Haltwhistle to Alston

A short film of last days of the Haltwhistle to Alston branch, one of a handful of lines that managed to survve the 60s Beeching axe only to succumb to closure in the mid-1970s.

I visited Haltwhisle a couple of years ago. Though it’s no longer a junction, the station is still open on the cross-country line from Newcastle to Carlisle. The distinctive North Eastern Railway footbridge and the magnificent elevated signalbox shown at the beginning are still in use. I walked along the Alston branch trackbed as far as the viaduct across the Tyne shown early in the film, which is still standing.

The BR blue four-car DMUs that were always associated with the North-East of England are long gone now, like the Alston branch itself.

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Time for Remain to get its act together.

An opinion poll showing a narrow lead for Leave in the EU Referendum ought to be ringing alarm bells. While it’s just one poll, and it’s too early to tell if it’s just a statistical fluke, it’s time for the Remain camp to get its act together before it’s too late.

At the moment, Remain campaign is a complete car crash. Nobody trust David Cameron, who’s increasingly seen as a cynical opportunist with no deeply-held principles beyond personal ambition. And Jeremy Corbyn is completely useless; his enthusiasm for Remain comes over as luke-warm at best. Neither seems to care as much about Britain’s future in or out Europe as they do fighting internal battles within their own parties. Corbyn’s refusal to share a platform with Cameron because reasons is simply pathetic. The Liberal Democrats speak with one voice, but nobody is listening and the media ignore them.

It says a lot that the most positive and most enthusiastic piece I’ve read in favour of Remain comes from, of all people, Jeremy Clarkson.

The result matters at lot.

A Leave vote will leave Britain a nastier, meaner, more xenophobic place as well as a less prosperous one unless you’re already rich, and is highly likely to herald the break-up of Britain. The Scottish Nationalists have already stated they will seek a second referendum in the event of a Leave vote, and the danger of unleashing dark forces in Northern Ireland’s politics can’t be dismissed.

The stakes are far higher than the careers of any Prime Minister or would-be Prime Minister.

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Duski – Simple Song

Something on the fuzzy borderline between jazz and progressive rock, taken from their forthcoming album.

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Frost* – Numbers

New video from Frost*, taken from their just-released album “Falling Satellites”.

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Panic Room Weekend in Pictures

Alex Cromarty

I’ve already reviewed the event as a whole here and here, Here are a few more pictures of the weekend. starting with the opening act, Alex Cromarty, with a guitar rather than behind a drumkit. Continue reading

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Panic Room Weekend, Day Two

Anne-Marie Helder

After the excitement of the first day of the Panic Room convention, everybody was back for more at the next day. with perhaps a few more people who had one-day tickets for the Sunday to swell the crowd. There seemed significantly more people that there had been the day before.

Sunday began, as had Saturday, with an acoustic solo performance, this time from harper and folk singer Sarah Dean. She played a beautiful set combining original numbers and traditional standards, interspersed with some entertaining song introductions.

Luna Rossa were eagerly awaited. They’re Panic Room’s acoustic alter-ego, the core songwriting duo of Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards with a different supporting cast. The music clearly comes from the same place, but the stripped-down intimacy of the presentation is quite different from Panic Room’s widescreen rock, and showcases Anne-Marie’s remarkable vocals all the more. On their brief tour in December they were accompanied by Sarah Dean on harp and Andy Coughlan on bass, but for this gig Yatim Halimi stood in on bass, and Dave Foster also joined them for a few numbers on guitar. Even though it was four-fifths Panic Room in terms of personnel, the vibe was totally different, with songs drawn from the two Luna Rossa albums plus an emotive cover of Abba’s “Winner Takes All”. Dave Foster added some tasteful blues guitar to enhance songs like “Dark Room”. It was stunningly beautiful set.

That performance would have been hard for anyone else to follow, so it was probably a good thing that there followed an extended break in the music. What we did have was a Q and A session with the band, hosted by compère Dave Ormston. Questions included things like “If you had to throw away all albums bar one, which one would you keep”. Jon’s answer to that one was “Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert”.

Dave Foster on twin-neck guitar. There's Prog

Then it was back to the music. The Dave Foster band was another to feature more than half of Panic Room on the stage, with Yatim again on bass and Jon on keys, though with Ninet Poortman on vocals and Leon Parr on drums they had a quite different sound. Sharing the groove-orientated rhythm section with The Steve Rothery Band gave them a similar feel to that band, and Ninet Poortman impressed as a singer, Most of the set came from Dave Foster’s excellent album “Dreamless”, with “Paradox” from Dave’s earlier album “Gravity”. Anne-Marie joined them on “Brahma”, one of the high spots of the set, before Ninet returned to finish with a powerful “Black Sunrise”.

The supergroup Kiama are an interesting band. There’s a lot of talent and a lot of good musical ideas, but on record they didn’t quite manage to transcend the sum of the parts. Expanded to a six-piece with Magenta’s Dan Nelson on bass and a female backing singer they were a lot more impressive live. They went from Zeppelinesque hard rock to atmospheric balladry recalling latter-day Marillion. Dylan Thompson more than proved he’s got what it takes to front a band, including Rock God looks and some very heart-on-sleeve lyrics. Luke Machin is a phenomenal guitarist reeling off some jaw-dropping solos. They’re not quite the hard rock band they initially promoted themselves as, though the best moments were still the points where they did rock out, like opener “Cold Black Heard”. This may be another band from whom the best is yet to come.

Dylan Thompson fronting Kiama

And finally came Panic Room. The first night had felt like a greatest hits show, but a second set with just as many great songs showed just how strong a songbook Panic Room have built up after just four albums. Kicking off with the electric version of “Song for Tomorrow”, the set included a superb taken on “Picking up Knives” with some splendid electric piano, “Tightrope Walker”, the always bonkers “I am a Cat”, “Promises”, the spine-tingling set closer “Dust” and an anthemic “Satellite” as an encore. The band were absolutely on fire from beginning to end, and the atmosphere electric. It wasn’t the tightest Panic Room set of all time, but there was an exuberance about the whole thing that was amazing to be part of. This is what live music is all about.

The whole weekend was a wonderful experience, and there is already talk of a repeat event next year. It showcased a host of bands and side-projects that deserve wider exposure, topped with two spectacular sets from the band themselves. It was also a great gathering of the band’s most dedicated fans from around the country, with plenty of times between bands to catch up with old friends. It was also good to see Marillion’s Steve Rothery in the audience too. Panic Room as a support for next year’s Marillion convention, Rothers? You know you want to!

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The Sound of Corporate Beige

This video, which appears in Alexis Petridis’ splendidly snarky two star review of their album, seems to epitomise everything that’s wrong with the mainstream music industry.

It’s what passes for “rock” nowadays; but to anyone who’s old enough to remember bands like Thin Lizzy, it’s just laughable. It’s the sound of nothing, corporate beige music which apes the shape and form without any of the substance.

The “Music Industry” whines that there’s no talent out there. Yet they give their hype to dross like this when acts like Panic Room or Halo Blind or Mostly Autumn or Chantel McGregor or Karnataka exist, all completely off their radar. The only rational response is hollow laughter.

This is why the major labels need to be burned to the ground. Kill it! Kill it with fire!

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Vivarail in Action

A short video clip of Vivarail’s “D-Train”, now designated the Class 230, in action.

It’s rebuild of redundant London Underground D78 stock, replaced by new trains on the District Line. Their aluminium bodies and relatively new running gear and traction equipment give them quite a few more years of useful life, and the D-Train concept aims to make use of it.

It’s a diesel-electric, using new underfloor engine and generator sets to power the existing traction motors. The trains are intended for regional and commuter use, perhaps as a replacement for the unloved Pacers. Their only weakness is their top speed of only 60mph, which will render them unsuitable for some routes; even the Pacers can allegedly do 75.

It’s an interesting concept, which provides additional DMUs at far less cost than brand-new stock, and seems like an ideal short-term option for routes scheduled for electrification in the longer term.

But does anyone else read Vivarail, and think Vivarais, which is a preserved metre-gauge line in southern France? Or is it just me?

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Disco and Cultural Envelopes

In an interesting post by Serdar Yegulalp on how the cultural impact of music scenes is often only apparent decades later, he talks about the impact of Disco in the late 1970s.

In the 1970s, disco culture was pooh-poohed because it was seen by rock fans as straight America’s attempt to be hip. The way it legitimized gay culture went almost totally unseen at the time, in big part because gay culture itself was unseen — and, in my opinion, somewhat deliberately, by a lot of rock fans. I remember how Queen and David Bowie were, for a big part of my youth, seen by my compatriots as campy weirdos (read: “fags”), but then folks like Prince came along and pretty much knocked everyone’s sensibilities on that score into a cocked hat.

Nowadays the reaction against Disco is generally painted as a racist and homophobic backlash by straight white male rock fans. But that’s a revisionist narrative as well, playing today’s identity politics with the music of a generation ago, over-simplifying a much more nuanced reality.

As Serdar says, the urban gay subculture was hardly on anyone’s radar screens at the time, and Disco frequently came over as a corporate commodification of black soul and funk, which were seen as legitimate genres in the way disco wasn’t. And many of the disco era’s worst crimes against music came from white rock musicians who should have known better; Rod Stewart, I’m looking at you.

Today the tides of time have washed away the dross and we only remember the good stuff, like the funk of Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards, now deservedly recognised as every bit as talented musicians as any of their classic rock contemporaries. Or the things so exuberantly cheesy they get filed under the ridiculous label of “Guilty Pleasures”, like Boney M’s gloriously silly “Rasputin” which get covered by Finnish folk-metal acts.

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Ghost Community – Rise Up

Ghost Community have released a lyric video for the song “Rise Up” taken from the album “Cycle of Life” due for release on 24th June.

Give it a listen and say what you think in the comments

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