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

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

 

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