Tag Archives: York

Virgin Trains East Coast

Virgin Trains East Coast HST at York

I know I take a lot of photos from this vantage point, but here/s another one; An HST set led by power car 43239 in the new (ish) Virgin Trains East Coast livery.

Posted in Railway Photography | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Mostly Autumn – York Grand Opera House

Bryan Josh and Anna Phoebe

Mostly Autumn’s annual York shows had traditionally taken place at the beginning of December, and had come to represent the start of the run up to Christmas, though they skipped last year because the venue was fully booked. This year they’ve done things differently; a show in York in mid-November and a separate Christmas showcase in Leamington Spa in December. For both shows they’ve advertised a couple of special guest musicians in the shape of Anne Phoebe on violin and Chris Backhouse on saxophone.

Olivia SparnannThe first set, like the majority of shows this year, was the 2014 album “Dressed in Voices” played in full as a continuous piece. It’s their strongest album for many years, full of soaring guitar and swirling organ, and the band delivered an intense performance.

It diverged from previous shows during the folk-flavoured “Skin on Skin”, when Anna Phoebe joined the band on stage, first following Alex Cromarty’s drum solo with some spectacular violin pyrotechnics, then adding some more delicate textures to “The House on the Hill”.

Right through to the acoustic coda “Box of Tears”, this set was one of the most powerful live versions of “Dressed in Voices” to date. Of course nobody knew at the time the band were played a concept album with a narrative told the the point view of the victim of a senseless massacre at the same time as the tragic events were playing out in Paris.

The second half was billed as the “Mostly Floyd” set, reprising a selection of Pink Floyd covers the band had performed a decade or so ago. The announcement bought the band criticism from some quarters; not everyone thought the idea of a band with a substantial body of work of their own playing what amounted to a tribute set; for a few it bought back bad memories of the band’s misplaced promotion during the ill-fated Classic Rock Productions era.

But they did start with one of their own numbers, an atmospheric and evocative version of “The Night Sky”, a song last performed at the 2007 “Heart Full of Sky” launch gig at The Astoria, when Peter Knight played the dramatic violin solo that forms the centrepiece of the song. This time it was Anna Phoebe on violin, and it was a joy to hear such a rarely played song live, especially since it’s one of the best songs from the band’s early years.

For the Pink Floyd songs another guest joined the band, backing singer Hannah Hird, who had toured with the band during much of 2013. They began with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Time”, but the set  really caught fire with “The Great Gig in the Sky” featuring Olivia Sparnenn on that famous vocal workout, and a very hard-rocking “Sheep” with Chris Johnson singing lead.  They played the obvious standards “Wish You Were Here”, which featured vocals from drummer Alex Cromarty, and Comfortably Numb with Chris Johnson and Olivia Sparnenn combining as the creepy doctor.

But the strongest highlights were “Us and Them” enhanced with Chris Backhouse’s sax, and a superb “On the Turning Away” with Bryan Josh completely nailing the solo. By the end, the tight and passionate performance and the rich layered sound by what for some songs was a nine-piece band evaporated any scepticism about the set.

The encored with another iconic early song, “The Gap Is Too Wide”, again featuring Anne Phoebe’s violin. It had been a regular encore in the later years of Breathing Space, but Mostly Autumn themselves hadn’t played themselves for many, many years, and it was great to hear it live once more. Olivia has always nailed the emotive vocal, and the arrangement was quite different from with Olivia, Angela and Hannah singing in harmony for the choral version. After that, the traditional set closers of “Evergreen” and “Heroes Never Die” close what had been one of Mostly Autumn’s most powerful shows this year.

Many thanks to Howard Rankin for thie use of his photos to accompany this review.

Posted in Live Reviews | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

York by Night

The Ouse at York by night

The Ouse at York, looking west from the Ouse Bridge at about 11:30pm at night.

Posted in Photos | Tagged , | Comments Off

The NMT Comes to York

The Network Rail Measurement Train at York on 29th June 2014

Network Rail’s High Speed Measurement Train pauses at York on June 28th.

This train is a familiar sight for regular train travellers throughout the country. Converted from a High Speed Train a few years back, it records the state of the track, criss-crossing the country, covering each line every couple of months.

Posted in Railway Photography | Tagged , | Comments Off

Cloud Atlas announce date of launch gig

Heidi Widdop

Cloud Atlas have announced the date of their album launch gig in York, to which everyone who has pre-ordered the album is invited. The show will be on Saturday 28th June.

The venue will be announced shortly.

Posted in Music News | Tagged , | Comments Off

Riversea – Out Of The Ancient World

Riversea is a collaboration between singer/songwriter Marc Atkinson and keyboard player Brendan Eyre. It’s been a long time in the making, so long in fact it almost makes you wonder if the album title is a reference to how long ago since they started work on it.

Although the creative core of Riversea are a duo, it’s a full band project with a cast of guest musicians that reads like a who’s who of the somewhat incestuous York rock scene. It includes Alex Cromarty of The Heather Findlay Band on drums, Dave Clements on bass, and a whole host of guest guitarists, including Mostly Autumn’s Bryan Josh and Liam Davison, Stolen Earth’s Adam Dawson, and Mark Rowen, formerly of Breathing Space.

They have delivered a strongly song-orientated record, with a big, rich sound. Atkinson’s emotive vocals strongly recall Marillion’s Steve Hogarth, especially on the quieter parts. As one might expect, there’s an emphasis on keyboard-led arrangements ranging from simple piano accompaniments to heavy symphonic rock sections. Eyre tends to leave much of the soloing to the guest guitarists, whose differing styles add variety. Despite the presence of plenty of virtuoso musicians, there is little or no self-indulgent showboating for it’s own sake; all the solos and instrumental passages fit the song and never outstay their welcomes.

Highlights include the thought-provoking “Is This What God Wants”, and “Falling Stars” with it’s great heavy neo-prog instrumental break featuring one of Eyre’s few keyboard solos and an incredible guitar solo from by Adrian Jones. Others standouts are “The Song”, with the soaring vocal in the end section from Mostly Autumn’s Olivia Sparnenn, and “Freeze the Frame”, a lovely laid-back Pink Floyd feel, with some great guitar from former Breathing Space man Mark Rowen. But it’s hard to pick individual songs; this is really one of those albums where the quality is consistent throughout. There’s no filler here, the arrangements are thoroughly honed and polished, and nothing sounds half-finished or out of place.

With this, and the excellent albums by Mostly Autumn and Stolen Earth all released in the space of a few weeks, I wonder what it is about York. Is there something in the water?

This is an album which turned out to be well worth the wait. Fans of latter-day Marillion should love this, but it should also appeal to anyone that loves well-crafted music with plenty of emotional depth.

Old-fashioned types can buy the CD from http://riversea-band.com

The iPod generation can download it from http://riversea.bandcamp.com/album/out-of-an-ancient-world

Posted in Music, Record Reviews | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Stolen Earth, Post Office Social Club, York

Paul and Heidi of Stolen Earth at The Post Office Social Club, York

Stolen Earth’s official launch gig took place on September 17th, in the Post Office Social club in York, the same venue as the launch gig for Breathing Space’s album “Coming Up For Air”, which seems half a lifetime away now. As a showcase gig, it attracted a sizeable audience, with a lot of dedicated fans travelling far and wide. Nice to see Bryan and Livvy from Mostly Autumn in the crowd.

Paul Teasdale of Stolen Earth at The Post Office Social Club, York

While the band had formed from the ashes of Breathing Space, almost all the material was new. Much of the set had been premièred at the Cambridge Rock Festival back in August, and I certainly remembered songs such as “Mirror Mirror” and the anthemic “Perfect Wave” from that performance. To fill out a headline-length show they included a couple of covers, an excellent take of The Eagles’ “Hotel California” which got some of the audience up an dancing, and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” with Paul Teasdale on 12-string. They encored with Paul’s “Clear”, the only song recorded by Breathing Space to remain in the set.

Adam Dawson of Stolen Earth at The Post Office Social Club, York

Unfortunately the sound mix left a bit to be desired, with John Sykes’ keys too low in the mix and some of the Adam’s vocals a bit muffled. That combined with monitor problems meant the set didn’t quite have the power and energy of their triumphal Cambridge set. Not that it was a bad gig by any means, and I’ve heard far, far worse mixes at Breathing Space gigs over the years, but it does show that for their sort of atmospheric multi-layered rock the soundman is just as important as anyone on stage.

Heidi Widdop of Stolen Earth at The Post Office Social Club, York

But despite those sound problems, Stolen Earth do seem have got off to a good start. They’ve got a powerful set of songs, and while there are strong echoes of Breathing Space in their sound, Heidi’s soulful voice and Adam’s very Floydy guitar gives them a distinctive musical identity of their own. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how their music develops, and hope they record an album sooner rather than later.

Posted in Live Reviews, Music, Photos | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Halo Blind/Heather Findlay, Kennedy’s Basement York, 8th June 2011

A round trip of well over four hundred miles seems a long way go for a midweek gig that’s a fiver on the door, but when it’s Halo Blind supported by Heather Findlay, it’s worth making the journey. The headliners were playing a low-key warm-up for their appearance two days later at the prestigious Isle of Wight Festival, and the late addition of Heather to the bill gave fans an added incentive to turn out.

Halo Blind, put together by Chris Johnson, were originally called Parade. They had to change their name to avoid confusion with the reportedly awful but much-hyped girl band who stole their name. As Parade they’ve always been a great live band. And as for Heather, after more than a year since that emotional night in Leamington, it’s been far too long since I last saw her perform. It’s not the first time she’s played live since leaving Mostly Autumn, but it was the first of her low-key acoustic gigs I’ve been able to get to.

The basement bar at Kennedy’s was tiny; the capacity can’t have been much more than a hundred or so. It was one of those gigs where I recognised probably three-quarters of the audience by sight, if not by name. I’ve always loved this sort of gig.

It was great to see Heather back on stage again. Even though this was “only” an acoustic gig, she’s lost none of that magic, and was on fine form vocally. Without the backing of a full band there’s nowhere to hide, and the whole thing depends on the strength of the vocalist and the quality of the songs. Not that there were really any doubts in this case.

Her set was a mix of new material from her debut EP “The Phoenix Suite” and a few older Mostly Autumn and Odin Dragonfly songs. The songs from The Phoenix Suite came over very well live, and didn’t seem to lose anything when pared down to acoustic duo format. If anything, they came over more strongly, and  I was more aware of the absence of the flute in the Odin Dragonfly songs than the lack of an electric rhythm section in the new songs. Some of this was down to Chris Johnson’s talent as a rhythm guitarist; even on a battered acoustic his playing has a lot of power, particularly evident on songs like “Red Dust”.

Interestingly both Mostly Autumn songs were Chris Johnson compositions from “Heart Full of Sky” rather than Heather’s own. “Gaze”, a song I’d never heard performed live before, was beautiful, and I loved the way Heather sang the clarinet line on “Blue Light”.

Headliners Halo Blind are difficult to categorise musically; Chris Johnson has played in indie, prog and even country & western bands over the years, and elements of all of these have found their way to the band’s music. Tonight was their first gig under the new name, as well as marking the debut of their new bassist, ex-Seahorse Stuart Fletcher.

Their set was a run-through of the setlist for the festival, drawn entirely from “The Fabric“. Short but sweet, and they simply rocked. The technical problems when the keyboard went wibbly couldn’t take the edge off things. Stuart Fletcher and the powerhouse drumming of Gavin Griffiths make for an impressive rhythm section, Chris Farrell plays some ferocious lead guitar, and Chris Johnson and Anne-Marie Helder’s voices combine to produce some sublime harmonies. At the time of writing this I haven’t heard how well they went down at the Isle of Wight Festival, but on the strength of a performance like this, they deserved to go down a storm.

Only complaint about the whole evening that it was all over too quickly – I’d have loved both bands to have played all night.

Posted in Live Reviews, Music | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Parade – The Stereo, York, 25-Sep-2010

As regular readers of this blog will know, Parade is the project put together by York-based singer-songwriter and musician Chris Johnson, who has played at various points with Fish and Mostly Autumn, as well as fronting a number of local York bands over the years. Parade also involves vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Anne-Marie Helder and drummer Gavin Griffiths, both members of the current Panic Room and Mostly Autumn lineups, and is completed with a couple of Chris’ long-term York associates, Patrick Berry on bass and on this tour, Chris Farrel on lead guitar.

Their one album to date, The Fabric, sounded like on the surface like indie with it’s sparse chiming guitars and clattering drums; but repeated listens reveal some real musical depth, especially with the multi-layered vocal harmonies. With it’s depth and sonic experimentalism it still (to me) falls within the broad spectrum of progressive rock while managing to avoid all the musical clichés of the genre.

I’ve seen Chris Johnson playing material from The Fabric in solo acoustic form quite a few times as a support act, but because different band members have so many other commitments, full band live appearances by Parade are extremely rare. This was why I was prepared to make the 400 mile round trip to see them play in their home town of York. Although the band have been in existence for over a year, this is only their sixth gig, and the three-date tour for which this gig marked the finale were their very first headline appearances. The Stereo, just outside the medieval city walls, is a cozy little venue with a capacity of just a hundred or so. It was pretty much full, if not quote sold out, with quite a few familiar faces in the crowd.

The setlist naturally drew very heavily from The Fabric; in fact I think they played the entire album. The five-piece band managed to translate the multi-layered arrangements from the record extremely well in a live setting, albeit with a lot more energy, with Gavin giving it some serious welly on the drums at times. Of the non-Fabric songs, the semi-acoustic country and western arrangement of one of Chris’ solo songs, “The Luckiest Man Alive”, featuring Patrick on stand-up double bass, was an unexpected highlight of the evening.

Compared with her lead role in Panic Room the previous weekend, Anne-Marie Helder is content to play a supporting role, playing keys and singing harmony lines, leaving the spotlight for Chris. Although when she does take the lead, such as the wordless eastern-sounding closing section of “High Life”, the result is mesmerising.

After a powerful rendition of the album closer, “Ending”, which left me wondering how on earth two vocalists could reproduce those rich vocal harmonies live, they encored with a brand new number, “Monochrome”, before ending the evening with a muscular version of “Science and Machinery”, a song Chris originally performed with Mostly Autumn back in 2007. I thought it sounded out of place in MA’s set. Here, enhanced by Chris Farrel’s E-Bow, it fitted Parade’s set perfectly.

Posted in Live Reviews, Music | Tagged , , | Comments Off