Music Blog

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

Marillion’s F E A R

Reviews of F E A R

My review of Marillion’s F E A R has now been published in The Guardian, not just in the online edition but in Friday’s print edition as well.

And yes, the album really is that good.

Posted in Music News | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Riverside: And The There Were Three

Riverside have made a statement on the future of the band after the tragic untimely death of guitarist Piotr Grudziński.

We have decided that we are not going to do a casting for a new guitarist. Thus we have ceased to be a quartet and have become a trio. In this line-up we will prepare our new studio album. Both in the recording studio and on tour – if we get back to touring – we will be playing with session guitarists, who are our friends, whom we know and like. But the line-up of Riverside will be as shown in the picture.

Yes, we do realise that this is not going to be the same band. We know that for many of you the story of Riverside ends here, this year, and that “Eye of the Soundscape” might be the last Riverside album you’ll buy. We know that some of you can’t imagine this band without the characteristic guitar of Piotr Grudziński and for you Riverside has ceased to exist. But our story is not over yet; with a flaw, with a scar, with a wealth of new experiences, we have decided to go on.

The band will be working on a new album, which may be “heavier and more intense”. In the meantime there’s the instrumental album “Eye of the Soundscape” combining music previously released as bonus material for earlier albums along with some brand new tracks,

Posted in Music News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Opeth – The Wilde Flowers

A lyric video for “The Wilde Flowers”, from the forthcoming album “Sorcoress” to be released on 30th September.

Posted in Music News | Tagged | Leave a comment

Panic Room – Ten of the Best

Panic Room at South Street, Reading

Regular readers of this blog (all four of you) will know I’ve written a few “Ten of the Best” features for The Guardian Music Blog. I’ve done entries in the series for Yes, Black Sabbath and Ritchie Blackmore, amongst others, and pitched quite a few more suggestions (And no, I’m not going to say who they’re of, in case the editor comes back and accepts more of those pitches).

These things are fun to write. They’re explicitly “Ten of the best”, rather than “The Ten Best” which leave scope to include the odd personal favourite or overlooked gem at the expense of one or two of the all-too-obvious standards that everyone ought to know anyway.

So how about a Ten of the Best for a band a little closer to home? I’ve chosen an obvious favourite of this blog, Panic Room. Even though they’ve only recorded four albums so far, just about the minimum body of work to qualify for this sort of feature, it’s still a hard choice. They have so many great songs.

So, with no further ado…

Apocalypstick

Panic Room’s début album “Visionary Position” was the sound of a collective of musicians who’d survived the implosion of another band casting around for a new musical direction. It contained an eclectic mix of styles from stripped-down singer-songwriter material to sprawling prog epics. One standout was “Apocalypstick”, with lyrics about Helen of Troy and swirling eastern motifs in the music, featuring spiralling electric violin from guest musician Liz Prendergast. Anne-Marie Helder sounds both seductive and scary at the same time on vocals, which fits the song title perfectly. This was the song, more than any other, that pointed the way forward for the band.

Picking Up Knives

Panic Room’s second album “Satellite” was a far more coherent statement of intent, marking the point where the band found their musical identity, and this song was one of many highlights. Anne-Marie’s lyric takes the perspective of a mother seeing her son getting caught up in knife culture and fearing the worst, with music driven by Alun Vaughan’s propulsive bass riff and Jon Edward’s evocative shimmering electric piano with more than a hint of Ray Manzarek about it.

Dark Star

Panic Room’s music has always contained elements of pop, jazz, folk and metal, and this song, opening with a monstrously sinister organ riff, and with Alun Vaughan channelling Geezer Bulter on bass, represents the band at their most metal. It’s a big, dense wall of sound of a song, and shows the power of Anne-Marie’s voice, in absolutely no danger of being swamped by the instrumentation.

I Am A Cat

The strangest, quirkiest song in the Panic Room songbook, and one that seems to divide opinion. The ode to the archetypal mad cat lady is both humorous and tragic at the same time. Even if not everyone appreciated it, if you’ve ever seen the band include this song in their set, it’s obvious just how much they enjoy playing it live. There is an actual cat credited for additional backing vocals.

Song for Tomorrow

If the band found their voice with “Satellite”, their third album “Skin” took things to the next level. The album’s dramatic opener is a kaleidoscopic journey through much of what makes Panic Room such a great band. It begins with atmospheric keyboard washes, and when played live saw Anne-Marie playing guitar with a violin bow. Then it explodes into spiralling prog-metal guitars, before the guitars drop out for Anne-Marie’s emotive verse. Every member of the band is firing on all cylinders here, including new bassist Yatim Halimi.

Chameleon

Chameleon represents the opposite face of Panic Room’s music, that of sophisticated jazz-tinged adult pop. It demonstrates their versatility as musicians, and it’s a form that suits Anne-Marie’s vocal style especially well. The short solo section at the end features some delightful jazz guitar from Paul Davies. When they play it live nowadays Anne-Marie also throws in a flute solo, though we’ll have to wait for their upcoming live album before we can hear that on record.

Promises

The album “Skin” included a string quartet on several numbers, and they used the strings not just for additional colour but as an extra instrument in the band. The result is powerful arrangement for a very emotive song. Although on record it’s a big cinematic number, but the song works just as well as a stripped-down solo acoustic song, as seen when Anne-Marie supported Steve Hackett a few years back.

Nocturnal

This list contains now fewer than four songs from “Skin”, and to be honest the album is so consistently strong that just about anything from the record could easily have been included. We’ll leave this album with the slow-burning epic ballad that closes the record, starting with Jon’s delicate piano intro and ending with Paul’s evocative slide guitar outtro.

Bitches Crystal

Panic Room have played quite a few covers over the years. In the early days of the band before they’d built up such an extensive songbook of their own material they’d encore with things like Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” or a groove-based arrangement of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”. But the only cover they’ve actually recorded was this ELP number, which appears on their “Altitude” EP. It’s one of the rare cases where a cover vastly surpasses the original, rebuilding the song from the ground up and making it their own, reinterpreting it in swamp-blues style.

Dust

Panic Room’s fourth album “Incarnate” saw a change in direction. With Paul Davies leaving the band and new guitarist Adam O’Sullivan coming from a jazz background, the band moved away from wall of sound rock approach of “Skin” in favour of a lighter singer-songwriter style. One highlight is the evocative closing number, quite unlike both the rest of the album and equally unlike anything the band had done before, based around a simple repeating motif that gradually builds in intensity over the song’s seven minutes, and carries on playing in your head even after the last piano notes have faded away.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

CSMA: Trans-Pennine Express

Electronic music and First Trans-Pennine class 185s. What more can you want?

The music is from a live performance at Catford, London in 2016. The filming is by Chrissie Caulfield in Leeds, Darlington, Marsden, Huddersfield and around Standedge Tunnel.

I always associate the North Trans-Pennine line with gigs in York. I wonder which band is playing Fibbers and either Manchester or Bilston on consecutive nights?

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

Mostly Autumn announce details of October Leamington show

Mostly Autumn have announced detials of the Leamington Spa show in October

We have a very special gig coming up at The Assembly, Leamington Spa on Sunday 9th October. This will be from 3pm until 10pm and will feature a Mostly Autumn acoustic set, where there will be performances by individual members, as well as the full band. This was received extremely well last year at the same venue – who knew Alex could play the guitar and sing?

We also have the absolutely amazing Papillon (Anna Phoebe and Nicolas Rizzi) – they captivate us every time we hear them, as I’m sure all of you who have seen them will agree.

Mostly Autumn will play two sets, the first being a set of songs which have inspired the band members – guaranteed some Pink Floyd and who knows what else!!! The second, a set of their own music in their own inimitable style, with Anna Phoebe as guest on a few numbers .

There will be an hour or so interval, during which there will be some time to say hello to the band.

Please join us for this festival of Mostly Autumn – back following the overwhelmingly positive feedback from last year. We’re looking forward to seeing you.

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

What next for the music blog?

I know I write about this band a lot. But this blog is more than just a fan-site for one band

Here’s a question for readers of the music posts on this blog. Over the past couple of years I’ve focussed on album and concert reviews, news items focussing on the independent prog scene, and short opinion pieces which are often part of the ongoing music conversation of the day.

Are there other sorts of things you’d like to see on here? Here are some of the thoughts I’ve had.

  • Retrospective reviews of older records, either classic albums revisited or overlooked gems. I did one of these recently, for The Fire Sermon by The Violet Hour, which came out 25 years ago but was new to me. There are many more such pieces that could be written.
  • Overviews of bands, a bit like the “Cult Heroes” column in The Guardian, but with bands from the underground progressive rock scene, with the emphasis on bands who are no longer active.
  • I’ve written a couple of “Ten of the Best” features for The Guardian for the likes of Yes, Black Sabbath and Ritchie Blackmore, and these things are fun to wrire. But what about some Ten of the Bests for the smaller bands that feature a lot on this blog? It would have to be bands who have been going long enough to have produced a significant body of work, probably four albums at a minimum.
  • More news pieces. I tend to restrict news announcements to the bands I follow, like Panic Room or Mostly Autumn or their various spinoffs. But I get loads of press releases from PR agencies, often for higher profile acts. While the indie and pop announcements aren’t really relevant for this blog’s audience, a lot more are for the rock, metal and prog scenes. Should I published a few more of them?

Over to you. Any other things you’d love me to write about?

Posted in Music Opinion | 6 Comments

Voodoo Vegas – Freak Show Candy Floss

voodoo-vegas-freak-show-candy-flossVoodoo Vegas play old school twin guitar hard rock, and their second full-length album “Freak Show Candy Floss” makes a powerful statement of intent. The title reflects life on the road, driving hours to play high energy rock’n'roll in places like Merthyr Tydfil and Basingstoke, and how that dedication to live music must seem incomprehensible to those with 9-5 lifestyles.

From the opening chords of “Backstabber”, this is the sound of a band who mean business. Laurence Case has a classic hard rock voice, Ash Moulton and Jonno Smyth make a hard rocking rhythm section, and guitarists Meryl Hamilton and Jon Dawson serve up monstrous riffs and shredding solos. Which would all count for little unless the songs were there, but Voodoo Vegas have the songwriting chops to match.

It’s one of those albums where it’s hard to single out highlights. “Killing Joke” with its references to dancing with The Devil in the pale moonlight along with freaks and candyfloss is almost the title track. Then there’s there’s the blues-rock stomp of “Lady Divine” with Lawrence Case throwing in a harmonica solo. Some of the strongest songs appear on what would in the days of vinyl have been the second side of the record. “Black Heart Woman”, “I Hear You Scream” and the album closer “Walk Away” are driving hard rockers with barrelling riffs. There are a couple of changes of pace, with the swampy blues of “Poison” and the acoustic “Sleeping in the Rain”, but there’s no filler here, every song on the album is a belter.

This is an album of no-nonsense no-frills rock and roll that does what it says on the tin. When working within a fairly traditional form, you have to be very good at what you do to avoid sounding like a derivative pastiche of other, better bands that came before. Voodoo Vegas pass that test with ease. To put it simply, they rock.

Posted in Record Reviews | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Peel and Prog

Haze

It was suggested on Twitter than the revival of progressive rock over the past decade and a bit was a consequence of the death of John Peel.

I’m not buying it.

It’s true that Peel, who famously dismissed Emerson Lake and Palmer as “A waste of talent and electricity” wasn’t a big friend of progressive rock. Any progressive band he did champion in the early days he dropped like a stone as soon as punk came along. And it’s also undeniably true that he had an enormous and possibly unhealthily excessive influence as a gatekeeper across several decades.

But the timing simply doesn’t support the hypothesis. Peel died in 2004, and the progressive rock revival began in the late 1990s with the emergence of bands from Porcupine Tree to Mostly Autumn. Surely the revival of a grassroots progressive scene has more to do with the rise of the internet allowing music fans and artists to bypass gatekeepers altogether? And possibly the 90s peak of Britpop was a factor too; that was a revival of precisely the sort of one-dimensional guitar pop that the original generation of progressive rock was a response to.

Anyway. I’m sure Peel would be playing bands like The Fierce and The Dead and Knifeworld if he was still alive.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , | 6 Comments

The Greying of Rock Fandom?

The Mentulls

Some thoughts struck me about the Cambridge Rock Festival back in August, which saw some discussion on Twitter.

There were one or two very young bands, such as The Mentulls, playing music in a very traditional classic rock style dating from before any of them were born. But the audience was overwhelmingly middle-aged, old enough to remember the heyday of blues-rock and prog from the first time around.

You see a lot of this in the progressive rock world. There are plenty of young bands like Haken, Maschine or Synaesthesia. Maybe it’s just an artefact of the festivals where I’ve seen them, but there don’t seem to be many of their own generation in the audiences. And the blues-rock scene is even worse. It’s as if anyone under the age of 35 who actually loves “old” music is already in a band.

As the existing audience continues to grey, who will replace them when they’re too old and infirm to get out to gigs?

Maybe I’m just being pessimistic here. Perhaps the bands would rather establish a niche than compete in a much more crowded market playing generic contemporary indie or pop. And maybe an audience of fiftysomethings whose kids have grown up and left home will actually age out more slowly than an audience of twentysomethings most of whom will drop out of music fandom when they get married and have kids?

What do you think?

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , | 7 Comments