Gigs of 2017 part four

For part one click here

For part two click here

For part three click here

NOVEMBER

This month started off with a bus ride over to St Helens to see proggers Mostly Autumn; that gig did clash with Michael Schenker’s show in Manchester (which featured many guests including former MSG members) but with me still off the road at the time I plumped for the more local gig. The Citadel was full when I got in, moments before the band took to the stage, and they delivered a show of their usual prog epics, with great playing from all. That’s only the second time I’ve seen this band, and I should try and catch them more often. The next night saw veteran American rockers Y&T visit Liverpool on their now-customary UK and European autumn tour. They were supported by Voodoo Vegas who were a good warm-up, while Y&T themselves once again delivered a strong set of back catalogue favourites. There’s still been no new material from them since 2010 but they have such a strong back catalogue they can play a different set from one year to the next and still give a full two hours on stage. A good night topped off by actually meeting frontman Dave Meniketti alongside his wife and manager Jill, whose novel ‘Welcome To Groove House’ I bought a year ago and brought for her to sign this time out.

The next week saw a strong bill pitch up at Warrington’s Parr Hall, headlined by Black Star Riders with Blues Pills, Tax The Heat and Dirty Thrills making up the rest of the bill. I was too late to catch Dirty Thrills but saw another great performance from Tax The Heat, an entertaining set from Blues Pills and a stormer from Black Star Riders. The only slight quibble was the sound balance, in a civic theatre such as this with a high ceiling the sound swirled around all evening. I do like that venue, as it is not too big and has good sight lines with a stage high enough to allow a good view of the band from anywhere – except perhaps the front row! Another week later and it was the turn of Britain’s first lady of blues guitar, Joanne Shaw Taylor to come to our part of the world. She added this show at New Brighton Floral Pavilion some time after her run of autumn dates were announced, perhaps catching out fans as this date was not sold out as I’d expected. She always gives a great, expressive performance and this time was no exception, and this time she’d added former King King keyboardist Bob Fridzema to the live band. With support from the excellent Dan Patlansky, this was a splendid night of bluesy rock guitar.

A few days later I made the (late) decision to take the train up to Manchester and see Deep Purple on what they have billed their ‘Long Goodbye’ tour. Whether that means they really are bowing out remains to be seen, but the guys aren’t getting any younger and there cannot be much more to come. A good bill was opened by CATS in SPACE, given only 30 minutes they wowed the audience, many of whom were already in place. I had missed them on their support slot for Thunder, and also their own low-key tour of small venues, so this was my only chance to see them this year. They’ve had a phenomenal year with the release of second album ‘Scarecrow’ and with them having opened for Thunder, Deep Purple and finally Status Quo, they must be pinching themselves. Special guests were Europe, who since reforming several years ago have delivered some strong material far removed from the parping ‘Final Countdown’ days. They actually sound a lot like Purple themselves nowadays, and gave a good set mixing songs from current album ‘Walk The Earth’ with the 80s hits everyone expected.  Deep Purple also showcased a lot of material from latest album ‘Infinite’, but still found room for plenty of old classics. Ian Gillan isn’t the singer he was 40 years ago, but wisely has recognised that and manages his voice well nowadays, rather than try to blast it the way he once did. Near the end of this set, guitarist Steve Morse played a short burst of AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ in memory of Malcolm Young, with news of the AC/DC founder’s passing having only emerged earlier that day.

Last gig of this month was Mr Big, which I almost never got to see! A friend of mine asked would I take on the ticket as his girlfriend (who booked them) had decided against making the trip to Manchester (the show took place at the Academy 1). However, once meeting up at Lime Street Station and boarding our train, he realised he had left the tickets at home! With me resigned to watching football in the student union bar instead, a stroke of luck happened when two people on the guest list arrived to collect their tickets. They had ‘plus ones’ which they did not require, so they allowed us to use them! With that sorted we caught most of openers Faster Pussycat, who have only vocalist Taime Downe left as an original member now. They played a good set of sleaze favourites before making way for The Answer. Unlike when I saw the Irish rockers earlier in the year, this set was designed to touch on all their albums to date. So, having opened with the epic ‘Solas’ they gave airings to a selection of favourites including ‘Preachin’ and ‘Spectacular’. They also paid tribute to AC/DC’s Malcolm Young (The Answer toured the world in 2009/10 opening for the Aussie titans) by covering ‘If You Want Blood, You Got It’. The Answer always give it everything and did so again, though I’d have liked a little more from them of course, time didn’t allow that. Watching Mr Big is always hard work, you never know where to look with virtuoso players (guitarist Paul Gilbert and bassist Billy Sheehan) either side of singer Eric Martin almost trying to outdo one another. They started the set with drummer Matt Starr in place of Pat Torpey, but to the fans’ delight they brought out their original drummer to play percussion alongside the band. Pat Torpey has suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for some years now, preventing him from playing full-time, but the band still consider him a vital member of the band so much that they still bring him on tour. It was, as expected, a long set featuring new numbers and plenty of old favourites, but we had to leave shortly before the end as the last train wasn’t going to wait for us!

DECEMBER

The first of this month started off with another Same Night Syndrome gig clash, with two gigs I wanted to see happening in the same building, let alone the same city! The Lancashire Hotpots won out over former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan, who was in the upstairs floor of Liverpool’s o2 Academy while the Hotpots were in the downstairs. They were celebrating ten years of their folk-infused tomfoolery with a complete performance of their debut album ‘Never Mind The Hotpots’. That was only part of a lengthy set the lads gave, with them having to play for longer than expected as their regular support Stu Penders & Spladoosh! having withdrawn. ‘He’s got The Mange’, as Hotpots singer Bernard Thresher kindly informed us. This was a superb night full of fun and parody folk, rock, dance, and it’s to be hoped there’ll be ten more years of it!

Next gig was a few days later in Lennon’s Bar on Mathew Street, normally one of many places that cater to the Beatles tourist trade that remains popular in Liverpool but tonight  was hosting a bill with several bands on, including locals Nesh (‘alternative, melodic hard rock’ as they described themselves) and St Helens punks Last Reserves whose singer Alice Nancy compered the evening. I was there to check out Psychords, an all-female punk rock trio from Italy who came recommended by several people I knew off Facebook. The girls had a few technical issues at the start but gave a storming set, driven emphatically by their drummer Claudia Lo. I’d like to see that band again and hopefully they’ll get the chance to come back to the UK in 2018. The very next evening was my penultimate trip to Chester for the year, to see Chantel McGregor play at the Live Rooms. I’d never seen her before, and she lulled us all into a false sense of security with two folky numbers played solo and acoustically, before bringing out her band, strapping on the electric guitar and blowing the audience away! One of many good blues rock guitarist/singers on the circuit at the moment, her heavy guitar sound was reminiscent of the great Robin Trower at times.  My final gig of 2017 was just a week ago at the time of writing this post, once again at Chester. Opened by Black Cat Bones, who had a ball performing on this bigger stage with an elevated platform for singer Jonnie Hodson (improvised from crates!), then Skarlett Riot who, with only a short time to perform, played their heavier material. Singer Skarlett did without her guitar for this show, leaving all axe duties to lead guitarist Danny. Topping this bill were Finland’s Santa Cruz, a foursome who look and play like they have just come from the Strip in 1988! It’s nothing new to someone like me who remembers Skid Row or Guns ‘n’ Roses, but the Finns were fiery and enthusiastic, with great guitar work from frontman Archie and the other guitarist Johnny.

That’s my roundup of 2017’s gigs; I saw more than I’d expected to this year and it’ll be hard to get to as many in 2018 as I did this year. But I’ll be back to report on whatever comes my way in the New Year!

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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

Caught Live: Deep Purple (with Europe, CATS in SPACE), Manchester Arena, 18th November 2017

I didn’t think I would even be at this show on the Saturday morning, expecting to have to stay in that night, but things changed. So it was I hastily booked a ticket (in the upper reaches of this arena) and a train, which conveniently stops at my local station thus negating the need to go into Liverpool city centre first, and headed up to what many still call the MEN Arena. It was the first time I’d been to this huge bowl in over a year, more to the point my first visit since that terrible attack in May. Having reached Manchester Victoria (and thus, the arena which sits atop the station) in plenty of time, there was time to have a little look around and see what had changed since last I was here.

First of all, you cannot now access the new walkway from Victoria Station to the arena concourse without your ticket for the event. There were barriers in place at the bottom of the steps, and Showsec staff situated at those barriers. As the old box office is still out of commission, I asked about ticket collection. The new box office is situated on the other side of this huge building, inside the underpass off New Bridge Street next to the arena car park and opposite the former Strangeways brewery site. Ticket collected, and there was time to have a little look around the immediate area, where there were plenty of Christmas market stalls in place. It was somewhat of a maze to get around, even if like me you do know this area of Manchester well, so after a hot drink and a cake from a well-known bakery chain I decided to go into the hall early.

When you enter the arena now, be it through Victoria Station or the other main entrance on Hunts Bank, you now need to have your ticket ready as described earlier, before even getting to the steps. Once you’re allowed through, and have climbed up to the City Room foyer you’re now confronted by airport-style scanners. There were four lines to go through these scanners, and it felt very much like the procedure before boarding a flight, there was even a shouty bloke organising the queues! The items they wanted in the basket were mobile phones, e-cigs, pocket cameras (that was me!) while we were ushered through a body scanner like those at the airport. All that done, and with my quip asking which way to the planes ignored, it was through the doors and into the arena concourse. Although they’d only just opened up there were already queues building at these scanners so it was probably a good idea to give plenty of time to get through it all. The procedure was understandable, although it was noted that attack came when the venue was letting out, not letting in.

When I got to my spot, high up in the upper tiers I found the majority of that area was sectioned off! They’d only opened two of the blocks and then only partially, about ten rows were open and I found myself sat in splendid isolation, high above the stage just over halfway back. The floor was seated, unusual for a rock gig at this place, and by my estimation they were expecting a crowd of 11-12000. (That means you could have staged a gig at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, Purple people!) It was nice and comfy up there anyway as I settled for CATS in SPACE, who would open proceedings at 7pm sharp.

Openers CATS in SPACE

Openers CATS in SPACE

When the openers came on, the arena had filled substantially. Their intro tape shows a nostalgic sense of humour with the theme tune to ‘The Sweeney’ playing over the PA. The group are unashamedly influenced by 1970s music, not just rock and indeed two of the band (guitarist Greg Hart and top-hatted keyboardist Andy Stewart) play in the covers act Supersonic 70s Show (also billed as Solid Gold 70s), an act I’ve seen live on two occasions. The CATS were only given around half an hour, meaning only a handful of numbers could be played. Opening with the title track of first album ‘Too Many Gods’ they didn’t hang about before next song ‘The Mad Hatters’ Tea Party’. Straight away it was clear they not only had a good sound in this massive bowl, but they were in great form themselves. Lead singer Paul Manzi gave a superb performance, ably backed by all the other CATS but in particular bassist Jeff Brown, who duetted with Manzi on ‘Greatest Story Never Told’, a lengthy epic off their first album and one that was probably brave to play considering they had only a short time. The other songs were ‘Timebomb’ off the current ‘Scarecrow’ album and they closed with ‘Five Minute Celebrity’ from the debut. That one featured some Who-style windmilling from Greg Hart, appropriate as the song is in that band’s style and also gave drummer Steevi Bacon a brief moment in the spotlight. If you’d said to Greg Hart this time last year that he’d be playing big arenas opening for one of the country’s legendary bands he’d probably have laughed; as it is he and CATS in SPACE have had an incredible year. They’ve opened for Thunder on their UK tour, done their own run of headline dates, and straight after this run of shows they’re back out again, this time supporting Status Quo on their usual winter tour. The band have gained a great deal of support in the year since I saw them play across this city at the University, and now with some crucial industry support this group of individually talented but collectively brilliant guys can only get even more popular in 2018. You cannot help but be delighted for them, especially Greg Hart whose vision it was but all these guys have paid plenty of dues, their success now is thoroughly deserved.

Europe at Manchester Arena

Europe at Manchester Arena

Joey Tempest & John Norum

Joey Tempest & John Norum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next act up were Europe; now I have only seen these guys once before, and that was at the Liverpool Empire at the height of their ‘The Final Countdown’ hysteria 30 years ago. That night, the audience was overwhelmingly teenage girls who outnumbered the rockers in the audience by about five to one – and I can still hear the screaming in my head to this day! The band of today is the ‘classic’ line-up which recorded that smash hit song and album; that includes guitarist John Norum who, back when they played in Liverpool 30 years ago was absent. Back then his place had been taken by Kee Marcello, who slotted into the line-up seamlessly. Despite this being the classic band, their sound has evolved markedly since then, and listeners to Planet Rock who have heard their most recent single ‘Walk The Earth’ would have been forgiven for thinking they were more Purple than Purple these days! When Europe came on stage tonight, that was the track they opened with, all brooding organ sound and heavy guitar so reminiscent of the band that was headlining tonight. The new material was well-received, and singer Joey Tempest was in good voice, however when they did reach back to their vintage era the crowd really woke up. Introducing ‘Rock The Night’, the singer cheekily borrowed a Coverdale expression with ‘Here’s a song for ya!’ That got the crowd up, and they also played ‘Carrie’ off that same album, for any remaining 1980s teenyboppers presumably! 😀
This band have survived the millstone hit single by delivering consistently strong albums in recent years, showing that they are indeed a legitimate rock band and not just a bunch of popsters who got lucky once. Needless to say ‘The Final Countdown’ was played last in the set, and air guitars broken out for Norum’s widdly guitar solo in the middle of the song! Europe have just announced a headline tour of their own for September 2018, and with King King along as support that is definitely a gig to look out for.

3 Purple People

Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Steve Morse

Deep Purple Manchester Arena

Deep Purple Manchester Arena

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Purple have billed this as ‘The Long Goodbye’ tour, hinting but not confirming that this will be their last major tour. The members have said in interviews that they don’t want to stop, but they’re now hitting their seventies and with the best will in the world, they cannot do this for very much longer. They still believe in offering new material whenever they do tour however, and this year’s album ‘Infinite’ was well-received by fans and critics alike. To coincide with this tour, the band even appeared on a BBC special which aired days before this tour commenced; that would never have been countenanced back in the days when Tommy Vance was the corporation’s only outlet for bands of this ilk. Nowadays, Purple and other classic bands of the era are finally being appreciated by a wider circle than the ‘rock crowd’ as their televised concert showed. If you saw that show, then this set was very much along those same lines. Opening with ‘Time For Bedlam’, complete with Gillan’s eerie spoken intro, they played several new tracks interspersed with selected classics. ‘Bloodsucker’ from ‘In Rock’ followed (or should that be ‘Bludsucker’, from ‘Abandon’ seeing as the band re-recorded the track in 1998 with Steve Morse now in place?) and that one showed how frontman Ian Gillan has managed his voice to account for his advanced years. He no longer sings the last verse in a high register, but delivers it as per the rest of the song. It still works, and he can still give the ‘ohhhh nonono!’ where required. He has adapted himself well, and as such can still carry these tunes and give a performance. That’s the right way to go about it, some other singers try too hard to push their voices live and end up blasting their throats out, Gillan has wisely rationed his voice and doesn’t try to be the guy he was in 1972.

Ian Gillan with Steve Morse

Ian Gillan with Steve Morse

The band were getting a very warm reception from the Manchester audience, even for the new material, which was appreciated by the frontman. There were of course plenty of oldies for the fans to enjoy still, ‘Lazy’ came mid-set and featured current keyboardist Don Airey who gave a lengthy, improvised intro before he and guitarist Steve Morse traded solo spots. The 80s were acknowledged with ‘Knocking At Your Back Door’ and ‘Perfect Strangers’, both of which still sound good in the live set today. ‘Space Truckin’ was performed towards the end, not quite the same intensity as when the Mk III version played it in 1974 (and no explosions near drummer Ian Paice this time), and again, Gillan correctly opted not to reach for the falsetto where it was deployed on record. Needless to say, ‘Smoke On The Water’ closed the main set.

Mindful of the time (I had to be on that 23:09 train heading back to Liverpool!) I was on the starting blocks during the encore; ‘Hush’ came first, then a prolonged bass and drum jam led into ‘Black Night’, prompting a big singalong from the crowd. I was all but out of the door when during the improvised section of this number, Steve Morse surprised us all by bursting into AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’. As everybody was aware, the news of that band’s founder member Malcolm Young’s death had emerged earlier in the day, and although no words were said by any of the bands during this show, that one excerpt showed how highly he was regarded by his fellow rock musicians. Even before the last chord rang out I was scooting across the concourse back to Victoria Station, for my train which I caught in time to get a nice seat for the ride home.

Considering I wasn’t sure I’d even be at this gig, it was a very good night of rock. One classic band, one who are finally being recognised as such and one new band whose membership is one that’s been around and done it. Purple’s legacy is safe, while both the other bands on this bill can look forward to another successful year in 2018.

4 – Deserving

 

Deep Purple Setlist Manchester Arena, Manchester, England 2017, The Long Goodbye

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Europe Setlist Manchester Arena, Manchester, England, Walk the Earth World Tour 2017

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Cats in Space Setlist Manchester Arena, Manchester, England 2017

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The attack on Manchester’s Arena

OK, this one really hit home.

The majority of my ‘out’ time is taken up with concerts – I’m not one for nights on the town, generally and parties tend to bore me. But I do enjoy a good live gig, whether it be watching a band play a small gig in a local pub, or watching a major band in a huge arena production along with tens of thousands of other fans, as was the case last Saturday when Iron Maiden came to my city. They also played in Manchester a fortnight before then, and under different circumstances I might well have been at that show rather than Liverpool. It is a venue I have visited many times over the last two decades, I know it extremely well and that’s why I was watching BBC news in the early hours of Tuesday morning with an increasing feeling of dread and horror, as pictures flashed up on screen of terrified concert-goers fleeing the venue into the adjoining Victoria railway station.

It was clear from the early pictures that initial reports of a speaker blowing up were just not true, as people on screen were shown being helped from the arena in tattered clothes. That night’s show at Manchester Arena by US singer Ariana Grande, had just ended when a blast was heard. Within minutes, as television showed a convoy of emergency vehicles heading for the arena, it was obvious that this was a horrific act.

As details began to emerge it was clear that there would be casualties, as police soon confirmed what we had feared – a terrorist attack had killed and injured many as they left the venue. Soon television networks across the world were carrying the pictures, as it became clear Manchester had been hit once again by a terror attack.

The fact that a concert was chosen as a target was terrifying enough – having been to that arena so many times myself I counted myself fortunate not to have been there that night, but the fact that it was a show from a performer popular with teenage (and younger) girls which was targeted, really chilled the blood. It was devastating to see the faces and names of those caught up in the blast, ranging from an 8-year old child to parents who were just waiting on the concourse to collect their children. A lot has already been said regarding this atrocity, which I shan’t reiterate here, but the fact that the attacker didn’t even need to enter the venue itself to cause this much death and destruction was what really chilled me to the bone. Much has been made about the security arrangements going into the arena; the tightest security on the door would not have stopped this attack because he did not actually reach that door entering the hall.

The attack is bound to have huge implications for concerts across the country; venues nationwide are already stepping up and/or reviewing their own security procedures. Manchester’s arena is the largest indoor arena in the UK, with a maximum capacity of 21000. It draws people from not just the Greater Manchester region, but from across the country and all over the world, with its wider catchment area taking in Merseyside/Lancashire/Cheshire, North Wales, West Yorkshire and the Midlands. It is almost always visited by major international stars when they come to the UK, often to play only a handful of shows. In addition, it has staged major boxing events, has hosted ice-hockey and basketball, and was used during the 2002 Commonwealth Games held in Manchester. On the night of the Ariana Grande show, it would have held around 15000 people with the floor seated and the stage at one end of the arena.

The operators SMG are responsible only for the area after that foyer; not the steps leading to the car park, not the walkway to the station and not the station itself. Other large-scale arenas in the UK will now have to review their own security – Liverpool’s Echo Arena is a bit different, sited close to the River Mersey and not near a main line railway station (the main bus station is across the road and a few minutes’ walk away), it also has a more open concourse but how is it possible to legislate for one man so determined to cause mass destruction that he would be prepared to blow himself up in the process?

Certainly the Manchester Arena will be out of action for some time; at the time of writing it remains a crime scene and is cordoned off still, as is Victoria Station. Police forensic examinations are ongoing, and with such a huge site to cover it must surely be several days before they can even think about reopening. The scale of the damage is not yet clear, despite some leaked images from the site which were published by a US newspaper (causing a row between UK police and US intelligence) but, given what we already know there must be considerable damage to the foyer area, the walkway to the station and probably the roof of that area. Whether there is damage to the actual arena concourse is not yet known. All of that will have to be repaired and made safe; this can only take place once forensics are satisfied and the area cleared. Even when that work is completed, there will have to be a total review of the security in and around the arena and the station. The arena is accessible through a car park, via entrances on Hunts Bank and also Trinity Way, as well as the entrance through Victoria Station.

Consequently, that means upcoming shows will need to be postponed. Take That’s scheduled concerts for this weekend have obviously been called off (they performed at Liverpool on the night of the attack in Manchester, and postponed a second date upon hearing of the tragedy. They will perform in Liverpool on Friday 26th May on a date originally intended for the Manchester Arena.) This almost certainly means that the upcoming concert by US rock band KISS is off too; it was due to be played on 30th May and although no official word has yet been confirmed, it is extremely unlikely that the venue will be back open again in time for that show to take place. Even if it were, how would fans feel about heading to that same venue so soon after such a horrific attack?
UPDATE: The KISS show at Manchester Arena is now confirmed to be off;  the other UK dates will go ahead as scheduled.

There are many events scheduled for the arena in the coming weeks, one I am booked for is the performance of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow on 22nd June. Whether that (or indeed the other forthcoming events) goes ahead is at this stage questionable.

As for Ms Grande, a singer about whom I confess I knew little about until this dreadful night, she has understandably cancelled her remaining European dates and returned to the US. She went to ground shortly after posting a tweet stating that she was ‘broken’. How that will affect her in years to come remains to be seen, whether she can – or even wishes to – set foot on a stage again is something only she can decide.

I for one am still trying to process this even several days on; as a dedicated concert-goer who has spent many evenings in that building I confess I would feel apprehensive about ever setting foot in there again. However, the other side to that is I do not want to let these people succeed in their aims, therefore I shall still be going to concerts both there and elsewhere. Nevertheless, I do feel that it should be some time before that venue opens its doors to the public once again, as a minimum I would say keep the place closed for a month.

The music scene in Manchester is famous the world over, the city’s many venues host live bands on a nightly basis. The arena is the flagship, and after a suitable period it will doubtless play host once again to the biggest names in music.

MEN Arena

(photo: Wikipedia; used under Creative Commons licence)

Caught Live: Don Henley, Manchester Arena 27 June 2016

At first I was cursing Roy Hodgson (manager of the England football team until this night) for his team’s failure to top their group in the ongoing Euro 2016 tournament, thus ensuring that their next game against Iceland would take place on the same night as this show. By the end of the night I’d changed my mind, as I saw a great show and missed the abject performance of his team as they crashed out to unfancied Iceland.

That’s about the only reference to the Euro 2016 tournament I’ll make in this piece, although the game did mean that I had a relatively untroubled run along the M62 for this gig, even in rush hour. I got to the arena and station concourse to find it surprisingly quiet, given that it was Eagles legend Don Henley performing what was billed as ‘his only show in England’ (not strictly true, as he is scheduled to play at Hyde Park in London as guest to Carole King.)

After a quick cuppa and a snack myself and a friend took to the arena concourse, again finding it not all that busy. There was a queue, caused by the arena staff searching for cameras. The stipulation by the artist specifically asked that there would be no photography or cellphone use during the show, as had happened two years previously when the Eagles came to town. For obvious reasons there won’t be any more Eagles shows but still, the difference in the size of this audience compared to when Henley last came around with the Eagles only served to illustrate how much cachet a band name holds, even when one of that band’s leading lights performs a rare solo show in this country. By my estimation there were about 6000 present at the most, the floor was seated and only the first couple of blocks were anything like full on either side of this huge arena. (The upper tier was completely sectioned off.)

At around 7:45 support act JD and the Straight Shot appeared on stage. A rootsy ensemble headed by vocalist James Dolan, they featured a fiddle player, a double bass player and both male and female vocal. Their set was well-delivered, with some fine playing but not really to my taste, although the longer their set went on the more the audience warmed to them, a sign of a good opening act.

Henley and his troupe came on at 9pm sharp, with his whole band grouped in a semi-circle for their opening number (‘Seven Bridges Road’) sang acapella with the whole ensemble harmonising. Following this, the band (ten of them backing Henley by my estimation) took up their positions to begin the main set with ‘Dirty Laundry’. That got the audience going immediately, before the singer addressed the audience to plug current album ‘Cass County’ with his trademark dry sense of humour. He has great comic timing; on mentioning the album title he got a cheer to which he responded ‘I see some of you have the record’, (long pause) ‘And for those of you who haven’t got it’ (even longer pause) ‘I heartily recommend it!’ He isn’t a Springsteen between songs, but when he does speak it’s with the audience hanging on every word.

The set alternated between songs we know and ‘Cass County’ numbers for the first half of the show; classics from his solo career such as ‘New York Minute’ were immaculately performed and when doing the more country-orientated material from ‘Cass County’ he’d duet with one of his three female backing singers. He threw in one or two surprises; it wasn’t that much of a surprise that some Eagles material appeared in the set but one which hadn’t been performed live in decades was ‘The Last Resort’, again delivered with stunning precision. ‘I Don’t Want To Hear Anymore’, a song which appeared on final Eagles album ‘Long Road Out Of Eden’ was also played, but after announcing it (and pointing out it was written ‘by one of your own’ – Paul Carrack). Henley opted to vacate the stage for this number, giving over the spot to the three female singers (Lily Elise, Lara Johnston and Erica Swindell). Another surprise was a cover of Tears For Fears ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, which Henley said was ‘appropriate for these crazy times’.

About halfway through Henley made reference to his stipulation on no cellphones or cameras; on thanking the audience for complying he then threw out a bone revealing that they’d close with ‘Hotel California’ and that he knew he couldn’t stop them at that point (!) Other Eagles material performed such as ‘One Of These Nights’ gave the guitarists a chance to shine, one of whom was Steuart Smith who was here with the Eagles two years ago. The main set ended with ‘The Boys Of Summer’ and ‘Life In The Fast Lane’, then after the mellower ‘Train In The Distance’ performed in the encore, Steuart Smith produced the twin-necked guitar. Henley then said ‘OK, get ’em out!’ (meaning cellphones!) as they launched into ‘Hotel California’ to a sea of LED lights. We thought that was it, but of course he couldn’t end the evening without making reference to his old Eagles partner Glenn Frey, dedicating final number ‘Desperado’ to his memory. That was once again performed immaculately and was a fitting way to end a splendid show.

It was probably the most chilled-out concert I’ll go to this year and a complete change to what I’m normally accustomed to, but this was definitely a top-drawer performance from Henley and his excellent band. A shame then, that his own name doesn’t carry quite the same weight as his old band’s name does but for those that came along, it was a privilege to spend the evening with one of the great songwriters of the rock era.

5gtrs

5 – delightful

 

More from Jeff Lynne’s ELO (Manchester Arena, 10 April 2016)

After seeing a fantastic concert from Jeff Lynne’s ELO in Liverpool, a few days later I was fortunate to get the opportunity to see them again, this time at the larger Manchester Arena. I had a closer spot for this show than I had at Liverpool, and so was able to pay closer attention to which parts the musicians involved were playing. The set was basically as Liverpool, other than bringing forward ‘Telephone Line’ a few numbers forward in the set, so there is little point in doing another write-up. Instead, presented are a selection of snaps taken from my spot throughout the show.

Also included is a clip of ‘All Over The World’ from this concert:

The line-up for this tour is as follows:

  • Jeff Lynne – lead vocals, guitars (obviously!)
  • Mike Stevens – guitars, vocals (musical director)
  • Richard Tandy – keyboards, vocoder
  • Donavan Hepburn – drums
  • Milton McDonald – guitar, vocals
  • Lee Pomeroy – bass, vocals
  • Bernie Smith – keyboards
  • Marcus Byrne – keyboards
  • Iain Hornal – backing vocals
  • Melanie Lewis-McDonald – backing vocals
  • Rosie Langley – violin
  • Amy Langley – cello
  • Jess Cox – cello

The UK shows are, by all accounts, going down a storm. If you have a ticket for any of the remaining gigs, consider yourself fortunate as it will be a fantastic night.