Caught Live: DORJA, Actress & Bishop Birmingham 14th July 2018

This gig was a year late for me; I’d intended to see the international all-girl hard rockers in July 2017 but was unable to travel then owing to the fractured ankle sustained a month before. At that time the band had just introduced new guitarist Sarah Michelle, so it was doubly disappointing not to get the chance to see her line up with the band last year.  Because the band are made up of musicians who live some distance apart, they can only play selected dates. This run of dates took in a few shows in continental Europe and return dates at festivals held in Scotland and also the SOS Festival in Prestwich, near Manchester.  I was able to attend SOS Festival for the band’s Sunday appearance (a few photos from that event appear on this post) but this post will cover the gig played the previous evening in Birmingham.

Actress & Bishop styles itself as Birmingham’s ‘original and best’ music pub. There are two levels, the upstairs level was where the live music was to be held and I got there a little after 7:30. It was a multi-band bill and DORJA were to close out the evening. Of the other bands I saw, two of them were trios consisting of lead vocal, lead guitar/vocal and drummer (no bassist). That seems to be a trend now, not one I’m keen on as a bit of a rock ‘traditionalist’ but both Air Drawn Dagger and Kanada played with commendable energy. The trio format was about all they had in common though; Air Drawn Dagger were fronted by a female vocalist who used the floor as much as the (small) stage while Kanada were three guys ‘of a certain age’; their permagrinning guitarist provided much of the visual, with a headset mic to allow him to roam the stage as well as sing. Third band I caught were Midlands stoners Resurrection Men, boasting a 3-guitar line-up and some fuzzy-toned music that took several twists and turns.

There was a good turnout for DORJA with not just your correspondent having travelled some distance to attend, the band have now got some dedicated followers prepared to spend a lot of time and effort to see them play whenever the chance arises. It’s that fan dedication which enabled them to raise the funds to record their debut album ‘Gemini’ (available at these dates), it has been well-received by the fanbase which bodes well for any follow-up album. All the tracks from that album were performed live at this show, not in the order on the record though as they opened with ‘Reaching Out’. What was immediately noticeable was that live, the restraint shown on the record is completely gone. Guitarists Rosie Botterill and Sarah Michelle deliver the riffs with plenty of intensity, while the returning Becky Baldwin (she had only been able to play some of these dates owing to schedule clashes, with their producer Oliver Lee stepping in when required) gives her usual whirling dervish performance on bass. Anna Mylee gets a brief  drum solo mid-set, her playing was as impeccable as ever.

But it’s the singer who really captivates – Aiym Almas is a star waiting to be discovered. Her bluesy roar was in full effect here, and she has added a little bit of raunch to her stage presence too since last I saw her. An alluring presence, even in a band full of accomplished players she absolutely owns that stage. This was so good a performance, that I hope at least one of these dates were recorded for a possible release. They’re very good on record but live is a whole different level, they look like headline material for bigger venues already. They ended their main set with ‘Fire’, the song which started it all for them and for an encore they played their usual mashup of ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’.  Going off to big cheers, they were soon posing for pictures and chatting to their followers for some time afterwards.

This band are still a well-kept secret; their take on a classic blues-based rock sound allied with a lyrical theme of empowerment which runs throughout the ‘Gemini’ album does set them apart. It will only take one established band to snap them up for a support tour to push them up to where they deserve to be. The band are hoping to play more UK dates in the autumn, and it is strongly recommended to get to at least one of them before they do become the ‘must-see’ act I expect they will become.

As a postscript, presented below are a few shots from the band’s appearance at SOS Festival; they played a slightly shorter but equally well-received set there. SOS Festival is a rock/metal event held each July at the Longfield Suite in Prestwich, and attracts bands from all over the country. A well-run event with a main and acoustic stage, it is one I intend to attend again next year.

5 – Delightful

DORJA band website

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Caught Live: Tremonti, o2 Institute Birmingham 30th June 2018

Although I’ve seen Alter Bridge many times this was the first chance I’d had to see guitarist Mark Tremonti’s eponymously-titled solo project. Now four albums in, with the most recent offering ‘A Dying Machine’ coming out earlier this year, the band has consisted of guitarist Eric Friedman, drummer Garrett Whitlock as well as Tremonti himself throughout. They once also featured Wolfgang Van Halen on bass but he stood down last year, Tremonti himself playing bass on the last album. Live, they have brought in Tanner Keegan on the low end.

The Tremonti project does have some similarity with Alter Bridge but focuses more on the heavier side of things. While he plays arenas with Alter Bridge these days, for his own project the venues are the sort of smaller halls played in AB’s early days. Surprisingly, they didn’t play in the North West this time (they usually pitch up in Manchester) and so this meant a run down to the Second City and a venue I’d never been to before.

Opening times on the ticket said 6pm, and I got there shortly afterwards to find the huge queue already outside had just started to let in. The o2 Institute is a former church, which later acted as a civic hall and finally a nightclub/music venue. The gig was to be held in the main hall, which was up a flight of stairs after passing through a narrow corridor. In that corridor there were already people queuing to buy merchandise at the stand, somewhat awkwardly located so it created a bit of a bottleneck.  I got into the hall to find it already filling up, and I’d barely settled on a spot when openers The Fallen State came on. Early on vocalist Ben Stenning let us all know how pleased they were to get this opening slot, as long-time fans of Tremonti’s music down the years. That was evident from their music, they have that similar downtuned guitar-heavy sound, much in the vein of many North American bands. They’re not the only British band to have taken their cues here, Stone Broken occupy similar territory and if you like them, you’ll probably enjoy these too. The out-front sound didn’t do them many favours though, it was a bit swirly in this converted church hall. Stenning was a decent vocalist, backed well vocally by guitarist Jon Price. Their best song for me is ‘Nova’ which has had Planet Rock airplay, a slower number not too far removed from Stone Broken’s ‘Wait For You’. I was amused when they got the crowd to chant ‘whoa-oh-oh oh-oh’ before ‘Burn It To The Ground, as an oldie I recognised the refrain as straight from Status Quo’s ‘Dirty Water’!

It didn’t take long to see the difference between an Alter Bridge crowd and a Tremonti one: moshpits started from the word go – even further back where I was! The Tremonti sound is relentlessly heavy, with few pauses for breath. Once again though, the hall’s acoustics let them down as the sound, admittedly intensely loud – blended into a mush. I did pick out ‘Cauterize’ from the previous album early on in the show, though the set actually featured a good spread of tracks from all four albums to date, with six from ‘A Dying Machine’ played. Not that it mattered – it was all delivered with sledgehammer intensity! Despite the bad sound, Tremonti did show a strong vocal and guitarist Eric Friedman proved to be a fine vocalist himself, the harmonies were almost AB-like (a compliment, given who Tremonti performs with in his ‘day job’!) There was plenty of soloing too for the air guitarists, with Friedman getting his share in the spotlight too.

Mark Tremonti at o2 Institute

Mark Tremonti at Birmingham o2 Institute

They played 16 numbers in around 90 minutes, and because of the early start (Tremonti themselves came on at 8pm) we were done by about 9:30. There was no encore, with the frontman explaining they didn’t like the false idea of going off then coming back on (but you do that with AB, Mark!) and so they said they’d do two more then finish, with the carrot of a post-show meet and greet to follow. Ending with ‘Wish You Well’ (absolutely nothing to do with a similarly-titled Whitesnake number!) they left us hot and exhausted by the end.

Tremonti band at Birmingham

Tremonti band at Birmingham

I didn’t fancy getting into a big crowd for a meet and greet with no guarantee I’d actually meet the guys (they had a curfew to work to) so decided to get out as soon as the last powerchord rang out. Or at least that was the plan! Actually getting out of this place proved to be troublesome, the exits clogged up completely with nobody moving for at least 15 minutes. When we eventually got through that door leading to the upstairs foyer, we saw why – there was already a queue formed outside for the aforementioned meet and greet and it was causing problems with the exits. The foyer itself was crowded, queueing people seemingly in all directions, and even getting down the stairs back to the corridor was a slow process since the merch stand was right at the bottom, causing yet more crowding. This is something that this venue needs to look at – it’s completely unacceptable to have exits blocked even at the best of times, what if there were an incident? As said, I’ve never been to this place before and it left a bit of a poor impression on me, this would never be allowed at a sporting event so why is it tolerated at a music event?

To conclude, although the band (and openers) were good, this is a venue I’d think twice about visiting again based on this one experience.

4 – Deserving

LP: DORJA ‘Gemini’ (self-released)

One of the albums that I’ve been eagerly awaiting is this debut offering from the cosmopolitan collective DORJA. The album (which will be available on CD and as a download, plus a limited edition vinyl) comes almost exactly two years after the band’s formation. This record, the first full album for some of the musicians involved, was made possible by a successful crowdfunding campaign. It exceeded their target by some distance, enabling the band to allocate more budget than they’d planned for in recording and producing this record.

A brief recap on the band’s history so far: they were formed in summer 2016 by drummer Anna Mylee, then based in LA. Recruiting fellow LA expat, Kazakh-born singer Aiym Almas, they looked back across the Atlantic to complete the line-up, bringing in three British players in guitarists Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill, plus bass player Becky Baldwin. All had worked with Anna before and they began to collaborate on material, convening via Skype at first but all met up in LA to record their first track ‘Fire’, issued as a download in June 2016. The EP ‘Target Practice’ was released in early 2017, and they played selected live dates in the UK as and when schedules permitted. Holly Henderson departed the band in mid-2017, as a concurrent solo career began to gather momentum. The band advertised for the vacant position, eventually settling on Irish guitarist Sarah Michelle to take over. They continued to play selected live dates and in the winter of 2017 unveiled their crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to record a full album of material. With the target reached, then exceeded, the group came together in early 2018 to begin sessions on this record.

The album features ten tracks, some of which are re-recorded versions of tracks from the EP while others are brand new. All were written collectively by the band (with credit duly given to Holly Henderson for her part in writing five of the songs which appear here) and also to Eduardo Limongi for arrangements.

Front cover for DORJA 'Gemini' album

Front cover for DORJA ‘Gemini’ album

I was one of the pledgers involved in the crowdfunding campaign; there was a broad range of items on offer to suit most pockets ranging from a straightforward pledge for the album in your preferred format, to a bundle of stuff including posters, an exclusive T-shirt, a live EP and other items such as drum heads, hand-written lyric sheets and patches. As the bottom of my pocket is quite easily reached I plumped for the album on LP plus that T-shirt, with the items being despatched to pledgers in late June 2018. Having had the chance to give the record a few spins, the old-fashioned way with a turntable and stylus, here’s what I made of it:

The initial impression is that the blues influence is more pronounced than perhaps might have been expected. I’ve seen the band twice before and they stormed it live; they were always rock with a blues base but that base is a bit more evident in the material presented here. Dealing with the previously-released material first, the new versions of ‘Target Practice’, ‘Reaching Out’ and ‘Fire’ (‘Far Gone’ I suspect is the same one as what was put out as a single last year) are a little cleaner-sounding than the EP versions, but not much different otherwise. Opening track ‘Chainbreaker’ gives a good indication of what’s to come, these songs are all mid-tempo bluesy hard rockers showcasing primarily that remarkable voice of Aiym Almas. Her vocal evokes R&B greats of the past and she brings that to a hard rock style, giving this band a distinctive sound.

The songs all tend to follow a similar template: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, breakdown/solo, playout over repeated chorus. That doesn’t mean they’re all variations of the same thing – there are lighter as well as heavier songs and some tasty playing from guitarists Sarah Michelle and Rosie Botterill. Standouts for me are the raunchy blues of ‘Use You’ and the anthemic, guitar-heavy ‘Silence’ with a solo that will have you reaching for the air guitar. (Whose, I am not sure about until I see this one done live!) Appearing on record for the first time is ‘Limitless’; that one was performed live from their early days and is one of the more uptempo rockers on the album. I’d have liked a little more of that personally (they have one other as yet unrecorded song in their repertoire, ‘Turn It All Around’ in which they really cut loose), but this one rocks too, with a terrific lead solo from Rosie. Title track ‘Gemini’ features a little slide guitar, which I’d guess is Sarah Michelle’s doing. The listener might be fooled a bit by the intro to ‘Too High’ (the first track of side two on the LP); opening with Aiym Almas singing over piano chords (courtesy of Anna Mylee) before the main body of the song kicks in with a guitar riff which reminded me of Black Sabbath’s ‘Mob Rules’, before the middle section introduces another riff which, strangely enough made me think of Ozzy’s ‘Crazy Train’!

I’ve not mentioned the rhythm section up to now, they lock in together really well though fans of bass player Becky Baldwin will have to listen more closely for her fills, she’s a little less prominent with this band than she was with, say the trio format of IDestroy. The drum sound on this record gives a satisfying ‘thump’; the producers did a fine job of capturing Anna Mylee’s sound.

Overall the group can be proud of this album, it’s a solid debut which like the EP, demonstrates their huge potential. I still feel there’s a lot more to come from them in future though, especially if they can overcome the logistics of having an international membership with an LA-based singer and the musicians scattered across Britain and Ireland. What they need is a backer with bottomless pockets, to enable them to base themselves in one location (LA? London?) – of course, there’s not too many of those about! They remain unsigned as of June 2018, with this record now available I’d expect that situation to change before very much longer.

For now though, this is a promising debut. They haven’t quite hit it out of the park but to use cricketing parlance, they’ve got it through the covers and it will reach the boundary for four. Four inflatable guitars, that is!

DORJA are playing a short run of dates in the UK and Europe in June/July 2018, with dates in Birmingham on the 14th of July and an appearance at SOS Festival in Prestwich, near Manchester on the 15th. This record will be available to purchase directly from them at the shows with a full release to take place in the near future. They’ve also issued a lyric video for ‘Use You’ to coincide with these dates, presented below:

http://www.dorjaband.com

4 – Deserving

Vinnie Paul 1964-2018

If you thought 2018 was a bit easier on us rock and metal fans, maybe not. Like many others I woke to hear of the death of Vinnie Paul, aged just 54. The former Pantera drummer reportedly suffered a major heart attack  at his home.

This sad news came almost 14 years after the loss of his brother, Dimebag Darrell who was shot while performing with Damageplan, the band formed by the Abbott brothers (Vinnie and Darrell) after Pantera’s disbandment. For the past decade he has been the drummer for Hellyeah, who have released five albums to date.

Vinnie Paul is best known for being Pantera’s drummer however, forming the band in 1981 he and Darrell (originally styling himself as ‘Diamond Darrell’) went through a series of line-ups and released four albums before they signed to ATCO records for their fifth record, the seminal ‘Cowboys From Hell’ album released in 1990. That was the album which launched them to success, with a harder sound and more aggressive ‘look’ than had been the case for all their previous work they soon distanced themselves from all they’d put out before that record, insisting that their real start came with ‘Cowboys From Hell’. The band popularised the ‘groove metal’ sound; combining the heavier guitar sound from Thrash Metal with a more mid-paced tempo. From there the band had a series of successful albums, each heavier than the last with 1992’s ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ going double platinum in the US. Shortly after the release of that album, Darrell dropped his ‘Diamond’ nickname in favour of ‘Dimebag’ which he would stick with for the remainder of his life.

The successful run did take its toll in the end (vocalist Phil Anselmo confessed to a heroin habit in the mid-90s which culminated in his suffering a cardiac arrest, he later cleaned up) and their final album ‘Reinventing the Steel’ was released in 2000. Following a compilation, the group finally split in 2003 with Anselmo turning to his other band, Down. Meanwhile the Abbott brothers formed Damageplan, and there was rancour in the press between the two parties for several years. Sadly they never got to reconcile as Dimebag’s death in 2004 put paid to any hope of a Pantera reunion.  Vinnie Paul took some time away from music after that, returning in 2006 when invited to join Hellyeah. He had only recently finished putting down drum parts for that band’s upcoming album when he died.

There have been a multitude of tributes paid from many rock/metal musicians; a few Twitter posts are shown here:

Finally, three videos from Vinnie Paul’s musical career:

Pantera ‘Walk’:

Damageplan ‘Save Me’:

Hellyeah ‘Moth’:

Caught Live: Jeff Beck, Philharmonic Hall Liverpool 16th June 2018

The local musician fraternity were out in force for this one, a rare UK appearance by the legendary guitarist Jeff Beck. It’s rare enough that he plays in his home country these days, even more rare that he plays in Liverpool. This was the first time I’d ever seen this guy play, considering that he’s cited as a major influence on just about every ‘name’ in guitar music, you could say I’d left it late (Beck is now 73 years old)! He’s been around since the 60s, a contemporary of Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton, and he has played with just about everyone from Rod Stewart (in his early days) to Paul Rodgers (with whom Beck will tour the US this summer.

Opening proceedings was Colin (not Connor!) MacLeod, a solo performer armed with just an electric guitar set to maximum jangle. Not quite a Highlander (he’s from the Isle of Lewis) his folky-tinged material dealt with life in his Outer Hebrides home island. His short set was warmly-received, and he was straight out to the stand afterwards where he had copies of his album ‘Bloodlines’ available.

Jeff Beck isn’t so much a man of few words, he’s a man of NO words! He came on stage to a rapturous reception, acknowledging the audience merely with a nod, wave and smile before he and his band (comprising drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Rhonda Smith, cellist Vanessa Freebairn-Smith and vocalist Jimmy Hall; the latter would come on and off stage as required) launched into the set. Being unfamiliar with much of Beck’s work I was concentrating mostly on his playing. He really does have a incredible range of tones, conjuring up things from a Stratocaster that you’ll get from nobody else. The set included many covers including a unique take on Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ and an instrumental rendition of ‘A Day In The Life’ (appropriate, given the setting) with Beck’s guitar doing the vocal melody.

Rhonda Smith with Jeff Beck at Liverpool (pic: Mark Francis Tully)

Rhonda Smith with Jeff Beck at Liverpool (pic: Mark Francis Tully)

His band were all top-drawer players in their own right, he gave Rhonda Smith several spots for soloing, she had the lot from rock to funk and jazz, all delivered superbly. Vinnie Colaiuta is a former Zappa musician, so you know you’re getting the best there, while Jimmy Hall showed a superb range of ‘pipes’, especially on ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’. A delivery of the Stevie Wonder classic ‘Superstition’ had Beck himself emulate with his guitar the funky sound of the clavinet on the original.

There was so much virtuosity on the stage it was sometimes hard to know where to look, yet these top-ranked players never stepped on each others, or the main man’s toes all night. As a non-musician I’ll cheerfully admit much of what they were doing sailed merrily over my head, however what they cooked up was tasty indeed.

Despite his advanced years, Beck remains at the top of his game – he has gone straight from this tour into a US run of summer shows with Paul Rodgers, as well as Heart’s Ann Wilson. Major talent indeed,  and if you’re lucky enough to be able to get to a show it is recommended you do so.

The show was of such high quality I have little option but to award all five inflatable guitars – this fella could probably whip up a sonic storm with one of those too! 😀

5 – Delightful

From The Earth: ‘From The Earth’ (Machine Devil Records)

This one came out of left-field last month: a six-track mini-album from a new project fronted by Michael Devin, currently the bassist for Whitesnake. He’s written all the material himself, and co-produced this record with Warren Riker, as well as contributing bass, vocals, keyboards and guitars. There are several other notable performers on the record however, listed on the back cover (posted below) including a certain Brian Tichy on one track.

The cover art suggests the style of rock on offer here quite well, evoking the ‘stoner rock’ era of the early 2000s, itself inspired by 1970s acid rock bands such as Hawkwind. That’s the kind of thing to expect, especially with the Monster Magnet-esque ‘Creature Feature’. Those sort of sludgy guitar riffs are present and correct on here, and Devin may surprise those unaware of his vocal prowess on this album. ‘Wild Buffalo’ could have fitted on Soundgarden’s ‘Badmotorfinger’ and it’s no stretch to say that the Whitesnake man’s voice is quite reminiscent of the late Chris Cornell on this one.

Opener ‘Hallelujah Blues’ is more like another Monster; the hard rock shuffle of this track is in keeping with Monster Truck’s sound. Safe to say if you like the kind of retro-rock those two Monsters serve up (and I do!) then you’ll enjoy ‘From The Earth’. It isn’t all a heavy hammering though; ‘All The Time’ is a slower, more country-rock styled number while ‘Moon Queen’ also cools things down, Devin sounding more like the Cornell of ‘Euphoria Morning’ here. Closer ‘Monsterland’ is a slow-burning, stoner epic of the kind of thing Dave Wyndorf specialises in, it will conjure up images of sixties-style liquid light shows in your head!

Devin’s Whitesnake commitments (he’s currently on a US tour with Coverdale and co) mean it’s unlikely he will get the chance to play this stuff live often, but it’s to be hoped he can get a band together to play a few selected dates. This is a strong offering from a talented musician who shows here he’s far more than a sideman. Recommended.

The mini-album is available as a download on iTunes, Amazon and is also on Spotify – you can listen for yourself below:

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: HAIM, Olympia Theatre, Dublin IRL 12th June 2018

It’s been almost five years since I last saw the sister-act HAIM live; that was at the end of their breakthrough year of 2013. Although they’d played UK dates in 2012 as support to Florence + The Machine, they really came to the attention of the British public when they won the BBC’s ‘Sound Of…’ award at the beginning of that year. From there they were featured heavily on BBC music programmes including their coverage of Glastonbury, T in the Park and Reading/Leeds (the band appeared at all those festivals), and their UK tour that winter saw the ‘sold-out’ signs everywhere they went. Since then, they’ve replicated their UK success in their US homeland, off the back of a support tour opening for megastar Taylor Swift. This short run of UK and Ireland dates came a year after their second album ‘Something To Tell You’ was released, and also sold out rapidly proving their popularity hadn’t waned in the interim.

The Olympia in Dublin is a small but ornate theatre, I chose to sit in the circle rather than stand in the crowd in the stalls, a wise decision when I got there to find the queue reaching back halfway across Temple Bar! They played two nights here, and I was at the first of those. The opening act was US singer Maggie Rogers, somebody who (once again) I had no prior knowledge of. She turned out to be an expressive performer, clad in a blue jumpsuit and using all of the stage to dance across as she sang, she drew huge cheers from this (mostly) female audience every time she so much as let her hair down or took off her jacket! Her material wasn’t that far removed from HAIM’s own, at least in terms of how they sound on record, and her band gave her good backing, particularly the drummer.  Not strictly my cup of tea, but a good live act and fine singer.

Support act Maggie Rogers

Support act Maggie Rogers

Following her set a huge army of techs were on to turn over the stage for the main act, and soon revealed were a bank of keyboards to one side, a set of drums to the other (for touring members Tommy King and Jody Giachello respectively), and in the middle, more drums! Three sets, for the sisters themselves to use, and not content with that, there were more set up at the front of the stage! These came into use right away as the girls came on, led by youngest sister Alana. Her drum pounding was soon joined by middle sister Danielle and finally, by eldest sister Este. The three of them gave a Sepultura-esque display before launching into opening number ‘Falling’, from their debut ‘Days Are Gone’ album. Following that up swiftly with ‘Don’t Save Me’, they already had this crowd in raptures.

Most of the set leant towards the current album, although other favourites from the debut such as ‘My Song 5’, ‘The Wire’ and of course ‘Forever’ were played. Whatever the song, once again this band showed themselves to be a vastly different experience live than they are on record. Meticulously-crafted, polished and slick on the CD you listen to in the car, live they are a much heavier, much harder-hitting band. Put simply, on record they’re Smooth Radio, live they’re Planet Rock! Touring drummer Jody Giachello has a lot to do with that, he is a thunderous player and drives the backline along superbly, but the other major difference is that Danielle Haim is unleashed onstage – she is a fine lead guitarist, throwing out solos that Gary Moore or Robin Trower would have enjoyed on songs like ‘Nothing’s Wrong’, which simply aren’t there on the records. In addition to that, Alana gets to add her own guitar parts as well as contribute keyboard touches and additional drums. She relishes the chance to get amongst the fans and did just that towards the end of the set, singing while posing with her adoring public on the front row. She even draped a tricolour around herself and returned to the stage to play, with it still on her back!

Eldest sister Este on the bass once again delighted her fans with her ‘bass face’ expressions, and surprised us all by ditching her top after three numbers, opting to play the rest of the set in her bra! Not that anybody minded (least of all this fan!) but it did encourage at least one audience member to follow suit! As usual, there was the humorous banter between songs, and as they were in Dublin they even indulged in a pint of Guinness each. At least two of them did, Danielle opted out, explaining that she’d been fighting off a bug and was still on antibiotics.  Behind the antics, Este is a fantastic bass player, locking in with their touring drummer and providing many tasty little fills. Danielle took over the drums for ‘Something To Tell You’; she normally sings it too, but with her being ill Alana took the lead vocal on this occasion.

That was about the only indication Danielle was unwell, she still sounded in good voice and her guitar playing, as said before, was immense. For their rendition of ‘Right Now’, played in the encore, the delivery was with more ‘anger’, more ‘menace’ than was evident on the album, with a few choice F-bombs thrown in for good measure. Danielle closes this with another scorching lead solo before the three of them take to those drums at the back and give us one final blast. For this segment, they gave Giachello a (deserved) moment in the spotlight for a solo of his own. After that they took their bows to tumultuous cheers and made their exits.

The band I saw in 2013 were great, but still raw. It was their harder live sound which hooked me, and they still have that now but with more experience and more craft, after some solid touring in huge arenas over the past couple of years. They’re now the finished article, and it’s to be hoped that their short run of shows on these shores this time will be followed up by a more comprehensive tour at a later date. That will likely be in arenas though, they now have the audience to fill bigger places and if I may drop a hint to the girls, it’s time you came back to headline Liverpool’s Echo Arena!

5 – Delightful

Punk Sunday 16 (Diablo Furs, Healthy Junkies, Lilith and the Knight), Stalybridge Tavern 10th June 2018

The latest in the series of multi-band shows, staged on a Sunday afternoon/early evening and promoted by IndigoBravo (two guys based in east Manchester who have worked hard to bring up-and-coming bands to the local area), saw another varied selection of groups playing at this bar, sited close to Stalybridge railway station and also close to a free car park for those who drive in. The IndigoBravo team are about to change venue yet again, as the venues often find that they are drawing visitors from outside the local area (such as your correspondent) and are therefore on only soft drinks such as J20; they’re not necessarily attracting a local clientele.

I got there in time for Diablo Furs (the openers were The Awkwards, apologies to them), a female quintet which spans generations. They played a lively set of new wave-style power pop/rock, lead vocals split between a frontwoman and a guitarist/singer. The bassist was the live wire of the band, all over the stage (literally, lying down at times) and occasionally off it altogether. They have a sound straight out of 1978 but are well worth catching.

Next up was a band I’d heard of, but not seen live until now. Healthy Junkies are a four-piece led by singer Nina Courson and guitarist Phil Honey Jones. A band inspired by the 90s grunge movement by the looks of things, with Nina’s stage look reminiscent of Daisy Chainsaw’s Katie Jane Garside. They have that heavy guitar sound to boot, and Nina is a captivating performer, never stood still for a moment and quite prepared to try a jump off the bass drum on the crowded stage of a pub back room, let alone a big venue! The guitar sound was a bit overpowering from my position (near the front – I wanted to try some gig pics with a DSLR) though, so I would definitely like to see these again.

Last band I saw was Lilith and the Knight, a Metal outfit rather than punk. Formed around the singer (Lilith, of course!) they have also attracted a lot of attention over the past year. Lilith has recently joined up with the Women in Rock touring collective (an act I’ve seen several times) so will be seen as one of two or three singers at selected shows from now on. However when she pitched up here, there was a bit of a surprise – her right arm was in a sling! She’d injured herself only just before this show, so her rather glamorous look was offset somewhat by this ‘accessory’ of a blue sling, as she could not move her arm! Her voice was unaffected, she and the band gave a strong performance of modern-style Metal, with plenty of chances for Lilith to reach for the big notes. Owing to time constraints none of these bands could play for longer than about 45 minutes, so this is another band I must catch again soon.

As stated earlier, I do like to take snaps at gigs but I have found it difficult to get pics in this, and other smaller places unless I used flash. I’m reluctant to do that with a pocket camera whose inbuilt flash I cannot control, plus I dislike the idea of firing it in performers’ faces (although Nina told me afterwards that they’re used to it!) So, with this being a more informal setting, I thought I’d try a digital SLR. I’m not rich enough to get the latest and greatest kit though, so I went with a ten-year old one picked up for not too much money, from a well-known chain store specialising in used electronics. With this was an old flash unit from my decades-old film SLR kit (NB – if doing this yourself check the trigger voltage of the flash, some can ‘fry’ the electronics of your modern DSLR or CSC) which had the ability to tilt upwards. Knowing the pub’s ceiling isn’t that high, it was a matter of playing about with manual settings until I got one that looked close, and went with that for the sets. A handful of snaps from the day are presented, and where possible I will do this again. (For big gigs, this isn’t possible without a photo pass so I will continue to use a pocket compact there).

The experiment proved a success, so I hope to do this again at a future event.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Marco Mendoza (with The Kut, Nitroville) Rebellion Manchester, 7th June 2018

Marco Mendoza is a busy guy. He’s barely finished a tour with the Dead Daisies (with further dates scheduled for later in the year) and has also managed to squeeze in a short run of solo shows in between. These are in addition to the dates he played last autumn in the UK, when he made it to Liverpool despite the fact the venue was switched at the last moment. He plays in a trio format when solo, and he was once again joined by North East-based guitarist Micky Crystal (on loan from Tygers of Pan Tang). This time however, he had a different drummer in Kyle Hughes, another North East native who also added vocals.

It’s a bit of a mystery to me why a performer of this calibre isn’t playing to huge crowds unless with the Daisies, the attendance here was better than at Liverpool last year but not by that much, especially considering this show took place in summer. The ‘Download factor’ may have come into play, as this date coincided with the annual bash at Donington but even so, the stayaways missed another excellent show.  There was plenty of banter between the three, and just as he did at Liverpool, the Daisies bass player ventured out onto the floor while playing, in order to get his audience to clap, click fingers or just sing. He was out on the floor during their cover of Lennon’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’.

There were several covers (including ‘God Bless The Child’, a Billie Holliday song), as well as many ‘props’ given to artists he’d performed with in the past. In particular he praised a certain Ted Nugent for taking him out on the road (he played with the Motor City madman in the early 2000s) and ‘schooling’ him, as he put it. As at Liverpool, he did Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’, retaining all the funk vibe of the original but giving it a rockier feel. He did play some of his own songs too, including ‘Viva La Rock’ from his recent solo album, but later in the set he treated us to some Thin Lizzy, even letting Kyle Hughes take lead vocal on ‘Jailbreak’. For ‘Chinatown’, somehow Micky Crystal manages to make you forget the original had two lead guitars – he covers both magnificently. After this set Marco Mendoza was immediately off the stage and at the stand for an instant meet and greet, happily posing for pics and chatting to all and sundry – including the opening bands!

I did want to get there early to catch London trio The Kut; a highly-rated outfit (who have enjoyed airplay recently on Planet Rock) fronted by the striking Princess Maha on vocals and guitar. Instantly identifiable with her bright blue hair, she and her bandmates (drummer Diana Bartmann, and deputising bassist Dany Jones) stormed the stage early on. Dany Jones clearly knew this band and their material well, slotting in seamlessly for regular bassist Stella Vie who was unavailable for this tour. A hard rock trio with a grungey/punky flavour, the highpoint was probably ‘Bad Man’ for which they invite punters up to add their own backing vocals – including the F-bomb in the lyric if they wish! Maha is a mean guitarist as well as a powerful singer with a raunchy vocal, she treated us to the full Eddie van Halen tapping routine at several points! They certainly converted this punter, who had only heard about them via reports until then.

Nitroville were a more traditional Metal quintet fronted by a female vocalist; they gave a good performance of numbers which were in the vein of Judas Priest, plenty of twin guitar parts and lead solos to widdle along to on the air guitar. Their drummer even managed to wreck his snare mid-set, leading to a dash off stage for a spare while the rest improvised hastily! Good, but I did lean more towards the performance by The Kut who I hope to see again soon.

Nitroville supporting Marco Mendoza

Nitroville supporting Marco Mendoza

Whoever is the support though, it’s highly recommended that you catch Marco Mendoza whenever he plays these solo gigs, he always gives a top-drawer performance and makes you feel as though you’re part of the act.

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

Album: Ghost ‘Prequelle’ (Loma Vista Recordings)

The fourth album from Swedish theatrical metallers Ghost sees the band on the cusp of breaking through to major success. As with every album, the act has unveiled a ‘new’ frontman for its anonymous troupe of Nameless Ghouls, identified only by elemental names such as ‘Fire’ or ‘Water’. The difference this time around is that the masked vocalist has taken on an entirely new persona (dubbed ‘Cardinal Copia’), instead of variations of the Papa Emeritus character he has portrayed since the band’s inception. It’s also become public knowledge that all of these characters have been played by the same person, vocalist Tobias Forge. His identity was widely known among fans already, but since he was the subject of legal action (still ongoing at the time of writing) from some former members of Ghost, he was ‘outed’ as the brains behind the band. None of this has affected the band’s rise to prominence, and this album was eagerly anticipated after they had gained a substantial amount of new fans on their last tour, at one point even opening for the legendary Iron Maiden.

Lead-off single ‘Rats’ gave a good indication of what was to come, it’s a catchy, even poppy song (including a ‘whoa-whoa’ bit in the chorus) but with sufficient heavy metal guitar riffing to appease the headbangers. The video showed Cardinal Copia resplendent in a natty outfit with moves reminiscent of Michael Jackson. Lyrically, it alludes to the Black Death, and how that destroyed many lives. The whole album is broadly based around death (‘don’t you forget about dying, don’t you forget about your friend death‘ – Pro Memoria). So it may be an album full of catchy pop/rock songs, but it is as dark as you are going to get in its song lyrics.

The band took to the road in the US before the album’s release, so much of this material has been heard by fans, both at the shows and through social media as clips of the new show have been shared. Ghost also previewed parts of it in their video shorts which introduced the Cardinal Copia character; ‘Faith’, ‘Pro Memoria’ and ‘See The Light’ were teased. ‘Faith’ is one of the heavier moments of the album, but still accessible. If radio programmers weren’t listening too closely to the lyrics, they might even deem this album radio-friendly!

The big surprise of the album is instrumental ‘Miasma’ (it refers to a foul stench, associated once again with death, for example with unburied bodies such as happened during the Plague). For a band made up of anonymous musicians, where only the lead singer is known, to perform an instrumental (in fact there are two; ‘Helvetesfönster’ – literally ‘Hell’s Window’, towards the end of the album recalls ‘Pro Memoria’ in its melody) is surprising enough. For there to be a saxophone solo is an even bigger surprise! It’s quite a prog-rock style number, and when performed live, it featured Papa Nihil (the ‘elder’ Papa shown on the video shorts) on the sax! ‘Dance Macabre’ (no relation to a similarly-titled song from Delain) is a dancefloor classic in the making; I can picture this one filling the floor at your local rock night.

prequelle

Already, this album has divided Ghost’s fans; while many have taken to it for the immediate impact of the songs, others have been scathing about it being ‘too commercial’. In truth, Ghost have never been the sort of po-faced black metal band of the sort you see in forests prowling around in corpse paint; rather their take on the whole ‘satanic’ thing is humorous, they are taking the mickey with the concept and set out to amuse, rather than terrify their audience. If you’re a fan of 1980s hard rock bands, particularly the more ‘glam’ style, this album will probably appeal to you more. Certainly many of its songs will latch into your brain quickly, Forge has that knack of writing a hit – if the powers that be decide it’s a hit that is!

The other 1980s thing about this album is that it is quite short! The ten tracks which make up the standard album add up to a running time of around 40 minutes. For anyone who still tapes albums onto one side of a C-90 cassette, you’ll love this! However, it has little in the way of filler – the material is strong throughout.

As an old-school rock fan myself, I can see where a lot of Forge’s ideas come from, but he does have a talent for songwriting, and has created a world of characters to illustrate his music, which helps fans ‘buy into’ the whole concept. I think this album will stand the test of time, long after the image has been forgotten about these songs will still sound good in 30 years time. Someone else will have to verify that for me though, since I will likely be part of this album’s concept myself by that stage!

Listen to ‘Prequelle’ for yourself here via Spotify:

 

 

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving