Royal Court Theatre Liverpool gig archive project

Last week I responded to a Facebook post from the Royal Court Trust asking for people’s memories of gigs held at the venue. I still have several ticket stubs from shows I’ve seen there, although not for every gig, and I may be biased but the place was and remains my favourite gig venue. Sadly the theatre no longer hosts rock gigs, as it has just had an extensive refurbishment and its focus is now on plays.

Back in the 1980s however, it was a different story. Run-down and with dilapidated decor, it was an ideal venue for rock concerts. The theatre is small, but with a balcony and a circle it still could hold a reasonable crowd, especially as they had removed the seats in the stalls so that the floor was all standing. (The Manchester Apollo did not do the same thing until the 1990s). Also at that time, Liverpool’s radio station (Radio City) hosted a regular rock show presented by Phil Easton, who seemed to know anyone who was anyone in the world of rock music. It’s no exaggeration to say that many top-name bands called at Liverpool because of his influence.

For a period of about four years in the 1980s, almost every name band played at the Royal Court. That included some of the top rock bands of the day; Rainbow, Whitesnake, Thin Lizzy, Def Leppard, Gary Moore – all played on that stage. Things began to taper off around the middle of that decade as bands got bigger and started to play at larger venues elsewhere in the country which were just starting to appear then, but as newer bands came through they also would invariably call. The ‘hair metal’ years saw Bon Jovi play there, as did others who followed in their wake such as Cinderella and Skid Row. Later on as newer Metal and alternative metal acts appeared, the venue played host to such bands as Pantera and – this is incredible to think looking back – Rage Against The Machine. One of the best gigs I have seen there was from the Foo Fighters, again looking back it is amazing to think they played this tiny theatre in my city, but they did in 1997.

There were gigs at the Royal Court up until around the mid-2000s, when the venue management changed hands. If I remember rightly, the last gig I saw there was Placebo in 2006 before the place abruptly changed tack, undergoing a refit and becoming a comedy club complete with tables and chairs installed in the downstairs area. In my view the loss of the Royal Court as a concert venue all but removed Liverpool from the gig circuit; there isn’t really a mid-size venue that can take its place currently operating. The o2 Academy is not as big (nor as good); the Mountford Hall at the University is not used anything like it could be, and although there are 700-800 capacity venues such as the recently-opened Hangar 34, there isn’t a place suitable for bigger bands on the circuit to play in. The arena is there for mega-acts but there isn’t that 2000-3000 capacity hall which Manchester has, hence we frequently miss out on bands.

Looking back at the good old days when UK tours meant 20 cities and not 4 or 5 then, here are a selection of my old gig ticket stubs from my days going to see my favourite bands at the Royal Court:

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CD: Inglorious ‘II’ (Frontiers)

This was an album I meant to do a write-up on long before now; I went to the band’s Liverpool in-store appearance in May and picked up this record on the day, but ‘stuff’ kept intervening and it’s only now, with me out of gig-going action temporarily that I have got around to this one.

Inglorious are the latest in a long line of British rock bands touted as ‘the future of rock’; they were saddled with a tag of ‘The New Deep Purple’ by some commentators, which I thought was a little unfair. For one thing Deep Purple didn’t hit their stride until their fourth album and then only after a change of singer and bassist! Also, when Purple were at their peak, they were also at their most dysfunctional, something that this band could well do without as they make their own way in the rock scene. The tag was one this band could never live up to, and their debut album of last year showed promise, but ‘In Rock’ it wasn’t.

The band are built around singer Nathan James, whose pyrotechnic vocals certainly attracted attention. They have striven to present themselves as a band, not just a vehicle for the singer, but such is his voice, his presence, that he does dominate the spotlight, just as (for example) David Coverdale before him did with Whitesnake. However all the members have contributed to the songwriting on this album, including guitarist Wil Taylor who, after recording his parts for ‘II’ parted company with the band at the end of 2016, to be replaced by his own predecessor Drew Lowe. Taylor has since formed another band (Deeva) and has been back at Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios this year (where this album was recorded), working on new material.

So what do we make of this follow-up album by Inglorious? CD in the deck, let’s press play…

It certainly gets off to a good start with ‘I Don’t Need Your Loving’; typical of their old-school rock style yes, but it’s a catchy number which ticks all the boxes. Hard riffs, singalong chorus and an early chance for James to show off those pipes. From there though, the album is full of material that could have been written by any number of those bands in that long line of acts that came before them. Titles such as ‘Hell Or High Water’, ‘Taking The Blame’, and ‘Change Is Coming’ give away what to expect even before you get to them, that this isn’t going to break any new ground. The playing is fine, the drums kick with enough wallop and the guitars slash away with intent, but these songs just don’t stick. Like the first album, you’ll come away with the impression you’ve heard this record many times before, the only thing that makes them stand out is the voice. There are fast-paced rockers (‘Taking The Blame’, ‘Hell Or High Water’), slower songs (‘Making Me Pay’), ones with Whitesnake-style gentle intros which bring the band in with a wallop (‘Tell Me Why’, ‘Change Is Coming’, ‘Faraway’), guitar workouts for axeman Andreas Eriksson such as the shred solo on ‘I Got A Feeling’, but this is an album that is a distillation of so many 1980s hard rock bands, nothing you haven’t heard many times before. It is all so familiar, that the only reason for picking it up is if you’re a particular devotee of James’s vocal style.

The in-store appearance aside, I’m still yet to see this band live (they are touring the UK in October 2017) and I’m sure they’ll cook up a storm live, but for me they need some stronger songs – even if that means an external writer. They can imitate the style of previous bands, but there is little to innovate here. I’m afraid this album only reinforces the perception that it is a vehicle for James, however hard he tries to tell us otherwise and I still feel the way I did after hearing this band’s debut – sooner or later he will be recruited into a supergroup or will be offered a solo mega-deal, one he would be crazy to refuse. This is a band made up of dependable, solid players but fronted by a singer who cannot be confined by this act for ever.

Inglorious II

Inglorious II

3gtrs

3 – Decent

 

Album: HAIM ‘Something To Tell You’ (Polydor)

Back in 2013, there was no escaping HAIM. The group, made up of three sisters from California first came to UK attention at the beginning of that year, winning the BBC’s Sound of 2013 poll of music industry figures. From then on, following a UK tour in the spring they played Glastonbury, T In The Park, and Reading/Leeds – all of these appearances were televised on BBC, significantly boosting their profile. Their first full album, ‘Days Are Gone’ did not appear until the autumn of that year but by the time it did, they were as well-known in the UK as they already were in their native Los Angeles. When the record was released, it showed two distinct sides to the group.

On album, their music was radio-friendly pop with harmony vocals to the fore, with more than a hint of Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles to their sound. Against that, the record’s modern production sheen brought their sound up to date. However, they were a completely different proposition live; middle sister Danielle (the more reserved of the trio) was cast as primary lead vocalist, while showing herself to be a mean lead guitar player, unleashing hard rocking solos in songs that had nothing of the sort on record. She also played drums on the album, however for live performances the sisters enlisted drummer Dash Hutton (a friend of eldest sister, bassist/vocalist Este) who toured full-time with the girls.  Este herself was the most outgoing of the trio, engaging the crowd between songs with banter punctuated by more than a few choice F-bombs, while youngest sister Alana ‘Baby Haim’ took up the other side of the stage, given a multi-faceted role on rhythm guitar, additional drums and keyboards as well as vocals.

Later on the group added a full-time touring keyboardist (Tommy King) to take some of the load off Alana, expanding the live group to a quintet. The band live were more akin to a hard rock act than a pop group, songs would feature Danielle cutting loose on the guitar far more than on record, and to close their set the girls would take to drums themselves to bash away alongside their drummer in a spectacle reminiscent of that done by The Scorpions in recent years. The band toured extensively for the next two years, coming back to the UK in 2014 for a tour of bigger halls, and a return to Glastonbury in the summer, but back in their homeland their popularity really blew up when they were selected to support pop megastar Taylor Swift. From there on in they haven’t looked back, although this second album has been delayed somewhat by the meticulous nature of their studio work. The group actually pulled out of planned festival dates in summer 2016 in order to focus on completing the album, releasing a statement apologising to their UK fans.

In April 2017 HAIM finally unveiled a taster for this record, the haunting, brooding ‘Right Now’ which turned out to be an early, ‘live in the studio’ performance. To say the least, after the runaway success of their first album expectations were high for ‘Something To Tell You’ – especially after a four-year gap (Leppard-esque, if you will!) between this and ‘Days Are Gone’. The record was released at midnight on Friday, 7th July, becoming available immediately to listen to on Spotify. Time to settle back and see what the LA sister act have in store for us this time, then…

If you’ve seen this band live and were hoping for an album that captures that harder live sound more accurately, prepare to be disappointed. The material here is smooth, slick, well-produced (perhaps OVER-produced? Bearing in mind that the final result is exactly how the band intended it to be) but, once again it shows that on record this group is a different beast to the onstage version. That’s not to say it is a bad album; it’s actually very good, the songs are designed to ease their way into your brain and take root – you’ll find yourself humming one or more of these ditties after one listen to this album. If anything it is smoother than ‘Days Are Gone’; the group worked once again with producer Ariel Rechtsaid to deliver an album that will sound great in the car, whether you’re heading down a freeway in the summer sun or stuck in a traffic jam on the M62 on a cold, wet Monday morning. There are some nifty basslines from Este in tracks such as recent single ‘Want You Back’, but guitar from Danielle is used sparingly, often buried in the mix such as on the playout for ‘Little Of Your Love’. I’d expect that to be radically different once they hit the stage.

The vocal harmonies that have led to those Wilson Phillips comparisons are present and correct, and they venture into RnB territory with songs such as ‘Treat You Right’. On that track, surprisingly there is another lead guitar playout from Danielle, unsurprisingly it is again buried deep within the production. On ‘You Never Knew’ they go into full Fleetwood Mac mode; the echoed backing vocals will make you think immediately of ‘Little Lies’ from Mac’s 1987 album ‘Tango In The Night’.

The girls’ drum background is shown once again in ‘Kept Me Crying’; this album’s ‘The Wire’ with a beat throughout that will inevitably lead to audience handclaps when it’s played live. This one DOES have a more prominent, fuzzed-out guitar outro. The highlight for me is penultimate track ‘Right Now’; a slow-burner starting out with a church-style organ and gradually building up, deploying the heavy guitar chords for the only time on the record midway through and then introducing those syncopated drums. Even so, the live version as seen on their recent BBC appearances is superior, the production is a little bit too strong with unnecessary (IMO) effects added to Este’s backing vocal. That could have been the album closer, but they have chosen to end things with the gentle ‘Night So Long’, demonstrating once again their close harmony vocals.

You won’t find thought-provoking lyrical content on this record, it is all concerned with boy/girl relationship issues. With that in mind it is a little baffling that this band is considered ‘indie’ by some, this is pure ear candy that has many tracks that could be singles, surely many will be picked up by radio in the coming months. Besides ‘Want You Back’ and ‘Little of Your Love’, tracks such as ‘Found It In Silence’ and the title track are potential hit singles.

If you’re more of a rock fan and were hooked by this group’s live prowess, you’ll need to put aside your metallic leanings in order to enjoy this record. If you can do that, there’s much to enjoy on this album. Consider it a successor to ‘Tango In The Night’ and you’re about there.

Haim 'Something To Tell You'

Haim ‘Something To Tell You’

4 – Deserving