Music Blog

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

Halo Blind Live

Announced by Chris Johnson of Halo Blind:

There will be a rare live performance by Halo Blind on Friday 17th July at Fibbers in York.

Most of the the new album and a bit of The Fabric (our debut album) will by played. I am delighted to tell you that my Mostly Autumn band mate and all round awesome dude Alex Cromarty is on the drum stool.

PLUS, the evening will also play host to the first ever live performance by Mantra Vega, who will be performing acoustic versions of material from their debut album. Mantra Vega is a new transatlantic band fronted by Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn) and Dave Kerzner (Sound of Contact).

AND IF THAT WASN”T ENOUGH exciting live music for you, the uber talented Chris Helme (The Seahorses) is also on the bill.

Tickets are available from the Fibbers website

It’s been a long, long time since Halo Blind last played live, so this is a very rare opportunity to hear the excellent album Occupying Forces performed live.

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Kamchatka, Long Road Made Of Gold

Long Road Made Of GoldSweden has long been known as a centre of cutting-edge European metal, but it’s not quite as strongly associated with blues-based hard rock. But that’s what Swedish power trio Kamchatka do, and on the evidence of their sixth album, “Long Road Made of Gold”, they’ve very good at it.

Produced by Russ Russell, known for his work with extreme metal acts such as Napalm Death, it’s an album of tight punchy songs punctuated by short but effective blasts of shredding lead guitar. This isn’t an album that’s doing anything spectacularly original, but the combination of strong songwriting, meaty guitar riffs and a very powerful driving rhythm section still makes for a very enjoyable listen. Russell has done an impressive production job, resulting in a sound so huge it feels like the band are playing live in your living room.

The album kicks off with shredding banjo leading into the opening hard rocker “Take Me Back Home” which demonstrates a lot of their strengths, especially Thomas Juneor Andersson’s soulful vocals. Other highlights include “Get Your Game On” with Tobias Strandvik’s relentless force-of-nature drumming, the slow-burning “Rain” making good use of vocal harmonies, and “Who’s To blame” with its big riff and spectacular guitar break. But this is an album where there’s something to like about every song; there’s no filler at all,. They keep the arrangements tight too, avoiding self-indulgent wig-outs but still leaving enough space for Andersson’s lead guitar to make an impact.

Fashionable British blues-rock bands such as The Temperance Movement have toned down the guitars to make their music more mainstream-friendly for indie-dominated Britain. Kamchatka in contrast, while still rooted in the blues-rock of the 60s and 70s, are far more appealing for those who’s first love is old-school rock and metal. As a modern take on a very traditional form, this album is highly recommended.

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Magenta, Bilston Robin 2

Chris Fry ans Christina Booth of Magenta at Bilston Robin 2

Magenta play dense and complex music with a heavy and unapologetic influence of 70s Yes. What sees them rise well above generic neo-prog is the passion and intensity of their performances, an award-winning vocalist in Christina Booth, and emotive and lyrical guitar playing of Chris Fry.

Now back in action following Christina’s serious illness, they followed up their appearance at HRH Prog back in March with a couple of headline shows, the first at The Borderline in London, the second at The Robin 2 in Bilston the following night.

News of Chris Squire’s death came on the afternoon before the gig, and the band paid tribute by starting with the spectacular cover of Yes’ instrumental “Cinema” before Christina joined them for “Glitterball” from 2011′s “Chameleon”. Hearing Magenta on record never quite prepares you for the intensity of their live performances, and the lengthy set spanned their entire career. One highlight was the soulful ballad “Pearl”, perhaps one of their simplest songs, a contrast to the dense and dark material that surrounded it.

The whole final section of the set was mesmerising, drawing heavily from their latest album “The Twenty Seven Club” before ending with the twenty-minute title track of “Metamorphosis”. “The Devil at the Crossroads”, never before played live came over powerfully. Another notable moment was the guest appearance from Big Big Train’s David Longdon for the reworked version (with words) of Steve Hackett’s “Spectral Mornings” recorded as a charity single. They ended by going back to the very beginning of their career with “The White Witch” from the first album as the encore.

What’s always remarkable is just how tight they always are, given the complexity of their music and how infrequently they play live. This was a band enjoying being back on stage after a long absence, Chris Fry going walkabout in the audience at one point. It’s great to have them back.

Magenta’s next live show will be as special guests for Touchstone’s farewell gig in Leamington Spa in November. That’s a show that’s not to be missed.

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RIP Chris Squire

The progressive rock genre is in shock with the news of the death of bassist Chris Squire, founder and only constant member of Yes. Tributes have been pouring in from across the progressive rock world and beyond. At The Robin 2 last night Magenta opened their set with a cover of “Cinema”, the instrumental from “90125″ as a tribute, which was a lovely touch.

Chris Squire was one of a handful of true giants in rock. The Rickenbacker that was his instrument of choice always has a distinctive and instantly recognisable sound, but Chris Squire’s playing was unique. He expanded the boundaries of what a rock bassist could be, making the bass guitar into a lead instrument while still driving the rhythm. Many of Yes’ best songs had his propulsive riffs at their heart. Listen to “Roundabout”, “Parallels” or that incredible opening of “Heart of the Sunrise”. He’s known as a virtuoso bassist, but he was also a good singer, evidenced by some of his harmonies with Jon Anderson.

My introduction to Yes was a secondhand copy of “Fragile” acquired during my first year as a student, probably discarded by someone who’d rejected progressive rock in favour of punk and new wave. It was their loss. For a while it took me a while to get my head round what they were doing; the complex music that was forever taking off in different directions was a world away from anything I’d heard before in the rock world. But I persevered and eventually it all made sense, and it still sounds vital 35 years later.

I only ever got to see them live the once, back in 2004 on what turned out to be the last tour of the classic Yes lineup with both Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman; even decades after their musical peak it was still an incredible and spectacular show. More recently, the music editor of The Guardian asked me to write a piece about Yes; my first ever paid piece of music writing.

Yes are still dismissed in some quarters as “that band who made Tales from Topographic Oceans, which was awful and punk had to come and save us”. Which is a shame. When a band like Muse are currently one of the biggest bands in Britain, anyone who loves Muse really ought to be able to find something to love about Yes. That Guardian article of mine highlighting ten of their best songs is a good place to start.

So farewell, Chris Squire, and thank you for all the life-changing music you made.

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A thought. The Libertines are to indie what ELP are to prog. Loved by their fans but epitomising everything non-fans loathe about their entire genre.

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Dave Foster launches Kickstarter for 2nd Solo Album

Dave Foster, guitarist for Panic Room, Mr So and So & The Steve Rothery Band has launched a Kickstarter campaign for his second solo album, to be titled “Dreamless”.

His first solo album, 2012′s “Gravity” was excellent, largely instumental but also featuring a wonderful guest vocal contribution from Dinet Poortman. The new album is likewise going to be a mix of vocal and instrumental tracks, and Dave Foster is promising ‘an array of guest musicians’, the identities of whom are yet to be announced.

If you like the sound of that, go and pledge now!

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One Can Only Hope

I find it impossible to read this poster for the Bospop festival in The Netherlands and not think “If only Jools Holland was to invite a few of the bands he’s sharing a bill with on Sunday to appear on Later“.

One can only hope.

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Chantel McGregor at the 2014 Cambridge Rock FestivalChantel McGregor at the 2014 Cambridge Rock Festival, which prominently features female artists

The Guardian have run their fourth piece in as many weeks bemoaning the fact that the lineups of major festivals are too male-dominated.

Unfortunately while it does raise some valid points it ends with this awful paragraph that seems deliberately calculated to provoke a defensive reaction from male rock fans, especially when the proposed “solution” had been to add commercial pop acts like Taylor Swift or Katy Perry to the bill.

In a world where women are deconstructing pop music, club culture is booming with some of the most innovative sounds in years, and a new generation of hip-hop and rap stars are heralding a socio-political cultural revolution in America, the white, male rockist notion of what a music festival headliner should be begins to feel hopelessly archaic.

The use of the dated 1980s term “rockist” does rather imply the author didn’t actually like rock at all, and the whole thing smacked of Social Justice Warrior-style invasion of other people’s spaces. One of the authors did later clarify that that wasn’t what she meant and she did love rock after all, but by then the comments were swarmed with bellicose sexists. I even had to ask the moderators to remove one of my own comments that recommended and namechecked a female artist because I didn’t want her to become the subject of online harassment.

While there is undoubtably sexism across all levels in the music business, I still think one big problem is the way a very small number of gatekeepers get to filter all the music mainstream audiences get to hear. The problem is not just that those gatekeepers are disproportionately white and male but that so few people have a disproportionate amount of power.

Previous articles have spoken of “elite tastemakers” numbering as few as fifteen record label executives, radio programmers and magazine editors who get to decide almost everything Joe and Johanna public get to hear.

Commenter “Cathartic” writes of the influence of gatekeepers in metal, using the Download festival referenced in the piece as an example.

There are numerous metal bands with females in that are less commercially successful, which disproves the idea that women just like to watch, but its almost certain that if festivals gave newer acts (both male and female) more of a chance many would develop the fanbase needed to justify headline slots.

Its a Chicken/Egg situation largely. Download is extremely conservative about its line ups, most of the headliners and main stage acts are basically older American and British bands that have been around for decades, and they are not known for given the European bands a slot. The latest roadrunner signing will take preference over an established European band regardless of commercial appeal. 10 years later that band will have enough mid-afternoon slots that they would have to be really bad not to have turned that exposure into sales.

However elsewhere in Europe, Nightwish and Within Temptation are two examples of female fronted bands that will land headline slots in hard rock/metal festivals. Both would pull off a senior slot at download as well these days. Both those bands can pull off UK arena tours now, but it was Bloodstock that has pioneered these types of bands in the UK first. There is the audience out there.

There are plenty of female musicians – ratio is irrelevant – playing in smaller bands in genres which download claims to cater for. The question is why so few have been able to make the leap from small touring for petrol money to headliners. The reasons may be complex, but the reality is his festival (and other music industry big wigs) have acted as gatekeepers in the genre and adopted an extremely conservative booking policy that has meant download have never taken risks on helping the smaller bands reach a larger audience. His comments just portrayed an under ignorance of the genre he caters for. Reality is headliners may be the ones that sell tickets (and Nightwish and Within Temptation certainly could add ticket sales for download), but the mid-afternoon slots are far less risky to try something new and there are a whole host of bands with female musicians that get ignored. Many people at festivals find discovering new bands part of the reason for going to a festival anyway.

That hits the nail right on the head.

I do suspecr that one reason the grassroots progressive rock scene is more friendly towards female-led bands than the corporate indie-rock festival circuit is previsely because it isn’t so controlled by bean-counting gatekeepers.

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Thirty Years Ago Today

Today is the 30th anniversary of the 1985 Knebworth Fayre, headlined by Deep Purple. David Meadows shares his memories of the day.

It’s 1985. Thirty years ago today, as I write this. I’m a student in Sunderland and I’ve just passed my 20th birthday. And I have only recently been introduced to rock music by the people I’m living with. I grew up without much knowledge of contemporary music at all. I listened to my parents’ music. My sister bought all the pop records in the household, and I didn’t think much of most of them. I listened to classical music, some folk, some jazz, and mostly what these days they would call the “Great American Songbook”. So I’m only just starting to listen to rock music, and deciding that while a lot of it is rubbish, some of it might not be bad at all. The first rock LP I buy is something called Bat Out Of Hell, and I think it’s incredible. My friends go up to rock gigs in Newcastle every few weeks and come back telling me it was the best concert they’ve ever seen (which seems a silly thing to say; how can they always get better and better?) but I never want to go with them. It doesn’t seem like it would be my kind of thing.

So there’s suddenly this buzz about an old band called Deep Purple who have reformed and are going to be playing a big show in someplace I’ve never heard of called Knebworth. I’ve heard Deep Purple: a friend loaned me a compliation called Deepest Purple last summer, and some of it is not bad at all. More intriguingly, Meat Loaf, the Bat Out of Hell guy, will be on the bill.

The whole thing is well worth a read.

Almost every rock fan I know seems to have been at that gig. It was the hard rock equivalent of that much mythologised Sex Pistols gig in Manchester, except that everyone who claims to have been there actually was.

The thing we all remember the most is the rain. And Meatloaf being absolutely God-awful, And the rain. And Mountain missing out the good bit from “Nantucket Sleighridge”. And the sun coming out briefly during Blackfoot’s excellent set. And then the rain came back. And The Scorpions, at the peak of the powers, stealing the show from the headliners. But most of all, the rain.

The other thing that sticks in the memory is walking back from Kings Cross to Paddington, covered in mud, and having to cover two and three quarter miles in 45 minutes to catch the last train back to Slough at 1:40am. We made it with just seconds to spare.

I’ve seen Deep Purple a couple of times far more recently, but it’s still the only time I have ever seen Ritchie Blackmore live.

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Mantra Vega – Island

Mantra Vega, the new project from Heather Findlay and Dave Kerzner release the digital single “Island”, the lead track from the forthcoming album “The Illusion’s Reckoning“, available from Bandcamp, iTunes, Google Play and Amazon

The single release contains four tracls, including the songs “Mountain Spring” and “Every Corner”,and a radio edit of the lead track, and features guitars from Dave Kilminster & Chris Johnson and the rhythm section of Stuart Fletcher & Alex Cromarty.

There will also be a physical releasee of the single, which you can order from the Mantra Vega web site.

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