Caught Live: DORJA, Wagon and Horses Birmingham 22 July 2016

New all-female hard rock band DORJA made their live debut this past week, with three gigs including a festival appearance at PKD in Dalgety Bay, Scotland. The band were only formed earlier this summer and feature three former members of The Sex Pissed Dolls. Despite that, the musical direction of this outfit leans more towards classic hard rock rather than the punk the girls had been known for until now. The band have already released a single (‘Fire’) as a download, recorded in LA where drummer Anna Mylee and vocalist Aiym Almas have been based for the past year. With the remaining band members (bass player Becky Baldwin, plus guitarists Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill) based in the UK, it was the turn of the drummer and singer to make the trip ‘across the pond’ to play their first gigs in this country.

The Wagon and Horses is a pub sited in Digbeth, close to the centre of Birmingham and near other well-known venues such as the o2 Institute, and the Irish Centre. They were playing as part of a multi-band bill, but were the only hard rock band on the bill while the rest of the bill was more punk-orientated. Days before these gigs took place, the band had posted on their Facebook page that their singer had been suffering from laryngitis, and was in a race against time to get fit enough to play these dates. She’s been described as having ‘the raw energy to challenge Janis Joplin’ and certainly delivered a powerful vocal on the single, but in order to play these dates the rest of the band helped her out by taking vocals on the cover tunes they performed amongst their own, newly-written material.

I caught some of the other acts on the bill but if I’m honest, as good as the Terrorsaurs were (a three-piece who each wore scary Slipknot-style masks but sounded more like The Hamsters live), I was there for DORJA mainly. That seemed to be the case for most as the venue (an outdoor terrace at the back of the pub with only a canopy covering the stage and terrace) filled up the closer it got to the girls’ stage time. They eventually got on stage at around 9:30 and ran through a nine-song set, including four covers and with ‘Fire’ performed last. Their own material went over well, with Aiym still sounding strong despite her illness. She has a really soulful bluesy voice and I look forward to seeing her again firing on all cylinders. On one of their own numbers, she traded vocal with Anna Mylee (‘do you know any other singing drummers?’ asked Aiym – well yes, thought I – I saw one very famous one only last month!)¬† and for their cover of Stevie Nicks’ ‘Edge of Seventeen’, she handed lead vocal to Holly Henderson. Holly feigned trepidation (you were feigning it, weren’t you Holly? ūüėČ ) but gave a great delivery of the classic track while fellow guitarist Rosie Botterill provided the ‘chug-a-chug-a’ guitar riff throughout.

I did notice that the lead solos were more evenly split in this band than was the case with the Dolls; the majority of the lead guitar was handled by Rosie in that band while Holly gave them a very solid footing with her heavy rhythm sound. However both are capable lead players and it’s likely that this outfit will allow the former Kitty Vacant more chance to shine. Rosie took lead vocal on ‘Tonight I’m Gonna Rock You Tonight’, which was originally performed by… SpńĪnŐąal Tap!

Anna Mylee’s time in LA has, she says, taught her a lot and she gave a superb performance behind the kit; she locked in superbly with Becky Baldwin. Indeed, although the musicians are all in their 20s there was a good deal of experience on that stage, with the three former Dolls having played many gigs and Becky already a veteran of several other bands even before forming this one. They ended with ‘Fire’ and a reprise of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ before departing the stage to big cheers. Many present had travelled some distance to support the girls in this venture, and the ex-Dolls were clearly delighted to find they had not been forgotten by fans of their previous band.

This was only their second gig but they showed a lot of promise; you’d never have thought that they’d only got together for the second time a week previously in order to play these dates. On speaking to Anna following the set, she told me that the plans are to record and release a full album towards the end of the year and schedule a more comprehensive tour of the UK in 2017. I’ll be there to see them whatever happens, but there are some cool venues in this part of the world as well, ladies!

DORJA setlist Wagon and Horses

DORJA setlist

4gtrs

4 – Deserving

http://www.dorjaband.com
https://www.facebook.com/DorjaBand/

Cliff Williams to quit touring with AC/DC

He chose to make this announcement in a typically low-key manner, but in an interview with Gulfshore Life magazine (aimed at a readership in his Florida base) AC/DC’s bassist Cliff Williams declared that he is to stand down from touring and recording at the conclusion of the current ‘Rock Or Bust’ tour. He joined the group in 1977, shortly after they had recorded the ‘Let There Be Rock’ album with predecessor Mark Evans, and was there for their glory years with Bon Scott as well as the later arena-packing years with Brian Johnson. His reasons appear to be because the band as he knew it no longer exists; describing the present outfit as a ‘changed animal’ now that Johnson has had to quit touring in order to preserve his hearing.

This is surely the final blow to a great band; first they lost founder Malcolm Young owing to dementia, to be replaced by nephew Stevie Young (who had stepped in for Malcolm once before in 1988). Then drummer Phil Rudd had his own problems forcing him to miss the current tour (replaced by another former member in Chris Slade) and finally, midway through the tour, Johnson was forced to relinquish his long-held position as lead vocalist. The controversial choice of W. Axl Rose to replace Johnson split the fanbase down the middle; some (myself included) were put off by his reputation for tardiness with his own band Guns n’ Roses while others wanted to see how this collaboration would work out. To many peoples’ surprise Axl has not pulled any stunts with AC/DC, appearing on stage when he is supposed to and, to be fair, giving a good account of himself. ¬†That does beg the question: if he can turn up on time for Angus Young why can he not do the same thing for his own band and fans? However, wth so many changes even since the ‘Rock or Bust’ album was made, many did wonder whether this was just a glorified tribute band now. Now they have lost Williams, the only other member besides Angus Young who¬†dates back to the Bon Scott days and it now looks like the band has disintegrated around the eternal schoolboy.

We’re currently seeing the end of an era with classic bands either retiring or being forced into retirement (only today I read that Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry had collapsed on stage) plus of course, we have lost many greats over the past year. AC/DC owe us nothing more, and it is surely time to sound the final ‘Hells Bell’. That said, before his arrest Rudd stated that Angus Young would ‘never retire’; he is just 61 and possibly still feels he has something¬†left in the tank. If he can get Johnson back, perhaps there’s a chance but otherwise he will have a tough sell persuading fans that it’s still AC/DC.

However I will be remembering AC/DC as the great band they were. Here’s the title track from their biggest-selling album and the one everything they did since has been held up against. The iconic riff has been shamelessly ripped off for a camera advert by Panasonic of all people!

Caught Live: Heart (with FM), Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Scotland, 2nd July 2016

When Heart announced their first UK tour in over a decade last December, my own one sank when I found that the nearest show to me was at the dreaded o2 Apollo Manchester. The Apollo is a venue I used to visit frequently but now avoid at all costs, for reasons I won’t divulge here but suffice to say I’m far from the only one with the same opinion of the place.

Looking at the alternative dates, the one which landed on a Saturday was Glasgow, at the Royal Concert Hall. The place sounded more appealing than the crumbling Apollo in any case, so plans were drawn up to make my first-ever trip north of the border and a ticket for this show was booked the first chance I had.

Fast-forward to summer (or what passes for it in this soggy island!) and it was time to decide how to get there. I opted to drive, long distance though it is because with me staying over I thought I’d get caught in an endless spate of railway engineering works if I were to take the train. That may or may not have been the case, but at least driving meant I could pick my own time to head up there. As it turned out, the drive North was straightforward if lengthy, and I found the city and my hotel relatively easily. The venue was about ten minute’s walk from the hotel so things fell into place well.

The Royal Concert Hall is a relatively new build, constructed in the late 1980s and opened in 1990 during Glasgow’s year as European City of Culture. Seating around 2500 people, the interior reminded me a little of Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall¬† (only bigger) , with relatively intimate stalls surrounded by a substantial balcony.¬† Finding myself slap bang in the middle of the stalls, I had barely found my seat when openers FM took to the stage.

fm-band

The veteran melodic rockers ran through a short set taking in many of their old favourites (including ‘That Girl’ and ‘Bad Luck’ as well as selections from most recent album ‘Heroes and Villains’. Vocalist Steve Overland reminded me a little of Thunder’s Danny Bowes with his short, grey hair, and was almost as good a live performer. I never took to FM back in the 1980s; I found them a bit too glossy, too ‘nice’ with their immaculately coiffured hair, their bright jackets and a sound that had a bit too much emphasis on keyboards for my liking back then (I considered myself a total Metalhead in those days). It didn’t help that their keyboard player in those days (Didge Digital) stuck out with his look being more Numan-esque than hard rock. Didge left the band a long time ago, and although FM have had their ups and downs since (having been inactive for several years prior to their 2007 reformation) they still feature Overland, plus bassist Merv Goldsworthy and drummer Pete Jupp as original members with guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick and keyboardist Jem Davis completing the lineup. They haven’t changed that much sound-wise since those mid-80s days of shoulder pads and hairspray, and their songs sound like they should be on the sort of CD compilation you might find in Asda, but the performance they gave was top-notch. Overland is still in great voice and by rights should be considered one of the best rock singers to come out of this country, but like the aforementioned Bowes he is underrated still. The only slight disappointment for me was that they didn’t play the excellent ‘Crosstown Train’, but if I catch them headline somewhere I’d hope they would do it live.

I’d heard some bad reports from the Manchester show that Heart were disappointing; this mainly stemmed from their set being rather shorter than expected although some had also complained of poor sound.¬† Having come all this way I was hopeful, if not expectant that they’d rectify that tonight. They came on at around 8:40 and opened with ‘Wild Child’ from 1990’s ‘Brigade’ album, then delivered a couple of crowd pleasers in early hit ‘Magic Man’ followed by 1985 smash ‘What About Love’. That had the Glasgow audience (already up on their feet) cheering loudly, as singer Ann Wilson announced that the band had a new album (their first in several years) about to come out and that there’d be some tracks played from it tonight. The first of these was ‘Beautiful Broken’, title track of the new record, but the set delivered was actually a mixture of some hits, a few deep cuts from older albums and several covers. Guitarist/singer Nancy Wilson took the lead vocal for 1985 hit ‘These Dreams’ and new song ‘Two’; these were the mellower moments of the set but there was also some hard-hitting rock performed, Ann Wilson showing that she still has the voice even at 66 years of¬† age.¬† Not to be outdone, Nancy (a mere 62) demonstrated she can still ‘kick’ – quite literally, with the trademark left leg high kick¬† as she belted out the intro to ‘Crazy On You’ on the acoustic guitar.

fancynancyacs2a

The main set lasted about an hour and ten minutes by my reckoning which might appear short, but there were no drum solos or guitar jams padding it out, nor were there any lengthy speeches from either Wilson sister. They actually played 15 numbers in the main set and three in the encore, although all three of those were Led Zeppelin covers. That was another controversial choice but their selection went over well with this crowd, even ‘No Quarter’. All in all then it wasn’t quite as poor value as I’d been led to believe, however they elected to perform their best-known hit ‘Alone’ tonight (which was not done at Manchester, further fuelling dissatisfaction at that show) which brought about huge cheers from the audience.

The band backing the sisters is no longer the classic 1980s lineup but current guitarist Craig Bartock does a splendid job on lead, while bassist Dan Rothchild provides additional vocal as well as occasional keyboards alongside regular keyboardist Chris Joyner. Drummer Ben Smith rounds out the group, and can either give it the full Bonham when required or tone it down gently for the quieter moments.

anniewilson

To sum up then, a very good live performance and remarkable to hear how Ann Wilson has retained that power and clarity in her voice. An excellent live performance, albeit with some slightly odd choices of song. I’d have preferred one or two more of their best-loved songs rather than so many covers personally, but it was a solid show and worth the long journey north.

4gtrs

4-Deserving