Music Blog

All the music-related posts gathered together in one place.

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!

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

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!

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged | 2 Comments

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.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

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

Posted in Music News | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Is Pop’s Sausage Meat escaping?

The major labels think there’s a British pop talent crash:

One response, if you are a major, is to send your entire A&R department around the country to find out what people want to listen to (and, more importantly, buy). The label doing this, which can’t be named, has instructed its team to speak to promoters, club owners and others connected to local music scenes, until they have an idea of why new acts aren’t connecting. It has been spurred by the fact that this is the time of year when the frontrunners for 2017’s next-big-thing polls should be gathering at the starting gate. However, according to another insider, there is an unprecedented lack of viable hopefuls, let alone those with the potential to be the next Sam Smith, Adele or even James Bay.

“There’s nothing on the horizon, no music scene at the moment. It seems to be that the talent isn’t out there, [or if it is] they don’t know what to do with it,” says the label source.

Now, I know the major label industry prefers artists who are both under 25 and conventionally pretty, and much of the best music is made by people who don’t meet either of those criteria. But is there really a shortage of talent out there, or just a shortage of talent willing to work for the major label sausage machine under the major label’s terms?

Are these gatekeepers even still relevant? Yes, there are still people out there who don’t listen to anything that hasn’t been endorsed by those gatekeepers, but the relative failure of the ridiculously-hyped Jack Garratt suggests that even these people aren’t willing to swallow any old rubbish.

As readers of this blog will know, there are many acts out there who blow most of the overhyped major-label hopefuls completely out of the water. The commercial mainstream has never heard of these people. Perhaps the reason they’re not ubiquitous stars is because they don’t actually want to be?

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

They’re a completely different subgenre of rock, but you could make a good argument that Karnataka’s three most recent studio albums, “Delicate Flame of Desire”, “The Gathering Light” and “Secrets of Angels” are the same sort of trinity of albums as “Rainbow Rising”, “Heaven and Hell” and “Holy Diver” in more than one way. Discuss.

Posted on by Tim Hall | Leave a comment

The Panic Room Weekend – Day One

Panic Room Weekend

In addition to their regular gigs of 2016, Panic Room decided to do something rather different and far more ambitious at Bilston’s Robin 2. Taking a similar format to the successful and now legendary Marillion weekends, they booked the venue for two full days. They would play a headline set each night, with an array of support acts all of whom had some connection to the band. With an afternoon start and five sets each day, it amounted to a Panic Room-curated mini-festival.

Things kicked off with a solo set from Alex Cromarty, best known as a drummer in more bands you can count, but here performing as a singer-songwriter. He began with a great cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Dancing in the Moonlight” leading into as set of largely original songs from his forthcoming solo album.

Morpheus Rising have supported Panic Room many times, and were originally planning to play a full electric set. But unfortunately their drummer exploded in a freak gardening accident, or something like that. So Simon Wright and Pete Harwood instead played as a stripped down acoustic duo. It says a lot about the quality of their songwriting that material written for twin guitar metal works in this format, even though Simon’s vocals sometimes came over a little fragile. But the highlights were a couple of completely new songs, both of which came over extremely well. The band have both an acoustic and a new electric album in the pipeline, and at least one of those new songs is to appear on both.

Panic Room Weekend

Shadow of the Sun were a very late addition to the bill. They’ve been away a long time and been through a few changes, with the departure of their original bassist, frontman Matthew Powell now doubling up on bass. and a new second guitarist Matt O’Connell bringing them back to a quartet. Unfortunately Matt couldn’t make the gig for urgent family reasons, so hats off to stand-in Lewis Spencer who came in at very short notice and played what must have been largely improvised lead guitar parts without any rehearsal. Playing a mixture of songs from their four-year old début “Monument” and brand-new material, their blend of metal and alternative rock is still something of a work in progress, though Matthew Powell is considerably less awkward on stage now he has a bass to play. Dylan Thompson is starting to look like a younger Mikhael Åkerfeldt, and the couple of times he launched into solos he sounded a little like Åkerfeldt too. It will be interesting to see how this band develop, and how they sound with their proper guitarist.

Halo Blind are part of the Panic Room family, since both Anne-Marie Helder and Gavin Griffiths were members of the first incarnation of the band, though they’re now one of the many bands with Alex Cromarty behind the drums. They impressed a lot supporting The Heather Findlay band back in April. Tonight saw them lift things to another level in intensity. Again the bulk of the set came from their most recent album “Occupying Forces”, and it was a thing of mesmerising atmospheric beauty, with fragile vocal melodies and swirling effects-laden psychedelic guitar. Anne-Marie guested on “The Dogs” from the first album, which proved one just highlight of many. This had to be one of the best sets they’ve played to date.

Panic Room Weekend

Then it was time for Panic Room themselves for the first of their two headline sets of the weekend. They proceeded to pull out all the stops with a spectacular set including material from across all four albums. There were many of the usual favourites; “Apocalypstick”, “5th Amendment”, the jazzy “Chameleon” with Anne-Marie’s flute solo, and the hard rocking “Hiding the World” An acoustic interlude included the arrangements of “Song for Tomorrow” and “Screens” from the unplugged album “Essence”. They finished the main set with an epic “Nocturnal” before encoring with “Sandstorms” and covers of All About Eve’s “Road to your Soul” and Led Zep’s “Kashmir”. This was a roof-lifting performance even by Panic Room’s standards, and with so many of the regular standards in the set it left you wondering what they were saving for the second night.

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

You know you’re a prog fan if… You’ve been to Wetherspoons in Bilston many more times than you’ve been to your local.

Posted on by Tim Hall | 3 Comments

Mike Kershaw – What Lies Beneath

Mike Kershaw What Lies Beneath “What Lies Beneath” is an album by keyboard player and singer-songwriter Mike Kershaw, who has released several albums over the past few years both under his own name and under the moniker of “Relocate to Heathrow”. While it’s promoted as a progressive rock record the focus here is on songwriting rather than complex instrumentation. It boasts an impressive supporting cast with, amongst others, past and present members of Galahad, Also Eden and Fractal Mirror.

Unfortunately the album gets off to a very poor start; nine-minute opener “Gunning for the Gods” combines cheap and nasty 80s synth sounds with a borderline unlistenable vocal performance and comes over as The Folkie from Viz fronting a second-rate neo-prog tribute act. The next couple of songs aren’t quite as god-awful, but neither are they particularly memorable.

It’s only once you get into the second half of the record that things improve. Much of the time Kershaw does sing within his limitations, and while his vocals never rise beyond workmanlike he manages to avoid ruining the songs. The highlights are “Two Eyes” with some delightful melodic guitar work, the Floydian “Another Disguise”, and the atmospheric ballad “Wounds”, the last of which features Tom Slatter on vocals. In the end, the closing track “The City of My Dreams” epitomises both the album’s strengths and weaknesses; a very flat vocal drags down what could have bought the album to a soaring epic conclusion.

This is a curate’s egg of record; Kershaw clearly has plenty of worthwhile ideas as a composer and arranger, and Gareth Cole’s guitar work is impressive throughout. But the way the one track with a guest vocalist stands out leaves you with the impression that Kershaw might have been better off working with a proper lead singer able to bring the material to life rather than singing most of the lead vocals himself.

Posted in Record Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Why do Fandoms go Toxic?

The fandoms of the internet keep throwing its toys out of the pram. I have no idea if it’s getting worse, or whether it’s always been this bad but we just hadn’t noticed.

Maybe it’s the constant background noise of arch sneering between supporters of different eras of bands that have gone through many changes of lineup and musical direction; Facebook groups like “2/5ths of Yes is not Yes”, I’m looking at you. Or maybe it’s the ugly wars over the trailer for a much-hyped reboot of a thirty-two year old film; why on earth have so many of the worst culture warriors on both sides chosen that particular hill to die on? Or the ongoing Sad Puppies Hugo Awards mess, where I’m sure I’m not the only person who has lost all patience with both sides; the world of science fiction ought to be bigger than one clique of authors and fans who are still living in the 1950s fighting another clique of authors and fans who are still living in the 1970s.

A lot the appeal of being part of a fandom rather than merely enjoying the music, films or books is the feeling of belonging to a tribe. And some tribes love to define themselves by those who aren’t part of that tribe. Do fandoms become toxic when in-group signalling becomes more important than the actual art? And is this just an inevitable part of human nature, or are there practical things we can do to stop fandoms going bad?

It’s nonsense. Liking or not liking a piece of mass-market entertainment should not be a litmus test for whether or not you are a good person. And “Those people over there I don’t like will love or hate it” is the worst possible form of criticism.

So don’t do that. Better to celebrate the things you love.

Posted in Music Opinion, SF and Gaming | Tagged , | Leave a comment