Caught Live: Space Elevator, Old Courts Wigan 19th May 2018

It’s now been two years since I discovered this band via their cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Don’t Believe A Word’, and around 18 months since seeing them live on a joint tour with fellow Brit-rockers CATS in SPACE. While the CATS have taken off into orbit with some high-profile tours supporting major names, the Space Elevator hasn’t quite ascended to similar heights. Not yet, anyway.  Their second album, cunningly titled ‘Space Elevator II’ should have been out to coincide with this run of dates but in the interim between its recording and this tour, the group signed with German independent label SPV. That meant the release date was put back to 25th May, so those who came along to this show would be in for a set containing several new numbers not yet known.

This date was to say the least, low-key. Wigan Old Courts is a multi-purpose arts centre, a converted magistrates’ court as the name suggests. It now hosts a variety of arts events including regular gigs, and this show took place in a rather dark room in the building, quite an adjustment since it was still extremely bright and sunny when I arrived at the venue. After a brief chat with drummer Brian Greene (manning the merch table), who explained the situation with the band’s signing to SPV and subsequent delay in the album release, I entered the hall to find few people there. There was no opening act, so there was a bit of a wait for the band to appear on the stage.

The three guys came on and struck up before the singer, the enigmatically-titled The Duchess strolled out resplendent in a leather jacket and shorts. Not the catsuit she is renowned for wearing, but she had a reason for that and the clue was printed on her top, a large-scale picture of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (who were wed that day). Opening with ‘Elevator’ itself, opening track of their debut album, they did indeed showcase numerous songs from the upcoming record. Based on what I heard, it promises to be another varied selection of songs – even touching on a bit of ‘rap-rock’ in one number! They played quite a few we did know as well, including my personal favourite ‘Loneliness of Love’ which came quite early into the set. Stood close to the stage, with the PA stacks actually beside me, it wasn’t the best place to get a good sound mix but The Duchess has such a powerful voice, she can overcome pretty much anything, still making herself heard. Not so much seen however, the stage lighting was quite dark all night and in a hall which was near pitch-black already, it didn’t do them too many favours. A pity, since The Duchess eventually showed just why she’d decided not to perform in the usual catsuit tonight – ditching her shorts Angus-style, to reveal that her top was actually a leotard and she’d had the words ‘Hazza 4 Megs’ printed on her backside! Anyone who’s seen this band before would know she’s a bit of a character and with a welcome touch of saucy British humour, of course this audience (mainly comprising ‘certain age’ guys like your correspondent, ahem!) were most appreciative of that interlude (!)

Their cover of ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ came towards the end of the night, as guitarist David Young described it, a hybrid between the Thin Lizzy and Gary Moore versions. He gave an excellent performance on lead guitar, never over-playing and always servicing the song, with strong rhythm backing from bassist Chas Maguire and drummer Brian Greene.  There was a lot of humorous banter between themselves and the punters all night, as though they’d decided just to have a bit of fun seeing as so few of us had come out. But they were still ‘on it’, for all the joking about there wasn’t one missed cue, they’re far too good.  The last two numbers consisted of one new song, inspired by Freddie Mercury (reminiscent of ‘Only The Good Die Young’ to me) and a cover of  Motörhead’s ‘Ace Of Spades’. Following this they were straight out to the foyer for a meet and greet with the punters.

This gig actually felt similar to the last time I saw them, in so far as I didn’t know the material (or at least much of it!) but there was no doubting their quality. The Duchess is an accomplished stage performer outside of this band, and the others have all been in some major productions too (David Young spent some time with the We Will Rock You house band, for instance) so you were always in for a good evening with this band. To say it set me back just eight quid for the ticket was a (pleasant) surprise too, in this age of big-ticket shows at astronomical prices, it just shows you don’t have to buy into corporate hype to get a good gig! I do wish more had turned out though (we could all have got the same bus home!) Perhaps they have come up against the ‘never heard of them’ factor which means few will take the punt on a band without a ‘big name’. With SPV now behind them, that should change and soon once the second album is released, it’s to be hoped their new song (‘We Can Fly’, played tonight) will be picked up by Planet Rock and if that happens, their audience will inevitably grow.

When they come around again, heard of them or not – get along to the show. They’ve got the lot: songs, top musicianship, a singer who not only has the looks but a voice that stacks up against anyone.  Ann Wilson, Floor Jansen – for me, The Duchess is in that bracket and I say that about very few, even singers I like. She also has that cheeky sense of humour, while immensely talented she doesn’t take herself TOO seriously.

The second Space Elevator album will be released on 25th May 2018 and I look forward to hearing these tunes on record.

Set List:

  • Elevator
  • Take The Pain
  • Talk Talk
  • Loneliness Of Love
  • Little White Lies
  • Lucky Girl
  • Far Away Boy
  • World Of Possibilities
  • More Than Enough
  • I Will Find You (Gallifrey Dreams)
  • Crazies (Take Me Home)
  • Keep Waiting
  • Oils And Bubbles
  • Really Don’t Care
  • Don’t Believe A Word (Thin Lizzy cover)
  • W.Y.T.A.T.
  • We Can Fly
  • Queen For A Day
  • Ace Of Spades (Motörhead cover)

Space Elevator Facebook Page

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

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Holly Henderson launches new website ahead of album release

The Kent musician and songwriter Holly Henderson has just launched a new website with photos, video and significantly, three excerpts from her long-awaited album recorded in LA last year and produced by (renowned guitarist) Pete Thorn. Of these extracts, ‘Loneliness’ will probably be familiar as it was previewed on BBC Radio Kent last summer, while the other two clips (for the tracks ‘Cost Of Love’ and ‘Pride Can Wait’) are heard for the first time on the site. I intend to review this album the moment it hits my ears but for now, the three snippets promise a welcome diversity to this album.

‘Loneliness’, the one track that’s been heard in full up to now, is a pacy rocker, a tasty slice of guitar-driven rock with a hint of Pearl Jam, while ‘Cost Of Love’ will make you think of The Police with its insistent chugging guitar. ‘Pride Can Wait’ is a much slower number, more akin to her work on the ‘Opium Drip’ EP. She has earned a reputation as a fine guitarist, however these clips show how her voice has developed in leaps and bounds since she first took tentative steps into lead vocal territory on her self-produced EPs. No longer drenched in reverb, there’s a new-found confidence in her vocal delivery that bodes well for the album as a whole.

The website also includes video content such as her promo for ‘Breakdown’ (filmed in LA and directed by George Mays), her cover of Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’ which directly led to the album recording session with Pete Thorn, as well as an EPK with some more brief extracts from this upcoming record. In addition there are some exquisitely-shot promo photos (by Claudio Tristano) which show Holly with her beloved Telecaster guitar, as well as indicating her penchant for 1970s fashions! Lastly, there’s a webshop with the three EPs released to date available (‘Rust’, ‘Desert Wax’ and ‘Opium Drip’). The album release was put back to allow her to return to LA and add a few finishing touches, but the launch of this website could well indicate she is finally ready to gear up for a summer release. She has played some selected dates (showcasing tracks from this album) with her live band recently too, and more are planned.

Having followed Holly since her days as a rhythm guitar player in a covers band, her talent has always stood out and I am just one of many who are keenly awaiting this album. I hope to speak with her once the record is ready for release and talk about the making of this album and her future plans.

Holly Henderson (photo: Claudio Tristano)

Holly Henderson (photo: Claudio Tristano)

Holly Henderson Music website

Caught Live: King King (with Steve Hill), Epstein Theatre Liverpool 10th May 2018

A shuffle of the running order caught me out tonight as I entered this venue, a small theatre above what used to be a musical instrument store, but is now just another bar. The times had been bumped so that opener Steve Hill was already playing as I entered, and made my way to my seat in the second row. I’d have liked to see more, as he was an intriguing ‘one man band’ – playing guitar and singing, while keeping the beat using bass and snare drums operated by his feet, and with a small drumstick coming from the guitar headstock, so he could play cymbals as well! I saw enough to pique my interest and as he is also supporting King King in Chester in a few days’ time, I might have to check that out.

His sound is rootsy hard rock, and by playing everything himself he can’t blame the drummer (!) on the other hand, he doesn’t have to pay a backing musician! I’ve mentioned before on this blog that the ‘duo’ thing has become almost a cliché now since Royal Blood got successful, spawning many similar acts. It did cross my mind that it is the logical conclusion to this paring down thing that’s seen the likes of The Picturebooks, Rival Bones, REWS (to name but three) duos who have all come along in recent years. Whether we’ll see a trend for this one-man band style remains to be seen, but if anyone can blaze the trail for others it’s this remarkably talented Canadian.

The early start meant King King were due on at 8:30, it was a little after that when the lights went down and the quartet (led by recently-recruited keyboardist Jonny Dyke) came on stage to their intro tape, of AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’. Opening with ‘(She Don’t) Gimme No Loving’, the lead-off track from current album ‘Exile & Grace’, that set the tone for the evening.

King King have steadily evolved from a blues band into a melodic rock outfit, still with that blues base but with accessible, snappy songs that have you clapping along, or in some cases getting folk out of their seats to dance – even as early as second song in (‘Waking Up’, in this case).  They’ve been compared to early Whitesnake but to me, especially with this current album, the material is reminiscent of Thunder (a band they supported a couple of years ago, which helped to raise their profile).  Singer/guitarist Alan Nimmo (following a period of recuperation after a throat operation) is now back in the sort of vocal form which won over many Thunder fans on that tour, while his masterful guitar playing is as immaculate as ever. His vocal on ‘Broken’ from the current album was immense, putting over the passion in the song’s lyric (‘this world, is broken, we can’t hold on’) dealing with the current state of the world. Not everything was so lyrically dark; as the big Scotsman observed, we’d come out to enjoy a night of music.

The band went back to their earlier days to perform  ‘A Long History Of Love’, which features extended solos on both keyboard and guitar. The audience were treated to a beautifully-performed guitar solo which was immaculately-observed, the proverbial pin would not have dared drop during the quiet moments. New guy Jonny Dyke was also welcomed with a generous cheer; having taken over from the popular Bob Fridzema just after the album release he has made the keyboard position his own already.

It was such a superb set, that it flew by and barely seemed like an hour. In fact they’d been on stage for at least 90 minutes, and nobody would have minded if they’d done 90 more! The rhythm section of Lindsay Coulson (bass) and Wayne Proctor (drums) kept it tight all evening, both play immaculately but tastefully, always for the song. That’s the second time I’ve seen King King, both times were in this small gem of a theatre which yours truly persists in referring to by its old name ‘The Neptune’ theatre. The venue went into administration late last year and it’s to be hoped that it is able to continue, as this band certainly enjoyed performing here and I for one hope to see them again on this stage next time around.

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

King King facebook page

Steve Hill facebook page

Caught Live: Nickelback (with Seether), Echo Arena Liverpool 7th May 2018

The lads in Nickelback were well aware that people would have been feeling the effects of enjoying the hottest day of the year so far, and on a Bank Holiday Monday at that.
“So are we feeling, what’s the word – knackered?” asked guitarist Ryan Peake early in the set, while frontman Chad Kroeger joked that they should never arrange a gig on a bank holiday again. He did his best to gee up this crowd by hollering ‘LIVERP-O-O-O-LLLL!’ at regular intervals, something he habitually does every time this band visits. It did have the desired effect, and he got a second wind out of the ‘knackered’ audience.

There’s little I can add to what I wrote the previous time they came here; their show featured many of their regular crowd-pleasing hits, they played everything well and the humorous interplay between Kroeger, Peake and their crew was present and correct (at one point, Chad jokingly admonished the crewman who brought on their drinks for not stopping to salute the crowd, then getting him to do just that the next time he came out). One thing I did like was their idea of putting up a countdown on the screen behind the stage, after support Seether’s set the band appeared on that screen to deliver a brief message, telling the crowd they’d be on in 20 minutes and in the meantime telling us to ‘buy beer’ (not at arena prices, fellas!) When that clock did count down to zero, it was a short featurette on the band which played on that screen, and in fact there was another five-minute interval before the lights dropped for real.

The set delivered was not that different from last time they were here 18 months ago; although they did open with the title track from current album ‘Feed The Machine’. I’d have liked more from that record personally (that was the only song from this record played all night), but they do tend to stick to what works and so once again ‘Photograph’, ‘Something In Your Mouth, ‘Lullaby’ and ‘Figured You Out’ were among many of their favourites given another airing. However they did pledge that they’d play something off all their albums to date and so they did ‘Million Miles An Hour’ from their previous album (‘No Fixed Address’) this time, as well as a medley of ‘Curb’ from their first album, incorporating snippets of ‘Where?’ and ‘Left’ (“There were some cool riffs on that first record”, explained Kroeger).

The traditional performance of ‘Rockstar’ with two fans invited up was memorable; Ryan Peake picked out a guy called Adam who not only sang it all but thoroughly lapped up his moment of fame, stomping all over the stage and even onto the stage ramps while fellow audience member Lucy (picked out by Chad Kroeger) also enjoyed her time up there, singing and dancing away. Both of them even managed to get selfies with the band members without breaking stride mid-song! (“No stage fright whatsoever”, remarked Chad afterwards.)

Towards the end the frontman sent the guitar tech into a bit of a panic, declaring that he wanted to play ‘Hero’ (his song from the ‘Spider-Man’ film of 2002) this meant a change of guitar and so he stalled for time, making light of the crew rapidly running off so that they could fetch the correct guitar for him and Ryan Peake. It kept them on their toes of course, but there was a lot of humorous banter all night, as usual whenever the band play here.

Of course ‘How You Remind Me’ closed the main set, and their encore was ‘Gotta Be Somebody’ and ‘Burn It To The Ground’ (“I’ve got my James Hetfield guitar ready so you know what’s coming!”, said Kroeger, a self-confessed Metallica fanatic).

So few surprises then, but once again Nickelback came, played a well-received set with everything from pop-rock singalongs to outright Metal, and sent a few thousand people home with smiles on their faces. I wish they had taken a few more chances with the setlist, though I get that they aren’t in the business of disappointing their fans (hey, that’s why they always play these big barns after all!) and so tend to adopt the AC/DC approach of ‘give ’em what they want’.  As they took their final bows, bassist Mike Kroeger decided to treat us to an impromptu workout of about 20 press-ups, why that was only he could explain!

Openers Seether also played a set touching on most of their back catalogue to date, with their riff-heavy downtuned guitar sound going down well with those who’d got here early enough to see the South African rockers. Perhaps they felt that they should do a bit of everything for fans not necessarily well-up on their material, but their sound is familiar enough. Not a million miles away from the likes of Shinedown or even Nickelback themselves when they crank it up, though their decision to place bassist Dale Stewart front and centre (thus getting the best of the stage light) rather than vocalist/guitarist Shaun Morgan was a little bit strange. Another good band brought to an arena setting in the UK by Nickelback (following the likes of Monster Truck and Black Stone Cherry), they’re a band I wouldn’t mind seeing live at one of their own shows at some point.

4 – Deserving

 

Caught Live: Marmozets (with Himalayas) o2 Academy Liverpool 5th May 2018

Another band about whom I had little prior knowledge, this ticket was bought close to show date and on the recommendation of friends. Marmozets are a Yorkshire-based quintet made up of two sets of siblings: lead singer Rebecca ‘Becca’ McIntyre with her brothers Josh (drums) and Sam (guitar/vocals) alongside Will and Jack Bottomley (bass and lead guitar respectively). Their second full album ‘Knowing What You Know Now’ came out late last year and they’ve toured quite extensively to promote it. This short run of dates called at Liverpool, so it was only fair I went along!

The band had the bigger upstairs hall at the o2 Academy but it was still quite sparse when support Himalayas came on. I confess I took one look at this lot as they came on and thought ‘indie band’, expecting a set of light guitar-based tunes. Erm, not quite! The first thing that hit me was James Goulbourn’s drum sound. Monstrous, dare I say Bonhamesque! They have two frontmen in guitarist/vocalist Joe Williams  and Mike Griffiths (guitar/keyboards/vocals) but it was the latter who led things off, taking lead vocal on the first number. He resembled a youthful Jimmy Page to me, he and Joe Williams shared the lead vocal throughout. Their sound was a lot heavier, a lot harder-hitting than I’d bargained for. Midway through they announced proudly that their song ‘Thank God I’m Not You’ had over five million views on Spotify. That was probably enough to  buy them a sausage roll to share between the four of them (!) but that to me showed how the importance of that platform, although not every band is enthusiastic (to do with its business model and how bands are remunerated, or not – something I will cover in a future post).  These lads from Cardiff did play an impressive set though, and I’ll keep an eye on them in future.

The crowd had swollen substantially by the time Marmozets came on, and a big cheer went up as the five members casually ambled onto the stage. They chose to open with ‘Habits’, their lead-off track from the current album and the one which I knew best, and straight away this crowd were with them, chanting the ‘get carried awaa-a-y’ chorus loudly alongside Becca McIntyre. The crowd were boisterous throughout, and it wasn’t long before the moshpits started. At which point yours truly shuffled away from it all – fun 30 years ago, but these days at my age with a fractured ankle not long healed, thanks but no thanks!

The set featured many tracks from the current album including ‘Play’ which had everybody jumping (this one reminded me a bit of Sumo Cyco, a band I saw recently in Chester) and ‘Meant To Be’. These were all high-energy numbers, with a lot of heavy fuzz-toned guitar designed to keep the crowd bouncing, and that certainly did so! Their sound isn’t that far removed from Tax The Heat, albeit with a female singer, they have that same sledgehammer delivery with the drums and heavy guitar.Becca McIntyre herself is a visual performer, swaying the hips and gesturing with the arms, she holds the attention well. She was clearly pleased with the crowd reaction, on the rare occasion she addressed the crowd (they rattled through about 17 numbers in just over an hour) she told us how ‘amazing’ the crowd was and how pleased the band were to be playing these stages. They ended with ‘Major System Error’ and exited promptly, there was no encore but to be frank, your correspondent was spent by the end!

Marmozets may be a ‘Kerrang band’, or one that is pitched at the younger market (they’re all around mid to late twenties themselves) but they’re a hard-hitting, hard riffing rock band of the sort this country doesn’t produce enough of. If you like a high energy full on live rock gig, this band will give you what you’re looking for.

Himalayas Facebook page

Marmozets Facebook page

4 – Deserving

 

Ghost transition from Papa Emeritus to Cardinal Copia

It’s been an exciting time for fans of the Swedish ‘masked metallers’ Ghost. After each album and tour cycle the group always ‘replaces’ its frontman, until now a masked, pope-like figure called Papa Emeritus. There have been three incarnations; Papa Emeritus I, II and III – each with a slightly different look and persona, and the third incarnation was fronting the band up until their last tour date in their Swedish homeland, on September 30th 2017. During their traditional closing number ‘Monstrance Clock’, two crewmen physically hauled Papa III off the stage, as the band (made up of masked musicians known only as Nameless Ghouls) stopped playing and followed him off stage. Just as Papa III was disappearing stage left, a new figure entered from the other side. An aged Papa, apparently frail and using an oxygen mask, accompanied by two more crew members. Introducing himself as Papa Emeritus Zero, he stated (in Italian) that “party time is over, the Middle Ages start now!” He was then escorted off the stage as the lights went up to signify the end of the show. Footage was captured of the moment Papa Emeritus III was removed and Papa Zero emerged:

Ghost fans had to wait until April of this year before finding out what happened to the Papas and who would replace Papa III. They released a trilogy of short videos starting at the beginning of the month, with the aged Papa meeting with the mysterious ‘Sister Imperator’ at their ministry, to discuss who would be the successor. The comically-themed short shows Papa Zero (now retooled as ‘Papa Nihil’, and speaking English) revealed as the father of all three previous Papas; he is informed by Sister Imperator that as the line of succession is now exhausted and that he is too old to take the role himself, they must find a new successor.

The second short, released two weeks later picks up the story as a new figure enters, in black vestments and carrying a ghettoblaster. Despite objections from Papa Nihil, Sister Imperator reminds him that this new character (introduced as ‘Cardinal Copia’) is the next most senior member, and he is duly initiated. Following this Papa Nihil and Sister Imperator leave to inform the three previous Papas of ‘their new mission’:

The final video short in the trilogy, released only at the end of April, is the big ‘reveal’. Accompanied by some new music, presumably from the upcoming album, the Papas are shown sat in a darkened room playing card game Uno amongst themselves, when Sister Imperator bursts in to announce that they are ‘being reinstated’ and will be going ‘back on the road in full regalia’. A make-up free Papa III shrugs, confused as the door closes, but as soon as he sits down again a Nameless Ghoul appears, brandishing a syringe and injects Papa III who promptly collapses. (The other two Papas are unseen but are also presumably whacked in the same manner).

From there the scene switches to a morgue, as the apparently dead Papas are shown to be embalmed by a creepy-looking ‘surgeon’, before he places each (complete with their vestments) in a casket, then a flight case for transportation. This is accompanied by another piece of new music, once again a probable taster for the new Ghost album. As they are loaded into a van, waved off by Sister Imperator, a voiceover invites fans to ‘come see the Papas’ at a forthcoming ‘VIP Experience’. This video short was played at a special ‘sermon’ (streamed live on Facebook for fans worldwide) in New York on April 30th 2018 where the band’s US tour dates plus two large-scale arena shows were announced (one in New York, one in LA).

The video shorts were beautifully-made, with comic touches and that aspect was played up at the ‘sermon’, where Papa Nihil and Sister Imperator appeared in person. They formed a perfect comedy duo which had their audience in stitches. The elaborate setting is all to facilitate the transition to Cardinal Copia as the band’s new ‘frontman’ for the upcoming album and tour. Of course, as everyone now knows, Ghost’s frontman is and has always been played by vocalist/main songwriter Tobias Forge, reinventing his persona with each album and tour cycle.

A lawsuit against Forge was filed last year by several former members of Ghost who claimed that they had not been sufficiently paid from the band’s income from album releases and tours. Those former band members revealed their identities as well as that of Forge himself, forcing him to come clean that he was the brains behind the operation. The case is ongoing at the time of writing, but Forge has nonetheless pressed ahead with new musicians in the Nameless Ghoul outfits for touring. The identity of Forge as Ghost’s leader has been an open secret among fans long before this all took place however, so the group’s popularity has not been drastically affected by the legal action.

It also came to light during this case that the Papa Emeritus character was not actually created by Forge, but by an associate of one of Ghost’s former guitarists. This may have influenced Forge’s decision to break away from the ‘Papa Emeritus’ line for his new character, but he has stated in interviews (given for the first time as himself, rather than under an assumed ‘Nameless Ghoul’ identity) that he didn’t want the concept to become ‘stale’ by introducing yet another ‘Papa’ persona for this album and tour cycle.

Regardless of who is backing Tobias Forge this time around, he has succeeded in creating a fascinating cast of characters, presented in cinematic style and all with a dash of comedy. That sets him and Ghost apart from many ‘satanic’ themed Metal bands, this outfit is playing it for laughs and their live shows are certainly not ‘threatening’ but more of an Alice Cooper-style piece of musical theatre.

The shows are likely to be successful and when they come back to Europe no doubt demand for tickets will be very high indeed. 

‘Prequelle’ is released on June 1st 2018. Below is the video for lead-off single ‘Rats’ (featuring Cardinal Copia) taken from the forthcoming album: