Music Blog

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

Oasis snubbed Trainspotting soundtrack thinking film ‘was about trainspotters’. Yes, I know it’s just a throwaway filler piece in The Guardian. But you’ve got to laugh.

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Yes, Journey, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Salon

A central casting too-cool-for-school hipster looks at this year’s nominations for the Rock and Roll hall of fame and asks “Why celebrate Journey and Yes? He concludes that the Hall of Fame has hit “a new low”.

Journey stands, alongside REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Styx, and a handful of others as an exemplar of one of the worst, least inventive periods of rock history — the corporate rock movement that was marked by bland playing and generic songwriting. Of all of them, Journey may have had, with Steve Perry, the most annoying lead singer. “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” is lodged permanently on AOR radio, television shows like “Glee,” and in the karaoke and covers repertoire. Forget ear worms — it’s the musical cockroach we’ll never kill. But please, can’t we just agree that this band’s career was a big mistake, try to forget about them, and just leave it at that?

Yes, on the other hand, is a band that once had real musical ambition as leaders of the “art rock movement.” But their classical-rock fusions sound studied now; they never had the imagination or drive of, say, King Crimson. And they are, like Journey, led by an awful lead singer. Can we remove “Owner of a Lonely Heart” from radio forever and just pretend that ‘80s comeback never happened?

Because if you really think Yes are defined by “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, you should not be employed to write about them. But it’s Salon, which is really a leftist-hipster version of The Daily Express, a publication that exists to confirm and reinforce the prejudices of its narrow-minded readership.

There is a wider question, of course, of why exactly does anyone take the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seriously in the first place.

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Desert Island Disks

The long-running BBC radio series “Desert Island Disks” asks the guest celebrity of the week to choose eight of their favourite records. The premise is that if you were marooned on a desert island, and you had just eight records to listen to, what would they be?

I’m treating “records” as albums, and for this exercise, I’ve imposed a rule of no compilations, and no live albums. So with no further ado…

pink-floyd-meddlePink Floyd – Meddle

The first album I ever bought was Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. But although that album means a lot to me, there’s only room in this list for one dark angst-ridden concept album, and that’s coming up further down. And though “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here” are undisputed classics. they’re so overexposed that they’ve just been worn smooth. If I’m in the mood for some Pink Floyd nowadays it’s most often either “Meddle” or “Animals” that gets played. If forced to choose, we’ll go for Meddle. It’s worth it for the extended dreamy atmospherics of “Echoes” alone, but there’s more to the album that that.

blue-oyster-cult-secret-treatiesBlue Öyster Cult – Secret Treaties

Blue Öyster Cult have been one of my top bands ever since a college friend played me the live version of “Astronomy” from Some Enchanted Evening when that live disk was still almost a current album. But since live albums are against my self-imposed rules, so we’ll go for their classic third album. Fan consensus is their Secret Treaties is their best, and fan consensus isn’t wrong. It’s the final album of the so-called “Black and White trilogy” combining richly layered music with a raw garage-like sound, with high weirdness lyrics hinting at the magical origins of World War Two. Blue Öyster Cult were always far more that just a metal band, and this album is proof of that.

Rainbow RisingRainbow – Rising

Hearing “Eyes of the World” on Nicky Horne’s show on Capital Radio radio changed my life. Ever since then Ritchie Blackmore’s music has been part of the soundtrack of my life, either with Deep Purple or with Rainbow. He was at the peak of his powers when he made this record along with the greatest hard rock singer of all time in the shape of the late Ronnie James Dio, and a sheer force of nature in Cozy Powell on drums. With just six tracks and a running time of less that forty minutes it’s all-killer-no-filler, with the monumental “Stargazer” as the centrepiece of the record.

220px-MarillionBraveMarillion – Brave

The three previous bands had been long-established by the time their music first appeared on my radar, but with Marillion I was there from the start. Not quite to the extent that I was seeing them play to thirty people in pubs before they were signed, but I did see them at the 1982 Reading Festival and bought their first album of the day of release. Since then they have released many great albums both with Fish and later with Steve Hogarth, but the favourite has to be their dark and intense 1994 concept album. As the sleeve notes say, play it loud with the lights out.

mostly-autumn-the-last-bright-lightMostly Autumn – The Last Bright Light

Anyone who knows me knows that Mostly Autumn are one of my favourite bands. I’ve seen them something like a hundred times live now. Which doesn’t make it easy to choose just one album, especially when their music has evolved of the years along with changes in the make-up of the band. But if forced to choose just one, it will be their third, the high point of their celtic-folk-prog era on Cyclops records. It’s now sadly out of print, though many of the best songs appear on the retrospective compilation “Pass the Clock”.

porcupine-tree-in-absentiaPorcupine Tree – In Absentia

It’s not easy to choose one Porcupine Tree record. Sometimes it seems as if their best album is whichever one I’ve just listened to. But if forced to keep just one, it would be have to be this album, because it’s sheer variety covers many of the bases of their sound. In just the first three numbers it goes from the Zepellinesque riffery of “Blackest Eyes”, the song-focused pop-rock of “Trains” and the psychedelic atmospherics of “Lips of Ashes”.

opeth-waershedOpeth – Watershed

Perhaps more than any other band, Opeth have redefined what a metal or progressive rock band can be, with deep roots in the classic rock of the 1970s on one hand and a contemporary attitude and desire to avoid repeating their own past on the other. Few other bands can match their sense of dynamics and compositional skills. All their albums are good, but Watershed is the best, seamlessly combining intense heaviness with mellow atmospherics, often in the same song, and would be the last time Mikael Åkerfeldt would use his death-metal growling vocals on record.

Panic Room - SKINPanic Room – S K I N

Along with Mostly Autumn, Panic Room are my other favourite club-level band, and I’ve seen them live almost as many times. Indeed, the two bands were joined at the hip at one point with Anne-Marie Helder and Gavin Griffiths doing double duty in both. All their albums have their fans; there are even people who think the first was the best, but for me the favourite has to be their third, which goes from hard rock to jazz-tinged adult pop to epic soaring ballads while still adding up to a coherent work. It may well be that their best is yet to come, but for now this album is their masterpiece.

Over to you. What eight records could you not live without?

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Voodoo Vegas – Killing Joke

The official video for Killing Joke, from Voodoo Vegas’ fortcoming album “Freak Show Candy Floss

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Mostly Autumn – Leamington Assembly

Last December’s Mostly Autumn mini-convention in Leamington Spa was such a success that the band decided to do it again. Like last year the show was billed to feature some special one-off performances, and again included violinist Anna Phoebe both guesting with the band and playing a set of her own material. With doors at 3pm and a curfew at 10, it promised to be a long day with a lot of music.

Things started with what had been billed as a Mostly Autumn acoustic set, but with Bryan playing Stratocaster from the very beginning it was to be more semi- than completely unplugged, opening with a slowed-down piano-driven arrangement of “Never The Rainbow”. Much of the set was solo spots for individual band members, with no fewer than five of the band taking turns at singing lead; Alex Cromarty reprised his superhero song, Chris Johnson sang “Gaze”, and Angela Gordon sang both her own “Given Time” accompanied by Chris and Bryan, and her cover Christy’s Moore’s “Ride On” fronting the entire band. They ended with full electric versions of two standards that haven’t featured in this year’s touring setlist, “The Last Climb” and “Evergreen”.

Next up was Papillon, the duo of Anna Phoebe on violin and Nicholas Rizzi on acoustic guitar. Playing as a stripped back duo made for a different experience to Anna Phoebe’s full band, less rock and jazz, more classical with a hint of folk. As expected, Anna Phoebe’s sometimes fiery virtuosity was the focus with Nicholas Rizzi, himself an accomplished player acting as a foil. What was notable was the way something which was a long way from rock had a rock audience completely enthralled; you could have heard a pin drop during the set. This year there was time for a decent-length set, ending with a folk number that strongly recalled the early days of Mostly Autumn when Bob Faulds with with the band.

Last year Mostly Autumn played a set of Pink Floyd covers, which was a little controversial when announced, but silenced the doubters in the end. Rather than repeat the same thing a second time they decided to play a set of covers by different artists that had inspired the band. And what an eclectic set it turned out to be. They started out with the Floyd standard, “Us and Them” following with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” with Olivia singing lead, which some might remember from the Josh and Co gigs from many years ago. Then things took off in unexpected directions; Angela Gordon singing an emotive “Who Knows Where The Time Goes”, with Anna Phoebe on violin, Chris Johnson singing Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” and Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees”, and Olivia singing Eric Carmen’s “All By Myself”. Supertramp’s “Take the Long Way Home” with Chris Backhouse guesting on sax was more predictable, and they ended as they began with a couple of obvious Floyd standards, “The Great Gig In The Sky” and “Comfortably Numb”.

After a short interval they were back with this year’s usual set opener, the folky instrumental “Out of the Inn”, then the Blackmore-like lead runs of “In for the Bite”. With the length of time they’d already been on stage we could have expected a shorter festival length set, but no, they proceeded to play the full two hours plus touring set from the early part of the year, played without a further break. Less frequently played classics like “Silver Glass”, “Wild Eyed Skies” and the epic “Mother Nature” sat alongside regular standards like “Spirit of Autumn Past”, “Passengers”, “Deep in Borrowdale” and “Questioning Eyes”. Even though it didn’t quite have the fire and intensity of the best headline shows earlier in the year, probably because of the sheer length of time they’d been on stage, it was still a hugely enjoyable set, and a reminder of just how good a songbook Mostly Autumn have built up over the years.

Anna Phoebe again joined the band for the first encore, the welcome if predictable “The Night Sky”, after which Bryan told us they’d run out of time and they could only do one more, which of course was “Heroes Never Die”. It was seven hours since the doors opened.

It all made for a great day, and like the Panic Room weekend earlier in the year was an event that amounted to far more than just another regular gig. The acoustic and covers sets were a reminder that there’s a lot of musical talent in the current incarnation on the band beyond the two front-people; in particular hearing Angela Gordon singing lead was a revelation. Let’s hope there’s another similar event in future years.

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Marillion – 10 of the best


I’ve got another Ten of the Best features in The Guardian, this time for Marillion.

Attempting to condense thirty-five years and sixteen album’s worth of music into just ten songs is next to impossible, and the the list went through a lot of permutations before settling on the final ten.

As people ought to have realised by now, I always avoid the Big Hit that everbody knows, because what’s the point? There are so many other riches in the back catalogue. There’s nothing from their biggest-selling album, “Misplaced Childhood”, which is an obvious omission, but so much of it only works in the context of the whole album. “Bitter Suite”, a candidate on the initial longlist didn’t make the cut because it doesn’t work as a standalone song, ending abruptly when it seques into “Heart of Lothian”.

It was also a decision right from the beginning for the split between Fish -era and H-era songs to reflect the number of albums, which was always going to mean Fish-era songs would be in the minority. Some people will not like that.

And, just as predicted, the very first comment mentions Grendel…

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When Critics Fail To Do Their Job

The Guardian have published an interesting article on the massive hype surrounding the release of Oasis third album “Be Here Now”, and the subsequent bursting of the bubble.

The press release declared it as having the same impact as coming of Elvis and Dylan going electric. It received fawning five-star reviews in almost every publication. And then in a space of just a few days, its reputation crashed and burned once people had the chance to hear the record and realised that what they were hearing didn’t match the hype.

The mood of the country had changed since Oasis’ first two albums; Radiohead’s “OK Computer” was the record everyone was talking about, and the cool kids were forming prog-rock bands. Oasis’ combination of the least interesting aspects of indie and classic rock has become yesterday’s sound.

This pair of quotations from music journo Paul Lester and publicist Johnny Hopkins are quite illuminating.

“I was caught up in the excitement of it all,”  Lester says. “I’m so sorry to everybody for that review, but the enormity of it was captivating. We were reviewing a moment in history and staking our part in it. It was like seeing the great behemoth of a spaceship in Close Encounters. You felt awed into submission.”

“You want the record to be good because you’re into the band,” says Hopkins. “And you want it to be good because that means it’s going to sell well and that’s going to help the magazines sell well. But I was surprised that there wasn’t a dissenting voice. When a band gets to that level, there’s always someone who says, ‘Hold on a minute,’ but there wasn’t [for Oasis].”

The whole episode is a teachable moment in the history of music criticism. It marked the beginning of the end of an era in which the mainstream music press had a huge influence as tastemakers and gatekeepers. For the NME in particular it was the beginning of their long-overdue decline into irrelevance.

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duski-cover-artDuski are a band from Cardiff playing music on the blurred boundary between contemporary jazz and the experimental fringe of progressive rock. Led by bassist Aiden Thorne, they’re a five piece featuring sax, guitar and electric piano who have been making an impression on the jazz scene in South Wales over the past couple of years.

Their self-titled début begins with and eerie discordant soundscapes before it morphs into “Spare Part” which gradually builds from a laid-back beginning through an extended solo from the band’s guitarist. The uptempo “Simple Song” is more rhythmic and melodic, with sax bought to the fore. Interlude sees the avant-garde noise make a brief return, leading into the mellow “Lakeside”, built up from a chordal bass figure, with haunting sax lead underlaid by guitar textures.

By the languid “Two Hours Long” with it’s serpentine sax solo, we’re into the late-night chill-out zone. Then “Another Simple Song” takes things in the opposite direction. It opens with a shimmering guitar figure before building into an jazz-rocker in a similar vein to its earlier namesake, with an incessant bass groove from Aiden Thorne himself, and an impressive jazz-fusion piano workout at one point. The brief “Outtro” ends the album as it begins, with avant-noise, playing out with the whole band on one single sustained abrasive chord.

If the band’s intention is to blend jazz with elements of progressive rock and ambient soundscapes, they have largely succeeded in their aim with this record. Much of the music is still recognisably jazz, especially when the saxophone is dominant. But there’s also much in the melodies and textures for a more adventurous rock fan to appreciate. It’s a very varied record, sometimes very mellow, sometimes times rocking out. Though there is still plenty of soloing, the emphasis is always on composition rather than numbers being vehicles for the solos. An impressive début.

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The Windmill – The Continuation

the-windmill-the-continuationNorwegian symphonic proggers The Wimdmill made quite an impression as the opening act of the final day of the 2014 Cambridge Rock Festival. The six piece featuring flute and sax alongside twin guitars and vintage keyboard noises went down well enough to be invited back again in 2016, where they again went down a storm.

To date, the band have recorded two albums, the second of which, “The Continuation” became part of the festival merch desk haul following their 2014 appearance. It’s an album that’s received regular plays ever since.

The short instrumental title track sets the mood, a melodic number with the main theme alternating between flute and lead guitar. The lengthy “The Masque” is a song of two parts, a pastoral opening section then an extended instrumental workout in which every member bar the rhythm section takes multiple solos. After an opening in a similar vein to the title track, “Not Alone” builds into a big soaring ballad. The cod-reggae of “Giant Prize is perhaps the only dud, but at just over three minutes it’s mercifully short. Then we’re into the grand finale of “The Gamer”, a sometimes completely bonkers 24 minute epic which mercilessly takes the piss out of obsessive video game players who never go outside.

This is old-school retro-prog with little concession to contemporary sounds, going from flute-led pastoral passages to occasional irruptions of big band jazz. What they do have is a strong sense of melody, which if anything is most prominent in some of the flute and guitar lines rather than the vocals. This a band who are not shy about embracing the odd cliché; we’ve even got a minimoog solo consisting of minor-key arpeggios in 9/8 time at one point. But they’re also a band who do it well enough to be able to get away with it. There is something about them that rises above generic Euro-prog.

Both albums are listed on sale on the band’s website, though it doesn’t look as if it’s been updated recently, though their facebook page is still active. The band are currently working on a third album.

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Mostly Autumn announce new album

sight-of-dayMostly Autumn announce their forthcoming album, to be titled “Sight of Day”, with a planned shipping date of January 2017 and a general retail release for February.

Like every album since 2007, it will again be crowdfunded, using pre-orders to fund the recording, and they’re taking orders right now from Mostly Autumn Records

As has been the case with most of their other recent albums, the pre-order edition will be a limited edition double album with additional songs that won’t be on the single-disk retail edition. And it’s usually a good bet that some of the songs on the bonus disk will be every bit as good as anything on retaul edition. And it’s limited to 2000 copies, so get your order in now!

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