Gigs of 2015

It’s been another good year for live gigs and as this blog has had an enforced move to a new home, meaning many of my previous posts have gone to internet heaven, I thought I’d do a recap of the shows I’ve seen this year.

I didn’t get to any shows until February when I saw 1970s legends 10cc perform at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall. This was a fabulous show, impeccable playing and with a set list packed with classic songs. They performed the whole of the album ‘Sheet Music’ in the first part of the show and delivered a greatest hits set in the second half. Only bassist Graham Gouldman remains from the classic line-up, but he can claim legitimacy with this current band as it features guitarist Rick Fenn (who joined in 1977) and drummer Paul Burgess, who toured with the group from the outset and played on albums from ‘Deceptive Bends’ onwards. Regardless of the personnel, this was a terrific concert and one that made me wonder why I hadn’t gone to see them before now.

Feburary also saw Queen + Adam Lambert visit Liverpool when they came to the Echo Arena; Lambert proved to be an inspired choice to front the revamped band, bringing theatrics, camp humour and showmanship back to Queen. He also showed himself perfectly capable of handling the broad scope of Freddie’s material, from the hard rock of ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ through to lighter stuff such as ‘Killer Queen’. I was fortunate enough to see Queen when Freddie was alive, and I think he would definitely have approved of Adam Lambert.

Another band I saw that month were one I had never heard of before: Italian rockers The Cyon Project. They had actually emailed me out of the blue with an EPK and I learned from that they were to play in Liverpool. On that basis I went to check them out, they were playing in a basement at a bar in the city centre with hardly anyone there. That didn’t matter a jot as they served up a storm, their sound is very much influenced by the ‘desert rock’ sounds of Queens of The Stone Age. I have followed them since, and hope to catch them again should they come back to this country soon.

In March The Answer came to town, not only that but they picked St Patrick’s Night to come and play! Liverpool’s East Village Arts Club was the setting, as the band hit the stage to play tracks from new offering ‘Raise A Little Hell’. Frontman Cormac Neeson was even dispensing whiskey shots to the front row, and did his usual trick of jumping out into the standing floor to play ‘in the round’ as it were. They always give you 100 percent and leave everything out there, and this was no exception. Also in Liverpool this month were progressive rockers Lifesigns (who appeared at the Zanzibar), featuring local-boy-made-good John Young. The audience seemed to be a reunion of the old Merseyside rock scene with so many familiar faces, and the guys gave a far-from-staid performance with some energetic moves in particular from bassist Jon Poole.

Two guys called Dan visited the o2 Academy in March, these being Dan Reed (of Network fame) and Danny Vaughn, of Tyketto and many other things. This was an acoustic, stripped back show with just the two of them with acoustic guitar and voices. A very intimate and personal show, it proved to be a revelation for me since I was never a fan of Dan Reed particularly, but enjoyed his part as much as I did Danny Vaughn, who I knew would be good. I also made a long trip across the Pennines to Leeds to check out Halestorm, then touring the UK and playing some material from their then still-to-be-released third album ‘Into The Wild Life’. They played a blinder of a set, featuring many tracks from second album ‘The Strange Case Of…’ and had a packed crowd rocking from first song to last. However, the same couldn’t be said of fellow American band Rival Sons, who stopped off at Liverpool’s o2 Academy and sold out the 1200-capacity upper floor. They played well enough, but the near-total indifference of frontman Jay Buchanan to the packed audience killed it for me, he gave hardly an acknowledgement all night. The real momentum-killer came when they set up to play a brief acoustic interlude, this took several minutes to set up and they just completely ignored the audience while it went on, nothing from the singer, not even a glance towards the packed throng. As a result I felt completely disconnected from the band, and found this show to be a rather disappointing affair.

On to April and it was back to the o2 Academy, this time in the more intimate downstairs venue, for an evening of punk and new wave classics. This was not my first encounter with all-girl outfit The Sex Pissed Dolls, having seen them on two occasions previously, but this was a markedly different experience from those two early gigs. The secret weapon was the addition of a second guitarist (Kitty Vacant), who made her presence felt immediately with a very heavy rhythm guitar sound. That made so much difference to the band, who already had a good rhythm section in bassist Jilly Idol and drummer Anna Key, and in singer Nancy Doll, they have a figurehead who IS what she seems – a hard rocking, energetic performer who can handle diverse material (from ska to heavy guitar-led punk) with ease. Add lead guitarist Connie Rotter to the mix and this was a potent force, five women showing the guys how it’s done. I went on to see the Dolls several more times throughout the year in many towns across the country, such was their appeal they soon developed a fan following dubbed the ‘Dolls Barmy Army’!

In May I took a little musical diversion to see… Chas ‘n’ Dave! The 1980s ‘rockney’ duo pitched up in Liverpool, supported by The Lancashire Hotpots, and this promised to be a terrific night. The Hotpots I know all about, having seen them more times than I care to remember, but Chas ‘n’ Dave were simply awesome to watch. No frills whatsoever, just fabulous playing intertwined with uniquely British humour. Dave came back from retirement and blew me away with unbelievably dextrous bass playing, while Chas made it look so easy, even getting a Liverpool crowd singing along to ‘London Girl’! Another diversion took me to Runcorn’s Brindley Theatre in June to check out Solid Gold 70s Show; this is a live band featuring male and female vocals and covering hits from the 1970s. They dress the part, even have a Raleigh Chopper cycle to ride on stage and they don’t always play the obvious hits. Well worth a look when they come around again.

In July we were relatively spoiled in Liverpool for gigs; veteran rockers Tyketto pitched up at the o2 Academy supported by Norwich rockers Bad Touch, who I’d caught earlier in the year supporting The Answer. Both bands were good, but Tyketto and particularly main man Danny Vaughn were in outstanding form, with a succession of superb songs delivered by a fantastic voice. There was a good turnout too, and that was also the case for Swedish retro-rockers Blues Pills a couple of weeks later. Fronted by female singer Elin Larsson, this band are all quite young but look and sound like they have stepped straight out of 1971. It reminded me in places like early Sabbath, and their songs often spun out into jams. They aren’t the finished article by a long way, but are well worth catching up with before they do develop into the stars I think they will soon be.

Also in July I finally got to see Joanne Shaw Taylor, an English blues guitarist and singer of considerable talent who I’d missed out on up until then. Performing at St Helens Citadel, before an audience comprised mostly of guys my own age or older, in some cases approaching twice that of JST (!), she wowed the audience with some truly sublime playing, accompanied only by a drummer and a bassist. Meanwhile back in Liverpool, ex-Screaming trees man Mark Lanegan paid a visit. He performed in the larger upstairs venue of the o2 Academy and drew a healthy crowd. He isn’t known for his stage dynamics, a grunted ‘thank you’ was as good as it got. However it was a good performance, and although he is about as good as Rival Sons’ Jay Buchanan in engaging with the crowd (i.e. not at all!), he made up for it with a commanding presence while at the microphone. and THAT unique, throaty vocal delivery.  In amongst all of this, I’d been traversing up and down the country following those Sex Pissed Dolls as they played almost every weekend at this point, and were gathering new fans everywhere they went…

One of my wishes was granted in August with the return of Halestorm to Liverpool’s o2 Academy after five years. In 2010 I saw them support Theory Of A Deadman and all but steal the show, and in the meantime they’d gone on to release three albums and steadily increase their profile to become one of the biggest rock bands of the current scene. Their return  Liverpool date was one of only two UK dates this time; billed as ‘A Wild Evening With Halestorm’ with no support, and with the band playing two sets. One of these would see them perform their latest album ‘Into The Wild Life’ in full. I wasn’t totally taken with that album when it came out, but live it made much more sense. On record it came across in places like a Lzzy Hale solo album but on the stage with the four of them, it sounded harder, rockier and much more like the Halestorm we had grown to love. The other set was an acoustic run through of some of their favourites, and the show was enthusiastically received by the crowd, some of whom had travelled for long distances to be in Liverpool.

Into September, and another trip to see the Sex Pissed Dolls, by now becoming my favourite band! This time they pitched up at the Robin 2 in Bilston (near Wolverhampton), and the support was my first introduction to South African duo The Soap Girls. Consisting of two sisters (Camille, or ‘Mille’ on bass and primary vocal, and Noemie, or ‘Mie’ on lead guitar/vocals), both of whom drew the attention of the males there immediately with their stunning good looks. Both are slender, leggy blondes who could pass for supermodels, but their set was something else entirely. They play with a hired drummer on the road, so this was a trio format. It was Mille who took most of the attention, painting herself up and putting heart and soul into an intense performance. The ‘heart’ was quite literal too, for one song (‘Bloody’) she actually produced a packaged lamb’s heart bought from a nearby supermarket, in order to illustrate her contempt for political figures, which was the theme behind the song. This show was part W.A.S.P., part Alice Cooper, part glam rock and part audience participation. They even invited audience members onto the stage to drink a cocktail of their own concoction (dangerous!) and consume such delights as raw fish. It wasn’t all gimmickry; Mille demonstrated a superb singing voice that reminded me of Lzzy Hale in places, P!nk in others, while Mie combined a softer singing voice with a very heavy guitar sound. The girls made a lasting impression on many of the Dolls Barmy Army, so much so that they drew some of the Dolls regulars (myself included) to several subsequent gigs of their own during their stay in the UK. The Dolls themselves were undergoing a change in the ranks, as their drummer had been offered the chance of a lifetime to relocate to LA. In the interim, the Dolls were performing with stand-in drummers until they settled on a permanent replacement.

October proved to be a frustrating month as ever, many bands hit the road at this time of year and it often leads to gig clashes. This happened in a huge way on the 23rd, as there were at least three gigs I would have liked to see all happening on the same night! I passed on Dan Reed Network, Steve Hackett, and Delain in Birmingham (which I’d actually planned to go to) in order to catch those Sex Pissed Dolls yet again. This gig, at Warrington Parr Hall, was one that had been trailed for a long time as it was to be filmed for a live DVD. Consequently their now-devoted fans had travelled from far and wide to be there, but this was only the second gig by their new permanent drummer, who had assumed the ‘Anna Key’ moniker of her predecessor. This Anna proved to be a revelation; sounding like she had been with the group all along, it came as a major surprise to find she had only met the rest of the band for the first time the previous day! The show went over great and as usual, the girls made time to meet and greet those who came to see them.

The next night I did go and see Delain, at Manchester University. They were headlining a three-band bill, with a local opener (A Mouth Full Of Matches) and main support The Gentle Storm. I’d booked the VIP package for this show; these things usually involve a signing, a pic session and a few items for your collection as well as priority access to the venue itself. All of which were provided here, but singer Charlotte and guitarist Timo were also performing two acoustic songs exclusively for VIP holders. This was worth the package in itself, but after the night before I was glad to get on the barrier at the front. A Mouth Full Of Matches turned out to be a very good band, mixed-gender with male vocal but female drummer and guitarist, and playing what’s best described as anthemic alternative rock. I wasn’t so keen on The Gentle Storm though, not because they were bad but their operatic Metal wasn’t to my taste. I was looking forward to seeing Delain as usual, but on this occasion I was a bit disappointed, as the bass dominated the sound to the point where I was struggling to hear other instruments. Charlotte sounded on great form as usual, but I did not enjoy this one as much as I had before.

There was one more gig to come the next night, as legendary rocker Glenn Hughes returned to his home country for a UK tour, on this occasion playing at the fabled Picturedrome in Holmfirth. With just guitarist Doug Aldrich (ex-Whitesnake) and drummer Pontus Engborg for company, he had some heavy artillery backing him. Once again I’d taken up the VIP option, as it offered me the chance to meet Glenn, someone I’d admired for a long time. He greeted me like a long-lost friend, although we’d never met before he does ‘know’ people through Twitter, something he is very active on. I do know Doug from meeting up at previous gigs with Whitesnake and Dio, and it was great to see him again. We also got to see the trio soundcheck, and the sheer weight of the sound hit me immediately as they ran through ‘Stormbringer’.  Once again, VIP access got me onto the front and once again, I needed it. This was one of the heaviest shows I’ve seen Glenn Hughes give, and it was impressive to see this trio reinterpret Deep Purple material originally written for five. I caught the Hughes trio (or Hughes Force One, as it was dubbed) once more in Manchester before heading to Northern Ireland for ‘An Evening With Doug Aldrich’. Appearing at the Diamond Rock Club in Ahoghill, the format was informal with Doug playing guitar accompanied by backing, or fielding questions from the audience. He played some bits from his 1990s solo albums, a little Whitesnake, a little Dio and anything else which came to mind. He was asked about his departure from Whitesnake and what he thought of (successor) Joel Hoekstra, but that is all on record anyway. I did ask about the cover of Whitesnake’s ‘Good To Be Bad’ that was being performed with Glenn Hughes, Doug told us that he had suggested that to Glenn for the set, and to the Deep Purple man’s credit, he went with it. Doug was, as ever, generous with his time following this performance, signing stuff and posing for pictures.

In November veteran US rockers Y&T came over for their now-annual autumn tour of the UK, I chose to attend their gig at the Buckley Tivoli which is a venue I do enjoy visiting. Dave Meniketti’s troupe never disappoint and they did not that night, with the main man showing why he has remained at the top of his game all this time with some incredible guitar playing. As a guitarist he’s up there with Gary Moore in my view, and it is to be hoped these UK tours will go on for some time yet.

Earlier in the year a friend won tickets to the last day of Hard Rock Hell, an annual festival held at a holiday camp in November. This year it was staged at Hafan-y-Mor in North Wales, better known as Butlins Pwllheli to many people. There were a few acts we’d hoped to catch and the first band we saw were The Black Spiders. They gave a good, solid, entertaining set without really blowing me away, but are worth catching if they are in your area. Scottish rockers Gun were also on this bill, and were excellent. Now fronted by bassist-turned-vocalist Dante Gizzi, the revamped band gave a set packed with fan favourites but also several from their latest album. A revelation for me were 1980s survivors Faster Pussycat; only singer Taime Downe remains from their classic era but this was an excellent if a bit nostalgic set that had the main hall bouncing around. On the second stage I caught duo The Picturebooks, who were good and loud but their drum sound is a bit hard on the ears after a while, and Staffordshire rockers Lawless. I ‘d wanted to catch these having seen the end of their support slot at the Y&T gig the week before, and they were a very good live band with a particularly good vocalist. However, their material didn’t really push my buttons, and they may be one of those bands you have to see a few times to ‘get’ them. Last band I saw that night were veteran NWOBHM titans Saxon. They were playing to a totally packed main hall, and delivered a monumental live set. There were plenty of new songs but also plenty of favourites, and one such favourite ‘20000 feet’ was introduced by vocalist Biff as having been an influence on the Thrash scene of the mid-80s. Hearing it done live, you understood why! Biff is now 64 but sounded as good as ever, and the band as a whole gave a Heavy Metal masterclass.

I then took a trip across the North Sea to Amsterdam, in order to see Finnish symphonic titans Nightwish. I had booked this show earlier in the year in preference to their only British date at Wembley Arena, reasoning that it was actually easier and cheaper to do that! This show came just a week after the horrific incident at the Bataclan in Paris, and security had been tightened on entry to the Heineken Music Hall where the gig was scheduled to take place. However this was explained to the queue before the doors opened, and the searches went as well as could be expected given the huge crowd eager to get into the hall. Once in, we had Amorphis open the show (Finnish folk-inspired Metal), then Arch Enemy (Swedish melodic death Metal, but fronted by Canadian singer Alissa White-Gluz). I enjoyed Amorphis but wasn’t so keen on Arch Enemy, whose repertoire seemed based on many other bands I’d heard before. Nightwish however, were everything I’d hoped for. Huge stage show, pyro, big sound, spectacular visuals and terrific playing of epic songs. Then they had Floor Jansen to top it all off – probably the best female singer in rock since Ann Wilson, she was absolutely magnificent from first song to last. I enjoyed my trip to Holland for this show, and would definitely come again to see another gig.

On a much smaller scale, I headed over to Whitchurch (close to the Welsh border in Shropshire) for the final gig by the Soap Girls before they headed home to South Africa. I and others had got to know the girls having seen them play live on several occasions during their stay, and they braved the cold weather in fine style. The gig was as crazy as ever, with on-stage drinking and consuming of raw fish among other things. Following their set, their mother and manager Sam (who acts as driver, road crew, photographer and where necessary, security) gathered many of the punters present for a pic session with the girls. They stayed to chat to punters for some time afterwards and say their goodbyes, promising to return in 2016 for more UK dates. They made many friends during their stay and will not be a secret for much longer.

Into December and a rare trip to Liverpool’s Echo Arena for a gig by veterans Status Quo. Having only got a ticket on the night, I was sat in the side tier but still with a reasonable view. Supported by Wilko Johnson, who gave a short but entertaining set, Quo treated us to a run-through of their hits and fan favourites. For guys who have been doing this for almost as long as I’ve been walking this earth, they still play with commendable enthusiasm. They usually do stop off in Liverpool too, so I will make the effort to see them again next year if they do so again. Bringing it up to date, my most recent show was at Birmingham NEC for the double-header of Whitesnake and Def Leppard, with Black Star Riders supporting. BSR were better than I had expected, their set no longer leaning on Thin Lizzy classics as heavily and with plenty of anthemic singalongs of their own now. Whitesnake were, well, Whitesnake. They had two new members in guitarist Joel Hoekstra and keyboardist Michele Luppi, but it’s all about that old fella out front. David Coverdale is now 64 but still has the ability to command an audience with a mere gesture, or a look. He is not what he once was, but still has a big roar, and his band is definitely selected as much on the basis of their singing as well as playing prowess. All bar drummer Tommy Aldridge contribute vocals, and guitarist Reb Beach has taken a leading role with the exit of his old partner Doug Aldrich. The set contained several Deep Purple classics, and I’d have liked one or two more as they are promoting an album of Purple covers, but they gave their usual highly enjoyable set. Def Leppard closed out the show, and I was hoping to enjoy them as much as I have in the past, but the sound from my spot on the front was atrocious. Swamped totally by bass from a nearby cabinet, it destroyed my enjoyment of this set, mainly a crowd-pleasing run through of their hits peppered with one or two from the new album. I wanted to see this show once more while it was here, but that wasn’t to be and so I never got to see the Leppards at their best. Hopefully the next time I see them it will be a better mix.

So that’s my gigs of 2015 and I hope to see many more gigs in 2016!

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