Caught Live: Stone Broken (with Jared James Nichols, The Bad Flowers) Live Rooms Chester, 6th March 2018

You got the immediate impression of ‘taking it to the next level’ for Walsall foursome Stone Broken upon entering the main L1 room at Chester’s Live Rooms. There was a backdrop, screens with their logo printed on them and big lighting clusters. That did leave rather a ‘cul-de-sac’ on the stage for drummer Robyn Haycock, though that wasn’t an issue for the two opening acts.

Another pointer that this band are stepping up a level was the turnout; the place was already filling up nicely when openers The Bad Flowers took to the stage and just got busier as the night progressed. They had to open up the rarely-used balcony and it turned out this gig sold out on the night. With tours supporting both Glenn Hughes and Living Colour under Stone Broken’s belts, as well as inking a major-label deal late last year (they are now signed to Spinefarm Records, part of Universal), as well as support from radio station Planet Rock, the building blocks are all in place for this band to make the jump to bigger things. The band’s second album ‘Ain’t Always Easy’ has just been released by Spinefarm, and the label is also to reissue debut ‘All In Time’ later in the year.

The Bad Flowers, a Cannock trio comprising guitarist/vocalist Tom Leighton, bassist Dale Tonks and drummer Karl Selickis, didn’t mess around when they took to the stage. Somewhat cramped for room in front of the Stone Broken backdrops and an array of bass bins at the front to provide a ‘platform’, they played traditional but stoneresque hard rock, thanks to Leighton’s fuzzy guitar tone and Tonks’ fluid bass. The real star of this band is however the drummer, he really powered things along with some mighty hitting. These guys are worth checking out if they play any gigs local to you.

badf-tom

Tom Leighton of The Bad Flowers

Following this was Jared James Nichols, whom I last saw at this place but in the smaller L2 bar area. He had a much bigger crowd to warm up this time and some new material, as well as a new bassist in Gregg Cash. Guitar geeks will have noticed immediately his use of an Epiphone guitar (also that he’d scooped out the neck pickup, leaving a cavity!) and guitar snobs will hopefully have seen that it isn’t the name on the headstock which matters, it’s what’s in the fingers. Playing ‘fingerstyle’, the man from Wisconsin gave a fiery performance with that Epiphone, backed ably by Cash on the bass and Dennis Holm on drums. Clearly someone steeped in traditional American-style rock, his cover of Mountain’s ‘Mississippi Queen’ went down well with this crowd.

Stone Broken entered the stage like conquering heroes, cheered to the rafters from the moment they came on to the moment they took their bows. With a new album just released, they performed plenty from it but also found room for several of the favourites from ‘All In Time’.  They found themselves having to pause to take in the cheers on more than one occasion, especially when singer/guitarist Rich Moss declared that they’d sold this venue out, and that their new album had made the midweek charts. ‘Thanks for putting us, a little band from Walsall, into the national charts’ he said. With their drummer effectively tucked away in her little cubby hole on the stage, the frontman and the other two lads (guitarist Chris Davis, bassist Kieron Conroy) were all over the stage and onto that bass bin ‘platform’, having to dodge a low-hanging stack of speakers in the process! They didn’t hang about either, playing 14 numbers in just over an hour and still squeezing in a brief drum solo for Robyn Haycock!

This is the third time I’ve seen this band now, and they always gave me an impression of being influenced by numerous current American bands, especially Alter Bridge; they have that similar downtuned guitar sound, two axemen (one of whom is also lead singer) and quite a few singalongs not far removed from the early AB days. That perception was reinforced somewhat in the encore, when Rich Moss came back out alone, clutching an acoustic guitar. This was to perform ‘Wait For You’ (still their best song IMO) and the way this packed crowd picked up on it was so reminiscent of seeing Myles Kennedy do something similar with their own ‘Watch Over You’.  The reception Moss and the band got throughout obviously delighted them, though his requests for us to ‘go crazy’ for closer ‘Not Your Enemy’ were not entirely fulfilled. What he’d overlooked was that this crowd was full of old rockers (many a similar age to your correspondent!) and sorry Rich, but our knees aren’t what they once were!

stonebroken

The fact that bands such as this are pulling a crowd of people probably twice their own age rather than people of a similar age to themselves is something I’ve noticed at many gigs lately, and is a subject worthy of further discussion in a future blog post. Not everyone there was old enough to be their parents – I attended this gig with a friend and her daughter, who is the right age to be enthused by a hard working, hard rocking band such as Stone Broken as well as both their support acts. However if even newer rock bands are attracting a mostly 50-something crowd, one has to question how long this success can be sustained.  Rich, Robyn, Chris and Kieron won’t care one jot about people’s ages as long as there are people there to see them of course but this sort of music, played live and with enthusiasm by younger performers, really ought to be reaching their own age group. I’ve a good idea why that is, but that’s for another post.

I can’t speak for the rest of that sold-out crowd of course, but as one of those older fans what I can say is that so long as my legs hold out and my pocket permits, I’ll follow this band and plenty others for a few more years yet!

4 – Deserving

 

 

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Gigs of 2017 part three

For part one click here

For part two click here

AUGUST

Always a fairly fallow time for tours, as it’s the height of festival season in the UK, plus I had a holiday in North Wales to enjoy this month! So the only gig I got to was once again at Stalybridge Tavern, for their ‘Punk Sunday’ multi-band bill held every so often. Because it was an all-day event that meant it was possible to get there and back by train from Liverpool, handy for me still recovering from my ankle injury at that time. There were several bands on including Australian outfit The Mis-Made, my reason for going was to see those iDestroy girls once again. They were as usual excellent, however my leg wasn’t up to standing through this whole event so after their set I headed home to give it a much-needed rest! This month saw the Hope & Glory Festival take place in Liverpool; sited at St Georges Plateau it was billed as a ’boutique’ event with three stages, but anyone who knew the area would have foreseen the problems which blighted day 1 (lengthy queues, little space to move) and with some acts actually axed from the bill because of an over-running schedule it all went wrong. The music on offer wasn’t at all to my taste, but even if it were I could have told them there would be logistical issues having an outdoor music event in such a confined space. The second day was simply called off and the organisers were slammed in the local media.

SEPTEMBER

Only two gigs this month; the first was a second outing to see Women In Rock, this time at Chester’s Live Rooms. Their regular guitarist was back (so no Rosie from DORJA this time) and one of the female singers was different to the previous occasion I saw them at Stoke-on-Trent. They have a revolving cast of singers who appear as and when available; the set performed was along similar lines however. Their repertoire is mostly 1980s hits but they do include a few that are not so obvious. For instance they play Skunk Anansie’s ‘I Can Dream’, and also deviating from the norm a little they play Evanescence’s ‘Bring Me To Life’. (That was a number one hit in its day, mind you!) The only aspect of female-fronted rock they don’t really cover is European symphonic Metal; it’d be nice to see a Nightwish, Within Temptation or even a Delain (slight bias!) song added, as I’m sure their audience would be receptive. The other gig I saw this month was also at Chester,  but in the L2 bar area which was decked out with tables and chairs for the occasion. Finnish blues guitarist/singer Erja Lyytinen paid the Live Rooms a visit, drawing a small crowd of blues/rock devotees she blasted away the serene setting with a storming demonstration of rock guitar. I’d never heard of her until this year but made a note of her next visit, which, when speaking to her after her set, she told me would be in March 2018. (She is scheduled to play in Southport at the end of that month.)

OCTOBER

I’d been off the road for some time by this point, the car I could not drive during my injury needed more work doing to make it driveable than I thought it was worth, so it was public transport and strictly local gigs at this point! First up was Martin Turner, a founding member of  1970s rock band Wishbone Ash. He did used to tour under that name but a legal dispute with former bandmate, guitarist Andy Powell, saw the latter gain exclusive use of the Wishbone Ash name. Hence this gig was billed as ‘Martin Turner, EX-Wishbone Ash’! This gig was at the Brindley Theatre, a small civic hall in Runcorn town centre and would see he and his band play two sets, the second being a complete performance of Wishbone Ash’s 1971 album ‘Argus’. The show was extremely good in all aspects; a clear sound balance, fine playing from all concerned and plenty of classic songs to please the audience. Only thing was, this show coincided with an England World Cup qualifier, so the audience was ‘selective’. So much so, I bought a ticket on the night and found myself in the second row, centre of the stalls! A pity, since he is still in fine form, but he has played to a packed house in nearby St Helens too so does have a following in these parts still.

Next up was a long-awaited show from US band Living Colour. Last time I saw these was in 2004 at Birkenhead, and this show at Liverpool Hangar 34 came a year after their planned 2016 UK tour with Glenn Hughes was suddenly scrapped. That left intended openers Stone Broken high and dry, at least until the ex-Purple man arranged his own tour in January of this year. Living Colour then lined up this tour for autumn 2017 and again featured Stone Broken as support. This was my first visit to Hangar 34, situated in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle it is a very good venue for bands this size, with good sight lines, a decent stage/sound system, and a capacity of around 800 it ranks alongside places like Manchester’s Academy 2. It is however a fair walk from the transport hubs, so even if you are local-ish you have a long hike here from getting off the bus in the city centre. Nonetheless it is a good venue and one that should be able to attract more bands to our city/ Stone Broken gave a good performance, with one or two new tracks from an upcoming album aired (they later revealed they’d signed with Spinefarm Records for their second album) and drummer Robyn Haycock played with such power she managed to knock over half of her kit while playing! Living Colour were greeted like returning heroes; singer Corey Glover was in a flat cap reminiscent of The Lancashire Hotpots (!) but sounded just as potent and passionate as he was in 1990. He has virtuoso players all around with Vernon Reid, Doug Wimbish and Will Calhoun cooking up a mighty storm. A great set, and let’s hope it isn’t another decade before they come back.

Two nights later, and I was back in Chester to see Stevie Nimmo at the Live Rooms for the second time. The difference this time was that his brother Alan was playing guitar for him – days before this tour started, Stevie broke his right arm in a cycling accident. Alan, meanwhile had been forced to reschedule the dates for his own band King King, owing to an ongoing throat ailment rendering him unable to sing. He could still play guitar though, and it was perhaps fated that the two brothers should pool their talents. Alan slotted in seamlessly, so much so Stevie could be seen playing air guitar with his one good arm at times! A week later and I was planning to see Marco Mendoza play a rare solo show in Liverpool, at the Magnet. That was however scrapped by the venue late on (ticket sales were slow, at best!) and it was thanks to support band Black Cat Bones that he still got to play in the city, as they hastily arranged another venue (Studio 2) for him to play. This was a great night, Black Cat Bones were themselves praised by the Dead Daisies man both for their set and that they rescued this gig. When the main man came on, he gave a virtuoso performance with that bass, and with a vocal talent that is all too often hidden as a backing singer in his regular gig. He didn’t care that few people had showed, he gave us what amounted to a private performance and went out of his way to involve everyone present. One of the gigs of the year for me because it was so personal.

My last gig of October was one booked earlier in the year, when funds permitted (!) Dutch symphonic metallers Delain, one of my favourite current bands, were playing a special run of dates and featuring Nightwish’s Marco Hietala as guest vocalist. The only UK date was in London, and I decided that it would actually be easier to travel to Utrecht in their homeland than venture to the UK capital. Fans of Delain know that the Nightwish bassist has a long relationship with this band; he played bass on their first album ‘Lucidity’ and has contributed vocals to several of their albums alongside regular singer Charlotte Wessels. When the time came for this gig however, I was unsure whether I’d be fit enough to make it owing to a recurring back ailment which rendered me almost immobile! It eased off sufficiently on the day however and I travelled,. After surviving a tumble down the steps at the hall (TivoliVredenburg Ronda) I found a good spot and settled to watch the openers, Swiss folk-metallers Cellar Darling who impressed the crowd. Also on the bill were Austrian band Serenity, a high-energy Power Metal act familiar to Delain fans as they’ve supported them before, who were entertaining as ever. Delain themselves were cheered to the rafters from first song to last, in the singer’s home city and when they introduced Marco Hietala, this place needed a new roof! Many songs were played that don’t normally feature in their set, especially ones where the Nightwish bassist did appear on record. They’d just released a live DVD from a show filmed a year earlier and revealed during this show that it was also being filmed. I look forward to that one when it does come out.

Part four click here

Gigs of 2017 – part two

 

For Part One click here

APRIL

The very next night following DORJA’s gig at Bilston, it was back down the M6 to Birmingham in order to see Swedish masked men (and woman!) Ghost. Although they’d been around for a few years they only came onto my radar the year before, with the catchy ‘Square Hammer’ getting a lot of airplay on rock radio. A sensible person would have planned to stay in the Midlands knowing there were two gigs on consecutive nights, but yours truly is neither sensible nor much of a planner! The venue (o2 Academy) was packed out when I arrived, even as support act Zombi did their stuff (not to my taste). A lengthy interval followed, with lots of ritual bowing to one another by the stage crew as they set things up, then the band themselves came on and surprised me at least by opening with the aforementioned ‘Square Hammer’. All the band members dressed in identical jumpsuits with masks completely covering their faces, save for the main man Papa Emeritus III. He made his spectacular entrance in a puff of smoke and proved to be the consummate showman. They played up the Satanic angle to the point of parody, but they were far from threatening, this was pure vaudeville entertainment (much in the style of Alice Cooper) complete with ticker-tape at the end! Shortly after this tour, several former members of Ghost launched legal action claiming they were excluded from royalties, this action unmasked Papa Emeritus III as Tobias Forge, the brains behind the act whose identity was already an open secret, but the lawsuit confirmed it.

A week later I decided to venture out to St Helens and the Citadel, a small theatre which often hosts some good bands. The band Frost* made a rare appearance on the 9th, this quartet is made up of virtuoso players throughout but all are busy with so many other projects, that they can only get together occasionally. Led by guitarist John Mitchell (Lonely Robot, It Bites, many others) and keyboardist Jem Godfrey (a famed producer) and also including bassist Nathan King (of Level 42; brother of Mark and just as adept on the four-string) and drummer Craig Blundell. They play long-form progressive rock, and their set included the epic ‘Milliontown’ which lasted at least half an hour with lots of complex passages. For £15 this was terrific value, especially seeing as a certain famous progressive Metal band were also touring at this time and asking about five times that for a ticket!

On the 14th (Good Friday) I took a run out to Whitchurch, where iDestroy were playing at Percy’s cafe/bar (a small bar with a stage set up out the back in the open). It was good to see Bec, Becky and Jenn again, this time close enough to almost play Bec’s guitar for her (!) and the evening was closed out by Italian hard rockers Atlantic Tides, who impressed me enough to get their album. A week later it was ‘hello Becky’ once again, this time at Rebellion in Manchester where she was performing with Triaxis, her melodic Metal band. This evening was an album launch for Yorkshire metallers Vice, and the bill also included Dakesis and Amethyst. I was there mainly for Triaxis, who annouced later in the year that they were to call it a day following some personnel changes. One of those was in the vocal department, as Greek singer Angel Wolf-Black was fronting the band when I saw them. The band were obviously influenced by European metal bands with many synchronised poses and technoflash guitar solos, but entertaining as anything Becky features in tends to be. Their setlist had ‘DIO’ written on it, I was expecting a cover of Tenacious D but it turned out to be ‘Don’t Talk To Strangers’ (!) I stuck around to watch Vice, who were good but weren’t holding my attention too much until they too did a Dio cover, or more correctly Sabbath’s ‘Heaven and Hell’.

Hot on the heels of that show was a completely different one – Bristol rockers Tax The Heat had a show at Chester’s Live Rooms. To my surprise this took place in the smaller L2 bar area, which I thought was odd for a band who had got themselves a reputation as ones to watch. It turned out tribute band UK Foo Fighters were booked into the main L1 hall, and that had drawn a big crowd. Those who plumped for this gig however got a stormer of a set, TTH play hard and really rocked this small room. For me this was one of the highlights of my gigging year, to see such a slammin’ band up close and personal was a real privilege. The month closed with yet another iDestroy gig, this time at Star and Garter in Manchester. By this point Becky must have thought she could not brush me off the doorstep (!)

MAY

On the first of this month (a bank holiday) I made the crazy decision to drive from Liverpool down to Maidstone just to see Holly Henderson’s debut live set with her newly-assembled solo band. Holly had at that time just come back from LA, having been invited over there by ace guitarist Pete Thorn after he’d heard her home-produced material (released as the ‘Opium Drip’ EP). At that time I had just finished a contract, and with some free time on my hands as well as a little money for once, I decided to do it knowing I wouldn’t get many other chances to see her live this year. She was playing as part of a one-day live music event at a bar in her home town, but as it was I made it there only minutes before her set was due to commence. I’d only ever seen her as a guitarist in bands before then, this time she was out front handling lead vocals too (although she was augmented by singer Katy Chellar) and her band, made up of musician friends of hers, were a powerful live unit who gave her excellent backing. I knew none of the songs she played that night (save for ‘Your Hands’ from that EP) but the track which lodged in my mind was ‘Loneliness’, a pacy rocker that she has now lined up as the lead-off single for that upcoming album. At that time she was still a member of DORJA, but her own solo project had gained legs so quickly that it soon became clear she couldn’t juggle everything, and shortly after this set she announced she was parting company with the hard rock band she co-founded. That was a little saddening for all involved but both she and her former band would go on to release more material this year.

My next gig was a little closer to home; original Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden was playing at the fabled Buckley Tivoli. Although he remains best-known for those three years or so with Coverdale, he has ploughed his own bluesy furrow for decades now and as well as being a highly-respected guitarist, he is also a fine lead vocalist. He couldn’t get away without playing ‘Here I Go Again’ of course, the song he co-wrote with David Coverdale which took off so successfully five years after its initial release, that it probably set him up for life! Following that, I was invited to a birthday bash with a bit of a difference – a friend of mine I know from gig-going (Nigel) had arranged an evening featuring several acts he had seen and got to know. All performed acoustically, and the night was staged in a social club near Nottingham. Performers included Alisha Vickers, a singer from Yorkshire, the glamorous April Allen (a singer/songwriter who performs solo with an acoustic guitar), Nottinghamshire band Desensitised. (the full stop is part of their name!) who played as a duo with guitarist Libby and bassist/singer Charlotte, and Hands off Gretel, a grunge-inspired band featuring the striking Lauren Tate who also performed as a duo with Lauren accompanied by guitarist Sean McAvinue. It was HOG who stole the show, with Lauren Tate’s expressive performance seeing her climb chairs, her guitarist, or even just make shapes as she played and sang. I have yet to see her with the full band but intend to do so in 2018.

The next gig this month was a trip to Stoke-on-Trent, in order to see the Women in Rock act which, on this occasion, featured DORJA guitarist Rosie Botterill who guested in place of their regular guitar player. This act is fronted by two, sometimes three, female singers with a (usually!) male band and they play covers of rock songs made famous by the likes of Pat Benatar, Heart, Stevie Nicks and Joan Jett among many others. Rosie had only limited time to learn a long set and gave a great performance, as sole guitarist a lot sat on her shoulders. She is a big fan of Slash, so playing in his home city was a big deal for her.  A few days later, the month continued with another trip to Stalybridge, to see the SoapGirls who had just arrived back in the UK from their South African homeland. They spend the summer months in the UK playing anywhere and everywhere who will have them, and have gained a loyal following since first making themselves known to many of us in 2015. Comprising of sisters Camille (‘Mille’) and Noemie (‘Mie’) Debray on bass and guitar respectively, they split lead vocal between them and play hard punky guitar-orientated songs, some dealing with serious topics about the state of things in their native SA, others are more light-hearted party numbers. They perform as a trio, with a drummer locally recruited for live performances. Their shows tend to border on the anarchic, with audience participation not just encouraged but enforced sometimes! I found this out for myself as I was shoved up on stage by Sam Debray, their mother who acts as tour manager, driver, road crew, photographer, guitar tech, costumier and chaperone/security where necessary! She, like the girls, has got to know many people who attend regularly and decided to involve yours truly in the show! I won’t divulge what took place exactly other than to say it included water spray bottles and wax strips, with grateful thanks to Mie for going easy on a vulnerable ageing hippy (!) I’d hoped to see more of the SoapGirls this year, as it turned out this was one of only two of their gigs I’d get to for reasons I’ll get to later.

Things calmed down a lot the next week as I attended an in-store appearance by Inglorious, a UK hard rock band fronted by the flamboyant Nathan James, who had just released their second album (recorded at Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios). This took place at Liverpool HMV and saw the quintet perform a short acoustic set of songs from both their albums, followed by a signing and photo session with fans. During the appearance the singer let slip that they were touring in the autumn, when that came it clashed with a gig I had already lined up though, so I have yet to see them live other than this in-store. I saw enough to hear what a powerful voice he has, however.

Days before my next gig, one I was really looking forward to (Iron Maiden, at Liverpool Echo Arena) news broke of the death of Soundgarden/Audioslave singer Chris Cornell. That cast a shadow over the gig, with Brent Smith of support act Shinedown visibly shaken by that news, when he paid tribute to the fallen singer (a hero of his) during their set. Iron Maiden were, as expected, magnificent. They brought the full arena production to Liverpool, a spectacular show with songs from latest album ‘The Book Of Souls’ and a selection of back catalogue classics, all performed with the usual verve and with bassist Steve Harris and guitarist Janick Gers running around the big stage, the bassist as ever mouthing the song words alongside singer Bruce Dickinson.  The show fell on a Saturday evening, and from my prime spot close to the front I was surrounded by fans who had travelled from other countries including Italy, Brazil and Poland. That showed me just how much our city had needed this venue and shows like that to bring people to Liverpool. The gig was one of those real events we get precious little of in Liverpool, with this show having been such a success it is to be hoped there’ll be much more like it while your correspondent is still fit enough to enjoy these gigs!

The month ended on a dreadful note however, as news broke on the night of the 23rd May about the horrendous attack at Manchester Arena following a concert by pop singer Ariana Grande. As someone who knows that venue extremely well, and could have been there myself shortly before this attack had I decided to see Maiden play in Manchester too, it really hit home. It shook music fans of all stripes, especially as many of the victims were children. The arena was out of action until September as a thorough investigation commenced, with planned gigs from KISS, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and others cancelled.

JUNE

The best laid-plans, and all that. I had several gigs in mind for this month but after seeing two, things all changed!  First of only two gigs I did see this month (both in Liverpool) was at the newly-opened 27 Club (a live venue and rehearsal space) where they kicked things off with a multi-band bill headlined by Californian all-girl glam punks the Glam Skanks. Before that there were some local bands (all female-fronted), including Last Reserves from St Helens, the Liverpool-based Figures, and Novacrow who delivered their usual mayhem including when bassist Freddy not only jumped off stage but ran out of the door – his radio link allowing him to play while out in the street!  Glam Skanks meanwhile, were playing in Manchester supporting The Skids, and as soon as their set was over they hightailed it down the M62 for this set in Liverpool. Arriving during Novacrow’s set, they had to set up quickly in this small bar area. They were very entertaining, more glam than skanky for sure with singer Ali Cat charming the punters with her cheerleader-inspired look. I’d definitely see these again if they came around my way, and it was a great start for a new venue that would be great for many bands of my acquaintance.

The only other gig I got to this month was by The Strypes. I’d heard of this Irish quartet from a few people I know, and they resonated with this old rocker who liked their modern-day take on Feelgood-esque rock ‘n’ roll played hard. Coming the day after the UK General Election feelings were still a little high, encouraged by support Man & The Echo, whose frontman was certainly no fan of the incumbent prime minister! The Strypes themselves avoided such things for the most part, preferring to concentrate on delivering their songs as hard as possible to an eager audience. They had as much energy and volume as any Metal band I’ve seen, more so if the truth be told, and had the crowd moshing all evening. Yours truly anticipated that and stood well clear, however it was after a splendid gig I suffered an injury that put me out of gig-going for some time. Walking back through the city I caught a step by the ruined St Luke’s Church (‘the Bombed Out Church’ as it is locally known). Falling to the ground, I could not stand up again and had to sit for several minutes to compose myself. My right ankle swelled up like the proverbial balloon in the meantime, and I still had to get back to my car which was parked several hundred metres away. To cut a long story short I made it somehow, drove home, thinking I’d just turned it and it’d be OK in a few days. In fact I’d fractured my ankle in the fall, which became clear once I had it looked at and was immediately sent to A&E at my local hospital! With my leg in a cast for several weeks, that meant no more gigs for a while. Ruled out for a start was an intended trip to Chester to see Tyler Brant & The Shakedown, also out of the question were two Manchester gigs by classic rock bands Blue Oyster Cult and Cheap Trick, neither of whom I’ve seen and was hoping to change that.  I’d also considered a run to Birmingham to see Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, but that was also scrapped following the injury. In fact, the only ‘live’ music I got to see during that period was the Foo Fighters’ televised appearance at Glastonbury. That wasn’t bad, but I’d much rather have been at some actual gigs! Also ruled out were the DORJA dates, which were planned for July and would feature their newly-recruited guitarist Sarah Michelle, but I could not travel with my right leg in plaster. That was disappointing, but there was nothing to do other than wait this out and let it heal. Then I remembered – the SoapGirls were coming to Liverpool that month…!

JULY

I had no choice but sit out many tours I’d planned to get to, as my leg was in plaster all through this month. However, by the time of The SoapGirls gig at Maguire’s Pizza Bar (a small restaurant with a back room they hire out for bands) I’d decided that as they were coming to my city I would be there regardless. Some of their regulars were attending, and some were even helping out with merch, gear transportation, whatever. I was unable to stand properly and used a wall as support (!), but was still greeted warmly by tour manager Sam Debray. The performance space was very small, and that possibly affected the girls’ plans as they didn’t do many of the usual stunts such as getting audience members to drink dubious concoctions (!) or even spray champagne (or cheaper sparkling wine) and shaving foam everywhere, it was a more restrained performance by their standards. They still played hard, of course but it was not the full SoapGirls experience by a long way. Nevertheless it was a big deal for me at least to see a band I’d got to know play in my city, and when Mille and Mie saw my cast after their set they got why I wasn’t at the front jumping around as usual!

A week later I decided to go along to another gig in Liverpool, this time at long-established club the Krazy House who were staging a three-band bill including Tequila Mockingbyrd, Black Cat Bones and Aussie outfit Massive. I recognised only drummer Josie from Tequila Mockingbyrd; since their earlier gig singer/guitarist Estelle Artois had stood down from the band and taking over was Louisa Maria Baker. Also recruited for the bass position was Jacinta Jaye, who is a fair dinkum Aussie unlike the Bristolian Louisa. Unfortunately I got there in time to see them packing away – hobbling through the doors I saw Josie clearing away her kit for Black Cat Bones to take the stage. However, the girls let me know that they would reappear with Massive during their set. Black Cat Bones once again delivered a fine set of retro rock, vocalist Jonnie Hodson is a real talent although he does like to have a laugh on stage between songs. I’d little prior knowledge of Massive but was expecting a hard-hitting set, as befits an Aussie rock band. They didn’t disappoint in that respect, they smashed it and at the end, they did indeed bring members from both Black Cat Bones and Tequila Mockingbyrd on stage for a chaotic jam. That was my lot for gigs in July, I was barely getting back on my feet at this stage but without a live fix for weeks I was starting to go stir-crazy!

For Part 3 click here

Gigs of 2017 part one

That time of year again, and it’s been another busy gigging year. A frustrating ankle fracture stopped me going to see several shows I’d planned to, so let’s hope at least some of those bands I was forced to miss come around again. I didn’t get to write about every gig I did see on here, so this post will cover those briefly.

JANUARY

The year started off with a gig I only found out about the night before, a Bristol collective known as The Blue Aeroplanes stopped off in Liverpool. My main reason for going along was the fact that iDestroy’s Bec Jevons was part of this band; it was a rather different experience than her normal ‘power trio’ act but this group were actually quite enjoyable, if a bit ‘art-rock’ for my usual taste. They had a ‘Bez’ in dancer Wojtek Dmochowski, who must be around 60 but is exceptionally nimble, he had to be to avoid three guitarists, a bassist and a vocalist on the small stage in the o2 Academy’s lower floor! A week later and I found myself in the back room at Frederiks in Liverpool, normally a restaurant and bar but on this night there was a three band bill showcasing locally-based bands. First up was duo Dangerously Canadian, exactly as they said they were a Canadian guitar and drum duo who played a powerful set with plenty of energy. I was there to see Indigo Moon, who were up next, having been told many good things about them. Their set was trippy and psychedelic, something not a lot of others do and I had hoped to see them again this year. It’s all gone rather quiet on that front since the middle of the year, however, so I have no clue whether they’re still going. Their singer (Ash Colley) was enchanting, and I hope she at least is still on the scene somewhere. The third band was Big Bear, another power-rock duo – for the most part – whose drummer really hit like he meant it! For just £3 that was a good night of local music.

Two days later it was back to the o2 Academy for veteran melodic rockers Tyketto. Fronted by Danny Vaughn still, he delivered the goods yet again with a fabulous vocal performance. His band still features original drummer Michael Clayton Arbeeny but also now includes Brits such as Chris Childs, of Thunder fame, Ged Rylands and Chris Green. The turnout was very good and encouraging for bands of this style who might consider playing in our city.  The next gig I saw this month was in the same building, but in the larger upstairs hall. US rockers Rival Sons squeezed in this date as a headliner, in between their arena dates supporting Black Sabbath on their ‘The End’ UK tour. This was a return to Liverpool and in my view a huge improvement on their previous appearance, mainly because unlike in 2015, vocalist Jay Buchanan had come out of his shell and actually addressed the rapt crowd he had at his command.

Closing out the month was a gig by Cannock’s favourite son, Glenn Hughes. The gig was moved from its original venue at Manchester University, from Academy 3 to the Club Academy. That didn’t go down too well with yours truly, who isn’t a fan of the basement venue owing to its poor sight lines. However I and a friend who attended this gig got there early enough to get a reasonable spot close to the front, where you need to be in order to have any hope of viewing the bands! Support was from Walsall foursome Stone Broken, who were very good if a little reliant on the downtuned guitar sound. Glenn himself gave his usual stellar performance, with guitarist Soren Andersen back in the ranks alongside hard-hitting drummer Pontus Engborg and keyboardist Jay Boe. At one point in the evening the drummer had a problem with his kit which took several minutes to deal with; as the tech worked feverishly he continued to play on, while the rest of the guys improvised a jam. It’s always a privilege to see Glenn Hughes, he is now back with Black Country Communion of course.

FEBRUARY

This month saw me venture out to Stalybridge, where a new venture run by two guys I know from Facebook had started to put on bands at the Stalybridge Tavern. The place is a pub a stone’s throw from Stalybridge station, which is accessible by rail from Liverpool. The first gig of the year they put on featured iDestroy, the Bristol power trio fronted by Bec Jevons and also featuring Becky Baldwin on bass, a popular performer who is in several bands, and drummer Jenn Haneef. Also featured were Gdansk81, a Manchester-based outfit influenced by the post-punk era and particularly Joy Division, who were good but not my cup of tea. However iDestroy gave a knockout performance, they have energy, passion and above all, songs. Bec Jevons has that magic knack of writing a catchy, pop-punk anthem that will stick in your mind after one listen, and with a strong rhythm section behind her, it’s easy to see how they have grown in popularity over the past year or so. A week later, back in Liverpool and at the o2 Academy yet again, I encountered the ‘all-Metal tribute to the Bee Gees and beyond’, Tragedy. These crazies from New York take 1970s disco-pop classics and twist them into Metal ditties, the most amusing transformation being their take on The Weather Girls’s  ‘It’s Raining Men’ – prefaced by the doomy intro from Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’! They were supported by up-and-coming Brit hard rockers Bigfoot, who have been widely tipped for success in the next year or so.

MARCH

The spring is almost as busy a time of year as autumn for gigs, and this year was no exception. Starting off at Manchester’s Band on the Wall, one of the better small venues in that city, was Northern Ireland’s finest The Answer. They’d taken a musical left-turn with their sixth album ‘Solas’, introducing many elements of traditional Irish music to their rock sound, though their live shows remained as heavy as ever. This gig was roughly evenly-split between songs from that album and older tracks from their back catalogue, as the group set out to demonstrate that the latest album didn’t mean they’d turned their backs on hard rock for good. The ‘Solas’ material actually sounded harder live, in particular the title track with which they opened the show. Liverpool band Black Cat Bones supported, their retro look was clearly inspired by Guns ‘n’ Roses but they did a good job warming up the crowd, and that was only the first of several occasions I’d see them this year.

The very next night it was over to Chester Live Rooms to see Dan Reed Network. Many years ago I passed on seeing them at Liverpool, when almost everyone else I knew went along. They weren’t ‘heavy enough’ for me as a young Metalhead then, y’see! What won me round was seeing Dan Reed himself play acoustically with Danny Vaughn on tour a few years ago, he showed himself to be a warm, engaging live singer. The band played a set that seemed to be made up on the hoof, they took several requests and discussed among themselves what they would play next. Although it’s Dan Reed’s name on the ticket he was willing to give the stage over to other members, who all got extended spots. A very good gig, which left me 30 years’ worth of catching up to do!

Barely pausing for breath or even sleep (!) the next gig came up quickly; it was back to Liverpool for a triple bill of hard rock headlined by Swedish outfit Bonafide, with Aussie all-girl trio Tequila Mockingbyrd and another Swedish band (Killer Bee) opening proceedings. This being a Monday night with three, shall we say ‘obscure’ bands, turnout at the o2 Academy was far from packed but those that came got a great night of old-school rock. Bonafide were very much old-school hard rock not far removed from AC/DC, while Tequila Mockingbyrd rocked it HARD. They were in the middle of a transition at this point, with a stand-in bassist (Keira Kenworthy of Syteria played and fitted in so well, I would never have known she wasn’t full-time had they not told us!) and with frontwoman Estelle Artois playing her last tour with the band before stepping down from the group. Killer Bee also played a good set, for those who showed early.

At that time I was working in Chester, which came in handy for the next gig – Stevie Nimmo Trio who were on at the Live Rooms. Stevie, elder brother of King King’s Alan Nimmo attracted some fans of his brother’s band and quite a few who were more familiar than I of his own material. His music is more ‘purist’ blues than the more radio-friendly King King, but he gave a great set, excellent in both vocal and guitar department and ably backed by bassist Mat Beable and drummer Craig Bacon. That was the first of two occasions I’d see Stevie Nimmo here, but more on that later!

The next gig saw a return to the o2 Academy in Liverpool, for American pop-rockers Against The Current. This is a band I knew little about, other than they were favourites of Kerrang! magazine and so I expected a more youthful turnout than normal. They packed out the lower floor of this place (and perhaps should have been given the larger floor) and it was indeed a young audience in the main. They are similar in style to Paramore, with ATC singer Chrissy Costanza openly citing them as influences. For what it was, this was a good live performance and she was particularly energetic and engaging. Not strictly my cup of tea to be honest, and I went mainly because they bothered to come to our city, as one of the most vocal complainers that bands miss Liverpool off such tours!

With many bands on the road at the same time, the inevitable gig clashes started to happen (or ‘Same Night Syndrome’ as I call it!) and one cropped up mid-March as I had inadvertently double-booked the 18th March. I originally planned to go and see Thunder in Sheffield, but had grabbed tickets to see Canadian rockers Monster Truck play in Manchester, before realising that was the same evening! Fortunately I found a taker for my Thunder ticket; though a huge fan of those guys I’ve seen them many times, and this Monster Truck show was too enticing to pass up after seeing them play a stormer of a support to Nickelback previously. It was once again in the unfavoured Club Academy basement but this was a marvellous show, the Canadian quartet really do take you back to the old days of denim, leather, meaty guitar riffs and raucous vocals. They’ve got the songs and the style to really break through in the next couple of years. I was still a bit miffed at missing Thunder, mainly because they had the excellent 70s-flavoured band CATS in SPACE as support and I knew that they’d win fans off the back of that tour. They did that and then some, which I’ll get back to.

A week later it was another trip to Liverpool o2 Academy to see 90s survivors Feeder; I got in to find an all-girl trio bounding across the stage on the main upstairs floor. The Tuts were the band in question, a power-pop outfit with plenty of energy and attitude who told the crowd on several occasions how thrilled they were to support Feeder, a band they grew up idolising. Feeder themselves weren’t the trio I expected but a five-piece, as Grant Nicholas and Taka Hirose were joined by an additional guitarist and keyboard player, as well as drummer Geoff Holroyde who sat in for usual incumbent Karl Brazil. The expanded Feeder were very good, better than last time I’d seen them when for me they tried a bit too hard to emulate Nirvana. For their encore, two members of The Tuts appeared in the crowd and I found myself bouncing along with singer Nadia and drummer Beverley!

This mad month continued with another run to Stalybridge in order to see Scream of Sirens. An all-female trio hailing from the North East who play hard rock with a dash of punky attitude, they are a band worth catching if in your area. I got to chat to them and found that their guitarist Ruth is a fan of Y&T, which instantly endeared me to her! Meniketti’s troupe had themselves just announced the dates for their regular autumn UK tour and that tour included a return to Liverpool. At around this time, Metallica announced their own UK tour dates which were slated for the huge arenas of the country. That didn’t include Liverpool, which didn’t surprise me, but the cost of the tickets I thought were prohibitive in any event. Which didn’t stop them from selling out instantly!

Mad March finally came to an end with a run down to Bilston and the Robin 2, for a show headlined by LiveWire (an AC/DC tribute which features two singers to emulate both Bon and Brian material), but I’d gone there to see DORJA, an all-girl hard rock band who I’d been supporting since their formation as I knew three of the girls from a previous band. That was another frustrating gig clash, as my planned trip to Manchester on that date to see Blackberry Smoke went up in, er, smoke! Because of the fact that DORJA’s singer Aiym Almas is based in LA, they can only get together and perform in short stints and so the chance to see them had to be taken. Their 45-minute set went over very well, especially since Aiym herself was firing on all cylinders this time (she was suffering with a throat ailment on their previous appearance in the UK) and showed us all what a soulful, rich voice she has. Their set drew people from all over the country, many of whom I knew personally, but after their performance some left in order to catch Hands Off Gretel who were playing in Whitchurch, also on that night. I stayed around, partly to see LiveWire, but also to take the chance to spend a little time with the DORJA girls who I hadn’t seen in months. I didn’t realise then that’d be my only chance to see them this year however!

For Part 2 click here


Caught Live: Erja Lyytinen, Live Rooms Chester 27 September 2017

Finland, famous for Nokia, ski jumping, ice-hockey, javelin, and Metal bands. Now we can add blues-rock to that list, courtesy Erja Lyytinen. She only came to my attention this year after I read a positive write-up of her gig at London’s 100 Club back in April, but has actually been around for over a decade, with 10 studio albums and three live albums to her name. For this show, to the best of my knowledge her first in my local area, she and her band were booked into the L2 at Chester’s Live Rooms. The set-up was intimate, with low lighting, tables (complete with candles) and chairs set out on the normally standing floor area. If there was a support, I’d missed it (I took the train to Chester on this occasion) but got there to find a crowd of mostly guys my own age, all awaiting her arrival.

It was a low-key entrance, as she and band strolled out through the main door, ambled across the audience and to the tiny stage in the corner of this room. Accompanied by a bassist, drummer and a keyboard player who had a real, genuine Hammond organ (yaaay!) as opposed to a software patch emulating one, she introduced herself and band before strapping on a glittery blue guitar to kick things off with ‘City of Angels’, a track from her latest album ‘Stolen Heart’. Any inkling that this was going to be a quiet little gig was blown away within seconds, as that glittery guitar was set to kill with an almighty tone! I’ll admit to not having boned up on her music before this show, partly because I wanted to experience it ‘blind’ but I did have a reasonably good idea of what to expect, and she didn’t disappoint. Slide guitar, heavy riffing, solos both tastefully restrained and delightfully unrestrained, soulful singing and also giving her band space to show off as well (in particular Hammond player Harri Taittonen) with some soloing of their own.

Erja Lyytinen with bassist Juha Verona

Erja Lyytinen with bassist Juha Verona

Several tracks off the current album were played including the lengthy epic ‘Black Ocean’ and the slow blues of ‘Slowly Burning’, as well as numerous covers including Hendrix’s ‘Crosstown Traffic’, Koko Taylor’s ‘I’m A Woman’, a hard-rocking cover of Tina Turner’s ‘Steamy Windows’ and closing with an immaculately delivered ‘People Get Ready’, originally by The Impressions. Throughout, she held the attention not only with superb playing, but with an endearing sense of humour, happily joking with the audience, for example asking who among us is in need of a rocking chair (before playing her track ‘Rocking Chair’ – nothing to do with the Magnum song of the same name!)

From my spot the sound of her guitar was a little loud, so that it did at times overwhelm her singing when she really unleashed the fury, but during the quieter moments she did show what a fine singer she is too. She got a tremendous reception from the audience, as said before it was about 100 at the most who showed but it sounded like far more. She said that she and her band will return to the UK in March next year, I’d expect word of her to spread rapidly after this run and so if she returns to Chester it should be the main room next time, where greats of this style such as King King and Joanne Shaw Taylor have already graced that stage.

Erja Lyytinen at Chester Live Rooms

Erja Lyytinen at Chester Live Rooms

I knew little about this artist before the show, but feel like I know her well now – the mark of a great performer. When she comes back I intend to be there, and if you’re reading this Erja – the Live Rooms is great but we’ve also got venues at my end of the Merseyrail in Liverpool that would suit this show 😉

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: Robin Trower, Live Rooms Chester, 8 October 2016

One of several rock legends of yesteryear that I’ve never got around to until now, one-time Procul Harum guitarist Robin Trower is still making music and touring as he reaches his seventies. Although he continues to release albums, his career is still defined by 1974’s ‘Bridge Of Sighs’ album, with several tracks off that record remaining staples of his live gigs. Often compared to Hendrix back in the 70s, he is still a draw as a healthy attendance at the main stage at Chester’s Live Rooms attests.

I’d hoped to catch opener Stevie Nimmo Trio but delays getting into the city of Chester and then finding somewhere to park, meant that by the time I got into the hall all I heard from the big Scotsman was ‘Thank you – enjoy the rest of your evening, goodnight!’. I was soon able to greet Stevie (older brother of King King’s Alan Nimmo) at the merch table however and treat myself to a CD, which he told me formed the majority of the set I’d missed! Listening to that on the way home afterwards, it’s safe to say if you like his brother’s band (and if you are of discerning taste, you surely will!) then you’ll like Stevie Nimmo’s material also.

A short while later, a guitar tech appeared brandishing a white Fender Stratocaster, soon followed by a slightly-built elderly gent who was handed the instrument, as he was followed by two obviously much younger guys. Yep, that was Robin Trower and his low-key entrance was soon ramped up once he plugged in. He might be an old fella now, but he can still cook up a mighty storm with the guitar. Opening number was ‘Too Rolling Stoned’; from that seminal ‘Bridge of Sighs’ album and a frequently-played track on Planet Rock radio station, it got the crowd going straight away. These days, the lead vocal is handled by bassist Richard Watt, he is not James Dewar (Trower’s bassist/vocalist during his heyday, sadly passed away in 2002) but still gave a decent vocal delivery – when he could be heard over the mighty sound coming from the older guy with thinning silver hair.

Robin Trower at Chester

Robin Trower at Chester

Most of the vocals were handled by Watt; the main man did take lead vocal on a handful of numbers but his voice is in his fingers, not his throat. Several numbers spun out into extended showcases for his playing, the rhythm section of Watt and drummer Chris Taggart knew exactly when to step back and just let the maestro play. In return, Trower gave a masterclass in power and control, he has all the force of any heavy metal axe hero but knows when – and when not – to use it. In addition, his tone is something almost every other guitarist playing would sell their grandmother to have. He really makes that guitar sing, an art that is rapidly becoming lost in this day and age. The huge cheers after every number were greeted with a modest grin and a simple ‘we really appreciate that, thank you’.

Despite his advancing years the guitar legend is showing no sign of losing the magic touch, he still has ‘it’. This must go down as another one of my ‘why did I leave it so long’ gigs, it really was a pleasure to watch such a master of his instrument in such intimate surroundings. When he comes around again, take the chance to see Robin Trower live.

4 - Deserving

4 – Deserving