17 Apr 2014

H.E.A.T - Tearing Down The Walls

The Swedish pop charts have been very kind to the rest of the world over the years. The most obvious band to mention here are Abba, shortly  followed by Europe, The Hives and more recently Avicii. It’s safe to say the Swedes have a great track-record when it comes to catchy tunes. AOR revivalists H.E.A.T. have a lot to live up to but they definitely don’t disappoint.

Swedish Idol winner, Erik Grönwall, is the current front-man of H.E.A.T. He certainly earns his place by embodying other great front men in rock throughout the album.  In most places Grönwall coan be compared to a young Jon Bon Jovi on tracks such as ‘Inferno’ and title track ‘Tearing Down The Walls’ which also has shades of Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach.  Lead single ‘A Shot At Redemption’ sees Grönwall channelling the late Michael Hutchence (from INXS), in a very catchy crowd anthem which should be a favourite at festivals this summer.

It’s easy to compare H.E.A.T. to fellow Swedes Europe in places. The soft-rock synths complement the guitar work nicely with Grondall’s powerful vocal. It is also fair to compare the five-piece to KISS, especially as Grönwall sang one of their songs on Swedish Idol, but also as there is a sense of the band and audience as one unit - much like the KISS army.

I wouldn’t put it past Sweden to ask H.E.A.T. to represent them in Eurovison one year as the ‘token rock band’ of the competition. It is no insult to say they also have a pop-crossover appeal in many areas, much like their countrymen (and women), Abba. ‘Mannequin Show’ definitely echoes Abba’s ‘dark’ period and another side of H.E.A.T. we should see more of.  Although the final tracks don’t have the same oomph as the preceding tracks, this is definitely a solid pop-rock album with roots in the 70s and 80s but still very current. H.E.A.T. definitely have a long career ahead of them on the rock scene and will be played on the digital ‘rock’ stations for years to come.

Words: Neale McGeever

H.E.A.T are playing Newcastle O2 Academy 2 on Saturday 17th May 2014

Tickets for all four concerts are can be ordered from the official H.E.A.T website - http://www.heatsweden.com/  

14 Apr 2014

EUROPE at Newcastle City Hall - 4th April 2014

Due to budget cut's within the Council they've closed Newcastle City Pool – and that's a real shame – because as the line winds around the corner for tonight's performance I'm sorry for all those people who never got to experience the rich and vibrant history of the baths. City Hall in Newcastle is arguably the longest standing and most historic venue the city provides, with everyone – and I mean everyone – from Queen to Elton John to Motorhead having played on this stage. The diversification of it's performances mean that in about a month's time I expect to see Michael Bolton on the same stage, but we won't get into that right now!

FM provides tonight’s support, a band with as rich and diverse a history as any other, but one who've been perhaps too ignored by mainstream media. I confess myself to having only listened to them once I heard about their inclusion on this bill and with songs like “Closer To Heaven” and “That Girl” you're unlikely to forget their name any-time soon. As someone who was brought up listening to White Lion, Winger and Warrant this is overblown hair metal sleaze guitar at it's best – and I love it!

Europe have been on something of a reassurance since 2009. Following the phenomenal response to their album 'Last Look At Eden' their music has suddenly found itself more accessible and diverse than ever. The unenlightened will only know them as the band responsible for that “Final Countdown” song but everyone else can see that hits like “Carrie”, “Superstitious” and “Prisoners In Paradise” can only be written by a band like Europe.

Joey Tempest wanders out on stage looking like the cat who got the cream, with a very tight outfit that you're not sure gives him room to breathe, but which excites a number of older woman dedicated enough to force their way into the non existent orchestra pit. With photojournalists doing their job on one hand you've got this hilarious juxtaposition – never thought I'd use that word in a review – of two women holding out roses for Tempest in a declaration of affection.

As the band have only an hour to perform – an old fashioned clock at stage right informs us neatly of that fact – there's little time to stand on ceremony. Songs like “Firebox” and “Not Supposed To Sing The Blues” start the evening with a nice exercise in guitar skill from John Norum and the proof that Europe can still write good songs in the 22nd Century, but it's classics like “Carrie” which get the greatest of responses. “Superstitious” provided an obligatory chance to sample Whitesnake's “Here I Go Again” which provided some excitement for those not expecting it, but the stand out moment has to go to the bands decision to play “Cherokee” - somewhat of a personal favourite of mine – which is the first performance of this track for a few tours.

By the time the band had begun to wind down their set (one which, to be honest, flew by) it was obvious what was to come next. The encore of the night belonged to 'The Final Countdown'; there was an anticipated excitement like no other as keyboardist Mic Michaeli let loose for what is still possibly the greatest keyboard intro in rock and roll history. As the crowds diverged from the venue there was a wonder if the band needed to play that song at all. Europe's amazing performance proved the night had been anything BUT 'The Final Countdown'.

Words: Wayne Madden

11 Apr 2014

ALEXANDER MARKOVICH - Franz Xaver Scharwenka – Complete Piano Concertos

This is one of those albums that has really ‘got’ to me. I took my time with it, since I know nothing of Scharwenka’s compositional output and wanted to understand it properly. Each time I listen to the album it is fresh: there are things which surprise me and make me want to play one of these pieces! 

Scharwenka was a Polish composer who had a flourishing performing career, most of which has been forgotten. He was also a composer, though his output was not large. This album of two CDs brings together his four piano concertos for the first time. 

One thing noticeable throughout this album is that you will find many parallels with the ‘great’ composers. The opening Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor draws many comparisons to Liszt, to whom Scharwenka dedicated this piece. The orchestra breathes life into this work, providing competition for Markovich to wrestle the spotlight away, drawing focus back to the virtuosic elements infused throughout. The final movement is mysterious, with a beautiful clarinet solo nearly managing to outshine the final moments of the piano running rings around the orchestra! 

A more muted Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor follows the brilliant opening. This one is not my favourite, but still has its merits. The Adagio is the highlight of this concerto. A beautiful opening by the strings, contemplative and serene, balance out the entry of the piano: all of a sudden it becomes less of a competition between orchestra and piano, instead having them briefly uniting to create some moments of beauty and colour. Some folk influences are heard in the final movement, with a small nod back to the first movement’s key. 

The third concerto: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C sharp minor, has strong resonances with Rachmaninov’s work. Opening with a brass fanfare, the piano becomes a force of nature barging in through the orchestra. Finishing this concerto is a dainty dance-like melody which keeps the orchestra on their toes, until the final bars which revisit and close with the opening movement’s themes. 

Piano Concerto no.4 in F minor finishes this album, and this was perhaps Scharwenka’s most famous work. Rachmaninov and Tchikovsky seem to have influenced him in this piece. It drifts dreamily in between structure and no structure at all, which is refreshing and makes the listening experience a journey through ideas. The overall finale begins in the third movement; almost melancholy in its beginning – a sad farewell. The pace gradually quickens to a rollercoaster ending: a battle between the orchestra and the piano, with the piano triumphant at the end. 

This album is more of a celebration of a composer who has been forgotten, and it manages to do this extremely well. Alexander Markovich’s performance is truly virtuosic and breathes life into pieces of music which have not had the recognition that they deserve. Listen to this if you are a fan of any of the ‘great’ composers and see how many parallels you can find.  

Words: Emma Longmuir

9 Apr 2014

RADSTOCK at O2 Academy, Newcastle on 30th March 2014 (Day 2/2)

As we arrive for Radstock action on Day Two it's a somewhat leisurely stroll through the centre of Newcastle. The venue is located perfectly adjacent to both Central Station and Eldon Square Bus Station so there is no excuse for fans to spend their Sunday anywhere else. But the venue is slightly devoid of life and the assembled crowd of ten or so fans present as doors open creates a somewhat inhospitable atmosphere.

Inside the venue, things aren't much better, as we're given the news that Hacktivist have cancelled their performance from someone at the merchandise stand. The band have informed fans of this via Twitter and it's due to a sick band mate. On the subject of merch, stands are rather dull and devoid, with even less merchandise on show than yesterday and the headline act offering extraordinarily little in the way of shirts because, as their official vendor tells me, they're on tour in May and haven't really produced anything new.

Due to a lack of communication from the promoters on the official Twitter and Facebook pages – in that virtually nothing has been said of any consequence – hearsay and rumour have allowed us to believe the event is being held, on the second day, in the larger of the two academy venues, providing a more adequate space to a band of Funeral for a Friend (tonight's headline) calibre. Unfortunately this has turned out to be just that (rumour) and all the action is, once again, taking part in the smaller upstairs arena.

Kicking things off tonight is Cytota who perform a credible set, showing they're a band of merit deserving to be taken seriously, but with sound problems and feedback plaguing their performance alongside a very dismal audience and little to no crowd interaction. The bands can't be blamed, naturally, but the lacklustre attendance – obviously more than satisfied with the performers the night before – have yet to arrive in their numbers, with the bulk of that audience appearing just as Heights ring out their opening chords. Their material could certainly liked to Biohazard and while post hardcore has never been my personal favourite sub genre I will give immense credit to any band who releases a song like 'Eleven Eyes'

The night is getting progressively heavier as Heart of a Coward make an otherwise mediocre evening something to get seriously excited about. These guys are hot, on fire, and worth paying attention too – you can't go wrong with a group of men who look like bouncers come bailiffs and have opened for the likes of Raging Speedhorn. 'Deadweight' and 'Nauseam' both prove that if you're not a fan of this band then there might be something wrong with you. And I don't mind saying that!

Feed The Rhino also produce an excellent set, a band I have been eager to see for a while and glad to have managed the appearance, with a number of audience members arriving late and the atmosphere really beginning to build for tonight's headlines. Of course as Funeral for a Friend take to the stage in order to close tonight's proceedings – and this festival – you'd be forgiven for thinking it was 2003, so dedicated are the band to playing hit after hit from their début album 'Casually Dressed and Deep In Conversation'

It's proof, if proof were needed, that tonight is a bit of fun for FFAF and one for the fans and the casual listeners alike. That being said, it does have to be said that this weekend has been subject to delays, mis management, mistakes and a serious amount of problems tantamount to more than just “teething” problems. 

While I would welcome the event in Newcastle again, especially at the same time of year, I would expect a massive improvement in line with more acts, a better stage, a return to a one day event and some actual Radstock festival bannering!

Words: Wayne Madden
Photo (HOAC): Brian Nicholson