Caught Live: Tax The Heat, Live Rooms Chester 22 April 2017

“You made the right choice”, said Tax The Heat frontman Alex Veale early into their set at the smaller L2 room at Chester’s Live Rooms. “We’re a real band, not a tribute!”
He was referring to the fact that there was another gig that night at this place, as UK Foo Fighters were playing in the larger L1 room and, judging by a quick glance at the crowd in that part of the venue, had drawn a substantial crowd. The L2 room is basically the bar area with a tiny stage in the corner and to my surprise, hadn’t pulled that much of a crowd. Quite a surprise for a band that has got quite a ‘buzz’ going, and is currently enjoying radio airplay on Planet Rock. Nonetheless, as the foursome took to the stage, the first thing Veale did was beckon over the sparse crowd who were scattered around the floor. They launched into proceedings with ‘Stood On The Platform’, and if anything their heavy sound is harder still when delivered live. Much of the power behind their live sound is from Antonio Angotti’s distorted bass, with drummer Jack Taylor also thumping out a punchy rhythm.

Alex Veale made frequent reference to the crowd who had taken the punt on them instead of UK Foo Fighters, making a jokey promise on behalf of guitarist Jean-Paul ‘JP’ Jacyshyn. “JP is really good at remembering faces, and when we headline at Manchester Apollo he’ll buy you all a drink!”. The band cut a dash in their smart suits, though Veale soon ditched his jacket to reveal a natty pale blue paisley shirt. He provided most of the lead guitar solos in the songs; the bearded and bespectacled ‘JP’ locked in with the other guys to supply the rock-solid foundation for their frontman.
Their look is a little at odds with their sound, it is steeped in old-fashoned rhythm and blues but performed with a heaviness and intensity that put many ‘Metal’ bands to shame. Towards the end of their set, they threw in a Prince cover (it being close to the anniversary of his passing) but assured us that “it will still sound like Tax The Heat!” The song performed was ‘Bambi’ and it was indeed just as slamming as everything else they played.

This was one of those shows that I for one will certainly look back on as being fortunate to be at; this band should by rights take off within the year and will indeed be playing much bigger venues than this. As it was, it was a privilege to experience this band’s raw power up close and personal, before they make that step up to the Apollos of this world.

Set list:

  • Stood On The Platform
  • Animals
  • Under Watchful Eye
  • Devil’s Daughter
  • Caroline
  • Your Fool
  • Some Sympathy
  • Hit Me Hard
  • Money In The Bank
  • Learn To Drown (You’re Wrong)
  • Fed To The Lions
  • Taking The Hit
  • Bambi (Prince Cover)
  • Lost Our Way
  • Highway Home

5 – Delightful

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Rock in print – new mag launches, is it a good sign?

This month the UK’s only national radio station devoted to rock music (Planet Rock, available on DAB and internet) announced it was to launch its own monthly magazine. On the face of it this made little sense, as there is already one long-established magazine covering this genre (Classic Rock magazine, recently saved from closure) and it is dubious at best as to whether the market can sustain two print magazines.

Off the back of that, another magazine has also launched. Rock Candy magazine is an independently-produced publication (‘actually printed on actual paper’, they promise!) available only by subscription and published by the team behind the record label of the same name, which specialises in reissuing long-lost albums. The publication boasts writers who were part of the team which wrote for Kerrang! magazine during that mag’s glory days of the mid-to-late 1980s, as they put it ‘written by those who were there’. Rock Candy differs from the existing Classic Rock mag in that it has promised to dedicate itself to 1970s/1980s era rock music. Certainly with names such as Malcolm Dome, Derek Oliver, Paul Suter and Howard Johnson writing, the claim that they were there is true (all wrote for Kerrang! during the 1980s) but, unless my memory cells are fading faster than I thought, at least some of these wrote for Classic Rock too in the past. Indeed, when THAT mag launched in 1998 it set out to reach the same sort of reader, the older generation who had maybe become disaffected by the sea-change earlier in the decade that saw many good bands swept aside.

However, Classic Rock has lasted this long not by rehashing the old bands over and over again (although they had a habit of giving covers to Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd on an almost bi-monthly basis at one stage!) but by also introducing its readers to newer bands who follow in the footsteps of the great of the past. There are certainly many who have come since, I’m thinking of The Answer for example who emerged around a decade ago, and definitely draw on the template set by the classic bands, or even Monster Truck as a more recent example. They had to do this, as one editorial they ran put it, ‘otherwise the mag would become a museum’. Similarly, I cannot see a magazine devoting itself only to older bands from decades ago having a shelf life. For one thing, its audience reach is both limited and ageing – your humble correspondent is now in his fifties and has been going to gigs for over 30 years, and with the best will in the world won’t be doing it for another 30! There aren’t that many like me around, and those who are still going to gigs still like to discover new music, albeit of a style that may remind us of those good old days of denim, leather and stacks of Marshalls piled high!

As regards the Planet Rock magazine, whose first issue will hit newsstands next month – it may catch on, with an established brand of its own to act as the hook and with a major publisher behind it (Bauer, owners of Planet Rock and – interestingly – publishers of Kerrang! until a day or so ago) but, will it have an impact on the existing publication? Classic Rock sells around 50000 issues a month, and only narrowly avoided closure at the end of 2016 when its parent company went bust. The title (and sister mag Metal Hammer) have been bought back by their previous publisher Future Publishing, for a fraction of what they sold the titles for. I suspect a long game is being played here by Bauer; they will throw resources at the Planet Rock magazine and if it succeeds, it will be at the expense of Classic Rock. With that title’s publisher not being as big as the Bauer organisation, it wouldn’t surprise me if the mag ended up in the hands of Bauer and ultimately be folded into the Planet Rock brand. The fact that Bauer have just disposed of the Kerrang! title is another factor, the circulation of that mag has nosedived in recent years and the company might prefer to get on board with the older demographic that is still going to gigs, buying records and reading about the classic bands.

Regardless, for a while at least there are three magazines covering this style of music and I intend to get a copy of Rock Candy mag in the near future in order to see for myself whether it lives up to its promises.

http://teamrock.com/classic-rock

https://www.rockcandymag.com/

http://www.planetrock.com/news/rock-news/planet-rock-to-launch-magazine/

Caught Live: DORJA (supporting LiveWire AC/DC), Robin 2 Bilston 31st March 2017

Once again the dreaded Same Night Syndrome struck here, I had originally planned to go and see Blackberry Smoke this night but when the three dates for this all-girl band were announced things changed, since the only one I could possibly make was at this Black Country venue on that very night.  I’d long planned to go and see the band again after seeing them make an impressive debut last July in Birmingham, in the meantime I’d been following events closely as they demoed material and, at the beginning of the year finally went into a studio to put some of the songs they’d written down on tape. (Do they still use tape these days? 😉 )

When I saw DORJA last year I was already familiar with some of the band members, having seen them play on numerous occasions in their previous band (which performed covers of punk/new wave classics). At that time they had only recently left that act (and had shed the stage names I’d known them by until then); that, plus the fact that the new band would not only feature their own material but be in a more traditional hard rock direction, meant that I was still adjusting to the change when that gig took place. We were also introduced to a new face that night in vocalist Aiym Almas; a Kazakh-born, LA-residing singer who had been recruited by drummer and founding member Anna Mylee during her own time spent in LA. The band impressed those who’d come along, despite the singer suffering from illness which forced the other band members to take occasional vocal spots too.

By the time of this release and series of gigs I and others had got to know the band and their members better, mostly via a series of social media posts which provided updates on what they were doing. The girls (without the singer) met up in Anna’s Belgian homeland last autumn to demo material and also conduct an interview, while they had maintained regular contact with their US-based singer via the magic of Skype. When they played this time around, it was with Aiym firing on all cylinders, and I’d heard great reports from people who had attended the previous two dates. So, no pressure then, as I said to Anna during a pre-gig chat at their merch table…!

Anna’s kit was set up stage right (house left), as the LiveWire backline took up a lot of the stage. She came out first and pounded a rhythm reminiscent of Cozy Powell’s ‘Dance With The Devil’ before launching into opener ‘Reaching Out’. Straight away, it was obvious what a powerful and soulful singer Aiym is, this brought it home that last year we only saw about 30 percent of what she can do. In addition, she has real ‘stage presence’; almost regal in the way she carries herself. This band may be made up of attractive women (sorry girls, but you are!!) all of whom have confidence, ability and presence themselves (particularly dynamic bass player Becky Baldwin who is never stood still) but, I for one found it difficult to tear my eyes away from that captivating frontwoman.

All the tracks from the EP were performed, as well as some material that did not feature this time around including pacy hard rocker ‘Turn In All Around’ and ‘Far Gone’, a bluesier number that features a ‘Moby Dick’-style drum solo in the middle. (It’s kept short!) It is to be hoped that these do feature on another release in the near future.
Although the revelation for me was the singer, there was great playing from all concerned, and it was guitarist Holly Henderson who provided much of the backing vocal for the singer, their voices blended well together on the soulful ‘Not In My Shadow’. Across the stage, Rosie Botterill on the other guitar was responsible for my breaking out the air guitar, during ‘Fire’ 😉

They ended their set with a medley/cover, combining The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’ with Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, both with a raunchy and throaty vocal from Aiym.  They were given around 45 minutes by LiveWire and made the most of the opportunity, wowing the early arrivals and, judging by the amount of people at their stand afterwards, winning many new followers.

The band must surely be pleased with how these shows went; all the girls have plenty of other irons in the fire musically but when this five-piece do get together, they’ve showed in the few gigs they’ve performed so far that collectively, they’re really something special. LiveWire are to be commended for inviting them to support (they did a good -lengthy- set themselves, featuring two vocalists who cover both Bon and Brian material) and if DORJA can land themselves a support tour of this country opening for a ‘name’ band playing Academy-type venues, there’ll be no stopping them. I gave the EP four inflatable guitars, live they’re something else and therefore the five are awarded here 😀

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

Caught Live: Ghost, o2 Academy Birmingham 1st April 2017

When the dates were announced for this tour by Ghost, I was persuaded to check them out by a friend (with broadly similar tastes to my own) who thought they were excellent and put on a great live show. Knowing little of their material I took him at his word and booked a ticket, although it was for Birmingham rather than the closest show to me (yes, the dreaded Manchester Apollo yet again). Even if I’d wanted to go to Manchester, the date (31st March) was out since I was already booked up that night and besides, there were at least two other gigs – in the same city – on the same night that a rock fan like me would definitely have been interested in. I will cover what I call ‘Same Night Syndrome’ in a future post as it is an irritation, but you’d think that the potential audience for any of those shows would be hit given that they’re all aimed at the rock crowd, albeit different aspects of what we call rock.

Leaving that aside, I was actually delayed setting out for Birmingham on Saturday and so by the time I got there, the venue was packed. I’ve been to this place several times but only once before in the main hall (to the best of my recollection) and then that was in the upstairs balcony. In future I may do that again since although this hall looks big, it isn’t the easiest place to get any sort of viewpoint from. The back of the hall is hopeless, there are two bars sited at the back, plus a merch stand, meaning a lot of milling around and plenty of people clutching pints trying to manoeuvre their way through the throng. You can’t see in any case from here, since the mix desk has a curtain in the way. If you head over to the right hand side and try to find your way in down the side, forget it. There’s another bar sited there, with more of the same sort of milling about. Your only way is back towards the left hand side, over there it is relatively roomy but your view is badly obscured by a pillar and also by the balcony as you’re sited directly under it.

I was trying to find something approaching a good spot during the support act’s set; US duo Zombi weren’t grabbing my attention particularly as they worked their way through what sounded like an extended keyboard solo from a prog rock band. Except that wasn’t a solo spot, that was the act! The playing was fine but it did drag, and an actual song or two wouldn’t have gone amiss. I was watching from under the balcony, house left, while trying to scope out a possible spot on the floor. No chance of that, even when this duo finished and the crowd started to disperse – it soon filled, and I managed to get about five metres into the main floor before it solidified.

Resigning myself to a poor spot then, I waited for the main act. At about 9pm three crew members appeared, all in uniform and making a big deal of removing the covers from the drum kit and keyboard stands. They even bowed to one another as they entered the stage! Not to be outdone, the drum tech appeared and also bowed to the crowd before taking to the kit. For all we know, of course, these could be Ghost band members but we’d never know since they’re all masked! The drum tech did a short test of the kit before making a similarly grand exit. Following that, a lengthy passage of Gregorian chants boomed through the PA before the lights finally dimmed. Another lengthy intro ensued, before cheers heralded the arrival of the band – all dressed in matching uniforms, and all with masks that completely covered their faces so they appeared identical. These are the ‘Nameless Ghouls’; two guitarists, a drummer, a keyboardist and a bassist (a female whose identity IS known, but I shan’t spoil it for you here). The Ghouls are identified only by alchemical symbols, and it was keyboardist ‘Air’ and lead guitar player ‘Fire’ who launched into opening number ‘Square Hammer’, to an excited crowd.  The stage was bathed in ‘evil’ red light, there was plenty of smoke and effects as mainman Papa Emeritus III made his entrance, appearing suddenly in a puff of smoke to a huge roar from the crowd. I was surprised that they’d open with such a popular song, when it would have made a great set closer but it demonstrated a lot of confidence in my view. Papa Emeritus III was in his trademark mask, with robe and headgear making him look like a satanic pope. With the crowd already up from this spectacular opener, bassist ‘Water’ pounded out the intro to ‘From The Pinnacle To The Pit’ – the bass to this one made me think immediately of Alice In Chains’s 1992 hit ‘Would’.

A lot about this show was familiar; the anonymous band thing has been done many times before, and Papa Emeritus III himself has clearly taken visual cues from King Diamond. However their songs are actually quite accessible, with clean vocal rather than the growls so often heard from ‘black metal’ bands, and some impressive, nimble-fingered playing from guitarists ‘Fire’ and ‘Aether’.  They may have adopted a ‘Satanic’ theme and perhaps overdo it to the point of sending the whole thing up (even using a ‘Baphomet’ stage backdrop), but they have a knack for the anthemic singalong and the frontman himself proved to be quite the showman. Were a certain A. Cooper watching, he’d no doubt approve of the theatrics (if not the imagery) from these Swedes. Towards the end, when other frontmen would announce each member of the band to the crowd so that they could applaud each in turn, Papa Emeritus III achieved the same thing merely by walking up to the relevant musician, and with a mere gesture got the crowd to cheer each performer. One thing that was definitely not ‘evil’ was the tickertape shower as they closed the main set with ‘Ritual’. To paraphrase Ozzy: ‘What’s so evil about tickertape!’ Despite the elaborate costumes then, this was basically a rock spectacular that perhaps belongs in an arena rather than a 3000-capacity hall.

In conclusion, the show was nothing I hadn’t experienced many times before, but it was nonetheless entertaining. Papa Emeritus reinvents himself with each album and tour cycle and so when they come around again, it will doubtless be Papa Emeritus IV fronting the act with a whole new look. (Every incarnation of Papa Emeritus is performed by the same man, and his identity has also been outed for anyone curious enough to want to know just who this guy in the robe and mask is, speaking in a strong Scandinavian accent).

Would I see this act again? More than likely, yes – but I’ll get a seat further back next time, there’s little point in getting up close and personal with a group who operate anonymously and so you’re better off just enjoying the show as a spectacle from a more distant viewpoint.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

EP: DORJA ‘Target Practice’ (self-released)

It has been a long time in coming, but finally there is a physical CD of material available from this hotly-tipped all-girl hard rock band who were last seen on these shores in July 2016.

DORJA launched in June last year; formed by Belgian drummer Anna Mylee during a spell in Los Angeles, she recruited fellow LA expat, Kazakh-born singer Aiym Almas before turning her attention back across the Atlantic to complete the line-up. She had worked with guitarists Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill before, touring the UK extensively and gaining many admirers, and so both were drafted in from the covers band they had been part of previously. In turn, they invited bassist Becky Baldwin (one of the most active performers on the live scene currently, also a member of trio iDestroy and metallers Triaxis) into the fold, and the five initially conducted writing sessions via Skype before the whole group met up in LA in May 2016.  Whilst there, they recorded one of their new songs (‘Fire’) and released it as a download-only single. That track also features (unchanged) on this EP, while the three accompanying tracks were recorded at the beginning of 2017 in England, with the singer adding her vocal tracks from her LA base.

Those who have followed this outfit from the start will already know ‘Fire’; a hard-hitting number with chunky riffage and a powerhouse vocal. Lyrically, it also sets a tone (heard throughout this record) of empowerment (“No, you’re not winning this game; I’m not a prize that you can claim”) which gives this material more depth than a party-hard lyric often heard in hard rock of this style. (Not that I’m against a bit of hard partying, of course!)  The lyrical theme continues on ‘Not In Your Shadow’ (“Hear me speak, it’s louder than what you might remember”) but on this number, the guitars are dialled back a little allowing a more soulful, passionate vocal.  The heavier guitars are back on ‘Reaching Out’, with another defiant lyric (“And I will survive, because you don’t fight my fight”) delivered over Anna Mylee’s syncopated beat, accompanied by some tasty lead soloing from Holly Henderson. The title track ‘Target Practice’ closes this EP, a mid-paced rocker featuring nice vocal harmonies, which builds up into a guitar-heavy crescendo.

For such a new band, this is an accomplished first offering. All the material is self-written (credited collectively) and this outfit is already starting to fulfil its huge potential. In particular, they have a real star in that lead singer, she has both raunch and tenderness in her delivery and knows when (and when not!) to deploy either quality.

The logistics of having an international membership mean that they only get together and perform some of the time, however I believe that if they were given the chance to spend more time as a unit (even if that meant a wholesale decampment to Los Angeles) they could deliver a fantastic debut album, one that would stand the test of time. Certainly if given the backing their talent merits, they must surely become huge in the years to come.

DORJA have just performed a trio of UK dates to launch this EP; a writeup of their set supporting LiveWire (AC/DC tribute) at Bilston will follow. They will return in July for festival shows, be sure to go along and catch these girls live.

targetpractice

Click image or link to go to DORJA webstore including CD and other merch

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving