Festival fiasco in Liverpool as day 2 of Hope & Glory is cancelled

‘No festival today’

The curt message posted on social media by the organisers of the first (and increasingly likely, only) Hope & Glory Festival was the coup de grace for this event, plagued by logistical problems on its first day and cancelled altogether on the second, leaving many bands who had been booked to perform high and dry.

The event, which has been advertised for several months, was something I had not taken a great deal of notice of, as the bill featured mainly indie fare which wasn’t my cup of tea. One or two acts looked interesting but I thought at £55 for a day ticket and £85 for the weekend was a bit much to see maybe a couple of bands I might like. The event did however generate interest nationally and internationally, with fans coming from across the country and some had flown in from other countries. Held in St Johns Gardens, behind the neoclassical St Georges Hall in the centre of Liverpool, the organisers promised a range of bands playing across three stages, which right there should raise red flags to anybody who knows that part of the city.  A video that the event organisers released on Facebook shows the intended layout of the site, which they claimed would be suitable for up to 12000 attendees:

Hope & Glory Festival site layout

Hope & Glory Festival site layout (screenshot from organisers’ promotional video)

One glance at that layout makes it clear that there’s no way that site could accommodate 12000 fans comfortably. For those not familiar, the garden area is set from the street to the right (William Brown Street, site for the main ‘Great Exhibition Stage’) by a wall, accessible only by steps in one or two places.

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Location for main stage (screenshot taken from organisers’ promotional video)

Straight away that creates bottlenecks, if people wished to go from one stage to another. In addition, the main stage being set on that narrow street would create yet more overcrowding. The site was just not big enough to hold three stages – one would have been enough, and sure enough on the Saturday (the only operational day), reports of sound from one stage bleeding over to the other stages were coming in via social media. (There was a third stage, set aside for smaller acts).

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Second stage location (screenshot taken from organisers’ promotional video)

On the day itself there were enormous queues snaking down Lime Street, around the corner into St John’s Lane (to the left of the picture), leading to what appeared to be the only entrance into the site. Tickets had been on sale right up to the day of the event and reportedly also available on the day itself, going off what took place it is clear the festival was massively over-subscribed. Questions on facebook before the day were asking about wristband pass-outs, a system which was initially going to be put in place but had been withdrawn at the eleventh hour, leading to some frustrated comments even before the event began. As it became clear that nobody was getting into the site anger grew, and before long the police arrived on the scene to deal with the massive overcrowding. Some disgruntled fans gave up altogether and headed for the bars instead, while the schedule was thrown out by the disruption with acts coming on up to two hours later, playing truncated sets. One big name (singer Charlotte Church) was axed from the bill altogether, presumably in a bid to get the event timescale back into some sort of order, but she was left stranded, having travelled from South Wales with her band only to find she had no slot in which to perform. In a prelude to the next day’s events, she put out an appeal on social media for any venues in the city who might be able to put her on. That was answered by Liquidation at Heebeejeebees, who hastily arranged a gig for her within the hour.

The scale of the problem on the Saturday is illustrated by this video from the Liverpool Echo:

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Bands such as The Fratellis, Razorlight and James did get to play, however by this time many fans had abandoned hope of getting in and had left the site, leaving those already there to queue for the bars and for the toilets, neither facilities were sufficient for the amount of people there leading to yet more overcrowding. The set by James appeared to save the day for many, but a barrage of criticism on their Facebook page and by the number of tweets condemning the organisers for what appeared to be a shameful lack of organisation followed.

Instead of trying to appease or placate disappointed fans, or even showing that they might at least have taken some of the criticism on board for the Sunday, the next day the cancellation was announced on social media with those three words ‘no festival today’. That was it, no explanation, no apology, nothing. With more ‘name’ bands scheduled to play on the Sunday including Ocean Colour Scene, the Lightning Seeds and Space, that left all of those acts in the lurch. Tim Booth of James was also scheduled to play again, as part of ‘Hacienda Classical’ but after he posted a tweet slamming the organisation, they gave only a spiky response instead of the expected contrition:
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By midday on the Sunday the stages were being dismantled, as the tag #HopeAndGlory Festival began to trend and venues across Liverpool were already mobilising to do what they could to put on stranded acts, or make some sort of goodwill gesture to the people who found themselves in the city centre with their event cancelled. Another event (Liverpool Loves) was also taking place elsewhere in the city centre, their organisers were swift to invite would-be Hope & Glory attendees to their stage. Some of the bands did get to perform; the Zanzibar put on the Lightning Seeds at short notice while other venues including Magnet, and Hangar 34 also tweeted that they would make themselves available for acts who wished to play there.  The fact that these venues had to pick up the pieces after the festival descended into chaos was reminiscent of the scenes a decade ago, when the outdoor stages at the Mathew Street Festival (a free, annual event that took place across several stages in the city centre, featuring mostly tribute bands) were suddenly cancelled with days to go by their organisers. That year, bars and venues went out of their way to accommodate bands and this cancellation prompted similar scenes.

Cancellation notice (pic: David Munn/Liverpool Echo)

The whole debacle does little for the image of the city, other than to show that there is still a defiant spirit among the bars and clubs to make something of a bad situation and try to give something to those who’d wanted to spend the weekend watching live music. Those venues deserve bouquets, while brickbats are fully merited for the organisation behind Hope & Glory, a PR company called tinyCOW based in the Midlands.  This would appear to shatter that company’s credibility once and for all, however over the course of the weekend stories emerged that the people behind tinyCOW have previous history of staging events which went wrong. In a particularly disgraceful twist, their twitter account not only passed all blame onto a production manager, condemning him for not installing walkways in time and – worst of all – publishing an email address for all complaints to be directed to him as opposed to the organisers themselves. This was rightly condemned on social media by fans who saw it as the buck-passing exercise it was. Meanwhile, the fire was turned up still further on Tim Booth who got a post from the festival organisers’ account telling him to ‘go back to your yoga’ – a bizarre comment from the organiser to one of their main acts:

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When the dust settles on this debacle, there are questions to be answered. First of all, did anybody do any due diligence on this company who arranged the festival? It has emerged that they have a track record of disputes for previous events, were no questions asked of these?  Secondly, how did they get a licence to stage this event in a space so obviously unsuitable for the amount of people who came? The site was far too small for a projected 12000 people, there were bottlenecks owing to the layout of the land, there were obstacles everywhere and getting around must have been nigh-on impossible. With all that in mind how could it possibly have been passed as safe? Linked to that, and thirdly, who signed it off? Presumably the city council must have cleared it, questions must be asked about their role in this fiasco. On the evidence of the reports, it must be considered miraculous there was not a disaster at this event, which would have been catastrophic for this city. At the very least there should be a resignation from within the council department who passed this event as safe to go ahead.

As said at the top of this post, the musical fare offered at this event was not to my taste, nevertheless when live music events are staged here I want them to pass off well, leaving visitors with good memories – not the frustration and anger which must be felt by visitors after this fiasco. The tickets were not cheap – unsurprisingly there are many calls for refunds, which have also been batted away by organisers referring people only to their ticket agents. That, like so much of the attitude from them, is insufficient and insulting. It is to be hoped this has not caused lasting damage to the city’s hard-won reputation for staging events, nor the ability of the city to attract name acts to perform in Liverpool.

As it was, there was better and more effective communication from artists performing at the event than there was from the festival organisers, which should mean that this company will never be trusted again to deliver a large-scale event in this, or any other city.

The 27 Club: A new and much-needed Liverpool venue

I found myself in the centre of Liverpool last night after finding out about not only a new venue, but that it was launching (officially) that evening with four bands, headlined by Glam Skanks, a Californian all-girl quartet about whom I knew little. However judging by the name and that at least two people in my Facebook list had already checked them out, it looked like it would be a good night out.

First challenge was to find the place: I knew it was on Victoria Street, but not exactly whereabouts. I actually walked the whole length of the street, going past it before retracing my steps and discovering that the venue was actually in the former L1 KTV karaoke bar on the corner of Peter Street; it even had the old sign outside still. Only on closer inspection did I spot the small ‘The 27 Club’ sign in the window. Having found the venue and furthermore, discovering it was free entry (!) I entered to find a small, dimly-lit room with the bar to the right as you go in, and the stage area (such as it was) to the left. A band was already on, it turned out to be a four-band bill. The main lighting was behind the performers – an array of multicoloured flourescent tubes. I suspect that this is a remnant from the place’s previous life, and the whole set up looked like it had only just been put together. I had no idea at the time, that it had!

The band playing were called Figures, formed in Liverpool but with personnel hailing from the Preston area. The set was grunge-inspired hard rock, their chief asset was singer Carrie who had a powerful voice. The next band up were St Helens crew Last Reserves, who were energetic with powerful bass lines and some enthusiastic jumping about from frontwoman Alice Nancy, not really my cup of tea to be completely honest. Following this came Novacrow, the only band on the bill I had prior knowledge of, having seen them last year also in Liverpool. A four-piece fronted by the purple-tressed Kitty, they’re a lively bunch. Kitty is singer/guitarist, something along the lines of Lzzy Hale but with a more expressive performance; when she puts the guitar down for a series of numbers mid-set she is all over the stage, occasionally off it and into the audience! Not to be outdone, bassist Federico ‘Freddy’ Spera is leaping about the place, all over the fittings,  out on the floor, and memorably running out into the street mid-song while continuing to play! His radio link makes that possible of course, he is totally untamed. Next to this, guitarist Jonyx’s own ventures off the stage seem gentle by comparison! The liveliest of live bands you’ll see, they are well worth checking out and play regularly in the area, as they are based in Merseyside.

I found out while the other bands were playing that Glam Skanks were actually playing a double-header this night; when doors opened at the 27 Club the girls were actually 35 miles up the road in Manchester, opening for veteran punkers The Skids at the o2 Ritz. They must have packed up in record time and shot down the M62 then, as they arrived just before Novacrow started their set. I’d not heard a note from them prior to their arrival on this stage, but they were exactly what I expected. Introduced by an older guy in a trilby (presumably their manager) they looked as expected too, glittery costumes and guitars aplenty. They opened with ‘G.L.A.M.’, with singer Ali Cat looking like a cheerleader, the song is a definite nod to that and got the punters in the mood. They beckoned us up to the stage and ran through a short set of hard rocking glam punk, played with humour. One of their songs, whose title is direct and to the point, shall we say (!) is a more profane take on the Beatles ‘Please Please Me’. (Get their album, you’ll soon identify the track in question!)

It was an enjoyable set of riff-heavy glam rock, watching them reminded me a little of London combo The Featherz but with a more Hollywood twist. I was amused to find their bassist was called Millie, and they have a song called ‘Bad Bitch’ – but the links to The SoapGirls (a South African sister act I have seen on several occasions, whose bassist is also called Mille) ended there. Ali Cat was an endearing frontwoman, easily getting this crowd clapping and singing along. Following their set, their manager was hawking their CD ‘Glitter City’ (featuring many of the songs played in the set) and so I treated myself to a copy.

All in all this was a successful launch night for a venue that this city has needed for some time. The people who run the place also offer rehearsal space for bands, and live music will be on offer most nights. I often travel even to see small gigs in venues such as this, and this place looks ideal for several bands from other parts of the country that I know. Only thing was, with the lighting minimal to non-existent, I didn’t take any pics of the proceedings so you’ll just have to content yourself with this snap of yours truly with three of the Glam Skanks! 🙂

glamskanksme

I wish the 27 Club every success with this venture and look forward to seeing many more up-and-coming bands play here.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Facebook Pages:

The 27 Club

The Glam Skanks

Novacrow

Last Reserves

Figures

Caught Live: Iron Maiden (with Shinedown) Echo Arena Liverpool, 20th May 2017

‘Scream for me, Liverpool – SCREAM FOR MEEE!’

A lot’s happened since the last time we heard vocalist Bruce Dickinson utter that at an Iron Maiden gig in this city: your humble correspondent was still a young man in his twenties at the time for one thing, Liverpool FC were league champions, few had heard of Nirvana and the site where the Echo Arena now sits was a large overspill car park for the Albert Dock. That gig, a staggering 27 years ago this year, also came before Dickinson exited the band to be replaced by Blaze Bayley (guitarist Adrian Smith had already packed his bags, being replaced by one-time Gillan guitarist Janick Gers), before he and Smith returned to the fold in 2000. So the anticipation of this gig was palpable, even though when the tour dates were announced last autumn, I for one didn’t want to believe it until I saw Bruce, Steve, Nicko, Dave, Adrian and Janick on that Echo Arena stage!

The band members are now either approaching 60 or have already passed it; consequently in recent years they’ve eased back on the relentless, extensive tour schedules they are known for in favour of large outdoor festival dates. Their last arena tour was in 2011 and for this run, they made a point of including cities they had either not been to before or hadn’t played in a long time. The fact that many more cities have a large-scale venue suitable for their stage show now made that possible, and the fact that this date fell on a Saturday made this show attractive to travelling fans. On the day of the show, you could not move for Iron Maiden T-shirt clad people, with the focal point being the Baltic Fleet pub, normally a quiet dock road pub which brews its own beer on the premises but on this occasion, the setting for the ‘Trooper’ gathering. The band had chosen the pub as host for its pre (and post show) gathering, with ‘Trooper’ beer on sale and band mascot Eddie stationed outside to greet fans.

When the dates went on sale much was made of the band’s efforts to thwart what is euphemistically described as ‘secondary ticketing’. The system put in place was not to print out tickets, rather you needed to produce photo identification plus the card used to purchase the tickets with. That meant if there was a group of say, four going, all had to be together at the venue entrance. The band and manager Rod Smallwood also put in place a system for fans who genuinely could not make the date that they’d booked and who wanted to pass on their ticket, although as the date drew closer, actual tickets were issued to fans who had booked for the seated areas. For those who had plumped for the standing floor, the original arrangement of turning up at the venue with ID and payment card stood. On the night, there were massive queues at the Cityside and Riverside entrances, while those of us booked for standing were directed to a low-level entrance away from the main doors. Expecting a massive queue, I arrived shortly before doors to find only a small line in place. At this point, venue staff asked us to have our cards ready with ID, as a team of staff worked their way down the line. They were armed with what looked like bus ticket machines (!) and upon verifying the card and ID, their machines printed a small ticket out there and then for entrance. The doors soon opened and I’d noticed the queue I joined ten minutes earlier had quadrupled in size, so my timing for once was excellent! The system worked better than I’d anticipated and I soon found myself in the empty arena, where a crowd was already gathering at the barrier. I’d expected to be at least halfway back, as it turned out I was about five off the front, right of centre.

As the crowd began to filter in, I noticed several different languages being spoken in the crowd around me. It turned out there were fans over from Italy, Poland, Argentina, Brazil and several other countries. As someone who has had to do a fair amount of travelling myself to see bands, this was a big deal that this show had brought so many foreign visitors to Liverpool. It also brought it home to me how important it is to have such a venue in your city, from a tourist standpoint – these people could have gone to say, Manchester instead (and probably did fly into the country via Manchester Airport before heading to Liverpool).

With the doors opening just after 6pm, it was quite a wait before openers Shinedown arrived on the stage, the place had filled up a lot by then. Having seen these guys twice before in similar settings (last year in this same hall) I had few expectations. I like their music – at least, the material they focus on (they generally overlook their first two albums of the five they have done) but, I’ve never really taken to frontman Brent Smith. When I first saw this band in 2013, as special guests to Alter Bridge, I was unimpressed with his tendency to make long, rambling speeches (while standing on a box) between songs. Last year’s set was an improvement however, his between-song chats were shorter and this time out, he and they were more focused on the songs, not the speeches. Opening with ‘Devour’ from their breakthrough album ‘The Sound of Madness’ they gave a hard-hitting but enjoyable set taking in material from that record, plus follow-up ‘Amaryllis’ and most recent offering ‘Threat To Survival’. Smith’s vocal sounded stronger this time too, and he was well backed vocally by guitarist Zach Myers.  He did try his usual trick of encouraging the audience to turn to each other and shake hands, to usual British resistance (!) and his main speech part came when introducing ‘Enemies’ – he came out into the crowd and urged the crowd (‘the legendary Liverpool’ as he called us!) to start jumping when he brought the band in. By and large however, it was more rock killer than filler, though he (like many of us) was shaken by the shock death of Chris Cornell just days before this show. He asked for – and got- a brief moment of silence from the crowd in memory of the Soundgarden frontman before resuming proceedings with ‘Cut The Cord’ from the last album. They ended with ‘The Sound Of Madness’ before making way. This was another improvement on the last time I saw them, as stated earlier I do like their music but had this been the performance I’d first seen from them, I’d probably be more of a fan than I actually am now.

Some things never change, and after some feverish work from the crew in decking out the stage in preparation for the headliners, a huge cheer went up when UFO’s ‘Doctor Doctor’ came through the PA. The traditional prelude to a Maiden show, as soon as it was over the lights went down, as Bruce Dickinson appeared at the back of the stage atop a massive platform, behind what appeared to be a witches’ cauldron. He sang the intro from the back before the rest of the guys burst onto the stage, kicking their way into opener ‘If Eternity Should Fail’ from the current album. From that point it was traditional Maiden; Dickinson running all over the stage ramps while guitarist Janick Gers ran straight to the front, throwing his shapes, and balancing his left leg on the ‘speaker cabinet’ prop placed there specifically for his use! Gers comes across as the fan in the band; he remained with them even after Adrian Smith returned and it is he who has the most ‘face time’ as it were, always grabbing the attention alongside bassist Steve Harris while Smith and fellow axeman Dave Murray handle the majority of the lead guitar work. Janick’s role is more cheerleader, his guitar parts live tend to duplicate Adrian Smith’s (he replicates the solo in ‘The Trooper’ note for note for instance) but acts as the foil for Dickinson’s stage antics. It’s Gers who gets grabbed by the head, or has a flag dangled in front of him by the singer for instance, but amazingly, never misses a note while all that’s going on!

The set obviously was slanted towards ‘The Book Of Souls’ album with six tracks played from it, but if you aren’t familiar with those songs help is always at hand from Steve Harris; as usual he was up there at the front of the stage, resplendent in his West Ham colours and P-bass, mouthing the words along so we could all join in! There was room for older songs of course, and Bruce made mention of the fact he knew that there were many there who weren’t born when ‘Children Of The Damned’ was first released, which they then played. Naturally ‘The Trooper’ had me reaching for the air guitar, at least until a pit started (!)

The current album has its fair share of epics including ‘The Red And The Black’ and the title track itself, which saw a ten-feet tall Eddie make his customary stage appearance. He joked around with Janick Gers before Bruce appeared to ‘remove’ his heart, and spray us all with fake blood! As well as that the guys reached back to 1984 for another epic, ‘Powerslave’ from the album of the same name which saw the singer don a mask for the track. You know it’s getting near the end when ‘Fear Of The Dark’ is played, with the crowd chanting it’s opening refrain and of course, the main set ended with ‘Iron Maiden’ as the huge Eddie head appeared over the stage. The encore was (of course) ‘Number Of The Beast’, with ‘Blood Brothers’ and finally, ‘Wasted Years’ – which is another air guitar favourite of mine!

This was a night that will live long in the memory; Bruce was in jovial form all night and you could see him laughing away as he joked with bandmates throughout. He can be spiky at times, if he feels the crowd isn’t with him but there were no worries on that score tonight, as he gave shoutouts to the various flags he saw in the crowd – pausing to ask what someone from San Antonio was doing in Liverpool! He then risked a few jeers (and cheers from this punter!) at the mention of Liverpool FC boss Jürgen Klopp; the singer revealed that Klopp (a fan of the band) was meant to be there tonight but because of ‘other commitments’ (i.e. his team’s game the next day) he was unable to attend. Bruce then reiterated that all who come to a Maiden gig are welcome no matter who you are or where you’re from, to universal cheers.

This band have maintained their status throughout many musical trends, never fitting in with what’s popular and never caring one iota, while their fans just kept on coming. In that respect they’re similar to AC/DC or even Rush, bands who also exist in their own bubble with a fanbase which turns out regardless of trends. Watching these guys do their thing for two hours left me amazed, it was as though they were still in their thirties, their fitness levels must be off the scale to keep that up night after night. In addition, Dickinson’s vocal performance was top-notch, for a guy who recently battled cancer he was astounding.

Almost three decades since they were last here, it was well worth the wait. Whether we’ll see the guys do this again in arenas is unknown, but they wouldn’t be the first band to want to keep it going as long as possible. It was a privilege to see their return to this city at long last, and if they do decide to go around once more, they’re welcome back – hopefully not in another 27 years’ time!

5 – Delightful

Caught Live: Women In Rock, Eleven, Stoke-on-Trent May 12th 2017

There seems to be an increasing number of live acts celebrating a particular ‘theme’ of music; for instance the touring Supersonic 70s (aka ‘Solid Gold 70s’) is a live band with male and female vocal, who celebrate all things 1970s with a selection of hits from the decade taking in many different musical styles, and all presented with a dash of humour and period clothes for the performers. It is a welcome change from the number of tribute acts out there; almost any reasonably well-known band now will know they’ve arrived when they have their own copycat tribute act. While it can be enjoyable, the idea of doing a show based on a theme rather than a particular band is starting to become popular and so it is with this show.  It is exactly as it says on the tin, as far as I’m aware this is the only act of its kind on the circuit in this country. Once again a live band, but with two (sometimes three) female singers out front performing songs made famous by prominent female rockers.  The band musicians themselves aren’t necessarily female, but on the occasion I caught them their guitarist certainly was.  I was here mainly because DORJA guitarist Rosie Botterill was playing; she had been invited to guest on guitar for this show alongside their regular band.

Looking at the website for this act, they seem to have a revolving cast of singers who come in as and when available. They have been known to include The Duchess from the band Space Elevator in previous shows, but for this show the singers were Emily J Clark (who has appeared with ‘Vampires Rock’ among other shows) and Aussie vocalist Sara-Louise. Eleven is a bar and function room set in an industrial estate, which is easy to miss from the road (I drove past it myself before realising) with a not-very-obvious entrance up a flight of steps. However once inside, the room is spacious with a decent-sized stage. The group came on stage just before their scheduled start time of 9pm, with the singers and guitarist Rosie accompanied by male musicians: bassist Steve Clay, drummer Mick Neaves and keyboardist Jamie Brooks.  They kicked off with a rendition of Pat Benatar’s ‘Heartbreaker’ which introduced the powerful voice of Sara-Louise and ran through a series of rock favourites, including Joan Jett’s ‘I Hate Myself For Loving You’, Blondie’s ‘Atomic’ and Stevie Nicks’ ‘Edge Of Seventeen’. The songs were sometimes performed as duets, with the ladies taking the verses in turn, or sometimes one would step to the front of the stage while the other provided a backing vocal.

Not everything was obvious 1980s classic rock however; some surprises included Skunk Anansie’s ‘I Can Dream’ (which Sara-Louise described as more modern. It is, kind of – but it’s now 20 years old!) and ‘Remember My Name’ – a minor hit for Stevie Lange which is best remembered as a theme to a perfume ad from the early 1980s. Whatever they sang, the vocals were impressive from both women. These songs aren’t exactly crooned, after all! Sara-Louise took on the daunting ‘Alone’; described as a Heart song (it was a huge hit for them, but was originally written and recorded by the obscure act i-Ten) while the power ballad quota was maintained with Cher’s ‘I Found Someone’. After an impressive cover of ‘I Got The Music In Me’ (a 1970s hit for Kiki Dee) there was a short interval.

The band returned for their second set with the singers having changed costumes, picking up where they left off with ‘Hazy Shade Of Winter’; originally a Simon & Garfunkel song of course but included here on account of the fact that the Bangles had a hit with their 1980s cover. They went soulful with ‘Piece of My Heart’ next, though the arrangement was closer to the Joplin (Big Brother And The Holding Company, if we’re being pedantic!) version than the Erma Franklin original, once again demonstrating the sheer vocal power of these ladies. In this set they included a few more recent covers; Sara-Louise impressed particularly with her delivery of Evanescence’s ‘Bring Me To Life’ (which also meant bassist Steve Clay stepping to the mic in order to deliver the male vocal parts) and Halestorm’s ‘The Rock Show’. Other recent-ish covers were Pink’s ‘Just Like A Pill’ and ‘You Oughta Know’ – the Alanis song featuring the only F-bomb of the night courtesy of Sara-Louise (!)

The act did tread some more familiar ground, covering Tina Turner’s ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ and ‘Because The Night’, a song which was a hit for Patti Smith in the late 1970s but co-written with Bruce Springsteen (who has performed a version himself with different lyrics). They closed out with Suzi Quatro’s ‘Can The Can’, before ending as they started with a Benatar cover (this time ‘Love Is A Battlefield’). The encore was a Bonnie Tyler medley/mashup , starting off with ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ they segued into ‘Holding Out For A Hero’, which saw both Emily and Sara-Louise come to the fore. And that was our lot!

Special mention must be made of Rosie, who had only a short time to learn a lengthy set and did a terrific job of filling in for their regular guitarist (Alex Ward). I got to speak to her afterwards (and get an obligatory photo!) and she said that she would be performing again with this act, although she didn’t know yet exactly when. She was concentrating hard on her playing, usually she is a little more expressive with her trademark ‘bounce’ as seen with DORJA and in her previous life in a punk cover band, but here she was more restrained, taking the lead when prompted but largely giving the singers the spotlight. She is a self-confessed fan of Slash and this show was therefore special for her to perform in his home town.

All in all then, a great night of female-fronted rock performed by two mightly powerful singers, and all for less than a tenner. They do a wide scope of material, but as a fan of the European symphonic metal scene I’d like to see that side of female-fronted rock represented too. They get close with Evanescence’s hit, but I did suggest to the girls afterwards that maybe one or two from the likes of Nightwish or Within Temptation would fit nicely in this show. Whether that’s taken on board remains to be seen, but your correspondent did wear a Delain T-shirt for the occasion, as their singer is my favourite when it comes to ‘women in rock’ (!)

This act plays frequently across the UK and so I will aim to see them again when they come to the North West.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Tax The Heat, Live Rooms Chester 22 April 2017

“You made the right choice”, said Tax The Heat frontman Alex Veale early into their set at the smaller L2 room at Chester’s Live Rooms. “We’re a real band, not a tribute!”
He was referring to the fact that there was another gig that night at this place, as UK Foo Fighters were playing in the larger L1 room and, judging by a quick glance at the crowd in that part of the venue, had drawn a substantial crowd. The L2 room is basically the bar area with a tiny stage in the corner and to my surprise, hadn’t pulled that much of a crowd. Quite a surprise for a band that has got quite a ‘buzz’ going, and is currently enjoying radio airplay on Planet Rock. Nonetheless, as the foursome took to the stage, the first thing Veale did was beckon over the sparse crowd who were scattered around the floor. They launched into proceedings with ‘Stood On The Platform’, and if anything their heavy sound is harder still when delivered live. Much of the power behind their live sound is from Antonio Angotti’s distorted bass, with drummer Jack Taylor also thumping out a punchy rhythm.

Alex Veale made frequent reference to the crowd who had taken the punt on them instead of UK Foo Fighters, making a jokey promise on behalf of guitarist Jean-Paul ‘JP’ Jacyshyn. “JP is really good at remembering faces, and when we headline at Manchester Apollo he’ll buy you all a drink!”. The band cut a dash in their smart suits, though Veale soon ditched his jacket to reveal a natty pale blue paisley shirt. He provided most of the lead guitar solos in the songs; the bearded and bespectacled ‘JP’ locked in with the other guys to supply the rock-solid foundation for their frontman.
Their look is a little at odds with their sound, it is steeped in old-fashoned rhythm and blues but performed with a heaviness and intensity that put many ‘Metal’ bands to shame. Towards the end of their set, they threw in a Prince cover (it being close to the anniversary of his passing) but assured us that “it will still sound like Tax The Heat!” The song performed was ‘Bambi’ and it was indeed just as slamming as everything else they played.

This was one of those shows that I for one will certainly look back on as being fortunate to be at; this band should by rights take off within the year and will indeed be playing much bigger venues than this. As it was, it was a privilege to experience this band’s raw power up close and personal, before they make that step up to the Apollos of this world.

Set list:

  • Stood On The Platform
  • Animals
  • Under Watchful Eye
  • Devil’s Daughter
  • Caroline
  • Your Fool
  • Some Sympathy
  • Hit Me Hard
  • Money In The Bank
  • Learn To Drown (You’re Wrong)
  • Fed To The Lions
  • Taking The Hit
  • Bambi (Prince Cover)
  • Lost Our Way
  • Highway Home

5 – Delightful

Caught Live: DORJA (supporting LiveWire AC/DC), Robin 2 Bilston 31st March 2017

Once again the dreaded Same Night Syndrome struck here, I had originally planned to go and see Blackberry Smoke this night but when the three dates for this all-girl band were announced things changed, since the only one I could possibly make was at this Black Country venue on that very night.  I’d long planned to go and see the band again after seeing them make an impressive debut last July in Birmingham, in the meantime I’d been following events closely as they demoed material and, at the beginning of the year finally went into a studio to put some of the songs they’d written down on tape. (Do they still use tape these days? 😉 )

When I saw DORJA last year I was already familiar with some of the band members, having seen them play on numerous occasions in their previous band (which performed covers of punk/new wave classics). At that time they had only recently left that act (and had shed the stage names I’d known them by until then); that, plus the fact that the new band would not only feature their own material but be in a more traditional hard rock direction, meant that I was still adjusting to the change when that gig took place. We were also introduced to a new face that night in vocalist Aiym Almas; a Kazakh-born, LA-residing singer who had been recruited by drummer and founding member Anna Mylee during her own time spent in LA. The band impressed those who’d come along, despite the singer suffering from illness which forced the other band members to take occasional vocal spots too.

By the time of this release and series of gigs I and others had got to know the band and their members better, mostly via a series of social media posts which provided updates on what they were doing. The girls (without the singer) met up in Anna’s Belgian homeland last autumn to demo material and also conduct an interview, while they had maintained regular contact with their US-based singer via the magic of Skype. When they played this time around, it was with Aiym firing on all cylinders, and I’d heard great reports from people who had attended the previous two dates. So, no pressure then, as I said to Anna during a pre-gig chat at their merch table…!

Anna’s kit was set up stage right (house left), as the LiveWire backline took up a lot of the stage. She came out first and pounded a rhythm reminiscent of Cozy Powell’s ‘Dance With The Devil’ before launching into opener ‘Reaching Out’. Straight away, it was obvious what a powerful and soulful singer Aiym is, this brought it home that last year we only saw about 30 percent of what she can do. In addition, she has real ‘stage presence’; almost regal in the way she carries herself. This band may be made up of attractive women (sorry girls, but you are!!) all of whom have confidence, ability and presence themselves (particularly dynamic bass player Becky Baldwin who is never stood still) but, I for one found it difficult to tear my eyes away from that captivating frontwoman.

All the tracks from the EP were performed, as well as some material that did not feature this time around including pacy hard rocker ‘Turn In All Around’ and ‘Far Gone’, a bluesier number that features a ‘Moby Dick’-style drum solo in the middle. (It’s kept short!) It is to be hoped that these do feature on another release in the near future.
Although the revelation for me was the singer, there was great playing from all concerned, and it was guitarist Holly Henderson who provided much of the backing vocal for the singer, their voices blended well together on the soulful ‘Not In My Shadow’. Across the stage, Rosie Botterill on the other guitar was responsible for my breaking out the air guitar, during ‘Fire’ 😉

They ended their set with a medley/cover, combining The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’ with Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’, both with a raunchy and throaty vocal from Aiym.  They were given around 45 minutes by LiveWire and made the most of the opportunity, wowing the early arrivals and, judging by the amount of people at their stand afterwards, winning many new followers.

The band must surely be pleased with how these shows went; all the girls have plenty of other irons in the fire musically but when this five-piece do get together, they’ve showed in the few gigs they’ve performed so far that collectively, they’re really something special. LiveWire are to be commended for inviting them to support (they did a good -lengthy- set themselves, featuring two vocalists who cover both Bon and Brian material) and if DORJA can land themselves a support tour of this country opening for a ‘name’ band playing Academy-type venues, there’ll be no stopping them. I gave the EP four inflatable guitars, live they’re something else and therefore the five are awarded here 😀

5gtrs

5 – Delightful

Caught Live: Ghost, o2 Academy Birmingham 1st April 2017

When the dates were announced for this tour by Ghost, I was persuaded to check them out by a friend (with broadly similar tastes to my own) who thought they were excellent and put on a great live show. Knowing little of their material I took him at his word and booked a ticket, although it was for Birmingham rather than the closest show to me (yes, the dreaded Manchester Apollo yet again). Even if I’d wanted to go to Manchester, the date (31st March) was out since I was already booked up that night and besides, there were at least two other gigs – in the same city – on the same night that a rock fan like me would definitely have been interested in. I will cover what I call ‘Same Night Syndrome’ in a future post as it is an irritation, but you’d think that the potential audience for any of those shows would be hit given that they’re all aimed at the rock crowd, albeit different aspects of what we call rock.

Leaving that aside, I was actually delayed setting out for Birmingham on Saturday and so by the time I got there, the venue was packed. I’ve been to this place several times but only once before in the main hall (to the best of my recollection) and then that was in the upstairs balcony. In future I may do that again since although this hall looks big, it isn’t the easiest place to get any sort of viewpoint from. The back of the hall is hopeless, there are two bars sited at the back, plus a merch stand, meaning a lot of milling around and plenty of people clutching pints trying to manoeuvre their way through the throng. You can’t see in any case from here, since the mix desk has a curtain in the way. If you head over to the right hand side and try to find your way in down the side, forget it. There’s another bar sited there, with more of the same sort of milling about. Your only way is back towards the left hand side, over there it is relatively roomy but your view is badly obscured by a pillar and also by the balcony as you’re sited directly under it.

I was trying to find something approaching a good spot during the support act’s set; US duo Zombi weren’t grabbing my attention particularly as they worked their way through what sounded like an extended keyboard solo from a prog rock band. Except that wasn’t a solo spot, that was the act! The playing was fine but it did drag, and an actual song or two wouldn’t have gone amiss. I was watching from under the balcony, house left, while trying to scope out a possible spot on the floor. No chance of that, even when this duo finished and the crowd started to disperse – it soon filled, and I managed to get about five metres into the main floor before it solidified.

Resigning myself to a poor spot then, I waited for the main act. At about 9pm three crew members appeared, all in uniform and making a big deal of removing the covers from the drum kit and keyboard stands. They even bowed to one another as they entered the stage! Not to be outdone, the drum tech appeared and also bowed to the crowd before taking to the kit. For all we know, of course, these could be Ghost band members but we’d never know since they’re all masked! The drum tech did a short test of the kit before making a similarly grand exit. Following that, a lengthy passage of Gregorian chants boomed through the PA before the lights finally dimmed. Another lengthy intro ensued, before cheers heralded the arrival of the band – all dressed in matching uniforms, and all with masks that completely covered their faces so they appeared identical. These are the ‘Nameless Ghouls’; two guitarists, a drummer, a keyboardist and a bassist (a female whose identity IS known, but I shan’t spoil it for you here). The Ghouls are identified only by alchemical symbols, and it was keyboardist ‘Air’ and lead guitar player ‘Fire’ who launched into opening number ‘Square Hammer’, to an excited crowd.  The stage was bathed in ‘evil’ red light, there was plenty of smoke and effects as mainman Papa Emeritus III made his entrance, appearing suddenly in a puff of smoke to a huge roar from the crowd. I was surprised that they’d open with such a popular song, when it would have made a great set closer but it demonstrated a lot of confidence in my view. Papa Emeritus III was in his trademark mask, with robe and headgear making him look like a satanic pope. With the crowd already up from this spectacular opener, bassist ‘Water’ pounded out the intro to ‘From The Pinnacle To The Pit’ – the bass to this one made me think immediately of Alice In Chains’s 1992 hit ‘Would’.

A lot about this show was familiar; the anonymous band thing has been done many times before, and Papa Emeritus III himself has clearly taken visual cues from King Diamond. However their songs are actually quite accessible, with clean vocal rather than the growls so often heard from ‘black metal’ bands, and some impressive, nimble-fingered playing from guitarists ‘Fire’ and ‘Aether’.  They may have adopted a ‘Satanic’ theme and perhaps overdo it to the point of sending the whole thing up (even using a ‘Baphomet’ stage backdrop), but they have a knack for the anthemic singalong and the frontman himself proved to be quite the showman. Were a certain A. Cooper watching, he’d no doubt approve of the theatrics (if not the imagery) from these Swedes. Towards the end, when other frontmen would announce each member of the band to the crowd so that they could applaud each in turn, Papa Emeritus III achieved the same thing merely by walking up to the relevant musician, and with a mere gesture got the crowd to cheer each performer. One thing that was definitely not ‘evil’ was the tickertape shower as they closed the main set with ‘Ritual’. To paraphrase Ozzy: ‘What’s so evil about tickertape!’ Despite the elaborate costumes then, this was basically a rock spectacular that perhaps belongs in an arena rather than a 3000-capacity hall.

In conclusion, the show was nothing I hadn’t experienced many times before, but it was nonetheless entertaining. Papa Emeritus reinvents himself with each album and tour cycle and so when they come around again, it will doubtless be Papa Emeritus IV fronting the act with a whole new look. (Every incarnation of Papa Emeritus is performed by the same man, and his identity has also been outed for anyone curious enough to want to know just who this guy in the robe and mask is, speaking in a strong Scandinavian accent).

Would I see this act again? More than likely, yes – but I’ll get a seat further back next time, there’s little point in getting up close and personal with a group who operate anonymously and so you’re better off just enjoying the show as a spectacle from a more distant viewpoint.

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving