Metal: album review – W.A.S.P. ‘Re-idolized (The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol)

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

Moving away from the trashy, good-time, OTT lyrics of earlier albums, The Crimson Idol (released in 1993) saw Blackie Lawless and W.A.S.P. move into the territory of the concept  album.

The Crimson Idol tells the story of dispossessed teenager, Jonathan Steele, who becomes addicted to drink and drugs following the death of his brother and rejection by his parents. He turns his life around by becoming a rock ‘n’ roll star but still seeks acceptance from his parents. Trying and failing to reconcile with them the story ends with Steele committing suicide.

Now, some twenty-five years after it was first released, The Crimson Idol is back in the form of Re-idolized (The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol). It’s a four-disc package that includes two CDs (the complete re-recording of the original album by the current W.A.S.P. line-up, including several tracks that were never included on the original album), along with DVD and Blue Ray versions of the hitherto unreleased Crimson Idol film. The album was originally intended to be accompanied by said film and several hundred hours of footage was shot at the time. Assembled here to create approximately 50 minutes of screen time it finally sees the light of day.

Filmed in grainy, evocative black and white, it is to be seen very much as an extended album-length video rather than (in contrast to say The Who’s Quadrophinia) a fully-formed rock film in its own right. As such, I’m not sure it’s something I would necessarily want to go and see at the cinema but it’s certainly a compelling visual memento of a very significant album in W.A.S.P.’s career.

For the CDs there is a definite energy and vitality about the recordings, even if I remain to be fully convinced of what overriding artistic point is being served by bands re-recording classic albums.  However, having seen the band perform the album in full on their recent UK tour, W.A.S.P. are definitely firing on all cylinders, Lawless’s voice is as powerful as ever, guitarist Doug Blair is an awesome player and it’s great to hear the album with the original missing songs fully restored to their rightful place in the story.

The serious W.A.S.P. fan will almost certainly want to buy this. For the more casual fan, whose interest in W.A.S.P. may have been rekindled by both the recent tour and the publicity around this release, the original version of The Crimson Idol (retailing at around half the price) may well suffice.

Released: February 2nd 2018


Related review:
W.A.S.P. at Hastings 2017


Live Review – Giants of Rock, Minehead 26-29 January 2018

Another weekend, another Butlins music festival. Giants of Rock at Minehead has become an absolute must in my musical calendar each January now. With three stages, forty-three bands and many, many clashes it’s obvious you can’t see everything – and I don’t even try. Inevitably, I missed some great performances but my general approach at weekends like this is as follows:

– I do like to watch act in full and properly appreciate their performance, from the minute they walk on stage to their final encore, rather than flitting about catching half an hour here and half an hour there.

– I also do like to eat, chill, socialise (and sleep) so I inevitably miss a good few bands – but the ones I do see generally get my full attention.

With those caveats here then are my highlights (and a couple of lowlights) from Giants of Rock 2018:


Taking a chance on Curved Air I thought they might be an Atomic Rooster-like surprise for me whom I enjoyed at Butlins Skegness so much the previous week. Unfortunately, it was not to be. It took me less than five minutes to realise that Curved Air were really, really not my cup of tea at all. That opened the way, however, for moving on to the Introducing Stage just as all-female foursome JoanovArc were about to start…

Dubbed the ‘new queens of rock’ JoanovArc immediately impressed with an energetic and high-quality performance. Big drums, powerful bass, nice heavy guitar and great vocals, their songs stand up nicely alongside the likes of female hard-rock trailblazers Girlschool, Rock Goddess and Joan Jett. These new queens of rock are definitely worth watching out for.

Then it was a return to one of the two main stages to watch former Wishbone Ash man, Martin Turner and his band wow the crowd with their performance of the classic 1972 album, Argus. I’d really enjoyed Andy Powell’s continuing ‘official’ version of Wishbone Ash at Giants of Rock two years ago. But Turner’s interpretation of this early material is just perfection. ‘Time Was’, ‘Blowin’ Free’, ‘The King Will Come’… No-one will ever do these songs better.


I was greatly entertained by ex-Argent guitarist John Verity at Giants of Rock two years ago and he was back once more with a lunchtime slot delivering a mix of rock classics, blues standards and material from his recent solo albums as well as, of course, a version of Argent’s irresistible classic ‘Hold Your Head Up’. A great way to start the day’s music.

Stage presence, charisma, good songs, great riffs, quality musicianship. Many upcoming young bands have some of these elements. Few have them all. But Hell’s Gazelles had absolutely everything – in spades. A young four-piece from Oxford, vocalist Cole Bryant has an immense vocal range and proved himself an incredible front-man. Similarly, the young Nath Digman is a great lead guitarist. Amongst very stiff competition Hell’s Gazelles were definitely the stand-out new act of the weekend for me. It’s hard to predict what the music industry or the rock scene is going to be like in twenty year’s time but if Hell’s Gazelles are not up there alongside whatever 2040’s equivalent of Iron Maiden or Judas Priest is by then there’s no justice in the world.


After bumping into Uriah Heep in the chippy and having a lovely chat with a very affable Mick Box and co, it was soon time to see them up on stage. Playing mainly Byron-era classics: ‘Gypsy’ followed by ‘Look At Yourself’ followed by ‘Sunrise’ followed by ‘Stealin’, they threw in one song from the last studio album (the excellent ‘One Minute’ from 2014’s The Outsider) before going on to 1998’s ‘Between Two Worlds’ then incredible versions of ‘July Morning’ ‘Lady in Black’ and ‘Easy Livin’. Pounding hammond, stunning vocals and Mick Box on guitar having the time of his life, not only did it rank of one of my favourite Giants of Rock performances ever, it’s now up there as one of my favourite performances by anyone, anywhere ever.


Things were slightly different next door on the other main stage with rumblings from audience members that Hawkwind only got to play for an hour and didn’t have time for any well-known crowd pleasers like ‘Silver Machine’ at the end. But all bands get an hour – to use exactly as they see fit. While Uriah Heep used their allotted hour with devastating efficiency to give us an out-of-this-world-performance of some of their greatest songs ever, Hawkwind chose a different approach. But at the end of the day you only get an hour. It’s Butlins not Stonehenge…

From probably the best Giants of Rock performance ever to possibly the worst…

After Uriah Heep I wandered over to the other main stage to watch a bit of ex-Toto singer, Bobby Kimball. Never really a fan of that very polished, very commercial, very shiny American AOR anyway, this was more out of morbid curiosity than anything else. In the week’s building up to his appearance numerous videos circulated on social media showing some shockingly out-of-tune vocals as Kimball murdered numerous Toto hits like ‘Africa’. If Kimball would be able to turn things around and put in a half-decent performance at Butlins it would be one of the big surprises of the festival. If he wasn’t it was going to be one horrific car-crash. Unfortunately, it was the latter. I lasted three songs – just long enough to see him murder ‘Africa’ again, before joining the mass of exodus next door to catch Stray. At least Del Bromham and his band were guaranteed a large crowd. The place was absolutely rammed and Stray put in a blistering set. The second-time I’d seen them in a week, it was a great way to end the second day.


Killit, who were one of the Introducing Stage winners last year, were on one of the main stages this year starting the day with a lunchtime set. One of the most impressive bands I’ve come across in recent years, they have a knack of coming up with instantly catchy, instantly memorable songs and demonstrate the centrality of great song-writing to truly great classic rock. They are awesome performers, too, with vocalist Gaz Twist a talented front-man with a great voice. I so want this band to do well.

My visit to the Introducing Stage on the Sunday was to catch Black Whiskey, who would go on to be that day’s winners and thus will be appearing on the main stage next year. Citing influences like Zeppelin, Free, Purple and UFO, Black Whiskey very much opt for a classic rock sound. Bluesy guitar, soulful vocals and solid rhythm. It’s a timeless, infectious mix and I am definitely happy to see more of them in future.

My absolute must-see band for the Sunday night was Slade. It would be the twenty-fifth time I had seen this band since I first saw the original line-up send the crowd at Donington Monsters of Rock absolutely crazy as a 15-year old teenager back in 1981. Noddy Holder and Jim Lea have long gone, of course, but Dave Hill and Don Powell are still flying the flag with a stable line-up of vocalist/guitarist Mal McNulty and vocalist/bass-player John Berry. Anyone expecting a note-for-note musically and vocally perfect copy of the original Slade you’re going to be disappointed. But if you want a crazy, fun-packed, non-stop celebration of some of the greatest songs ever – clapping your hands, stamping your feet, getting your boots off, singing along at the top of your voice, and generally waving your arms about – you’re in for a treat. A brilliantly fun twenty-fifth Slade gig for me – I can’t wait for my twenty-sixth…


After Slade finished I opted not to stick around for Nazareth having already enjoyed them at Skegness the weekend before. (Read my review here to find out what I thought of Nazareth). Instead, I headed over to the other main stage to watch the AC/DC tribute, Bon, who were performing the Powerage album in full. I’ve nothing against tributes and have enjoyed quite a few of them at my local rock pub back home but generally it’s not what I travel hundreds of miles to Minehead for. However, a great bunch of musicians performing a classic album in full followed by a run-through of all the iconic title tracks from every Bon Scott-era AC/DC album seemed like a great party band and a great way to finish the weekend on a high – and it was.

Hard rock, prog rock, glam rock, space rock, blues rock, contemporary heavy metal… One of the great things about Giants of Rock is that if you are a classic rock fan there really is something for everyone. Another great thing is the strong sense of community amongst those coming together at Minehead to celebrate their shared love of rock. A vibrant and active presence on social media via the Giants of Rock Facebook group (set up by fans for fans completely independently of Butlins) has meant that many close bonds have been made over the four years since the the festival started. It makes for one of the friendliest weekends of this type you can possibly imagine. Roll on Giants of Rock 2019!

You can join the Giants of Rock Minehead Facebook discussion group here 

Related reviews:
Skegness Rock and Blues 2018
Minehead Giants of Rock 2017
Slade at Giants of Rock 2015

Live Review – The Great British Rock & Blues Festival – Skegness 19-22 January 2018

This review was also published on the Get Ready To Rock website here

I’ve enjoyed various Butlins music weekends over the years but 2018 will be the first where I’ve done two on two such weekends on the trot. My Butlins blow-out started off with the Rock & Blues weekend in Skegness – with just a few days respite before I head off to Minehead for the Giants of Rock weekend in Minehead. With so many bands on a number of different stages, reviews of weekends like this are always going to be one person’s snapshot but I had a fantastic weekend and this is what I saw.


Friday night began at what was designated the “Rock Stage” (Butlins dividing up the acts on the two main stages as either Rock or Blues, as well as providing two smaller stages: a second blues stage sponsored by Blues Matters mag and an Introducing Stage). The first band, Northern Ireland’s Screaming Eagles, had a great stage presence, some great catchy songs and a handful of great covers, too. A nice, energetic start to the weekend.

Atomic Rooster on next were, for me, probably the biggest surprise of the weekend. They are one of those bands that I’d always been aware of but was never really that familiar with. Other than knowing they were formed by the late Vincent Crane (the guy who did the unmistakable keyboard pounding in Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’) before this weekend I could have told you very little about Atomic Rooster. But they were absolutely, out-of-this world, stupendously, brilliantly, amazing. Vincent Crane and the rest of the earliest line-up are sadly no longer with us. But the revived band contains both Pete French on vocals and Steve Bolton on guitar who were both in the band in the early 70s and they have been given the blessing of Crane’s widow to reform under the Atomic Rooster banner. They have the songs, the set-list, the charisma and the sound. Really, this band should have been far, far bigger than they were back in the day. Similarly, the modern-day version should be far, far better known than they are today. Absolutely majestic classic rock that stands proudly against any of the rock giants, I will be seeing more of this band for certain.


The Frankie Miller’s Full House tribute that came afterwards failed to inspire the same degree of energy and enthusiasm I’m afraid and after moving to the other main stage just as the final band were finishing their last song, we headed to the Blues Matters Stage to enjoy the late bar and some late night blues.


At lunchtime we caught Southbound on the Rock Stage. Their set combined soulful blues rock with some choppy, Feelgood-esque R&B. The latter they did particularly well.

Saturday evening began for us with the legend that is Bernie Marsden. I’ve seen Marsden in various guises over the years: with a full band playing acoustic, solo playing acoustic, with a full band playing an electric blues set and, back in the day, with the best Whitesnake line-up ever. Whether electric or acoustic he’s a stunningly good guitarist and he gave us a solo acoustic set of mainly Whitesnake material. His is never a showy stage presence but few ever look as contented or as at home on stage as does Marsden playing his music and bantering with the crowds.


I left my companions to enjoy Roger Chapman Family & Friends while I headed off to the Blues Matters Stage to catch Troy Redfern. With a classic power trio format they deliver infectiously energetic hard rocking blues that just seems to get better and better every time I see them. I thought I might call it a night after that but then came Rainbreakers. They are a group of young guys from Shrewsbury playing a small stage Skegness in 2018 but to hear them they could have been playing some sun-kissed stadium in California in 1971. Channelling the spirit of the classic era of soulful early 70s blues rock they were one of the absolute highlights of the weekend and went down a storm. Great writers, great musicians and great vocals; this was an utterly spellbinding performance from start to finish.


Over the course of the Sunday lunchtime slot I did a fair bit of wandering around Stray were the stand-out act for me with a great set from Del Bromham and co.

For our final evening we opted to start with some raunchy, good-time boogie from perennial Rock & Blues weekend favourites, Roadhouse, before heading to the Rock Stage to catch Nazareth. With only bass-player, Pete Agnew, remaining from the band’s 70s/early 80s heyday, it’s more a tribute than anything – but I mean that in a positive sense. New vocalist, Carl Sentance, does a superb job handling Dan McCafferty’s vocals on classic songs like ‘My White Bicycle’ and ‘Expect No Mercy’ and the band rock hard paying tribute to those great songs.


From only one original member in Nazareth to zero in Dr Feelgood, we head over to the main Blues Stage to finish the weekend with Canvey Island’s finest. Unfortunately, there seems to have been some sound problems on that stage all night. The band start much later than advertised and from where we were on the right-hand side at the front the sound was utterly abysmal. All I could hear was the bass-line and the drums, the guitar and vocals being pretty much drowned out. They are great songs, though, and we all know them. Singing along to these was a good way to finish the weekend and I came away being far more familiar with the bass-line in Dr Feelgood’s illustrious back-catalogue than I’d ever been before. Probably the most fun I’d ever had at a performance with shockingly bad sound.


The verdict overall

When I first saw the line-up I was a little underwhelmed but I was unexpectedly impressed by some of the veteran acts and completely blown away by some of the newer ones. This will go down for me as the weekend when I finally acquainted with the brilliant Atomic Rooster and when I first discovered the amazing Rainbreakers. Thanks guys.

And thanks!

One final word should go to the marvellously helpful Butlins Guest Services staff. Like many previous weekends I had bought a big stack of CDs. But, stupidly, I’d left them in my room in my rush to leave on Monday morning. A quick phone call to Butlins and my CDs were immediately located and sent back to me. Phew!

Related Review:
Giants of Rock Weekend 2017

The top ten posts of 2017 on Darren’s music blog

Wishing you a happy New Year and thanks to everyone who has visited Darren’s music blog during 2017. Here are the top ten most popular posts from the year, with the highest number of visits:

1. The Sweet versus Bowie: the riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences: actually written in late 2016 but consistently the most popular post throughout the year. Here I trace the origin of that famous riff – back through the glam era, the Yardbirds and those blues masters. Full post here.

2. Stone Roses at Wembley Stadium: “From the moment they first walk on stage to play ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ to the last climatic strains of ‘I Am The Resurrection’ the whole show is pretty much a celebration of that unforgettable and seemingly unrepeatable debut album.” Full review here.

3. Giants of Rock weekend at Minehead: Excellent performances from Troy Redfern, Focus, Bernie Torme, Bernie Marsden, Oliver-Dawson Saxon, The Pretty Things and Killit captured here. Here’s to Giants of Rock 2018. Full review here.

4. In praise of the CD: 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 I gave seven reasons why the CD is king for me. Full article here.

5. For One Night Only – Slade’s Jim Lea in Bilston: “We had been warned not to expect a live performance. But he certainly gave us one, and not some gentle, reflective, soul-searching, acoustic reinterpretation but a full-on, amped-up, raucous rock performance that so perfectly captured the spirit of Slade.” Full review here.

6. Sweet in London & Bilston: “This is a small venue with a tiny stage and it was absolutely rammed but the atmosphere was electric. It was evident that the band were also getting a huge buzz from playing to such a responsive audience, too.” Full review here.

7. The changing demographics behind charity shop CDs: another piece exploring my CD obsession. Here I talk through my observations hunting down charity shop bargains. Full review here.

8. Hastings Fat Tuesday 2017: my preview piece ahead of Hastings’ annual Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) celebrations with many, many dozens of gigs across the town was shared widely. Full article here.

9. Holy Holy perform Ziggy Stardust at Shepherd’s Bush Empire: “Holy Holy shows a way forward as to how we can continue to enjoy some of the greatest music of the twentieth century well into the twenty-first. A genuinely and truly impressive gig.” Full review here.

10. W.A.S.P. at White Rock Theatre, Hastings: “The Crimson Idol tells the story of a boy Jonathan and explores themes of estrangement, drugs, fame, money and suicide. It has become something of a cult heavy metal album and, twenty-five years since it was originally released, Lawless and his band are touring it in full.” Full review here.

Thanks for visiting Darren’s music blog everyone. Thanks also to publications like Get Ready Rock, the Hastings Independent, The Stinger, fRoots Magazine, Bright Young Folk and the Hastings Online Time for running many of my reviews and articles.

Here’s to 2018!


Metal: album review – Anvil ‘Pounding The Pavement’

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here 

Few who have seen the brilliant ‘Story Of Anvil’ film could fail to fall in love with this band. But is being the world’s most loveable metal band enough to make you want to carry on buying their albums? On the evidence of the band’s latest offering the answer has got to be yes. Ahead of a UK tour in February ‘Pounding The Pavement’ is a very creditable offering. While it’s true there is no new equivalent of ‘Metal on Metal’ here there is plenty of typically Anvil-style good-time heavy metal, with tracks like ‘Smash Your Face’ and ‘Rock Your Shit’ delivering trademark crunching riffs and sing-along choruses.

Opening with ‘Bitch In A Box’ I did at first think come on guys it’s not 1981 any more but the album does also showcase some more mature lyrical themes.

The anthemic ‘Nanook Of The North’ explores the fate of Canada’s inuit population. As a Canadian band, we wanted to focus on more Canadian topics,” Kudlow explains; “I remembered a course at the College of Movie History, where I saw one of the first TV documentaries ever. I did some research on the internet and came across that strange overtone singing the Inuit do. I was totally awed and knew immediately what I had to do: write a song with that typical tribal feel. That college documentary was made some time during the 1920s and is called ‘Nanook Of The North’, named after the protagonist of the documentary. So I had found my title and the subject of the song.”

Another noteworthy track is ‘Warming Up’ with its Ballroom Blitz-style drum shuffle.

It’s clear that vocalist and guitarist, Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow, and drummer, Robb Reiner, still love what they are doing and that there’s more to them than simply being endearing but unlikely stars in a tragi-comic blockbuster. Along with current bass player, Chris Robertson, Kudlow and Reiner are still rocking and still making decent new music. This album is well worth a listen.

Released: January 18th 2018


Live review: Sweet in London and Bilston 15/12/17 & 18/12/17

This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here

After perhaps rather too many Christmas tours of provincial theatres in recent years and, ahem, a tour supporting the Bay City Rollers last year it was gratifying to have Sweet do a short tour of proper rock venues this year. And I was lucky enough to catch them not once but twice. The renowned Robin 2 venue in Bilston, where the tour culminated, has been something of an annual pilgrimage for hardcore Sweet fans, with people travelling in from all over Europe.

First, however, I caught the band a few nights earlier at Nell’s Jazz & Blues in London. This is a small venue with a tiny stage and it was absolutely rammed but the atmosphere was electric. It was evident that the band were also getting a huge buzz from playing to such a responsive audience, too. This was confirmed by Andy Scott when we chatted briefly after the gig and the Sweet legend is clearly humbled by the reservoir of affection for the band as the Sweet approaches its 50th anniversary in 2018.


With Brian Connolly and Mick Tucker no longer with us and Steve Priest in the States with his own version of the Sweet it’s been left to Andy Scott to fly the flag for the band’s legacy in the UK and Europe. Consistently exacting in his high standards Andy Scott has never been one to just go through the motions when he goes out under the Sweet name. The current line-up of Pete Lincoln (lead vocals/bass), Tony O’Hora (keyboard/guitars/vocals) and Bruce Bisland (drums) have been together a good few years now (twenty-five in Bisland’s case) and it’s clear just seeing them on stage they work exceedingly well together as a unit. The unforgettable riffs and the trademark harmonies are delivered as powerfully now as they were when the band was at its commercial peak.


Set-wise, for this tour there was a nice mix between pumping versions of the glam-era singles like ‘Hellraiser’ and ‘Teenage Rampage’ and some of the classic harder-edged album tracks like ‘ACDC’ and ‘Set Me Free’ from the ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’ album. In the middle of it all the stools came out for a nice little acoustic set – Andy Scott and Pete Lincoln delivering blinding versions of ‘Lady Starlight’ and ‘Lost Angels’. Tony O’Hora then joined the two for an acoustic run-through of some of the band’s very earliest (pre-glam) bubblegum hits. It’s testimony to the guys’ creativity, not to mention sheer chutzpah, that they can somehow give added meaning to the lyrics of ‘Co-Co’ and ‘Funny Funny’ and get a packed-out rock crowd singing along to every word.

Throw in some majestically symphonic versions of ‘Love Is Like Oxygen’ and ‘Fox On The Run’ and add in a barnstorming encore of ‘Blockbuster’ and ‘Ballroom Blitz’ and on both nights I witnessed very memorable gigs and a very satisfied audiences. Here’s to The Sweet at 50 next year.


Live photo credits: Eileen Handley, Set-list photo: Darren Johnson

Related reviews:

Sweet with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow
Sweet at Bilston 2016
Sweet at Dartford 2015
Sweet at Bilston 2014
The riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie

Live review: Steeleye Span at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 14/12/17

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

It’s only been a year since I last saw Steeleye Span but already, in this constantly evolving band, there have been a couple more line-up changes. In comes renowned ex-Bellowhead alumni, Benji Kirkpatrick, (whose father John also did a couple of stints in the band back in the day) alongside Roger Carey (who will be known to many Hastings gig-goers as a member of The Tabs) who replaces long-standing Steeleye bass-player, Rick Kemp.

Tonight’s performance is in two parts. While the second set is mainly a selection of well-known Steeleye Span favourites, the first takes us right back to the band’s debut album ‘Hark The Village Wait’ from 1970, which they perform in full from start to finish. For those who immediately, on hearing the name Steeleye Span, think of the band’s electrified rocked-up persona from their mid 70s commercial peak, the first couple of albums are an altogether more pastoral affair. Some would say this tends to be a neglected era of the band’s legacy so it’s nice to see the rejuvenated 2017 line-up take it on. They deliver stunningly beautiful versions of songs like ‘Black Leg Miner’, ‘The Dark-Eyed Sailor’ and ‘The Hills of Greenmoore’.

The second set takes in some familiar rocked-up classics from the band’s illustrious back catalogue, including everyone’s favourite ugly witch song ‘Alison Gross’, as well as a handful of more recent material like ‘The Dark Morris Song’ from the Terry Pratchett-inspired 2013 album ‘Wintersmith’ and a couple of songs from the new album, ‘Dodgy Bastards’.

On past tours I have seen Maddy Prior struggle a bit with some of the vocals but there are no such problems tonight. Maddy plays to her strengths and the vocals are shared out in such a way that her wonderfully distinctive voice remains an essential part of the performance but isn’t put into a position where it’s strained over songs she’s no longer suited to. She pulls off a magnificent vocal performance on the trad. arr. favourite ‘Tam Lin’, for example. But Steeleye Span as a band has always evolved, changed and adapted with each arrival of fresh blood and it would be entirely wrong to see it as little more than Maddy Prior’s backing band. It’s good, therefore, to see the newer members taking a prominent role vocally. In particular, the arrival of Julian Littman, Andrew ‘Spud’ Sinclair and, most recently, Benji Kirkpatrick has really breathed new life into the band.

They encore, of course, with ‘All Around My Hat’. It comes with an invitation from Maddy Prior for everyone to sing along. I do, of course, know all the words to this (my sister had to learn it for the Brownies when it made the charts back in the mid 70s and it has been imprinted on my brain ever since). Sing along? It would be rude not to.

From tonight’s performance it is clear that Steeleye Span has now really found its feet following the departure of long-standing fiddle maestro Peter Knight, back in 2013. Tonight’s performance is the best I’ve seen from the band in several years. Let’s hope the current line-up will be around for a while.


First Set:
A Calling-On Song
The Blacksmith
Fisherman’s Wife
Blackleg Miner
Dark-Eyed Sailor
Copshawholme Fair
All Things Are Quite Silent
The Hills of Greenmore
My Johnny Was a Shoemaker
Lowlands of Holland
Twa Corbies
One Night as I Lay on My Bed

Second Set:
Cruel Brother
Alison Gross
Little Sir Hugh
Tam Lin
The Dark Morris Song
All Around My Hat
Dodgy Bastards


IMGP6510 (1)
Photo Credit: Richard Broady

Related posts:
Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band at Hastings 2016
Steeleye Span in London 2015
Steeleye Span at New Forest Folk Festival 2014

Blues: album review – King Size Slim ‘Live At The Palace’

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

Proof, if it were needed, of what a dynamic live venue the newly-refurbished Palace in Hastings is turning out to be comes in the form of this new CD from King Size Slim.

Toby Barelli, no stranger to the Hastings live scene, has been gigging for ten years now in his King Size Slim persona. His brand of raw, heartfelt, acoustic blues has picked up many fans along the way.

After spending a couple of years as part of pioneering 2-Tone ska heroes, The Selector, Barelli switched to a rootsy, ballsy, acoustic blues boogie sound. King Size Slim was born.

Spanning ten self-composed tracks ‘Live At The Palace’ captures Toby Barelli on fire with the Hastings crowd earlier this year. A talented guitarist and a naturally charismatic performer this CD positively drips with atmosphere and groove. Playing his trademark battered Tricone Resonator guitar, for this gig he’s also joined by a full band of Rufus Stone on upright bass, and James Gulliver and George Macdonald on percussion.

Songs like ‘Dark Soul’ and ‘Monkey, Where Are You?’ are given a real added potency with the funky bass and infectious percussion. The gig, and the album, ends with a rousing, singalong, rendition of Barelli’s ‘May We Find’ – surely an anthem for these troubled times?

A brand new studio album is promised for 2018 but, in the meantime, this live CD captures the excitement and energy of a King Size Slim gig. Anyone familiar with Toby Barelli’s work will surely want to buy this – particularly if you were at The Palace on that magical night.


Review: Mearfest at the Carlisle, Hastings 9/12/17

Saturday saw Hastings’ legendary rock pub, The Carlisle, host Mearfest. Inspired by personal tragedy Claire and Brian Mear have been running their rock and metal charity events for several years now, with funds going to The Willows stillbirth charity and other local causes.

Comprising a dozen bands and one solo acoustic set, all performing original material – no tribute acts or covers bands – what struck me throughout the day was the sheer quality of the acts taking the stage.

Particular standouts for me were Southampton five-piece, Toledo Steel; ‘Now Wave Of British Heavy Metal’ act, Kaine; and NWOBHM veterans Satan’s Empire, reformed after three decades.

Powerfully majestic but hard and heavy Toledo Steel put me in mind of classic-era Dio and Rich Rutter’s vocals and Tom Potter’s and Josh Haysom’s guitars are the perfect combination for this brand of hard-hitting melodic rock metal. Toledo Steel are definitely on my list to see and hear more of and I am certainly enjoying their excellent six-track EP ‘Zero Hour’.

Kaine is a four-piece formed in 2009 and musically inspired by the late 70s/early 80s New Wave Of British Heavy Metal boom. Powerful well-written songs and powerful delivery, you can hear the influences from their musical heroes like Iron Maiden in their performance. I took a copy of their excellent album ‘The Waystone’ away which confirms why they are getting so many plaudits on the contemporary metal scene.

Satan’s Empire had a breakthrough of sorts in 1981 when their excellent single ‘Soldiers Of War’ appeared on a Neat Records compilation. Sadly, they disappeared from view but now, with the original line-up still intact, they have reformed. Their performance oozed class, stage presence and memorable songs and it’s great to see them get a second bite of the cherry. They deserve it.

I’ve just pulled three acts out here that particularly inspired but in truth the quality didn’t let up throughout the day. It’s clear that organisers Brian and Claire Mear love what they are doing and, importantly, know what they are doing.


Folk: album review – Green Matthews ‘A Christmas Carol – A Folk Opera’

This review was originally published by Bright Young Folk here

Following in the footsteps of Fairport Convention’s Babbacombe Lee and Peter Bellamy’s The Transports, Green Matthews’ A Christmas Carol presents itself as a ’folk opera’. With twenty songs stretching over an hour, it retells the tale of Charles Dickens’ renowned Christmas story by putting new lyrics to well-known carols and traditional tunes.

Green Matthews are Chris Green, (vocals, guitar, mandocello, piano, accordion, bass guitar and drums) and Sophie Matthews (vocals, flute and English border bagpipes). For this album they are also joined by Pilgrims’ Way’s Jude Rees who joins the duo on melodeon and oboe.

Musically, the album brings to mind some of the much-celebrated Christmas albums by Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band, with their inventive arrangements of well-known carols and their vast array of different instruments. However, the latter have often spiced up their traditional Christmas fare by delving back in time and unearthing one or two obscure but captivating tunes to accompany the more familiar ones.

Although Green Matthews offer us beautiful, luscious arrangements of well-known tunes, it would perhaps have been nice to have heard a few less familiar ones, as well. One cannot fault the musicianship, however, and it is lovely to hear such tunes played so beautifully on such a well-produced album.

Lyrically, apart from a couple of clumsy lines here and there, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge is translated into song in a thoroughly engaging and entertaining way. Vocally, the duo have sought to avoid the twin clichés of the “finger-in-the-ear folk voice” on the one hand and “musical theatre camp” on the other, we are assured in the album’s accompanying publicity. This they certainly achieve and the songs are delivered with sincerity and passion and a complete lack of affectation.

For those looking to expand their festive folk selections this year and wanting something a little different from the plethora of carol anthologies and traditional Christmas songs, this brand new folk opera based on Charles Dickens’ finest may well just do the trick – a worthy addition to any collection.

Released: November 2017