Von Hertzen Brothers–The Duchess, 22/03/16

Back in 2013, at the end of their double-headline gig with Touchstone, Mikko Von Hertzen told the crowd at The Duchess that they would be coming back. At the time, after what ended up being one of my favourite gigs of that year, I was happy to hear it but had an inkling it wouldn’t happen – very few international bands have returned to York in the time I been going to gigs here. True to his word, though, the brothers did return and, when I saw the gig listed earlier in the year, I knew I would be there.

Last time it wasn’t clear to me whether the reasonably big crowd had come to see Touchstone or VHB. Personally, I was there for the former and hadn’t even heard of the latter until that night. Tonight, though, with an equivalent crowd it was obvious that VHB have a fair few fans in the area, including me, a relatively new fan. Other prog tour t-shirts abounded – Steve Wilson, Dream Theater, Genesis and one HRH Prog 4, at which VHB played – along with more the more general rock of Europe, The Grateful Dead and Biffy Clyro, but I couldn’t spot any familiar faces from other similar local gigs, unless that was the same Mohican’d guy that had been at Fibbers to see Reef a few days earlier.

I didn’t think I had heard of Messenger, tonight’s support act, before but a quick Google revealed that I must have seen their name in Prog magazine as they had won that publication’s “Limelight” award back in 2014. Promising. They opened with Midnight, the dual vocals and twangy guitar sound at the start giving the track a vaguely Middle-Eastern sound. After a minute or so, though, it changed gear into something much more powerful. Another change of pace followed, then another and now the track was much faster and rockier. There was a brief pause and then yet another change upwards. You don’t see many people change guitars mid-way through a track, but both Khaled Lowe and Barnaby Mallick did during this exceptional and impressive opening. With Dan Knight changing from third guitar to keyboards for the next track, which was quieter and had a more sustained pace. Lowe’s vocals seemed to suffer quite a bit during the louder chorus, a fact attributed later, along with an apology if he had been singing out of tune, to the fact that his monitor wasn’t working. Sound man to the rescue and the issue was soon repaired. Away from the problems, this shorter track featured a nicely subtle guitar line which suddenly exploded into life. Between tracks members of the band seemed to jam out atmospheric, sometimes psychedelic, interludes, filling the whole set with music. Messenger are about to release their second album and during Balearic Blue, a track from it, it wasn’t clear to me whether the feedback, which seemed to be too regular to be accidental was a deliberate part of the track, which had a more subtle sound and didn’t reach the heights of power attained previously in the set. Back to the debut album and The Perpetual Glow Of A Setting Sun opening in a jangly, reverberating fashion. Drummer Jaime Gomez Arellano signalled an upwards change in volume and pace before the track slowed down again and a nice guitar line forced its way through to the end. “Would anybody like to hear another new song?” asked Lowe. Of course we did. Celestial Spheres opened with a light keyboard sound before, you guessed it, bursting with power again, with those keyboards more prominent throughout. For me it was the best track of the set, lively both musically and in its performance. Knight was back on guitar for Dear Departure, which had the gentlest opening so far and turned out to be a slow builder, containing another psychedelic section, Lowe making use of an e-bow in places. A short, almost screamed vocal section led into the by now inevitable more powerful, louder section, shorter this time with the track – and the set – fading away to nothing almost immediately afterwards. Entertaining and varied, this set propelled Messenger onto my watch list.

Glancing across at the merchandise table, where Lowe was chatting to fans between sets, I noticed an unusual piece of tour merchandise. I’ve never seen a band selling elasticated ankle boots before. I wonder how many they have sold? At the table fans seemed to be spending freely, presumably making VHB’s return to York worthwhile.

As Von Hertzen Brothers took to the stage, greeted by loud cheers and applause, leading into a clap-along to the introduction to New Day Rising, I found my line of sight blocked by a person who had decided to film the gig on his phone. I soon forgot about him, though, when a much taller man, moved from the outskirts of the crowd to the centre, standing directly in front of me, with his spinal cord practically touching the end of my nose. Oh the joys of being short… Mikko Kaakkuriniemi’s rat-a-tat drum rhythm heralded You Don’t Know My Name. Kie Von Hertzen wandered around the stage with his guitar before returning to the mic to provide tongue-twisting backing vocals. At the end of the track frontman Mikko (it’s hard enough referring to band members when three of them have the same surname, but when two also share the same first name…) acknowledged how many people had turned out on a Tuesday night, telling us that they (the band) were very pleased. Flowers And Rust – one of my favourite tracks – opened with an almost toy-keyboard sound before bursting into life. Mikko then encouraged an audience sing-along of “Yeah-o” during Sunday Child, which opened nicely with piano and vocals. It’s the tenth anniversary of the band’s second album – Approach – and Mikko explained that Endlessly, from it, contained at least three guitar solos, “So it must be good…” Again it had a gentle opening, leading into a vocal section full of expression from Mikko. Kie changed to bottle-neck style during the first instrumental section before the track became livelier with Mikko and third brother and bassist Jonne eating up the stage space.

This gig took place on the day of the Brussels bombing and Mikko’s speech asking for love, peace, understanding and acceptance was greeted by more applause. He then went on to explain that the next track, didn’t fit that theme. Trouble – about, he explained, an inner struggle – was kicked off with crashing drums and was performed in an incredibly powerful and energetic style. Always Been Right brought a change of scenery (Mikko struggled for the word, eventually getting a translation, or at least suggested replacement, from his Finnish phrase from the audience). It was fast and almost chaotic and briefly saw Mikko leave the stage to join the crowd in clapping the rest of the band. In a band of beards, drummer Kaakkuriniemi’s twin-pronged effort was easily the best. His pounding rhythm signalled the beginning of the next track, which came from Stars Aligned, but I wasn’t able to identify it. Voices In Our Heads had been missing from the live set for two years. “You can leave now if you want,” joked Mikko, already drenched in sweat, before a false start brought laughter from the crowd and band. Once it got going it was a nicely varied track with incredible vocals and brought nods of satisfaction from the band at its close. “Cool stuff, eh?” quipped Mikko, “Should we play that more often?”

As usual Kie took over lead vocals for Coming Home, giving it a deeper sound above the fast-paced drums. The set so far had been energetic but it was during this track that the extraordinary energy I remarked about on first seeing this band was back in evidence. All too soon it was time for the final song of the set. A more pronounced keyboard sound gave The Willing Victim the most traditional prog-rock sound of the set, at places reminiscent of the likes of Genesis behind the harder guitar sound. The track’s quiet mid-section exploded into an extravagant and brilliant instrumental which brought the set to a superb end.

After a brief break in the green room Mikko returned to stage, briefly taking a turn at the drum kit before fielding requests from the audience. “River!” came one shout. “No. Have another guess,” before a fast and furious guitar line that might have been Freedom Fighter (I’m not sure). Then came Prospect For Escape, whose piano and cymbal opening lured the crowd in before the track started properly with a metallic guitar riff which, in turn, made way for the vocals before returning, slowly building to an apex and then coming down again, resulting in a song that came at the audience in waves and ends beautifully. There was no promise of a return at the end of this set, but we can hope.

Posted in Live Music | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Reef–Fibbers, 18/03/16

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.

Desert Mountain Tribe kicked off their set with a distorted guitar sound from Jonty Balls, a heavy bass line from Philip Jaun and, finally, an almost languid drum line from Felix Jaun, all of which added up to and atmospheric droning and a very big sound for a trio. With Jonty’s vocals echoing around the venue (lots of echo, as evidenced by the fact that the effect was left on between songs, making the few times he spoke to the audience slightly off-putting) I was reminded of something that I couldn’t put my finger on until later in the set. With no introductions that I heard (and the set list on one website, for the previous night on the same tour, not only containing less songs than they played tonight but, apparently, a different order to my notes) I can only guess at some titles. With Felix hitting the skins a lot faster, Take A Ride saw the guitar and bass combine into a wall of sound from which neither was distinguishable. From the lyric “We all Die”, I suspect it was Heaven And Hell, during which the band were almost obscured by smoke, that brought to mind The Doors, although it might have just been a close comparison – something about the vocal style – rather than an influence. It was a short song but, even so, managed to fit in a false ending. An already impressive set continued to get better in its second half, which opened with another easy-going drum line behind powerful guitar. Way Down had a simpler, quieter start. With repetitive lyrics throughout it slowly built in volume, pace and power into a superb live track. The final track of the set had an even quieter start, almost atmospheric. Then Felix hit the drums harder than he had done previously to signal the start of a louder section which faded back to another quiet section of just guitar and vocals before this brilliant track built the set to an epic climax. It’s still early in 2016 but Desert Mountain Tribe may well have just taken my “favourite support act of the year” slot.

“You know this is going to sell out” proclaimed Fibbers’ website. Well, I managed to pay on the door and, during the support slot (which, admittedly, did start earlier than normal) the crowd seemed to be of fairly average size. During the gap between bands, however, a lot of people moved forward of my usual spot. Even so, it wasn’t until the end of the gig, as I joined the slow moving tide towards the exit, that I realised that the venue was fuller than, I think, I had ever seen it. Gone was the usual free space right at the back. It was a mixed crowd of young and older – with hairstyles running the gamut from Mohicans to dreadlocks almost long enough to sit on –  and one that, throughout the night needed little encouragement to participate. More often than not there was a sea of raised arms in front of me and each of the headliner’s song was greeted with louder and louder cheers.

The lights being dimmed roused an initial, small cheer of anticipation, but there was still a few minutes to go before one of the roadies, flashing a torch as he walked across the stage like a moving lighthouse, signalled that Reef were ready and they came on to bigger cheers, Gary Stringer immediately moving to the very front of the stage, clasping the hand of one person in the front row and flashing a thumbs up to the rest of the crowd. Stringer had been interviewed in the local press before tonight’s gig and, referring to playing different sized venues, was quoted as saying, “…you can get just as much of a buzz playing at a place with people in your face just the other side of the barrier,” something evidenced by the fact DSC_7706that, after prowling and dancing around the stage during the opening track, he returned to the front of stage, and crouched down to be at the same level as the crowd, literally singing in their faces. “It’s nice to be in York,” he proclaimed as that opening track ended, before deciding, in what was to be a recurring theme of the night, to use the fixtures and fittings as part of his act and reaching up to swing from the metal beam above the stage that so many other artistes have taken such pains to avoid hitting. “Come on York, make some noise,” he shouted during Higher Vibration, and the crowd duly obliged. That beam came into play again soon afterwards, becoming an impromptu mic stand during the next track, while Come Back Brighter saw the crowd engaged in their first spontaneous sing-along.

Dominic Greensmith provided a rat-a-tat drum opening for Stone For Your Love, during which bassist Jack Bessant moved about his section of stage, his long hair and beard making him look for all the world like a wild mountain man who had wandered into the wrong band but who somehow still manages to fit in. The cheers at the end of each track were almost deafening by now and it seemed an appropriate time to slow things down a bit with a new track and its nice guitar line from new boy Jesse Wood. The quieter section continued with I’ve Got Something To Say, with Stringer, standing still for  a change, opening the track on acoustic guitar prior to the rest of the band coming in. Consideration saw another mass sing-along as Stringer encouraged the crowd to join in with “It’s gonna DSC_7815be all right” to see the track to its close. Spotting another fixture that he could use, Stringer, with microphone lead around his shoulders, eschewed all thoughts of health and safety when, during I Would Have Left You he clambered off stage and onto the little drinks stand just to its left, standing on it as though crucified before throwing the microphone back on stage. In a set of gravelly vocals and powerful rock music, Lucky Number somehow seemed even more raucous, its ending greeted by chants of “Reef! Reef! Reef!…” from the crowd.

The opening notes of the next track brought forth huge cheers, a lot of bouncing in the audience and another spontaneous sing-along. It was, of course, Place Your Hands (still the only Reef track I recognise after being “educated” a few years back when, after seeing Stringer Bessant live, I admitted that I knew nothing about Reef). After the band’s biggest song their keyboard player, whose name I didn’t catch, despite Stringer giving him an accolade earlier in the set, switched to banjo for My Sweet Love, another new track, during which Stringer unselfconsciously discarded his sweaty t-shirt. Don’t You Like It sawDSC_7854 Bessant getting more animated than usual during its drum then guitar opening. So far I haven’t mentioned the incredible lighting. Reef are, I think, the first band I have seen at Fibbers who have brought their own full lighting set. At times, as it threw blue, green, yellow, white or purple beams across the stage, it seemed almost too big for the venue, yet still managed to produce an stunning effect.

As the band recovered in the green room after the final song of the set, there were as many chants of “Reef! Reef!…” as there were shouts for “More!” and, once again, a deafening cheer as they returned to the stage for a three song encore that ended with Jerome and started with two tracks I, unfortunately, can’t identify. There were shades of the sound of AC/DC to the vocals of the first and the second saw a roadie have to come one to replace the battery pack of Stringer’s monitors. Presumably they were as exhausted as he must have been after his energetic performance. Those monitors were discarded completely during Jerome, DSC_7902-1during which Stringer conducted an almost obligatory clap-along before returning to that beam for a full-on swing session which could easily have seen him crash into the drum-kit or the audience. Thankfully neither happened. Once again he spun the microphone around the beam and managed to drop it while doing so, which saw him flash a guilty look off stage. Wood used the dangling mic to name-check the band members before a final hit from Stringer as he left the stage saw it spin over the beam, leaving a challenge for whichever roadie was to retrieve it. A brilliant night from a resurgent band.

Posted in Live Music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Frøkedal–The Basement, 26/02/16

Although tonight’s headliner continued the Scandinavian theme of the last gig I attended, it couldn’t have been more different from the loud heavy metal of that night. Local promoter Please Please You had put together a female-heavy bill at The Basement and the only comparison could have been that this much smaller venue was, relatively, as crowded as Fibbers was when Týr came to town.

Opening proceedings was the young North Yorkshire singer/songwriter Amy May Ellis, who I hadn’t come across before. It is, perhaps, testament to the fact that I am drawn more to female vocals that I didn’t immediately think, “Oh no, not another acoustic guitar act.” Or maybe it was the fact that Amy May’s guitar was a four-string (tenor?) guitar, which gave her playing a different sound to the usual. Kicking things off with Sailing, my initial impression was that her lovely vocals reminded me of somebody but I haven’t been able to work out who. The next song – Fading? – saw Amy May take up a strumming style, as opposed to the finger-picking of the previous and featured a strong mid-section both musically and vocally and a far-away look in her eyes as she brought it to a close. That look turned melancholy for the next, sadder sounding song while the vocals for the next – with its chorus including the lyric “Dreams are made for us” – came across as more plaintive. “This is my last happy song and it’s called Happy Song,” announced Amy May. It was faster than the last few, with her vocals quaintly almost falling over themselves in places and it may have been that complexity that meant it was very short. “It’s downhill from here,” she quipped as she moved on. That far-away look was back and, at times I found myself having to look away when it wasn’t clear whether Amy May was looking straight at me or straight through me. This track was much longer and featured the strongest vocals of the set, along with powerful lyrics. After a quick drink and a re-tune of the guitar, we got the final track of the set, an un-named new song which was wistful in places. A nice, pleasant start to the evening.

Next on stage were Sur (there’s an extended “rr” sound at the end) and I initially spent as much time trying to find out more about them as I did listening to their wonderful music. This all-girl trio, all dressed in black provided us with a too-short set during which they swapped vocal and instrumental duties and even languages. I have since read that they are “from” York University and, with their mix of accents and their names being Gaia Blandina, Uma Bunnag and Holly Gurney, there is a good chance they met there. They opened with the soft and gentle Mockingbird, Holly and Uma providing lovely dual vocals, with cellist Gaia, playing her third gig of the day, adding a third harmony later in the track. The first instrument change came with just their second track, as Holly took over guitar and Uma moved to main vocals for a lighter song with a bit of an old-fashioned feel to it, to which Gaia added a whistling section. More lovely three part vocals followed before a restful cover of Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat. With Holly now wielding a violin, the next track saw Uma once again playing guitar and providing vocals in what I think was Spanish. There was a more sombre instrumental section from the cello and violin before the track became lively again, with Holly picking at the violin strings. There was more instrument movement as Gaia laid down her cello and took up guitar for a the next track, which featured some stunning vocals “in the round”. Instruments were discarded completely for the a capella start to the girls’ penultimate track, while the final track of their set featured both plucked and bow-played cello. Completely different to anything I have heard or come across before Sur provided the audience with a blissful, restful, laidback set of relaxing, wind-down music. As they prepared to leave the stage one of the girls said, “Thanks for putting up with us.” In fact, it was the audience that was thanking them, for something that was rather lovely.

Frøkedal is Anne Lise Frøkedal, who has been part of Norway’s indie-rock scene for years. Tonight, she is joined by her Familien (Norwegian for family) for a gig that, coincidentally, falls on the release date of her first solo album – Hold On Dreamer. She had copies for sale but, unfortunately, only on vinyl as no CD versions had made it here. There’s a short and atmospheric start to the set with Don’t Look Back, Frøkedal playing electric guitar and providing vocals, accompanied by keyboards, violin and a rhythm section comprised of just two drums. The dreamy The Man Who Isn’t Here follows, Thea Glenton Raknes’ single drum providing a sparse atmospheric backdrop to the track. If the openers were atmospheric, the next – simply introduced as “about surfing” – is lighter and yet almost rocky, with soaring vocals in places. Misery was introduced as being about the West coast of Norway which, Frøkedal assured us (perhaps to the dismay of the Norwegian tourist board), can be, “a really gloomy place at times”. The song itself was more haunting than gloomy. After a short interlude in which it was implied that, if anybody in the audience ever visited Norway they would find it easier to drive there than the band did driving in York, the next track was opened in solo style, with Frøkedal providing vocals and sparse guitar, but slowly built to include violin and keyboard.

W.O.Y. (Without You) started with a sort of traditional folk sound, primarily because of the violin, but with an “electric’d up” feel to it. Again it built to a bigger sound for its main section. I didn’t note much down about Cherry Trees, apart from it was inspired by one of Oslo’s “scruffier” streets, but one which is lined with said trees which, once a year, burst into colour. In some ways that description is indicative of the sort of inspiration and music flowing from this set (and that is in no way meant to imply that any of the set was scruffy…) As the Familien on violin swapped that instrument for what looked like a covered-over wooden soup ladle, one of the members of Sur took advantage of the fact that we had been invited to shout out questions (she had already asked where Hold On Dreamer could be bought) to ask what the instrument was. The player explained that it was a miniature bouzouki from Greece. By now I was getting lost in the music and making fewer notes so details are sparse. Suffice to say that the tracks continued to be welcoming and evocative, a mix of laid-back pop and folk, with tracks coming from the album and an earlier E.P.

By the time my fingers had found the keyboard of my phone again the set was drawing to a close. My gig-buddy pointed out that the keyboard opening of Dream gave it a “prog-gy” sound. That opening led into a pleasantly strident (I can think of no other word to describe it, but that one feels so inadequate) track both vocally and from the violin. As it continued it lost that strident sound and built strongly into another wonderfully atmospheric track. “Do you want us to play one more?” asked Frøkedal, somewhat unnecessarily. Of course we did and we were treated to the lighter and livelier Kid as a combined set-ender and encore. I would have loved to stick around afterwards to try to catch a word and say how much I had enjoyed the set but the later-than-normal end to the evening meant I was in danger of missing my transport home so I my exit was hastier than I intended.

I haven’t been to many Please Please You gigs but I have enjoyed those I have attended. Tonight’s not only featured, in my opinion, the best headliner put on by the promoter that I have come across but the overall line-up made it by far my favourite of their gigs.

Posted in Live Music | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Týr–Fibbers, 19/02/16

Until last year I hadn’t realised that there was a traditional Viking metal gig at Fibbers to mark the end of York’s annual Viking festival. Moonsorrow, the headliners in 2015 might have been just outside my musical comfort zone – in that I doubt I would buy any of their output – but there live show was one of my highlights of the year and that meant that there was a good chance I was going to head to the equivalent gig this year even though, once again, I hadn’t heard of any of the bands on the bill.

I inadvertently turned up late, but only because the first band – Hull’s Aloeswood –  was on stage much earlier than your average Fibbers gig. To be honest, I initially thought that it might have been a blessing in disguise. I walked into a wall of noise, beards and hair, some of the latter being thrown around in a way that I haven’t been able to do since my youth. The band were mid-song and, while the music was droning (which befits their genre as described on Facebook) it was more melodic than the vocals, which were of the “cookie monster crossed with a Doberman desperately in need of a Strepsil” style that does nothing for me. It was almost a relief when it was announced that what was to come next was the last song of the set, but I found that my initial impressions were, perhaps, a little unfair as this epic track unfolded. The vocals were still off-puttingly barked but the music was tight and varied. An energetic guitar opening, again with not much variation until the track really got going, a short “Hey! Hey! Hey!” shout along from the audience and a surprisingly atmospheric section played on the neck of Daniel Downing’s guitar which built in speed as Tom Warner’s drums built in volume added to a whole that was, musically, impressive. Aloeswood might appeal to fans of Opeth, the only band I have found who can properly combine the beautifully atmospheric with near-brutality.

As the stage was made ready for the next band I spotted that one of my usual standing spots had become vacant and moved forward to stand by the sound desk, feeling the chill of the infamous aircon unit on the back of my neck. I could help but thing, somewhat wryly, that the often overpowering sound of the unit wouldn’t matter one bit tonight.

Darkest Era took to the stage to a pounding drum beat and, as their opening track started I realised that they were more in line with my musical tastes. They had  more traditional multi-vocal sound with audible lyrics and tunes in which you could distinguish separate guitar lines. There was synchronised headbanging, fist pumping and, in a theme that was to continue throughout the evening, more shouts of “Hey! Hey! Hey!”. The second track contained some tight changes of pace and a great melodic ending, the third was faster again, with more of a NWOBHM feel, but towards the heavier end of that genre. A slick twin guitar assault led to two more audience shout alongs of… well, guess what and a plea from frontman Krum for the audience to, “Scream for me!” and the end of the impressive track saw guitarists Ade Mulgrew and Sarah Wieghell high-fiving. In the same way that Viking metal songs tend to be based on Norse myths and legends, Darkest Era’s Celtic Metal sound mixes the musical style of the likes of Thin Lizzy, Saxon and Iron Maiden with lyrics based the dark side of Irish folklore, as evidenced by an earlier track’s lyric of “blood will run” and one of the two song titles I remember being introduced. During Songs Of Gods And Men you could almost hear the sound of pipes trying to break through in one brief section. The audience were lapping up the performance, with each shout along getting louder and more and more fists being pumped in the air. By the time the doom-laden opening of Awakens had made way for Krum’s screamed opening to the lyrics a proper metal-mosh-pit had kicked off and bodies were ricocheting off each other within it, much to the delight of the Krum himself, which might explain why he left the stage to come into the crowd during the next track. The earlier announcement that this was to be the last song was greeted with audible disappointment and, with Krum back on stage, its climax drew a veritable roar of appreciation from the crowd.

The Faroe Islands have a total population of less than fifty thousand. Týr, who hail from the islands, which sit North of Scotland, between Iceland and Norway and are part of the Kingdom of Norway, have nearly five time that number of Facebook likes and won band, album and album cover of the year at the inaugural Faroe Music Awards in 2014. They came onto stage to an indistinct voiceover and rumbling backing track, drummer Waltteri Väyrynen already behind his kit, one stick raised in salute, and were greeted by cheers and a mass of devil’s horns. Sinklars Visa saw Terji Skibenæs teasing the sound of pipes from his guitar, twin choral-chanted vocals and a mass clap along all of which evoked the feeling of a Viking hall which is, I guess, the whole point. The overall sound was loud but not brutal. Blood Of Heroes followed. Frontman Heri Joensen was stoic (good name for a Viking, that…) while Gunnar Thomsen on bass was more obviously enjoying himself, often mugging at the audience and the tattooed Skibenæs was lively around the stage. Väyrynen’s fast and furious drum opening to Hall Of Freedom was matched by the tongue-twisting vocals. The crowd in front of me was, by now, a sea of raised arms and flying hair and at least some were familiar with Tyr’s output. Hold The Heathen Hammer High saw to inflatable hammers being waved and thrown around the crowd. It has to be said, though, they were more “claw” than “Thor”. That track, with its impressive, fast and tight multi-vocals, was followed by By The Light Of The Northern Star, the fastest so far. Each song was being greeted by a roar from the crowd. The opening of The Lay Of Thrym slowed things down, its booming kick drum making the room vibrate while the band’s front line had a brief rest before the track exploded into life, initiating the liveliest mosh pit of the night. One of the inflatable hammers was thrown onto the stage and, barely missing a beat, Joensen stooped to pick it up and started hitting Thomsen with it.

Tróndur Í Gøtu, which saw the crowd pogoing almost as one, included more warrior chanting, the red stage lighting reflecting the tone of the track. An unexpected, metalled-up version of The Wild Rover (yes, that one…) was accompanied by an impressive mass sing-along which seemed to drag the whole crowd in and then the darker opening to Mare Of My Night befitted a song about nightmares before By The Sword In My Hand featured a rousing chorus. It was somewhat harder to sing along to Grindavísan, which was sung entirely in Faroese. A vocal backing track again, I think, in Faroese then led into Wings Of Time which was, in places, the slowest and most subtle track of the set, although it built all the way through until abruptly cutting back to the backing track at its climax. Turiò Torkilsdóttir saw a return to the multi-vocal chanting, this time made to echo around the venue, then came another mass sing-along to the second “hammer” song – Hail To The Hammer. Shadow Of The Swastika seemed to bring the set to a fast and furious end but, with Joensen telling us that it hadn’t, in fact, been the last song, Lady Of The Slain was, if anything, faster still. As that track finished plectrums were thrown into the crowd and the band left the stage with Thomsen, still grinning, taking time to shake hands with many at the front of the crowd.

It wasn’t long before they were back on, Joensen asking if we were still here and somebody else in the band (I forget who) quipping that they had homes to go to, before playing Ramund Hin Unge, with the crowd clapping along to the instrumental opening and singing along to the track proper, bringing the evening to a rousing end.

Týr might not have had the theatrical performance of Moonsorrow, but the gig was no less enjoyable and their music fit my tastes more than Moonsorrow’s did and, if there had been any available on the night, I could easily have added an album or two to my collection. Unfortunately, I think I heard that all merchandise had been snapped up early in the evening so this band are just going to have to take their place on my ever-growing “to buy” list.

Posted in Live Music | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ben Poole/Stevie Nimmo–Fibbers, 05/02/16

Big bloke, Scottish, playing the Blues, name of Nimmo – we’ve been here before, haven’t we? Well, no. While I’ve seen Alan Nimmo’s band three times, I’ve never seen his brother, Stevie, before tonight. In fact, being a relative newcomer to the Nimmos, until this gig was announced I wasn’t even aware that Stevie was still performing. Tonight he wandered on stage, along with rhythm section of Craig Bacon (drums) and Matt Beable (bass), with little fanfare, immediately encouraging the crowd to move forward with the promise, “I don’t bite.”

His opening track was, perhaps, a rockier style of Blues to that of his brother and included two instrumental sections, the second of which saw Stevie’s fingers moving up and down the whole neck of his guitar. The second track came without a break and something about the lyrics gave me the impression that it was a song giving the finger to the cancer that Stevie survived in 2009 and celebrating his return to music afterwards. Addressing the audience after that track, Stevie told them that it was his first time in York for many years and, like a fair few people playing Fibbers these days, joked that the last time he played the venue, it wasn’t here. Moving onto newer material, Change came from his latest album –  Sky Won’t Fall (to be released in March, but on sale at the merchandise stand tonight) – was slightly lighter musically, with quieter, more subtle vocals which belied the big man’s appearance. Again, fingers danced along guitar string during the instrumental section, which built the track nicely to its conclusion. “That’s coming,” said Stevie in response to a request from the audience, before the slower Running On Back To You, with its rich and delicious guitar playing and Stevie’s facial expressions showing all the passion of his brother and so many other Blues guitarists. This track made the previous one seem almost frothy in comparison and while Change built to a climax, this one faded out into a very quiet section (along the lines of King King’s A Long History Of Love) with a brief two note burst at the end. The guitar sections during Gambler’s Roll were, in places, a high-pitched scream, although much more pleasant than that description makes them sound, and that track received the best reception yet from the crowd. Back to Stevie’s first solo album – The Wynds Of Life – and Good Day For The Blues, written by David Grissom of U.S. band Storyville, was the most mainstream track yet. Something about the delivery brought to mind Elton John. Stevie explained that the next track, Eye Of The Storm, was written by a, “late, great friend back in Scotland,” prompting one audience member to speculate it was Frankie Miller. Stevie said not, although admitted that, whoever it was (if he said, I missed it) suffered from the same as Frankie, in that he liked a little drink. Again Stevie’s guitar “screamed” during a brilliant instrumental section that drew applause from the audience. A second guitar section saw those anguish-filled facial expression return. Beadle and Bacon provided a rhythm section opening for the final song of the set, while Stevie thanked us for listening. The catchy, un-Blues-like opening guitar section had at least one person near the front dancing, making the lyric “The way you looked at me tonight, you make me just wanna dance” somewhat appropriate, while “So cold outside” probably couldn’t have been more accurate. A playful sing-back with the crowd let into an extended instrumental section to bring the set to its end.

My first exposure to Ben Nimmo was when I saw a poster advertising an earlier gig – one that I was interested in but couldn’t get to – in York, probably a couple of years ago. Somewhat similar to the cover of his Live At The Albert Hall album (perhaps even the same, I can’t quite remember), it showed a muscular, tattooed arm playing a guitar and an up-tilted face. While the poster proclaimed Poole to be a young Blues guitarist, something about the picture said to me that he would be grittier, more “working class” perhaps, than other purveyors of the Blues that I had come across. So, I was slightly surprised when a slight young man (certainly younger than he looked on the poster) in a rather nice jumper came on stage tonight, his only concession to “gritty” being a ripped pair of jeans. His rhythm section was the same as Nimmo’s but Poole also added keyboard player Stevie Watts to his line-up.

Then there was the music. While you could have played me any snippet of a track from Nimmo’s set and I would probably have recognised it as Blues, Poole’s was different and, to me, not as instantly recognisable. (As usual, that is probably more down to my knowledge of the genre than anything else.) He opened his set in lively fashion before making things moodier with a track that showed off Watts prowess with a mid-song keyboard section that led into a full instrumental. Like Stevie, Ben waited until his third track to engage fully with the audience, explaining that Longing For A Woman was from his upcoming album and apologising for delays which meant that he wasn’t able to have any for sale on the night. The track opened quietly before crashing into life before calming down again, gentle vocal sections alternating with lively instrumentals. After, in his own words, rocking things up with Lying To Me, Ben told how he got into the Blues as a kid, when he was bought a copy of Eric Clapton’s Backtrackin’ album, then played a cover of Freddie King’s Have You Ever Loved A Woman?, opening solo before the rest of the band joined subtly, letting Ben’s guitar and vocals stay very much to the fore of the sound and then, as a whole, building abruptly until the keys were allowed to dominate and lead into a strong instrumental section and a final set of vocals. Compared to this near-epic, Just When You Thought It Was Safe, for which Ben changed to a battered looking guitar, was short and sharp, but no less enjoyable. Another mood change came with Time Might Never Come, which Ben explained was inspired by and dedicated to Gary Moore. Slower, this track had, to me, the most recognisable Blues sound of the set and featured a stunning instrumental section during which Ben wrung every drop of life out of his guitar and probably wore his plectrum down to a nub. Craig Bacon’s drum solo opened Are You Going To Stay At Mine?, a faster track which saw Matt Beadle’s liveliest performance of the evening and brought the main set to a close, with the foursome leaving the stage, with the obligatory thanks to the crowd for supporting live music, with cries of “More” already filling the venue.

With barely time for them to turn around in the green room the three band members came back on stage, opening the encore before Ben and Stevie returned together. “We’re going to have some fun now,” said one of the pair (I can’t remember which) before launching into an energetic version of Freddie King’s Going Down, with Stevie on vocals and with lead and rhythm guitar sections being passed between the two of them. Again Watts’ keyboards were allowed to come to the fore before the two frontmen encouraged the audience to participate in a sing-along. The extended cover and whole evening ended with what had the feel of a jam session, Ben and Stevie brilliantly playing off each other with smiles all round on stage.

Posted in Live Music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Live Music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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…

Posted in Live Music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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.

TheGentleStormTheDiary19406_f

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.

Public Service Broadcasting - 19328_b

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.

StevenWilsonHandCannot19329_f

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.

NightwishEndlessFormsMost19685_f

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.

Posted in CD Review, Year in Review | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Live Music, Year in Review | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Live Music | Tagged , , | Leave a comment