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live gig review

Live review: Gaz Coombes at ULU, London 28/2/18

Doing a handful of UK warm-up dates prior to the release of the album ‘World’s Strongest Man’ and a full UK tour in May, I catch up with Gaz Coombes and his band at the old University of London ULU building, now rebranded Student Central.

Stepping out on to a stage so packed out with twinkling retro sound equipment, kitsch standard lamps and vintage keyboards that the uninitiated may have mistaken it for a particularly camp car-boot sale, Coombes is clearly delighted that the crowd have braved the snow and ice to turn out for him.

My fascination with Gaz Coombes began when Supergrass first burst on to the scene in the mid 90s as that cheeky, wacky, slightly zany antidote to Blur and Oasis’s ongoing battle for the crown of Britpop. And since the band’s split in 2010 my fascination has continued as I’ve followed Coombes through his solo career – where he’s just about to release his third album ‘World’s Strongest Man’.

We began to get hints of a more mature, more introspective side to Coombes’ writing with the release of Supergrass’s third album, via tracks like ‘Moving’, and this is very much the path that his solo career has continued along. Coombes has eschewed any temptation to become a one-man Supergrass tribute and, save for the odd rendition from his former band like the aforementioned ‘Moving’, he’s tended to stick resolutely to solo material for his live shows. And, clearly, he’s now getting to the place where he’s got a really strong and growing body of work to draw from. Coombes’ first solo album ‘Here Comes The Bombs’ showed some real promise but was a somewhat austere electronica-influenced affair that took many by surprise. The second, the Mercury prize-nominated ‘Matador’ with its fuller production, beautiful melodies and sensitive song-writing understandably drew considerable praise from many quarters. With Coombes’ third album, however, it may well be that he’s on to something even more special.


Photo credit: Steve Smith

Tonight’s set-list includes songs from all three albums but, unusually for a live gig promoting any new or soon-to-be-released album, the new songs were amongst the strongest and the most memorable and dare we say it the biggest crowd-pleasers. In terms of highlights tracks from the new album like current single ‘Deep Pockets’ sit really well alongside earlier material from the such as ‘Buffalo’, ‘Hot Fruit’, ‘20/20’ and ‘Matador’. And there’s no risk of austerity in terms of sound on this tour either: we have lush sonic textures on the keys, a captivating rhythm section and a divine-sounding trio of female backing singers supporting Gaz’s unmistakable voice and nifty guitar-playing.

Just as, nearly a quarter of a century ago, Supergrass grabbed my attention because I thought that they were doing something more interesting than either Blur or Oasis at the time, so it seems when it comes to the matter of solo careers, too. I am tempted to conclude that Coombes is doing something more interesting than either Damon Albarn or Noel Gallagher these days and I do think we are going to be in for a real treat when ‘Worlds’ Strongest Man’ is released.


Photo credit: Tom Rose


Related reviews:
Gaz Coombes at the Roundhouse 2016
Gaz Coombes – Matador
Vangoffey at the Social 2016


Live review: Kevin Armstrong at the Kino, St Leonards 15/2/18

This review was originally published by The Stinger here

Kevin Armstrong’s guitar playing has accompanied stars including David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Morrissey, Prefab Sprout, Sinéad O’Connor, Roy Orbison, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Paul McCartney and Gil Evans. For one night only Kevin guides us through his legendary career.

As a child Kevin Armstrong grew up with Beatlemania. By his teens he was buying his first guitar and living and breathing music. Experiencing life as a professional musician in the post-punk scene of the late 70s/early 80s he then found himself in a band that suddenly got dropped by their record label and, looking around at the changed Duran Duran/Spandau Ballet era-music scene, it became, in Armstrong’s words, “all c*nts in suits singing about their holidays.”

A new opportunity arose, however, when Armstrong was ushered in to Abbey Road studios to do a session to find out he would be working with David Bowie on songs for the Absolute Beginners film. Although the film would be critically panned on release, the title track was a commercial success and, importantly, got Armstrong noticed by Bowie as a musician he could work with and was asked to put a band together for Bowie’s Live Aid appearance. Breaking from his easy chat tonight, Armstrong reads out a passage describing in detail the emotions running through his head on that momentous day. Highlighting Bowie’s generosity, Armstrong talks of him taking the trouble to introduce each member of his band on stage at Wembley that day, knowing full well the impact it would have on their careers; as well as personally thanking Armstrong for the role he played in putting the band together in interviews afterwards.

In spite of being a Beatles fan Armstrong’s collaborations with Paul McCartney proved less personally rewarding, however. “We had to sit around all day listening to these very long Beatles anecdotes that never seemed to have a punchline,” he reveals to tonight’s audience, emphasising the importance of a personal spark in a relationship for a musical collaboration to really work.

What did turn out to be a very enduring collaboration though was when Armstrong was invited to play guitar on the Bowie-produced Iggy Pop album Blah Blah Blah and to subsequently tour with him. That musical collaboration was rekindled in recent years with Armstrong putting a band together and touring with Iggy once more. There are many amusing anecdotes this evening but one of the funniest is Armstrong’s description of the metamorphosis that the normally urbane, well-spoken James Osterberg goes through in the hours leading up to a show as he transforms into the crazed madman called Iggy Pop.

Armstrong is one of rock’s archetypal great side-men, a musician with that instinctive feel for what the headline artist needs and delivering it with style and creativity rather than ego and me-too-ism. By way of illustration, he plays us a clip from the Tin Machine tour that Armstrong was briefly involved with, which was the sound of every musician on stage competing against one another in a wall of noise and pretty much drowning Bowie out completely.

I’ve seen many of these type of artist talk events over the years. But with a mix of live songs, film clips, spoken passages and lots of relaxed informal chat this was genuinely one of the most thought-provoking, funny and insightful that I’ve experienced. Gavin Martin (renowned former NME journalist and now music editor for the Daily Mirror and himself, like Armstrong, a local Hastings resident) is a skilled operator at teasing out revealing nuggets from his on-stage guests at events like this. But he hardly needs to say a word as host this evening. I was surprised afterwards that this was Armstrong’s first ever gig of this type. However, if it was a case of starting out with a friendly home crowd he has absolutely nothing to worry about in taking this format elsewhere. An evening with Kevin Armstrong like this is going to be well-received by audiences wherever.


Photo: artist publicity

Related review:
Mike Garson performs Aladdin Sane at Birmingham O2 2017

Live review: Towers of London at The New Cross Inn, London 14/2/18

This review was also published by Get Ready To Rock here

A decade or so ago glam punk outfit the Towers Of London were steadlily building up a reputation. Tours supporting the likes of the Pogues and the New York Dolls. Festival slots at Reading and Leeds and Download. But then came lead singer Donny Tourette’s appearance on Celebrity Big Brother. Pissed, bratish and annoying, the Sex Pistols with Bill Grundy this was not. It was more like a bad episode of Grange Hill. An equally ill-chosen appearance on Never Mind The Buzzcocks only made things worse and though the band soldiered on for another couple of years it was pretty much all over.

Fast forward to 2018, however and they are back. “I’ve been following these guys for a while – they’ve now grown up, sorted their shit out but importantly they still retain their bite. This album blows the shit out of what they’ve done in the past!” says former Oasis manager/Creation Records boss, Alan McGee, in the publicity blurb.

So I popped along to the New Cross Inn, south-east London, to see for myself what these guys are up to nowadays. And the verdict? Yes – the band deliver a great energetic set and have, indeed, got their shit together. New single ‘Send In The Roses’ is a superb slice of anthemic, catchy glam-punk meets indie disco. Their new material is sounding great and, of course, there’s a few songs from their early days, too – raucous punky work-outs like ‘Air Guitar’ and ‘Fuck It Up’ and campy New York Dolls-esque ditties like ‘How Rude She Was’. The world needs a few more bands like this and it’s good to see them back in business.

The Towers forthcoming new album ‘Super Sounds Of K-Town’ will be released in spring this year. We all deserve a second chance at times. I genuinely hope this band do well and, hopefully, stay around for a little longer this time.

Catch the new video for ‘Send In The Roses’ here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMAEVHnJY2k





Live review: Anvil / Burnt Out Wreck / VOiD at The Underworld, Camden 6/2/18

Ever since they played their first ever gig at the start of Butlins’ Giants Of Rock festival in January 2017, I’d been hearing good things about Burnt Out Wreck. I was watching a band on the other stage at the time so never got to see them. I’d made a mental note, however, and when former AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd announced a solo tour with his new outfit, with Burnt Out Wreck as the support act, it seemed an ideal opportunity. That was cancelled and then rescheduled and then cancelled again. Third time lucky then when Anvil announced supported by Burnt Out Wreck. An opportunity to finally catch this band, along with Anvil, who I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager when they were supporting Motorhead.

It was a triple bill at Camden’s Underworld, first up were Welsh rockers VOiD. Formed in 2002 with three albums under the belt, VOiD’s brand of classy, melodic hard rock proved a good opener for the evening. I was particularly impressed with their extremely talented lead guitarist, Chris Jones, and even more impressed when the lead singer told the crowd it was Jones’ first ever gig with the band.


Next up were Burnt Out Wreck. Formed by Gary Moat, drummer and chief songwriter of 80s band Heavy Pettin’, Burnt Out Wreck put out their debut album in early 2017 – not long after that first gig at Giants Of Rock. Their brand of bouncy, good-time, hard rock, reminiscent of Bon Scott-era AC/DC, immediately had the audience on their side. Songs like ‘Swallow’ brilliantly bring back some of that sleazy, rock ‘n’ roll boogie swagger, that late 70s pre-stadium AC/DC were so renowned for.


Things could only get even better when the mighty Anvil took the stage couldn’t it? You cannot fault this band’s dedication, enthusiasm and sincerity, or their undying commitment to the rock ‘n’ roll dream – captured so well in the film smash The Story Of Anvil. But to be truthful I was a little underwhelmed by what I saw tonight. I remember when I first saw Anvil in 1983, I couldn’t help thinking that this was a band that sounded better on record than on stage and thirty-odd years later that same thought was occurring to me. For a start the sound wasn’t good. The amps were cranked up a good few notches compared to the support bands. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, except that it lifted the drums and bass to a fairly deafening level while the guitar was barely audible in comparison. It was a shame because I enjoyed their new album and was looking forward to hearing a selection of songs from that, as well as earlier classics like the iconic ‘ Metal On Metal’. We got a good selection of each, plus a rousing rendition of the Steppenwolf classic ‘Born To Be Wild’. However, I came out of the gig 35 years after I last saw Anvil still convinced that they sound better on record than they do live.

That’s not to say I am not very happy to celebrate Anvil’s career renaissance in recent years. “I haven’t delivered a meal in ten fucking years,” Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow told the crowd, alluding to the opening scenes in the Story Of Anvil film which saw him driving around in a van delivering school meals between gigs. And I finally got to see the fantastic Burnt Out Wreck and also become acquainted with Void, who are another band on my ‘ones to watch’ list. All in all a good night.





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


Review: Mike Garson performs Aladdin Sane at Birmingham O2 Institute 25/11/17

Lovers of 70s-era David Bowie have been in for a real treat this year. Not only have we had Tony Visconti and original Spider from Mars, Woody Woodmansey, touring the Ziggy Stardust album in full, we now have virtuoso Bowie pianist, Mike Garson touring the Aladdin Sane album in full.


Joining Garson on this tour are former Bowie guitarist, Kevin Armstrong; award-winning vocalist Gaby Moreno, Terry Edwards (PJ Harvey band) on sax and guitar; along with the current Iggy Pop rhythm section of Ben Ellis and Mat Hector. It’s a stunningly good band. From a fabulously groovy ‘What’s That Man’ through to a poignantly dramatic ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ they bring to life the full Bowie masterpiece in all its glory.

For ‘The Jean Genie’ we get an extra treat. Deep Purple’s Roger Glover (whose talented daughter Gillian Glover is providing backing vocals tonight as well as being the solo support act) is taking a night off from the Purple tour and takes the stage to play bass for this song. Sadly, I never got to see Trevor Bolder doing the bass-line of ‘The Jean Genie’ but seeing Roger Glover doing it has got to be the next best thing. We even get a cheeky snatch of Purple’s ‘Black Night’ at the end!


After a magnificent performance of Aladdin Sane, Garson introduces a second set of other Bowie favourites, kicking off with a stunning Space Oddity. Then it’s on to ‘Life On Mars’.The piano is as prominent on ‘Hunky Dory’ as it is on ‘Aladdin Sane’, albeit in a very different style. But after the jazz-infused piano of ‘Aladdin Sane’ Garson moves on to deliver a truly majestic version of ‘Life On Mars’ that even manages to out-Wakeman Rick Wakeman. An extremely gifted composer and musician it’s nothing less than an absolute pleasure to see the great Mike Garson in action this evening.

Another treat is seeing Steve Harley of Cockney Rebel fame take the stage to guest on vocals for a few numbers, including a superb ‘Changes’ and a wonderfully frenetic ‘Absolute Beginners’ as well as two of Harley’s own songs ‘A Friend For Life’ and ‘Sebastian’.

Like all great art the songs celebrated tonight will live on long after the demise of their original creator. They will undoubtedly carry on being performed many years into the future. Inevitably, there will come a day when no-one who actually performed alongside Bowie is around any more. For now, though, let’s be thankful that people like Mike Garson and Kevin Armstrong are celebrating his legacy and the unmistakable part they played in it.


First Set – Aladdin Sane album in full:
Watch That Man
Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)
Drive-In Saturday
Panic in Detroit
Cracked Actor
The Prettiest Star
Let’s Spend the Night Together
The Jean Genie
Lady Grinning Soul

Second Set – Bowie Favourites:
Space Oddity
Life on Mars?
A Friend for Life
Absolute Beginners
Rock’n’Roll Suicide
Five Years
Wild Is the Wind
Ziggy Stardust
Under Pressure
Let’s Dance


Related posts:

Holy Holy perform Ziggy Stardust in full
The riff in Blockbuster and Jean Genie – origins and influences


Review: For One Night Only – Jim Lea at the Robin 2, Bilston 5/11/17

Back in 2002 Slade’s Jim Lea performed a unique one-off solo gig at Bilston’s Robin 2 venue, the only solo gig of his entire career. Now, some fifteen years later, Jim was to take to the stage at the Robin once again for a Q and A session for fans that would immediately follow an official first screening of the new live DVD from that gig.


Today’s event was not going to be a live performance we were all warned when we booked: “Unfortunately due to Jim’s illness he will be unable to perform musically at this event.” That was fine I thought to myself. It will still be something special, a unique Slade event, a chance to hear directly from Jim and, for me, an opportunity to see him up on a stage for the first time since I saw Slade on the My Oh My tour when I was still at sixth form.

The film itself is a nice memento. It’s fan-shot footage from the audience rather than a professional film but the quality is considerably better than the average blurry, wonky you-tube concert video and, coupled with the official CD soundtrack of the concert and some brand new interview segments with Jim as he reflects back on that night, it’s definitely a must-have for fans.

The DVD screening is then followed by a short warm-up from poet, Paul Cookson. Dubbed Slade’s official Poet Laureate by Noddy Holder, Cookson delivers two wonderfully affectionate Slade-themed poems, including one written especially for today. And then it’s time for the main event. Jim Lea takes the stage to warm applause as he begins his Q&A session with local BBC radio presenter, Paul Franks.

While there are many oft-repeated Slade anecdotes that fans, and many chat-show viewers, will have heard many, many times before from his less publicity-shy erstwhile band-mates, Jim delves deep with his recollections today. Fascinating insights emerge: such as his wife Louise being an uncredited co-writer of Slade’s 1974 hit Everyday; about the piano refrain in How Does It Feel being the very first thing he ever composed; about how the violin solo in the band’s first number one Coz I Luv You originally emerged out of his regular dressing room jamming sessions with Noddy Holder when they were channelling the spirit of Django Reinhardt. And for this famously private musician who has studiously eschewed the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle he also told us a lot about himself today. “Why now?” he was asked. “Well I realised I was no longer shy any more!” he confided. Sharing with the audience that he now understands he is probably autistic (although he’s never had any formal diagnosis) he suggests that this has likely been a key factor in both his levels of creativity and his introspection.

Always the most thoughtful, the most creative and the most fascinating member of Slade, notwithstanding that all four members played an irreplaceable part, Jim Lea was the genuine musical genius of the band. In the DVD he recollects the time he was asked by late manager, Chas Chandler, why he became a bass player when, like Hendrix, he was such an instinctive natural on lead guitar. “I didn’t want to get noticed,” Jim replied.

And so, as the Q&A draws to a close, I start thinking what a special day today has been: getting to pose with Jim’s bass in the morning after much, much queuing, seeing the inaugural screening of Jim’s DVD on the very stage where it was originally filmed, hearing Jim share his fascinating insights into the band and, of course, getting to meet lots of fellow Slade fans.


And then it all started to get ever so slightly odd on stage. Jim went off stage to get something. Something about some notes for the final question host, Paul Franks, said. But then microphone stands start appearing. Surely he can’t be? He can’t be playing for us can he? Oh my God, there he is back on stage with his guitar. Is he really going to do this?

He’d not got a full band he confessed but he had recorded some backing tapes to play along to and he wanted to do something special to finish the session, he said. And he did. Launching into a blistering version of Cum On Feel The Noize, he rocked out on lead guitar and sang for all he was worth in his first public performance since that last Robin gig fifteen years ago. Gudbuy T Jane and We’ll Bring The House Down quickly followed and, with an ecstatic demand for an encore, he finishes by giving the emotional crowd of Slade fans Mamma Weer All Crazee Now.


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.

The man who didn’t want to get noticed certainly got noticed today.

Thank you Jim for what you did for us today. We wish you the best of health in your ongoing treatment and we thank you for all the music you gave us in the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band the world has ever known.



Related posts:
Slade at Donington 1981
Slade, strikes and the three-day week: the greatest Christmas record ever made
Slade UK and Pouk Hill Prophetz at Wolverhampton
Slade at White Rock Theatre, Hastings
Slade at Giants of Rock, Minehead


Michael Schenker Fest at Shepherds Bush Empire 2/11/17

Michael Schenker’s career, as well as his personal life, went through an increasingly erratic period a decade or so ago. Having seen Schenker a couple of times in recent years with his Temple Of Rock project, however, it was clear that he has absolutely, undisputably got his shit together again. If more proof was needed, tonight’s gig provides overwhelming evidence of that.

Tonight’s gig, dubbed Michael Schenker Fest, features all three vocalists from the three key eras of MSG: Gary Barden, Graham Bonnet and Robin McAuley. Barden is first up. While I won’t say he is the strongest of the three vocalists who will appear on stage tonight this is undeniably my favourite era of the band and the classic songs come thick and fast, transporting me back to my teenage rock fan years: Victim Of Illusion, Cry For The Nations, Armed And Ready….

Schenker is on stunningly good form with some stunningly good guitar work coming from his signature Flying V. On stage there’s other familiar faces from the old MSG days, too: Chris Glenn on bass, Ted McKenna on drums and Steve Mann on keyboards.

Next up is Graham Bonnet and while I have heard him struggle a bit at times during previous gigs he is definitely on form tonight. Originally recording one excellent album with MSG and playing just one disastrous gig where he drunkenly flashed the audience and promptly got sacked, much water has passed under the bridge since then. It feels a privilege to witness Bonnet perform Dancer and Assault Attack with Schenker and properly celebrate the part he played in MSG’s legacy. Even the sound system crashing in the early part of Bonnet’s set didn’t dampen the mood (and allowed me a much-needed loo break!)

Then it is the turn of the third of tonight’s vocalists. Robin McCauley is easily the strongest of the three singers tonight. Although set-wise, the earlier songs probably have far more resonance for me than the McAuley Schenker era, he certainly doesn’t disappoint tonight. To end the set he delivers a brilliant rendition of Rock Bottom from Schenker’s UFO days.

That sets the tone for a brilliant out-of-this-world encore which becomes a complete and utter UFO-fest. McCauley, Bonnet and Barden all come back on stage for Doctor Doctor, followed by Shoot Shoot, Natural Thing (with Schenker’s son Tyson joining his father on guitar) and, finally, Lights Out.

Three great vocalists, a brilliant gifted guitarist, some top class musicians and song after song of unforgettable rock classics, this was definitely one of the best hard rock gigs of 2017.


Searching for Freedom
Into the Arena
Let Sleeping Dogs Lie
Victim of Illusion
Cry for the Nations
Attack of the Mad Axeman
Armed and Ready
Coast to Coast
Desert Song
Assault Attack
Captain Nemo
No Time for Losers
Save Yourself
Bad Boys
Love Is Not a Game
Rock Bottom
Doctor Doctor
Shoot Shoot
Natural Thing
Lights Out




Strawbs at Under The Bridge, London 29/10/17

This review was also published by Get Ready To Rock here

As a kid in the 70s I do recall frequent radio plays of the Strawbs novelty hit ‘Part Of The Union’ in what was that fractious decade for industrial relations. And as an adult and Sandy Denny fanatic, the latter’s brilliant pop-folk album with the Strawbs is frequently in my CD player. However, those two brief snapshots in time can hardly be said to represent the prog-leaning rock outfit that has been the mainstay of much of the band’s output these past forty-odd years. For the most part though it has, until tonight, lain largely off my radar.

Strawbs are still going strong, still gigging and touring. And tonight we are here at Chelsea’s Under The Bridge venue to witness the formal launch of the band’s first new album of all original material in eight years: The Ferryman’s Curse.

The two sets the band perform tonight are a mixture of songs from the new album and those from earlier in their career. As I am unfamiliar with any of the material tonight there appears to be no letting up in the quality of the songs in my view, the new material standing up well against what were clearly crowd favourites from past decades.

Dave Cousins’ vocal delivery is something of an acquired taste I find (and, to be honest I prefer it when long-time band-mate, Dave Lambert, takes the lead vocals for a handful of songs). That does not, however, mean that there is not some stunning musicianship in this band and some extremely well-crafted songs which definitely ensure tonight’s show is an enjoyable one. Lambert delivers some fine lead guitar throughout and the keyboards are equally stunning. Multi-instrumentalist, Dave Bainbridge, surrenders his keyboard to Cousins at one point and joins Lambert in some exquisite twin-lead soloing.

The band work extremely well together on stage, perhaps a sign of how long most of them have worked with on another. Although, there have been numerous personnel changes over the years it’s not simply a case of one original member with a load of random new boys, as is the reality with a number of vintage rock acts these days. Guitarist Dave Lambert, bass player Chas Cronk and drummer Tony Fernandez have been playing with Cousins on and off since the 1970s – and it shows. This is a band in the genuine sense of the word.

An enjoyable gig from a band I finally can now say I know a little bit more about, besides that novelty hit and their brief flirtation with Sandy Denny. Thank you Strawbs.


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