Prince 1958 – 2016

It doesn’t get any better, does it?

The latest musical star to pass away was one that definitely caught me by surprise, unlike many others in recent months who were not, shall we say, all that shocking however sad the news was. Prince has been performing live right up to the end, and it wasn’t even considered that he may have not been well. At just 57, and notwithstanding the fact he recorded music constantly, he had much more to come.

Prince, or Prince Rogers Nelson, first emerged at the end of the 1970s in the midst of the disco boom but it was in 1983 that he really broke through, first with the ‘1999’ album spawning hit singles such as the title track and ‘Little Red Corvette’ and then in 1984, with his ‘Purple Rain’ film and accompanying soundtrack album. At this time he was being put up as a rival to ‘King of Pop’ Michael Jackson, and it could be said that while 1983 was definitely Jackson’s year with his huge-selling ‘Thriller’ album, 1984 definitely belonged to Prince. Unlike Jackson, who worked extensively with producer Quincy Jones to deliver his million-sellers, Prince preferred to exact total creative control over his output. He would write, produce and perform all instruments himself in the studio, putting bands together for live work such as The Revolution and then New Power Generation.

He went on to score several more hit albums and singles throughout the 1980s, but by the 1990s he was becoming tired of what he saw as interference from his record company. They saw it differently, as they felt he had creative freedom unprecedented in the business, even having his own label (‘Paisley Park’). It was as a result of a dispute with Warner Brothers that he took to changing his name to an unpronounceable symbol (which he’d already used on his 1992 album) and painting ‘SLAVE’ on his face in protest at his perceived status. He kept that symbol as his name for several years, and the media would circumvent it with the acronym ‘TAFKAP’ – standing for ‘The Artist Formerly Known As Prince’, later being shortened to simply ‘The Artist’. Prince was of course, renowned for his eccentric behaviour already, and this merely added to the enigma.

Prince reclaimed his given name in 2000 and continued to issue albums on a startlingly frequent basis, although he never really hit the charts to the same extent again. His live reputation remained strong however, and in 2007 he played a staggering 21 nights at the o2 Arena in London. At around this time he issued an album (‘Planet Earth’) as a covermount CD given away with a Sunday newspaper in the UK. This caused a sensation in the music business and gave Prince some valuable publicity for his series of shows. As recently as 2014 he appeared in the UK once more, announcing where and when he would perform only at short notice, with one of those gigs in Manchester causing a huge scramble to see him play.

His music touched on many styles, ranging from disco/funk to rock, with many other elements. One controversial episode which he had nothing whatsoever to do with, was when he appeared on the cover of hard rock magazine Kerrang! in 1984. The title ran a feature on his live performance in Detroit, spanning several pages and, referring to his prowess with the guitar, it made the bold (at the time) statement: ‘Hendrix take heed, you have a successor’. The decision to put what was considered a pop star on the cover went down like a lead balloon with the magazine’s predominantly Metalhead readership then, but his subsequent career vindicated the magazine’s stance. He was an influence on many artists, and probably indirectly spawned the ‘funk rock’ spate of bands that appeared in the late 80s spearheaded by Dan Reed Network.

There is little available online of Prince performing, as he was infamously strict on what he allowed to appear online. He even once had a clip of him performing a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ pulled from YouTube, causing that band’s frontman Thom Yorke (the writer) to call for it to be reinstated so that they and their fans could see it. Another cover that made headlines was when he played an extract of  Foo Fighters’ ‘The Best Of You’ during his performance at the SuperBowl halftime show; it was reported that he did that in answer to the Foos covering his own song ‘Darling Nikki’, but the band’s drummer Taylor Hawkins acknowledged that Prince ‘did it better than we did’.

A link to that entire performance can be seen here (courtesy NFL)

You don’t have to have been a fan of his to appreciate his huge impact on popular music, and this latest loss is one that ranks alongside Lennon, Bowie, or even his one-time chart rival Michael Jackson.


Leaves’ Eyes switch singer, fans bemused

Fans of European symphonic metallers Leaves’ Eyes (a group fronted by Norwegian singer Liv Kristine alongside the members of Atrocity, a German metal band fronted by her husband Alexander Krull) awoke to a surprise on April 16th to an announcement on social media that there was now a new lead singer in place of Kristine. They had even published a group photo featuring the new vocalist, a classically-trained Finnish singer called Elina Siirala. The accompanying statement told the fans that Kristine had parted company with the band ‘for personal reasons’ and attempted to assure them that this was all amicable. Siirala was known to some of the fans already as her own band EnkElination (also known as Angel Nation) had supported Leaves’ Eyes on a recent tour of the UK; still this news came completely out of the blue to almost everybody who followed the group.


Complicating matters further was that this change has come about midway through a touring cycle to promote the band’s current album ‘King of Kings’, with European dates coming up and a US tour planned for later in the year. There were promotional trailers for the upcoming tour dates posted on YouTube which featured Kristine, and of course all the merchandise would have been already prepared with her photo printed on T-shirts. In addition, the group was very much seen as her vehicle; the band name itself ‘Leaves’ Eyes’ is a corruption of ‘Liv’s Eyes’. Straight away fans suspected this wasn’t quite how the group statement painted it; why would the singer walk from a band built around her and formed specifically to showcase her voice and her lyrics? The group’s material drew heavily on Norse mythology and on almost every album cover, Kristine is prominently featured (a notable exception being most recent album ‘King of Kings’).

Within a day the singer herself responded to the ‘official’ band statement, contradicting the band’s position that it was a mutual decision (despite a quote attributed to Kristine herself in the band’s press release) and commenting on her own Facebook page that the band must have had her replacement lined up and ready to step in long before the statement was released. Certainly the day after the news broke, the band did indeed perform live with Siirala fronting them at a festival in Indonesia. Needless to say, fans reacted angrily once it became clear that this was far from a mutually-agreed split, with some of the more unreasonable posts even taking it out on Siirala herself, which then prompted a furious response from the EnkElination camp. This was quickly overtaken by events as both Kristine and her former band posted further details, with the band claiming there was a meeting with a mediator and Kristine insisting she had been ‘fired from my own band’. Given that she and co-vocalist Krull were married, that only served to fuel further speculation, although all parties were keen to keep the members’ personal lives out of it.


The whole thing unfurled very quickly and became the most acrimonious split since Tarja Turunen was fired from Nightwish a decade ago. Certainly, from the viewpoint of an outsider, this whole thing was handled with astonishing ineptitude. Kristine is one of the symphonic Metal genre’s best-loved vocalists and a leading light of the entire scene; the band was her vehicle and it beggars belief for the rest of the group to think they could switch her for another singer just like that and expect their fans to simply accept it. Elina Siirala must be wondering what she has let herself in for, presumably the gig was sold to her as a major opportunity to tour the world and record with a name band. While she is an undeniably talented singer in her own right, it is a big ask to bring in a relatively unknown singer to deliver lyrics written from Kristine’s perspective and to do it with absolutely no warning to fans that this change was imminent.

Before I knew of the full facts behind this change I wondered why it could not have been handled in a similar way to Arch Enemy; when their vocalist Angela Gossow left the band it was she who announced that she was to step down, explained why (to focus on the business side of the act) before announcing Alissa White-Gluz as her successor and asking the fans to continue to support the band. That was the correct way to deal with a change of frontwoman, and it was only when Kristine revealed her side of the story did I understand why it wasn’t dealt with like that by Leaves’ Eyes.

Looking at the posts on the respective Facebook pages it isn’t difficult to choose who to side with; Leaves’ Eyes are a band I saw live on only one occasion and following this switch as well as their spiky responses to posts questioning their side of events, it’s unlikely I’ll be going to see them again any time soon (with all due respect to their new singer, who was not party to what went down). As for Liv Kristine, she has announced that she will be working on new material with Raymond Rohonyi (her former colleague from Theatre of Tragedy), which has already had her fans speculating on a reunion of that band (played down by Kristine). It is to be hoped that she will return to the live circuit soon where she will likely find many former fans of her old band waiting for her.


Liv Kristine official Facebook Page

Leaves Eyes official Facebook Page

AC/DC update: Brian Johnson statement

Further to the news that AC/DC are to resume the ‘Rock Or Bust’ tour with W. Axl Rose in place of long-time vocalist Brian Johnson, the veteran frontman has issued his own statement via the band’s website which is reproduced in full here:

As many AC/DC fans know, the remaining shows for the 2016 AC/DC Rock or Bust World Tour, including 10 postponed U.S. shows, are being rescheduled with a guest singer.  I want personally to explain the reason because I don’t believe the earlier press releases sufficiently set out what I wanted to say to our fans or the way in which I thought it should be presented.  

On March 7th, after a series of examinations by leading physicians in the field of hearing loss, I was advised that if I continue to perform at large venues, I risked total deafness. While I was horrified at the reality of the news that day, I had for a time become aware that my partial hearing loss was beginning to interfere with my performance on stage.  

I was having difficulty hearing the guitars on stage and because I was not able to hear the other musicians clearly, I feared the quality of my performance could be compromised. In all honesty this was something I could not in good conscience allow. Our fans deserve my performance to be at the highest level, and if for any reason I can’t deliver that level of performance I will not disappoint our fans or embarrass the other members of AC/DC.  I am not a quitter and I like to finish what I start, nevertheless, the doctors made it clear to me and my bandmates that I had no choice but to stop performing on stage for the remaining shows and possibly beyond. That was the darkest day of my professional life.  

Since that day, I have had several consultations with my doctors and it appears that, for the near future, I will be unable to perform on stage at arena and stadium size venues where the sound levels are beyond my current tolerance, without the risk of substantial hearing loss and possibly total deafness. Until that time, I tried as best as I could to continue despite the pain and hearing loss but it all became too much to bear and too much to risk. 

I am personally crushed by this development more than anyone could ever imagine. The emotional experience I feel now is worse than anything I have ever in my life felt before. Being part of AC/DC, making records and performing for the millions of devoted fans this past 36 years has been my life’s work.  I cannot imagine going forward without being part of that, but for now I have no choice. The one thing for certain is that I will always be with AC/DC at every show in spirit, if not in person. 

Most importantly, I feel terrible having to disappoint the fans who bought tickets for the cancelled shows and who have steadfastly supported me and AC/DC these many years. Words cannot express my deep gratitude and heartfelt thanks not just for the recent outpouring to me personally of kind words and good wishes, but also for the years of loyal support of AC/DC.  My thanks also go to Angus and Cliff for their support.  

Finally, I wish to assure our fans that I am not retiring. My doctors have told me that I can continue to record in studios and I intend to do that. For the moment, my entire focus is to continue medical treatment to improve my hearing. I am hoping that in time my hearing will improve and allow me to return to live concert performances. While the outcome is uncertain, my attitude is optimistic. Only time will tell.  

Once again, my sincere best wishes and thanks to everyone for their support and understanding. 

Love, Brian

It’s assumed that the group will call it a day once this tour is complete, however this statement leaves a bit to the imagination. For instance, does Johnson intend to return to the band should his situation improve, or is he planning on doing his own thing? The group’s own statement suggests the latter, but you never know. At present the site still lists him as lead vocalist. The statement itself reads like something the legal or PR team had prepared and asked him to put his name to. It is a contrast to reports which emerged at the time of his departure, certainly.

Whatever the truth, an AC/DC fronted by W. Axl Rose is not a show this fan has any intention of attending. I’m hoping that the tickets already sent for arrive in time for me to sell them on, assuming that there is still interest in this show from those who disagree with me!

Rock ‘n’ Roll Train Wreck: Axl to sing for AC/DC

What? Axl Rose?

And I bet you all thought you knew what the (rarely used) ‘W’ in Axl’s full legal name (W. Axl Rose) stood for already… yes it’s true, Axl is confirmed as vocalist for the remaining shows on AC/DC’s ‘Rock Or Bust’ tour, including the two UK gigs slated for June this year. I won’t beat around the bush (sorry!) – as someone with a ticket for the gig at the Etihad, I am no longer interested in seeing this show. Axl Rose? The guy who is famed for keeping fans waiting for up to two hours before gracing them with his majestic presence? Really?!?

The confirmation of Axl’s appointment came on Sunday after weeks of speculation, following the announcement from the band that vocalist Brian Johnson had been advised to cease touring immediately or risk “complete loss of hearing”. That hasn’t come from Johnson, it should be stressed, but from the group. Until we do hear from the band’s lead singer of 36 years all we have is claim and counter-claim to go on. The decision to bring in W. Axl Rose is a baffling one on many levels, not least the fact that he has already committed himself to a tour with a partially-reunited Guns ‘n’ Roses, with guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan back in the fold.

The statement from the band is very businesslike, shall we say and reads rather like the sort of thing issued by a football club chairman whenever the club has dismissed their manager! The full statement reads as follows:

AC/DC band members would like to thank Brian Johnson for his contributions and dedication to the band throughout the years. We wish him all the best with his hearing issues and future ventures. As much as we want this tour to end as it started, we understand, respect and support Brian’s decision to stop touring and save his hearing. We are dedicated to fulfilling the remainder of our touring commitments to everyone that has supported us over the years, and are fortunate that Axl Rose has kindly offered his support to help us fulfill this commitment. AC/DC will resume their Rock Or Bust World Tour with Axl Rose joining on vocals. The European stadium tour dates begin on May 7 in Lisbon, Portugal and run through June 12 in Aarhus, Denmark as previously announced (see below for full itinerary). Following this European run of dates with AC/DC, Axl Rose will head out on his Guns N Roses, Not In This Lifetime Summer Stadium Tour. The 10 postponed U.S shows will be rescheduled and announced imminently, also with Axl Rose.

Axl’s reputation for keeping fans of his own band waiting for up to three hours at concerts is well known, and is just one of many reasons why AC/DC fans who have tickets for the remaining shows may well be concerned. I’m sure the band will have made it clear to him that they go on stage when they are supposed to, but this is Axl and frankly, he is in the driving seat here – they need him more than he needs them and I can’t see why he wouldn’t pull that stunt again. What are they going to do – kick him out? Then they’d be back to square one, with no singer and a tour schedule to fulfil and millions sunk into it (which is presumably why this tour hasn’t simply been pulled). He has done that time and time again with his own band, and I find it incredible that he could be trusted to show up on time with another band.

Another reason why I feel this is a completely inappropriate appointment is simply that he is W. Axl Rose. He’s a big name, a personality, he is ‘showbiz’ if you like. AC/DC’s whole image is built on the guys in the band being down-to-earth, unpretentious guys who dress in jeans and t-shirts (with one notable exception) and could easily be part of the crowd themselves. Johnson fitted that bill perfectly, his one-of-the-lads persona sat well with the band’s fans. Axl isn’t like that – he’s big, brash and -yes- American, he will stand out like a sore thumb in a band made up of otherwise plain Aussie and British blokes. In addition, he will definitely draw the attention away from Angus Young himself. Johnson never did that, he was out front yes, but always left room for Angus to strut his stuff on the stage, as he knew that the band’s real figurehead was the middle-aged guitar man in the school uniform. He may well have the voice still to be able to handle their material, clearly Angus thinks so as he has already appeared on stage with Guns ‘n’ Roses at their Coachella festival appearance this past weekend. You can judge for yourself here (with thanks to the youtube uploaders):

Performing AC/DC covers with Angus guesting in your band is one thing, playing a whole set with another band is a different thing altogether. I’d like to be proven wrong here, and it is only for a short time, but I can only see this ending up as a (rock ‘n’ roll) train wreck as the band (now with just Angus as an original member, and bassist Cliff Williams the only other link to the group’s heyday) perform in front of what I predict will be half-empty stadia.

Not the way I would have liked to see one of the great rock bands go out, so as I have a ticket but no longer wish to see this show, I won’t be – I plan to sell it to anyone interested in the near future!

More from Jeff Lynne’s ELO (Manchester Arena, 10 April 2016)

After seeing a fantastic concert from Jeff Lynne’s ELO in Liverpool, a few days later I was fortunate to get the opportunity to see them again, this time at the larger Manchester Arena. I had a closer spot for this show than I had at Liverpool, and so was able to pay closer attention to which parts the musicians involved were playing. The set was basically as Liverpool, other than bringing forward ‘Telephone Line’ a few numbers forward in the set, so there is little point in doing another write-up. Instead, presented are a selection of snaps taken from my spot throughout the show.

Also included is a clip of ‘All Over The World’ from this concert:

The line-up for this tour is as follows:

  • Jeff Lynne – lead vocals, guitars (obviously!)
  • Mike Stevens – guitars, vocals (musical director)
  • Richard Tandy – keyboards, vocoder
  • Donavan Hepburn – drums
  • Milton McDonald – guitar, vocals
  • Lee Pomeroy – bass, vocals
  • Bernie Smith – keyboards
  • Marcus Byrne – keyboards
  • Iain Hornal – backing vocals
  • Melanie Lewis-McDonald – backing vocals
  • Rosie Langley – violin
  • Amy Langley – cello
  • Jess Cox – cello

The UK shows are, by all accounts, going down a storm. If you have a ticket for any of the remaining gigs, consider yourself fortunate as it will be a fantastic night.

Caught Live: Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Echo Arena Liverpool 5 April 2016

I’ve been a fan of Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) from a very young age; one of the first singles I bought out of my own pocket money was ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, their take on a Chuck Berry standard. I remember buying their LP ‘A New World Record’ from my local Woolworths and, having precious little else of my own then, played it constantly.

From about 1976 to 1980 ELO were unstoppable; they enjoyed a string of hit singles and albums and played a landmark series of concerts at Wembley Arena in 1978, featuring the iconic ‘spaceship’ stage set. By the 1980s however, group leader Jeff Lynne had parted company with most of the old band members and turned his hand to producing; working with major names including Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and George Harrison he eventually formed the Traveling Wilburys with these artists, releasing two albums.

In more recent years Lynne has kept a very low profile, releasing records only sporadically. It was a major surprise in 2012 when he announced the release of two albums; one a compilation of newly re-recorded ELO hits and the other (‘Long Wave’, issued under his own name) was a tip of the hat to early rock ‘n’ roll artists who influenced him while he was growing up in Birmingham. With his profile high once more, he agreed to a one-off performance in London’s Hyde Park which took place in autumn 2014, broadcast on BBC TV and radio. The show was a huge success, featuring a completely new line-up (save for keyboardist Richard Tandy) and attracted 50,000 spectators. That show has led to Lynne recording a brand new album under the name ‘Jeff Lynne’s ELO’ (‘Alone In The Universe’) and he has finally been tempted back on the road to support it. The announcement of live dates late last year caught me by surprise certainly, knowing how reclusive the man is and also knowing of his dislike of touring. The even bigger surprise was that the first show was to take place here in Liverpool. The tickets for all shows on this UK tour (calling at most large arenas in the country) sold out straight away, proving that the man’s music still appeals even 40 years on from the group’s heyday.

Expectations for this show were high (as was the ticket price!), and I entered the Echo Arena to find myself about 2/3 back on the (seated) main floor. That meant the performers would be fairly distant, but I was expecting a lavish stage and light show to accompany the music.

Openers were The Feeling, a five piece band from Sussex who had a few hits in the Noughties. They were a good live act, but their material (somewhat lightweight guitar-based pop-rock) rather washed over me. Only occasionally did they crank things up, they can rock hard when they want to but there wasn’t enough of that for me to get into them, my only glimmer of recognition was when they did their song which featured on FIFA 07 (‘Sewn’). For all that, they went down well with those who came early and vocalist/guitarist Dan Gillespie Sells acknowledged that their set was ‘probably a better fit’ with this crowd than when they supported Bon Jovi on a previous tour.

During the interval the music played was a selection of tracks produced by Jeff Lynne, with the PA treating us to George Harrison, Roy Orbison,  Tom Petty (and of course the Traveling Wilburys featuring all of those artists), plus ‘Free As A Bird’ which Lynne produced with the surviving Beatles in the 1990s.

When the main act came on the stage, the first impression was that there were a lot of them! A staggering twelve personnel were on the stage backing Jeff Lynne, with Richard Tandy placed front and centre of the stage (reflecting his status as a member of the classic ELO band). There were two other keyboard players, an additional guitarist as well as musical director Mike Stevens, a bassist (interestingly, left-handed, in the city which spawned the most famous bass player in rock ‘n roll), a drummer, two backing vocalists (one male, one female) and of course, a string section of two cellists and a violinist. The string players were all women, which may have helped fans of the classic band get over the fact that it wasn’t the original players (!)  The visuals were now in full effect also, with screens showing a simulated trip through space as a symphonic intro built up. This opening sequence brought it home to me how strongly many symphonic Metal bands around today have been influenced by what Jeff Lynne and ELO were doing back in the 1970s.


Jeff Lynne’s ELO live in Liverpool

They sprang a surprise with the first song: ‘Tightrope’ from the ‘A New World Record’ album. Not an obvious opener perhaps (although it is first track on that album) as it wasn’t a hit single but the next song certainly was (‘Evil Woman’). The audience were already in the palm of Lynne’s hand after this, although he kept his stage patter to a minimum (‘I love it here in Liverpool’, he told us) before launching into early hit ‘Showdown’.  ‘All Over The World’ from the ‘Xanadu’ soundtrack followed, and by this stage the audience were in raptures.  A comment from the mainman that this show was the first one he’s played ‘like this’ in 30 years brought the house down (erm, Hyde Park, Jeff? ) but presumably he meant as a show on a UK tour, which he hasn’t done in many a long year.


Some new material finally came five songs in with the latest album’s lead-off track ‘When I Was A Boy’; that was the cue for some to head to the bar. This must be a little disappointing for Lynne, although they were soon back in place when the band performed 1976 hit ‘Livin’ Thing’ . One track I wasn’t expecting was ‘Rockaria!’, also from ‘A New World Record’; in days gone by it was former bassist Kelly Groucutt who performed the operatic vocal intro live (now performed by backing singer Melanie Lewis-McDonald). During this number, Lynne traded lead vocal with backing vocalist Iain Hornal. After another newie (‘When The Night Comes’, featuring a rare lead guitar solo from Lynne) the band then performed ‘Secret Messages’, the title track from their almost-forgotten 1983 album.


Richard Tandy, Donavan Hepurn and Jeff Lynne

Following the slower ‘Steppin’ Out’ the set was hit after hit down the stretch,  with ‘Shine A Little Love’, ‘Wild West Hero’ and ‘Turn To Stone’ getting the audience up on their feet. ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ kept things bubbling, and hit single ‘Sweet Talkin’ Woman’ featured Tandy using the vocoder for the first time all night. ‘Telephone Line’ then ‘Mr Blue Sky’ ended the main set with the band taking bows then all standing in line for a group photo before the packed arena audience.

That wasn’t the end of course, no ELO gig is complete without a run through of Chuck Berry’s ‘Roll Over Beethoven’. This included a lengthy jam between Lynne and his backing musicians.


Impressive visuals throughout the show

I was much too young to see the classic band in their pomp, and their landmark series of shows at Wembley Arena in 1978 came a few years too soon for me. As the band had long dissolved and Lynne having become a virtual recluse in later years, I never thought I’d get to see for myself the guy who wrote so many great songs step on a stage. The fact that he chose to do so in Liverpool first made it all the more satisfying, my only question would be: Jeff, what took you so long?


Jeff Lynne’s long awaited touring comeback began in Liverpool