FM–Fibbers, 27/01/16

Although it’s no secret that my current musical genre of choice is prog-rock (and that it will take some shifting), my first love, when I started to listening to music properly, back in secondary school, was a the more generic “rock”, mostly of British origin, that was going through a resurgence at the time. I never really got as far as what I deemed to be the heavier side of things, staying away from the likes of AC/DC and Motorhead in favour of what I thought, in hindsight, to be the more melodic Whitesnake, Def Leppard and Deep Purple, among others. The heaviest stuff I bought (or, those days, taped) was probably a bit of Saxon and Dio and the slightly more off-kilter Ozzy Osbourne. In fact, the first gig I ever went to, at the tender age of just fifteen, was an Ozzy gig and, while I was nowhere near a regular a gig-goer then as I am now, I also saw Dio and Whitesnake, the latter in February 1984. Although it was around that time that I decided to plough my own furrow in terms of what music I liked – most of my peers had switched to the likes of Supertramp and I chose not to follow the herd – I must still have been in touch with rock in ‘84, which makes it strange that I don’t remember FM, who were formed later that year and had their first success in 1985.

Having said that, while I never really gave up on the genre, I did eventually lose touch with it, heading off to more mainstream gigs with a different group of friends and colleagues and buying some incredibly embarrassing music along the way. It’s only relatively recently, having been kick-started once again by York’s own Morpheus Rising, and a brief dalliance with AOR magazine, that I started buying rock CDs again. And yet, FM still didn’t register on my radar. Until last year, when promoter Mr H tipped me the wink that he had signed them up for a gig at Fibbers.

But first, the support act, and a link to those past musical loves. Bernie Marsden had left Whitesnake by the time I saw them live, but he had played on at least three albums that I owned on vinyl back in the day. Tonight, announced onto the stage by a roadie, he played a short set of just six songs, all acoustic, with a jovial attitude, peppering his time on stage with quips, jokes and anecdotes and treading new water as a fully solo artist – his usual guitar partner playing with FM tonight. Opening on a twelve-string, and producing a lovely blues sound from it, he gave us Linin’ Track from his 2014 solo album, Shine. The cheers from the crowd seemed to get louder with each fact he used introducing the next track… “It’s a Whitesnake song.” “Its from Ready And Willing.” “It wasn’t written by me…” His reference to “the trousersnake band” drew laughter from the audience before he played Ain’t Gonna Cry No More on a different twelve-string. The good-humoured banter continued to flow – “Have you got over the flood?” he asked, quickly following with, “Oooo, sorry,” when greeted by near-silence, following up with a story about getting a phone call from David Coverdale the previous weekend, putting on a “luvvy” voice to mimic Coverdale getting York and New York mixed up when Marsden told him where he was heading on the road. Another Whitesnake cover, Till The Day I Die, this time on six-string, was followed by a recognition that he had been associated with the blues for a long time and Ramblin’ On My Mind, a Robert Johnson song during which Marsden switched between plectrum and fingers with an almost imperceptible sleight of hand. A rendition of Trouble, from the Whitesnake album of the same name, but also from Shine, brought forth another quip – “Aaah, that’s where it sold… York.” – when a cheer went up at the latter album’s name. Before the final song of the set Marsden, telling us that at his age it was good to be anywhere, gleefully said that tonight was almost like an intimate, private gig, jokingly asking if anybody had any questions. “Can you give me Coverdale’s number,”shouted back one woman. “Was there another Fibbers? Have I been there?” he asked. Somebody in the crowd seemed to think he had. And then it was over, a too-short set of acoustic blues, some familiar tracks in a new guise, others completely new to me, that was brought to a close by, I think, B.B. King’s Key To The Highway.

As Marsden left the stage and headed towards the merchandise table, announcing that he would happily sign any Whitesnake items that audience members had brought along, a huge black sheet was removed from the equipment behind him, revealing amps, a drum kit and a towering stack of keyboards and it didn’t seem long before drummer Pete Jupp and keyboard player Jem Davis appeared on stage, kicking off a recording of sirens that led into a voice-over welcoming the band – “The mighty FM” – onto the stage. Merv Goldsworthy and Jim Kirkpatrick were already playing bass and guitar respectively as they appeared, followed by Steve Overland and the band immediately launched into a nice slice of AOR for which I had no idea of the title and struggled to pick out many lyrics. “Here we go,” I thought, “another gig where, not knowing the band beforehand, I would enjoy the music but have no idea what songs I was listening to.” And I couldn’t have been more wrong. Whether it was tonight’s soundman, the band’s professionalism or, more likely, a combination of the two, the mix after and, indeed, towards the end of this first song was superb, Overland’s vocals more often than not, rising powerfully through the music. Digging Up The Dirt saw Overland grab a second guitar while Kirkpatrick produced a nice bottleneck section and I Belong To The Night followed, with Davis’ keyboards becoming more prominent and with some dextrous guitar work during an instrumental section. Don’t Stop featured a lively four-part vocal chorus, Overland taking the lead in the instrumental section and a lyric of “Loving every minute” which, by now, reflected my mood. Overland told us that this was FM’s first time in York. “What took you so long?” came a voice from the good-sized audience which, it has to be said, was comprised mostly – but by no means exclusively – of men of a certain age.

Closer To Heaven was a keys-drenched ballad and a grinning Overland admitted forgetting the words halfway through. There was no such problem for the audience who, after the keys and atmospheric guitar opening to Let Love Be The Leader, engaged in an impressive sing-along before the track ended with a lovely twin guitar section. The keyboard opening to Life Is A Highway immediately brought to mind The Who’s My Generation (less so on the album version) and, watching Overland, I suddenly had a thought that this was what a rock band led by Jeremy Vine might look like – he was certainly tall enough, having to take care not to bash the over-stage lights when encouraging the audience to clap along to songs. Jupp’s drumming was allowed to come to the fore during the beginning of Frozen Heart, which again featured Overland and Kirkpatrick on twin guitars. Tough Love was followed by the just slightly harder Wildside – the whole set was definitely more AOR than heavy metal – whose instrumental led into a cheeky drum solo ending.

Overland explained that he had kicked, Someday (You’ll Come Running), out of the set back in 1989, vowing never to play it again. However, it was back, for just the fourth time in twenty-odd years. To me, there was nothing wrong with it and yet Overland, presumably relieved at getting through it, ended up on his knees and being passed a towel at its climax. Davis swapped keys for mouth-organ during Burning My Heart Down and then back to keyboard for the lively opening to Tough It Out. The set, full of rock posing, “whoa, whoa”’s, guitarists lining up on stage and audience clap and sing-alongs (and other enjoyable staples that I probably missed…) ended with That Girl and Bad Luck.

Of course there was an encore but this was one of a slightly unexpected nature. Davis was first back on stage, opening up with a piano section before being joined by Overland for the more genteel Story Of My Life. Goldsworthy and Kirkpatrick appeared midway through to provide backing vocals and even the roadie was fooled by the false ending, during which Overland’s vocals were applauded. With the actual end of the track, Jupp returned to the stage, pausing the music to take a photo of the audience (you can see it, but not me, on the band’s Facebook page) before the quintet played Other Side Of Midnight.

But this wasn’t to be a mere two-song encore and Bernie Marsden, this time on electric guitar, joined them on stage for two more songs. It didn’t seem to matter to the audience that these final two weren’t FM songs, but full-blown covers of Whitesnake classics Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues, which received a huge cheers, and, perhaps inevitably, Here I Go Again – introduced by Goldsworthy with, “Here’s another song you know…” – which brought the evening to a brilliant, energetic end as the audience joined Marsden in a rousing mass sing-along.

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Lindi Ortega–The Duchess, 20/01/16

Despite once being accused, somewhat inaccurately, of having a preponderance of Canadian artistes in my CD collection, tonight was to be, as far as I can remember, the first time I have seen a Canadian perform live since I saw Rush back in I-can’t-remember-when. Unlike that time, this was a gig slightly out of my comfort zone, with prog-rock being replaced by alt-country.

I hadn’t realised that I was to be seeing two Canadians until support act Jordan Klassen announced that he was from Vancouver – a city, he informed us, where any building over one hundred years old automatically gets awarded a blue plaque, so just imagine how wide-eyed he must have been wandering around York… Jordan arranged his short set into three pairs of similarly styled songs. The first pair – one not introduced, the other No Salesman, saw him play guitar in a dexterous, finger-picking style that was both fascinating to watch and led me to wonder whether I had picked up enough knowledge of technique to work out that he as adding his own bass-line with the lower fingers. His singing voice lost the Canadian accent that he spoke with and was, for the most part, gentler than I expected. Most of the songs included wordless sections, the opener including a section that could have been described as almost yodelling, softened as he moved away and towards the microphone. The middle two songs – Go To Me and The Horses Are Stuck – lost my interest slightly, despite the former, containing similar vocal gymnastics as the first pair, but with added whistling, being particularly received by the audience. For them, Jordan had switched guitar for a ukulele and they were just too musically sparse for my liking. Then it was back to guitar again for Gargoyles, which was preceded by the story about historic buildings, and Firing Squad. These saw a more powerful, perhaps less intricate, style of guitar playing. The former, with its distinct change of pace partway through, drew a big cheer from the audience. The lively latter brought the set to a close and Jordan, with a quick, “Thanks,” a smile and a wave left the stage, returning briefly for the ukulele before grabbing a beer and chatting with punters at the merchandise desk.

Between acts I glanced around the crowd noting, once again, how acts can gather together a diverse set of fans, young and older. From the two ladies at the front in cowboy boots which, in the dim lighting, looked to be red and blue but could easily have actually been brown and black, to the young woman with bright blue hair this was another mixed audience. There was at least one checked shirt, surely obligatory at any country music gig and one man wearing a Johnny Cash sweatshirt, along with a couple of familiar faces that I am more used to seeing at prog or general rock gigs, once again proving that I am not the only person in York with wide tastes in music.

As Lindi Ortega performed, I decided that I would be as careful as possible, perhaps even more so than usual, while putting this write-up together. A couple of times during her set she referred to a review of a previous night on this tour, in which the author had not only wrongly guessed the motivation for including one song but also included not one but two scientific inaccuracies that had nothing to do with the gig anyway and I have no desire to be called out in a similar fashion during any future gigs.

Lindi’s band – Ryan Gavel on bass, Noah Hungate on drums and guitarist James Robertson – came on stage first, greeting the audience with a shout of, “How y’all doing?” before starting a catchy introduction which brought the lady herself running on and kicking things off with the light and effervescent Run-Down Neighborhood. First impressions were that her bright lipstick, half-face veil and something about her vocals were reminiscent of the sort of just-post-war glamour you often see in film, while her hair, a tumbling black mass, brought things more up to date. Rarely still, she must have covered pretty much every inch of the stage with her prowling and dancing, occasionally flashing coquettish looks towards the audience. (I’ve kept that description in, although it might get me a mention…) The track from her latest album was followed by Dying Of Another Broken Heart, from Little Red Boots, which she described as her first (although discographies seem to belie that fact). It opened in more of a traditional country style but, like the first track, ended on a lively instrumental section. Before the next track, Lindi explained that she had a day off tomorrow and that she would be spending it in York, looking for a Yorkshire Pudding… the size of her head. Later she would ask if anybody knew where she would be able to get one and at least one person suggested that she came round to their house.

Described as a “little lullaby”, Half Moon saw her opening vocals almost unaccompanied, lovely and crystal clear. Lindi picked up an acoustic guitar for the next track. Angels wasn’t introduced but the opening chords brought forth a whoop for the audience, its slow start eventually bursting into life, with Lindi playing off Gavel while Robertson played one of his many bottleneck guitar sections. The songs were coming thick and fast, with lively I Ain’t The Girl followed by Demons Don’t Get Me Down. Faded Gloryville, the title track of Lindi’s latest album, was the only one that she introduced by telling its story – it’s about following your dreams and how hard it can be to do so and she said it was for “those with moments of doubt”. It was lovely, slow and emotional.

According to Wikipedia, “alternative country” is that which differs in style from the mainstream genre and the pounding drum and rumbling bass opening to Ashes certainly fit that bill. Then it was back onto acoustic guitar and a brief pause while Lindi tuned it for Lived And Died Alone, a softer track with another unaccompanied opening showcasing more of those beautiful vocals. Hard As This was followed by another drum and bass opening, with Lindi back on vocals only for Run Amuck, a catchy song that saw Lindi standing on the drum riser helping out Hungate towards its end. Slowing the pace down again, Tell It Like It Is saw a return to the coquettishness and was followed by a cover of The Eagles’ Desperado, accompanied only by Robertson, during which you could have heard a pin drop in the audience, perhaps in a mark of their respect to the recent passing of Glen Frey (although that, she inferred, wasn’t the reason for its inclusion). With Gavel and Hungate back on stage and Lindi once again taking up acoustic guitar, we were treated to Cigarettes And Truckstops, a gorgeously slow track during which Roberston’s electric guitar adding a sublime atmosphere. After another cover, this time The Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody and then, back on acoustic guitar, Lindi counted in Little Lie in Spanish, above Hungate tapping a rhythm out on the rims of his drums before rattling off the almost tongue-twisting repetitive lyrics and bringing the main set to a close, leaving the stage with just a wave and a smile.

As usual, it wasn’t long before the band took to the stage again, Lindi apologising to one audience member who shouted out a request, explaining they were, “doing a different one.” That turned out to be another cover of Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me. This version’s almost reggae feel added another musical dimension to the set. The acoustic guitar was taken up again, and almost immediately discarded when Lindi realised no sound was coming through from it. Ironically Tin Star contained the lyric “I got a busted string and a broken guitar” and Lindi emphasised that line, drawing laughter from the audience. Although she had mentioned having a cold, this song was the first time I noticed Lindi’s slightly throaty vocals. Personally, I thought they added character to the song. And then it was the final song of the evening, and a version of Ring Of Fire that was at times sultry and at others powerful and which contained a superb guitar section which was fully appreciated by the crowd. I wonder what the guy in the Johnny Cash sweatshirt made of it…

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2015 In Review–Part 2, The CDs

I hit a major milestone in my CD collection in 2015 – breaking through the one thousand album mark (with the slight caveat that that figure includes four duplicates – more on that later). This was achieved through that fact that I bought, or had given, a massive 132 albums during the year, up 72 on 2014 and, by far, the highest number I have ever bought in a single year. Those additions came from just five sources – 77 from HMV, 31 received as Christmas or birthday presents, 14 bought at gigs, 9 free with Prog magazine and 1 (an impulse buy) from a well-known supermarket.

That means, for the second year running, I bought no albums from internet sources. I find that I genuinely enjoy spending at HMV these days, sometimes knowing exactly which new releases I am heading there to pick up but mostly just browsing and picking up back catalogue items that catch my eye. It does, however, mean that I have missed out on some highly regarded 2015 releases – for example Karnataka’s Secrets Of Angels and Chantel McGregor’s Lose Control, along with others from smaller bands who aren’t available in HMV and will probably never appear live in York. This is something I consciously aim to put right in 2016.

Before I go on, a quick word about EPs. Regular readers may remember that this isn’t my favourite format, mainly due to the fact that, still being a player of the physical format, I find that they are too short – you no sooner put them into the player than they finish and you have to either play them again, or get up and change them for something different. I purchased just two in 2015, one from HMV and one at a gig. The latter – Everlate’s Vitals – was the only 2015 release and, in fact, the only locally released music I bought during the whole of the year.

Back to album purchases and the reason I increased my collection by so many was because of The Original Album Series. These are a great way to fill in holes in back catalogues and to discover new artists in a very cheap way – five albums, packaged in simple cardboard sleeves and housed in a slip case (sometimes thicker, sturdier cardboard but lately not quite as sturdy) generally for about a tenner. In 2015 sets from Blue Oyster Cult, Dream Theater, Foreigner, Jethro Tull, Journey, Kansas, Mountain, Bonnie Raitt, REO Speedwagon, Toto, Robin Trower and UFO made their way into my collection, adding sixty albums, including those four aforementioned duplicates. (Hey, at that price I would have been daft to not buy the five albums just because I already owned one of them…)

Away from those, the majority of purchases were (again) prog rock in its various guises and general rock, but there were also representatives of alternative rock (Kodaline and Coldplay, but not their latest release yet), 80’s pop (Nik Kershaw), hard alternative rock (The Last Internationale), acoustic (Luna Rossa), pop rock (Stevie Nicks and Emma Stevens) and blues rock (Dan Patlansky). I don’t believe I managed to complete and major bands’ back catalogues in 2015, although I did bring my Genesis requirements down to just one.

My favourites from more recent of the non-2015 releases are:

  • We Will Reign – The Last Internationale. An all-too-brief and yet powerful slice of protest rock which would easily have been in my top five for 2014 if I had come across it in that year.
  • Waves – Emma Stevens. Another nice pop-rock album from a fantastic singer-songwriter and lovely person. Again, this would have been high in my list if I had bought it in 2014.
  • Music For Insomniacs – Matt Berry. Perhaps better known for his comedy, Berry’s 2014 release contains just two tracks, both over twenty three minutes long. Of course it’s prog, but it’s also very easy to listen to.

Biggest disappointments were Colors by Between The Buried And Me and a three album set from Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie – both are musically (better than) good but both contain way too much in the way of “cookie monster” vocals for my tastes.

Of the 2015-released albums that I bought, one is a re-issue – Fine Days, a three album set from Anathema – and one is a “Best Of” – Status Quo’s Accept No Substitute. Taking out those that came free with magazines, that leaves fourteen new releases, all studio albums. I could have sworn it would be more and there must be so many that I have heard of that I haven’t bought yet, for some reason – I’ve already mentioned Karnataka, Chantel McGregor and Coldplay, but others include Nerina Pallot, Martin Turner, Anathema, ELO, Panic Room and another live album from Mostly Autumn.

So, to my top ten albums for the year. Having bought just fourteen, it almost seems churlish to leave out four, especially since there isn’t really a duff album amongst them. So, in no particular order, honourable mentions go to Blackbeard’s Tea Party’s Reprobates, Drones from Muse, David Gilmour’s Rattle That Lock and Hawklords’ R:Evolution. As I say, none of them are particularly bad – in fact I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Hawklords album, given how disappointed I was with their previous release – but they are all albums that I find I need to be in a certain mood to listen to.

As usual, the criteria for picking my top ten is simply how an album makes me feel when listening to it, even immediately or after multiple plays. I’m not knowledgeable enough about production values or song-writing to be able to be able to comment on those aspects and I don’t care about how an album progresses a band’s career or sound. The following ten have been picked as the albums I would be most likely to listen to. Generally I find it difficult to rank the albums from ten to one, but I must be getting better as this year I have a definite order for my top five. I’m going to say the other five are equally as good, just to avoid having to think about it any more, and they are presented in alphabetical order.

Kodaline – Coming Up For Air. Not much to say about this second release from the Irish indie rocks, apart from that I enjoyed it much more than their, admittedly good, debut. To me, it’s a bit more immediate and catchy.

Lonely Robot – Please Come Home. Former It Bites frontman (as well as guitarist for a number of other bands) John Mitchell gathered an array of guest stars for his latest project’s release and it took me slightly by surprise. Heavier than I expected in places, but never unnecessarily so, it’s an often atmospheric piece of prog rock. If it has a concept behind it, I have yet to work it out, but it is reminiscent of SF soundtracks, which gets it extra points from me.

Steve Hackett – Wolflight. To me, this knocks spots off the other 2015 prog-rock-veteran-releases-new-solo-album. Mind you, it might have helped that I saw some of the tracks played live.

Steve Rothery – The Ghosts Of Pripyat.  I don’t have many instrumental albums in my collection, but this is one of the best.

Von Hertzen Brothers – New Day Rising. This one didn’t hit me with the immediacy of their previous release. Still a good album and a few more listens may well have propelled it further up in this list, given time.

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5:- The Gentle Storm – The Diary. Strangely the two discs of this double album contain the same songs, telling the love story of a Dutch couple in the form or letters between them as the husband is an officer sailing with the Dutch East India Company, the responses between the two often being months apart due to the vagaries of sea travel. It’s a bitter-sweet story that ends with the wife’s death and the husband’s first meeting with his son, born while he was away at sea. The difference between the two discs is that one is acoustic (gentle) and the other heavy metal (storm). Personally, I prefer the acoustic disc as it showcases singer Anneke Van Giersbergen’s lovely vocals.

RiversideLoveFearAndThe20762_f 4:- Riverside – Love, Fear And The Time Machine. This is my first experience of Riverside, a Polish prog-rock band and I put the album on my birthday list, after hearing good things about it, only vaguely expecting to receive it and definitely not expecting to get it from my Mum, who won’t shop on-line. I’m not sure how it stacks up against their other releases, but this one grabbed me from the first listen and, for a time, was rarely out of my CD player. Melodic and atmospheric and yet, at times, more catchy, it is pretty much everything I look for in an album and I will definitely be checking out more by Riverside on the basis of this album.

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3:- Public Service Broadcasting – The Race For Space. Although being touted in prog-rock circles, PSB could just as easily be described as “electro pop rock”. Previous releases and live shows saw the boys matching music to old public service films or broadcasts, including war speeches and WH Auden’s This Is The Night Mail. The Race For Space, in my opinion, took this idea and turned it into a concept as they married their sounds to broadcasts related to both the US and USSR’s space programs. The highlight for me is The Other Side, during which I found myself holding my breath as Mission Control waited to regain the signal from Apollo 8 as it passed behind the moon, but the more upbeat Gagarin, the atmospheric E.V.A. and the incredibly sombre Fire In The Cockpit are almost as good. Mixing great music with a subject I have always been interested in meant that it was inevitable that this release would feature highly in my albums of the year.

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2:- Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. There’s an incredibly sad story behind this album, as it is based on the true story of a young woman living in a large city who dies in her home and yet, despite having family and friends, is not missed for three years. At times it oozes sadness, but is never off-putting. Overall the album and its concept are an immersive experience – moving.meaningful and beautiful, it can be listened to as background music but is much more rewarding if you give it your full attention.

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1:- Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful. Bombastic, at times over the top and often completely bonkers, the eighth album by the Finnish proponents of symphonic metal is a whole load of fun. Varying from the radio-friendly single Elan to the vigour of the likes of the title track and The Greatest Show On Earth, it is a mixed bag that really works. Inspired by Darwin and featuring quotations from Richard Dawkins, it perhaps comes across as a bit profound and intellectual but, for me, that doesn’t detract from the music, or the superb vocals – new frontwoman Floor Jansen shows great range, wiping the (ahem…) floor with many other female vocalists.

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2015 In Review–Part 1, The Gigs

2015 saw me fully back in the saddle in terms of attending gigs, although as the year progressed it seemed that I wasn’t getting to as many as I usually did and I fully expected, when putting the final figures together, that I would actually have been to less than I did in 2014, despite the first six months of that year being a barren wasteland for me personally.

Here are the figures – skip further down if you just want the highlights.

In fact, I ended up going to 41 gigs (up 3 on 2014, but down 7 on 2013), seeing 96 performances from 88 individual acts (119 & 96 in 2014 and 120 & 97 in 2013). Those gigs were held in just 8 venues (11 in 2014, 10 in 2013), with just one of those venues being outside of York. By far the biggest number were held at Fibbers (30), with only The Barbican (3), The Duchess (2), The Basement (2) and The Grand Opera House (2) drawing me in more than once. The remaining venues were The Black Swan and Leeds Cathedral.

As usual, there were gigs I had planned to go to that I ended up not attending. An ill thought out decision to take a holiday at Easter meant that I missed Robin Trower and Ben Poole (I even had a ticket for the latter). At other times, clashes meant I had to choose one band over another – although I was grateful to Mr H, who managed to rearrange one Fibbers gig after I pointed out that it clashed with another that had a potential crossover audience. There was, inevitably, disappointment when I realised that perhaps my only chance to see veteran rockers UFO was on the same evening that I had already bought tickets for the whole family to go to another venue. At other times, a simple “can’t be bothered to head out” feeling, meant that I missed bands such as Hayseed Dixie.

But this is supposed to be about the stuff I did see, not what I didn’t…

At times it seemed as though York had slipped back into the Seventies, with prog-rock stalwarts from that decade appearing throughout the year. Uriah Heep returned to York after too long and packed out Fibbers, bringing with them one of my favourite new discoveries of the year in the form of Blurred Vision. Here And Now, a band unknown to me prior to their gig, played the same venue and drew another big crowd, as did Wishbone Ash. Camel and Steve Hackett both played The Barbican, both pulling from a huge back catalogue for unsupported gigs. Not quite as old (and not quite as prog), Mike & The Mechanics also played The Barbican. Also not prog, but with definite roots in the seventies, if not earlier, the legendary Glenn Hughes performed tracks from his time with Deep Purple, as well as material from his solo career and other bands. There was more nostalgia at The Grand Opera House when it hosted one of those eighties revival gigs, featuring T’Pau, Go West and Nik Kershaw in a slightly unexpected format which saw the latter two onstage together (mainly) performing each other’s songs.

Modern prog-rock was very well represented, with headline appearances in York from the likes of Lifesigns, who played here at both ends of the year, Mostly Autumn – again two performances, one at Fibbers and another at The Grand Opera House – Panic Room, Knifeworld, Halo Blind, Idle Jack & The Big Sleep (I’d class them as prog anyway), who delighted fans with the news of new music on the way), Celestial Fire, Hawklords and Matt Berry & The Maypoles. They were ably supported along the way by band such as Cloud Atlas (who also had a headline gig that I couldn’t get to), Soma Crew and Beastfish. There could be an argument that local bands Asio’s Eyes and La Petite Mort had at least a sprinkling of prog in their music as well.

Blues rock was my next most represented genre. Larry Miller played Fibbers just a few weeks before being put out of action (temporarily, hopefully) by a stroke, as did South African Dan Patlansky, who was venturing further North than he had ever been before, which might go some way to explaining the smallest crowd for a blues gig this year. Chantel McGregor returned for her annual appearance in York, ahead of releasing her second album, while fellow female purveyor of the blues Joanne Shaw Taylor shocked me by pretty much selling out Fibbers, despite it being her first headline appearance in York (she had supported Robin Trower earlier in the year). Her performance, though, showed why so many people had ventured out. My favourite modern blues band, King King, also returned to Fibbers and had the satisfaction of being seen by a much bigger crowd than for their previous appearances. My only complaint about the blues gigs was the price of CDs on the merchandise tables – often being more expensive than buying direct from the bands’ websites.

Although I enjoyed the majority of local bands that I saw this year and there were reappearances from some favourites, there was little new that really made me stand up and notice. Perhaps the only band that did so was soft rock trio Little Resistance, who I saw in a support slot. Unfortunately I haven’t managed to catch them again since. Elsewhere, The Rodeo Falls started the year off in style, with a headline gig, before personal issues meant a subsequent lack of live performances. Everlate also had a headline gig, to coincide with the release of their latest EP (my only disappointment was that it wasn’t a full album). I felt completely out of place at The Filthy Piece’s gig, but enjoyed the music, although I’m not sure what their future holds as, I believe, at least some of the band have subsequently moved down South. Blackbeard’s Tea Party had The Duchess folk-rocking once again as they launched their latest album.

All the above gigs, and others that I haven’t mentioned, were entertaining – regular readers will know that I rarely don’t enjoy a gig – and I have, in the past, selected just one or two highlights of the year. This time, though, I have (with just slight difficulty) been able to rank a top five (performances, if not full gigs), and they are… :

5 – The return of Emma Stevens to York. Emma’s first headline gig in York was a definite highlight of my year but, I noted in last year’s review, that the small crowd probably meant it wouldn’t be financially viable to play here again. I was wrong, as she returned to Fibbers as one half of a dual-headline gig, alongside Blair Dunlop, and with a second album under her belt. This time round the crowd was much bigger and the impression I got was that most people seemed to have come to see her. She gave another smiling, charismatic performance of her brand of folk-pop and, afterwards at the merchandise table, showed just what a lovely person she is.

4 – The Last Internationale. Fitting in an appearance in York between the Leeds and Reading festivals, there was something almost subversive about this trio’s music, which could be best described as protest-rock. Slightly political, very powerful and highly entertaining, there was something about the music that evoked earlier times (although, to be honest, I’m not sure what I mean by that).

3 – Moonsorrow. I went to this gig, which coincided with York’s Viking Festival, just to find out what “heathen metal” meant and left it having been blown away by the energy, the music and the sheer theatricality of the whole thing. Loud, heavy and covered in fake blood, Moonsorrow gave a performance that, while not necessarily enticing me to start buying their albums, means I will almost certainly attend the equivalent gig in 2016, if only to see whether whoever is headlining that one can be anywhere near as entertaining.

2 – Anathema. If you had asked me after this gig, I would probably have said that it would end up being my favourite of the year. I love Anathema’s music and, while I am unlikely to see them perform as a full band, this was the second time I had seen them perform acoustically, this time in the lovely surroundings of Leeds Cathedral, a venue that was brought to life by the spectacular light show later in the gig. Add in a superb support slot by violinist Anna Phoebe and this was, overall, a magical gig that would have topped any other year. It was only beaten by…

1 – Hope And Social. I have seen and been entertained by this Leeds band so many times that I have lost count. They are always a highlight of my year and never fail to raise your mood, with both their music and what goes on between their songs, which is often “unscripted” and, at times, hilariously funny. This time, though, they seemed to perform in a sort of “perfect storm” of entertainment – the music was, as ever, flawless, and the crowd worked perfectly during the evening, joining in in everything that they should have joined in with and doing it with gusto. As ever, there was mickey-taking, reminiscences and laughter, and even a lump-in-the-throat-tear-in-the-eye moment when a fan was invited on stage to carry out a perfectly planned and executed marriage proposal (she said yes). It was an evening with a cracking atmosphere that was reflected in my write-up (which I think was the best piece I have ever written and doubt I will ever beat it. Not just the best gig of 2015, but one of the best gigs I have ever been to.

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Lifesigns–Fibbers, 12/12/15

Aside from the whole live experience there are a number of things that make me happy at gigs, and two of them happened tonight – hearing somebody new to a band that I already like proclaim that they had enjoyed the set and a band getting a bigger crowd than last time they played the same venue.

You would think, by now, that I would be totally familiar with Cloud Atlas as a live act. After all, they only have one album from which to draw their set and I have already seen them a number of times. However, they never fail to make their set sound fresh and, to me, as though the songs are being played with new arrangements. Maybe it’s just that I don’t pay enough attention to the music to remember it from one gig to the next but, for example, Dave Randall’s deep, almost rumbling keyboards, which seemed to fill the venue as he opened proceedings, leading into Heidi Widdop’s low whistle and an atmospheric ebow section from Martin Ledger, didn’t sound familiar. The riff opening of Searchlight, that it all built to, however, was unmistakeable. A small army of photographers made their way closer to the stage, cameras mainly pointed at Heidi as she gave her usual strong vocal performance, especially during the long held “forever…” that ended one line. Martin’s playing somehow seems to get better every time I see the band and he appeared to be lost in the music during the extended instrumental section. The acoustic guitar opening to Falling slowed things down considerably as, once again, Martin built from gentle guitar and what I thought was a new arrangement to the much more recognisable tune. The Grieving was more keyboard led, Dave playing a piano section before the drums signalled the start of the track proper, and more of Heidi’s superb vocals. There was another piano solo in the middle, this one much more fleet-fingered, before the piano faded away to bring the track to a lovely end. In comparison to what had gone before Soul In A Jar – the only song not to come from the Beyond The Vale album, being instead a Stolen Earth song – seemed musically uncomplicated, and yet still built to a stunning climax. And then the set itself was brought to a close by Stars, my favourite song from the album. This time Martin seemed to tease a faux medieval sound from his guitar while, during one impressive section Dave was on his feet, playing the top piece in his keyboard stack, sometimes gently, sometimes more brutally. As the audience applauded the band at the end of their set I heard one person behind me exclaim, “They were good!”

A seemingly frantic stage clearance was followed by a more sedate set-up for tonight’s headliners. For a prog band, the stage almost looked sparsely populated. John Young’s keyboard stack comprised of just two pieces, once again set back from the from of the stage. I was slightly surprised to see Lifesigns back in York so soon after they played here back in February (I think this gig was announced within weeks of that performance), especially given that gig didn’t draw a particularly big crowd. However, back they are and this time they have enticed many more people in, a fact alluded to by Young during one of his amiable between song chats. Like Cloud Atlas, Lifesigns have only released one studio album so far, but they have been working on new material for a while now (the February gig contained songs apparently destined for the next album) and also have songs from The John Young Band to fill out the set.

With the band having almost snuck onto the stage, Young encouraged the audience to come forward, clap and dance, warned us to beware of the bouncing bass player that is John Poole and asked who already had the album. Most did and, off microphone, he entreated the band to “play something I know” before they launched into Lighthouse. Poole and guitarist Niko Tsonev were indeed lively across the front of the stage. Initially Young’s vocals were swamped by the music, that was soon sorted but I couldn’t help but think that the guitar was slightly too loud in the mix all through the set. On the night I noted that the lyric “As the Winter brings the rain” was very appropriate, little knowing that, just a few days later, it would almost be prophetic. With barely a pause the band moved on to Telephone, Young encouraging a clap-along as Poole and drummer Frosty Beedle opened the track. As with Cloud Atlas, the set had opened in epic fashion, with a gentler track following. With the first two songs taking twenty-five minutes, it would have been obvious to anybody that this was no pop concert. Voice In My Head, one of those new songs, however, had a much slower opening and lasted just five minutes. By the time of Different it had become apparent that Poole was no “standard” bass-player, in that he barely stood still for a few seconds at a time. Impossible was, according to Young, “a bit more single-y” and was for anybody who had been dragged to the gig kicking and screaming (as he would be, he explained, to anything in the top forty…) I guess it was a bit more mainstream, but not too much so. It was still well over five minutes in length and featured an impressive guitar section, although the track’s abrupt ending seemed to catch the audience out slightly. In fact the audience, although full of applause for the songs, seemed strangely muted between them, especially when Young asked if there were any football fans in, because the next song – Open Skies, a John Young Band track – was to be about aliens from another planet and Manchester United. It was more rocky than prog-gy, if anything shorter than Impossible and, although I picked out references to planetary destruction and saving mankind, I didn’t hear anything about football.

Returning to the band’s eponymous album, Young asked whether we liked the artwork and dedicated the next song to Brett Wilde, the artist, who he said is the only person on the planet who has a Fridge Full Of Stars. I love this track. I love the breathiness of the keyboards. The live version is even more epic than the album version, with Tsonev switching to acoustic guitar for the opening section and a backing track being used to fill in for the track’s guest player on the album (Thijs van Leer on flute, I believe). Next came At The End Of The World, “a happy song about the end of the world” and another favourite of mine. According to setlist.fm, the next track was Kings, another JYB cover, described as “a violent little number”. An instrumental, it was punctuated by crashing cymbals and often frantic drumming above screaming guitar. The set and the evening was brought to a close with a return to the album and Carousel, for me the track that really shows off Young’s keyboard playing. Like the album tonight’s set started strongly and got better as it went along. Hopefully that second album will be along in the near future and Lifesigns will be back to promote it.

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Matt Berry & The Maypoles–Fibbers, 05/12/15

Truth be told, I wasn’t sure what to expect tonight. I had seen Matt Berry listed as playing in York before, but hadn’t yet ventured out. Whether that was because I hadn’t seen his music described as “prog” before, or whether previous listings had emphasised the comedy aspect of his career too much, I couldn’t say. Tonight’s gig, however, had caught my eye when I first saw it on Fibbers’ website and the fact that a colleague had also pointed it out to me as something I would enjoy was enough to tempt me out.

Xylaroo, Berry’s opening act on this tour, seemed to be a study in contrasts. London sisters Coco and Holly had a look that was slightly hip-hop and a logo – the band name inside the wide-open mouth of a cartoon face – that I found slightly off-putting, if not a little disturbing  but, armed with just an acoustic guitar, dual vocals and tight harmonies, they provided a short set of pop-folk that was entrancing. They were quiet at times, lively at others and verging on angry in some moments, with the unexpected and sole drop of an f-bomb drawing a cry of mock indignation from one audience member near me. Not so much looking nervous as uncertain at the reception they would get from a mostly attentive crowd, they greeted each bout of applause and cheers with smiles. The set was mostly their own material – the likes of Sunshine and Money Is Burning (the latter seemingly about the influence of TV on our lives – but there was one cover, a glorious version of Arctic Monkeys’ I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor – during which one audience member, perhaps slightly under the influence of alcohol didn’t, but still managed to raise a few smiles from the stage and laughs from the crowd – slowed down and feminised and gradually building in pace. Between songs the chat was so quiet I could barely hear it, hence the lack of song titles. During songs the lyrics were mostly drowned out by one audience member’s chat – if he’s reading this he will know who he is and should be made aware that I don’t expect everybody to stand in silence, but to talk constantly through a set is disrespectful to those on stage  and annoying to those standing around – but the overall tone was lovely.

By the time Matt Berry and his band took to the stage, to increasingly loud cheers, the already large crowd had swelled considerably, to an almost full house and I couldn’t help but wonder, given its size compared to some other prog gigs, whether some/most of the people there had come out knowing him more from his comedy. From my point of view I was only aware of him from his appearances in The IT Crowd but, because of its prominence in the what’s on listings, I think I was probably expecting some sort of comedy music act, I couldn’t have been much more wrong. It wasn’t all staid and serious – an early, good-natured mickey-take about the Yorkshire accent and Strictly Come Dancing drew laughs, as did mentions of Magic Mike and Clem Fandango, both of which went right over my head.

His music though… If I had to describe or pigeonhole “prog rock” I doubt I could, but I know what I believe fits into the genre and this was definitely it. Perhaps not as sweeping and grand as some of the more well-known entries, Berry’s music is more pastoral, more folk-y, in places more genteel but throughout definitely listenable. Opener October Sun, with its three part harmonies, from Berry, Mark Morris (The Bluetones) and folk singer Cecilia Fage brought forth another big cheer from the crowd, while the “seasonal rock opera” – which was, perhaps, shorter than that description merited – that followed saw Berry’s Korg (synthesizer, I assume) duelling with the band’s keyboard player. The sound of Devil Inside Me varied between a deep-voiced Western soundtrack and something much more light-hearted. The next track wasn’t named but Berry advised us to “grab hold of your nether-regions, because that’s what I’m aiming for.” An instrumental during which Korg and Fage’s clarinet built quickly, then merged with the trombone that the keyboard player had taken up, leading to a track that was “parp-y” in the background and almost space-y in the fore, a wall of sound that may not have reached those nether regions, but certainly had my trouser legs twitching before it faded away, leaving just the clarinet to bring it to a close.

In comparison Medicine seemed more mainstream, a slice of guitar-pop with a keyboard backing. Berry switched to lead guitar, partnering with the trombone for a brief burst of La Bamba before the atmospheric opening of Solstice built slowly into a powerful guitar-led track, with occasional wordless vocals from Fage, that lasted for the shortest nine minutes I can remember experiencing. The piano driven Take My Hand was followed by a magical instrumental from Music For Insomniacs, which convinced me that I would be buying that album on my way out of the venue. An album comprising just two twenty-three minute instrumental tracks… just how much more prog could it be?? “Stay back,” Berry quipped as he struggled to get the Korg stand to stay securely in place at the denouement of the track. The trombone/guitar duel during Snuff Box was bizarre but strangely satisfying and it was followed by a spotlight section for each band member, starting with a bass solo that started out as funky as you like and ended up as far from funky as you could get, the bassist wandering backwards and forwards to his pedals, then a drum solo with added cow-bell and ending with a fleet-fingered keyboard/synthesizer duet and vocal section that was heavy on the reverb. Each section seemed to bring forth louder appreciation from the audience.

Woman had a hint of sixties pop crooner to its sound, apart from a guitar solo, with Berry jokingly introducing the guitarist as Eric Clapton. (If the members of the band, apart from Morris and Fage, were introduced, it must have been too quickly for me to note down their names – apologies to them). The set was brought to a finale by So Low, with its bass opening and it wasn’t long before the band were back on for an encore of The Pheasant, the announcement of which was greeted by another cheer. Its short lyrical opening section led into another instrumental, slow then lively and incredibly changeable throughout. Finally, the whole evening was brought to a close by Morris on vocals – “Two gigs for the price of one,” explained Berry – for a rendition of perhaps that most mainstream of prog tracks, Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer.

As much as I like prog in general, Berry’s music is just different enough to be a breathe of fresh air in a genre that continues to surprise me and I will definitely be looking out for him appearing in York again.

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Go West & Nik Kershaw – The Grand Opera House, 14/11/15

Given the number of gigs I go to, along with the fact that I started properly listening to music, buying albums and going to gigs in the eighties, it seems strange that I don’t think I have seen a single eighties band since I started this sustained period of live music appreciation a few years back. There’s probably two reasons for that. Despite eighties revival gigs being big business, I can’t think of many iconic bands from that decade that have ventured into York. I think Erasure were here relatively recently and Adam Ant, but neither of them interested me. (Having said that, I am thinking of seeing Adam Ant next year.) The second reason is that much of the eighties music wasn’t too my taste. I remember a conversation I had with gig buddies a few years ago in which they decided that eighties music, as a whole, wasn’t very good. Checking my CD collection afterwards, I found that I had few albums by bands that formed (or found fame) in the eighties and most of my CDs from the period were from bands who had stared out earlier.

Having said that, when a friend’s Facebook post alerted me to this gig, I knew I had to be there. After all, you can’t dismiss an entire decade’s worth of music just because it saw the birth of Culture Club, The Pet Shop Boys and Soft Cell. In the end, I went with the family – Debbie keen and a not-so-well (and quite tired) Elizabeth being dragged along to her second gig in as many days.

I remember being very excited on hearing Heart And Soul, T’Pau’s debut single, for the first time. I played Bridge Of Spies (and subsequent albums) to near destruction and saw them live in the now levelled – but still my favourite venue – Queen’s Hall in Leeds. And, let’s face it, Carol Decker… I always preferred Nik Kershaw to Duran Duran, thought his Human Racing was superb, The Riddle even better – I still remember the near constant attempts to work out what the title track was actually about – and even bought Radio Musicola, which prompted an uncle of mine to ask whether Kershaw had written to personally thank me for doing so… I also saw him live, at the Birmingham Odeon. I also owned a copy of Go West’s self-titled debut album back in the day but, until tonight, I had never seen them live.

With the band already having taken their places on stage the announcer asked us to welcome Carol Decker onto the stage and she kicked things off with Sex Talk. Her hair might now be a few shades less red and tonight’s red leather coat may contain more material than her entire outfit the last time I saw her on stage but there was little doubt that she still had the vocal power and a willingness to entertain. Thinly veiled, yet humorously delivered, adverts for her new album and an anniversary box set of Bridge Of Spies mixed with quips to the audience and a brilliantly told story about how T’Pau were Nik Kershaw’s support act back in the eighties – “He didn’t like it, but his management thought it was a good idea…” – and here she was, twenty eight years later, still his support act. As such, she delivered a short set but covered a fair bit of T’Pau history. Secret Garden and Valentine book-ended two tracks from this year’s Pleasure And Pain. Read My Mind opened slowly but built quickly when the full band came in. It was, perhaps, more ballad-like than most of T’Pau’s output. Misbelieving, on the other hand, had that more familiar sound. Still slow, it featured a nice instrumental section which saw Carol hidden from view as guitarists Ronnie Rogers and Deeral took centre stage. “I’m in that guitar sandwich every night and it’s a very nice place to be,” she quipped at the end of the song. Almost inevitably the set ended with T’Pau’s two best known tracks, Heart And Soul and China In Your Hand. There were groans from the audience when the latter was announced, but only because it was the final song. Invited to sing along, the crowd did so, with gusto, arms waving during the reprise. “They’re a much better than the Butlins lot last week,” confided Carol to the band, just before leaving the stage to loud cheers, lots of applause and a few shouts for more. It was definitely too short a set.

With barely a pause, and only two changes of personnel in the band, the evening continued and I was surprised to find that Go West and Nik Kershaw were performing together, not as separate acts as I had assumed they would. Admittedly, there were comings and goings from the stage as one act left to let the other perform one of his/their own songs but, for the most part, this was a sort of eighties “supergroup”. Another surprise was that they weren’t just doing their own material.

“You bought a ticket for us and Carol. You’re probably not expecting to hear this,” said Kershaw and the band started playing Everybody Wants To Rule The World, to which he and Go West’s Peter Cox provided shared vocals. It might have been unexpected but t didn’t seem to bother the audience, who were already lively and loud. “There he goes. He can only do one song,” said Cox, joking that we should have read the poster carefully, as Kershaw left the stage before Go West performed Call Me, the audience readily joining in with the chorus, and Faithful. There was another swap as Cox and Richard Drummie left the stage and Kershaw re-appeared to a big cheer and played Wide Boy, during which he played an extended guitar piece, and then dedicated Don Quixote to his wife – “She f***ing hates this one…” – his vocals during it sounding slightly more nasal than I remembered them. The Nik Kershaw that I remembered seeing live all those years ago used a head-mic and traversed the stage, playing most of the instruments on it. The 2015 version stayed behind his mic stand and just played guitar. The on-stage banter continued as Go West returned. “Sssh, they’re back,” Kershaw announced, before telling us, “I wrote this one in 1989 and then shelved it until some geezer called Chesney Hawkes did me a massive favour.” I’m not sure I knew that he had written The One And Only, nor that I would ever enjoy hearing it played live. “Now that we’ve got you moist and gagging for it, we are going to take a break. We need our medication,” he said, just six songs into the set. It seemed a strange way to structure a gig to me.

After that break, the trio (and band) returned for another song outside of their canon, a rendition of Seal’s Crazy after which Kershaw once more left the stage and Cox told us to fee free to get out of our seats. One group in the middle of our row had been on their feet for most of the set thus far and there had been rumblings from the other side of us about getting the entire row up and dancing, so little encouragement was needed and we joined many more in the audience dancing along to Don’t Look Down. The next surprise was the next song of the set – Sam Sparro’s Black And Gold is from nowhere near the eighties… Then it was back to Kershaw’s catalogue for Dancing Girls and When A Heart Beats. With the between song chat there was a nice feeling coming from the stage. References to a thirty year career carried an undertone that the acts acknowledged that they had reached and passed the peak of fame some time ago but were now going through an enjoyable renaissance. “I know what you’re thinking, ladies. You still would, wouldn’t you?” joked Kershaw and, despite the fact he is no longer the fresh-faced heartthrob and, these days, sports more of a widow’s peak than the quiff of his heyday, you got the impression he was right.

“This one’s not from the eighties,” said Cox before a cover of Birdy’s Wings. “There’s two reasons we are playing it – we like it and we can…” It was the only track of the evening that I didn’t recognise, but they managed to give it an almost anthemic sound that seemed somehow ill-fitting with the rest of the set. Go West’s Goodbye Girl was followed by them performing Nobody Knows from Kershaw’s Radio Musicola album. In my head I could hear my uncle twisting the title to “Nobody’s Heard It” but it still brought back memories for me. Kershaw then returned the favour by playing Go West’s Missing Persons, a track I only vaguely remembered, despite it (like all but one of the Go West tracks tonight) being from the album that once graced my collection, perhaps because it was given a Kershaw makeover tonight. He followed it with, arguably, his most famous track and the biggest surprise, given the history of The Riddle, might have been that nobody shouted out to ask what it was about.

There was another cover, this time The Eurythmics Would I Lie To You? before Cox started some vocal gymnastics that heralded the start of We Close Our Eyes, Go West’s biggest single, which received a huge cheer from the audience as it finished. Kershaw returned again for Wouldn’t It Be Good and the audience were already singing the chorus during its introduction and shouting for more as it finished, even though everybody was still on stage. “OK, we’ll carry on,” smiled Cox as the band started playing King Of Wishful Thinking. Memory is a strange thing – I can’t have heard this track since its release twenty five years ago, yet every lyric came flooding back to me as I joined in the sing-along. That memory deserted me during the next track, though – despite knowing every word as it was sung, I couldn’t bring to mind the title of Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me until Kershaw reached it. It ended up being another familiar song given a live twist as Kershaw played a short, blues-like section within it.

That was to be the final song of the set and, while the audience clapped and shouted for more, I racked my brain but I couldn’t think of anything left that would be suitable for an encore – all the best known songs had gone, hadn’t they. I was proved right when, returning to the stage, Cox announced, “We have one more naughty little thing to play for you.” It turned out to be another cover, and another not from the eighties. Most of the audience seemed to love the performance of Sex On Fire but I thought it was a poor choice for an encore and would have preferred a two-song encore of, perhaps, The Riddle and We Close Our Eyes.

I went to this gig expecting two headline sets. The joint performance worked and I have no problem with that but the inclusion of covers, especially the non-eighties ones that bore no relation to the acts’ output, was less welcome. Not that they were performed badly, just that I would have preferred to hear more from the acts I went to see. Kershaw once had enough material for a headline set of his own. I assume so did Go West and many in the audience would have been familiar with album tracks as well as more well known singles, so why not throw some more of them in as well? Having said that, it was a great night and a brilliant opportunity to hear some of my favourite music from the past. Much of the older music I listen to these days is stuff I am discovering now. With these three acts, I was there at the beginning.

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Mostly Autumn–The Grand Opera House, 13/11/15

Photos provided by and © Marc McGarraghy, whose work can be found on Facebook or the Yellow Mustang website. Thanks, as always, go to him for allowing me to use them.

It seems that even traditions can be broken. Last year was the first since 2008 that I didn’t attend Mostly Autumn’s Christmas gig at the Grand Opera House. Of course, that was because it didn’t happen due to no appropriate date being available. This year they are back, six days ahead of the earliest date the gig had been scheduled in any of those previous years, but the Christmas element had been discarded in favour of the first of four special gigs – two in the UK and two on the continent – which would also see the band perform the music of Pink Floyd, a formative influence on Bryan Josh’s music. I assume it was no coincidence that this year is also the fortieth anniversary of the release of Wish You Were Here. One tradition did continue, though. Despite recently labelling the music I listen to as “old”, Elizabeth decided she did want to go to this gig – her fourth time seeing Mostly Autumn and the first gig as a teenager.

DSC_6620When we made our way to our seats the cover to Dressed In Voices was already projected onto the back of the stage which itself was bathed in Autumnal lighting. Bryan Josh walked on stage before the house lights had even gone down and explained that the band would be playing their latest – and first concept – album in its entirety, explaining the story it tells, that of a dying man relating the story of his life to the person who has shot him. “It’s a cheery old thing,” he quipped. As the rest of the band came on stage for the opening of Saturday Night, the backdrop changed to a version of Bryan’s quote from the CD booklet and Livvy commenced what was to be an increasingly stunning vocal performance. As the opening track continued I realised early on that the sound tonight was being brilliantly handled – Chris Johnson’s acoustic guitar was coming through clearly as, later on, would Angela Gordon’s backing vocals. Most impressive of all, though, was Alex Cromarty’s drumming. Despite him playing frantically at times, the sound was subdued, removing the oft-heard scenario where the drum line dominates a band’s live sound. The band moved through songs from Dressed In Voices with barely a pause between tracks, recreating the feel of listening to the album. The pictures on the backdrop changed with each track, the images, again taken from the CD booklet, reflecting the lyrics – a shrouded face and a line of falling dominoes for Not Yours To Take, a small boy being menaced by a growing hand for First Day At School, a campfire for Down By The River and books for The Library.

DSC_6745As usual, members of the band came and went from the stage as and when they were needed and Andy Smith prowled backwards and forwards, at times taking his bass to the front, at others staying at the back. A few bursts of rumbling distortion spoiled the quiet opening of Home, but it was soon forgotten as those who had left returned to the stage, getting livelier as the song built to a climax that saw the first real chance for applause. By the time of First Day At School, Alex had discarded his jacket. The thunder effect was almost deafening in comparison to the track’s simple keys and vocals opening. Iain Jenning’s keyboards were superb throughout and the track drew more sustained applause. It was during Skin On Skin that Angela’s backing vocals became most noticeable and when violinist Anna Phoebe walked on stage. In the first appreciable departure from the album, Alex launched into a drum solo, to shouts of encouragement from the audience. That lead into Anna’s violin section, her body language seeming to almost challenge Bryan to take her on musically and led, in turn, to a stunning guitar and violin section, almost a duel, with Alex’s drums providing the backdrop, which was greeted by huge applause.

DSC_6496It might be said that Anna won the duel as Bryan left the stage as she provided violin accompaniment to Livvy’s vocals during The House On The Hill, the pair hugging at the end of the track before Anna left the stage. Strangely for a live performance, I found that some lyrics were falling into place for me more than they had been while I listened to the album, especially during The Last Day, whose “Easter egg” lyrics and guitar riff are what had always seemed to be prominent in previous listenings. Livvy’s performance of the track was expressive and emotional and it also saw Angela’s first foray out from behind her keyboards, taking centre stage for a flute section that was another Easter egg for long term fans. The emotion grew as the first half of the gig drew to a close through The Library, Dressed In Voices and Box Of Tears, which saw Angela provide another flute section, although my memories are sketchy of that section. (One woman in the audience had taken exception to me making notes on my phone, despite other people filming and taking photos on theirs. At least I turned up on time and didn’t disrupt a number of people while getting to my seat two or three songs into the set… Thankfully, she decided to relocate for the second half of the gig.)

After a twenty minute break, the band came back on for that second half, this one mostly dedicated to the music of Pink Floyd. The backdrop had changed to a snow-covered mountain and during this set, it was mostly a series of random moving images. Livvy, much like the woman above, had relocated, taking up the position at the back of the stage that she had occupied while still a backing singer for the band and being joined by Hannah Hird, although a section of the audience probably couldn’t see she was there.

DSC_6529Before the Pink Floyd tracks, we were taken back in time to the band’s debut album for a version of The Night Sky that included more stunning violin from Anna and built through a brilliant instrumental section. The rest of the set could easily have been labelled the Best Of Floyd. The instrumental opening to Shine On You Crazy Diamond was instantly recognisable, even if it had been given a Mostly Autumn makeover. In fact, that was the impression throughout this set. The band weren’t trying to reproduce the music in the way a tribute band would, the overall impression was one of  homage rather than copy. This version featured a dreamy instrumental section and another guest appearance, this time by Chris Backhouse on saxophone. Back at the front of the stage, Livvy’s wordless backing vocals during The Great Gig In The Sky brought forth perhaps the biggest cheer of appreciation of the night so far, but there was better to come. The sound of sheep introduced the track of the same name and a chance for us to hear Chris Johnson’s distinctive vocals as he took the lead for a quite different, more rocky version compared to the original which saw him and Andy literally in the spotlight. It was a brilliant version which received two thumbs-up from Bryan at the end. On The Turning Away seemed to be equally as good, but Bryan only flashed one thumb at the audience this time.

There was more of Chris Backhouse’s saxophone during Us And Them and then Chris Johnson’s acoustic guitar kicked off Wish You Were Here, with Bryan saying the audience should feel free to sing along. The ending of tonight’s version of Comfortably Numb seemed to be very “Mostly Autumn” and brought some of the audience to their feet in appreciation, leading to a clap-along during the beginning of See Emily Play, during which Iain faithfully reproduced the sixties keyboard sound, while Alex’s drumming was more pounding than the original. This set was brought to a superb close by a version of You Better Run which saw Livvy and Hannah chanting, “Run, run, run,” in almost militaristic fashion while Bryan and Chris Johnson performed alternate vocal sections.

DSC_6756With the band off stage once again, a roadie moved Livvy’s microphone front and central once again, dispelling any doubts (as if they would have existed…) that there would be an encore and it wasn’t long before the opening notes of The Gap Is Too Wide were heard, Iain. Chris Johnson and Anna having come back on stage to precede Livvy’s best performance of the evening, her jaw-dropping vocal section standing in superbly for the recorded track’s choral section, with backing from Hannah, Angela and Chris Johnson. For me, the evening could have ended there. That has always been my favourite Mostly Autumn track, in some ways the track that got me into the band, and yet this was the first time I had heard them play it live. There was to be two more tracks, though. Evergreen, a track that Livvy has now made her own, brought forth a grin from Elizabeth, who loves it, and then the evening was brought to its inevitable rousing close by Heroes Never Die, once again (and as always) dedicated to Robbie Josh.

DSC_6792With the music over the whole band congregated at the front of the stage, taking in the extended applause and standing ovation from the audience before taking their final bow. It might have been strange not to finish with Christmas songs but this gig would put to bed any criticisms that the band relied too much on stales from their back catalogue. Yes, the last two tracks are usually played, but others haven’t been heard in York for some time and the inclusion of a nearly full set of “covers” mixed things up immensely over the three hours of superb music we were treated to.

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King King–Fibbers, 01/11/15

Photos provided by and © Marc McGarraghy, whose work can be found on Facebook or the Yellow Mustang website. Thanks, as always, go to him for allowing me to use them.

DSC_5707Once again a lack of pre-gig research led to me being surprised by a support act. Given she was touring with King King, I assumed Rebecca Downes would be a blues artist in the style of Chantel McGregor or Joanne Shaw Taylor – my only other exposures to female blues – and would front a trio, guitar in hand. Instead she stood in front of a five-piece band, providing just vocals. Except there was nothing “just” about those vocals. They were powerful, passionate and, at times, soulful and, because Downes had breaks in her vocals, where McGregor or Taylor would be playing guitar, she was able to show a different type of expression, almost using her mic stand as a prop. The look of the band – the five musicians all in white shirt and all but one in black tie, Downes herself starting off in a soon-discarded leopard print jacket – perhaps suggested a “classier” venue than Fibbers, but the audience lapped up the performance. After a pop-blues opener, Fever In The Night gave us the first evidence of the power of Downes’ vocals, along with a nice guitar and keyboards mix, and it received a great reception from the crowd. Another Piece Of My Heart – “The only cover we do.” – was followed by Basement Of My Heart, with a faster, train-like rhythm to its drum line, while Walking With Shadows, introduced as, “A bit of an emotional song,” contained the first guitar line that, if I had heard it blind, would have brought to mind what I personally (with my still limited knowledge) would recognise as the blues. It also showed that Downes can do subtle as well as powerful. DSC_5775Taken from an upcoming second album, Night Train showcased the more soulful side of her vocals, while Back To The Start, the title track of her debut album, returned to a more pop-blues style. The set was brought to a close by A Thousand Years, with a simple piano and vocals opening and an ending which saw Downes, thanking the crowd, leaving the stage while her band performed a short instrumental.

This wasn’t a bad opening to the evening but, from a personal point of view, it was confusing as a blues performance. It was the first time I’ve seen a blues band whose leader didn’t play an instrument and that seemed to lead to the vocals being the most important part of the performance. What instrumental sections we heard were short, with none of the extended guitar or keyboard solos of other blues acts I’ve seen. It might just have been my lack of experience with the genre but, somehow, it felt… just a bit wrong. The music, however, was good and, given the plaudits being bandied around by those more knowledgeable than me, maybe it’s a format that I need to get used to.

“It’s very warm in here,” commented Alan Nimmo, partway through King King’s set, “and I’m wearing a skirt…” Yes, the jovial Glaswegian was back, once again kilted and fronting DSC_5944my favourite male blues outfit. And one of the reasons it was so warm was that this was the second blues gig at Fibbers this year that had drawn in a bigger-than-usual crowd. Even Nimmo seemed surprised by – and grateful for – the turnout. “The last time we were in York there were about thirty people watching,” he quipped before thanking us for coming out and supporting live music. In actual fact, the last time they played York was in support of John Mayall and there were a few hundred in the audience, but I knew what he meant and I’m not going to argue with the big Scotsman, jovial or not.

Earlier he had walked, almost unobtrusively, on stage, acknowledging the applause from the crowd and the bigger cheer when he was ready to start. “I was just negotiating my way through that tiny wee gap,” he said before starting proceedings with Lose Control and a guitar line that, to me, was more instantly recognisable as blues than anything in the earlier set. Already this was what I had come to expect from a blues act – guitar interludes, a certain vocal style and, in the case of King King, Bob Fridzema’s Hammond organ weaving lovely sounds through the tracks. The crowd had stepped up their enthusiasm and the end of the second track was greeted with almost deafening applause and cheers. The beginning of Waking Up saw a seemingly spontaneous clap-along being encouraged by Nimmo while during Rush Hour, taken from Reaching For The Light, released just a few months ago, I spotted one woman on the front row dancing and singing along to every lyric, something she continued to do throughout the set. (Look closely and you can see the lady in question in the photo below.)

More Than I Can Take saw a change of tone and pace. We were only five tracks in and yet the band weren’t holding back, performing a much rockier version that I remembered and one that could easily have been a set ender and which was greeted by another huge DSC_6010roar from the crowd. After a piano opening, Lay With Me built in volume and moved to that Hammond Organ sound, perhaps inevitably bringing to mind Procul Harum’s Whiter Shade Of Pale. Nimmo moved to the front of stage for a subtle and yet growing guitar section, with his trademark accompanying facial expressions. Hurricane, recently added to Planet Rock’s playlist, was short and sharp in comparison. Before You Stopped The Rain, Nimmo explained that it was dedicated to, “…anybody who has struggled with health. It’s about strength and resolve and dealing with an horrendous illness without complaining.” There was applause and a shout of, “Stevie” from the audience – presumably that is Nimmo’s brother, who had an operation for cancer a few years ago, when the lyrics were written. The screaming guitar was backed by a prominent and yet not intrusive bass from Lindsay Coulson.

“I suppose some of you know that I’m a Scotsman,” joked Nimmo before telling us about childhood musical heroes and how one of them, Frankie Miller, had said, in typical Scottish style, that Jealousy was, “A f**king belter!” I find it hard to disagree. Another track from the new album was followed by a journey back to the first and All Your Life saw the crowd engaged in another clap-along to the almost funky keyboard opening and another potential set-ending instrumental section. Nimmo then explained that blues will never die, as long as it is played from the heart and that Stranger To Love is played exactly that way. With A DSC_5821Long History Of Love dropped from the live set, it was this track that featured my favourite guitar section of the night. Subtle and perhaps not as intricate as earlier ones, it left space for the notes to breathe and was no less impressive for it. With almost precision timing a Fibbers staff member turned off that infamous aircon unit during the quiet section, just as it seemed as though Nimmo had turned off all amplification and all we could hear was the sound of bare strings being plucked before the volume was increased once more, and more cheers rang out from the crowd. This, it seemed, was the set ender.

It wasn’t long, however, before the band were back on stage, Nimmo returning with arms held aloft before thanking us again for supporting live music and warning us that if we didn’t join in with Let Love In he would show us what was under his kilt. Inevitably, threat or no, the audience rounded out the evening with an enthusiastic sing-along.

This was the third time I’ve seen King King and they have got better every time. My worry is that if their audiences keep getting bigger, York’s venues aren’t going to be able to hold them. My only complaint, as with another blues gig earlier this year, was the pricing structure for CDs on sale at the gig. I had every intention of buying Reaching For The Light tonight but, at £15 on the merchandise table, it is cheaper, even including postage, to buy it from the band’s website and I’m certain I didn’t pay that amount for the previous albums at an earlier gig.

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Glenn Hughes–Fibbers, 28/10/15

I was recently chided by promoter Mr H for not going to a series of punk gigs hosted by Fibbers over the Summer, in particular an appearance by John Lydon and Public Image Ltd. “There are some gigs you have to go to just to say you were there,” he told me. The thing is, I’ve never “got” punk in any way shape or form (apart from, maybe, a handful of the more well-known and, to my mind, less punk-y tracks). Your more generic “rock” however, is what drew me to music in a serious way. So, when a well-known proponent of that genre rocks up at Fibbers, you can bet anything that I will be there, even if my knowledge of whoever it is isn’t what it could be. I think I would have bought my first Deep Purple album – Stormbringer, if I recall correctly, although it could have been the Deepest Purple compilation – over thirty years ago and, while they have never really been a band that I have actively sought out, I have slowly increased the number of their albums in my collection over the years. I don’t think I could have told you before tonight, but that means Glenn Hughes was the vocalist on the first Deep Purple studio album I owned.

Support came in the form of James Jared Nichols. As usual I hadn’t done any research before the gig and was expecting a solo artist, probably with acoustic guitar and possibly somebody local that I hadn’t come across before. What we got, was a blues-rock trio based out of Los Angeles (by way of East Troy, Wisconsin). Some in the audience seemed to have come across Nichols before, shouting his name as he walked on stage – commenting on how many pubs York has – and during the set, which he kicked off with the screaming guitar of Blackfoot, whose pounding drum line was provided by Dennis Holm. Crazy had more of a Southern blues sound and by the time the band got to Haywire heads in the crowd were nodding and at least one fist was pumping the air near the stage. On stage there was plenty of hair flying, from Nichols and bass player Erik Sandin, as the former continually ventured to the front of stage for his instrumental sections. After a version of Johnny Winter’s Rock And Roll Hootchie Koo, introduced as “an oldie but a goodie”, Nichols asked whether there were any blues lovers in the house, entertaining the crowd with a version of Robert Johnson’s Come On In My Kitchen, whose bottle-neck guitar and slower pace was a distinct change from the set so far. The track grew in volume and power, yet still gave Holm a rest after his earlier exertions and the end was greeted with a huge cheer. Can You Feel It changed the style again, with a fast paced rock and roll sound and audience sing-along. Playing For Keeps was memorable for Sandin’s only venture to the front of stage, for a lengthy guitar/bass duet opening, and its ever-changing extended instrumental section. As the track ended Nichols asked, off mic, whether we wanted one more. The crowd did and the set was brought to an end by another cover, this time Mountain’s Mississippi Queen.

As the support band’s kit was removed from the stage, an impressive pair of speaker and amplifier stacks were revealed, Marshall on one side of the drum kit, Orange on the other. A voice over that I couldn’t make out over the crowd noise signalled the beginning of the headline set and Glenn Hughes walked on stage, grinning and flashing a peace sign at the crowd and opening with Stormbringer, instantly recognisable to me. Hughes, now in his sixties, was energetic and brought forth some impressive vocals. Those vocals, weren’t to me, quite as impressive during Orion, but that was probably because I didn’t know the song. He still, however, managed to provide some imposing screams. “I’m gonna take you back a bit,” he announced before playing Way Back To The Bone, a track from his first band, Trapeze. The bass Hughes played throughout the set looked so old and battered that it might also have begun its career with Trapeze. Hughes, along with guitarist Doug Aldrich, another LA native, faced each other for a duet, while the drums crashed behind them. Taking a brief break from the music, Hughes explained that this tour’s set would be a, “History of where I’ve been for the last four years,” and that Yorkshire was a special place for him because he went to school with somebody from York. First Step Of Love, written with Pat Thrall in 1982, “When I was seven years old…” opened with an unusual bass riff and cymbals and included more of those screams and ended with Hughes fist-bumping fans in the front row.

“I haven’t toured enough,” said Hughes before telling us that this tour would go right through 2016 and that he would be back, something that was greeted with a big cheer from one of the biggest crowds I’ve seen in Fibbers. “The music is no longer mine, it’s yours,” he said before Touch My Life, another Trapeze song. Drummer Pontus Engborg led an audience clap-along while Hughes provided almost Gospel-like vocals over Aldrich’s quiet guitar line. Back to Deep Purple for Sail Away and a story about recording Burn (an album not in my collection) in the dungeon of a haunted medieval castle. Aldrich’s guitar opened the track but, for the most part, he was out of the spotlight, quietly and with little fuss and extravagance providing guitar lines that varied between screaming and subtle or, in this case, bottle-neck. For Good To Be Bad, however, a Whitesnake track from the 2008 album of the same name on which Aldrich played guitar, he seemed to come alive, coming to the front of stage after prowling around before being acknowledged by Hughes, who described him as one of the best guitarists in the world today. Hughes then left the stage, leaving Aldrich fully in the spotlight for a fleet-fingered, whammy bar wobbling, guitar shaking solo which led into I’ve Been Mistreated, featuring another brilliant instrumental section. “Sing with us York. Sing the melody,” entreated Hughes before the track ended, almost twenty minutes later, in almost a capella style, with soulful vocals from Hughes.

A bit of a rant about how Earth is a dangerous planet – I clearly heard one woman exclaim, “On no!” in apparent exasperation during it – ended in Hughes telling us that only music can save us led into the three part set ender which included hard rocker Can’t Stop The Flood, One Last Soul (a Black Country Communion song) and Soul Mover, back to back but interspersed with a small jam session between Hughes and Aldrich and a drum solo from Engborg.

After the usual short break, the trio returned to stage for the almost inevitable and instantly recognisable riff of Burn, during which Aldrich, dancing around the stage, was the liveliest he had been all evening. Cheers rang out from the audience as the track ended and, as Aldrich and Engborg left the stage Hughes said, “Let me do this to you,” as he stood and applauded the crowd and once again told us he would be back next year.

Hughes might well be one of those, “living breathing personifications of British rock” whose career outside Deep Purple has almost completely bypassed me and I might have only recognised three tracks from tonight’s set but, you know, I was there when he played York in 2015 and I’ll probably be back, hopefully more knowledgeable about his music, if he does come back.

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