Caught Live: The Struts (with Kelsey Karter), Academy 2 Manchester 23rd February 2019

Formed ten years ago this year, British rockers The Struts have gained a strong following in the last few years, with their retro-rock sound and look, particularly the style of frontman Luke Spiller, whose glam outfits and striking features reminded many of a younger Freddie Mercury.  They relocated to Los Angeles in 2015 and since then their star has been on the rise, their second album ‘Young And Dangerous’ was released last summer, and this tour (announced last autumn) sold out almost every venue.

The Main Debating Hall at Manchester University (or Academy 2) drew a crowd with a vastly diverse age range, from youngsters of student age right up to ‘certain agers’ who probably recall the bands who have obviously inspired this Derbyshire quartet. Indeed there were two even younger fans present, as we’ll get to later. The hall was still filling up when the support act came on, at first I thought another retro-rock band as three guys who looked like they’d been raiding the local thrift stores came on stage. Then on bounded Kelsy Karter – the singer from Australia soon got the early arrivals on board with a set of soul-tinged hard rock, all infused with a sense of fun. Proclaiming that nobody had sent her a Valentine’s day card, she then singled out a male audience member and sang ‘God Knows I’ve Tried’ while frequently pointing his way. Her flirty humour plus powerful voice went over well with the audience, filling all the way through her set and, following a well-received cover of ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ she went off to a great reception. Another new name to me, and one I shall look out for when she comes around again.

Opener Kelsy Karter

Opener Kelsy Karter

The Struts lived up to their name once the lights went down, with Luke Spiller sauntering on stage in a natty red outfit. His style is so reminiscent of the great Freddie Mercury that you’d be forgiven for thinking the Queen frontman had been reincarnated. With respect to the Struts man though, he isn’t Freddie vocally. That didn’t really matter, since he had command of this by now packed hall from start to finish. This was a good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll romp that had the audience cheering loudly throughout, with none of the self-importance that blights many other bands. They did a cover of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing In The Dark’ which was spun out for quite some time, as Spiller looked for a ‘Courtney Cox’ to join him on stage (for those old enough to remember the famous promo video). Instead, he ended up with two youngsters on stage, a brother and sister who looked about 11 years old at most! Making the most of it, he had them both perform backing vocals and jump, as the boy didn’t actually want to dance! This could have fallen apart but Spiller’s humour ensured it all went down great with the crowd, and he got the hall to give the kids a rousing send-off at the end of it all.

There’s more to this band than the dandy frontman though, and he was given good backing from guitarist Adam Slack, and bassist Jed Elliott – who looked a lot like Liverpool FC footballer Adam Lallana to me (!) Drummer Gethin Davies had a large Wales flag on his kit, celebrating the Six Nations win earlier in the day against England no doubt. The set was roughly evenly split between both their albums released to date.

The Struts are definitely destined for bigger places than this, there hasn’t been a rock band with a sense of fun and ability to laugh at themselves break through since probably The Darkness, and this is the band who will put a few smiles back on faces.

The Struts Facebook Page

Kelsy Karter Facebook Page

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

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Film: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

**** NB – Contains SPOILERS (as if you do not know this story by now!) ****

It was a long time from concept to completion but this film, depicting the rise of British rock band Queen to major success has proven to be a runaway hit in the cinema since its release in October 2018. The production was far from smooth; the makers had initially wanted Sacha Baron Cohen (best known for his comic character Ali G) to play singer Freddie Mercury, but that did not happen owing to Baron Cohen’s desire for a more ‘gritty’ portrayal of the Queen frontman than that intended by the band’s surviving members. Things didn’t get moving properly until late 2015 when the screenplay was approved; it wasn’t until another year had passed before the cast and director were installed. Even then, production was troubled; director Bryan Singer was removed from the project with about two weeks of principal photography still to shoot, amid reports of his repeated absences from the set. Even when Singer was actually on set, there were further allegations of clashes with lead actor Rami Malek (portraying the central role of Freddie Mercury). The studio appointed Dexter Fletcher to complete the filming, although on the finished film Singer has retained the director’s credit. (Fletcher is given an ‘executive producer’ credit)

Bohemian Rhapsody DVD cover

Bohemian Rhapsody DVD cover

With all this hanging over it, on its cinematic release not many predicted that the film would prove to be the box-office smash it has become. Still playing in UK cinemas at the time of writing, the film has just been issued digitally (on Amazon Prime) and is about to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray.  It’s taken me until now to get around to seeing this picture, so better late than never here’s my take on it all.

Beginning with a lengthy opening sequence showing Mercury preparing for his performance at Live Aid, the film starts things off by cutting back to 1970 where the young Farrokh Bulsara is shown working as an airport baggage handler. From here events rattle along at a rapid pace; he attends a college gig by the band Smile; attempting to introduce himself to the band he encounters a pretty blonde (Mary Austin, played by Lucy Boynton) who tells him where to find the guys in the band. He does so just as Smile’s singer Tim Staffell (Jack Roth) quits, introducing himself to guitarist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy).  Securing the gig of lead singer and renaming the band Queen, the new band (complete with bassist John Deacon, played by Joseph Mazzello) are unveiled, with their new singer taking command immediately. Right there, Queen fans of a certain age will know that it wasn’t quite so simple as that (for instance, Deacon was not their first bassist and only joined in 1971) but , for reasons of trying to cram in a 20-year story into about two hours, the film does take numerous liberties. It jumps forward a year to show the band selling their van in order to raise enough money to make an album, and meeting up with Farrokh’s family where he announces to all present that he is now known as ‘Freddie Mercury’.

The pace at which things develop in the film gives it the feel of a montage, as the band are shown being signed by a record label, making their album, touring and becoming ever more popular. Once again fans will be shouting at the screen, as it shows the group in their 1975 finery, looking exactly like the real band did in the video for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (the song) – while they are shown performing ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ – a song which didn’t come along until 1978! How well you can overlook the lack of chronology like this probably depends on whether or not you were there when this band were active. It goes on to depict Mercury, by now in a relationship with Austin, keeping in contact with her by telephone but becoming increasingly distracted on the road with an attraction to other men.

An amusing sequence follows when the band are actually putting down ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ on tape, showing Taylor becoming agitated at the amount of times Mercury wants him to overdub ‘Galileo’ vocals, before there’s a heated discussion with a record company executive (played by Mike Myers) over their insistence on releasing this song as a single. Mercury is shown next in a radio studio, daring the disc jockey (the maverick Kenny Everett, played by Dickie Beau) to play the whole thing. He does so, and the record hits the top of the charts. A rather cheesy sequence follows where scathing reviews of the single taken from the time are shown on screen; a deliberate thumbing of the nose at the critics.

The film goes out of its way in places to show that the band wasn’t just about the singer; showing May in the studio with the band and entourage with his idea which became ‘We Will Rock You’, and in another sequence showing Deacon playing the bass line for his ‘Another One Bites The Dust’. In the film’s timeline, Mercury is shown to become more difficult the more successful they get, almost getting into a fight with Taylor. He’s then shown to become increasingly detached from both the band and Austin, being offered a solo recording deal and being led by his personal manager (Paul Prenter, played by Allen Leech) further into the murky world of the New York gay clubbing scene. Once again, the chronology is questionable, after a scene showing Mercury becoming agitated at a press conference by repeated questioning of his personal life by journalists, he quits the band after another altercation with Taylor over his secret signing of a solo deal. In reality, Taylor had put out not one, but two solo albums before Mercury even made one, so the sight of the drummer reacting angrily on screen is more for dramatic effect. It also skates over the 1984 period when the band released the album ‘The Works’ and toured, though they are shown making the ‘I Want To Break Free’ video which, as the film depicts, went down badly in the United States.  This is one thing which jarred with me particularly, since I saw Queen live for the first time during this period and their world tour was actually a success, culminating in their performance at the inaugural Rock in Rio festival in early 1985. Many will also note that their collaboration with David Bowie (which yielded the song ‘Under Pressure’), is ignored, even more glaring since that single was their only other number one hit besides ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ itself.

Prenter is shown to be indulging Mercury’s excesses, and when the management attempt to reach the singer they are repeatedly fobbed off by Prenter. Mercury finds out that they are trying to contact him to take part in a huge charity concert, and angrily fires Prenter. He is shown watching a television interview with Prenter, who is shown to betray the singer’s confidence with revelations about his personal life (in actual fact, Prenter did this by selling his story to a tabloid newspaper). A contrite Mercury meets up and reconciles with his bandmates, and they sign up for the concert (which as everyone knows, was the Live Aid concert).  It is here that the biggest and most jarring chronology discrepancy comes up; in the events of the film it is during rehearsals for this show that Mercury is diagnosed with the AIDS virus which eventually claims him. In reality, he was not diagnosed until 1987 after the band had completed their final world tour, but as this movie has been building up to that climactic pay off of the Live Aid performance, the script has this brought forward. Again, whether you can accept that or not probably depends on whether you were around to see this band at the time. As someone who was lucky enough to see Queen on three occasions including their final live show ever at Knebworth in 1986, I found this extremely difficult to accept.

The Live Aid sequence is the part which not only makes this film worth seeing but arguably saves the whole thing – they went to a lot of trouble to get this one right. The clothes, the stage setting, the details right down to the Pepsi-Cola branded paper cups are absolutely bang-on. Malek as Mercury owns this sequence, he replicates every single move Mercury made on the 13th July 1985 and his performance is so accurate (indeed that of all four actors as the whole band) that every Queen tribute band currently playing live will be thinking that they had better up their game. In actual fact, the vocals for the musical sequences are either taken from Mercury himself or are replicated by singer Marc Matel, whose voice is uncannily similar. That sequence was shot first, and as such credit must be given where due to Singer’s direction, he has recaptured the magic of the original 22 minute set beautifully. The film ends at this point, having depicted the band start from a college band into a huge success, then with excess taking its toll before redemption is found via their career-defining Live Aid performance. The band’s later career is not covered at all, though some songs are used as background in the film itself.

Given the runaway box office success of the movie, it’s pointless giving a verdict since the audience has already spoken – however, despite the film’s many imperfections if you are a fan of this band or indeed have any interest whatsoever in them, you should get the DVD if you haven’t already seen the movie. The fact a film about a band which had its heyday decades ago still can pull in an audience the way it has speaks volumes about Queen’s enduring appeal, truly one of the great rock bands. Whether this is the film which does justice to such a giant of rock however, is for you to decide. For me, it was a pleasant if cliched biopic, which would get three inflatable guitars, but the performance of the actors portraying the band (uncannily accurate in all cases), plus the Live Aid sequence earns it a fourth. If you do buy the DVD or Blu-ray, the whole performance as recreated for the movie will be presented in full as an extra. The original 1985  performance by the actual band is of course worthy of as many inflatable guitars as you can blow up, and that’s always available to view on youtube.

Bohemian Rhapsody The Movie website

Bohemian Rhapsody (cert 12A)
Director: Bryan Singer
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Screenplay: Anthony McCarten
Cinematography: Newton Thomas Sigel

Full cast and crew listing on IMDB

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

 

Caught Live: King King (with Sari Schorr), Manchester Academy 2, 15th February 2019

I suppose I’ve been spoilt on the two previous occasions I’ve seen this band, both times at Liverpool’s Epstein (a.k.a. ‘Neptune’) Theatre, an intimate all-seated setting with the bar outside of the auditorium. Watching them at a standing venue with a bar at the rear of the room turned out to be a bit of a double-edged sword; the crowd was certainly louder and more enthusiastic, on the other hand that also meant that the silence during quieter moments I’d been used to at those shows just wasn’t going to happen tonight. So it was that during ‘Stranger To Love’, when it got to a quiet part  where the band ease right off so that frontman Alan Nimmo can perform a delicate guitar solo, there was persistent chatter all through that part emanating from the rear of the room.

At the conclusion of that song, Nimmo made clear his irritation with that minority. “If you want to cheer, that’s great; if you want to sing along, great, if you want to just stand and watch, that’s fine – if you want to chatter then f- off hame!”, he stated in unmistakably brusque Glaswegian. That got a huge roar from the majority of this crowd, and a few fingers flipped from the front towards those at that back who nattered throughout. As this band steps up to bigger things though, it’s likely there’ll be more of those admonishments once they are playing to bigger crowds than even this (they’d pretty much filled up the university’s Main Debating Hall on the night). Chatterers are an irritation to any gig-goer, certainly this one, but the bigger and more popular the act, the less likely it’s going to be that they’ll get a completely silent audience paying rapt attention in those moments. How they handle that will be interesting as they step up a level; the band recently signed a new deal with US based Siren Artist Management which means that they bid farewell to Alan Robinson Management and label Manhaton Records. It also means that this run of dates are the final shows for bassist Lindsay Coulson, who is leaving the band; shortly after that deal was made public he posted a statement outlining his reasons for standing down (basically he felt unable to commit to the increased level of touring expected).

So this tour, billed as a tenth anniversary celebration was also a chance to say farewell to the bassist, who co-founded this band and has essentially been ‘Malcolm Young’ to Alan Nimmo’s ‘Angus’; the man in the background who was steering the ship while letting the kilted Scotsman take the majority of the spotlight. That also prompted frequent, Harry James-styled chants of ‘Lindsay, Lindsay!’ between numbers, as the fans took their chance to say goodbye. Coming on, as usual, to the strains of AC/DC, the foursome opened with ‘Broken’ from most recent album ‘Exile & Grace’.  They’d promised to play something from all four studio albums to date, though once again this set was slanted towards the last two albums, with six from third album ‘Reaching For The Light’.  Nimmo’s guitar playing was of course impeccable (though I caught one or two groans from him in solos, as though he’d missed something – not that most of us noticed) but he was in magnificent voice as well on this night. With the throat problems he had in 2017 behind him he sounded better than ever – on this form up there with any British blues-rock greats from days gone by. The band were also on top form; Coulson will definitely be a tough act to follow in this outfit – never flash, never showy, always the perfect supporting role and always tightly locked in with drummer Wayne Proctor, he makes it look easy.

Two songs elicited dedications; the first for the recently-passed Ted McKenna (one-time drummer for Sensational Alex Harvey Band among others) before playing ‘Coming Home (Rest Your Eyes)’ and the second was as ever, dedicated to Alan’s brother Stevie Nimmo (‘You Stopped The Rain’) although he couldn’t resist a sly jibe at his elder brother’s accident (when he fell from a bike, breaking his arm so badly that he needed surgery), joking that Stevie would be appearing at a BMX event in Manchester (he swiftly added: “nah I’m only kidding, he’s learned his lesson!”) The reception given to the band and particularly the soon-departing bassist was huge, despite the earlier admonishment for the chattering minority the frontman still proclaimed this crowd the best the band had played to so far on the tour.

Coulson’s successor has already been chosen and is to be revealed at their final gig of this run. EDIT: The new bass player is Zander Greenshields, introduced to the audience at the final show of this tour in Glasgow.  My guess is that it will be someone already close to the band, somebody followers of the Manhaton records  stable of artists will already know. It’s quite possible we haven’t yet seen the last of Lindsay either; he said he could no longer commit to touring with this band so that doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t show up in another band in the near future.

Support came from another artist on the Manhaton stable in Sari Schorr; I saw her last year in St Helens playing before an ‘exclusive’ audience – on this showing when she comes back it will be to a far greater number of people. A New Yorker who spends a lot of time in the UK, her second album ‘Never Say Never’ came out fairly recently and this set featured mostly tracks from that album. A cover of ‘Ready For Love’ (as she pointed out, originally by Mott The Hoople but indelibly associated with Bad Company to most of us) got her a huge cheer of appreciation, but such is her vocal talent (a real blues shouter of the old school) and sheer visual presence saw her take command of this place easily. She has a potent band of her own, with another Nimmo associate on bass (Mat Beable, for a long time part of the Stevie Nimmo Trio), Roy Martin on drums and her secret weapon, Ash Wilson on guitar, this is a superb outfit well worthy of her incredible talent. For this tour keyboardist Stevie Watts has come in for Bob Fridzema (himself a former King King member, who is about to go on the road with fellow blueser Joanne Shaw Taylor) and like King King’s current ivory tinkler, he has filled the shoes extremely well. Following this tour she is to play a run of headline dates in March/April, it’s recommended to get to one of those.

 

King King Facebook Page

Sari Schorr Facebook Page

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

 

 

 

Whitesnake release first new, original song since 2011

‘Flesh & Blood’, the new album from Whitesnake has been much-delayed, but is finally set for release later this year through Frontiers Records. Preceding this is their new single and video ‘Shut Up And Kiss Me’, appropriately released on St Valentines Day. This is the first offering of new material from the current line-up, although the band has been in its present form for several years now. Their last album, 2015’s ‘The Purple Album’ saw the band rework a selection of tracks from frontman David Coverdale’s days with Deep Purple, with a subsequent tour spawning a live album/DVD released early last year.

The track itself is an uptempo hard rocker, one Coverdale himself might have described as the sort of song ‘that walks off the disc and into the concert hall’. You won’t find a profound lyric here, it’s exactly what you’d expect from the man who encouraged us to ‘Come An’ Get It’ and to ‘Slide It In’ all those years ago, after all. Guitar-wise, the sound is reminiscent to these ears of the ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ era, which may please Messrs Hoekstra and Beach, since it was one Steve Vai who performed on that 1989 album.  It is not one that’s going to rank alongside their classics, but will almost certainly go down well with a crowd. Vocally, you can tell Coverdale isn’t what he once was, he’s rationed that former ‘lung-busting roar’ now, providing a more measured delivery.

The video clip is a clear homage to his 1987 glory days; Coverdale has not only got the blue jacket from the ‘Here I Go Again’ video out of mothballs but also THAT white Jaguar car! Unsurprisingly, somebody from those days who was heavily featured in those glossy videos is not present now, but there are appearances from Coverdale’s wife Cindy and son Jasper (as well as his girlfriend), with presumably other family friends having fun climbing over the Jaguar. With the full album release still several weeks away, long-term fans of this band will have to wait a little longer to hear what they’ve been cooking up over the past year or so.

Whitesnake ‘Shut Up And Kiss Me’ (Frontiers)

 

3gtrs

3 – Decent

Caught Live: Orange Goblin (with PIST, Video Nasties), o2 Academy Liverpool 9th February 2019

It’s a sign of advancing years when you go and see a band that you still consider new(ish) and find out courtesy of their vocalist, that they’ve been at it for 25 years! With nine studio albums under their belt, the most recent being ‘The Wolf Bites Back’ from last year, Orange Goblin must now be considered a veteran act. They came onto my radar in the early 2000s (lumped in with the ‘stoner’ movement, which they’ve tried to distance themselves from), which might help explain the perception of them still being ‘recent’; they’re a part of this century, not the last one in my mind.  I can’t say I’m too well up on their material, having only their ‘The Big Black’ CD in my collection but because they’d made the effort to venture to our end of the East Lancs, along I went.

I got in as local openers Video Nasties were finishing up, this is a more modern Metal band with the sort of shouty growly vocals that don’t usually do it for me. This wasn’t enough to give any sort of appraisal though, so that can wait until I catch them another time. Next up were Bury metallers PIST, with the guitarist sporting a Mayhem T-shirt with the classic ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ logo and the vocalist (a typically Metal styled frontman of bald head, long beard, loads of tattoos) sporting a Venom ‘Black Metal’ top, I girded myself for an aural assault. They turned out to have more groove to them than I expected, not the thrashabout I was mentally prepared for, but the vocals were as harsh as expected. Frontman Dave Rowlands, the bearded tattooed baldy described earlier, looked the part with a scowl and a snarl, until he faced the front row and broke into a grin at the sight of punters headbanging away. When he spoke, it soon became clear why they have adopted this name – he admitted to being well away! He swigged his way through several cans of Tyskie beer during the set, though it didn’t appear to affect his performance – always on cue. For a band I had no knowledge and no expectations of, they were good – worth another look if they come around again.

By this time the floor was getting slippery with spilt beer and I regretted my choice of footwear, sliding away all over the place. I’d totally misread this crowd, seeing a load of old geezers I wasn’t expecting a moshpit to start the instant Orange Goblin kicked off their set! My bad for not keeping up with this band down the years, but as they opened with ‘Turbo Efflunt (Elephant)’ my initial thoughts of how that one sounded a lot like Deep Purple’s ‘Fireball’ were soon superseded with thoughts of staying upright as bodies began to slam around me! Beating a hasty retreat then I watched the rest of the show from further back. That meant all I could see was that big imposing frontman, as Ben Ward geed up the crowd as only he can, as much cheerleader as vocalist. The rest of the band held their stations all night, with satisfyingly heavy riffs from guitarist Joe Hoare and equally heavy bass from Martyn Millard. They were getting a great reaction from this crowd, an encouragingly good turnout in a city that doesn’t get much in the way of  Metal gigs still, while Ward himself noted that and pondered how come it’d been so long since they’d last came to town.

Ben Ward of Orange Goblin at o2 Academy

Ben Ward of Orange Goblin at o2 Academy

The set took in several of their albums including quite a few from ‘The Big Black’ (nice of you to play so many from the only album of yours I have, chaps!) but it was all big, brutal and heavy.  Feeding off that enthusiastic reaction, Ward promised they wouldn’t leave it so long again before returning, before they closed out with ‘Red Tide Rising’.

This was the second gig in a week (after Cancer Bats) that reminded this old headbanger what heavy metal music is all about – huge guitars, pounding drums (courtesy Chris Turner) and an all-out assault on the senses. Should they come around this way again next time, get the air guitar (and some steel-toed boots with grip!) and get yourself down there.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Orange Goblin Facebook Page

PIST Facebook Page

Video Nasties Facebook Page

CD: Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disasters ‘Show Me Your Teeth’ (self-released)

I admit it, the name hooked me first of all. She had me with that short, snappy alliterative stage name; the hint of danger in the name ‘Blade’ and the band name ‘The Beautiful Disasters’ alluding to memories of the good old days of sleaze rock.  Then there’s that saucy album cover shot of Beth herself, holding a guitar behind her head and poking her tongue out in a manner not unlike that of Gene Simmons (she is a self-confessed KISS fanatic).

Album cover 'Show Me Your Teeth' by Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disasters

Album cover ‘Show Me Your Teeth’

So even before hearing a note of this album she already had me under her spell; this record is the second full album from the band, following up from 2017’s ‘Bad Habit’. It comes after the band were chosen to perform on last autumn’s KISS Kruise, an experience Beth is still pinching herself about. She and the band have been fortunate in their timing too, since this record was made possible by a successful Pledge Music campaign. They’re one of many bands affected by that platform’s sudden decline, but did get enough of their pledge money coming through so that they could record the album and crucially, press the CDs to send out to fans.

What’s on offer with this record is a straight-up serving of hard rock, guitars right up front and centre and a voice that demands attention, reminiscent of Lzzy Hale around the time of Halestorm’s first album. Opener ‘Secret’ is so much in the style of the Pennsylvania quartet it could have been an outtake from their first or second album. Beth can certainly pen a catchy power pop number (‘On And On’) as well as she can a no-nonsense headbanger (‘Jack And Coke’), but there’s also a chance to get your breath back with slower tracks such as ‘Crazy’. There are some clear influences, such as the Lizzy-esque twin guitar intros to ‘Into The Light’ and ‘I Ain’t Got Nothing (If I Ain’t Got Rock And Roll)’, and the old rocker in me had to smile at the numerous references to classic bands and songs in ‘1974’. That one has Beth wishing she could do a Sam Tyler and travel back to the year of Bowie, Queen and Bad Co but if you’re reading this Beth – take it from someone who was alive then – you also had just three TV channels with one music programme a week, you had to endure strikes, unreliable British cars and terrible clothes, not to mention brown decor everywhere (!)

This record is a definite step up from the debut, which showed promise, but this one is likely to get Beth and her Disasters a lot more attention. They’re touring the UK in the Spring, and if this record catches on like I believe it will, I can see BBATBD landing  themselves a support slot on a big-name tour.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Listen to ‘Show Me Your Teeth’ for yourself via Spotify:

Beth Blade And The Beautiful Disasters Facebook page

Caught Live: Vigil of War (supporting Stormbringer), Percy’s Whitchurch 2nd February 2019

Another week, another band I’ve never heard of that I find myself going along to see. The attraction here being, besides the fact it’s free entry over at Percy’s, was that Vigil of War were a band who’d come all the way from Los Angeles to play a run of dates in tiny British venues, and in the depths of winter to boot! A quick bit of internet digging informed me that this was a female-fronted band in the tradition of 1980s LA hard rock, and that was me convinced to get in the car and take to the unlit roads leading to this small market town which makes a racket every weekend!

Vigil of War were actually on a bill closed out by Nottinghamshire rockers Stormbringer (a hard rock quintet with a good vocalist and two nimble fingered guitarists), but it was this LA outfit who drew a decent turnout on a freezing night in Whitchurch, cold enough to light the stove in the courtyard at Percy’s where the bands play. Lead singer / bassist Alicia Vigil had a strong visual identity, resplendent in a military cap and playing a distinctive Zemaitis bass, she already came across as a star. The four-piece on the night were 50/50 male/female, as she was accompanied by rhythm guitarist Kiki Wongo as well as the two guys, lead guitarist Shane Taylor and drummer Chirs Wilson. It turned out that Kiki was only deputising, for regular guitarist London Stancy who was unavailable to make the trip to the UK. Not that we’d have known had this not been pointed out – she was excellent, not only did she slot in seamlessly but gave the band a dynamic they might not otherwise have.

Their set was a run through of tracks from their EP ‘Bite The Bullet’, as well as covers such as a hard rocking cover of Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’. It was all performed with that extra touch of class you’d expect from a band that’s played regularly in the hard rock capital of the world, slick and professional but with enough heavy hitting to please even those of us who’d experienced the 1980s wave of LA rock bands first hand. Shane Taylor actually reminded me at times of Doug Aldrich, he had that stance, those shapes and a neat line in fast fingered solos. It wasn’t a long set, but they showed enough quality to ensure that they’ll get more along when they come around again. For the last two numbers (‘Choke’/’Bite The Bullet’) Alicia handed that beautiful bass guitar to Kiki, freeing herself to storm what passes for a stage here.

Had this lot been around in 1986 I reckon they’d have been put straight on the cover of Kerrang magazine, they have that intangible ‘something’ which makes them stand out, which makes them a captivating live band. I hope they get a chance to return to this country soon and preferably on a support slot to a better-known band, they have the class to win over much bigger crowds than they played to on this run of dates.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Vigil of War Facebook Page

Stormbringer Facebook Page

Caught Live: Thunder (with Dan Reed), Bridgewater Hall Manchester 4th February 2019

It’s been several years since I last saw Thunder. So long ago that they weren’t officially active at that point (they had reconvened for some gigs following a second hiatus), but the strength of their fanbase ensured that their plans just to play selected shows soon turned into a full-blown reunion, with new material following.  For one reason or another I’d missed the last few tours, either they didn’t come this way or when they did, the dates were not doable. This time around I wasn’t missing it, especially since this tour would be a departure from their usual style. New album ‘Please Remain Seated’ consisted of a selection of songs from across their back catalogue substantially rearranged, and this tour (taking in some more upmarket venues) reflected that. They’d given plenty of advance warning that the setting would be different, though fans who have seen them play acoustic sets at previous Christmas shows (or if they’d seen the Danny and Ben tours from a few years ago, where singer Danny Bowes was accompanied only by guitarist/keyboardist Ben Matthews) would be better prepared for what to expect from this show.

Before all of that though, on came Dan Reed performing solo and acoustic. I seem to recall him saying he was intending to take 2019 off, when he played a gig with Danny Vaughn a year ago.  Presumably he didn’t think he’d get a chance to play at some of Britain’s more prestigious venues then, though and so when offered this slot he must have had a swift rethink! He played a short set of songs ranging from his Network days to more recent, introspective material. The likes of ‘Rainbow Child’ and ‘Get To You’ went down well, naturally but he got a good reception from the audience anyway, with a warm and engaging stage manner. For one song (‘On Your Side’) he was accompanied by a female vocalist; her name was Hayley Williams but it was not the singer from Paramore, in case any of their fans are reading!

When Thunder came on, it was the ‘big two’ leading the way. Danny Bowes and guitarist/songwriter Luke Morley strolled on and took to the stools on the stage to big cheers. Those cheers were boosted when it became clear the first song was ‘Love Walked In’. A fan favourite that is always requested, they got the crowd on side straight away with this one. I did notice this rearranged version was transposed down a step though, a smart move for the singer who had a lot of material to perform which would stretch even his golden throat. Following that, the rest of the band emerged and were accompanied by the backing vocalists on the album (Lara Smiles, Emily Lynn) and additional keyboardist Sam Tanner. These arrangements worked well live, showcasing just what good musicians all these guys are. Guitarist/keyboardist Ben Matthews was particularly well-suited to this format I felt, he got a bit more ‘face time’ with solos on both piano and acoustic guitar, though the guest player Sam Tanner also got a share of the spotlight with some nice soloing too. Whatever the style, that grey-haired gent out front can handle it all with ease. He sang magnificently, considering this band is now in its 30th year it’s a rare thing to see a vocalist perform as well now as he did then, if anything he’s probably better! One thing that hadn’t changed much was Harry James’s drum performance, he still gave it plenty of welly  (where appropriate!) so the rockers had that, as well as some sublime lead guitar playing from Luke Morley in selected numbers, to savour.

The band haven’t lost their trademark sense of humour either, before performing ‘A Better Man’ the frontman explained that it didn’t feature on the new record because they couldn’t make it much different – “unless we play it like Motörhead!”.  Before playing ‘Bigger Than Both Of Us’ he also added that this song didn’t feature on an album because of the record label. “28 years later we can prove ’em wrong!” he concluded. At one point the backing singers disappeared before realising they were needed for the next song, to Bowes’s amusement. “Aren’t we paying you enough, girls?”, he joked.

A superb version of ‘Loser’ featuring Morley’s extended solo, and a rendition of ‘Serpentine’ concluded the main set. The encore was four song long, and ended with ‘Low Life In High Places’. On the record I wasn’t taken by the choir in the new version, but live it was done with a bit of audience participation. Literally, they brought several members of the audience up to sing that part, appearing behind Harry James – and a curtain which gave the effect of them appearing on a screen.

I’ve wanted this band to do something a little different for a while now, as much as a fan as I am I’d felt their style was becoming a bit easy to read. This was a complete curveball and all the more welcome for that. Next time round they’ll likely revert to type (they are playing a run of dates in Europe with a straightforward rock set) but this was a unique experience, and so gratifying to see such quality players take a diversion just this once.

5 – Delightful

 

Album: Within Temptation ‘RESIST’ (Vertigo/Spinefarm)

One of the leading lights in the European symphonic metal ‘scene’, things have been a bit quiet on the Within Temptation front since 2014’s ‘Hydra’ album. Following that album and tour vocalist Sharon den Adel owned up to some issues, not least writers’ block, putting that down to constantly working with this band over a period of two decades. During that time they, alongside Nightwish, basically paved the way for a multitude of bands to follow, many of whom have become successful themselves. Last year the singer released a solo project (‘My Indigo’) which was a long way removed from the heavier style of Within Temptation’s previous work, and according to her that was her way back into writing and recording with this band.

Within Temptation 'RESIST' cover artwork

‘RESIST’ cover artwork

‘Resist’ (styled on the album cover as ‘ЯƎSIST’) is their return, marking their longest gap between albums. Delayed still further (it was meant to come out late last year, as the band toured; indeed they played several songs off it in the set) with the eventual release coming in February 2019, has this band got its groove back?

Things get off to a strong enough start with lead-off track ‘The Reckoning’, featuring Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix; sadly though, this and the other track featuring a Metal guest (‘Raise Your Banner’, featuring Anders Friden from In Flames) are pretty much the only halfway-decent tracks on this album.  Despite the fact that three guitar players are credited, the guitar sound is dialled right back in favour of synths and electronic ‘wash’ effects, to the point where this ceases to have any connection to Metal. Indeed it’s more silver paper than Heavy Metal, you certainly won’t find a guitar solo and you’re even hard pushed to find a riff of note, the powerchords are firmly in the background.

The material bears more resemblance to den Adel’s ‘My Indigo’ project of last year than anything Within Temptation have done before, even ‘Hydra’. Perhaps that’s down to the influence of producer Daniel Gibson, who appears to have taken a more prominent role in the songwriting than previously was the case, or maybe the band have seen the success of PVRIS who have scored hits with a similar fusion of dance/electronic with (barely enough) rock guitar. Song after song begins with those electronic riffs; the guitars aren’t let off the leash until closing track ‘Trophy Hunter’ and by then it’s too little, too late.

The vocal performance of den Adel remains strong, and if you particularly like her singing above anything else you might still find enjoyment in this album. Personally I thought the ‘My Indigo’ effort was better (and I didn’t much care for that) but at least it was more honest, as though that was the direction she felt happier following now. This feels like a My Indigo album with a few powerchords grafted on.

Sadly though ‘RESIST’ gets a thumbs-down from me; this band is going in a direction I’ve little interest in following and only makes me want to reach for ‘The Unforgiving’ to remember what a great band they were. I’m afraid I’ll ‘resist’ sending off for this CD!

2 – Disappointing

https://www.resist-temptation.com/

Listen to the album for yourself on Spotify:

Caught Live: Cancer Bats (with Bleed From Within, Underside) Phase One Liverpool, 31st January 2019

Almost a ‘Dry January’ for me as far as gigs were concerned at the start of this year, mainly because of the same issues as most people (lack of money, bills to pay, back-to-work blues) but things finally got under way for me with this gig from Canadian metal/punk noise merchants Cancer Bats. Almost two years ago they came around, playing a set of Black Sabbath covers under the name ‘Bat Sabbath’. I’d hoped to catch them then but the busted ankle which nixed my gig-going for two months ruled that out. This time they were doing their own thing, and appearing at a venue I’d not been to before. Phase One opened less than a year ago, run by the people who also operate the Jacaranda bar across town, this place is a record store as well as a live venue (there are listening booths for that vinyl experience on site), but of course the record store part was cordoned off for this gig. The stage is a good size, there’s plenty of capacity (they claim a 400-capacity floor) and unlike far too many other venues this one has a good sight line of the stage. It is somewhat ‘rough and ready’ yet, the owners are intending to develop this place as time goes on but it has already attracted numerous touring bands.

I got there for the openers Underside, a lively-sounding Metal combo. You don’t see Metal bands from Nepal every day and this outfit were certainly bringing the noise, despite lacking a bass player (they had two guitarists) they gave the early arrivals much to headbang to. Following them were Bleed From Within, a Scottish band who have enjoyed airplay on Primordial Radio. Fronted by vocalist Scott Kennedy, this lot were unrelentingly heavy and brutal, getting several pits going during their set. They knew how to get a bit extra from a Liverpool crowd too, mentioning their previous night’s appearance in Manchester and encouraging those here to up the ante (!) Some had come to both gigs of course, but the play on North West parochialism had the desired effect!

By the time Cancer Bats hit the stage they had got a pretty full floor, and within seconds of opening number ‘Sleep This Away’ they already had a lively crowd moshing away. Although this set was their own material it was easy to understand why they often pay homage to Sabbath – their own sound has that thunderous bottom end and doomy guitar, just with more punk edge! Frontman Liam Cormier made reference to that Bat Sabbath gig they played last time out, joking with the crowd about the old guys there that night who were crowd-surfing with the best of them! The set was about an hour of intense riffage, at one point a female punter got up to ‘duet’ on one number! Not being too familiar with the band myself I was slightly surprised to recognise the opening strains to ‘Sabotage’ – not Sabbath, but Beastie Boys! Their take on this number is just as destructive as their own stuff, of course!

This band are considered punk, but there’s plenty of Metal in their sound. Definitely one I’ll get genned up on for their next visit, unless of course they do another homage to Messrs Iommi, Butler, Osbourne and Ward!

Cancer Bats frontman Liam Cormier

Cancer Bats frontman Liam Cormier

4 – Deserving

Underside Facebook Page

Bleed From Within Facebook page

Cancer Bats Facebook Page