Caught Live: Nightwish, Heineken Music Hall Amsterdam NL 19 November 2015

Three years ago I made a late decision to go and see Nightwish at the o2 Apollo in Manchester (a venue I normally steer clear of nowadays), as they’d hurriedly drafted in Dutch singer Floor Jansen in place of Anette Olzon, after the latter took ill during the band’s ‘Imaginearium’ world tour and ultimately exited the band. Curiosity got the better of me that night, as I’d never heard a note from Jansen beforehand, yet had known of her reputation from her previous bands such as After Forever. I certainly knew all about her after that show; rather than looking like she’d been parachuted into the position just weeks before, she gave the audience the impression that it was HER band, and HER show with a dominant, assured performance. Such was the reception she got, it had to have convinced Nightwish founder Tuomas Holopainen that this was the right singer to take the band forward.

It wasn’t until another 12 months had passed by that the confirmation came through that Jansen would be the permanent lead vocalist, and the band also announced that British musician Troy Donockley (who had been touring with the group and played on the previous two albums) would be made a permanent member of the band too. The next album, the first to feature Floor Jansen (‘Endless Forms Most Beautiful’) was only released earlier in 2015 and came with another change in the ranks; drummer Jukka Nevalainen had revealed he was suffering from chronic insomnia, and in order to deal with that he was to step down from the drum stool. So it was Kai Hahto who played drums on the record and, at Nevalainen’s request, went on tour with the band.

The tour was announced as far back as March 2015; disappointingly there was only one UK date, and that was for Wembley Arena, and scheduled for the week before Christmas. Good for the prestige of the band but not so good for British fans who do not live close to London. Instead, a trip to Amsterdam (for the first of two shows at this venue) was far more appealing; you can fly there from Liverpool, the station has good links to Amsterdam Bijlmer Arena station where the venue and my hotel were both within walking distance. Plus, it would be the first ‘homecoming’ concert for the singer as a member of Nightwish.

As it turned out, the scheduled Wembley date clashed with another concert I had since booked so the decision to travel to Holland was for me, the correct one. Arriving at Bijlmer Arena station, I found the venue as soon as I stepped out of the station.  This part of Amsterdam is based around the nearby Amsterdam ArenA (home of Ajax football club) and features the Heineken Music Hall, a large cinema complex and a large shopping area. With the hotel just 200 metres or so around the corner, I was able to shower, change, get something to eat and join the queue before it got too long. The only downer was the wet weather!

While queueing, two stewards walked along the line to speak to the punters. Not being a Dutch speaker I didn’t understand a thing, so had to beckon over one of them to ask her to repeat in English what she’d said. She told me that there would be an increased security presence at this show; coming just a week after the terrible attacks on fans at a concert in Paris the venue management were understandably wary, and were asking for fans’ co-operation as they would be searched more thoroughly than usual on entry to the hall.

When the doors eventually opened, they were indeed conducting thorough searches. We were asked to empty our pockets as well as be frisked, it was a little like an airport security search but under the circumstances, it went well and I found myself in the main hall about six off the front. The Heineken Music Hall is a fairly big hall, mostly standing capacity but with two tiers of seats at the back. It reminded me a little of the Manchester Academy, only bigger, and had a large stage as would become clear later on.  There were signs up to advise fans that there would be pyrotechnics in the show; they were not kidding!

Esa Holopainen of openers Amorphis

Esa Holopainen of Amorphis

First up on this three-band bill were Finnish act Amorphis; I’ve seen this band only once before and that was in their homeland seven years ago. Their music, while definitely Metal, is influenced heavily by Finnish folk and gets quite progressive in places. They’re promoting current album ‘Under The Red Cloud’ and their short set featured several tracks from that record. Although I knew none of the material, it wasn’t far removed from the sort of thing they played when I saw them last, so it’s probably fair to say they haven’t moved on much from the ‘Silent Waters’ days. The other thing I took from that set, is that it came across as the ‘Tomi and Esa’ show; they’re a six-piece band but the focus was very much on vocalist Tomi Joutsen and guitarist Esa Holopainen. It was a good set, but no great surprises.

Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy

Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy

Next up were Arch Enemy, now featuring Canadian vocalist Alissa White-Gluz. I’ve seen this band once before also, when her predecessor Angela Gossow was fronting them, but that was several years ago now. They played well, with considerable energy and enthusiasm, and they did get a crowd going, but the whole thing left me rather cold. Musically, they sound a lot like In Flames circa ‘The Jester Race’ to me, much as I liked In Flames around 15 years ago I couldn’t get into this band the same way. Perhaps it was the blue-tressed frontwoman herself, for all her effort I just didn’t take to her at all.

After that a huge curtain dropped over the front of the stage, while the technicians prepared the stage for the headliners. It was a lengthy interval and it soon became clear why once Nightwish did hit the stage and the curtain fell. This was a huge stage set, raised platforms and drummer Kai Hahto seemed to be playing from miles back. Opening proceedings with ‘Shudder Before The Beautiful’ from the current album, it was the sort of pyrotechnic spectacular that we don’t see enough of in hard rock/metal nowadays. From the word go vocalist Floor Jansen was cheered to the rafters, this had to be a big moment for her as she fronted this band for the first time in her own country. Initially, she addressed the sold-out crowd in Dutch but switched to English straight away, declaring it an ‘international show’. Perhaps she was aware that many from other nations had travelled to Amsterdam, or else she thought that it would be better for her own bandmates as well as some of the audience. Whatever language she spoke between songs, her delivery of those songs was first-rate. I was a little surprised that they chose to perform fan favourite ‘Ever Dream’ third song in; but it went down a storm with the packed hall. The enormous stage meant quite a bit of distance between keyboardist Tuomas Holopainen on one side of the stage, and multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley (uilleann pipes, tin whistle, bouzouki, guitar and vocals) over on the other side. The gap was bridged somewhat by bassist Marco Hietala and guitarist Emppu Vuorinen, who flitted between the two static players frequently. Another surprise in the set tonight was that they performed ‘The Poet And The Pendulum’, not often played on this tour but no less dramatic when it was done.

(click thumbnails to view images)

Floor Jansen at HMH

Floor Jansen at HMH

Nightwish's Tuomas Holopainen

Nightwish’s Tuomas Holopainen

Floor Jansen in Amsterdam

Floor Jansen in Amsterdam

The show was a real event; chock full of epic songs, accompanied by stunning visuals and frequent pyrotechnics. I imagine the band would have to concentrate quite hard on staying away from the flames or fireworks that went off at regular intervals! Unlike in 2012, when it came across as ‘Nightwish featuring Floor Jansen’, tonight she was more fully integrated into the band. She was still given a rousing reception from her home crowd, and she was feted by Marco Hietala who encouraged the crowd to keep cheering her. After this, she introduced ‘Stargazers’ after asking the audience did they want a ‘golden oldie’ (of course they did!).

The set (running to over two hours) ended with the climactic ‘The Greatest Show On Earth’ before the band took their bows, the set ran for so long that there was little need for an encore.

This was without doubt one of the major events of 2015; as disappointing as it appeared that the band were only to play one UK date, it was alleviated somewhat by the easy reach of Amsterdam to those of us in Northern England. For anyone who is going to Wembley, strap yourself in for a wild ride!

Bassist Marco Hietala

Bassist Marco Hietala at HMH

Floor Jansen of Nightwish

Floor Jansen of Nightwish

Troy Donockley & Emppu Vuorinen

Troy Donockley & Emppu Vuorinen

 

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DVD: The Sex Pissed Dolls Live At Warrington Parr Hall (GlobeGig Media)

Filmed, edited, and released within a month. That has to be some sort of record, as this live DVD by all-girl cover band The Sex Pissed Dolls was in my hands just four weeks after I’d attended the show where it was filmed.  2015 has been the year of the Dolls; formed in early 2014 after an idea kicked about by a North West-based singer and her manager, the line-up of singer Nancy Doll, guitarists Connie Rotter and Kitty Vacant, bassist Jilly Idol and drummer Anna Key have gigged heavily on a tour dubbed the ‘Never Needed Bollocks Tour’, taking in venues up and down the country including a prestigious run of o2 Academy halls.

The band, despite the (magnificent) name, play punk and new wave covers from not just the Sex Pistols, but from a variety of acts mainly covering the 1976-1980 era. One or two from more recent times have made their set, but their extensive live gigging has earned them a devoted following calling itself the ‘Dolls Barmy Army’. I’ve caught the girls live myself on a staggering eleven occasions to date, and that is nothing compared to some who think nothing of traversing the country to see the Dolls live wherever they may pitch up. But who are the Dolls? Coming from a variety of backgrounds, singer Nancy Doll was previously well-known for her Amy Winehouse tribute act, while bassist Jilly Idol has extensive gigging experience in covers bands alongside her guitarist husband. Blonde lead guitarist Connie Rotter is only in her early 20s yet has several years’ live work under her belt, while Kitty Vacant has only just turned 20 but is a multi-talented musician and artist. When not being a Doll she paints, plays piano and guitar, and writes her own songs. When she IS being a Doll, it’s hard-hitting heavy rhythm guitar providing the metaphorical ‘bollocks’ to the band’s sound – as opposed to the unnecessary real ones (!)

The background of Anna Key is a little more difficult to explain; you see the ‘Anna Key’ who appears on this DVD had only just joined the band (this was only her second gig as a Doll, unbelievably) replacing previous drummer, also called Anna Key! The original Anna hailed from Belgium, was based in London and was a highly-regarded drummer, but after some months gigging with the Dolls she was offered the opportunity to relocate to Hollywood, where she currently resides and is now going under the name ‘Anna Mylee’. Meanwhile the brand new Key (sorry!) was recruited just before this landmark show and in a baptism of fire, played one show with the Dolls before the big one at Warrington. Anna Mk II proved to be a revelation to the punters who came to the Parr Hall, sounding like she’d been there all along, so well did she fit in.

This show was long in the planning, with Warrington being chosen presumably because of ease of access to the motorway network. Many Dolls Barmy Army devotees had come from all over the country to attend, whereas for yours truly it was a short trip along the A57. I’d actually chosen this gig over a previously-booked gig in Birmingham by Delain (one of my current favourite bands), and this date clashed with at least two other gigs I’d liked to have attended as well. The fact it was going to be filmed for DVD was what made me plump for this show, and that it was the culmination of several months’ hard work by the band, and their manager Paul Smith.

The DVD came in a bright yellow case, a single disc and with no frills whatsoever. Well, it was the ‘Never Needed Bollocks Tour’ after all! Pop the disc in, press ‘play’ and the first thing you see are vox pop interviews with some punters outside the Parr Hall. Many of these punters are veterans of the Dolls pit themselves, then you see the Dolls themselves backstage before they walk out onto the Warrington stage. The camera is trained on the steps as each band member walks out one at a time (the slinky walk from Jilly Idol is worth the watch in itself!) led by Connie Rotter, who opens the set with ‘Pretty Vacant’.

The production of this DVD focuses on getting the basics right; no clever effects, no jazzy angles, no grainy black and white inserts, again no ‘bollocks’ – just straightforward live footage from several viewpoints, focusing on Nancy where required, concentrating on Connie when it’s a lead solo, occasional shots from the crowd or of the crowd, cutting to different viewpoints and to shots of different members at a sensible (not TOO pacy) rate. As a result, the producers have pulled off the difficult trick of recreating on video the atmosphere and energy of a live Dolls performance. What becomes clear watching this show in the comfort of the sofa, is how good a live performer Nancy Doll is. She adopts the styles of the various vocalists she covers with ease while putting her own stamp on the whole thing. She is  very energetic on stage, this DVD also shows what a good singer she is. Following the live footage there are a few shots of the girls posing with their fans post-gig, a few more fan soundbites, then the credits.

For any member of the Dolls Barmy Army this is an essential buy, for those still wavering about them or for those yet to catch them live, this DVD should convince even the most sceptical. 2016 looks set to be even bigger for the Dolls with festival dates (including an opening slot at the Isle of Wight festival!) already coming in. Get in now, before they go really huge!

To order the DVD it is £12 plus £3 P&P (UK residents) via PayPal to spdmerchandise@hotmail.com.

The Sex Pissed DoLLs from Sex Pissed Dolls Official on Vimeo.

CD: CATS in SPACE ‘Too Many Gods’ (Harmony Factory)

Remember a time when the release of an album by your favourite band was an Event? When rock albums were allowed to be diverse, to offer something different with each track rather than ten variations on one theme?  A time when they didn’t worry about the look, the image or about aiming for the right ‘demographic’? This album from new act CATS in SPACE might be what you’re looking for, the whole thing harks back to a time when musicians made the music they saw fit, not to fit in with a prevailing trend or conform to anyone’s strictly-defined genre description.

CATS in SPACE are a new band comprising some players who are far from new to the scene: the personnel involved have worked with many major names including 10cc, Asia, and The Sweet. Indeed, original guitarist from The Sweet Andy Scott appears as a guest musician on lead-off track ‘Mr Heartache’. The instigator of this project, guitarist and songwriter Greg Hart is an unapologetic devotee of 1970s music, and his aim with this project was to create an album in the style of acts such as ELO or Queen, with diverse, catchy songs and a complete ‘package’ with distinctive artwork. Greg’s regular gig is as guitarist in touring 1970s revival act ‘Supersonic 70s Show’ (also billed as ‘Solid Gold 70s’), alongside fellow CAT in SPACE, keyboardist Andy Stewart. Also involved in this album are vocalist Paul Manzi, bassist Jeff Brown, guitarist Dean Howard and drummer Steevi Bacon. All these guys have vast experience performing with well-known names and rather than list them all here, I suggest a quick look on the band’s own site to illustrate just what we’re dealing with here.

The band have gone to great lengths to make their album release the sort of big event that used to accompany releases from the likes of Electric Light Orchestra for example, even releasing the album on high-quality vinyl in a gatefold sleeve for those who want the complete 1970s experience. There are even CATS in SPACE slipmats available for your turntable, if you want to go that extra mile!  The gatefold sleeve is recreated in miniature form on the CD release too, featuring artwork (depicting some very nice space-suited cat ladies in an alien landscape) from artist Joanna Wenczka. If you do plump for the CD, there is a bonus track (‘Schoolyard Fantasy’) on that format.

When I sent for this album it arrived within a couple of days, and was instantly in my hi-fi. It is the sort of album you need to listen to as a complete whole, and one you should play several times to let everything sink in. Once you have heard it a few times, the influences that permeate the record are clear for all to hear but you’ll also appreciate just how much has gone into the production of ‘Too Many Gods’. It really is a lavishly-produced effort, and one that rewards a few repeated listens to uncover its many layers.

To go through it all track-by-track would take up most of my evening (!) but in brief, you’ll hear bits of Queen in the guitars and distinctly Sweet-style vocal harmonies on title track ‘Too Many Gods’, material that references such artists as John Miles (‘The Greatest Story Never Told’, the album’s centrepiece), the Eagles (‘Only In Vegas’) and ELO (‘Man In The Moon’). That is not to say that the songs are mere knock-offs of those artists; Greg Hart’s strength in songwriting is to take those elements, and reshape them his own way so that you hear something new, yet familiar.

One thing that isn’t so retro is the lyrical content; ‘Stop’ is a song pleading for more humanity in an increasingly computerised, dystopian 21st century (‘no-one is interacting, cold fingers on a plastic screen’), while ‘Five Minute Celebrity’ is a Who-style hard rocker dealing with the current trend for ‘instant stardom’ created off the back of reality TV shows (‘you got no talent, but you want the fame’). ‘Last Man Standing’ deals with the decline of London’s so-called ‘Tin Pan Alley’ as property developers move in and ‘regenerate’ the area, destroying what made it so special in the process. Another thing you’ll notice on listening to the album is that, despite the major talent involved, there is no ‘overplaying’ – guitar solos where used, are short and to the point. Other instruments such as piano or sax are used where appropriate and not to show off anybody’s virtuosity. In short, it’s all about the SONGS, not the players!

This is the sort of record that, had it been released in 1975, would be in your older brother’s collection alongside John Miles or Supertramp, and one that you’d be going back to again and again.In 2015 it is more of a niche market, but with that 21st century phenomenon the Internet it should still reach enough fans of this style of music to enable those CATS in SPACE to reach orbit.

‘Mr Heartache’ – CATS in SPACE

‘Last Man Standing’ – CATS in SPACE

Jeff Lynne announces full arena tour, long-time fan shocked!

The announcement this week of an arena tour by Jeff Lynne’s ELO had me lifting my chin up off the floor. Not only is he playing a full UK/Ireland tour of 11 dates but the first of those shows is at Liverpool’s Echo Arena – exactly the kind of event this regular gig-goer has wanted since that place opened its doors in 2008. Colour me shocked, indeed!

I was a fan of Electric Light Orchestra from a very young age; I had the ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ single (a lengthy, drawn out cover of a Chuck Berry standard) and remember spending my pocket money on their mid-70s albums ‘A New World Record’ and ‘Out Of The Blue’. The latter was a double album on blue vinyl with a very lavish gatefold sleeve featuring some beautiful artwork, and I spent many happy hours listening to that album and looking at the art of the ‘ELO’ spaceship on the inner gatefold. I remained a fan of the group throughout their successful period, even when it was decidedly uncool to like them during the post-punk years. However I was rather too young to see the group at Wembley Arena in 1979, when they played a series of landmark concerts.

Following their 1979 album ‘Discovery’ (dubbed ‘Disco Very’ by keyboardist Richard Tandy because of its musical direction) founder Jeff Lynne decided he no longer required a string section and dismissed violinist Mik Kaminski plus cellists Hugh McDowell and Melvyn Gale. I began to lose touch with the band’s work after this as they worked on a film soundtrack (‘Xanadu’) with Australian singer Olivia Newton-John (then known for her country-tinged ballads) – even my unusually broad taste for a teenager back then couldn’t quite process that one (!)

Lynne did produce a few more albums under the ELO name but by this time they were effectively solo projects, he had parted company with almost all the members of the old band and by the mid-1980s he had started to make his name as a recording producer. Always happier working in the studio than performing live, he found himself working with the likes of George Harrison, producing the successful album ‘Cloud Nine’. He resurfaced in The Traveling Wilburys alongside Harrison, plus Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison and their debut album was a runaway success. Sadly Orbison died in 1988, and after a second album the curtain came down on the project.

Lynne next appeared in the public eye during the 1990s when he agreed to work with the surviving Beatles for two tracks based on demos left by the late John Lennon; these tracks would appear on a new Beatles anthology. Needless to say the lead-off song ‘Free As A Bird’ was a smash, and Lynne (a self-confessed Beatles fanatic) later looked back on this period as his greatest achievement. He would work with Harrison again on another album (‘Brainwashed’) but the death of the former Beatle in late 2001, before the album was finished meant Lynne was obliged to complete it with the assistance of Harrison’s son Dhani to the specifications left behind by Harrison.

The Electric Light Orchestra name had meanwhile been the subject of some dispute between Lynne and original ELO drummer Bev Bevan; the latter had been touring with some of his old colleagues under the name ELO Part II but ultimately, Lynne assumed full control of the ELO name after Bevan decided to retire and sell his own share in the name to his old colleague. He released the ‘Zoom’ album under the ELO name in 2001, but a proposed tour never materialised. Following this, he returned to the producer’s chair.

It wasn’t until 2012 that Lynne resurfaced, announcing that he had been working on not one, but two projects at his home studio and that both were ready for imminent release. The first of these albums was ‘Mr Blue Sky – The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra’; a compilation of ELO hits, completely re-recorded by Lynne who played almost everything on the new versions. He stated at the time that he felt that he could improve on the originals because of his subsequent production experience and also because he now had access to technology unavailable when the songs were first recorded. The other album (‘Long Wave’) was a covers album of songs which Lynne had first heard as a young boy growing up in his home city of Birmingham. With these releases, his profile was raised and he began to appear on television to promote the records. He also featured in a documentary, giving extensive interviews at his home and providing a look at his work in the studio. A few live appearances followed, and he played a huge show at London’s Hyde Park in autumn 2014 with a brand new line-up (the only other member of the classic line-up to appear was long-serving keyboardist Richard Tandy) under the name ‘Jeff Lynne’s ELO’. This concert was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 and filmed for later broadcast on television.  With the warm reception of that show, that has possibly persuaded Jeff Lynne into performing live in his home country again.

As someone who grew up listening to this band’s music, I am eagerly looking forward to the show at Liverpool Echo Arena. I am expecting to hear many of the hits, plus some from the new album (Lynne’s first in 14 years under the ELO name) alongside what is sure to be a spectacular stage show. Given that he is a private, reclusive man, this may be the only chance I’ll get to see the man who wrote all those hits perform live and it promises to be an unforgettable night.

Some of Electric Light Orchestra’s greatest hits:

‘Mr Blue Sky’ (original 1977 promo)

‘Livin’ Thing’ (1976)

‘Evil Woman’ (live, from ‘The Early Years’ DVD)

Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor 1954 – 2015

Like many rock fans ‘of a certain age’ shall we say, I was shocked to hear of the passing of former Motörhead drummer Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor at just 61. He had actually parted company with the band for the second (and final) time in 1992 but remained indelibly associated with that group, as part of the classic Lemmy/’Fast’ Eddie Clarke/Philthy line-up that cut such albums as ‘Overkill’ and ‘Ace of Spades’.

Motörhead during this period were considered the heaviest of the Heavy Metal bands around at that time, despite frontman Lemmy’s repeated insistence that they were playing nothing more than ‘rock ‘n’ roll’ – albeit very loud, hard rock ‘n’ roll. Nonetheless their influence on later Metal bands is undeniable, especially those associated with the Speed/Thrash scene of the early-to-mid 1980s. The double-bass drum attack intro to ‘Overkill’ directly inspired drummers such as Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. During 1980, ‘Philthy’ suffered a neck injury when, following some post-gig shenanigans, he was dropped on his head, He actually broke his neck but – amazingly – continued to play whilst wearing a neck brace; the band even dubbed one of their tours ‘The Short Sharp Pain In The Neck Tour’!

The classic line-up lasted only until 1982 however; following their triumphant live album ‘No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith’ which topped the UK album charts in 1981 differences between the trio began to emerge. First to quit was guitarist ‘Fast’ Eddie, replaced in controversial fashion by former Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian ‘Robbo’ Robertson. This line-up lasted less than a year, resulting in the ‘Another Perfect Day’ album of 1983, but on the road ‘Robbo’ refused to dress the part, and the collaboration soon ended when both he and ‘Philthy’ quit, leaving Lemmy to rebuild the band.

‘Philthy’ was brought back into the fold at Lemmy’s request in 1987, replacing Pete Gill who had been part of the reconstituted, four-strong Motörhead since 1984. He appeared on the 1987 album ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’, but by the next album, ‘1916’ which saw Lemmy relocate to the United States, he was on his way out once again. Mainman Lemmy was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Taylor’s playing and made the decision to replace him with new drummer Mikkey Dee, who remains with Motörhead to this day. On the completed album, ‘Philthy’ appears on only one track, ‘I Ain’t No Nice Guy’.

He played only sporadically from then on, appearing in numerous short-lived projects including one with former W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes, but in later years suffered from health problems. Following his passing on 11 November 2015, his old bandmate ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke posted on Facebook:

“My dear friend and brother passed away last night. He had been ill for sometime but that does not make it any easier when the time finally comes. I have known Phil since he was 21 and he was one hell of a character. Fortunately we made some fantastic music together and I have many many fond memories of our time together. Rest in Peace, Phil!”

There are countless bands who were directly influenced by the proto-Thrash sound of ‘Philthy’-era Motörhead and his legacy will be that thunderous, relentless double bass drum sound he brought to the Metal scene.

Motörhead – ‘Overkill’

Caught Live: Y&T, Tivoli Venue Buckley 8 November 2015

The old theatre in Buckley is re-establishing itself on the live scene with the current management staging gigs once more. Back in the glory days of the late 1980s there was a regular rock night and many name bands stopped off at this venue in a small, otherwise unassuming town in Flintshire. Legendary San Francisco rockers Y&T called here for the first time in their long history on this tour, and the gig attracted a healthy audience. An encouraging sign both for the future of this kind of thing here, and also for the upcoming rock nights which are shortly to be relaunched at ‘The Tiv’.

The old place is showing its age somewhat nowadays, the faded décor lends itself well to exactly this kind of event. Although a smallish theatre, it boasts a decent-sized stage and offers reasonably good views even further back, and is a good place for a live gig.

I arrived as openers Lawless were nearing the end of their set, they are nothing to do with Blackie but are a five-piece hard rock outfit hailing from Staffordshire. There were already a good number of punters on the floor for these guys, although they’re clearly a very accomplished live band with very good lead and backing vocals, they weren’t really my cup of tea.

After the openers exited the stage a selection of rock classics came through the PA, there was a DJ on the booth and this seemed to be some sort of taster as to what to expect when the new rock club night starts. They were quite quick in setting up the stage for Y&T, and the band arrived on stage at an unusually early time of 8:50. They wasted no time in getting the crowd rocking, opening with ‘Hurricane’ from their classic 1981 ‘Earthshaker’ album. Early, on, frontman Dave Meniketti observed that this was Y&T’s first visit ‘to this part of the world’ and asked the crowd who present was actually local. The muted cheers from a small pocket of punters elicited laughter from the singer/guitarist, as he realised many had travelled from the surrounding areas to this show. He was in jovial form throughout, with banter between songs involving himself and the crowd or himself and his bandmates.

Y&T live at Buckley Tivoli

Y&T live at Buckley Tivoli

The band tour the UK and Europe every autumn nowadays, as they have found they have a loyal following on these shores who turn out year after year. There hasn’t been an album of new material since 2010’s ‘Facemelter’, but that matters little to the audience who have come to hear the old favourites. Y&T have enough of a back catalogue to be able to change the set around from year to year and still play the songs people want; they even granted two requests during this set, performing ‘Lipstick and Leather’ in the main set, and in the encore, throwing in ‘Winds of Change’. There was still room for classics such as ‘Rescue Me’, the guitar showcase ‘I Believe In You’, and of course ‘Forever’. As usual, Meniketti was in excellent form both with the guitar and with the voice, for a man of 61 he is in fantastic shape and still has ‘it’- he’s in as good form today as he was in 1984, when yours truly first saw the original band at Donington. Incidentially, that day they were billed higher than Mötley Crüe – this week, the Crüe were also touring but were headlining huge arenas on their farewell tour, while Y&T made their regular stopoffs at the smaller venues. Y&T have always been more of a down-to-earth, honest rock band though, even though they paved the way for many other (arguably less talented) bands to break through during the hair metal years.

Y&T's Dave Meniketti at Buckley Tivoli

Y&T’s Dave Meniketti at Buckley Tivoli

Meniketti’s current line-up of guitarist John Nymann, drummer Mike Vanderhule and bassist Brad Lang were once again excellent, solid playing and superb backing vocals. If you were not familiar with this group you’d be forgiven for thinking these guys had been part of the band all along, they really do gel that well. After a set that must have totalled two hours they finally took their bows.

This is a defiantly old-school, old-fashioned rock band who still command a great deal of respect, and are well worth catching when they come to your area.

The return of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow

First post at my new home for music-related musings, and it comes in the week when legendary guitarist Ritchie Blackmore finally announced a -solitary- UK date for his first show under the Rainbow name in twenty years, at Birmingham’s Genting Arena (a venue I continue to refer to as the NEC Arena).

Blackmore is my all-time guitar hero, the albums he made with Deep Purple and Rainbow are still favourites in my record collection and although I have respect for anyone who knows their way around a fretboard (especially since I had a go at it myself, and found myself badly wanting!), he remains the player I still think of first when thinking of rock guitar.

Of course, he has been going in a totally different direction than rock since the mid-1990s, when he formed the folk-rock outfit Blackmore’s Night with his partner (now wife), singer Candice Night. She had contributed backing vocals and some lyrics on the last album Blackmore issued under the Rainbow name (‘Stranger In Us All’) and toured with the band, however on completion of those dates Blackmore walked away from his illustrious rock past and did what he had been threatening in interviews to do for some time, play Renaissance-inspired folk music complete with period costume for himself and all who performed alongside him.

He has since issued ten studio albums to date, and gained a following among fans not necessarily familiar with his previous work. He has also retained some of his old fans but lost many more, as those fans could not get to grips with seeing one of rock’s premier league axemen suddenly eschew the instrument in favour of a hurdy-gurdy or mandolin. I count myself among that latter group; I once saw Blackmore’s Night when they called at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall some years back and found the experience frustrating. Only when he broke out the Stratocaster for a rendition of ’16th Century Greensleeves’, complete with a stunning lead solo with THAT unmistakable guitar tone filling the room, did all seem right with the world. I have not kept up with his work since then, save for the occasional remake of an old Rainbow song, until now when he confirmed that he would play a short series of rock shows one last time.

Tickets went on pre-sale on 4th November before a general sale on 6th November, and there has already been tremendous interest in this solitary British date. It is likely to sell out very quickly, so it remains to be seen whether any further dates will follow. I am not holding my breath, since the man will be 71 years old by the time this gig happens, and has already made clear it is a one-off return. However, for those (myself included, who saw Rainbow for the only time in September 1983) who have waited decades for this, it is an unmissable event – regardless of who actually lines up alongside The Man In Black.

The big question of who will be the vocalist has still to be revealed; all Blackmore will say is that he is “a cross between Freddie Mercury and Ronnie James Dio” –  a mouthwatering prospect for a still-unknown singer. He has confirmed that the set will include both Rainbow and Deep Purple favourites, so whoever this singer is, he has a big task on his hands.

UPDATE! The line-up for the upcoming shows has now been revealed; joining Blackmore are bassist Bob Nouveau, drummer David Keith (the only member of Blackmore’s Night to be involved; he is known as ‘Troubadour of Aberdeen’ in that band), Stratovarius keyboard player Jens Johansson (cue a few raised eyebrows as he has played previously with both Dio and Yngwie Malmsteen), and the vocalist is Ronnie Romero of the band Lords of Black. With the exception of Jens Johansson, these players are virtual unknowns to most fans, so there has no doubt been some YouTube ‘research’ going on since this announcement was made (!)

I’m very excited at the prospect of seeing my favourite rock guitarist once more, playing the very music that continues to shape my tastes to this day. Many bands I follow today are directly influenced by Ritchie Blackmore; indeed the entire European Power Metal scene can be traced directly back to the material found on ‘Rising’ and ‘Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll’.

Long Live Ritchie Blackmore, and Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll!

Rainbow – Kill The King (live)

Rainbow – A Light In The Black