Always quite a Quo fan since being a young teenager, I’d originally booked to see Francis Rossi on his ‘I Talk Too Much Tour’ back in 2020. Covid came along and that got rescheduled and then cancelled altogether but Rossi finally makes it to Hastings’ White Rock Theatre on his follow-up tour, ‘Tunes and Chat’.
The previous tour adopted that well-established format for this type of evening: seasoned music journo chats to acclaimed rock star about their life and career, interspersed with some live songs. Sadly, (for the reasons given above) I didn’t get the chance to see Rossi do this with veteran rock writer, Mick Wall, when they went out on the road but Rossi clearly enjoyed himself because he’s back for more. However, this time he’s eschewed the standard format of on-stage bantering with an established music journo and it’s just Rossi and his guitar tech and accomplished co-musician, Andy Brook.
Brook famously doesn’t say a word during the show until right towards the end when he reads out some audience questions for Rossi to answer. So the “chat” part is very much Rossi in solo mode. It soon begins to remind me of one of those monologues that Ronnie Corbett used to do sitting on that massive big chair meandering away when he did his solo segment on The Two Ronnies. It’s very stream-of-consciousness with lots of ad-hoc, one-liners interspersed with recollections about growing up in an Italian family in south London, getting hooked on music and embarking on a potentially-lethal home experiment in trying to create his first ever electric guitar.
Along with the more generic chit-chat, there’s also some fascinating insights into how certain Quo songs came about. And, my, do we get the songs. Starting off with some of the early material like ‘In My Chair’ and ‘Down The Dustpipe’ before moving on to some of the songs recorded at the height of the band’s success in the 1970s and early 1980s, there is absolutely no shortage of Quo classics, including ‘What You’re Proposing’, ‘Paper Plane’ and ‘Rocking All Over The World’.
I’ve seen Status Quo perform acoustically in the past, of course, when they did their ‘Aquostic’ project some years back but this is a much more intimate affair and Rossi is in fine voice and clearly in his element. On stage, Rossi and Andy Brook spar extremely well together musically – even if not conversationally – and the evening ends with a wonderful, communal sing-along to ‘Caroline’.
I wish everyone a happy New Year. My thanks to everyone who has visited Darren’s music blog during 2022. As usual an eclectic mix of classic rock, folk and glam and a mixture of live reviews, album reviews, tour news and a plug for my own book appearing amongst the ten most viewed posts of the year.
1. Live review: the final ever Giants of Rock, Minehead 21-23 January 2022
Barring the gap due to Covid I’d been going to Butlins at Minehead each January since 2015 for the Giants Of Rock festival. But now the festival is no more, replaced by a tribute weekend, so I’ll be heading to Skegness in January for the Rock & Blues festival instead (although, sadly, that is coming to and end, too). Relive the last ever Giants of Rock weekend here with my review covering the likes of Ten Years After, Geordie, Atomic Rooster and Nazareth.
2. Live review: Suzi Quatro at the Royal Albert Hall 20/4/22
2022 was the year of all things Suzi Quatro for me. Not only did my book for Sonicbond’s Decades series, Suzi Quatro In The 1970s, come out in July but earlier in the year I could celebrate getting it finished, proofread and finally off to the publishers with a trip to London for Suzi’s incredible performance at the Royal Albert Hall. Photo credit (above): Gary Cosby
I was back over to London a couple of times in the Summer, too, with two separate trips to Hyde Park for the British Summertime series of concerts. The first of these was for the Eagles. Long on my bucket-list of must-see bands I finally got to see them. Even without the late, great Glenn Frey, it was still an incredible experience and just magical being in Hyde Park late on a summer evening as the sun started set watching them perform ‘Hotel California’.
4. Live review: the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park 3/7/22
Just a week after the Eagles I was back in Hyde Park for the Rolling Stones. It’s been over thirty years since attending my first and only previous Rolling Stones gig, when I went with my dad to Manchester’s Maine Road back in 1990. My dad’s thinking back then was that if I wanted to see them live then 1990’s Urban Jungle tour might be my last chance. It wasn’t quite! Thirty years later I’m back for more and what a memorable evening it was.
5. Live review: Fairport’s Cropredy Convention August 2022
After a two-year gap due to Covid restrictions it was nice to be back in Oxfordshire in August for Fairport Convention’s annual Cropredy festival. Both tickets and line-up had been carried over from the event initially planned for 2020 but the passage of time had necessitated some tweaks to the line-up and in my case (due to a change in domestic circumstances), the reallocation of my second ticket to a Cropredy newcomer. Highlights included Clannad, Trevor Horn, Turin Brakes, Richard Thompson – and Fairport, of course!
6. New book: ‘Suzi Quatro In The 1970s’ by Darren Johnson coming in July 2022
Definitely, one of the highlights of 2022 for me was the publication of my book on Suzi Quatro for Sonicbond’s Decades series, which followed on from the book on The Sweet I had written the previous year for the same series. As Suzi herself says: “If you talk about the ‘70s, I was a hardworking artist. I did nothing but tour – recording, touring, TV, you know. I had constant jetlag. Constant black shadows under my eyes but, oh, what a ride! What a wonderful ride. And I’m still doing it now.”
7. Album review – Graham Bonnet Band ‘Day Out In Nowhere’
My most popular album review of the year, I wrote that Graham Bonnet is “clearly on something of a roll at this late stage in his career. Whether you are the more casual fan of his most celebrated albums from the late 70s and early 80s or a dedicated fan who’s loyally followed each and every stage of his long career, there’s lots to like in Day Out In Nowhere. It deserves to do well.”
8. Album reviews: four recent solo releases from the extended Uriah Heep family
Going online to treat myself to the newly-released CD from former Uriah Heep singer, Pete Goalby, I ended up having one of those “customers who viewed this also viewed these” impulse purchase experiences. Before I knew it I had, not one, but four recently-released CDs from the extended Uriah Heep family popping through my letterbox, three of these being released posthumously.
9. Bowie and Iggy Pop icon, Tony Fox Sales, celebrates 45 years of Lust For Life
One of the things I am really looking forward to in 2023 is the tour by Iggy Pop / Bowie bass legend, Tony Fox Sales. With an all-star line-up, Tony is joined by legendary Blondie drummer, Clem Burke; vocalist, renowned broadcaster and Pet Shop Boys dancer, Katie Puckrik; Iggy Pop and David Bowie guitarist, Kevin Armstrong; guitarist, Luis Correia, who’s toured internationally with Earl Slick; and classical pianist, composer, and touring member of Heaven 17, Florence Sabeva.
10. Gaelic singer Kim Carnie – debut album ‘And So We Gather’
Gaelic singer, Kim Carnie, launched her solo career in 2018 with the release of her EP, In Her Company. Since then she’s worked with the bands, Mànran and Staran, been much in demand as a session vocalist and in 2021 won the Gaelic Singer of The Year prize at the MG Alba Trad Awards. In June this year she released her debut album, And So We Gather.
Back in the day Diamond Head seemed to be one of those bands I constantly read about but somehow passed me by, neither seeing the live nor owning one of their albums. I’ve made up for it in recent years and this is now the third time I’ve seen them. Hugely influential as early pioneers of the NWOBHM (New Wave Of British Heavy Metal) era and later lauded by bands on the US thrash scene, like Metallica, they never really quite got the recognition they deserved to make it into the big league. But after being absent for the latter part of the 1980s and much of the 1990s the band reformed in the early 2000s and have been solidly active ever since.
Lead guitarist, Brian Tatler, has been the one constant presence in every line-up of the band from the start but the latter-day Diamond Head are a really strong unit and seem to have carved out a niche for themselves as a go-to support act. I saw them at this same venue three years ago supporting Uriah Heep and it’s great to see them, once again, now supporting Saxon. While there may be something of an ‘always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride’ about that, it is nevertheless fantastic to see them perform on a big stage in decent-sized venues like De la Warr. The band’s combination of hard riffing and bona fide heavy metal classics assure them a hugely appreciative audience tonight. Definitely, a support band you don’t want to miss.
While some veteran rock acts might be content to ease off on the writing and recording of new material and focus primarily on a greatest hits set for their live shows, Saxon continue to deliver some excellent albums and this tour is very much about promoting the latest, Carpe Diem, released earlier this year. Indeed, the name of this tour (‘Seize The Day’) comes from a line in the album’s title track. There’s no shortage of material from the new album on this tour and the first part of the set is heavily dominated by tracks from Carpe Diem. Having bought the album when it first came out back in February, I’ve had a good few months to familiarise myself with it. So as the band blast out tracks like the aforementioned ‘Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)’, ‘Age Of Steam’ and ‘Dambusters’, they sound more like welcome old friends than strangely unfamiliar new material. It helps, of course, that Saxon have always had that knack of turning out memorable songs with great riffs.
There’s room, of course, for plenty of the old classics, too. ‘And The Bands Played On’, ‘Wheels Of Steel’, ‘747 (Strangers In The Night)’, ‘Denim And Leather’ and ‘Princess of the Night’ all get a welcome airing before the end of the evening. Unforgettable anthems of heavy metal all of them, they have ensured Saxon have remained up there as my personal favourite to come out of the NWOBHM scene.
Biff Byford is in fine voice and remains a compelling frontman, the band power through the songs with incredible energy as those trademark heavy riffs are unleashed and the songs, whether new or old, make for a hugely memorable gig. Thank you, Saxon!
It’s been over thirty years since attending my first and only previous Rolling Stones gig, when I went with my dad to Manchester’s Maine Road back in 1990. My dad’s thinking back then was that if I wanted to see them live then 1990’s Urban Jungle tour might be my last chance.
Thirty-two years later and they are still at it, well Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood anyway. The set opened with a poignant tribute to Charlie Watts up on the huge screens and Jagger dedicating the concert to him.
Opening up with a wonderfully energetic version of ‘Get Off My Cloud’ to get us all instantly in the mood, the hits keep rolling. Timeless classics all, I was particularly moved by a poignant rendition of ‘Angie’ and a beautiful ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’, a song we played at my dad’s funeral back in 2007 so it has special meaning for me.
There was quite a lot of banter with the crowd, a playful Jagger welcoming us to the “American Express British Summer Time Covid super-spreader event” at one point. This is the fifth time the Stones have played Hyde Park, the vocalist reminds us. “The first one was free,” he says, recalling that legendary Hyde Park concert back in July 1969 following the tragic death of Brian Jones. “The following ones were not free,” he says with a wry grin, acknowledging the hefty wads of cash that most of us had forked out for the privilege of being here tonight.
Keith Richards is in his element, taking lead vocals for a couple of songs, ‘You Got The Silver’ (from Let It Bleed) and ‘Happy’ (from Exile On Main Street). It also gave Jagger a short rest back stage. But for the rest of the concert he’s bopping and preening and dashing out into the crowd on the famed ‘ego-ramp’, the same as he’s always done in a way that’s just impossible to believe he’s now almost 79.
As Matt, my gig partner for the day points out, it’s not a massive entourage of a backing band. Jagger, Richards and Wood are joined by the ever-present Darryl Jones, who took over from Bill Wyman back in 1994, and Steve Jordan filling in for Charlie Watts since the latter’s shock demise last year. Alongside them are Chuck Leavell and Matt Clifford on keyboards, Bernard Fowler on backing vocals and percussion, Tim Ries and Karl Denson on saxophone, and Sasha Allen on backing vocals. Both the sound and on-stage vibe is perfection.
Jagger’s soon back on stage and the band launch into an extended, super-funked-up version of ‘Miss You’, an opportunity for a mass boogie by the Hyde Park crowd and communal “ooh-ooh ooh-ooh ooh-ooh-ooh” backing vocals before we move straight into a deliciously laid-back ‘Midnight Rambler’, with bags of harmonica from Jagger and Richards and Woods trading country-flavoured guitar licks.
And there’s still time to pack a whole more classics in: ‘Paint It Black’, ‘Start Me Up’, ‘Gimme Shelter’, ‘Jumping Jack Flash’. Another poignant moment comes as the big screens depict an eery tableau of bombed-out buildings during ‘Gimme Shelter’ as the band’s tribute to Ukraine, with backing singer, Sasha Allen, duetting with Jagger on this one and demonstrating what a fantastically soulful voice she’s got as she joins him on the ramp out into the crowd.
Unlike the Eagles last week, who launched straight into their encore set without the hassle of going off stage and coming back on again, we did have to wait a couple minutes for the band to return and conclude with ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and riotous, life-affirming ‘Satisfaction’.
I probably won’t get to see them again, regardless of the band’s future plans as they reach their sixtieth anniversary milestone. But this was special and something I’ll remember forever.
My first BST Hyde Park festival since Blur in 2015, and I’ve not just got one this year, but two. First the Eagles then the Rolling Stones a week later.
Having long been on my bucket-list of must-see artists, I’d somehow managed to avoid seeing the Eagles until now so today was always going to be really special. It was made even more special by the early evening support slot from none other than Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. It’s a superb fit as their lush bluegrass-soaked Americana perfectly complements the laid-back, west coast, country rock of the headliners. Giving us a selection of tracks from their stunning 2007 Raising Sand album and its recent follow-up, Raise The Roof, the pair also manage to chuck in a couple of Zep covers, too – ‘Rock and Roll’ and a majestic version of ‘The Battle of Evermore’, originally a duet between Plant and Sandy Denny.
The sun continued to shine and the Eagles took to the stage on a lovely warm summer evening in Hyde Park. If there’s one band you don’t want to see performing against a backdrop of typically unreliable British weather, it’s got to be the Eagles. But everything is on their side tonight.
Following the sad passing of Glenn Frey back in 2016, the Eagles these days are Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit and new boy, Vince Gill. It’s a masterclass of a performance and the classics just keep rolling: ‘One Of These Nights’, ‘Witchy Woman’, Take It To The Limit’, Lyin’ Eyes’, They just keep coming.
Glenn Frey’s son, Deacon, who was officially part of the line-up for a time following his father’s death, joins as a special guest for a couple of songs, including a stunning ‘Take It Easy’.
Ever the rock star, and never one to really go for the regulation, trade-mark, laid-back Eagles persona, Joe Walsh brings his flamboyance to the performance and gets to do a couple of his solo numbers, too. He’s still in fine voice and his guitar-playing is just a delight. Drummer and founder, Don Henley, also gives us one of his solo numbers, dedicating ‘The Boys of Summer’ to Taylor Hawkins.
Those Eagles classics keep coming though. They’ll be on for two hours by the end. Probably mindful of Westminster City Council’s ultra-strict curfew policy and given that we are now well past 10pm, “We’re not going to do that walk on and walk off thing,” we’re told. Before we know it, it’s ‘Hotel California’ and it just felt magical being in Hyde Park late on a summer evening watching the Eagles perform the song they’ll always be most famous for. We’re not quite finished yet and there’s time to squeeze in ‘Rocky Mountain Way’, ‘Desperado’ and ‘Already Gone’ before the curfew hits.
A truly magical evening and a chance to finally see one of my bucket-list bands. And next week it’s the Stones!
Given I’d spent a good chunk of 2021 and the first part of 2022 living and breathing all things Suzi Quatro, the timing of the celebratory Royal Albert Hall concert couldn’t have been more perfect. Coming, as it did, just weeks after getting the final draft of Suzi Quatro in the 1970s off to the publishers, Suzi’s gig at the Royal Albert Hall was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time.
There is no support tonight, just Suzi and her band in this packed iconic venue, performing two sets equally packed with hits and other highlights from across her fifty-year solo career. Kicking off with ‘The Wild One’, the hits rolled thick and fast: ‘I May Be Too Young’, ‘Daytona Demon’, ‘Tear Me Apart’, Mama’s Boy’, ‘Stumblin’ In’ and ’48 Crash’. The backing band is polished and versatile and sounding great – and if you’ve not encountered Suzi Quatro live for some considerable years or your main memories are of seeing her performing on Top Of The Pops, the band now encompasses a brass section and backing singers.
We were promised some additional special guests, too, and I half-wondered whether Chris Norman would be brought on stage to reprise his role in ‘Stumblin’ In’ but it’s the guitarist, Tim, who gets to sing the duet instead. We don’t have to wait too long for the first special guest to appear, however, as Suzi brings up her guitarist son, Richard Tuckey, who worked with her on her two most recent albums, 2019’s No Control and last year’s The Devil In Me. Both albums picked up very favourable reviews at the time and together they perform a song from each. The mother and son dynamic works incredibly well, both in the studio and live on stage, recapturing the energy and raunch of Quatro’s early solo career and adding a contemporary edge. After the classic Chinn-Chapman glam era, this new Quatro/Tuckey partnership is fast becoming my next favourite chapter of Suzi’s long career.
We don’t have to wait long for the next set of special guests to appear, either. Paying tribute to the great bands that were around in the 1970s, Suzi welcomes her next two guests: Sweet’s Andy Scott and Slade’s Don Powell. The three worked together a few years ago, of course, releasing the excellent Quatro, Scott & Powell album back in 2017 and undertaking a successful tour of Australia. This will be the first time a British audience has had the chance to see the three perform together, however. Launching into ‘Slow Down’ from the trio’s album together they give us a gloriously energetic slice of 1950s rock and roll, followed by a blistering cover of Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ In The Free World’. I do hope we get to see more of this glam-era power trio in the not too distant future.
In a complete change of pace, and to prove that she can do soft, emotive balladry as well as any of them, Suzi sits alone at the piano for the final song of the first set, a beautiful rendition of ‘Can I Be Your Girl’ from the Unreleased Emotion album which is dedicated to her mother and father.
The second half sees more vintage hits as well as more songs from the new album. Indeed, the set opens with that wonderful tribute to her Detroit home-town, ‘Motor City Riders’, from The Devil In Me. Although she will always be best known for the thumping, raucous sounds of the Chinn and Chapman early ‘70s hits, Suzi Quatro’s illustrious back catalogue explores a range of styles and genres. Suzi and the band delve into a number of these tonight, including the funk groove of ‘Your Mamma Won’t Like Me’, the heavily new wave -influenced ‘She’s In Love With You’ and the country rock of ‘If You Can’t Give Me Love’, as well as more traditional Quatro fayre in the form of ‘Can The Can’ and ‘Devil Gate Drive’.
By the time we hear these two, of course, it’s a sign that things are starting to draw to a close, sadly. There’s just time for a riotous rendition of Chuck Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Rock n Roller’ before a complete change of mood, once again, this time with a cover of the Eagles ‘Desperado’.
Almost fifty years since she had her first big hit and almost forty years since I first saw her at Reading Festival when I was seventeen, Suzi Quatro gives a masterclass of a performance tonight. Still rocking, still singing, still pumping out those powerful bass sounds and still the consummate entertainer, Suzi Quatro definitely still has it.
This month saw a return to Minehead for what would turn out to be the last of the Giants of Rock weekends which have been running off-season at Butlins for the past eight years. I missed the first one, back in 2014, because I’d already committed to going to Skegness Butlins for the Rock and Blues weekend that year and, obviously, we all missed the one last year because it was cancelled due to Covid – but other than that it’s been an essential date in my gig calendar every year.
In truth, and no disrespect to any individual act playing, the festival line-up was starting to look a little threadbare. Past weekends had given us the likes of Uriah Heep, Michael Schenker and Ian Hunter but Butlins’ capacity for signing up genuine bona fide rock giants seemed to be on the wane somewhat. Admittedly, simple demographics have meant that performers from that classic era of classic rock (post-Beatles – pre-punk: 1969-1975) are becoming more and more of a rarity but Giants of Rock also seemed to be getting stuck in a bit of a rut with the same promoter relying on the same small roster of acts year in year out.
I was pondering whether this might be the last time I book but in the end the decision was made for me. From next year the slot previously filled by Giants of Rock will be given over to Bootleg Ball described in the publicity as “A tribute to the giants of rock – featuring the best tributes to the biggest rock bands on the planet past and present.” I’m not snobbish about tribute acts, I’ve seen some great tribute bands locally down here in Hastings but the idea that I’m going to make a 500-mile round trip to the West Country to see tribute acts is a non-starter, particularly when there are so many other festivals like Hard Rock Hell and Cornwall Rocks to choose from. I can see the attraction from Butlins’ perspective though. As well as aiming to hold on to some of the loyal Giants of Rock audience they’ll be able to substantially up attendance figures by appealing to the lucrative stag and hen market and those large groups that you get on so many other Butlins weekends on the look-out for some tongue-in-cheek fun.
Knowing it would be the last Giants of Rock did mean the weekend was tinged with a touch of sadness. One of the truly wonderful things about Giants of Rock is the strong sense of community that has built up amongst regular attendees. I therefore wanted this last hurrah to be a memorable one – thankfully it was.
I have some vague memories of seeing Ten Years After at Reading Festival as a 17yo in 1983. They were already well into ‘heritage act’ status even then but other than inheriting an Alvin Lee best-of CD from my dad, I mainly know them via Slade’s wonderful cover of ‘Hear Me Calling’ on the Slade Alive album. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect tonight. The late Alvin Lee had left the band a good ten years before his untimely death in 2013 and I recall reading of a further split in the ranks more recently. So I really had little idea what the Ten Years After of 2022 would have to offer and I’d done no research beforehand – but, my, they are absolutely mind-blowing. Still with original keyboard player, Chick Churchill, and original drummer, Ric Lee, vocalist/guitarist Marcus Bonfanti is a stunning blues rock performer who exudes energy and the interplay between him and keyboardist Chick Churchill is a thing of immense beauty and absolutely joyful to watch. This was definitely one of my “oh wow” highlights of the entire weekend and I will certainly be on the lookout to see them again – they were just incredible. Ironically, in the other room another band that I also remember from Reading in 1983 was on stage – Big Country. I never really got into them at the time and catching the end of their set while waiting for Praying Mantis, I can report that they still don’t really do much for me now either. They certainly had a packed-out room and an enthusiastic crowd though. Praying Mantis, on the other hand, lived up to all expectations and, once again, delivered a superb set of polished melodic metal.
At festivals I tend to have a policy of trying not to cram in so many bands that I’m completely knackered before the end of the evening and end up missing acts I really want to see later on. As such, it was a leisurely start on the Saturday but I made it in time for Sad Café who were the last of the three acts on the main stage in the afternoon. Bizarrely, Sad Café were another band I remember seeing at Reading in 1983 so it seemed appropriate to give them a go for old time’s sake. I lasted about three songs but they weren’t doing anything at all for me I’m afraid so a catch-up with old friends outside the venue became the preferred alternative before heading off to the Introducing Stage. This year, the stage had moved from the cramped but intimate surroundings of Jaks bar to the big Skyline Pavilion. The acoustics are not good, it’s draughty as hell and while it’s still daylight it has all the atmosphere of a shopping centre on a rainy afternoon. Nevertheless, bluesy mother and daughter -fronted combo Lee Ainley’s Blues Storm impressed me enough for me to buy their recent CD – Evolution. Sussex-based (so fairly local to me) I look forward to seeing more of them. By 5pm it was now dark, there was a sizeable crowd and a more gig-like atmosphere for the next act: Matt Long and the Revenant Ones. Hard riffs, powerful songs and catchy choruses this classic power trio of Matt Long (guitars and vocals), Adam Pyke (bass) and Kev Hickman (drums) immediately had the crowd going and soon had me heading straight to the merch desk. I wanted to buy The Other Side their debut album – but they’d forgot to bring any! Never mind, I’ve just ordered one online as I write…
Saturday evening became a bit of a Giants of Rock nostalgia-fest with three acts that have very much become must-sees whenever they’ve been on. First, there is ex-Argent guitarist John Verity with his trademark blend of stunning blues rock solo compositions and classic hard rock covers.
Next, we have the reformed Atomic Rooster which includes vocalist Pete French and guitarist Steve Boltz from the band’s early 70s era. Filling Vincent Crane’s shoes is a hard ask but Adrian Gautrey does an incredible job on Hammond organ bringing those signature heavy keyboard licks to a live set. I’d absolutely love to see them release a live CD from the modern-day Atomic Rooster. If you’re reading this please take this as a formal request. The final of my trio of past GOR favourites tonight is Geordie. Reformed in 2018, original members Tom Hill (bass) and Brian Gibson (drums) have given Brian Johnson’s pre-AC/DC band a fresh reboot and are joined by Steve Dawson (guitar) and Mark Wright (vocals). Originally notching up a handful of hit singles as an early 70s glam rock act before evolving into more traditional hard rock album territory in the years that followed, the band pull off both personas superbly and provide a perfect end to the evening.
Young twenty-something Swiss guitarist, Félix Rabin, was one of the winners of the Introducing Stage in 2020 and he is back this year with the first slot of the day on the main stage. I missed him last time around but his incredible stage presence and virtuoso guitar skills make him a obvious winner with the crowd. As soon as he’s finished there is a huge queue forming at the merch desk. Unlike Matt Long, Félix Rabin did remember to bring along a big box of albums but they still managed to sell out before I could get to the head of the queue to buy one – definitely a name to watch. I stayed around for prog rock outfit the John Hackett Band but my energy levels dropped and after a couple of songs and some very obvious sound problems I sloped off for a long snooze. I was back in time for the awesome Gorilla Riot on the Introducing Stage. Frontman vocalist/guitarist Arjun Bhishma is gloriously cocky, cheekily irreverent and hugely talented. The band are an instant hit and their brand of raunchy, sleazy, bluesy rock and roll is delivered to perfection.
Sunday evening’s entertainment is centred around another Giants Of Rock favourite Wille and The Bandits followed by Nazareth and Vambo. It meant missing the excellent King King but I’d already seen them just before Christmas and some good-time party rock and roll that the rejuvenated Nazareth provide in spades seemed just the ticket for the last night of the last ever Giants of Rock.
So that is that. Thank you Butlins Minehead. You’ve given me some incredible memories over the last seven years – from spending time back-stage with one of my all-time musical heroes, Ian Hunter, to meeting a very amiable Uriah Heep in the chippy, to discovering a host of superb bands like Hells Gazelles and Scarlet Rebels, to witnessing incredible performances from iconic performers like Procol Harum and the Pretty Things. And perhaps, most of all, the annual Giants of Rock weekend has helped build an incredibly friendly and welcoming community of rock fans, ably fostered by an extremely active Facebook group throughout the year. I am certain that some of that magic will long outlive the festival itself.
Thank you Giants of Rock and to everyone who has helped to make it special over the past eight years.
Back in 2019, when Sweet were faced with some unexpectedly sudden changes in personnel, it became clear that not only was the band embarking on a change in line-up it was also undergoing something of a change in personality, too. When I interviewed Andy Scott ahead of Sweet’s 2019 UK winter tour he hinted that the band was now headed in a harder rock direction:
“We felt like we ought to go for a bit more like it used to be in the 70s when we did a festival set. You’d get down to the nitty gritty. You play a couple of the heavier rock tunes that people want to hear so that’s what’s happening. It’s a work-in-progress.”
At that stage the refreshed/revitalised Sweet (with Paul Manzi taking over on lead vocals and Lee Small coming in on bass, following the departures of Pete Lincoln and Tony O’Hora, and with Steve Mann guesting on keyboards/second guitar) had only performed a handful of gigs. Back in 2019, as Andy Scott stressed, it was very much a work in progress. Limited rehearsal time before hitting the road probably meant a complete revamp of the setlist was out of the question. However, with a vastly expanded period of preparation following eighteen months of Covid-related postponements and rescheduling, we can now see this new vision for the band coming fully to fruition. Quite simply, this new line-up has given the band a whole new personality.
Sweet now is perhaps less a celebration of the band’s persona as era-defining singles act (albeit all the notable ones are still there in the set). Instead, it’s far about reconnecting with what the original band set out to achieve when they entered the studio to record the likes of Give Us A Wink and Off The Record. Although Andy Scott is now the last man standing (following the sad death of Steve Priest last year) it’s as though this new line-up have bottled up the spirit of what propelled Sweet onwards from the glam years into the mid to late 70s and unleashed it here and now in 2021.
Andy Scott is clearly very proud of this new line-up – as well as being very obviously delighted to be back on the road performing at long last. However, he makes no apology for the tight Covid-related security procedures in operation throughout this tour: “Basically, me and Brucey don’t wanna fucking die,” he tells us. Quite right, Andy. As our last surviving member from the classic foursome we want to hold on to you and no Sweet fan in their right mind would want to do anything to jeopardise that.
It’s an incredible gig tonight though. Paul Manzi is a hugely talented rock vocalist, Lee Small is an equally talented bass-player, the trademark harmonies are all top notch and, together with guest keyboard player/second guitarist Tom ‘TC’ Cory, the three inject a massive boost of energy alongside the truly heroic guitar-playing of Andy Scott and powerhouse drumming of Sweet veteran, Bruce Bisland.
As well as the big hits, the band power their way through the likes of ‘Windy City’, ‘Set Me Free’, ‘Defender’ (a bonus track originally recorded for a 2015 compilation) and an exceptional version of the band’s current single ‘Everything’. The latter is a song that first appeared on the Sweet Life album in 2002 – in my view by far the best Sweet album since the original band released Level Headed back in 1978. It’s great to see a song from this era finally make it back into the setlist – amazing what you can squeeze once you jettison the likes of ‘Co-Co’ and ‘Peppermint Twist’!
For casual fans there’s still a chance to sing along like crazy to ‘Wig-Wam Bam’, ‘Teenage Rampage’ ‘Hell Raiser’ et al and, of course, the band encore with blinding versions of ‘Blockbuster!’ and ‘Ballroom Blitz’. However, it’s now almost impossible to imagine this latest version of Sweet touring provincial theatres on package tours with the Rubettes and Mud as it was only a few years ago. Sweet is back – and in full-on rock god mode packing out decent venues with some energetic, re-invigorated and uncompromising melodic hard rock. And a glorious thing it is, too.
Action New York Groove Set Me Free The Six Teens Defender Hell Raiser Windy City Everything Wig-Wam Bam / Little Willy Teenage Rampage Love Is Like Oxygen Fox on the Run Blockbuster The Ballroom Blitz
My book ‘The Sweet in the 1970s’ is available from all major book retailers – visit here
This review was also published by the Hastings Online Times here
Given both guitarist, Roger Flack, and percussionist Sacha Trochet are both Hastings residents and fiddle-player Peter Knight has a longstanding association with the town going right back to his Steeleye Span days, the Gigspanner concert at the Stables Theatre in Hastings old town was something of a post-lockdown homecoming gig. There was certainly a packed auditorium to welcome back the trio.
Peter Knight’s Gigspanner has now being going for well over a decade, with their first album released back in 2009. Initially starting out as a side project from his main work as part of Steeleye Span, Knight eventually left the folk rock icons in order to make Gigspanner his main priority. Now he’s back to juggling two different bands again with an expanded Gigspanner Big Band – which incorporates multi-instrumentalist dup Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin as well as Bellowhead icon John Spiers joining the core trio. The expanded set-up are in East Sussex next month, performing at Hailsham Pavilion on 4th December. Tonight, however, it’s the regular-size trio version of Gigspanner taking the stage.
With a set that included many Gigspanner live favourites like ‘Seagull’, ‘Butterfly’, ‘Bows of London’ and ‘Sharp Goes Walkabout’ each one is greeted like an old friend. There’s no letting up in the flair, inventiveness and spirit of improvisation to the performance, however, as they distil that trademark blend of English and Irish folk and a vast array of world music influences to deliver something that continues to be spell-binding and utterly mesmerising.
The newest member of the trio, Sacha Trochet, who took over from original percussionist Vincent Salzfaas, has help propel the already excellent Gigspanner to a whole new level, bringing in a much more experimental bent to the percussion and a broader texture of sounds.
It is always an absolute delight seeing Gigspanner and after a big Covid-shaped hole in my gig diary these past eighteen months it’s lovely to have them back.
This review was originally published by Get Ready To Rock here
After numerous attempts at rescheduling during the Covid crisis, King King’s tour in support of their 2020 album finally gets under way. Venue availability, as a myriad of bands all attempt to simultaneously reschedule gigs that have been postponed over the last eighteen months, has meant that the King King tour has ended up in two parts – with half of the dates being played this month and the rest being performed in February of next year. Bexhill is the fourth night of this first leg of the tour.
Supporting King King on this tour are husband-and-wife blues duo When Rivers Meet. Other than quickly skimming their bio on the seven-minute train journey from St Leonards to Bexhill I confess to knowing little about When Rivers Meet in advance of seeing them. When you think of a duo it can conjure up thoughts of some, mellow, semi-acoustic folky-type blues act. But nothing could be further from the truth. As soon as they walk on stage Grace and Aaron Bond deliver loud, raunchy, rocked-up blues with bags of noise and bags of power. “This is the biggest venue we’ve ever played in,” they confide to the Bexhill crowd. They had no need to worry. Their sound is big enough to fill the venue many times over and the De La Warr audience respond enthusiastically to the pair’s six-song set. There is certainly plenty that will appeal to both hard rock and blues fans in terms of this duo’s highly original output. They embark on their own headline tour next April (supported by the redoubtable Troy Redfern) and are well worth checking out.
While When Rivers Meet give us gritty, raucous raunch, King King, meanwhile, take us straight into a world of polished, soulful, big production virtuoso blues rock, instantly evoking the spirit of the genre’s early 70s golden age. While the support act may have been new to me the headliners are certainly not. My late father was a huge follower of vocalist/lead guitarist, Alan Nimmo’s previous outfit: the Nimmo Brothers. Indeed, so great was his dedication that we even had one of their songs played at his funeral. Paradoxically, Alan Nimmo is now reunited with his brother Steve who joined King King on rhythm guitar just in time to contribute to 2020’s Maverick album. There’s clearly a long-standing dynamic on stage between the two brothers and Alan Nimmo relates how one of tonight’s songs ‘You Stopped The Rain’ is written in tribute to his older brother.
Perhaps the most important relationship on stage tonight, however, is the interplay between lead guitarist Alan Nimmo and keyboard player Jonny Dyke. The stunning virtuosity on display between guitarist and organist and the seemingly effortless way the two interact to conjure up such a delicious cornucopia of lush, soulful and emotionally-laden licks is one of the real high points of this band.
Set-wise the songs are drawn from the recent Maverick album (now at long last the band finally having the opportunity to perform these songs live on stage in front of a live audience) interspersed with older material like ‘Long History of Love’ – one of the ever-green crowd-pleasers tonight.
For an encore, King King return sans drummer and bass-player for an uncharacteristically melancholic ‘When My Winter Comes’ – another track from the new album, before the full band return to ensure the audience are sent away with a spring in their step courtesy of stunning renditions of ‘Stranger to Love’ and ‘Let Love In’.
Joyful, life-affirming and exuding polish and class, as I ease myself back into the world of regular gig-going once more King King are just the thing to remind me exactly what I’ve been missing these past eighteen months.
Set-list – King King
She Don’t Gimme No Lovin Fire In My Soul One World Waking Up Rush Hour Coming Home A Long History Of Love You Stopped The Rain Never Give In Whatever It Takes I Will Not Fall Encore: When My Winter Comes Stranger To Love Let Love In