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

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

EP: DORJA ‘Target Practice’ (self-released)

It has been a long time in coming, but finally there is a physical CD of material available from this hotly-tipped all-girl hard rock band who were last seen on these shores in July 2016.

DORJA launched in June last year; formed by Belgian drummer Anna Mylee during a spell in Los Angeles, she recruited fellow LA expat, Kazakh-born singer Aiym Almas before turning her attention back across the Atlantic to complete the line-up. She had worked with guitarists Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill before, touring the UK extensively and gaining many admirers, and so both were drafted in from the covers band they had been part of previously. In turn, they invited bassist Becky Baldwin (one of the most active performers on the live scene currently, also a member of trio iDestroy and metallers Triaxis) into the fold, and the five initially conducted writing sessions via Skype before the whole group met up in LA in May 2016.  Whilst there, they recorded one of their new songs (‘Fire’) and released it as a download-only single. That track also features (unchanged) on this EP, while the three accompanying tracks were recorded at the beginning of 2017 in England, with the singer adding her vocal tracks from her LA base.

Those who have followed this outfit from the start will already know ‘Fire’; a hard-hitting number with chunky riffage and a powerhouse vocal. Lyrically, it also sets a tone (heard throughout this record) of empowerment (“No, you’re not winning this game; I’m not a prize that you can claim”) which gives this material more depth than a party-hard lyric often heard in hard rock of this style. (Not that I’m against a bit of hard partying, of course!)  The lyrical theme continues on ‘Not In Your Shadow’ (“Hear me speak, it’s louder than what you might remember”) but on this number, the guitars are dialled back a little allowing a more soulful, passionate vocal.  The heavier guitars are back on ‘Reaching Out’, with another defiant lyric (“And I will survive, because you don’t fight my fight”) delivered over Anna Mylee’s syncopated beat, accompanied by some tasty lead soloing from Holly Henderson. The title track ‘Target Practice’ closes this EP, a mid-paced rocker featuring nice vocal harmonies, which builds up into a guitar-heavy crescendo.

For such a new band, this is an accomplished first offering. All the material is self-written (credited collectively) and this outfit is already starting to fulfil its huge potential. In particular, they have a real star in that lead singer, she has both raunch and tenderness in her delivery and knows when (and when not!) to deploy either quality.

The logistics of having an international membership mean that they only get together and perform some of the time, however I believe that if they were given the chance to spend more time as a unit (even if that meant a wholesale decampment to Los Angeles) they could deliver a fantastic debut album, one that would stand the test of time. Certainly if given the backing their talent merits, they must surely become huge in the years to come.

DORJA have just performed a trio of UK dates to launch this EP; a writeup of their set supporting LiveWire (AC/DC tribute) at Bilston will follow. They will return in July for festival shows, be sure to go along and catch these girls live.

targetpractice

Click image or link to go to DORJA webstore including CD and other merch

4 - deserving

4 – Deserving