Tag Archives: The Guardian Music Blog

Judas Priest – 10 of the best

judas-priest

The Guardian Music Blog has another one of mine in their Ten of the Best series, this time for The Black Country’s finest, Judas Priest.

I’ve covered much of their career, going from Sad Wings of Destiny to Nostradamus. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to include anything with Tim “Ripper” Owens; though “Cathedral Spires” was in my shortlist, “Jugulator” isn’t on Spotify, so I couldn’t include the song,

One or two people have said they can’t take Judas Priest seriously. Whatever gives them that idea?

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Cult heroes: Mostly Autumn

gu-mostly-autumnMy “Cult Heroes” piece on Mostly Autumn is now published in The Guardian Music Blog.

It’s both a great honour and more than a bit scary to be asked to write about a favourite band for the online section of a national newspaper, especially when I’m on first name terms with many past and present members of the band. They have always had a few noisy detractors, mostly jealous fans of less successful acts. They also had some very defensive obsessives who used to take the mildest criticism as an personal attack on the band. There was always an outside chance of the comments turning ugly.

I wanted it to read authentically rather than something fanboyish, so I covered the downs as well as the ups; mentioning the mis-marketing during the Classic Rock Productions years as well as the wobbly period when Iain Jennings (briefly) left in 2006. But I hope those are balanced by more than enough strong positives.

With a word count of a thousand words give or take a hundred, there wasn’t room for everything I wanted to include. One thing I’d like to have said more about was the extended family of related bands in their orbit. That includes side-projects like Odin Dragonfly and Josh & Co, as well as separate creative projects by past and present members, such as The Heather Findlay Band, Halo Blind and Cloud Atlas. Or Breathing Space, the side project that took on a life of its own before being reabsorbed back into the mothership. They’re all part of the Mostly Autumn story, and they’re a part of what the fandom is about.

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Marillion – 10 of the best

marillion

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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NWOBHM – 10 of the best

The Guardian have just published my latest in the “Ten of the Best”, on the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

When it comes to scenes rather than individual bands it’s harder to decide what to include and what doesn’t quite fit. So though I mentioned them in passing I excluded bands like Motörhead on the grounds that represented the previous generation.. Likewise Magnum, who were again slightly older and never quite seemed part of the scene.

I compiled the list largely by identifying the significant bands and then choosing their defining songs. A few of the tracks chose themselves; Diamond Head’s monumental “Am I Evil” is the most obvious one, followed closely by Angelwitch’s eponymous song. In one or two cases I went for personal favourites, for example Demon’s “Father of Time”. For The Tygers of Pan Tang I chose “Don’t Stop By” for John Sykes magnificent solo.

When it came to the better-known bands I tried to avoid being too obvious. Def Leppard’s early single is there for it’s historical importance. With Saxon I decided to go for an album cut rather than one of their hit singles.

Aside from the bigger names there’s a whole slew of lesser bands, some of whom managed the occasional great song, and the comment section is highlighting a few of these that I missed. I’d forgotten “Dance to the Music” by Last Flight, though Quartz did make my longlist.

And no, there was no room for Sledgehammer.

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Should have gone to Cambridge?


Meryl Hamilton of Voodoo Vegas at the Cambridge Rock Festival

It’s Reading Festival weekend again. The streets are filled with extremely young people in wellies, and every supermarket has a Canary Wharf of cheap booze.

I used to go to the festival back in the early 1980s, when the bill included such headliners as Rory Gallagher, UFO, Girlschool, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy. But even though some recent bills have included bands I wouldn’t mind seeing, it’s not for me. Now as back then, it’s a teenage rite of passage.

While The Guardian ackowleges this in its headline, most of their article is an extended moan about the bill being too male. Perhaps they should have gone to the Cambridge Rock Festival instead?

There is discussion to be had on gender and music festivals, but as is predictable with their gender or race-baiting articles, The Guardian has disabled comments.  In previous years Guardian has repeatedly demanded festivals include more women by reducing the amount of rock on the bills, usually written by people who didn’t actually like rock.

But surely there are other ways? What about one or two European symphonic metal bands like Nightwish, Within Temptation or Delain?  Or perhaps Babymetal? Or maybe even put acts like Panic Room or Mostly Autumn early on the bill?

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The Reality of Music Outside the Commercial Mainstream

Anne-Marie Helder guesting with Halo Blind at Bilston Robin 2

The last couple of days have seen two good articles on the reality of making music outside the commercial mainstream. First, Rhodri Marsden in The New Statesman writes about the joy of being in a part-time band, which describes the reality for most bands I know. I can think of at least one musician who’s on record as saying the stability of a day job to pay the bills gives him more creative freedom as an artist.

Second, this piece in The Guardian, Teleman’s 10-step guide to succeeding as a modern indie band. The headline is misleading, since it has nothing to do with “indie” as a genre of music; most independent prog bands do all or most of the things in that list.

The comments against the latter do betray the sheer levels of ignorance out there when it comes to the realities of music at grassroots level. There’s the numpty who implies they’re an industry insider who claims it’s impossible to write a great song without agents and talent scouts beating at the door. If you’re under 25, conventionally pretty and willing to work within the narrowest of commercial formulas, maybe. In all other cases this person is speaking unadulterated cobblers.

Then there’s the twit who claims that anyone who doesn’t aspire to headlining stadiums shouldn’t be making music, mocking those who play “300 seat clubs”. Perhaps if you attended a few club gigs you might discover what live music is all about? And maybe the reason some artists don’t aspire to be the next Coldplay or Adele is because they don’t want to water down their music until it sounds like Adele of Coldplay? Or just maybe not everyone who wants to make music wants to be chewed up and spat out by the celebrity fame machine?

Too many people have bought into a rock’n'roll mythology that was never an accurate reflection of reality even in past decades when the music business had money to throw around, let alone now.

What is “success” for a musician nowadays? From my perspective it’s the artist being able to make the music they want to make on the scale they want to make it, and to attract enough of an audience to be able to continue doing so. That doesn’t have to mean headlining stadiums. It doesn’t even have to mean being able to quit the day job. It means being able to play with a full band rather than a acoustic guitar and a laptop, if that’s what you want to do. It means not having to water down your sound to fit someone else’s formula. It even means being able to play your own songs rather than covers.

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The Stone Roses and Comebacks

The Guardian is not impressed with the new Stone Roses single, with Michael Hann suggesting that it is typical of disappointing comebacks. I did laugh at the comment that it sounded like Rainbow with Bryan Adams singing lead; whoever said that clearly doesn’t like Rainbow. Or Bryan Adams. On a first listen it reminded me of Beady Eye, only nowhere near as bad. That is probably damning it with faint praise, but you can listen to it yourself.

What I do take issue with is the idea that disappointing comebacks are the default. Michael Hann’s cherry-picked examples do not make it so. What about the thrilling re-emergence of King Crimson last year? Or if you want an indie band, how about Suede, whose career appeared to peter out a decade or so ago, only to return, older and wiser, to make their best music in years?

I suggest, much like the canard of the difficult second album, the disappointing comeback reflects the sorts of bands music journalists like to write about; the artists who sometimes capture the Zeitgeist but don’t necessarily have the staying power needed for a lengthy career. Whether The Stone Roses fall into that category is a matter for debate.

What comebacks have and haven’t impressed you? And what do you think of the Stone Roses single?

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Award shortlists or end-of-year polls are valuable if they end up highlighting something interesting or quirky that might otherwise have slipped beneath the radar. If all they do is validate a predictable consensus, what exactly is the point?

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What was your first ever gig?

The Guardian’s Michael Hann writes about first gigs. His was pre-hairspray Whitesnake, in the days where every member of the band played extended solos including the bassist. Though somehow I doubt that each solo was realy ren minutes long, even if they might have seemed that long to the 13-year old Michael Hann.

What my first gig actually was depends on what you count as a gig. Was it new-wave one-hit-wonders The Jags, who played a student gig at Bridges Hall?

I can’t remember now if it was a student-only thing or whether tickets were available to the general public. What I do remember is they were truly awful, a drunken shambles who stumbled their way through a barely-recognisable version of their one hit and a dozen other numbers that sounded exactly the same. The guitarist was so blotto he didn’t even notice he’d broken two strings. It’s not surprising they faded away soon after.

Or was it the 1980 Reading Festival, then as now a teenage right-of-passage?

The headliners that year were Rory Gallagher, UFO and Whitesnake, and the bill also included Gillan, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Slade, and many, many New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands (You name them, they were probably on the bill). I remember the huge cheer when Ian Gillan came on stage for his special guest spot on Friday night, and the whole field full of people singing along to Smoke on the Water. Then there was Iron Maiden on Saturday, again in the special guest spot. It was right at the beginning of their career, still with original singer Paul DiAnno. They’d just released their début album, and the energy on stage made it clear they were hungry and going places. Then there was Slade, late substitutes for Ozzy Osborne who’d pulled out at short notice. Nobody expected much from them at the start, and a low-key beginning with a couple of new songs gathered polite applause, but little more. Then they started playing the hits, one after another, and everything changed. By the end they’d completely stolen the show. When they came back for an encore, the crowd wanted that Christmas song. “Ye daft buggers”, said Noddy, “You’ll have to sing that yourselves”. So we did. Then they left us with “Born to be Wild”. Def Leppard found that very hard to follow.

Or the first “regular gig” in an indoor venue? That would have been Hawkwind at the now-demolished Top Rank Club in Reading.

The support was power-trio Vardis who sounded like a 30 second excerpt of Love Sculpture’s “Sabre Dance” repeated in a loop for 40 minutes with occasional vocals. As for Hawkwind themselves, this was one of the more metal incarnations of the band, with the late Huw Lloyd Langton on lead guitar and Dave Brock sticking to rhythm. They also had, of all people, Ginger Baker on drums, a legendary musician but quite the wrong sort of drummer for a band like Hawkwind. In retrospect it was probably not the greatest gig ever, soon eclipsed by far better gigs by Gillan, Budgie, Iron Maiden, UFO and Thin Lizzy. If anything, Hawkwind were actually better when I saw them thirty years later at St David’s Hall in Cardiff, but the superior acoustics of a symphony hall probably helped.

So, what was your first gig? Was it somebody legendary, or someone as awful as The Jags?

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The Song Bar

Song-BarThe situation with The Guardian’s Readers Recommend has got unpleasantly messy, and we’ve ended up with in a position where the vibrant music-loving community risks being split into two rival camps.

After weeks of prevarication, the Guardian have relaunched Readers Recommend in cut-down form, run by the community section rather than anyone from Guardian Music. The launch appears to have been handled very clumsily, so it’s got off to a rather poor start.

Meanwhile, an enigmatic figure known only as “The Landlord” has launched a new music blog The Song Bar as a Readers Recommend in exile, with “Songs about moving on” as the first topic.

I am sure I’m not the only person who doesn’t know which way to jump. Is it better to keep a foot in both camps and see how things pan out, or is best to throw our lot in with The Song Bar on the grounds that Guardian Communities have demonstrated that they can’t really be trusted? My gut instinct is to go for the latter, provided the site can draw in a critical mass of people.

Anyway, for Songs about moving on, I’ve nominated the superb title track of Karnataka’s “The Gathering Light“. It’s a song about moving on from a broken relationship, but it’s also by the band who appear to have been cheated out of appearing in The Guardian’s end-of-year reader’s poll for reasons that have never has a satisfactorily explanation.

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