Caught Live: Mr Big (with The Answer, Faster Pussycat), Manchester Academy 1, 21st November 2017

‘Oh no, I’ve left the tickets at home’

Not what you want to hear when you’re sat on a train whizzing at high speed towards Manchester, but that’s the predicament I and a friend (who had inadvertently come out sans tickets) were in when he realised, when there was nothing either of us could do about it. It’s one of those things of course, we’ve all done it. However, as these tickets were booked by his girlfriend (who subsequently decided not to go, hence offering me the ticket) we had to think about how to resolve this one once we got to Oxford Road station.

It’s a straight, but lengthy walk to the Academy from the station, and we realised that we’d have to explain this to the box office and also get his (decidedly unimpressed!) girlfriend to speak to them. After a conversation with the lady, with evidence of the tickets on his phone, she gave him a contact number to try and resolve the situation. It turned out that the ticket outlet don’t reissue after 2pm, so we were in a bit of a pickle when the most extraordinary stroke of luck happened – two guys on the guest list picked up their tickets, they had plus ones that they didn’t require – in stepped my friend, and sure enough, we got in courtesy of a guest list plus one for each of us!  As we entered the venue the pair of us were still pinching ourselves at our luck at getting out of this little predicament; I had ideas of watching the football in the student union bar instead of the gig, but suddenly our problems were over!

Having entered the hall through this remarkable turn of events, we found that the hall had only a few people in it as openers Faster Pussycat went through their paces. Vocalist Taime Downe is the only original member left from the heady days of the late 80s, but has held a stable line-up together now for some years. They gave a short, entertaining set of old favourites including ‘Slip Of The Tongue’, ‘Bathroom Wall’ and ‘Babylon’, and although Downe himself looks more goth than glam these days, he remains in decent nick vocally. They probably deserved a better crowd than they got at such an early point in the evening, but it meant we could get reasonably close up for the rest of the bill.

I was looking forward to seeing The Answer again; the last time I caught them was in March when they played the Band on the Wall across the city. This time around they’d promised to play a little of everything, opening with ‘Solas’, the title track from their most recent album. The short set they played did indeed touch on every album, with one track from all their albums released to date (two from debut ‘Rise’) and a cover. That cover was ‘If You Want Blood, You Got It’; their tribute to recently-passed AC/DC guitarist Malcolm Young. The Answer supported AC/DC throughout their massive ‘Black Ice’ world tour of 2009, and regarded Malcolm Young as a mentor, so the news of his passing must have had an impact on the Irish lads. They were, as ever in great form live, with the sound mix favouring bassist Micky Waters (at least from my spot, slightly right of centre). He played with real attack, and was praised by singer Cormac Neeson as ‘our bassmaster’. The sight of Paul Mahon holding a Zemaitis guitar meant that the band would perform ‘Preachin’, always a live favourite and one that got the crowd (by now starting to swell) rocking. Just before these dates took place, the singer revealed plans to release his first solo album; he’s quashed any rumours of a split already. The album promises to take a rootsy, more introspective direction, maybe taking ‘Solas’ a stage further, and that might just suggest that he will explore that side of things as a solo artist and possibly mean that The Answer’s next album will be a return to a harder rocking style. Time will tell, anyway.

We were still in our spot for Mr Big, but mindful that if it were a lengthy set, we might have to leave before the end in order to catch that train back to Liverpool. Mr Big came on at around 9pm and kicked off with ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy (The Electric Drill Song)’, which saw both bassist Billy Sheehan and guitarist Paul Gilbert produce the ‘drills’ for the lead solos. On drums was Matt Starr; he’s been performing live with the band for a few years now since original drummer Pat Torpey was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. After a couple of more recent numbers (‘American Beauty’, ‘Undertow’) from 2010’s ‘What If…’ album, Pat Torpey was brought on stage to huge cheers from the crowd. He then took up a spot alongside Matt Starr, onto a special kit that was set up for him to play additional percussion for a couple of numbers, before actually sitting at the main kit for the slowie ‘Just Take My Heart’. Sad though it was to see such a great musician struck down like this, it was a terrific gesture from the band to still bring him out on tour and play at least in part with them. Matt Starr’s performance was of course first-rate, this is a band made up of outstanding players throughout and although he had big shoes to fill, he did so admirably.

Several numbers from current album ‘Defying Gravity’ were played, as well as plenty of choice cuts from the back catalogue. That meant favourites such as ‘Green-Tinted Sixties Mind’, ‘Just Take My Heart’, ‘To Be With You’ and ‘Addicted To That Rush’ were all delivered during this set. At times it was difficult to know where to look, having virtuosos on both four and six-strings mean there’s spectacular playing either side of the stage. However, it was noticed that Sheehan (who appeared to be directing things, actually counting ‘1-2, 1-2-3-4’ on his fingers to cue Gilbert into a lead solo) didn’t just spend the whole gig showing off. He has fingers as nimble as any guitar shredder, but when required he’ll step back and just lock in with the drummer. Of course he did get a solo spot in which to show his ‘chops’, as did Gilbert, whose own solo saw him take to another guitar on a stand, this had only the top three strings in place.

Vocally, Eric Martin was in good voice, if not quite the guy he was 25 years ago he could always depend on excellent backing vocals from all the other guys in the band – including Pat Torpey when he was on the stage. ‘To Be With You’ had the crowd also joining in the chorus, that was a particular highlight for the band’s collective singing prowess.

Our only disappointment was that we did indeed have to miss the end of the set, to my surprise this hall was only just over half-full, and so it was a simple matter to get out of the crowd and head near the door in order to make the dart for the train. We left during ‘Colorado Bulldog’ as the Sheehan/Gilbert combination shredded away, faced with a lengthy walk back to the station we were far from the only ones having to make the dash for the door prematurely. That meant missing out on seeing them play ’30 Days In The Hole’ alongside Cormac Neeson; apologies to the Answer frontman but that train wasn’t going to wait for us!

All in all a fine evening of classic hard rock, all three bands gave a good showing and fingers crossed that next time I’ll get to see these guys complete their set!

4 – Deserving

 

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Caught Live: Deep Purple (with Europe, CATS in SPACE), Manchester Arena, 18th November 2017

I didn’t think I would even be at this show on the Saturday morning, expecting to have to stay in that night, but things changed. So it was I hastily booked a ticket (in the upper reaches of this arena) and a train, which conveniently stops at my local station thus negating the need to go into Liverpool city centre first, and headed up to what many still call the MEN Arena. It was the first time I’d been to this huge bowl in over a year, more to the point my first visit since that terrible attack in May. Having reached Manchester Victoria (and thus, the arena which sits atop the station) in plenty of time, there was time to have a little look around and see what had changed since last I was here.

First of all, you cannot now access the new walkway from Victoria Station to the arena concourse without your ticket for the event. There were barriers in place at the bottom of the steps, and Showsec staff situated at those barriers. As the old box office is still out of commission, I asked about ticket collection. The new box office is situated on the other side of this huge building, inside the underpass off New Bridge Street next to the arena car park and opposite the former Strangeways brewery site. Ticket collected, and there was time to have a little look around the immediate area, where there were plenty of Christmas market stalls in place. It was somewhat of a maze to get around, even if like me you do know this area of Manchester well, so after a hot drink and a cake from a well-known bakery chain I decided to go into the hall early.

When you enter the arena now, be it through Victoria Station or the other main entrance on Hunts Bank, you now need to have your ticket ready as described earlier, before even getting to the steps. Once you’re allowed through, and have climbed up to the City Room foyer you’re now confronted by airport-style scanners. There were four lines to go through these scanners, and it felt very much like the procedure before boarding a flight, there was even a shouty bloke organising the queues! The items they wanted in the basket were mobile phones, e-cigs, pocket cameras (that was me!) while we were ushered through a body scanner like those at the airport. All that done, and with my quip asking which way to the planes ignored, it was through the doors and into the arena concourse. Although they’d only just opened up there were already queues building at these scanners so it was probably a good idea to give plenty of time to get through it all. The procedure was understandable, although it was noted that attack came when the venue was letting out, not letting in.

When I got to my spot, high up in the upper tiers I found the majority of that area was sectioned off! They’d only opened two of the blocks and then only partially, about ten rows were open and I found myself sat in splendid isolation, high above the stage just over halfway back. The floor was seated, unusual for a rock gig at this place, and by my estimation they were expecting a crowd of 11-12000. (That means you could have staged a gig at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, Purple people!) It was nice and comfy up there anyway as I settled for CATS in SPACE, who would open proceedings at 7pm sharp.

Openers CATS in SPACE

Openers CATS in SPACE

When the openers came on, the arena had filled substantially. Their intro tape shows a nostalgic sense of humour with the theme tune to ‘The Sweeney’ playing over the PA. The group are unashamedly influenced by 1970s music, not just rock and indeed two of the band (guitarist Greg Hart and top-hatted keyboardist Andy Stewart) play in the covers act Supersonic 70s Show (also billed as Solid Gold 70s), an act I’ve seen live on two occasions. The CATS were only given around half an hour, meaning only a handful of numbers could be played. Opening with the title track of first album ‘Too Many Gods’ they didn’t hang about before next song ‘The Mad Hatters’ Tea Party’. Straight away it was clear they not only had a good sound in this massive bowl, but they were in great form themselves. Lead singer Paul Manzi gave a superb performance, ably backed by all the other CATS but in particular bassist Jeff Brown, who duetted with Manzi on ‘Greatest Story Never Told’, a lengthy epic off their first album and one that was probably brave to play considering they had only a short time. The other songs were ‘Timebomb’ off the current ‘Scarecrow’ album and they closed with ‘Five Minute Celebrity’ from the debut. That one featured some Who-style windmilling from Greg Hart, appropriate as the song is in that band’s style and also gave drummer Steevi Bacon a brief moment in the spotlight. If you’d said to Greg Hart this time last year that he’d be playing big arenas opening for one of the country’s legendary bands he’d probably have laughed; as it is he and CATS in SPACE have had an incredible year. They’ve opened for Thunder on their UK tour, done their own run of headline dates, and straight after this run of shows they’re back out again, this time supporting Status Quo on their usual winter tour. The band have gained a great deal of support in the year since I saw them play across this city at the University, and now with some crucial industry support this group of individually talented but collectively brilliant guys can only get even more popular in 2018. You cannot help but be delighted for them, especially Greg Hart whose vision it was but all these guys have paid plenty of dues, their success now is thoroughly deserved.

Europe at Manchester Arena

Europe at Manchester Arena

Joey Tempest & John Norum

Joey Tempest & John Norum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next act up were Europe; now I have only seen these guys once before, and that was at the Liverpool Empire at the height of their ‘The Final Countdown’ hysteria 30 years ago. That night, the audience was overwhelmingly teenage girls who outnumbered the rockers in the audience by about five to one – and I can still hear the screaming in my head to this day! The band of today is the ‘classic’ line-up which recorded that smash hit song and album; that includes guitarist John Norum who, back when they played in Liverpool 30 years ago was absent. Back then his place had been taken by Kee Marcello, who slotted into the line-up seamlessly. Despite this being the classic band, their sound has evolved markedly since then, and listeners to Planet Rock who have heard their most recent single ‘Walk The Earth’ would have been forgiven for thinking they were more Purple than Purple these days! When Europe came on stage tonight, that was the track they opened with, all brooding organ sound and heavy guitar so reminiscent of the band that was headlining tonight. The new material was well-received, and singer Joey Tempest was in good voice, however when they did reach back to their vintage era the crowd really woke up. Introducing ‘Rock The Night’, the singer cheekily borrowed a Coverdale expression with ‘Here’s a song for ya!’ That got the crowd up, and they also played ‘Carrie’ off that same album, for any remaining 1980s teenyboppers presumably! 😀
This band have survived the millstone hit single by delivering consistently strong albums in recent years, showing that they are indeed a legitimate rock band and not just a bunch of popsters who got lucky once. Needless to say ‘The Final Countdown’ was played last in the set, and air guitars broken out for Norum’s widdly guitar solo in the middle of the song! Europe have just announced a headline tour of their own for September 2018, and with King King along as support that is definitely a gig to look out for.

3 Purple People

Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Steve Morse

Deep Purple Manchester Arena

Deep Purple Manchester Arena

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Purple have billed this as ‘The Long Goodbye’ tour, hinting but not confirming that this will be their last major tour. The members have said in interviews that they don’t want to stop, but they’re now hitting their seventies and with the best will in the world, they cannot do this for very much longer. They still believe in offering new material whenever they do tour however, and this year’s album ‘Infinite’ was well-received by fans and critics alike. To coincide with this tour, the band even appeared on a BBC special which aired days before this tour commenced; that would never have been countenanced back in the days when Tommy Vance was the corporation’s only outlet for bands of this ilk. Nowadays, Purple and other classic bands of the era are finally being appreciated by a wider circle than the ‘rock crowd’ as their televised concert showed. If you saw that show, then this set was very much along those same lines. Opening with ‘Time For Bedlam’, complete with Gillan’s eerie spoken intro, they played several new tracks interspersed with selected classics. ‘Bloodsucker’ from ‘In Rock’ followed (or should that be ‘Bludsucker’, from ‘Abandon’ seeing as the band re-recorded the track in 1998 with Steve Morse now in place?) and that one showed how frontman Ian Gillan has managed his voice to account for his advanced years. He no longer sings the last verse in a high register, but delivers it as per the rest of the song. It still works, and he can still give the ‘ohhhh nonono!’ where required. He has adapted himself well, and as such can still carry these tunes and give a performance. That’s the right way to go about it, some other singers try too hard to push their voices live and end up blasting their throats out, Gillan has wisely rationed his voice and doesn’t try to be the guy he was in 1972.

Ian Gillan with Steve Morse

Ian Gillan with Steve Morse

The band were getting a very warm reception from the Manchester audience, even for the new material, which was appreciated by the frontman. There were of course plenty of oldies for the fans to enjoy still, ‘Lazy’ came mid-set and featured current keyboardist Don Airey who gave a lengthy, improvised intro before he and guitarist Steve Morse traded solo spots. The 80s were acknowledged with ‘Knocking At Your Back Door’ and ‘Perfect Strangers’, both of which still sound good in the live set today. ‘Space Truckin’ was performed towards the end, not quite the same intensity as when the Mk III version played it in 1974 (and no explosions near drummer Ian Paice this time), and again, Gillan correctly opted not to reach for the falsetto where it was deployed on record. Needless to say, ‘Smoke On The Water’ closed the main set.

Mindful of the time (I had to be on that 23:09 train heading back to Liverpool!) I was on the starting blocks during the encore; ‘Hush’ came first, then a prolonged bass and drum jam led into ‘Black Night’, prompting a big singalong from the crowd. I was all but out of the door when during the improvised section of this number, Steve Morse surprised us all by bursting into AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’. As everybody was aware, the news of that band’s founder member Malcolm Young’s death had emerged earlier in the day, and although no words were said by any of the bands during this show, that one excerpt showed how highly he was regarded by his fellow rock musicians. Even before the last chord rang out I was scooting across the concourse back to Victoria Station, for my train which I caught in time to get a nice seat for the ride home.

Considering I wasn’t sure I’d even be at this gig, it was a very good night of rock. One classic band, one who are finally being recognised as such and one new band whose membership is one that’s been around and done it. Purple’s legacy is safe, while both the other bands on this bill can look forward to another successful year in 2018.

4 – Deserving

 

Deep Purple Setlist Manchester Arena, Manchester, England 2017, The Long Goodbye

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Europe Setlist Manchester Arena, Manchester, England, Walk the Earth World Tour 2017

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Cats in Space Setlist Manchester Arena, Manchester, England 2017

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Caught Live: Joanne Shaw Taylor (with Dan Patlansky), Floral Pavilion New Brighton, 17th November 2017

This show from Joanne Shaw Taylor (JST) was part of the annual International Guitar Festival, which Wirral holds each year across various venues and showcasing both established and up-and-coming guitar talent.  It was added some time after the initial run of dates was announced, and may have been overlooked by some fans. To my surprise the date had not sold out with numerous seats still available in the back rows and to the sides; as this is an intimate civic theatre you’d have thought the first appearance in New Brighton by Britain’s ‘first lady of blues guitar’ would prove popular, especially since her recent shows in nearby Chester have indeed sold out in the past.

If having JST play in your town wasn’t enough, then she also had another acclaimed artist in a similar vein as support; South African guitarist Dan Patlansky was opener, and he has also gained quite a following in this country after tours supporting the likes of King King, as well as having his songs played on Planet Rock radio in the UK. While still reliant on public transport for my gig-going (thus restricting me to local-ish shows), I took the train to New Brighton where the station is around 800 metres from the venue. A fairly brisk walk, then (!) which meant that by the time I got into the actual hall, the support was already on. I’d only missed a little of the set, however. Dan Patlansky’s band is a conventional blues-rock setup, with a drummer, keyboardist and bass player with Patlansky himself on lead vocals and of course, guitar. There are a lot of very good performers in this style currently active on the UK circuit, and it’s often just a matter of whose style best fits your preference. Patlansky’s playing style is a little more funky and a little more fiery than some others you’ll see, the standout for me was probably Planet Rock favourite ‘Backbite’. He will be playing UK shows of his own in early 2018, and should expect a good attendance based on the reception he got from the Wirral audience.

On the two previous occasions I’ve seen Joanne Shaw Taylor she was backed only by a bassist and drummer; she’s never been one for unnecessary frills (or indeed ANY frills – she has a penchant for plain black shirts and jeans as stagewear!) but this time around there were a couple of changes. First of all, she has recruited bassist Luigi Casanova, whose long dreadlocks and bright clothing were rather eye-catching, but she has also brought in keyboardist Bob Fridzema. Until very recently a member of fellow blues-rockers King King, JST wasted little time in snapping Fridzema up for this tour once he became available. She opened the set with ‘Dyin’ To Know’ from her most recent album ‘Wild’, a track which featured heavily on some radio stations this time last year. She touched on all her studio albums during this set, four tracks from the current album were played (including ‘Wild Is The Wind’, her cover of the old Johnny Mathis song made famous by David Bowie, which she dedicated to Bowie’s memory), with the other albums getting at least one song into the set. There was another cover (‘Bones’, by The Hoax) which she said was one of the songs she grew up listening to while learning her own way on the guitar.

Joanne Shaw Taylor in Wirral

Joanne Shaw Taylor in Wirral

JST at New Brighton

JST at New Brighton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She was still suffering the after-effects of a cold, which forced a reschedule of one of the dates on this tour, but aside from her taking numerous sips of water between songs, you wouldn’t have known. She has a rich, throaty singing voice anyway, which is one of the main reasons she is popular. The other is that incredible guitar talent – she plays with feel and passion the likes of which is rarely seen even among virtuoso players. I’ve never quite worked out whether she’s grinning or grimacing during her solos, a bit of both perhaps since she is clearly feeling this music deeply as she plays. Only just into her 30s, she has so much more to give yet. One thing she isn’t renowned for (besides a stage set, just a backdrop with her name printed on it in big letters) is her stage patter. ‘I’m not a multi-tasker’, she declared while tuning, asking us to talk amongst ourselves while she got ready. Needless to say the crowd began to give her a few mild heckles, including why it was that drummer Oliver Perry was ‘in a cage’ (a perspex screen surrounded his kit). ‘It’s for your own protection’, she quipped before disclosing it was to stop the sound from bleeding over into her microphone. Noting that it was a seated audience, she did manage to gee this audience up into a cheer when they went quiet (‘we’ve talked about this’, she added!) However we weren’t here for stand-up comedy, we were here to marvel at this immensely talented singer and guitarist.

Keyboardist Bob Fridzema

Keyboardist Bob Fridzema

The one slight quibble (again, there’s always one!) was that this time around JST opted not to play her cover of Frankie Miller’s ‘Jealousy’. She usually brings the house down with that one, and I’d have liked to see her do it now that she has Bob Fridzema in her band (whose old band King King also cover it) but not on this occasion. She did play plenty of soulful blues guitar during the set of course, and gave the keyboardist a solo spot too towards the end of the set. Having a real Hammond organ with a Leslie speaker on stage adds that extra touch of class, many keyboardists in this style use an emulator which may get close to that sound, but not quite as close as the real thing.

Bassist Luigi Casanova

Bassist Luigi Casanova

Joanne Shaw Taylor is now one of the leading lights of this scene, having been around for a few years now she is ready to jump up to bigger venues than the civic theatres she’s been playing in up to now. If there’s any justice she’ll be up there with Bonamassa within two years, maybe even sooner and although that’d mean having to see her from further away in the bigger halls, such success is no less than she deserves.

5 – Delightful

Malcolm Young 1953 – 2017

It isn’t a great year to be a rhythm guitarist. We’ve already lost Quo’s Rick Parfitt, Y&T’s Joey Alves; both highly revered by their peers and fans. but now, with the loss of AC/DC’s Malcolm Young, there really is a huge hole left behind.

Malcolm Young, stood at the back of the stage to the right of the drumkit, wasn’t exactly high-profile in AC/DC but he was their founder, their principal songwriter and the undisputed leader of that band. Everybody else took their cues from him, including Angus Young, the eternal schoolboy whose frenzied antics on stage took most of the attention. Angus himself acknowledged that Malcolm was the more accomplished player, but it was Malcolm’s idea that Angus should take the lead role, while he directed operations from the rear. Such was his humility however, that he described his role merely as ‘making sure the sound gets across’ in an interview with Kerrang! many years ago.

The story of how the Young family emigrated from Scotland to Australia when Malcolm and Angus were, well, young is well-documented, as is the formation of AC/DC in 1973 by the brothers, releasing several albums with fellow Scottish expat Bon Scott on lead vocals. They were a potent live act by 1980 and had just broken through to large-scale success when Scott died, aged 33. Unwilling to just give it up, the Young brothers picked themselves up and recruited Brian Johnson to take over the mic, after an audition where they thought he had not showed up, only to find the Geordie singer playing pool with their road crew! With Johnson in place, the band recorded their landmark ‘Back in Black’ album, still the benchmark for everything they did since then. The band went on to ever-greater success, with the group defying critical derision as well as musical trends, all the while breaking box-office records wherever they went. Their recorded output slowed in recent years, with the gaps between albums becoming bigger as their tours grew in scale. What wasn’t known in 2008, when they released their ‘Black Ice’ album was that Malcolm was already in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The intensely private Young siblings kept it between themselves and the rest of the band, as Malcolm insisted on committing himself to one last big world tour while he could still perform. Angus later revealed that during that run, Malcolm was already forgetting his own songs and was actually re-learning his guitar parts each day on tour, in order to perform them that night.

The band’s mammoth tour came to an end in 2010, and when the group reconvened four years later to record what must surely be their swansong album (‘Rock or Bust’), it was with Stevie Young in Malcolm’s place. Stevie, a nephew of Malcolm and Angus (though of a similar age to the brothers), had previous experience of playing live with AC/DC. He had stepped in for the group’s 1988 tour when Malcolm took a leave of absence from the band, in order to seek treatment for an increased dependence on alcohol. Observers at the time were hard-pressed to tell that Malcolm was not there, as Stevie looked a lot like Malcolm in 1988.

In 2014 the group declared that Malcolm would be ‘taking a break’ from the band, and when Stevie came in this time it would be to record the album and tour. He no longer looked similar to his uncle, but having done it once before, was seen by Angus as the logical choice to take over the role. ‘Rock or Bust’ was released in late 2014 and all seemed set for another world tour, their first with Angus steering the ship. However, without Malcolm there things fell apart rapidly. First of all drummer Phil Rudd had been replaced by another former member in Chris Slade, after Rudd had been arrested in his home country, charged with several serious offences. That was a mere prelude, as long-standing vocalist Brian Johnson was next to go, being forced to quit the tour midway through after being warned that he was close to losing his hearing completely. The choice of W. Axl Rose to take over for the remainder of the tour was controversial to say the least, though the tickets still sold and the tour went ahead. Finally, bassist Cliff Williams announced that he was to retire from the road on completion of the tour, initially stating that the band had changed beyond recognition but he later backtracked, as Angus insisted that Cliff had given his notice before the band even set out on that tour.

Meanwhile, while the band was on tour, Malcolm had been checked into a facility in Australia and reports were that his condition accelerated rapidly to the point where he could no longer remember any of his songs, and he was in need of round-the-clock care.

That left just Angus from the band which cut ‘Back in Black’ and ‘Black Ice’ standing, and as of 2017 it is unclear whether there will be any more from him under the AC/DC name. The loss of Malcolm will have hit him hard, as did the earlier loss of his elder brother George, who produced much of the group’s early work and had tasted success himself as a member of the Easybeats in the 1960s.

It is cruel indeed to think that the man who founded one of rock’s most successful and enduring bands, was a massive influence on many musicians who came after him and wrote some of the best-loved songs in hard rock, never got to enjoy a happy retirement after many years of hard touring. He defined the style of rhythm guitar in hard rock/metal (although he insisted that the music AC/DC made was nothing more than ‘rock ‘n’ roll’), and was admired even by the likes of Keith Richards, the man dubbed ‘the human riff’. His songs will live on of course, the many tribute bands playing AC/DC music across the world will see to that, and his influence is clear for all to see in younger bands, such as fellow Australian rockers Airbourne.

Tributes have been flooding in from almost anyone who was anyone in rock, and on the night when the news broke (18th November), towards the end of a Deep Purple concert in Manchester, guitarist Steve Morse paid a tribute of his own by playing the opening riff to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ to huge cheers.

Perhaps the best tribute came from Angus Young himself, signing off the band’s official statement with the simple words: ‘Malcolm, job well done.’

To close this post, written admittedly while your correspondent was still processing this news, here are some classic AC/DC clips:

Caught Live: Black Star Riders with Blues Pills, Tax The Heat, Parr Hall Warrington 10th November 2017

It was a late decision to go along to this gig, which I would have booked far sooner had my car not been off the road. Warrington is not far from me, it is slap bang in the middle of the cities of Liverpool and Manchester so you’d think it is convenient for both. That didn’t stop the regular ‘what, no Manchester?’ comments on the band’s Facebook page when this tour was announced, which overlooked that this autumn run of dates was intended to hit places where they hadn’t been on the spring tour earlier in the year.  To get there without a car is straightforward enough, there’s even a direct bus to the town which runs along my road – it’s the getting back. I decided the best way was to get the train there from Liverpool Lime Street, as there was a late train back which got you there in time for the last bus.

This bill featured four bands, and despite setting out at what I thought was an early time, I’d still managed to miss openers Dirty Thrills. Apologies to those guys, as I entered the hall while the crew were changing the stage over for next band up Tax The Heat. I saw these guys earlier in the year at Chester, a real up-close-and-personal gig that has gone down as one of the gigs of the year for me. The bigger stage suited the band, as they gave a lively run-through of tracks from their album ‘Fed To The Lions’ as well as airing a couple of new numbers. Their sound is relentlessly heavy right through, Jack Taylor’s thumping drums are accompanied by fuzzy bass from Antonio Angotti, and given extra wallop from guitarist JP Jacyshyn. On top of all that is frontman Alex Veale’s equally heavy guitar – he takes the majority of the lead solos as well – and they pair a monstrously heavy sound with excellent vocal harmonies from all four members. The only let-down was the out-front sound, it tended to swirl around in this hall. The place isn’t particularly big but has quite a high ceiling, and this would be an issue all night. That was a little disappointing, as this is one of the better venues in the area when it comes to actually being able to see the bands on the stage, it has good sight lines wherever you are in the room.

JP Jacyshyn of Tax The Heat

JP Jacyshyn of Tax The Heat

Tax The Heat's Alex Veale

Tax The Heat’s Alex Veale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sound problems aside, Tax The Heat gave a great account of themselves once again. They were never going to top that Chester show this time, but this is a band that’s going places and I predict they’ll be headlining venues bigger than this within a year. A nice touch for the Remembrance weekend was the poppy on the headstock of Alex Veale’s guitar, good to see. Following that the next band up were Swedish retro-rockers Blues Pills.

On the two occasions I’ve seen Blues Pills before they’ve been let down by a sound balance that gave far too much prominence to Zack Anderson’s bass. The sound tonight was only a little better in that regard, but their out-front mix was still a mess – actually worse than the previous band. It all tended to blend into one in places, so much so that it actually neutralised singer Elin Larsson’s powerful voice. She is without doubt the focus of this band, with guitarist Dorian Sorriaux and drummer André Kvarnström stationed over one side of the stage, with bassist Zack Anderson and touring keyboardist/guitarist Rickard Nygren over the other, giving the singer the centre of the stage in which to move about. She certainly does that, with moves ranging from sensual swaying to saucy thrusting, with plenty of jumping about thrown in too! They’re a band I really like, because of their modern take on 1960s/70s blues rock with plenty of jamming, solos from guitar and organ, plus of course that voice on top of it all. They were still very good, but with a decent sound balance they’d be sensational. The other slight let-down for me came when they left out ‘Devil Man’ from the set, choosing instead to close out with a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Somebody To Love’. It was a good version, but it was ‘Devil Man’ which hooked me on this group in the first place.

Dorian Sorriaux of Blues Pills

Dorian Sorriaux of Blues Pills

Elin Larsson (Blues Pills)

Elin Larsson (Blues Pills)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been a few years since last I saw Black Star Riders play a full set, there have been a few changes to the ranks since then with Robbie Crane now on bass in place of Marco Mendoza (now a member of The Dead Daisies). They have also changed drummer this year with Chad Szeliga taking over the position from Jimmy DeGrasso. With three albums now under their belt, they have gradually loosened the links to guitarist Scott Gorham’s former band Thin Lizzy since reforming as Black Star Riders in 2012. Three of the current Black Star Riders membership were touring as ‘Thin Lizzy’ up until then, when they opted to make a new album of original material. Initially they included a great deal of classic Lizzy numbers in their live set but as time has gone on they have been able to lessen the dependence on that material.

Scott Gorham (Black Star Riders)

Scott Gorham (Black Star Riders)

Ricky Warwick (Black Star Riders)

Ricky Warwick (Black Star Riders)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The band came on to big cheers, as this hall had gradually filled up during the sets from the previous bands, opening with ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’. Straight away, the sound hit like a sledgehammer – this is one thing that is definitely different from Thin Lizzy days, Lynott’s outfit were never this relentlessly heavy. They still have that twin-guitar sound, provided by Damon Johnson as well as Scott Gorham, plus vocalist Ricky Warwick adding extra weight with his own rhythm guitar, which may help explain this heavier sound. It was extremely loud, even so they still were stymied a bit by the acoustics in this hall. The current set included plenty of singalong anthems, such as ‘Finest Hour’ and ‘Testify or Say Goodbye’ which had the crowd bouncing from the off. Warwick was in good form all night, sounding strong vocally and encouraging plenty of clapping along from this crowd.

A trio of Black Star Riders

A trio of Black Star Riders

Damon Johnson (Black Star Riders)

Guitarist Damon Johnson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of only two Lizzy nods all night came mid-set, with ‘Jailbreak’; that did show however, that good as their own material is, a classic like that is pretty hard to beat. They played a lengthy and unrelenting set packed with hard rocking numbers, there were few pauses for breath! After ‘Bound for Glory’ they ended things with ‘Whiskey In The Jar’, which even Lizzy themselves seldom played once they really broke through.  That sent the punters home happy, as this one was quick off the blocks to get out in order to get back to the station in time for that last train!

All in all a good value night of hard rock, despite missing the first band there was still plenty to enjoy from the bands I caught. The sound issues were the only quibble for me, however the bands themselves gave plenty and I look forward to seeing any of these again in future.

4 – Deserving

Chuck Mosley 1959 – 2017

I got in from a gig on Friday night to hear that original Faith No More vocalist Chuck Mosley had died, aged just 57. That was the latest shock news in the world of rock, and one I certainly had not seen coming.

Chuck Mosley appeared on the first two Faith No More albums; he joined the band in 1985, taking over the lead vocal role from a certain Courtney Love. It was with him that their debut album ‘We Care a Lot’ was released that year on an independent label, but it wasn’t until the band signed to Slash Records (distributed by Warner Bros.) that they began to attract attention both in the US and abroad. The second album ‘Introduce Yourself’ featured a re-recorded version of the title track of their debut, and the song  ‘We Care A Lot’ ( lyrically, taking a swipe at the sort of pop star charity events which Live Aid had started around that time) even charted in the lower reaches of the UK singles charts. It was around that time that the band were starting to feature in UK magazines such as Kerrang! and such was the interest surrounding them that they were brought over to the UK to play shows. I caught one of these dates, at Stairways club in Birkenhead in early 1988, having heard ‘We Care A Lot’ and finding it to be substantially different from the hair-metal norm which was around then. The gig had an almost punkish vibe to it, there were goths, metalheads, punks present. The band played a set which, although definitely hard rock, touched on many other elements e.g. funk, punk rock, led by Jim Martin’s sludgy guitar and the eerie keyboard sounds of Roddy Bottum. They also included a cover of Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ that night, at that time it wasn’t quite such a cool thing to cover a Sabbath track as it became in the decade which followed.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of these guys (still being a young Metal fan who had definite ideas about what constituted hard rock /metal) but it was already clear that they were going to be big, they were so very different to everything else around at that time. What I hadn’t realised that it would be without Mosley when they did – a year later he and the band parted ways, with Mike Patton taking over lead vocal and suddenly, the band broke big with the next album ‘The Real Thing’. Faith No More would go on to massive success, with many of their new followers completely unaware that there was anybody else on the mic before Patton. The inevitable lawsuit between Mosley and his former band followed once they made it big, which was eventually settled and the singer moved on to join hardcore punk outfit Bad Brains, with whom he spent two years. After forming another band (Cement), releasing two albums, he was sidelined for a year while on tour after a road crash involving the band’s driver. Mosley sustained a broken back, effectively ending that project.

He didn’t reappear again until 2009 releasing an album called ‘Will Rap Over Hard Rock For Food’, featuring several guest appearances including one from former bandmate Roddy Bottum, then the following year appeared on stage with his old band for the first time since 1988 at a Faith No More gig in San Francisco.  He performed for the last time with Faith No More at two special shows in August 2016 to celebrate the reissue of debut album ‘We Care A Lot’.

On his passing, his family released the following statement:

After a long period of sobriety, Charles Henry Mosley III lost his life, on November 9th, 2017, due to the disease of addiction. We’re sharing the manner in which he passed, in the hopes that it might serve as a warning or wake up call or beacon to anyone else struggling to fight for sobriety. He is survived by long-term partner Pip Logan, two daughters, Erica and Sophie and his grandson Wolfgang Logan Mosley. The family will be accepting donations for funeral expenses. Details to follow when arranged.

Faith No More also released a statement on Friday evening:

It’s with a heavy, heavy heart we acknowledge the passing of our friend and bandmate, Chuck Mosley. He was a reckless and caterwauling force of energy who delivered with conviction and helped set us on a track of uniqueness and originality that would not have developed the way it had had he not been a part. How fortunate we are to have been able to perform with him last year in a reunion style when we re-released our very first record. His enthusiasm, his sense of humor, his style and his bravado will be missed by so many. We were a family, an odd and dysfunctional family, and we’ll be forever grateful for the time we shared with Chuck.

The ‘alternative’ metal boom which happened in the 1990s incorporating elements including rap and funk certainly would not have happened without Faith No More, and Chuck Mosley must be regarded as one of the pioneers of the sounds which went on to dominate the rock scene in the decades which followed.

He will undoubtedly be remembered for ‘We Care A Lot’, that and ‘Anne’s Song’ are presented below.

From black to My Indigo – Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel launches solo project

The ‘mountain out of a molehill’ award for this week goes to Within Temptation and singer Sharon den Adel. After the band’s website was black for an entire week, save for a stark message about an official statement ‘coming soon’ from den Adel, the site was finally restored on Friday morning 10th November, with the announcement following soon afterwards. Essentially it was to reveal that the material she has been working on, and hinting at, in recent weeks is indeed for a solo project called My Indigo with the first single issued today, also called ‘My Indigo’.

You can hear what she has to say here; she had appeared on a Dutch TV programme the night before to unveil this project (which was then partially translated and shared by fan site Don’t Tear Me Down)

Cut through the hype and what we’re left with is: singer of band announces solo project, band not splitting and will be back next year. Was there really a need to darken their whole site for seven days just to tell us that? OK, I get that she’s admitted to some domestic issues and that she felt it was time for a bit of ‘me time’ after twenty years with the band, but still – this whole thing feels a bit unnecessary. Surely she could just have announced it on the day in question without giving fans a reason to start speculating wildly, that black background definitely hinted at something a lot more than this.

On the other hand she did get people talking, and music fans like this one blogging so I suppose she has achieved her objective, so well done Shaz (!) With that in mind then here is that song which emerged today, with initial thoughts below:


If you’re a Within Temptation fan because of her voice above all else, you will probably like this song. She is in good vocal form, however if it was their symphonic Metal style that lured you in, then you are unlikely to take to this. It’s the sort of thing that would sit well on a pop radio station such as Heart radio; starting off well enough with her voice over acoustic guitar, it soon kicks in with that 1980s vibe complete with a gated drum sound and squeaky, electronic effects in the chorus. It is catchy, and might win her a new audience, but is definitely not my cup of Metal. I will admit however, that my judgement may be coloured (indigo?) by this whole episode; had it just been released without all of the surrounding hullabaloo I might actually have been more receptive to it.

I wish her well with this project, however until such time as Within Temptation reconvene I’ll focus on other bands of that style for my symphonic Metal fix, or just dig out ‘The Heart of Everything’ and ‘Mother Earth’ for another spin!

2 – Disappointing

Caught Live: Y&T, o2 Academy Liverpool 5th November 2017

I shall resist the temptation to make puns about the fireworks on stage from the veteran American rockers on Bonfire Night, when Britain invariably flouts all smoke regulations for one night of the year with fireworks and bonfires across the country. The band always tour Europe and the UK at around this time of year and for the second year in a row, they stopped off at Liverpool. This time around they were supported by Bournemouth hard rockers Voodoo Vegas, and I was in the hall early to catch them as they went through their paces before a sparse attendance. The quintet, fronted by vocalist Lawrence Case were a traditional hard rock outfit, he in particular had a strong tenor voice and although most who were coming to this show were still in the pub during this band’s set, he got the early attendees nicely warmed up. They boast a twin lead guitar team in Jon Dawson and Merylina Hamilton; even in 2017 you rarely see females in mixed-gender bands who are not lead singers so this old rocker was pleased to see that attitude starting to change (of course, Stone Broken’s Robyn Haycock is also breaking down barriers with her powerhouse drumming for that band).

By the time Dave Meniketti and his troupe hit the stage the attendance had swollen somewhat, though it still wasn’t quite the packed house the crowd were nonetheless noisy and enthusiastic. Opening with ‘Black Tiger’, it was another run through of the group’s back catalogue focusing on their hit albums of the early-to-mid 1980s. So out for another airing were the likes of ‘Mean Streak’, ‘Dirty Girl’, ‘I Believe In You’ and ‘Winds of Change’ (dedicated to the members of the original band, with the loss of guitarist Joey Alves earlier this year only Meniketti himself remains from that line-up). Despite the fact that there has still been no more new material since 2010’s ‘Facemelter’ they can still change things around from year to year. This year they performed two songs from the Meniketti solo albums of the mid-90s (‘Lay Me Down’ and ‘Storm’), ‘when grunge took over and the likes of us didn’t get much of a chance’ according to the frontman. This set included many of the favourites though, with their only legitimate UK hit ‘Summertime Girls’ being restored alongside ‘Lipstick and Leather’, and ‘Contagious’; both of these featured Aaron Leigh on the bass, who took over the four-string from Brad Lang last year. ‘Squeeze’ was also performed late in the set, guitarist John Nymann took on Phil Kennemore’s vocal for that number. Other treats were ‘Barroom Boogie’, ‘Masters and Slaves’ (pertinent in these times) and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Gonna Save The World’, before they encored with the traditional ‘Rescue Me’ and ‘Forever’.

Y&T's John Nymann

Y&T’s John Nymann

Dave Meniketti of Y&T

Dave Meniketti of Y&T

There’s little new I can say about this band; they come around every year, play a long set packed with great songs and always get their crowd fired up however many turn out. As was the case last year, they didn’t pack the room out but did draw a decent turnout for a Sunday night, made up of many fans who knew the songs and sang them back at Meniketti with gusto. As I’ve observed before though, they seem to be ‘preaching to the converted’ as the people who come always do so, yet you’d think a band of this calibre should still be attracting new people. They have the songs, they have accomplished players, great vocals, fine harmonies and Meniketti is still one of rock’s greatest lead guitarists, up there with Gary Moore in my humble view. Why they’re still playing clubs when others of their ilk went up to arenas and have become more revered by the masses, remains a mystery. Possibly it is that they always were a more down-to-earth outfit even during their 1980s heyday; they weren’t featured in gossip columns or embroiled in scandals like some other rock bands of the day, but always had that hard-working, professional attitude.

So long as they continue to come over to the UK and play though, I will be going along to see them. They’re a throwback to when rock bands did it all live; no samples, no backing, no trickery – just good honest playing. That’s still something to be commended in this era when technology seems to be taking a bigger role in all forms of music, including rock. They played for two solid hours and still couldn’t fit in classics like ‘Hurricane’ or even ‘Midnight In Tokyo’, but no doubt they’ll be back next time around. As will I!

4 – Deserving

 

Caught Live: Mostly Autumn, Citadel St Helens November 4th 2017

Towards the end of this lengthy show, Mostly Autumn mainman Bryan Josh gave a dedication to a recently-passed friend before he and the band played ‘Heroes Never Die’. It bypassed everyone in the hall at the time, but a day later the group posted on their website that it was Liam Davison, a former member of this band who had recently passed away. The show – a long one of at least two hours with an interval in the middle – must have been difficult for the seven-strong band then, but they still turned out their usual high-quality live performance.

The last time I saw this group was almost four years ago now, at this same venue and I recognised only husband-and-wife pairing of guitarist/vocalist Bryan Josh and lead singer Olivia Sparnenn-Josh, plus bass player Andy Smith and keyboardist Iain Jennings from then. They tend to have rather a fluid line-up, probably inevitable when there are so many in the ensemble and that the players do have other gigs. This band and fellow proggers Panic Room have often seen members go from one to the other, for instance. Currently it is drummer Alex Cromarty, second guitarist Chris Johnson and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Angela Gordon that complete the line-up, though when I got into the hall I found it packed, so from my spot my view of all these players save the drummer was obscured by Iain Jennings!

Mostly Autumn's Bryan Josh

Mostly Autumn’s Bryan Josh

Singer Olivia Sparnenn-Josh

Singer Olivia Sparnenn-Josh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They spent a few minutes adjusting a setup, before kicking the set off. I recognised few numbers (‘Drops of The Sun’, played second, was one of those I knew) but with this band, it really doesn’t matter. You know what to expect regardless of whether you know the songs or not – multi-part vocal harmonies, gentle intros, dynamic vocal from Olivia Sparnenn-Josh ranging from gentle to powerful, and eventually the whole thing builds into a mighty crescendo, usually accompanied by some weighty lead guitar from Bryan Josh. Not to mention, back-projected visuals with various scenes ranging from moon images to ocean waves, forests, sunsets; you get the idea.

This audience, even by my standards (!) was comprised of many ‘of a certain age’ – I did think that the gig by Michael Schenker over in Manchester on the same night might have impacted on the attendance here (it was a coin toss for me, the fact this venue is easier to reach for me swung it!) but the place was very busy, a much better attendance than last time I saw them here in truth. They were treated to many epics, the sort of thing you really do have to pay attention to and so, for once, there weren’t the usual plethora of phones held up in the crowd (one or two down the front were spotted).

Even among rock fans, this is a cult band still – they don’t get heavily featured on Planet Rock for instance, they merit only cursory mentions in the magazines (save for the subscription mag published by The Classic Rock Society, who once again put the band on at this venue) yet they continue to thrive. It does show that there’s still a demand for live music that is not served up by a corporation on a heavily-rotated playlist, something you have to listen to properly and not have it serve as mere background for the office. They are always worth seeing whenever they come around though, and I will try not to make it another four years before I go along again! 😀

4 – Deserving