Music Blog

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

In an Instant – Where the Demons and the Devil Speak

A single from a young band from Northern Ireland.

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Rainbow – Genting Arena

The announcement that Ritchie Blackmore was to perform a handful of shows with a new incarnation of Rainbow came as a complete surprise. With the exception of power-metal stalwart Jens Johansson on keys, the band was made up of relative unknowns, including Ronnie Romero on vocals. In recent year Blackmore has devoted his creative energies to the medieval folk-pop of Blackmore’s Night, and it’s been many, many years since he last played a hard rock gig on a major stage. So there was much anticipation and speculation as to what to expect. Would the shows be a triumph, or turn out to be a complete car crash? Enough people were willing to take a risk that the sixteen-thousand capacity Genting Arena in Birmingham sold out within 24 hours of going on general sale.

Opening the show, for one of the biggest gigs of their career, was Mostly Autumn. To be strictly accurate is was four-sevenths of Mostly Autumn; the restricted space available on the stage meant there was only room for a cut-down foursome comprising Bryan Josh, Olivia Sparnenn, Alex Cromarty and Iain Jennings, covering the bass on keys. Bryan told us how he’s been a fan of Blackmore since he was 10, and never expected to be the opening act for Rainbow in an arena.

A fusillade of drums and Bryan’s Blackmore-like spiralling guitar figure of “In for the bite” opened their six-song set, which included the standards “Evergreen” and “Heroes Never Die”, more recent hard rockers “Drops of the Sun” and “Deep in Borrowdale”, and a spine-tingling “Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts”. Even though the arrangements lost the layers of the full band, the songs chosen still worked remarkably well in cut-down format, and there was plenty of Bryan Josh’s soaring lead guitar. Aside from an unfortunate pause when a string came loose mid-song, it came over well and the band deserve to have won over new fans with that one.

Rainbow began with that familiar opening from the classic 1977 live album; the intro tape of Judy Garland from the Wizard of Oz and Blackmore playing the main theme from “Over the Rainbow”. Then he launched into the intro of “Highway Star” with Ronnie Romero repeating the opening line over the intro before Blackmore hit the opening riff and launched into the song proper.

Over the next two hours it was greatest hits from across the Rainbow and Deep Purple songbook. “Spotlight Kid” and “Mistreated” early in the set didn’t quite catch fire, but from then on things got steadily better as the show went on and Blackmore loosened up. At 71 years of age he doesn’t have the speed of decades past, for example “Catch the Rainbow” had a slower more melodic solo rather than the blur of notes of his 1970s performances. But that distinctive classical phrasing is still there.

Ronnie Romero proved to have a fine voice, and came over best on Ronnie Dio and David Coverdale songs, though his dark take of “Perfect Strangers” impressed a lot, and he succeeded in projecting himself to the crowd as a frontman. Two backing singers including Blackmore’s other half Candace Night filled out the sound.

Once or twice things faltered; in particular the somewhat butchered version of “Since You’ve Been Gone” didn’t quite come off. In contrast, the acoustic version of “Soldier of Fortune” was a delight. The rocked-out version of Beethoven’s ninth, “Difficult to Cure” became a vehicle for solos, first a drum solo that was short enough not to outstay its welcome, then, horror of horrors, a bass solo, and finally an interminable keyboard solo. It actually started out well with jazz flavoured Hammond, but lost its way with an overlong classical style piano section and blasts of every differed keyboard effect from 70s parps to pipe organ. It’s Blackmore the audience paid to see, and this sort of thing should have been left in the 70s where it belonged.

The best came towards the end. After an impressive “Child in Time” with the two backing singers adding another dimension came a truly monstrous take on what has to be the definitive Rainbow song, “Stargazer”. Romero nailed the vocal and Blackmore himself was on fire for the solo. They finished the main set with the early Purple hit “Black Night” tailing off with the audience singing the riff over and over as the band left the stage.

Any worries that Blackmore would throw one his legendary strops and refuse to do an encore proved groundless; they were back with a rendition of “Burn” as monstrous as Stargazer before it. But still they weren’t quite done. Romero led the audience through an a capella first verse of “Smoke on the Water” before Blackmore came in for That Riff after the first chorus.

Despite a slightly shaky start this ended as a triumphal gig; the power and intensity of the last few songs in particular sent the audience away feeling they’d had their money’s worth. Here were songs few thought they’d ever hear played live by anything other than tribute bands a year ago, and for some, Stargazer alone was worth the price of the ticket. These shows were initially going to be one-offs, but Blackmore has since hinted that they may be further shows next year.

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Nigel Gresley’s Birthday

To celebrate the 147th birthday of Sir Nigel Gresley, here’s Big Big Train performing the song East Coast Racer.

When asked where they stand on the great Gresley Duck argument, they responded that they’d made a careful assessment of the situation, then wrote a song about a pigeon.

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What happens when you don’t pay your writers?

Flume SkinEither I’m an old man yelling at clouds, and this is a “Kids get off my lawn” moment, or The Independent’s review of Flume’s ‘Skin’ is deep in Poe’s Law land

Let’s first talk about what kind of music this is. If you don’t like electronic beats and you’re coming into this with a closed mind, leave now, take your fake Fender clutching-ass back to the campfire so you can sing Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews to your beloved. Now let’s get into this review.

It goes on like that, at great, great length.

Twitter seems divided over this review is actually for real, or it’s a very clever parody of a certain immature and narcissistic style of music writing many of us both recognise and loathe. If it’s a troll, are the Independent trolling their readership, or is the writer trolling whatever passes for a music editor at the site?

One or two Guardian critics I won’t name have suggested this sort of thing is what happens when you don’t pay your writers.

Now, Flume’s Skin might be a great record, even if it’s not quite as good as Panic Room’s album of the same name. But it’s almost impossible to tell from that review.

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Panic Room DVD: Plan B

Panic Room Weekend

So near and yet so far. Panic Room have reached 85% in their PledgeMusic campaign for their live DVD. But the gap is still such that they cannot afford to take the financial risk of hiring a professional film crew to film the show this coming Saturday.

The gig itself is still going ahead, and the band have a Plan B in place

Please don’t despair, because we have worked very hard to put together a strong Plan B for you:

We have decided to KEEP THE PLEDGE CAMPAIGN RUNNING – and in fact we will EXTEND it by a few weeks, so that it will now close at the end of July. (Many Pledge campaigns run for several months, whereas we had aimed for less than 2 months here). We hope that by taking this step, we should hopefully reach our 100% target for sure in the weeks to come!

85% is very close…..

So we DO succeed in hitting 100% in the next few weeks – which we feel confident will happen – we will THEN book a brand new Live PANIC ROOM show for the early Autumn – September / October – and THIS will be the new filming date for the Live DVD to be captured!

So, if you haven’t yet pledged, and you still want to see a Panic Room DVD, now really is the time to do it.

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Touchstone announce new singer

After months of teasers and speculation, Touchstone have announced Polish-born Aggie as their new lead singer. She has a background in musical theatre, having performed in productions of Phantom of the Opera, so fronting a rock band will be something of a change in direction.

The band plan to release a double A-side single in the coming months, with the album “Dangerous Days” due in the new year. She will be making her live debut with the band in December with dates at The Borderline in London, The Robin 2 in Bilston, and a third venue yet to be announced.

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Christina Grimmie

It’s been overshadowed by the terrible nightclub massacre in the same city just a few hours later, the enormity of which is still hard to take in. But the murder of singer Christina Grimmie while she chatted with fans and signed autographs after a gig struck terribly close to home. Especially when I read that there were about a hundred people at the gig, which makes it the sort of gig I’m very familiar with, and there are many, many times I’ve chatted with band members after a such a show. As a female games journalist said to me on Twitter, the fear of this sort of thing lurks in the back of the mind of anyone with any kind of public profile.

I am fortunate to live in a country that isn’t awash with guns.

At the moment we know next to nothing about the killer or his motivation, but the probability that he was some kind of obsessive stalker is quite high. It’s why you don’t make tasteless jokes about the subject; because stalking is really no laughing matter. It’s also why can’t dismiss online threats out of hand either.

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The Great Musical Divide

Iron Maiden Book of SoulsA couple of tweets from an acquaintance about the ubiquity of Iron Maiden and other classic rock and metal bands as background music in bars in Romania shows how mainland Europe has a quite different relationship with rock and metal compared to indie-dominated Britain. An equivalent bar in Britain would be playing Oasis or Ed Sheeran.

Especially in Eastern Europe, how much is this down to former Communist countries first encountering the music in a completely different context, such that it doesn’t carry the same cultural baggage as it does in Britain?

I know this is a recurring theme for me, but a big problem with British music is a critical establishment that defines every kind of popular music in terms of its relationship towards punk. A handful of snotty three-chord bands, or rather the pseudo-intellectual scribblers who worshipped them ended up casting a long shadow over everything that happened not only after 1977, but the years before. A lot of the narrative is revisionist nonsense, but it’s become the orthodoxy, endlessly repeated by those two young to have been there at the time. Anything that doesn’t fit the narrative risks being written out of history.

Eastern Europe experienced none of that. The fall of the Berlin Wall bought a flood of Western music, such that the cheesiest hair-metal of that time is revered in the same way the 1960s British Invasion is revered in America. Songs like Europe’s “The Final Countdown” and The Scorpions’ “Wind of Change” have a status that’s hard for people in Britain to imagine.

Although this doesn’t explain the huge popularity of metal in Scandinavia. So perhaps there’s another explanation?

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On Springsteen, Mostly Autumn and Panic Room

Good piece by The Guardian’s Michael Hann on the appeal of a Bruce Springsteen show

I can understand people who just don’t like Springsteen. I was well into my 30s before I could even tolerate much of his music, let alone adore it. And for a first-time attender, a Springsteen show can be a little like attending a meeting of some religious sect – intriguing at first, then slightly terrifying as you realise quite how long it’s going to last. But once the rhythms of the night seep into your soul – as you understand how you are going to be swept up, then brought down, then lifted again; as you come to understand your part in the liturgy – it becomes hard to resist.

I’m not a Springsteen fan myself, but that paragraph somehow sums up what’s so great for me about seeing bands like Mostly Autumn and Panic Room live. Some people wonder exactly why I’ll travel considerable distances and stay in sometimes dodgy B&Bs to see a band they’ve never heard of play before a couple of hundred people.

The comparison with religion is spot-on.

There have been times when I’ve seen Mostly Autumn and been on a high for the rest of the week, to the extent that work colleagues have noticed. It’s not quite the same as Springsteen’s universality, of course. Sometimes it’s knowing more about the backstories of deeply personal songs about love, loss and bereavement than has ever been put in the public domain that gives the music such a powerful emotional punch. And the dynamics of a small intimate club gig where you frequently get to meet the band after the show is different from the electric atmosphere of an arena show. But the parallels are still strong.

What about you? Who is your Sprngsteen, or your Mostly Autumn or Panic Room?

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Mostly Autumn, Bilston Robin 2

Angela Gordon

Compared with the extensive touring of past years, Mostly Autumn have scheduled relatively few live appearances for the spring, summer and autumn of 2016, with a greater emphasis on showcase gigs and festivals. They came to the rock Mecca of The Robin 2 in Bilston a week after a high profile show in London, and like at that gig they drew the sort of appreciably sized crowd we’ve come to expect at this venue.

The last couple of years the band have been playing the album “Dressed in Voices” in it’s entirety as one half of the show, and over the course of three successive tours the other half went from an abbreviated greatest hits set, a collection of lesser played rarities, and finally the revival of their “Mostly Floyd” set. With “Dressed in Voices” now laid to rest for the time being at least, what they would play was a mystery for those who had carefully avoided spoilers, though we were told to expect one or two surprises.

They kicked off with the instrumental “Out of the Inn”, which starts off as a flute-driven Celtic-folk jig, led by Angela Gordon and Chris Johnson, with the rest of the band coming to stage one by one as the number builds into a barnstorming hard rocker. An unusual choice as an opener, but like “Distant Train” a couple of years ago, it worked well. After that came a fusillade of drums and Bryan Josh’s Blackmore-like spiralling guitar figure of “In For The Bite” from this year’s entertainingly bonkers Josh & Co album, which saw Olivia Sparnenn make her characteristic dramatic entrance. The huge smile on Bryan Josh’s face set the mood for the next two hours.

Bryan Josh

From then on it was songs from right across their career, played right through rather than taking a mid-set interval. There were standards from the early albums, such as “Answer the Question”, “Spirit of Autumn Past” and “Nowhere to Hide”. There were highlights from their more recent work’ a hard-rocking “Deep in Borrowdale”, “Drops of the Sun”, Olivia’s dramatic Nightwish-like “Wild Eyed Skies”, the drum showcase “Skin on Skin”, and the beautiful balled “Silhouette of Stolen Ghosts” from the bonus disk of “Dressed in Voices”. Chris Johnson sang lead on “Silver Glass”, one of his contributions to the band’s songbook from 2006′s “Heart Full of Sky”. But the highlight has to have been the epic “Mother Nature”, a song not played live for many years. They finished the main set with a powerful rendition of what has long been Olivia’s signature song, “Questioning Eyes”.

With the band still “in the zone” they took advantage of the lack of a strict curfew by throwing in an additional encore, a superb “The Last Climb” with its extended flute solo, before the obligatory “Heroes Never Die”. But even then they weren’t done. Bryan dismissed the closing recorded music and led the band into two more songs, both of them from last year’s Pink Floyd covers set, a monstrously rocking “Run Like Hell” and the guitar wig-out of “Comfortably Numb” with Olivia and Chris Johnson joining forces as the creepy doctor. You were left with the feeling they’d have been happy to play all night.

Olivia Sparnenn

On the evidence of this gig, they’re on top live form this year, playing a good mix of old and new taking in material from across eight of their ten albums. In recent years they’ve been at their best on stage whenever they’ve managed to keep a consistent lineup together for more than a few months. The current incarnation with Angela Gordon and Chris Johnson returned to the fold has been together more than a year now, and it shows. Their next live appearance is the big one, opening for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in front of sixteen thousand people at the sold-out Genting Arena, before gigs in Tavistock, Poole and Cardiff in July.

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