Best Albums of 2016 – Part One

It’s that time of year again, when music bloggers go through the year’s releases and highlight the best of the year. The usual caveats apply; these are the best records of 2016 I’ve actually had the chance to hear. I only have a finite CD budget, and even though I’m a part-time music writer, not every record company sends me free promos.

We’ll start with 25 to 11. Except that they’re not ranked in any order, because that would be next to impossible. Continue reading

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Judas Priest – 10 of the best

judas-priest

The Guardian Music Blog has another one of mine in their Ten of the Best series, this time for The Black Country’s finest, Judas Priest.

I’ve covered much of their career, going from Sad Wings of Destiny to Nostradamus. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to include anything with Tim “Ripper” Owens; though “Cathedral Spires” was in my shortlist, “Jugulator” isn’t on Spotify, so I couldn’t include the song,

One or two people have said they can’t take Judas Priest seriously. Whatever gives them that idea?

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F.E.A.R and Loathing at The Royal Albert Hall

fear-at-the-rah

Marillion have announced a show at The Royal Albert Hall on Friday 13th October 2017. Tickets go on sale on Monday 5th December,

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Papillon tour dates

Papillon, the acoustic duo of violinist Anna Phoebe and guitarist Nicholas Rizzi who supported Mostly Autumn on more than one occasion this year have a number of live dates scheduled across Spring and Summer 2017. They’re well worth seeing if you can catch any of these dates. Full datails on the Papillon website.

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Goodbye Castro

In Heaven, Leonard Cohen, Keith Emerson and Lemmy make music.

In Hell, Fidel Castro and Antonin Scalia discuss politics.

So the man held as a great hero of the people by some on the left, and the Devil incarnate to some on the right is dead. He overthrew a brutal tyrant only to set himself up as the new tyrant rather than attempt to build an open and free society. He outlasted many US Presidents, but not allowing elections nor allowing an opposition to exist might have helped. Though it’s possible that America’s embargo and demonisation had the effect of prolonging his rule.

Fidel Castro was no liberal.

There’s a certain symmetry between the way Castro was idolised by parts of the left, and the way parts of the right used to fawn over Augusto Pinochet of Chile. In both cases, they didn’t care about their victims because those victims belonged to the tribal out-group. The nauseatingly hagiographical eulogies coming from Jeremy Corbyn and the odious Ken Livingstone are entirely predictable.

I wish the best for the people of Cuba in the coming years. The omens are not good; too much of the western world seems to be heading in the opposite direction at the moment, but I hope they can build the open and prosperous society that’s been denied to them over the past half-century.

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Revolution Trains announce HOA Stone Hopper

hoa-ews

Revolution Trains have announced their next proposed model, the HOA aggregates hopper. Nearly 200 of these wagons are in service with three operators in five different liveries, and they are used for stone trains from quarries in central England, the Mendips and have also seen service on Anglo-Scottish sand trains for glassmaking.

The model will again be  produced by Rapido, who produced the very well received TEA tankers, and will feature similar levels of details and attention to accuracy, It will be available in five different liveries.

hoa-dbs

As a crowdfunded model, it will only be produced if it gets a sufficient number of pre-orders; at the moment it’s still at the expressions-of-interest stage.

Revolution are still taking pre-orders for the KFA containler flat and that 1955 class B tank. The latter is still some way short of the number of pre-orders needed to nake it viable to go ahead, so if you want this model to happen, get your order in as soon as possible!

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Cairo and Luna Rossa

Cairo

To promote the launch of the album “Say”, former Touchstone mainman Rob Cottingham’s new band Cairo embarked on a short three-date tour taking in London, Rotherham and Leicester over the course of a long weekend.

The support for all three shows was Luna Rossa, playing as a duo rather than the expanded four-piece that performed a few headline shows last year. Playing a set drawing heavily from their second album “Secrets and Lies”, their stripped-down less-is-more sound was as beautiful as ever. “Fly Away” was still a highlight even with Jon playing the harp parts on piano, as was the cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Tiny Demons” with Jon teasing the audience with a couple of bars of “No Quarter” on the intro. They ended with a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”, commemorating the legend who’s passed away just days before.

Luna Rossa

Cairo’s set began with an announcement from Rob Cottingham that there was bad and good news. The bad news was that vocalist Rachel Hill, who’d sung on the album, had stepped down from the band for health reasons. The good news was that a new singer, Lisa, had joined and had learned the set at very short notice.

You’d never have known. The whole band delivered a tight performance both on Friday in London and on Sunday in Leicester, a mix of melodic rock and metal with the odd touch of electronica. Lisa impressed as a vocalist given how recently she’s joined the band, sharing twin female/male lead vocals with Rob himself. Paul Stocker’s propulsive bass riffs drove many of the heavier songs, with the fluid guitar work of the youthful James Hards adding colour and textures.

The five-piece band played the album “Say” in full, though not in the album running order, rounding out the set with “Chasing Storms” from Rob Cottingham’s earlier solo album “Captain Blue”, and another song from his much older solo album from pre-Touchstone days. The older material fitted seamlessly into the set, which confirms the feeling that “Say” is closer to a heavier version of Captain Blue than to Touchstone’s sound. They saved the best till last, rocking out with the dramatic and dynamic “Nothing to Prove” and ending with their nearest thing to a single, the title track of “Say”.

Cairo

Cairo started their live career with a bang. For a brand new band theu have gelled extremely well, especially give the last-minute change in lineup. They were good even at their very first gig together in London, and even more powerful two nights later in Leicester, pulling appreciable crowds on both occasions. They have more plans for 2017, so watch this space.

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Lazuli UK Tour Approaches

lazuli-tour-flyerFrench prog legends Lazuli, described as “Medieval blacksmiths from the future” hit the UK beginning this weekend.

The tour takes in Rotherham, Bristol, Bilston, Manchester, Southampton and London, and features the unique Léode, which looks like a cross between a keytar and a Chapman Stick, and sounds like an electronic cello.

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Trolls’ Paradises and Green Hells

There’s a thought-provoking post on the taxonomy of good and toxic communities which is well worth a read if you care about such things. It’s about the tabletop RPG community, parts of which have been destructively dysfunctional for several years, but it does have wider application. It’s quite a long piece, but anyone trying to devise a Code of Conduct ought to read it, even if they don’t agree with everything he says.

The Troll’s Paradise is well enough documented, it’s what happens when a community has no clear rules, and the loudest and most boorish members ride roughshod over everyone else. Even a community that’s civil and self-policing much of the time will eventually encounter a bad actor or three; the Trolls’ Paradise is what happens when whatever powers-than-be in the community are unwilling or unable to do anything about their behaviour.

The Green Hell is the other failure mode. It’s what happens when a community declares it’s opposition to harassment and bullying, but in practice their definitions of such are vague and subjective, and different rules apply to members of insider cliques compared to everyone else. Accusations are cheap, it’s considered bad form or even an act of harassment itself to ask for evidence to back up any accusation, and there are no consequences for spreading malicious lies. Such communities either dissolve in infighting, or worse, become sources of poison for a wider subculture. That’s why they’re toxic.

The online community around one band I’d rather not name took on aspects of a Green Hell at one point. At least one other band’s fan community is the poster child for a Trolls’ Paradise.

Read the comments below the linked post if you want some specific context, similarly avoid those comments if you don’t want to read about another community’s dirty laundry.

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Rebecca Downes: Be:Live

rebecca-downs-be-liveBlues-rock singer-songwriter Rebecca Downes has been making waves in 2016. She won both “Best Female Vocalist” and “Best Emerging Artist” at the British Blues Awards, and released the excellent album “Believe” early in the year. To bring a successful year to close comes a live album recorded during the tour promoting “Believe”.

If anything, this record is an even more powerful statement on intent than “Believe”. It captures the energy of her electrifying live shows, with a setlist drawing heavily from that album, along with highlights from her début “Back to the Start”, the EP “Real Life” and a couple of well-chosen covers.

It’s a fabulously tight performance from her band, playing high energy blues-rock with a touch of funk and soul. Guitarist Steve Birkett delivers some impressive blues licks, and there’s some great piano and organ flourishes from Rick Benton. But none of them steal the spotlight from Rebecca herself, who is on superb form vocally; at times soulful, at times belting out rockier material. The variety of material is a strength here, there are twelve bar blues stompers alongside hard rockers and soulful ballads. And it’s all recorded and mixed with clear but powerful sound; this is no bootleg-quality filler release.

Highlights are many; there’s the funky “Fever in the Night” and “Night Train”, an excellent cover of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”, the piano-driven rocker “Back to the Start”, the back to basics rock’n'roll of “Basement of My Heart” and the guitar-shredding ballad “Sailing on a Pool of Tears”. It ends with a cover of “With a Little Help From My Friends” that owes more than a little to Joe Cocker’s version. Even though Rebecca Downes only has a limited back catalogue it still has the feel of a greatest hits set. As an introduction to her music, this is as good a place as any to start.

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