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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 – Delightful

DORJA band website

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LP: DORJA ‘Gemini’ (self-released)

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

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

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

Front cover for DORJA 'Gemini' album

Front cover for DORJA ‘Gemini’ album

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.dorjaband.com

4 – Deserving

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


Single: DORJA ‘Far Gone’ (download-only)

Those DORJA girls are adept at generating a buzz alright, with the release of their latest single ‘Far Gone’ after a lengthy teaser campaign involving cover art, snippets of the track and a brief taster of the accompanying video all leaked to social media over the past few weeks. The track itself is the first to feature new guitarist Sarah Michelle, who joined in the summer shortly before the group played a series of UK dates. One of those gigs was a return to PKD Festival, held in Scotland and where DORJA made such an impression upon that event’s organisers in 2016, that they booked the band again immediately for the following year. Footage from their 2017 appearance has been used for their promo video, which is linked at the bottom of this post.

‘Far Gone’ has been part of their live repertoire for some time; I saw them play it back in March, yet was only recorded in the summer while all the members were in the UK. The song is a blues-influenced hard rocker in their now-familiar style, gently led in by Sarah Michelle’s opening guitar and Aiym Almas’s throaty vocal, before the powerchords kick in, in true Whitesnake tradition (‘Break me, or take me as I am, I’m not giving in’). The arrangement is similar to the live rendition save for the absence of the brief drum solo – but they have simply replaced one Zeppelin nod with another, with ‘Whole Lotta Love’-styled atmospherics in its place (kept short).

If you liked the material on the earlier ‘Target Practice’ EP then you should enjoy this too. It wouldn’t surprise me if it were to appear in physical form on a future EP as they have more material ready to go, and have been writing again since Sarah Michelle joined up. She is a perfect fit for this band, and I look forward to hearing how she influences the writing of their future material.

For now though, this will keep we Dorjians going until they reconvene for more live dates, which are planned for early 2018. With the membership scattered far and wide, they have to plan things long in advance, but they’re gaining a loyal following which should mean we see and hear a lot more from them in the coming year.

The video for the single is now available on youtube, to get a high-quality download of this track please click this link to go to their online store.

4 – Deserving

 

EP: Holly Henderson ‘Desert Wax’ (self-released, download only)

When DORJA founding member, guitarist Holly Henderson announced her departure from the all-girl rock quintet earlier this year, one of the reasons she gave was that she was ‘still searching for her musical identity’. There always was more to her than meets the eye (or the ear); even while playing rhythm guitar in a touring covers band she had been writing her own music and putting up demos. The material she wrote herself was often very different from what she was doing in a band situation; she’d co-written three songs in a punky style for a previous band before contributing to the writing of all the material issued to date from DORJA (including that band’s imminent release ‘Far Gone’). Her own stuff however was drastically different; ranging from laidback, late-night listening to more rocking, but alternatively-styled music she has proven to be an artist willing to switch styles and genres, keeping her followers on their toes.

This EP (released in August 2017) is about as far removed as is possible to get from DORJA, it is a full-on dive into experimental, ambient electronic music. As such it was one I had to listen to on numerous occasions to even begin to get it, since I will cheerfully admit to being an unreconstructed, dyed-in-the-denim hard rocker totally set in my headbanging ways. That said, based on what I already know of Holly’s work I believe in her talent unconditionally, so whatever form her music takes I am willing to investigate. (I do not say that for many artists!)

Holly Henderson - Desert Wax

Holly Henderson – Desert Wax

‘Desert Wax’ is a concept EP, the storyline of which she has gone into in more detail about on her own site but is essentially about a group of people so disillusioned with society that they break away in search of their own space. The title track sets the tone, with layered, echoed vocals over an ambient backing track. Her vocal is drenched in effects, so that it becomes another colour on the palette. ‘Not’, the third track does appear to feature a guitar but don’t expect hard rock here – the idea is for this music to take you on a journey, and I found it best listened to as a whole, in one sitting, with headphones to get its full impact. If you’ve got an upmarket hi-fi and have the isolation in which to listen to this properly, you’re more likely to feel this music more deeply.

Standout track for me is ‘Safe Place’ in which Holly duets with herself using two different effects, (one deepened) on her voice to achieve a call-and-response type of song (“Take me to a safe place/I’ll take you to a safe place“).

Holly could probably come up with something distinctive even if you just gave her a paper and comb, but ‘Desert Wax’ shows her in a totally different light to what I’ve seen and heard of her before. If I’m completely honest I don’t think I’d let many other artists take me on the journey I found myself embarking on with this EP, it is so far outside my metallic comfort zone. Once over that mental hurdle however, I found this to be an engaging listen, with more than a hint of prog. She has that knack of drawing you in, just as she did with previous offering ‘Opium Drip’.

Holly Henderson has come a long way in a short time already, it’s almost impossible to believe that this is the same person who wrote three punk rock-styled tracks last year for an EP recorded by another band, but it’s true – she wrote that as well 😉
She has however demonstrated a depth and range to her talent that will take her so much further, and with the release of her first full album of original material still to come, I see only a bright future for this Maidstone miss.

The ‘Desert Wax’ EP is available on CD Baby or Music Glue, as well as from all the usual outlets, and if you want to try for yourself a Spotify link is provided below:

4 – Deserving

 

 

All change in the DORJA camp; farewell Holly and welcome Sarah Michelle

Almost a year to the day since DORJA announced themselves with their track ‘Fire’, they have now had a change to the line-up. Founding guitarist Holly Henderson announced her departure last month, as her own solo career is set for lift-off. She has plans to play live with her new band, and with a new EP imminent and an album in the can for release later in the year she perhaps felt that she could no longer give her all to DORJA. With dates of their own booked for July, the remaining quartet (guitarist Rosie Botterill, drummer Anna Mylee, bass player Becky Baldwin, plus LA-based lead singer Aiym Almas) conducted an online search for a new guitarist, and they have today announced their new member.

Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, new six-stringer Sarah Michelle has several years’ experience touring the UK and Europe, most recently with tribute act ‘The Magic of Michael Jackson’. Her guitar influences include Eddie van Halen, Gary Moore, Jimi Hendrix and Paul Kossoff, and she maintains a channel on YouTube with over 1.2million views at the time of writing. She appears to be a natural fit for this band, and I was hoping to get to a show or two in order to see for myself what she will bring to the party. However I shall be out of action for most of July having sustained a fractured ankle (following a recent gig, note not during it!) therefore I cannot travel to any of the scheduled dates. Beyond disappointed at that, since I know the other four members well and would no doubt enjoy their set, but it will have to be another time.

The dates for DORJA’s upcoming tour are listed below, if a show is reachable I recommend attending, since the band members can only come together at irregular intervals (singer Aiym Almas is based in LA, with Sarah Michelle in Dublin and the other girls all based in England).

For further information please see the band’s Facebook page.

DORJA UK dates July 2017
Lastly, here is a clip of Sarah Michelle herself from her youtube channel:

DORJA guitarist Sarah Michelle

DORJA guitarist Sarah Michelle

Breaking down the month of May with Holly Henderson

It’s been an incredibly active month for Holly Henderson, a talented musician and songwriter (and guitarist in female rock combo DORJA) who I have been following for some time now. At the beginning of May she played her first gig with her new live band at a music event in her home town of Maidstone, which your correspondent saw, having made the crazy decision to drive all the way there from Merseyside, watch her set, hang for a while and drive back – all on the same night! More on that later, but hot on the heels of that, one of the tracks from her upcoming album (‘Loneliness’, which she performed at that gig) has now been aired on BBC Radio Kent, and if that isn’t enough, she has just unveiled the promo video for her song ‘Breakdown’, a track taken from her ‘Opium Drip’ EP.

As well as all of that, she has been performing with DORJA, and has also appeared in a promo video for their track ‘Reaching Out’ which was shot in April, while all five band members were in the UK. (Vocalist Aiym Almas is based in LA while drummer Anna Mylee lives in Belgium.) DORJA will return for more UK live dates in July and I intend to see at least one, hopefully more of their shows.

Regarding the gig, which took place on the May Day bank holiday at The Style And Winch in Maidstone, this was as part of an all-day music event featuring several acts. However, I was only concerned with getting there in time to see Holly’s set and despite setting out in early afternoon, barely made it there in time. With the exception of the song ‘Your Hands’ (performed in rearranged form to suit the band format), taken from ‘Opium Drip’ I was unfamiliar with all of this material, since the album that will feature it is still to be released. The pacy rocker ‘Loneliness’ impressed me in particular, and she proved to be a natural fronting a band, displaying a welcome sense of humour in her between-song chats. She did have a few serious messages too, urging us (as a species) to ‘stop raping the planet’ before performing a number dealing with that topic. (As an aside, Delain’s ‘The Tragedy Of The Commons’ is also concerned with that issue.)

Many of the audience were known to her, including her mum who was situated to the left of the room close to the front. She was backed by her ‘guitar compadre’ Jamie Chellar, backing vocalist Katy Chellar, bassist Martin Taylor and drummer Luke Phillips. All were impressive players themselves (especially the drummer, who got the chance to kick up a storm close to the end of the set) and a cover of Radiohead’s ‘High And Dry’ provided Jamie with a moment in the spotlight. This outfit is tasked with recreating live the music made in LA with guitarist Pete Thorn, drummer Blair Sinta and bassist Jon Button and although I’ve yet to hear the finished album, on the evidence of what I saw this group will more than do it justice.

At that gig Holly declared that ‘Loneliness’ would be the album’s first single, and it was played on BBC Radio Kent’s ‘Introducing’ programme on May 13 2017. This is a very ‘immediate’ sounding song, combining hard-driving guitar with Holly’s more tender vocal. She has said that while previously she has preferred to cover her vocals in reverb and other effects, she was encouraged by Pete Thorn to give her voice more prominence during the sessions for the album. Described as ‘awesome’ by BBC Kent presenter Abbie McCarthy, it bodes well for the album as a whole.

Finally, her video for ‘Breakdown’ was released on May 16 2017. This video was directed by George Mays, who personally invited Holly to LA in order to produce the clip after having heard her ‘Opium Drip’ EP. She flew out in November 2016 and spent around a fortnight on the project. The finished video features some special effects, literally of Holly putting herself back together after a ‘breakdown’ – there are scattered limbs everywhere, but it isn’t quite as horrifying as it sounds! The low lighting in the clip suits the mood of the song perfectly, and she is a natural in front of the camera.

Holly has come a long way from when I first saw her live (here in Liverpool) a little over two years ago; her inherent talent meant she could never be expected to play rhythm guitar in a covers band for ever. Even while doing that gig, she had uploaded to her Facebook page some snippets of her own playing, and demos of material she was writing (some of which ended up on the ‘Opium Drip’ EP) so the more awake fans of her then band could see clearly she was headed for bigger things. With the imminent release of her album and live dates in the pipeline, it won’t be long before the ‘tastemakers’ come calling. I fully expect her to appear on BBC Sound of 2018 at the start of next year… no pressure then 😉

Holly and her band at The Style & Winch, Maidstone

Clockwise from left: Holly, Katy Chellar, Luke Phillips, Martin Taylor, Jamie Chellar

The BBC Introducing Kent radio programme featuring Holly is linked here (available until mid-June 2017) and her song is featured at 45:27.

The video for ‘Breakdown’ (dir. George Mays) can now be viewed on Vimeo (YouTube coming soon)

Breakdown from George Mays on Vimeo.

Lastly – the video for ‘Reaching Out’ by her band DORJA (dir. Dan Coffey):

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: 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