That gives you 160 separate performances to choose from – all free – so punters had a choice of strategies. You could either stay in the same place and take in a succession of acts, loyally follow one band around all afternoon or, what I suspect the majority did, take a bit of a mix and match approach trying out a few different venues and a few different acts.

In order to have the best possible chance of taking in as many acts and as much variety as possible for this review, however, I parked myself in the Royal Standard on the seafront for the full afternoon. (Well, it would be the full afternoon but I got slightly sidetracked en route and missed the first act – apologies to Strum & Bass!)

So, first three general observations about the afternoon:

1. The variety of acts was enormous – from the jazzy vibes of Andy Harston, to the massed choir of Vocal Explosion, to the raucous punk-folk of Matilda’s Scoundrels there was a real range of musical styles and formats.

2. It all ran like clockwork – getting large numbers of musicians and their instruments performing around the town and ensuring everyone gets to the right venue at the right time ready to start and finish bang on time is obviously a logistical operation but, impressively, it all ran very, very smoothly, certainly in the Standard.

3. The livelier acts tended to make the biggest impact – having just fifteen minutes to build a rapport with audience and complete the set meant that the acts who could immediately grab the audience by the throat were tending to have more impact than the more reflective singery-songwritery types

It was enormous fun and a great annual celebration of the town’s live venues and live music scene. Much as I enjoyed it I’m sure it’s probably not how most of us want to consume live music on a day-to-day basis. So as well as enjoying it for its own sake I also took it very much as a showcase for particular acts I’d like to see a lot more of in the future.

And three acts who really stood out for me:

Again, apologies for missing the Strum & Bass duo – their brand of vintage slap-bass acoustic rock n roll (which I checked out on You-tube when I got home) would normally be right up my street.
But here are three acts who definitely stood out for me at Unplugged Saturday that I will certainly be checking out again.

1. Matilda’s Scoundrels – How come it’s taken me this long to check out Matilda’s Scoundrels? Hastings’ ‘folk-punk’ band are brilliantly entertaining, reminding me of a cross between The Levellers, The Clash and folk-festival favourites Blackbeard’s Tea Party.
They brought a big crowd in with them and, after bringing the house down, took a fair chunk of the crowd out with them again when they set off for the next venue. Fortunately, I was able to catch them on the Sunday at Flairz, as part of the Off Axis event, for a half-hour full electric set. I’m a total fan. I’ll be seeing a lot more of this band I hope.

http://www.matildas-scoundrels.com/

2. Harry Osborne – While all the acts were well-received I did stress that the 15 minute format in a crowded pub probably created a bit more of a challenge for some of the less raucous, more reflective sets. One act who absolutely rose 100% to that challenge was guitarist/singer, Harry Osborne, who was able to create an immediate connection with the audience and went on to deliver some fine songs and sensitive guitar playing. Definitely on my ‘one to watch’ list, a talented, engaging singer-songwriter who can also be found performing with a band Someone /Anyone.

https://www.facebook.com/harry.harryosborne

3. Le Skiv – The last act of the afternoon I the Royal Standard Le Skiv were a brilliant way to finish. Describing themselves on their Facebook biog as “incorporating the feeling of a Nova Scotian kitchen party to create a good ol’ sonic hoedown” they pulled off that vibe perfectly. Banjo, guitar and percussion, lovely harmony vocals and some lively but beautiful songs they went down a storm and are another band I want to catch more of.

https://www.facebook.com/weareleskiv/

A brilliantly fun (if fairly drunken) afternoon with a list of bands I am keen to see more of, Fat Tuesday’s Unplugged Saturday was a definite hit.

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Daria Kulesh at Cecil Sharp House 23/2/17 (Album launch: ‘Long Lost Home’)

Folk singer Daria Kulesh, Russian-born but British-based, has not chosen an easy subject matter for her newly-released solo album Long Lost Home, which is being formally launched at Cecil Sharp House tonight. But it’s an absolutely fascinating one and, as we find throughout the performance of all twelve songs from the album tonight, it is also a deeply moving one.

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Long Lost Home tells the story of Ingushetia (or the Ingush Republic). It is now a republic within the Russian Federation, bordering Chechnya, but it’s one with a dark and tragic history. On 23 February 1944 (exactly 73 years ago from tonight’s performance) Ingush civilians were falsely accused of collaborating with the Nazis and the entire population were either deported or shot under the orders of Stalin. Ingushetia was the lost homeland of Kurlesh’s maternal grandmother. And it was through her grandmother that Kulesh was to learn so much of her ancestral home and the tragedies within it but also the everyday lives and loves of some of her ancestors, a number of whom are brought movingly to life once more in Kulesh’s songs.

Possessing a beautiful clear voice that is both powerful and pure, Kulesh is immediately able to connect emotionally with her audience as the lives of the characters in her songs unfold. Musically, she’s supported by a fine cast of musicians, both on the album and on stage. Kulesh herself plays the shruti box (Indian drone instrument) but we also have a rich tapestry of sounds from traditional Russian/Kulesh stringed instruments through to the dulcimer and the double bass and even, for one song, the Scottish bagpipes.

Yes, much of the subject matter has a darkness to it. However, as Kulesh herself emphasises there’s also a spirit of hope and humanity and kindness to these songs. The last song of the album Only Begun ends on a very optimistic note. It’s not quite the end though. Kulesh and her colleagues are called back on stage for an encore. As an added bonus, Timur Dzeytov, a traditional Ingush musician who accompanies Kulesh on the album and here tonight, also plays a couple of Ingush dance numbers, complete with some impromptu Ingush dancing, to round off the launch of Long Lost Home.

Daria Kulesh can be proud of what she’s achieved here, both through her very unique contribution to the UK folk scene and through this perfectly fitting and timely celebration of Ingush culture and history.

http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk/

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Americana: album review – Dave Burn ‘Arizona’

Dave Burn was guitarist/vocalist with former London-based alt-country outfit ahab and its associated spin-off after the band split, Orphan Colours. Arizona is Burn’s first solo album.

Now I’d always loved ahab’s sunny, infectious, upbeat brand of Americana and that was very much followed through with Orphan Colours who released a glorious EP last year. However, with both outfits you long suspected that there might also be a more reflective, more contemplative, singer-songwriter vibe within them. And here it is. Dave Burn has pulled that off with a really nice album.

In Burn’s own words: “I took a long job working on a documentary in the Yukon filming gold miners. I came back with a broken foot and a slipped disc in my back but fortunately enough cash to rent a studio, round up some great musicians and make the album I’ve always wanted to make, which I’m very proud of.”

He is right to be proud of it. His warm, heartfelt vocals are  perfectly suited to this type of material. And with Burn on acoustic guitar and mandolin, he’s pulled together a talented set of musicians, including some superbly atmospheric lead guitar from Fred Abbott (Noah & The Whale/Orphan Colours) on songs like opening track ‘Fine Company’. Abbott also contributes some beautifully authentic piano and steel guitar to the album. The old connections are not lost, either with Seebs Llewellyn (ahab/Orphan Colours) and Luke Price (ahab) contributing backing vocals.

Much as I’d like to see the ahab boys playing together again at some point in the future, clearly it was time for Burn to try his hand at coming out from a supporting role and taking centre-stage. A lot more laid-back than ahab but no less lovely, Arizona is a superb solo album from Dave Burn.

Arizona is released on 1 March 2017

http://daveburn.com/

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Related reviews:
ahab live at Cropredy
Orphan Colours live in London

In praise of the CD: Seven reasons why CDs are my favourite music format ever

It was only a few years ago that people were finding it hilarious that I was clinging obstinately to the CD rather than embracing digital formats. Now, with the renaissance of vinyl, some still regard me as a Luddite dinosaur for not embracing the switch back to the 12 inch.

Here are seven reasons why the CD is king for me:

1. I love physical product – I can’t excited at the thought of sifting through computer files for my listening pleasures. While the bibliophile gets immense satisfaction from browsing through a proper library of real books, I get the same pleasure from my physical collection of albums. I like the artwork, the lyric sheets, the song-writing credits, the information on who is playing what, on when it was recorded, who produced it and so on.

2. But there’s only finite space – I started buying LPs as a teenager in the early 80s but had switched over to buying CDs by the early 90s. However, even in that decade I’d amassed enough vinyl to still fill up three large cupboards today. If I’d carried on buying vinyl at the same rate I’ve purchased CDs over the past 25 years I’d have no room to eat, sit or sleep. For me the CD provides the perfect balance between the romance of a vinyl library and the efficiency of a digital library.

3. Sound quality is important to me – If you played me a brand new vinyl album and a CD, personally I’d struggle to tell the difference. But brand new vinyl albums don’t stay brand new for very long and I prefer listening to stuff without crackles, scratches and jumps. OK CDs can degrade you tell me but I’ve never had more than a tiny handful of CDs that have become unplayable and (with a quick spin on my £15 CD cleaning/repair kit) all but one of those was as good as new afterwards.

4. Jumping up and down every twenty minutes is a pain in the arse – Getting up to put a fresh CD on is fine. But it’s only when I’m playing some of my old vinyl that I’m reminded how ridiculously short the LP format was. When you’re reading or working or just chatting to your partner, having to get up to switch sides every twenty minutes or so is just a pain. I’m sorry.

5. I like the integrity of the original album – My retro tastes mean I listen to an awful lot of reissues but, unlike many digital fans, I love listening to albums in full in the track order they were released in when they were originally put out on vinyl – and this accounts for the vast majority of my listening.

6. Though I like all the extras too – While I like listening to albums in the way they were originally conceived, I also love all the extras the additional length of the CD format allows: the B sides, the acoustic versions, the missing songs restored to live albums etc.

7. But most of all – I’m 50 now. And after experimenting with cassette tapes and records in my early years as a music obsessive, I’ve simply lavished far too much time, money, attention and love on my CD collection to ever contemplate changing formats again now. Good job it’s the perfect format for me then…

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Preview: Hastings Fat Tuesday 2017

A newcomer to Hastings finds out what’s it’s all about.

This is my recent piece for local independent music website The Stinger. You can find the link here

For those new to Hastings the sheer range of festivals, parades and community events can be exhilarating, exciting but sometimes bewildering. Just what on earth is Fat Tuesday? Is it on a Tuesday and does it have anything to do with being fat?

As a relative newcomer to this small but fun-loving town on the south coast I’ve been on a mission to find out. While few people outside Hastings may be familiar with the term “Fat Tuesday” most will have heard of “Mardi Gras” and, literally, Fat Tuesday is the French to English translation of Mardis Gras. Traditionally held on Shrove Tuesday, such celebrations were a chance for people to let their hair down before the onset of Lent and, supposedly, a long period of sobriety. New Orleans and Venice have renowned Mardi Gras celebrations, Venice has Carnivale and, for the past eight years, Hastings has had Fat Tuesday. Running from Friday, 24th February through to Tuesday 28th, it’s a long weekend of fun, colourful parades and lots (and lots!) of live gigs.

You can find the full programme on the website: Hastings Fat Tuesday, but highlights include:

Fat Friday – Friday 24th: Things kick off on the Friday evening with a performance from 20yo singer-songwriter Marie White. Compared to the likes of Tracey Chapman and Macy Gray, she’ll be performing short sets over the course of the weekend but this is a chance to see a full show.

Unplugged Saturday – Saturday 25th: 40 acts play fifteen minute sets in a variety of venues, equating to an afternoon of 200 gigs across Hastings Old Town, from acoustic rock to Folk to Blues and much more besides.

Off Axis – Sunday 26th: Again, Hastings comes alive with a mega-run of gigs. 32 acts from across the country, play in 4 town centre venues, with a gig starting every 15 minutes between 1pm and 9pm. It’s a live showcase for some of the best emerging, unsigned acts in the UK and afterwards it’s followed by an after party with Hastings-based punk folkies Matilda’s Scoundrels at The Fountain on Queen’s Road.

Thee Sunday Sonics – Sunday 26th: On the more arty side there’s Thee Sunday Sonics, a one-day celebration of avant garde electronic music, video art and spoken word.

UnConvention – Monday 27th: UnConvention is a one-day music conference aimed at the grass roots of the industry and The Palace on the seafront plays host to the official launch of Hastings & Rother as a Music City. There will be a session on Music Cities and Music Tourism at 11am, followed by the formal launch at 1pm. It’s free but do register in advance here: UnConvention/Monday/

The Fat Tuesday Tour – Tuesday 28th: Fat Tuesday night itself runs from 8pm-11pm and as well as fancy dress and all kinds of frivolity there are 24 bands playing 20 minute sets across 12 venues, headlined by Britpop trio, Dodgy.

No serious music lover could deny what a fantastic and varied selection of music will be available over the course of the weekend. But for someone like me, who can get spoilt for choice at a summer festival when there are just two stages, how can you make the most of it and how can you take in as much as possible without getting completely overwhelmed?

I sought advice from seasoned Fat Tuesday regulars via social media. David advises: “The participating pubs do get very crowded and if you eventually find somewhere you like my advice is to stay where you are and let the bands come to you!”

See you there folks.
Let the good times roll.

http://www.hastingsfattuesday.co.uk/

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Folk: album review – Two’s Company ‘Go Together’

My review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Two’s Company are a duo from Sheffield and Go Together is their debut album. Alice Baillee and David Jenkinson have been playing together since meeting at university several years ago and have clocked up a number of festival appearances as well as support slots for the likes of Martin Simpson and Phil Beer.

Their sound is built around Jenkinson’s guitar and cello-mandolin and Baillee’s flute, with lead vocals alternating between the contrasting voices of the two. The album is apparently representative of their live set and contains a nice mix of traditional songs and original material, with a couple of tunes thrown in, too.

Songs like Bobby, telling the tale of a little boy whose musical promise when he is not engaged in child labour is cut shut when his fingers are crushed in a loom, showcase Baillee’s talents for writing lyrics that evoke the folk tradition and effortlessly take us back to a different age.

The Grove is another original, a gentle song inspired by a small piece of wilderness on the edge of a village that has since given way to a housing estate. Baillee’s voice handles such mournful themes well.

Of the traditional songs, they do a pleasingly reflective version of Will You Go, Lassie, Go? with the duo sharing lead vocal duties. All Among The Barley, this time with Jenkinson on vocals, is another nice interpretation of a traditional song.

Of the tunes Winterfall, a tune-set of two pieces composed by Michael Raven, allows for some lively interchanges between Baillee’s flute and Jenkinson’s strings and is one of the musical highlights on the album.

While their overall approach is not wildly different from many other male/female folk duos Go Together is a solid debut that has allowed Two’s Company to begin carving out an identity for themselves and to contribute some fine songs. This is a welcome start to a recording career.

Released: September 2016

http://www.twoscompanyfolk.co.uk/

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Have we been seeing a creative renaissance for our vintage rock and metal acts?

OK, so Black Sabbath may have played its last ever tour, we have seen one devastating rock star death after another and a number of acts are no more. But, in spite of all that, have we been witnessing a real renaissance for some of our classic rock and metal bands in recent years? I would contend we have.

After some difficult years in the late eighties and nineties for many of our much loved rock giants, one band after another have been releasing albums that stand up really well against their early classics. The aforementioned Black Sabbath released the brilliant 13 album in 2013, which in my view can happily sit alongside the first four Sabbath albums as a genuine bona fide classic. Uriah Heep’s Outsider released in 2014 can unashamedly sit alongside the David Byron-era material in terms of Heep’s unmistakable brand of melodic hard rock. Girlschool’s Guilty As Sin is every bit as good as their era-defining early albums, with lead track Come The Revolution a match for any of their well-known classic tunes. Saxon’s Battering Ram from 2015 and Judas Priest’s Redeemer Of Souls from 2014, each reviewed elsewhere here, both stand up well and offer everything you’d want to hear in a new album from either band. Even The Stones have got in on the act with their critically-acclaimed back-to-basics Lonesome & Blue album celebrating their R&B roots.

My theory is that all of these bands have reached a stage in their musical careers where, unlike some often painful attempts a decade or two ago, they have more than proved themselves. They now no longer feel obliged to sound contemporary or try to keep up with modern trends but can simply concentrate on sounding like themselves and producing the kind of music and the kind of albums that brought them to the public’s attention in the first place.

Of course, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be championing newer rock acts and none of the bands I’m talking about here are going to be around forever. However, I think we could still be seeing a few more classic releases yet from some of our favourite rock veterans over the next few years.

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Which have been your favourite band reunions?

Seven spectacular reunion gigs

The communal celebration of a band’s legacy, the return of a classic sound and unforgettable songs, the emotional resonance of seeing members sharing a stage again after many years apart; there can be something very,very special about reunion gigs of your favourite bands. As the reunited line-up of Ozzy, Geezer and Tony prepare to play their final Black Sabbath show I look back on some pretty special band reunions. In no particular order, here are seven spectacular reunions I’ve been lucky enough to witness in recent years.

1. Black Sabbath 2014 and 2017 – Truly one of the great reunions of modern times, even without original drummer Bill Ward. Back in 2014 when Sabbath played Hyde Park I wrote ‘Osbourne’s ups and downs have certainly been well-documented and Iommi has been undergoing debilitating bouts of chemotherapy over the past two years. All of that is a world away from tonight’s performance, however, and the band members are all blisteringly on form. They commence with a stunning version of War Pigs and one by one the classics are reeled off: Snowblind, Fairies Wear Boots, Iron Man. The sound is great. The guitars, drums and vocals are everything you would want at a Sabbath gig.’ When dates were announced for The End tour I had zero hesitation in snapping up a ticket. Reviews from 2014 here and from 2017 here.

2. Status Quo ‘Frantic Four’ 2013 and 2014 – Although Status Quo continued to fill arenas each year, there was something very special and very emotional about seeing the classic ‘frantic four’ line-up of Alan Lancaster, John Coghlan, Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi walk on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo after a 32-year absence. The earthy, rocky, bluesy brand of boogie they played that night was quite different from the keyboard-heavy pop-rock act that normally tours under the Quo banner these days and the crowd were absolutely ecstatic. Sadly, following the tragic death of Rick Parfitt, it’s something that can never be repeated now, but I was lucky enough to see them on both the original reunion tour in 2013 and the follow-up a year later. Here’s my review from 2014.

3. Mott The Hoople 2009 and 2013 – I have loved Mott The Hoople ever since discovering one of their albums second-hand as teenager in the early 80s. And although I’d seen Ian Hunter solo before I was amazed to open the Guardian guide one Saturday morning and see an advert for a Mott The Hoople reunion at the Hammersmith Apollo with all the original members, 35 years after the bands demise. Although alzheimer’s was beginning to take its toll on drummer Dale Griffin he joined the band for the encores in 2009. Hugely emotional, it was a glorious celebration of a criminally under-rated band and remains one of my favourite gigs of all time and remains a text-book case of how to pull off a reunion with dignity, style, emotion and meaning. I saw the band again at the O2 when the reunion (sans Griffin) was repeated four years later. The sad deaths of both Dale Griffin and bass-player Overend Watts in the past year remind us how privileged Mott fans were to get their long-awaited reunion when they did.

4. Beach Boys 2012– While I’d seen a couple of stunning solo shows from Brian Wilson, I’d never been at all tempted by the Mike Love-fronted band that continued to tour under the Beach Boys name. But when it was announced that the surviving Beach Boys (Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks) would be re-uniting to celebrate the band’s fiftieth anniversary I snapped up tickets for friends and family as soon as they went on sale. A mega run-through of Beach Boys hits, a gloriously full sound (aided by musicians from Brian Wilson’s musically brilliant touring band) and a beautifully authentic-sounding new studio album, too, this was definitely a reunion not to be missed. Al Jardine’s voice was particularly outstanding still.

5. Blur 2009 and 2015 – Blur’s Hyde Park reunions have become something of a tradition. I saw the first in 2009 and although I missed the one for the 2012 Olympics I did see them again in 2015. ‘The crowd is hugely good natured and it’s very much a communal celebration in Hyde Park. These songs have stood the test of time and are rightly held in great affection, as are the band who play them’ is what I wrote at the time. My full review from 2015 here.

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6. Fotheringay 2015‘Sandy Denny was the finest British female singer-songwriter that ever lived. Fotheringay was the short-lived band she formed in 1970 on leaving Fairport Convention. It lasted less than a year, but forty-five years on the surviving members have reformed for a short tour and are playing their first London gig since 1970. Band reunions can elicit mixed reactions and some questions went through my mind on this one. However talented the remaining musicians are, would this be a worthwhile exercise with the band’s two main front-people, Sandy Denny and her husband Trevor Lucas, long since deceased? As soon as the band come on stage, though, and open with Nothing More, the opening number on the original Fotheringay album, all doubts are set aside.’ Full review here.

7. The Kinks (well Ray and Dave) 2015 – Who knows if there’ll ever be a Kinks reunion. I did, however, catch a solo gig of Dave Davies in Islington back in 2015 with a very nice surprise at the end. Here’s what I wrote at the time: ‘Of course, when he came back on for an encore we could all guess absolutely what the song was going to be. What we couldn’t guess, though, was who would be joining him for that final song. “A surprise for Christmas!” announced Dave and on walked his brother Ray, the two of them sharing a stage together for the first time in 19 years. The audience as one are hit with amazement and wonderment at this beautiful and unexpected moment in rock’n’ roll history. Ray was in fine voice as he sang You Really Got Me and Dave cranked up the guitar. The audience went wild. Excitement, joy and genuine emotion as that 2 minutes and 14 seconds of one of the greatest rock’n’roll songs of all time blasted out from the stage.’ Full review here.

Of course, there are some band reunions I would love to see if ever they were so inclined (Gillan, Supergrass, the surviving members of the Byrds) and there is one I would have loved to have seen happen more than anything (Slade) but the possibility of that seems ever more remote with each passing year. However, I do feel genuinely lucky to be present at each of those moments described above.

Which have been your favourite musical reunions and which bands would you like to see re-unite?

 

Black Sabbath at the O2 31/1/17

How do you end the most iconic heavy metal band of all time?

At one point, a couple of decades after their 70s heyday, it looked liked it might be with a constantly changing cast of replacement musicians, declining album sales, less than enthusiastic ticket sales and something of a whimper rather than a bang. But, following an initial reunion in the late 90s, a mega-successful album with ‘13’ and a hugely successful world tour which reunited three of the original four members in 2013/4, fans hoped that there would at least be one more opportunity to say a final farewell, even in spite of a hugely worrying lymphoma diagnosis for Tony Iommi.

So here we have it: The End – Black Sabbath’s final farewell tour which reaches it’s ultimate conclusion with a couple of dates at London’s O2 and two final concerts in the band’s home city of Birmingham. And it’s every bit as magnificent, spellbinding and heavy as Black Sabbath should be. From the familiar doom-laden chords of the opening ‘Black Sabbath’ to the unforgettable riff of ‘Paranoid’ for the encore, every single minute of this concert was special. Geezer Butler delivers those unmistakable bass-lines, Tony Iommi delivers that unmistakable crunching guitar and Ozzy Osbourne delivers those unmistakable wailing vocals – the essential and unchangeable ingredients that make Black Sabbath what it is. Yes, it’s a shame that Bill Ward is not here to participate in this final tour but drummer, Tony Clufetos, does an absolutely outstanding job with immense energy. I doubt, really, whether anyone could have done it better.

Ozzy, as always, is a fascinating character. Between songs he shuffles around the stage like the mumbling, slightly bewildered figure TV viewers came to love so much. But the second a song starts he is instantly transformed into the wailing, demonic rock god that fans of the ultimate heavy metal band have always known.

My first ever live experience of Black Sabbath was with Bev Bevan out of ELO on drums and Ian Gillan out of Deep Purple on vocals, encoring with Smoke On The Water (?!) How fitting that what is likely to be my last has Tony, Geezer and Ozzy performing Sabbath exactly the way it should be performed. It was an absolutely magnificent performance, stunning setlist and suitably evocative special effects. The atmosphere at the O2, which can be a bit lacking at times however good a band is, was absolutely electric from start to finish.

Whatever happens now this band has made it’s mark on rock music a billion times over and their contribution will not be forgotten. Thank you Black Sabbath.

Setlist:
Black Sabbath
Fairies Wear Boots
Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes
After Forever
Into the Void
Snowblind
War Pigs
Behind the Wall of Sleep
N.I.B.
Hand of Doom
Rat Salad
Iron Man
Dirty Women
Children of the Grave
Paranoid

http://www.blacksabbath.com/

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Previous review:

Black Sabbath at Hyde Park

Review: Giants Of Rock Weekend 2017, Minehead

Giants Of Rock took place at Butlins Minehead again this January for the the fourth year running. Apart from the first year (when I was already booked into another Butlins music weekend the week before) I’ve been each time. With three days of music, two main stages and a smaller ‘introducing’ stage there is always plenty to choose from but here are the performances that particularly captured my imagination this year.

Friday

Eschewing both main stages for the first start of the Friday evening programme, we opted instead for The Troy Redfern Band on the introducing stage. I’d seen Troy and co a couple of times before so it was less of an introduction and more of welcome re-acquaintance with the band’s high-octane brand of blues rock. It’s good to see the band go down well.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://troyredfern.com/

After Troy we moved to one of the main stages for a gloriously bonkers set by Dutch flute-playing, Hammond-pounding, yodelling prog-rockers, Focus, which gave all of us in the crowd the chance to let ourselves go wild to a suitably deranged version of Hocus Pocus.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://www.focustheband.com/

Former Gillan guitar legend, Bernie Tormé, is on next and delivers a blistering set as always. Consistently original, the self-styled glam punk shredmeister has been enjoying a real career renaissance of late with two very well-received solo albums and a third on the way. With drummer, Ian Harris, and bass-player, Chris Heilmann, these three make a classic power trio which is the perfect showcase for Torme’s  guitar wizardry. Not only are the Minehead crowd treated to a great selection of some of the more recent material we also get some Gillan-era classics, too, like No Easy Way and New Orleans and a stonking Smoke On The Water as an encore (the first but not the last time we would be hearing that particular song over the weekend). It was a fantastic end to the first night.

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Photo credit: Lisa Valder

http://www.bernietorme.co.uk/

Saturday

Live Dead 69 are a reincarnation of The Grateful Dead with original keyboard player, Tom Constanten, currently touring the UK performing the band’s classic Live/Dead album in full. The Grateful Dead are not a band I’m hugely familiar with, although I’ve long been aware of the epic jams which the band are renowned for. A brilliant bunch of musicians, I was finding the initial part of their set perhaps a little too jazzy for my tastes. But then more of a blues rock vibe kicked in and I found myself more and more drawn in. Certainly, I’m pleased to have tasted a little of what this legendary band were all about.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://www.tomconstanten.com/

To kick things off on the Saturday night, Bernie Marsden was an obvious choice for me. I’ve seen him solo several times before (plus, of course, I saw him with the classic Whitesnake line-up back in the day) but this is a completely solo set – just Bernie and an acoustic guitar. He completely holds the audience for the full hour: some solo blues material, some Peter Green material and, of course, some Whitesnake material, the latter turning into a beautifully intimate communal sing-along to the likes of Ain’t Gonna Cry No More and Here I Go Again. Superb.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://www.berniemarsden.co.uk/

With a quick change of venue we were ready for Ian Paice with Purpendicular. OK, Giants of Rock is not supposed to be about tribute bands but here you’ve got the legendary Deep Purple drummer himself, together with a cracking bunch of musicians. They absolutely nail the Mark 2-era Deep Purple sound, from the chugging bass lines, to the majestic Hammond organ, to the blinding guitar solos, to the Gillan-esque screams.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://purpendicular.eu/

To round off Saturday we had a non-stop run-through of Saxon classics by Oliver Dawson Saxon. Original Saxon members, Graham Oliver and Steve Dawson, have been touring their alternative version of the Barnsley NWOBHM heroes for twenty years now and, impressed as I am with Biff Byford’s continuing version of the original Saxon, Oliver and Dawson do also offer something brilliantly entertaining. Lead singer, Bri Shaughnessy is a powerful vocalist and a charismatic front-man in his own right and he has absolutely made what might have been a difficult role his own. And as you can never really have too many crowd sing-alongs to classics like Denim And Leather, 747 (Strangers In The Night) and Wheels Of Steel, the fact that there is not just one but two bands out on the road doing this is a bonus in my view.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://www.oliverdawsonsaxon.co.uk/odsroot/

Sunday

In spite of a love 60s R&B bands, I’d never actually managed to see The Pretty Things live until now or even listened to one of their albums in full. But front-man Phil May and guitarist Dick Taylor still cut it live after more than half a century together. The two original members are joined by second guitarist/harmonica player, Frank Holland, who has been playing with them since the late eighties, together with a fantastically energetic young rhythm section in Jack Greenwood and George Woosey. Obviously, a band that’s been around since 1963 is going to have a hefty back catalogue to choose from and, while I enjoyed the whole set, I found they had more to offer when they concentrated on their mid 60s R&B period rather than their later stoner rock phase. Fortunately, the former makes up a significant part of the set and anyone who is currently enjoying the Rolling Stones new back-to-basics Blue & Lonesome album and wants an authentic slice of 60s rhythm and blues should certainly try and get to see The Pretty Things live.

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Photo credit: Elise Benjamin

http://www.theprettythings.com/

Still in the mood for more music after The Pretty Things, we headed off to the introducing stage and arrived just in time to see an awesome performance from the band KilliT. Great vocals. Great musicianship. Great guitar solos. Great stage presence. And, importantly, great songs, too. Instantly memorable numbers like Calm Before The Storm and Shut It Down from their debut album meant that this classic-sounding heavy metal band could wow the audience with some classic-sounding heavy metal songs. The best new hard rock band I’ve heard in ages, I was genuinely delighted for them when they were officially voted top act on the introducing stage that day. That means they will be back at Giants Of Rock to perform on the main stage next year. KilliT are a new band that have clearly arrived fully formed and deserve to go far.

killit-mineheadPhoto credit: Sally Newhouse

http://www.killitband.com/

That pretty much wraps up a brilliant weekend of music for me. There were more bands on the Sunday evening and for head-liners that night punters had a choice between Steve Hackett doing Genesis or Ian Anderson doing Jethro Tull. I looked in on both but it was all getting a bit proggy for me and I just didn’t seem to have my prog head on. Reflecting on what a great range of performances I’d witnessed over the weekend, I was happy to call it a night.

A great bunch of bands. A great crowd. A great weekend. Here’s to Giants Of Rock 2018.