Caught Live: Electric Boys, Tivoli Venue Buckley, 22nd March 2019

First visit of 2019 to Flintshire and the Buckley Tivoli, which has another bumper selection of bands lined up for the coming year. The present management are doing their utmost to revive the glory days of the late 80s and early 90s, when this place saw many bands pass through, some on their way to much bigger things. A lot of those acts from those days are coming back around again however, finding their way back to this small town near Chester after many years. One-time Love/Hate frontman Jizzy Pearl was also to appear the following evening, but tonight was about the Swedish funk-metallers who enjoyed some success around the turn of the 1990s, before being swamped by the flannel brigade.

I got in to find a bunch of guys who looked like they’d been at Jon Fratelli’s wardrobe – dressed in outfits not far removed from the one he appeared in for the video to ‘Chelsea Dagger’. The Last Great Dreamers play a more rootsy brand of rock ‘n’ roll than the Scottish indie band however, and are worth another look when they come around again.

The Electric Boys are now older Electric Men, but one thing I noticed immediately was the rather small Orange bass amp used by Andy Christell; the result was that his bass did not swamp the sound, it was present but not intrusive. They did have a good sound balance for this show, although they did several from latest album ‘The Ghost Ward Diaries’ they made sure to give us plenty of their fan favourites from ‘Funk-O-Metal Carpet Ride’ and ‘Groovus Maximus’. Frontman Conny Bloom still dresses like it is 1971 (!) but sounds in good voice still, giving us all plenty to sway our hips to – those of us still capable of it! He split lead guitar work with Franco Santunione, who got plenty of chance to show his own touch on the six-string. Naturally they ended things with ‘All Lips ‘n’ Hips’, a favourite of many a rock club night back in the day – including the ones they once held at this very venue every Thursday night!

A good if somewhat nostalgic night then, from a band who still have plenty to offer in 2019 and more than welcome back to this part of the (mystery) world again soon.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Electric Boys Facebook Page

Last Great Dreamers Facebook Page

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Caught Live: Sarah Darling, Leaf Liverpool 17th March 2019

It might have been a Sunday night but because it was also St Patrick’s Day, you bet the streets of Liverpool were awash with green, white and orange clad revellers, some of whom were actually Irish (!) as given away by their shirts. Numerous GAA club shirts were in evidence, but they were here not to see an American country singer as I was, but to see infamous folk singer Damien Quinn, who’d come over to play a gig in a nearby Irish bar.  I made my way through the sea of green (hey it’s Liverpool, obligatory Beatles pun!) to Leaf where Sarah Darling was performing on this night. I first encountered her a year ago, across town at Studio 2; persuaded to go along as a fellow gig-going friend of mine had travelled all the way from Derbyshire to see her I went mainly so he wouldn’t be a ‘billy no-mates’. Having surprised myself (a self-confessed headbanger) by enjoying the set I decided to come again, seeing as she had been so nice as to return to Liverpool!

Leaf is a tea room by day, but is a bar by night; set on two levels it was on the upper floor where this show was to take place. I’d only been once before and that was to see American singer-songwriter Arielle recently, who was performing on the lower level on a small stage, before a clientele who weren’t necessarily there for her. This show was however ticketed and on this floor, there was a proper stage for the acts with a big floor space for those who chose to stand. There were two support acts, both solo singers who played acoustic guitar and the first of these was Laura Oakes. It soon became clear that she was a local; delighted at playing a gig in her home city she gave a short and enjoyable set of country-flavoured songs, the highlight of which was ‘Glitter’. A critique of the fake personas put on by users of social media, there was a nice touch of humour in this number.

Next up was Liv Austen, whose accent fooled me into thinking she was an English girl too, albeit from the Home Counties. She’s actually Norwegian, which I probably should have guessed by looking at her (a slim blonde figure) who has lived in the UK for several years. Delivering another set of songs performed solo and acoustic, she also demonstrated a nice line in humour for her song ‘Don’t Regret A Single One’. The song is about her list of exes, which she said was a lie – admitting to regretting more than one! Both these performers got a good reception from the attendees, many of whom elected to sit at the tables dotted around the floor rather than come to the front by the stage.

Sarah Darling did have a full band with her of drummer, guitarist, bassist and keyboard player, and she came on a little after 9pm. Clad in a green dress to mark the occasion, she played a set featuring several new songs alongside some I knew from last year. Two songs were performed solo and acoustic (‘Montmartre’ and ‘Wasted’). Although categorised as country, her music is a bit more diverse than that; opener ‘Blue Sky’ for instance could have fitted into Fleetwood Mac’s mid-70s output comfortably. A stand out for me was new song ‘Enjoy The Ride’ which features a funky bass line through it, and had the devotees at the front (plus your correspondent) clapping along enthusiastically!

Towards the end of the set she brought Liv Austen back on stage to duet on ‘Home To Me’. Another catchy pop-country number, it was one where her guitarist finally got to cut loose a little with some lead soloing. This was a very enjoyable evening of music, rather more chilled out than I’m accustomed to, sure but a good singer is a good singer, and we had three of those on this night. In the end I walked out of there with CDs from both  Laura and Liv, plus a T-shirt from Sarah which I promised her I’d wear at the upcoming Cellar Darling gig (I had that band’s T-shirt on for this gig, my little joke since I was probably the only Metalhead present on the night!)

Sarah Darling’s next album is due for release in the summer, and I’ll be looking out for that and any future dates in this country.

Laura Oakes Facebook page

Liv Austen Facebook page

Sarah Darling Facebook page

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Sari Schorr, Citadel St Helens 16th March 2019

The middle portion of my weekend gigging saw me head over to St Helens for what might be the last time, to see Sari Schorr return to the Citadel a year after she came and wowed an audience best described as ‘selective’, with her incredible voice.

It was announced early in the year that the charity which runs the Citadel, a small but splendid theatre in St Helens town centre, is to close the venue and instead focus on its community theatre productions. The reasons given were depressingly familiar; cuts to its funding meant that they could no longer operate viably in this theatre, where they have been based for the last 30 years. The Citadel will close up in the summer, meanwhile they are still putting on the already booked dates.

As was the case with the gig the previous year, there was no support with the musicians coming on stage around 8pm, followed by Sari Schorr herself.  With keyboard player Bob Fridzema on tour with Joanne Shaw Taylor, once again Steve Watts was in charge of the ivories. This time however, the show was performed in one block, as opposed to splitting the set with an interval as was the case last year. It mattered little, since once again the New Yorker gave a stellar vocal performance. Personnel-wise it was the same band as last year save for the keyboardist; guitarist Ash Wilson has become the foil for the singer, his playing was again top quality. This time there was another album to promote so several tracks from ‘Never Say Never’ were performed alongside selected numbers from ‘A Force Of Nature’. Softly-spoken when talking, Schorr’s vocal when the music kicks in is startling – all the soul, and raunch, of a singer who’s lived a life, not someone who’s straight out of music college.

Following the set she was straight out to the merch table for an instant meet and greet, she has got to know a few faces from last year and also from the recent tour supporting King King. Another quality set from a singer who is winning more friends in this country and there’ll be a second chance to see her on this tour when she plays in Chester in April.

Sari Schorr web site

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4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Joanne Shaw Taylor, o2 Academy Liverpool 15th March 2019

A good turnout at the downstairs venue for Britain’s first lady of blues guitar, as Joanne Shaw Taylor commenced the UK leg of her tour in Liverpool. Coinciding with the release of latest album ‘Reckless Heart’, her first since signing to Sony, that meant a few songs not many of us were going to be familiar with yet. But her style is familiar to her fans, most of which I have to say were ‘blokes of a certain age’ yet again – and I include myself in that category! It remains to be seen whether her signing to a major label means a tweak in style to get through to more than the cult following she presently has, but at the moment she is still giving us oldsters what we want – lots of that superb guitar playing and that rich, throaty voice.

Before JST came openers Blackwater Conspiracy. The five-piece from Northern Ireland looked and sounded like they’d been on a trip back to either 1989 or 1973, depending on whether you’re a fan of the Quireboys or Rod Stewart and the Faces (!) but it was decidedly retro- rock with lashings of slide guitar and tinkly piano on offer.  Their brand of old-time rock ‘n’ roll did go down well with this audience though, and we’ll no doubt be hearing more from them in the coming year.

Blackwater Conspiracy at Liverpool o2 Academy

Blackwater Conspiracy at Liverpool o2 Academy

One thing that has changed with Joanne Shaw Taylor from years gone by was her outfit – no longer clad in all-black, she chose a natty red jacket for tonight’s proceedings! She isn’t one for fancy adornments, and as usual there was nothing in the way of a stage show (not even the usual backdrop with her name on it, this venue isn’t big enough for that!) She gave her customary guitar masterclass, rocking out, taking it down, playing subtle fills or fiery solos, and all accompanied by that oh-so-husky voice dripping with soul. She has a foil in keyboardist Bob Fridzema now, who got a few solo spots of his own to please his fans that know him from King King. She has retained drummer Oliver Perry in her live band but for this run, bassist Tom Sansbury has come in for previous four-stringer Luigi Casanova. He’s less visual than the dreadlocked Luigi but is equally as effective in the supporting role.

The set was weighted towards the latest album with seven from it performed, though the other albums save for ‘Almost Always Never’ were represented too, including 2016 radio hit ‘Dyin’ To Know’ which actually scored her some daytime airplay. Personally I’d have liked to see her restore her cover of Frankie Miller’s ‘Jealousy’ to the set, since in my view she makes her own of it with her phenomenal soloing, but she did give us a good serving of guitar mastery even without that.  Late in the set, she shrugged off a potential incident where one nutter who’d managed to sneak through to the back of the stage waddled on nonchalantly, he was soon intercepted by her guitar tech before he could get near JST herself!

I say it every time she comes around, but she should really be playing to much bigger crowds, in much bigger venues than places like this. As happy as I am to see an artist of that calibre in my city! Maybe the Sony deal will help her make that jump to bigger things, let’s hope it doesn’t mean record label pressure to come up with a ‘radio hit’ however since she’s got this far with her own talent and vision.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: IDestroy, Shipping Forecast Liverpool 9th March 2019

At last, thought I when this date was announced. Bristolian punk-pop trio IDestroy have been on my radar for a couple of years now, having seen them play on several occasions and wow whoever they play in front of. They’d never performed in Liverpool until now, and that was one of two firsts for me with this gig. The other, was that it would be the first time I got to see the new line-up. Founding member, bass player Becky Baldwin departed the band last year, almost immediately resurfacing in Hands off Gretel. In her place came Nicola Wilton-Baker, who played with the band for the remaining dates of 2018 and will feature on their upcoming full album.

This gig was a multi-band bill showcasing unsigned talent, I was here primarily to see IDestroy however, and it was actually their second gig of the day. They’d played a set in Manchester as part of the GirlzRawk all-day event, featuring a bill that had numerous good bands on it. Sadly it wasn’t a show I could make as the date coincided with another event I’d long planned on attending (Liverpool Comic Con). So while I was pleased that the girls had elected to take a trip down the East Lancs Road but was still a little disappointed at not being able to do everything at once (!)

Following two local bands, one of whom was down a member, so their lead guitarist took over on drums (!) and another which was a more mod revival-influenced band I took my place for IDestroy. They rattled through a short set of songs taking in both EPs they have out to date, plus the single ‘Annie’/’98%’, as well as a new one. Nicola is a good fit for the band, she has a striking look of her own, and plays with plenty of attack. Those still missing Becky in this group shouldn’t be too disappointed, they still have Jenn on drums hammering away and of course, frontgal Bec Jevons whose all-action style hasn’t changed a bit. She writes this band’s songs (save for the cover of The Gossip’s ‘And You Know’,  played on the night) and has a knack for the power-pop hook to go with their full-on live assault.

The Shipping Forecast basement isn’t the greatest for sound, having rather a low ceiling, so this was a bit of a sonic blast, but the band didn’t let that affect them as they powered through their alloted time. Following their set I had time to say a quick hello, and Bec was happy that she and the band finally got to play in Liverpool, promising me (who’d been asking them to come for over a year!) that they’d be back soon. There was another band to close out the evening, but I had another day of Comic Con to attend and an early start, so called it a night there. There was a guy on the decks between sets, who I believe actually put this gig on, persistently banging on about the importance of live shows by unsigned bands. I felt like saying he was preaching to the converted (!) since those who came out already believe that but anyway, it was good to see Bec, Jenn and Nicola rock Liverpool. At last!

Setlist from Shipping Forecast Liverpool

Setlist from Shipping Forecast Liverpool

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4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Blue Öyster Cult (with The Temperance Movement), Academy 1 Manchester 1st March 2019

Another of those veteran bands it’s taken me until now to get around to seeing, I really couldn’t have left it much later. This band, still best known in the UK for their perennial ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ hit of 1976 still feature original members, vocalist/guitarist Eric Bloom and lead guitarist/vocalist Donald ‘Buck Dharma’ Roeser, alongside relatively new faces in keyboardist/additional guitarist Richie Castellano, drummer Jules Radino and one name I did recognise, bassist Danny Miranda (who I saw last backing Queen + Paul Rodgers a decade ago). All are New Yorkers, as Bloom proudly informed us during the set, but it’s the two main men we were here to see run through a selection of their classics. Bloom is now 74 years old (Roeser is 71), despite this they look in good shape to continue on for a while yet.

The band remain a draw, having filled the largest hall at Manchester University to near-capacity although it should be said most of us were of a certain age ourselves (!) despite not having released an album of new material since 2001. That hardly mattered tonight, since the set was made up of songs from their back catalogue. They were changing the set around during this run of dates; not being one who has followed this band avidly down the years it mattered little to me, however!  One change to the set came with the very first number, as they opened with ‘Transmaniacon MC’ in place of ‘The Red And The Black’ which was how they started things off on most of these dates.

I might not have known these songs all that well, but Roeser’s guitar tone was immediately recognisable as he launched into the first of many lead guitar solos. He also took lead vocal on more songs than I’d anticipated, ‘Burnin’ For You’ was one of his and that got a huge cheer from this crowd. Bloom, despite being centre stage and resplendent in those ever-present shades, seemed to be more of a supporting figure to Roeser who drew most of the attention.  He would also swap places with Castellano so that the latter could play guitar on some numbers, a particular highlight was the lengthy ‘Then Came The Last Days Of May’ which saw he and Roeser earn warm applause for their respective lead guitar spots.  Mid-set, Bloom offered the audience the choice of either ‘Shooting Shark’ or ‘Harvest Moon’; the latter was played as he decided the cheer was a little louder for that number. Other highlights were ‘Buck’s Boogie’, an instrumental spot showcasing not only Buck himself but the other players; Danny Miranda was given a chance to take in some cheers as he showed his dexterity on the bass, plus favourites such as ‘Godzilla’ and of course set closer ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’. Hearing that live for the first time did answer one question for me, as in how they could play that sustained note as it comes out of the lead solo (they don’t!)

Blue Oyster Cult at Manchester Academy

Blue Oyster Cult at Manchester Academy

This was a fine gig from a band I really should have got around to seeing long before now; I missed them two years ago because of that busted ankle but I wasn’t passing up this chance. At the end, Bloom said he ‘hoped they could come back again soon’ – let’s hope they do, and next time I’ll know their stuff a little better!

Support were The Temperance Movement, a band I’d not seen live since a brilliant gig in Liverpool in 2013. I recognised only vocalist Phil Campbell (who has adopted Steve Marriott’s hairstyle to go with his Jagger-esque stage moves), guitarist Paul Sayer and bassist Nick Fyffe. I certainly recognised opening song ‘Only Friend’ though, as they played a crowd-pleasing set of numbers from their first album and current one ‘A Deeper Cut’. New members, guitarist Matt White and drummer Simon Lea have changed the band’s sound hardly at all, so if you liked their brand of whiskey-soaked rock ‘n’ roll when they first came on the scene, you’ll like them now. Interestingly nothing was played from second album ‘White Bear’; they also didn’t play ‘Midnight Black’ which was a slight disappointment for me. However they got the crowd nicely warmed up, as many got here early for this band and gave them a rousing reception. Hopefully they’ll play more dates in the UK soon, and fingers crossed one of them is in Liverpool – as they haven’t been back since that stormer of a show in 2013!

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4 – Deserving

Blue Öyster Cult Facebook Page

The Temperance Movement Facebook Page

 

Keith Flint (The Prodigy) 1969 – 2019

Not for the first time while I’ve been doing this blog, an intended post has been overtaken by sad events. It was saddening to hear of the death of Keith Flint, frontman for The Prodigy on Monday 4th March, and worse was to follow once it became clear that he actually took his own life. Not yet 50, and having only recently performed with the Prodigy on a UK arena tour, it comes when things appeared to be going well for he and his group.

Formed in 1990, The Prodigy were a techno/rave act masterminded by Liam Howlett, a DJ who teamed up with Flint when the latter suggested he should be the dancer for Howlett’s mixes. The duo, plus Leeroy Thornhill founded The Prodigy; shortly afterwards they recruited Maxim Reality to front the outfit alongside Flint. After a hit album (‘Experience’) they began to cross over to rock fans with the second album ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’. The album (especially the track ‘Their Law’, featuring Pop Will Eat Itself supplying rock guitar throughout) was a reaction to the Government introducing the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which essentially curbed the rave parties which helped establish this and other dance music acts. Hits such as ‘Poison’ slammed as hard as anything from any Metal band of the day, and they successfully crossed over to mainstream with the album topping the UK charts. Flint however remained purely a visual element at this point, which would change on their next release.

In 1996 the group unleashed ‘Firestarter‘ on an unsuspecting public; the formerly long-haired Flint had changed his appearance drastically and was thrust into the spotlight in the video for the song. Bald, save for two tufts of dyed green hair either side of his head, and with heavy eyeliner, he took centre stage as for the first time on a Prodigy record, he took lead vocal with a song proclaiming he was ‘the twisted firestarter’, while dancing maniacally in a disused London Underground tunnel. That one performance established him firmly as the face of the act.  A follow-up single (‘Breathe’) proved to be another hit and their third album (‘The Fat Of The Land’, 1997) topped the album charts in numerous countries including both the UK and US. They were no strangers to controversy at this time, with the video for ‘Smack My Bitch Up‘ banned by television stations (it was only aired late at night and even then preceded by a warning). This gave them the much-coveted tag of being that band parents hated but their teenage kids loved, and with Howlett by now sampling rock bands such as Skunk Anansie (and even Thin Lizzy, on ‘Breathe’) they were featured in rock magazine ‘Kerrang!’ as much as in dance publications such as ‘Mixmag’.

It was several years before they re-emerged, with the stand-alone single ‘Baby’s Got A Temper‘ released in 2002. Although a UK hit for the group (now without Leeroy Thornhill), the song was critically savaged and the lyric (Flint’s work) was slammed for apparently promoting the drug Rohypnol. The track was criticised for this and because their sound had progressed little in the years they’d been away; Howlett later distanced himself from this track. Their next album (‘Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned’) didn’t emerge until 2004, which featured neither Flint nor Maxim; although another chart-topper in the UK it fared less well elsewhere.  Both returned to the fold for 2009’s ‘Invaders Must Die’ (another UK chart-topper) and subsequent albums ‘The Day Is My Enemy’ and most recent offering, 2018’s ‘No Tourists’. They remained a draw, performing to arena audiences in the UK just last year, but it is that mid-1990s period and particularly ‘Firestarter’ which will always be what Keith Flint is remembered for.

The Prodigy were probably the last act to come along who genuinely put a rocket up the backside of the music scene, who looked and sounded ‘dangerous’ and most importantly, got the older generation’s backs up. As the hits piled up, obviously that element blunted and people became more accustomed to Flint’s punk-inspired look, but the UK music scene in general has thrown up nothing else since which created such a stir. Indeed, the plethora of acts in recent years which have graduated to arena status are so bland, so safe, that an act such as The Prodigy even in middle age could still pull in a crowd.

Three videos to close this post from The Prodigy:

‘No Good (Start The Dance)’

‘Breathe’

‘Nasty’

LP: CATS in SPACE ‘Day Trip To Narnia’ (Harmony Factory)

If CATS in SPACE founder, guitarist Greg Hart was unsure whether there was an audience for the music he wanted to make (unashamedly retro-sounding power pop/rock) then he can have no doubts now. It’s been a steady upward curve for him and the rest of this band of experienced, veteran musicians from the UK rock scene since their debut offering ‘Too Many Gods’ emerged four years ago. From small venues to some prestigious support slots opening for the likes of Thunder, Status Quo and just last year, performing to arena crowds on the Deep Purple UK tour. Anyone who’s followed them since launch (pun not intended) will know by now what to expect: well-crafted songs with plenty of references to the bands which influenced them, all topped off by a lead vocalist (Paul Manzi) who can sing the phone book and make it sound good.

Day Trip To Narnia album cover art

Day Trip To Narnia album cover art

The presentation is as important as the production in CATS world, and for this, the band’s third release they gave their fans several options as to how they’d like to take their ‘Day Trip To Narnia’. You could have a straightforward CD version, a double LP on heavyweight 180g white vinyl or, if you were really feeling flush, a special set presented in a wooden box containing the album on CD plus a multitude of other goodies. You had to be quick though, since that was snapped up rapidly even before the record was officially released. They have already reported that the vinyl is running low and that the CD is to be repressed, and all this within a day of the official release date of March 1st 2019. I plumped for that white vinyl LP which came a week before the official release, and was treated to a lavishly-presented gatefold offering featuring artwork by Andrew Kitson, plus a poster by the same artist depicting a painting of the inside of a bedroom, complete with ‘space’ wallpaper alongside various CATS in SPACE memorabilia. The inner sleeve for one of the discs also features a comic strip panel, concerning a character known as ‘Johnny Rocket’. The character is featured heavily on the album itself, taking up the second half of the record as a concept, reminiscent of the Small Faces doing something similar many years ago on side two of their ‘Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake’ album.

The first two sides of this double LP feature a selection of songs in the now-familiar style, 1970s-styled music coupled with some acerbic lyrics about more modern-day topics. ‘Hologram Man’ immediately caught my attention with a biting lyric about the increasing use of technology to ‘resurrect’ deceased stars and base a show around a holographic recreation of them. The widow of one much-missed Metal star will doubtless not be happy with lines such as: ‘Let’s welcome back the legend, but you can’t shake his hand’ for instance! Another song takes aim at the tribute scene (‘Tragic Alter Ego’); Greg Hart knows all about that having performed in one well-known tribute act for many years himself, and is probably drawing on experience with lines like: ‘Got to be note perfect, you can’t improvise’.

The big difference with this album is the introduction of a concept for the second half of the album; ‘The Story of Johnny Rocket’ concerns a 1960s schoolboy who dreams of taking a space flight. The story goes from his schooldays to his progress towards his goal, via meeting the woman of his dreams and finally getting to take that space flight – or so it appeared. The story is available to read on the band’s website as well as being published in the sleeve notes, and if you remember the film ‘Capricorn One’ you might see a parallel or two 😉 This segment includes the disco-flavoured ‘Thunder In The Night’, the lead-off single for this album. Reminiscent of ‘Discovery’-era ELO, listen for the backing vocal of ‘Can’t Stand This Disco Music’ for a little giggle!

One thing I did take from playing this entire album is that although the influences are just as easy to spot this time around as on their earlier work, they’re now establishing a style of their own, as though the ingredients have been in the blender for a bit longer. Whereas before you’d listen to a track and find yourself exclaiming  ‘Queen!’ ‘The Sweet!’ ‘John Miles!’ at various points, now it’s more definitively CATS in SPACE. It is another meticulously-crafted, beautifully produced album which has already captured the imagination of their fans. Though I still prefer the ‘Scarecrow’ album personally, this is so accomplished that I’m obliged to give this one another five inflatable guitars.

CATS in SPACE are:

  • Paul Manzi – lead vocals
  • Greg Hart – guitar, vocals
  • Dean Howard – guitar, vocals
  • Jeff Brown – bass, vocals
  • Steevi Bacon – drums
  • Andy Stewart – keyboards, vocoder
5gtrs

5 – Delightful