28 Nov 2013

EDITORS - O2 Academy, Newcastle - 27th November 2013

For reasons that will become apparent I was pondering after this gig; what is it exactly that makes a gig great? My own personal answer is that a great gig must move me in some way emotionally, whether that be solely due to the performer or in part due to the company I’m in. It must involve a performance of skill and passion and the sound quality must be excellent and lighting appropriate and evocative. The audience must be involved and enthusiastic and ideally the supporting artists must be worthy of their place on the bill.

I’d seen Editors on three previous occasions and each time was impressed without being particularly ‘blown away.’ Tonight I was in the company of someone very special to me so the night was off to a good start. The excellent British Sea Power supplied the support and although their set was mildly disappointing in that it seemingly lacked commitment early on, by the time the trademark bears had entered the arena and the band played their final two songs, the scene had been nicely set for the main act.  A rather thin crowd had swelled nicely too and there was an expectant air.

From the opening song Editors set about their business with utter professionalism and total effort. Lead singer Tom Smith displayed his usual brand of earnest and contorted energy but without it ever seeming contrived. The band were equally involved and good to watch. The sound quality was as good as I’ve heard at O2 Academy, Newcastle and the lighting was expertly matched to the mood of each song. Emotional response tick box ticked.

On the last occasion I saw Editors at the O2 they were touring in support of their ‘acquired taste’ album (I’m not a huge fan of it) “In This Light And On This Evening”  - circa 2010. That night it was noticeable that new electronic based songs (Papillon aside) were greeted with polite indifference whilst old classics like “Munich” and “All Sparks” were welcomed like conquering guitar heroes. Tonight was different. With their latest album “ The Weight Of Your Love” providing a fine bridge between the spiky guitar anthems of the earlier albums and the last album’s more 80’s synch pop sound, the set was far better balanced and not once did the crowd’s interest sag.

The set lasted 1 hour 40 minutes in fact and was perfectly ordered and executed with a level of skill and enthusiasm that was deservedly rewarded in the participation and response of the crowd. Highlights for me were “Bullets”, “A Ton Of love” and closer “Papillon.” 

So, a great gig and one of my personal live music highlights of 2013. 

Words: Russell Poad
Photo: Daniel Robson

25 Nov 2013

DANNY & THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD - Cluny, Newcastle - 24th November 2013

I've see The Cluny fuller but, to be fair, its clear that Danny & the Champions of the World have a solid hard core following around Newcastle that will turn out every time. The six piece band arrive on the compact stage without any fanfare and with the sound not quite right. Things are quickly sorted and Danny yelps a quick greeting as they launch into the opening track of their recently released 'Stay True' album, ‘(Never Stop Building That) Old Space Rocket.’ The song pretty much encapsulates what the band are all about - great melodies, strong vocals, excellent lyrics and superb playing. The song relates a true story of Danny on the road as a youngster with his dad off to see The Fabulous Thunderbirds that pretty much changed his life and set him on the rock n roll high road.

The band are onstage for a energetic two hour set that is firmly set in Springsteen country with the Champions taking on the roll of the mighty E-Streeters. Occasionally songs sound a little to close to Bruce but they have a great set that involves the crowd with plenty of whooping and massed signing. The highlight for me is 'The Colonel and the King' which Danny prefaces with a shout of "anyone like Elvis?". A lone reply of "No!" is rewarded with "Well, you'll like this one, it's not one of his songs!" The song is marked by some superb interplay between the guitar and pedal steel and some excellent sax from the splendidly named Free Jazz Geoff. Ultimately though, at well over 10 minutes, the song is far too long and this approach mars several songs during the night.    

'Henry the Van' comes midway through the set and is clearly a fan favourite and is almost a parody of Neil Young's 'Long May You Run' in that it's a paean to the death of the bands much loved transport. One punter loudly asks if the van was scrapped and Danny quips "Well, I would have buried it in the back yard - if I had one." The new album is heavily featured over the night and we get sparkling versions of 'Darlin’ Won't You Come in from the Cold' and 'Let's a Grab this With Both Hands' that later is described by Danny as the bands current motto.

The gig ends with a massed sing-a-long and much hand clapping and stomping leaving no doubt that Danny and the Champs are an excellent live band with a dedicated cult following. However, unless they cut the lengthy codas on some songs they are unlikely to break through in a bigger way. Nonetheless they remain an excellent live experience and are highly recommended along with a good few cold beers on any night of the week.

Words & Photo: Greg Johnson

21 Nov 2013

MOTT THE HOOPLE - Newcastle City Hall - 16th November 2013

It's 39 years and 8 months since my last Mott show - that was at St George's Hall in Bradford back in 1974 and I had just left school! So, here I am again ready for a reunion performance of what I sometimes think, in my madder moments, is the greatest rock n roll band ever. It certainly can seem that way when you are in a crowded bar on a sweaty Saturday night and 'All the Young Dudes' cuts through the clamour with those ringing chords.

Here I am though in the City Hall with a rowdy and eager crowd welcoming this much loved band back to Newcastle for the first time in nearly four decades! The sound isn’t brilliant but that matters little as Mott take the stage to the strains of Holt's "Jupiter" with loud cheers echoing around the hall. They crash straight into "Rock n Roll Queen" with front man Ian Hunter, his trademark shades in place, prowling the stage with his old Maltese-Cross shaped guitar. Hunter looks fitter, happier and healthier than any other 74 year old rocker I can think of whilst Mick Ralphs, resplendent in Hawaiian shirt, throws off his cutting solos and chopping chords. The splendidly named Overend Watts grins along as he locks his bass into a solid groove for the night. With nary a pause for breathe between songs Mott rip straight into a tumultuous "One of the Boys" to whoops from the already delirious crowd.

The set is really well paced and is very much aimed at hard core fans with a spread of songs from right across their short, but spectacular, career. This includes a romp through a terrific 'Sucker' followed by 'Soft Ground' and 'Waterflow'. The pace slows slightly for a poignant 'Hymn for the Dudes' with Verden Allen's piano prominent and the pace slackening slightly. 

Overend Watts clearly enjoys the love of these hard core fans and, as Hunter straps on a bass, Watts picks up his electric guitar and knocks off a  gruff but lively vocal on 'Born Late '58' that features some tasty slide playing. Truth be told though the words are a little on the dodgy side and there is a touch of Spinal Tap around. We can forgive him though - it's from the 70's and deserves its place on the classic album 'Mott'. Overend grins from ear-to-ear as the song ends and with a shout of "Not bad, eh?!" he straps the bass back on.

We hit a mid set highlight with 'The Ballad of Mott the Hoople' a song that charts the ups and downs of an everyday rock stars life in the 70's. Hunter is on acoustic guitar and this bitter sweet take is obviously a well loved fan favourite as the crowd roar with laughter after Hunter sings the line 'and Mick lost his guitar' and Ralphs flips his guitar to reveal "I Found it!" Sign cello taped to the back.    

The band quickly slip back into that furious rock n roll groove with a frantic 'Violence' also from the superb 'Mott' album, supported, on backing vocals, by Hunters son and daughter and Ralph's son. After a romp through the piano based medley of 'When My Mind's Gone / No Wheels to Ride / The Journey' that has the crowds rapt attention, Hunter rips out the familiar intro into the best dance song ever - the mighty 'Honaloochie Boogie' which thunders along with loud support from the crowd. 

Mott are in free fall towards the end of the show now and stack up all their hits as if they were playing a Wurlitzer jukebox thundering into an electrifying 'The Golden Age of rock n Roll' quickly followed by the familiar Jerry Lee Lewis style piano introduction of 'All the Way From Memphis' - the only hit song to mention Memphis and Bradford. Then, following this cacophonous climax, the band saunter off-stage leaving the crowd roaring for more. 

Of course they know, and we know, that there is still at LEAST one more song that MUST be played. Sure enough, after the obligatory five minutes of stamping and cheering, Mott stroll back on stage grinning like the proverbial Cheshire cats and the familiar opening chords of 'All the Young Dudes' ring out across the assembled masses who deliriously sing along - word prefect. A barely noticed Joe Elliott, from Def Leppard, also arrives on stage and strums along on acoustic guitar adding nothing much but he looks happy to be onstage with some real legendary rockers. 

We're not quite done though as Hunter takes us through a rampaging 'Roll Away the Stone' with his gorgeous daughter taking centre stage for the "there's a rockabilly party on Saturday night – are you gonna be there?" section to further hollering from the crowd. We end, of course, with a glorious and entirely fitting 'Saturday Gigs' which wraps up the night with the whole of the audience standing and singing, a-cappella, with the band on the refrain 'Goodbye, Goodbye'. We are left with all our voices echoing around the hall surely bringing a tear to many an eye coupled with thoughts that we probably won't see the mighty Mott the Hoople back on stage anytime soon. Sadly, tonight feels like the end of an era as bands like Mott certainly aren’t getting any younger. 

Words and photo: Greg Johnson

19 Nov 2013

TELEVISION - Sage, Gateshead - 15th November 2013

The late, great Lou Reed once said "two guitars, bass, drums - that's all you need". That's precisely what you get with this legendary New York band who are playing their first UK shows for nine years. There's just a basic stage set up - three amplifiers and a drum kit, minimal lighting and the sound of bells tolling that marks the of start the show. Guitarist Tom Verlaine gives a sly smile as the band smoothly drop into a brand new untitled song with few words but scintillating guitar lines that opens the show in impressive style. 

Over the next two hours the band deliver all of the classic 1977 album ‘Marquee Moon’ except ‘Torn Curtain’, and we are constantly reminded that Television are a band like no other and seem to posses an almost telepathic ability to fly through their complex song structures with merely nods and winks to each other. They rarely speak. 

The first highlight comes early in the set with a blazing ‘1880, or So’ which is from their little known third album imaginatively titled – ‘Television’. Jimmy Ripp's hands are a blur as he blazes a trail through the song with Verlaine sticking to a solid chopping rhythm. The real high point though comes a little later with a staggering 10 minute plus version of their 1977 non-hit single, ‘Little Johnny Jewel’, an ode to the great Iggy Pop. The song rides out on bassist Fred Smith's big fat riff that powers the song through the strange chord changes as Verlaine and second guitarist Jimmy Ripp weave intricate and delicate lines of melody around each other while they trade jazzy licks in a stunning display of virtuosity. 

Later still the band offer up another two excellent new songs that aren't introduced in anyway but will hopefully end up on a new Television album sometime soon. Next we get a slew of TV classics including ‘Venus’, ‘Guiding Light’, ‘Glory’ and a fabulous driving ‘Prove It’ but all too soon we are on the last number which is marked by the familiar weird reggae-esque chopping opening chords that announces the arrival of ‘Marquee Moon’ and the end of the main part of the show. 

There's no doubt in my mind that this epic song takes its place alongside any so called "rock classic" that you care to mention as, once again, Verlaine and Jimmy Ripp lock together on the extended instrumental sections with fingers blazing on this nightmare journey of a song where we hear how "the darkness doubles" and "lightning strikes itself" and where "a Cadillac pulls out of the graveyard". The guitars flash and dazzle while Smith and drummer Billy Ficca provide a solid but flexible base for the two amazing guitarists to weave their magic. Stirring stuff! 

The two song encore ends on a a high with a frantic romp through ‘Friction’ and Verlaine gives us a cheery wave as they leave the stage to loud cheers from the delirious crowd of forty year old blokes in checked shirts.

Let's hope we don't have to wait another ten years before a repeat performance from the magnificent Television. God bless 'em.

Words: Greg Johnson
Photo: Eddie Graham

11 Nov 2013

ERIC BIBB - Sage, Gateshead - 3rd November 2013

Michael Jerome Brown provides excellent support with some easy blues that ends with a wonderful cover of Randy Newman's ‘Louisiana 1927.’ After a short interval a beaming Bibb strolls onstage in his trademark Panama hat to loud applause and cheers. 

There's a new album, 'Jericho Road', to promote and much of it is played tonight with songs about Superman, Nelson Mandela and a cover of a Rev Gary Davies tune, 'I Heard the Angels Singing' , that seem to provide a theme around heroes for the night. The four piece band are outstanding providing a warm and enthusiastic backing for Bibb's classy country-blues. 

Bibb is a brilliant blues player and delivers a couple of newer tunes in 'Turner Station' a moody blues, and 'You Can't Please Everyone' penned in response to a critics harsh words about his cover of Dylan's 'The Times They are A-Changing.' Eric pays a quick visit to his recent African flavoured album ‘Brothers in Bamoko’ playing a wonderful ‘On My Way to Bamoko’ and, for the final song, delivers an excellent solo version of the classic 'Goin Down Slow' before a three song encore leaves the crowd roaring for more.

Words: Greg Johnson

10 Nov 2013

WINTER NORTH ATLANTIC - Sage, Gateshead - 31st October 2013

It was Halloween night. Not a big fan of it, I was glad to be far away from the dressed up-student chaos that was taking place in town. Sage Gateshead turned out to be the right place to hide in. And Winter North Atlantic (and Bridie Jackson & The Arbour) made me feel more alive than ever in the night of death.

It was their third album launch - 'Phonautogram' - and Bridie Jackson & The Arbour were there supporting them. The four girls (all dressing black for the occasion) did an impeccable set as always. Bridie's voice flooded Hall two with its immensity. And would risk it to say that all the audience enjoyed the game between the guitar, violin, cello and percussion. Their set ended up with lovely 'Scarecrow' (one of my favourites), quite appropriate for the night like Bridie mentioned, it became the perfect closure to the supporting act.

But it was Winter North Atlantic's night and after a little interval everyone was ready to be blown away by their new songs. A dark room full of candles and a line-up on the middle-back part of the stage, horizontal, no jerarchy.  Left to right a wide range of instruments: Violin (Ed Cross), guitar (Simon Canaway), bass (Ian Patterson), drums (Jeremy Bradfield), electric piano (Ed Carter), and clarinet and glockenspiel (Nichola Singh).

If you've never heard them, I'll just say check them out now. The band went through the new album   and the audience got immersed on their intriguing musical style (could tell by a generally instaured head movement).  Hard to describe, their music combines acoustic and electronic sounds, dissonant melodies and effects that without really understanding how, just work. 

This new album brings a variety of sounds. Some songs have a more slow paced vibe while others are busier with effects and surround you with tension. You could tell all the musicians were enjoying it at the most. As they all were in their own world. An unusually played spine-tingling violin, a meticulous guitar, soft drums at times, and the magic touch of the electric piano and synths that distort and straigthen the melodies at the same time.  

Songs like 'Yaga's Cabin' or 'How' put everyone with a melancolic mood, whereas tunes like 'Del Silenzio' transmitted an eerie feeling. The gig felt short but mainly satisfying. We could say it left you wanting more. After a long, sincere and much deserved applause that was maybe expecting one more song, the gig ended and everyone had to go home (or wherever). But with a feeling of having experienced a great and intense hour of good music and probably carrying all sorts of melodies and 'little noises' around their minds.

Words: Berta Manau

SEPULTURA – The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart

With an entry due in the Guinness Book of Records, perhaps, for the longest album name in history – Sepultura’s 13th studio effort has introduced yet another line-up change into their ranks.

Drummer Eloy Casagrande makes his debut on an album which sees the Brazilian quartet reunited with Ross Robinson, who previously produced ‘Roots’, their last release with former singer and founder Max Cavalera. The results of this partnership are immediately evident in the fresh sound of this craft, with tracks like “Grief” and “Impending Doom” sounding as crushing as anything from ‘Chaos A.D.’

Of course, if a band is only as good as their last album, then this will certainly boost their appeal – what’s best is that the album feels like a Sepultura release, retaining the principles and energy of classic Thrash, while also gaining the modern inspiration from classic literary works.

Veteran fans of the band won’t be surprised to know this album is inspired by the classic 1927 film Metropolis, with guitarist Andreas Kisser having already dived into films and texts for other albums released this Millennium.
But is this an album to be praised or simply an album that reminds us Sepultura are still around and doing the same thing. Robinson himself would be the first to admit that an album like ‘Roots’ was innovative and special because it broke new ground and explored new territories. ‘The Mediator…’ isn’t doing either, but it is pushing the craft of its members, getting the best material from them at this stage in a distinguished career. And you can’t ask for more than that.

Sepultura have been in the unenviable position of having to justify their every move since the departure of Max and the release of ‘Against’ in 1998 – so does this record offer any redemption? Yes, it does, but you shouldn’t buy it for that reason – it’s an accolade of its own merit and standing.

Words: Wayne Madden

1 Nov 2013

WILLARD GRANT CONSPIRACY - Cluny, Newcastle - 23rd October 2013

Willard Grant Conspiracy wash up on our shores every two or three years in one form or another complete with acoustic guitars, fiddle an occasional saw and the odd bit of percussion. Tonight its just main man Robert Fisher (guitar, vocals and harmonica) and David Michael Curry (viola) who are promoting a new album "Ghost Republic" about an American ghost town way up in that old weird America that barely exists anymore beyond the advertising hoardings and the multi-lane freeways.

Fisher's sonorous songs spin out over a strange lost world where padlocked gates over a single tracked dirt road leading nowhere guard the entrance to this bizarre place where a paid guide tells you to “go right on in." The album came together when Robert and his extensive WGC compatriots were asked to imagine characters who might live in this "Ghost Republic" and spin some songs out around them. 

Live though the songs call up a variety of bizarre characters who haunt the show backed by an evocative back drop projected onto a screen behind the duo. The photos and written statements flashed onto the screen blend with the musicians giving us hints of Fisher's desert world out there in the far distance beyond our sight.

This is a lost world that we need to be reminded about and Fisher and his world view gives us insight into that nether world that exists beyond our celebrity obsessed culture. There's a small crowd sitting in hushed silence but most of them seem to buy at least one CD at the end of this impressive show. Do yourself a favour and get out and buy "Ghost Republic" and check out the Willard Grant Conspiracy next time they are in town.

Words: Greg Johnson