Tag Archives: Anne-Marie Helder

Anne-Marie Helder – January

A new solo song nu Anne-Marie Helder of Panic Room and Luna Rossa fame.

In her own words:

“January’ is a little ditty about this strange, bleak first month of the year ~ A time when all the Christmas decorations have been taken down,  The days are too short, the nights are too cold…  It’s grey outside, & we’ve got no money left.  We’re supposed to be getting healthy after all that overindulgence, but we can’t be bothered. All the parties are over, and there are no festivities left to save us from the interminable grey days of winter.

…Hurrah!

On the bright side, here’s a little song for you.  A reminder you that you’re not alone. It won’t last forever…  Soon it’ll be February!

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Coro94 at Christmas

coro82-at-christmas

As you all ought to know, I’m really a rock reviewer, so this isn’t a conventional review; I’ve written a lot more about myself that is proper for a typical rock review, but feels appropriate to set the rest of the review in context.

Before I discovered rock and roll in my late teens I listened to a lot of classical music. My mum was a member of an amateur choral society, and I sat through their concerts from an early age. I was probably too young to appreciate some of the seemingly interminable oratorios, but the Christmas carol concerts were always entertaining. In more recent years, while living in Cheadle Hulme, I always attended the very traditional Nine Lessons and Carols at the Parish Church, often the last thing I did up north before heading south to spend Christmas with family. That’s something I’m missed the last couple of years; very often I’ve found myself at a gig as a reviewer the last Sunday before Christmas.

So attending a Christmas concert by one of Britain’s top amateur choirs wasn’t so much a step outside my comfort zone as it was a sense of things coming full circle, especially when the choir in question includes Anne-Marie Helder of Panic Room and Luna Rossa, who needs no introduction to to regular readers of this blog.

The concert itself was as beautiful as the building it was held in. They put together a hugely varied program; with a lot of modern classical compositions especially in the first half, alongside an African-American spiritual, an Oregonian folk carol, a traditional number from Botswana as well as well-know carols and secular Christmas songs. Highlights of the first half included “Serenity (O Magnum Mysterium)” by Norwegian-born composer Ola Gjeilo, a piece accompanied by violin and cello, and works best if you close your eyes and let the music waft over you. They followed this with the completely bonkers “Christus Est Natus” by Slovenia’s Damien Močnik.

For parts of the concert, Coro94 shared their stage with a children’s choir in the shape of the Fulham Cross Girls’ School Glee Club, a reminder of Coro94′s origins as a youth choir. They performed some numbers on their own, including an arrangement of Sia’s “Chandelier”, and joined Coro94 on others, such as the traditional carol “O Holy Night”.

The second half was more up-tempo with an emphasis on traditional carols, with some audience participation on the ambitiously complicated folk carol “Come and I Will Sing You”. They ended with a couple of well-known secular Christmas songs which came over as something equivalent to prog bands covering 70s standards as Christmas encores.

It’s something a little different from your typical rock gig; as is common in events held in churches. the bar served wine but not beer. But much like some contemporary folk or jazz there was nothing that shouldn’t be accessible to a more open-minded progressive rock fan; the Gjeilo piece in particular had a strong Iamthemorning feel about it. It makes me wonder how much being steeped in classical and choral music from an early age has influenced Anne-Marie Helder’s subsequent songwriting, and whether that explains something of why I love her music.

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2016 Cambridge Rock Festival – Part Two

Jo Ash of Derecho

This is the second part of my review of the weekend. The first part is here.

Saturday began with four-piece Derecho on the main stage. Singer and pianist Jo Ash’s punky attitude had shades of Holly from Crimson Sky, which meant the day’s bill opened with something lively enough to wake everyone up. She’s quite a remarkable singer with a voice that goes from Siouxie Sioux to Kate Bush. The music was a mix of singer-songwriter style piano numbers and rockier numbers with the occasional burst of space-rock guitar.

4th Labyrinth are one of those bands who are next to impossible to pigeonhole, highlighted by the way they’ve named their album “Quattro Staggioni”. They played an eclectic mix of styles from funk to organ-driven psychedelic rock, with a top-hatted keyboard-playing singer who bore more than a passing resemblance to Bigelf’s Damon Fox, and a bassist who dances as plays at the same time. Alongside their own material they threw in covers of Jethro Tull’s Locomotive Breath with a Hammond organ solo replacing the flute, and a bonkers version of Wings’ Live and Let Die

Pearl Handled Revolver have become festival regulars with their distinctive blend of blues and psychedelia evoking Uriah Heep and The Doors. Without a bassist they rely on keys for the basslines, and they combine flourishes of bluesy guitar with classic 70s keyboard sounds of Hammond organ, electric piano and at one point, Mellotron. While they had the same instrumental lineup as The Mentulls the day before, in this case it was the keyboard player who was the real star, ending the set with an epic Jon Lord style wig-out.

Hekz

After the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin hard rock of Walkway came one of the highlights of the day, the epic prog-metal of Hekz. Like other bands before them Hekz rose to the big occasion and delivered one of the performances of their lives. More metal that anything else on this year’s bill yet also powerfully melodic, they delivered a razor-sharp and intense set, ending with the twelve-minute epic “The Black Hand”.

Hazel O’Connor seemed out of place, her 80s pop a long way from the classic rock and blues of the rest of the bill. But she’s played this festival several times before and has always gone down well. With a band including Claire Hirst on Sax and Sarah Fisher on piano they were one act on the main stage without a guitarist, and made a great change of pace, including a celtic-flavoured song with all three of them on bhodran. Unfortunately I only got to see the first half of the set and missed the big hits because there was no way a big fan could miss the overlapping act on Stage Three.

Anne-Marie Helder

Anne-Marie Helder doesn’t do many solo acoustic gigs nowadays. There was a time between the dissolution of the first incarnation of Karnataka and the rise of Panic Room when Anne-Marie gigged very heavily as a solo act, playing 200 shows in a year at one point. Nowadays Panic Room and Luna Rossa are the focus of her songwriting, and solo shows are restricted to the occasional support spot, usually at very short notice at gigs which were sold out before her fans get to hear of them. She’s one of the few solo acts who can fill a room with sound using just one voice and an acoustic guitar. Her set included some decade-old favourites like “Hadditfeel” and “Dominoes” as well as Luna Rossa’s “Secrets and Lies”. There was one completely new song about messages to future generations, with partially-crowdsourced lyrics; though the like “Don’t eat the yellow snow” may well not survive in the final version. She ended with the first few lines of Panic Room’s “Promises” before switching to another oldie, “Wheels Within Wheels”. Despite the sound spillover from the other two stages, it was a beautiful set.

Carl Palmer

And then it was back to the main stage for the grand finale of Carl Palmer’s ELP Experience. On paper, instrumental shred-metal versions on ELP songs ought not to work as a festival headliner. In practice, the levels of virtuosity and showmanship said otherwise. The set covered ELP standards including Knife Edge, Fanfare for the Common Man and a lengthy Pictures of an Exhibition, and a bonkers take on Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. It wasn’t all over the top bombast either; the guitarist’s tapped solo spot was a thing of delicate beauty. And the bassist playing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in full on solo bass was something else entirely, and may have been the best-received bass solo ever. Naturally the set climaxed with an epic drum solo; there are only a handful of drummers who should be allowed to play long drum solos, and Carl Palmer is one of them. At the very end Carl dedicated the set to the late Keith Emerson, and asked the audience to film the final number on their phones and upload it in his memory, before launching into the encore, Nutrocker.

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Anne-Marie Helder releases live EP

Anne-Marie Helder has done a Beyoncé and released a new record out of the blue with no prior announcement. Called simply “Solo Live”, it’s a five track EP of live recordings of her solo material.

In the mid-2000s, between the disollution of the first incarnation of Karnataka and the start of Panic Room, Anne-Marie toured extensivly as an acoustic solo act, playing 200 gigs in one year at one point. As first Panic Room and then Luna Rossa became more established, the solo side of Anne-Marie’s music has taken less prominence, though she did support Steve Hackett in some major venues in 2013.

.As Anne-Marie explains on her Facebook page, these recordings for this EP date from 2009 when she was the tour support for Ultravox. They were made by the sound engineer at Portsmouth Guildhall, and had been thought lost. But they’ve turned up, and have been professionally mixed and mastered by Panic Room’s and Luna Rossa’s producer Tim Hamill.

The EP can be streamed or purchased as a download from Anne-Marie’s Bandcamp page.

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A shoutout on International Women’s Day to some of the inspirational female musicians whose work has featured on this blog over the years, including Chantel McGregor, Anne-Marie Helder, Anna Phoebe, Angela Gordon, Heidi Widdop, Sarah Dean, Diane Fox, Christina Booth, Olivia Sparnenn, Heather Findlay, Kim Seviour, Lisa Fury, Jane Setter , Rachel Cohen, Charlotte Evans, Vicky Johnson, Hayley Griffiths and everyone else I’ve missed.

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Anne-Marie Helder & Mostly Autumn

Anne-Marie Helder has written a lengthy post on Facebook explaining why she won’t be performing on stage with Mostly Autumn (bar one gig) for the rest of the year. It’s too long to quote in it’s entirety, but I’ve highlighted this section, which clarifies one or two misconceptions.

I have seen some comments written about myself or Gavin having ‘left’ Mostly Autumn, which I think it’s important to say was Never actually said…

The truth of the situation is, while other commitments keep us 2 exceptionally busy, Mostly Autumn have (rightly) drafted in new and highly-talented folks to fulfil their line-up, and for this year’s shows that’s what the live line-up will be.

But as for future tours, nothing is decided yet; and as ever, Bryan and his team will only do what is 100% right for the band, on a tour-by-tour basis!

So, I would urge you to show nothing but support and love for Mostly Autumn – both the band members and all the team – as they now dive into the next set of tour dates and pursue lots of great opportunities throughout the year! :o )

I will be on stage with Panic Room, and sometimes solo, and maybe with the new acoustic project Luna Rossa (at some point!)…. But I will also have one eye looking out from the wings onto the Mostly Autumn stage, and watching them with immense pride and love, for they are some of my closest and loveliest friends! And I know they’ll Rock as hard as ever this year.

Reading the original announcement, it’s easy to see why many people interpreted things the way they did, even though as Anne-Marie correctly points out, that’s not what the announcement actually says. And while nothing has been decided yet, I know I’m not the only one hoping that Anne-Marie does return to the band at some point. Indeed, I’d love to see the new singer Hannah Hird retained as well, resulting in a return to the eight-piece lineup with the big vocal harmonies, which is one thing I’ve missed since Olivia Sparnenn took over as lead singer in 2010.

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Steve Hackett at Hammersmith Apollo

Steve Hackett

Much like Fleetwood Mac, a band that still provokes endless discussion between fans of the Peter Green and Stevie Nicks eras over which was the best, Genesis were really two quite different bands appealing to different audiences. The 70s incarnation fronted by the charismatic Peter Gabriel saw them as one of the most innovative and influential bands from the British progressive rock movement, influenced more by baroque composers than the blues, with lyrics filled with English whimsy and Greek myths. The 80s incarnation saw their more commercially-orientated pop-rock fill stadiums, and for a while it was fashionable to dismiss their older music as hopelessly dated and worthless. Even the band seemed willing to disown their past in interviews. But in recent years progressive rock in general is being increasingly reassessed, and now it’s their 80s work that many consider ‘of its time’.

The watershed moment between the two eras of Genesis wasn’t Gabriel’s departure in 1975, but guitarist Steve Hackett’s departure two years later. His 1996 album “Genesis Revisited” and last year’s ambitious double-album follow-up have made him the keeper of the flame for Genesis’ 1970s legacy. Recent tours have seen Steve Hackett’s band mix selected Genesis favourites with highlights of his 35 year solo career, but with the release of “Genesis Revisited II”, he’s now taking the full Genesis revival show on the road.

Anne-Marie Helder supporting Steve Hackett at Hammersmith Apollo

Opening act was Anne-Marie Helder, best known in recent years as the lead singer of Panic Room. Acoustic singer-songwriters can often work well in small intimate settings, but Anne-Marie is one of the few in the business who can project strongly in much larger halls. It was amazing to hear the way her voice fill the venue. Her short-but-sweet set included a spellbinding stripped-down version of Panic Room’s “Promises” alongside some older acoustic numbers that haven’t been heard live for far too long.

The famous symphonic keyboard intro to “Watcher of the Skies” heralded the main event. Aside from Hackett himself, the six piece band includes Nad Sylvan on the majority of lead vocals, Roger King on keys, Gary O’Toole on drums and vocals, Rob Townsend on flute and clarinet and Lee Pomeroy on bass, with Amanda Lehmann joining them on guitar and vocals for a couple of songs.

For the next two and a half hours the band took us through the 1971-77 Genesis songbook, with so many highlights it’s difficult to single out individual moments. We saw “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” turn into a singalong of the opening section. “The Lamia” saw the first of several special guest appearances, with Nick Kershaw on vocals and Marillion’s Steve Rothery trading licks with Steve Hackett at the end, earning the first of many standing ovations of the evening. “Shadow of the Heirophant”, the sole non-Genesis song was simply stunning, with Rob Townsend pogoing at one point and some incredible liquid shredding from the man himself. A beautiful “Entangled” featured a three-part vocal harmony with Nad Sylvan, Amanda Lehmann and Gary O’Toole. John Wetton guested on “Afterglow” after the extended jazz-fusion instrumental workout of “Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers/In That Quiet Earth”. And pretty much the whole audience shouted “A FLOWER” at that point in the epic “Supper’s Ready”.

Steve Hackett at Hammersmith Apollo

The band gave the old songs something of a new lick for the 21st century. It wasn’t a reverential note-for-note reproduction of the original recordings, but neither was it a ground-up re-imagining that didn’t respect the original versions. Certainly the arrangements gave greater emphasis to Hackett’s distinctive and hugely influential guitar playing, and Nad Sylvan didn’t attempt to impersonate either Gabriel or Collins on vocals. The two songs Gary O’Toole sang from behind the kit,”Broadway Melody of 1974″ and “Blood on the Rooftops” were perhaps the closest to the originals vocally. Rob Townsend’s clarinet doubling or occasionally replacing Hackett’s original guitar lines added another dimension, resulting in “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” taking on a jazz flavour.

It’s all an unashamed nostalgia trip, with an audience disproportionately filled with people of a certain age. But after forty-odd years the music has stood the test of time in a way few anticipated a generation ago. So it’s great to hear this classic material played by a member of the original band, and the rapturous response from the audience with multiple standing ovations said it all. We’re probably never going to see the full-blown reunion of the mid-70s Genesis for which fans have been clamouring for years. But in the absence of a reunion, Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited tour is the next best thing.

The band will be playing Japan, Europe and the US before returning to the UK for further dates in October, including a show at the Royal Albert Hall.

(This review also appears in Trebuchet Magazine)

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Mostly Autumn Changes

Mostly Autumn at The Komedia in Bath, September 2012

Announcement from Bryan Josh of Mostly Autumn.

As you will have noticed if you came to any of the gigs, there was a different drummer – in order for Mostly Autumn to progress and move forward freely I have had to take the decision to choose the line-up on a tour by tour basis, as members sometimes, quite rightly, have their own commitments. For the rest of the year, barring 3 concerts, Alex Cromerty from the Heather Findlay Band, will be drumming with us in place of Gavin. Hannah Hird (most recently seen harmonising with Ellie Golding on her recent tour) will be fulfilling the rest of the year on harmony vocals and keys in place of Anne-Marie.

We sincerely wish Anne- Marie and Gavin the best of luck with anything they do and look forward to embracing the many talents of Hannah and Alex. The rest of the band will be as normal.

After many years of a constantly changing band Mostly Autumn had finally had achieved some stability by keeping a lineup together for three years, and this has been reflected in some increasingly powerful live performances. So it’s sad to see the 2010-2013 incarnation of the band coming to an end.

Anne-Marie’s stage presence and flute playing will be greatly missed from Mostly Autumn’s live shows, and the apparent dropping of the flute from the band’s sound severs the last ties with the celtic-folk sound of their early albums. Admittedly there has been very little flute on recent albums, but I can’t imagine older songs like “The Last Climb” appearing in the set for the rest of this year at least.

As for Anne-Marie, her own music must come first, and this year might see a lot more opportunities both for Panic Room and her solo work. It was amazing hearing her voice fill the mighty Hammersmith Apollo on Friday night opening for Steve Hackett. Her solo acoustic appearances have been few and far between over the past few years given her commitments with both Mostly Autumn and Panic Room, and I’m hoping we see a few more of these this year.

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How It All Started?

Anne-Marie Helder, lead singer and songwriter of Panic Room as well as playing keys, flute and backing vocals for Mostly Autumn posted the above link to Facebook:

I’ve been lucky enough to sing this in the past, with a couple of different choirs; and I can honestly say it never fails to bring goose-bumps to my skin and tears to my eyes!

If you are having a bad day – or a good day – please listen to this, and remember the sheer beauty and wonder that the world, the human soul, and this life that we are living is capable of!

If I could ever write something as incredible as this, to leave behind me in the world, then I would die happy.

When I was quite young, my mum was a member of an amateur choral society, and we all went to their annual choral concerts. I can’t remember exactly what works they performed, but Faure’s Requiem may well have been one of them. I can remember being bored by the solo pieces but enjoying the big choral numbers a lot more. Exposure to this sort of music at a formative age is probably why I developed a taste for music with a big sound and extensive use of harmony and find much three-chord music shallow and unsatisfactory. It’s not only why umpty-ump years later I’d much rather listen to Nightwish than The Arctic Monkeys, but why I appreciate the likes of Panic Room and Mostly Autumn.

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Liam Davison – A Treasure of Well-Set Jewels

Liam Davison is best known as guitarist for Mostly Autumn. When he left the band at the end of 2006 he stated that he was to work on a solo album. In the end it would be three years after he rejoined the band before the album was to see the light of day.

Liam is something of an enigmatic figure on stage with Mostly Autumn. He prefers to shun the spotlight and lurk at the back of the stage; but his playing is not that of a typical rhythm guitarist, playing melodic fills and lead runs rather than merely strumming chords. His name has only appeared a couple of times in MA’s songwriting credits to date, both for folk-flavoured numbers. But he’s also been playing a live improvisation on tour with echoes of Robert Fripp. Which made it difficult to predict the direction his solo album might take.

The music varies from the indie-flavoured opening hard rocker “Ride the Seventh Wave”, the electronica loops on “Into the Setting Sun”, and the acoustic ballad “One in the Lifetime”. But throughout there’s a strong emphasis on atmospheric progressive rock with a very strong Pink Floyd flavour. Standouts for me are “Eternally Yours”, ending with that epic slide solo featured in the album’s promo video, and “Heading Home”, with it’s wonderful interplay between Liam’s soaring lead guitar, Iain Jennings’ swirling Hammond organ and Paul Teasdale’s propulsive bass riff. It’s a big, rich, cinematic sound, superbly engineered and mixed by John Spence.

Liam shares vocals with Heather Findlay and Anne-Marie Helder, and the three distinctively different voices complement each other well. While Liam sings much of the lead vocals, several songs are duets between Liam and either Anne-Marie or Heather with some great use of harmony. One exception is “Once in a Lifetime”, sung solely by Heather, who also contributed the lyrics. Heather and Anne-Marie give excellent performances, but neither of them steal the show, this is still very much Liam’s album, showcasing his songwriting, and above all his superb lead guitar. If you like it when the solos can last for two or three minutes, and are still good enough not to outstay their welcome, you will love this album.

While much has been made of Heather’s and Anne-Marie’s contributions, on an album like this the instrumental supporting cast are just as important. In particular, Liam’s Mostly Autumn colleague Iain Jennings excels himself on keys. It’s the sort of all-enveloping cinematic sound we heard on early Mostly Autumn albums, and as such provides the perfect instrumental foil for Liam’s own playing.

This is a superb album, and while it’s only February, it’s a potential candidate for album of the year. Like many independent releases, it’s got a general retail release in March, but is available online now

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