Author Archives: Tim Hall

Back in Black

Back in Black

Great Western’s oldest locomotive, 08483, at Paddington having bought in the empty stock for The Night Riviera to Penzance. It’s usually a main line locomotive assigned to this duty, so Great Western were presumably a loco short, needing the Old Oak Common depot shunter to fill in with a rare trip to the big station.

08483 was built in the former Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway works at Horwich in Lancashire way back in 1958, and started work on what was then an almost entirely steam-operated railway. Even the design is a legacy of the age of steam, with a layout resembling the small steam tank locomotives it was built to replace. Well over a thousand of them were built, even after more than half a century there are still a handful left in service, of which 08483 is one.

Even the freshly-applied livery is from the steam age; it’s British Railways black with the old “cat on a mangle” logo, the stanard livery for diesel locomotives prior to the 1955 modernisation plan.

Posted in Railway Photography | Tagged | 1 Comment

RIP Greg Lake

Another of the greats passes; Greg Lake, bassist and vocalist of ELP and King Crimson has left us at the age of 69.

He’s best known of course for Emerson Lake and Palmer, though his short tenure in the first incarnation of King Crimson runs it a very close second. “In The Court of the Crimson King” is one of those ground-breaking records that sounded quite unlike anything that had come before, and his soaring vocals were a big part of that. He also contributed to the follow-up “In the Wake of Poseidon” even though he’d left the band to join ELP at that point.

The wider public who aren’t familiar with the 1970s progressive rock canon probably know Greg Lake for his 1976 Christmas single “I Believe in Father Christmas”. Compared to the typical saccharine seasonal fare it’s surprisingly deep and thought provoking. It often gets described as dark and cynical with lines like “But instead it just kept on raining, a veil of tears for the virgin birth”. But I think there’s a positive message at the heart of it; Christmas is what we make of it.

So rest in peace, Greg, and thanks for all the music

Posted in Music News | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Heather Findlay Band – I Am Snow

i-am-snowHeather Findlay albums are a bit like buses. You wait for ages, then two come along in quick succession. Following on from Mantra Vega’s “The Illusions Reckoning”, the excellent collaboration with Dave Kerzner early in the year comes “I Am Snow”, recorded with Heather’s current road band including former Cloud Atlas guitarist Martin Ledger, Touchstone drummer Henry Rogers and harpist Sarah Dean.

The album showcases the folkier side of her music, and combines new material with reworkings from her back catalogue, in a similar vein to 2012′s “Songs from the Old Kitchen”. It’s largely though not entirely acoustic, with Sarah Dean’s harp and Angela Gordon’s flute given prominence in the arrangements, though Martin Ledger does cut loose with some electric lead guitar in a couple of places.

It’s the new songs that will naturally attract the most interest. The title track, co-written with Martin Ledger and Henry Rogers, opens the album with the sound of Sarah Dean’s harp before Heather’s Kate Bush-like vocal comes in. It’s a beautiful slow-burning ballad with a beguiling melody, building from a delicate opening to a big wall of sound with ebowed guitar and flute. The other new composition, “Dark Eyes/The Dreamer’s Wake” has something of the feel of Odin Dragonfly’s “Magnolia Half-Moon” about it, especially with Angela Gordon’s lengthy flute solo towards the end. Flute and harp again feature heavily in the beautiful cover of Sandy Denny’s “Winter Winds”.

The older songs come largely from the acoustic side of Heather’s contributions to the Mostly Autumn songbook, with numbers like the dreamy “Eyes of the Forest” and the flute-heavy “Winter is King”. Aside from a generous sprinkling of harp, the arrangements stay closer to the originals than the more radical reworkings by some of Heather’s earlier bands either on record or live. Sometimes extra layers add richness to songs that were quite minimalist in the first place; for example, harp and flute enhance the delicate piano ballad “Above the Blue”. One interesting choice from outside the Mostly Autumn canon is the first part of “Day Thirteen: Sign” from Ayreon’s prog-opera “The Human Equation”. The album closes with a Mostly Autumn standard and one of Heather’s signature songs, “Shrinking Violet”, which despite some soaring lead guitar from Martin Ledger, as a full electric number feels slightly out of place.

Taken as a whole, the atmospheric folky vibe is clearly a place where Heather is comfortable, the songs old and new play to her strengths as a singer, and despite the wintry themes the music emphasises the natural warmth of her voice. Even though much of the album is reworkings of previously recorded material, the two new songs are golden, and for many fans they will be worth the price on their own.

Posted in Record Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Panic Room announce 2017 live dates

panic-room-banner

Panic Room have announced tour dates for 2107. They’re playing the following dates:

  • Friday March 17, HRH Prog V Festival at Hafan y Mor, Pwllheli
  • Friday May 19, The Robin 2, Bilston
  • Friday May 26, The Stables, Milton Keynes
  • Friday June 2, The Citadel, St Helens
  • Saturday June 3, The Corporation, Sheffield
  • Saturday June 17, Acapela, Cardiff
Posted in Music News | Tagged | 1 Comment

Best Albums of 2016 – Part Two

We’re into the top ten now, and this time I’ve managed to rank the albums in order rather that just list them alphabetically. So with no further ado…

10: Rebecca Downes – Believe

Bebecca Downes BelieveDeserved winner of Best Female Vocalist and Best Breakthrough Artist at the British Blues Awards, Rebecca Downes has a great voice, with range and power as well as emotional depth, equally at home with soulful ballads as belting out hard rockers. When combined with her talented backing band result is a hugely varied record, combining blues with hard rock, funk and soul.

9: Tilt – Hinterland

Tilt HinterlandThe band including Fish alumni Steve Vantis, Robin Boult and Dave Stewart deliver a hard-rocking album. The layered sound and powerful bass grooves recall Porcupine Tree and Steve Vantsis’ work with Fish.

But Paul Dourley is a very different sort of singer; his soulful vocals have the occasional hints of Peter Gabriel and Lou Gramm, and if anything it’s his performance that lifts this record from a good one to a great one.

8: Ihsahn – Arktis

ihsahn-arktisThe fiendishly inventive Norwegian black metallers reign in the avant-garde experimentalism of 2013′s Das Seelenbrechen in favour of an album of more straightforward metal songs. But “straightforward” is a relative thing for a band like Ihsahn; there’s a lot of varied creativity on display here, balancing face-melting guitars with occasional moments of atmospheric beauty,

7: Mantra Vega – The Illusion’s Reckoning

Mantra Vega The Illusions ReckoningThe collaboration between former Mostly Autumn singer Heather Findlay and Sound of Contact’s Dave Kerzner results in a record with a strong 70s vibe.

There are nods to Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac and the rootsier side of Led Zeppelin, as well as the folky feel of Heather Findlay’s work with Odin Dragonfly and early Mostly Autumn. It’s an impressive work that’s as good as anything either of them have done.

6: Big Big Train – Folklore

Big Big Train - FolkloreBig Big Train continue to be better than anyone else at invoking the spirit of 1970s English pastoral progressive rock. Again the lyrics are steeped in English landscapes and socio-economic history.

The songs cover subjects from London’s lost rivers to World War 2 RAF pigeons, with music that sometimes evokes the mood of albums like Genesis’ “Trespass”, and at other times is closer to the electric folk-rock of bands like Steeleye Span.

Posted in Record Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Richmond Park

Congratulations to Sarah Olney for winning the Richmond Park by-election and becoming the first woman Liberal Democrat MP of this Parliament. While it looks like a major upset it’s actually consistent with local government by-election results up and down the country, which have frequently seen 20% swings to the Liberal Democrats.

Commiserations for Labour candidate Christian Wolmar. I’m sure he’s a decent bloke and I respect him as a transport journalist and writer even if we disagree on HS2. But Labour fought a confused campaign with the party leadership on a completely different page than the candidate on the one central issue the election was about. Still, a lost deposit has got to hurt.

Kudos to The Green Party for choosing not to field a candidate in order not to split the vote.

And as for the losing former MP Zac Goldsmith, good riddance to bad rubbish. He forced the election for reasons of personal vanity and got hoisted on his own petard in spectacular fashion. And we haven’t forgotten the awful dog-whistle racism of his losing campaign for Mayor of London. In a year when the populist right has been in the ascendancy, he’s managed to lose twice.

It’s too early to tell how much this one by-election will affect the wider political landscape. It may well succeed in moving the Overton Window slightly further away from a hard Brexit. It at least ought to bring the Liberal Democrats back into the national political conversation. It’s time for the media, especially the BBC, to stop acting as if UKIP were the only third party that matters. While it looked like it would take a generation for the LibDems to recover from the electoral disaster of 2015, politics is far more volatile now, and those who wrote off the party might now have words to eat.

If it’s the start of a national revival for the Liberal Democrats, it’s potentially very, very bad for Labour. Ever since the EU referendum, they have been acting like rabbits in the headlights, unsure of which way to turn. This is a parry whose own electoral base is split; the traditional small-c conservatives working class in their post-industrial heartlands have little in common in either cultural or economic interests with their voters in the cosmopolitan cities. With a resurgent Liberal Democrats on one side and Paul Nuttall’s UKIP targeting the traditional Labour supporters on the other, they cannot triangulate without exposing the opposite flank. They’re probably too entrenched in their strongholds for Scotland-style wipeout, at least on a national basis, but it’s hard to see them as a potential party of government any time soon. Their problems go way, way deeper than their awful leadership.

Posted in Religion and Politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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.

Update Because I missed out one record by mistake, this year’s list now goes up to 26. You will have to guess which one it was yourselves.

Continue reading

Posted in Record Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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?

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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,

Posted in Music News | Tagged | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Music News | Tagged , | Leave a comment