Thursday, 23 May 2019


Ever since the days of sitting with me old mum on the sofa watching those famous Rogers & Hammerstein Musicals such as South Pacific, Carousel, etc I have always been a sucker for a music film - be it Musical or Music Documentary. So I have been looking forward to seeing Rocketman for quite some time.

But anyone expecting the linear format of  last year's hit Bohemian Rhapsody will be disappointed.
Directed by Brit Dexter Fletcher, who was credited with saving Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman is more closely related to touchstones such as Baz Luhrmann, Tommy and those old Musicals I mentioned earlier. It probably needed a Brit who understands the sense of Camp that that the film MUST contain in order to tell a story of one of Britain's National Treasures. If this movie doesn't end up as a Stage Musical, I'll eat my Cornetto.

With Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin, Rocketman is really Taron Egerton's movie. And as Elton he is splendid. It follows Elton's story from where he is a kid in Pinner.

I won't spoil it by revealing the tracks - you can always look up the soundtrack if you're so inclined but suffice to say we have a great mixture of uptempo and slow classics.

The film concentrates on the important episodes in Elton's life.
In this case, songs are often heard out of chronological order to highlight an emotion or incident. And there are plenty of them. They are often incorporated to Set Pieces designed to show their importance to the story and are rather Theatrical in presentation, which is why, when you see it, you'll see what I mean about it converting to a Stage Musical.

Anyone who has seen the Elton documentary Tantrums & Tiaras will have an insight in what to expect. And although it's a glosssy and technicolour experience - it does contain the dark as well as the light.

It's difficult to mention individual incidents without giving too much away although anyone who has dug a bit deeper into Elton's story will know about his first American gig at The Troubadour which is one of the highlights of the film.

What to leave in and what to leave out must have been one hell of a headache for the scriptwriters but Fletcher has used what he was presnted and given us some memorable visuals to accompany the fantastic music contained within.
And a special mention here for the musical presentation.
All vocals were done by Taron Egerton himself (and various cast members) and he has done a great job in interpreting some of Elton's finest songs. 

Another excellent feature of the music is the lovely orchestral versions of the songs that form the basis of the film's score when the songs are not being sung.

The movie ends with the reunited Elton & Bernie for the Too Low For Zero album. I've always thought that it was an excellent album and is a genuine artistic and commercial comeback. It also contains one of my favourite Elton songs - not included in the movie.

Cold As Christmas
Rocketman Trailer

Did I learn anything new about Elton or Bernie, No but all in all a great night of music contained within an entertaining film. If you like Elton, you'll probably like Rocketman. You won't learn anything new about Elton or Bernie - but that's probably not the point.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Live in 2019: The Manfreds live at Pontardawe Arts Centre, Pontardawe, Wales on Friday 17th May 2019

Yes, I do sometimes forsake my beloved Acapela Studios to see gigs in other venues. The Pontardawe Arts Centre is only about 7 miles away from Fleet Towers so it's a fairly relaxed short drive to the venue. It's a lovely venue with a decent size hall with a balcony. One of the Arts centres that popped up in multitudes among the Welsh Mining towns and valleys that became homes from everything from Colliery Bands to Male Voice Choirs. There's always a lovely welcome with friendly staff and I just wish I had the opportunity to go more.  But the size of the hall suits a bigger audience to a lot of the music I listen to. But never mind, tonight it is almost sold out yet again for The Manfreds,

The band born from the Manfred Mann Band that ran from 1964 to 1979 and now features original members Paul Jones and Mike D'Abo on vocals, Tom McGuinness on guitars and vocals and Mike Hugg on drums. Now augmented by Simon Currie on Sax & Flute and Marcus Cliffe on Bass & Vocals.

Although we have a change in line-up tonight with Frankie Tontoh replacing Mike Hugg on Drums and Mike Gorman replacing Mike D'Abo on Keyboards. 
Playing once more, a game of two halves, the band came to the stage and launched with a surprise as the instrumental Why Should We Not kicked off tonight's show.

Why Should We Not

I've seen quite a few bands play 'The Nostalgia Circuit' but the lovely things about The Manfreds is that the band have all had a multitude of careers within music and call on this diverse musical blend which is interesting, informative and entertaining in equal measure.

The One In The Middle gives Paul Jones a chance to flash his best smile and I'm sure he mast have a picture in the attic as at 77 he looks fitter and healthier than a man half his age.

The One In The Middle

With such a wealth of material to choose from, and that's just from the Manfred Mann back catalogue, it's interesting to see which songs 'made the cut' in tonight's performance.

Perhaps the name of this year's tour, gave an indication of the variety of music we could expect tonight.

The hits just kept on coming as Sha La La and Groovin' from the 1964 EP of the same name,  showcasing what an accomplished set of Musicians we had on the stage.

The next song was the first of the 'Solo' songs of tonight's performance. Tom McGuiness formed a band in the 1970s with former John Mayall drummer Hughie Flint and called it McGuinness Flint. Although perhaps more importantly it also contained two up and coming songwriters called Benny Gallagher & Graham Lyle. These guys went on to become two of the best songwriters in the world and have written countless hits since those early days. Tonight we were treated to The Manfreds version of Malt And Barley Blues with Tom on lead vocals. It got a great response from the crowd most of which will have definitely been around for the original in 1971.

McGuinness Flint

Malt & Barley Blues

Next up, my highlight of the night. Mainly because my friend the multi-instrumentalist Marcus Cliffe , dedicated his solo song to my wife (who has been very ill) and myself. - a beautiful version of Curtis Mayfield's People Get Ready which he played using just a looped bass and vocals. A more complete version you can find on his solo album Heard - which also features tonight's keyboard player Mike Gorman.

After an emotional song for me, we get another Manfred Mann hit with Just Like A Woman

Just Like A Woman

A the title of the Tour suggests, it is an assortment of musical genres on show tonight and next was  Simon Currie's Smooth Times from his latest album called Smooth Sax.

Smokestack Lightning was another highlight as it gave Paul Jones a chance to really give his Harmonica a good outing.

How Lucky Can One Man Be followed before the final track of the first half - the mega hit and chance for some severe crowd participation, Pretty Flamingo.

How do you start Part 2 of the evening? Easy, just play one of your biggest hits - in this case
 5 4 3 2 1. And for good measure, why not follow it with another hit, Watermelon Man.

5 4 3 2 1

By now the crowd are singing their hearts out and are up for absolutely anything. 

Next up it was solo time again as this time the spotlight shone on Paul Jones for a swinging version of Nat King Cole's Straighten Up And Fly Right from his recent solo album.

Another classic hit followed as the band started up Oh No Not My Baby - the Goffin/King classic from 1965

Oh No Not My Baby

It's amazing how many hits the band had over the years and tonight they tried successfully to showcase their considerable talents with playing songs old and new and not so well known tunes.

Another unexpected highlight of the night was seeing Mr Cliffe & Mr Currie given the chance to shine on a fabulous interpretation of  Put It Where You Want It from The Crusaders first album back in 1972.

Kingpin and Come Tomorrow which followed kept up the momentum before one of the biggest songs of the evening.
And then it was time for one more solo song - they play it at most gigs and it's a guaranteed singalong moment in the show. Once more Tom McGuinness picks up his mandolin and takes lead vocals for a spirited When I'm Dead & Gone by McGuinness Flint

When I'm Dead & Gone

The honour of the final song of the set went to Mr Bob Dylan as the band played one of their biggest hits from the 60s - which turned out to be an epic as Paul Jones encouraged some severe audience singing which went down a storm as the girls and then guys in the audience took on different harmonies. The Mighty Quinn.

The Mighty Quinn

This obviously brought the house down and the audience rose to give the band a standing ovation. The band were not going to be allowed to leave the venue without an encore and they chose a singalong killer to come next as they played their biggest hit Doo Wah Diddy.

In recent years the band have always ended their shows with the aptly applicable If You Gotta Go, Go Now. The end to a perfect night of Nostalgia, Musicianship and of feeling fine. Any band that can make people leave a show with big grins on their faces deserve all the success they get. These guys have seen it all, done it all (many times over) and are STILL making people happy. And in Britain at this time - that's quite a gift to possess. Here's to hoping they make it to a 2020 Tour. I'll be there if I'm still on the planet.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Live in 2019: The Luke Jackson Trio at Acapela Studios, Pentyrch, Cardiff on Saturday 11th May 2019

I've seen some excellent shows over the last few years at Acapela Studios. But the one I was privileged to attend on Saturday 11th May was one of THE Best Gigs I have ever seen there.

The musicians who were performing were The Luke Jackson Trio - who consist of Luke Jackson on Vocals and acoustic guitar, Andy Sharps on Bass & Vocals and Elliott Norris on Drums, Guitar & Vocals.
I have seen Luke at least once a year since he released his first album to critical acclaim in 2012 with the Matyn Joseph produced More Than Boys. In 2013, Luke was pipped to the post of the BBC Folk Horizon Award by fellow Singer/Songwriting youngster Blair Dunlop. And it has been my delight to see how both of these artists have grown both as songwriters and performers in the past 7 years. Indeed I will be catching up with Mr Dunlop in a few weeks time. But tonight the Acapela belonged to Luke Jackson. And by God, he owned the venue!

Luke has the opportunity to play with Andy as a Duo or with Elliott added to create a trio. Tonight we are treated to the Trio performance.
Tonight Luke takes to the stage alone to perform a blistering version of Ain't No Trouble which can be found on his trio album - This Family Tree. And he blows the audience away immediately. It's remarkable how the strength and depth of his voice has increased in just the last year. Let alone since 2012.

Ain't No Trouble

You could literally feel the anticipation in the air as the audience realised what an evening they were in for. To rapturous applause, Andy and Elliott came to the stage and launched into a splendid version of Anything But Fate which morphs into the Motown classic, I heard It Through The Grapevine. Quite a leap I hear you Folk fans saying but not for this young man. Ever since his debut album, that voice has been his trademark and I hear as much Soul in hos voice as Folk. And thinking about it, one of the beauties of following both Luke and Blair Dunlop's careers has been to see them shake off their Folk roots to become impressive Singer Songwriters who have the ability to move between genres. It's a beautiful thing to see. And for me, Luke is now a Soul singer as much anything else.

Anything But Fate

The thing that made tonight SO special for me was to hear the quality of the new material that Luke and the boys are currently working on. With a new album hopefully before the end of the year it was a chance for Luke to try out new material before a live audience. And if the songs he played tonight, many peppered throughout the sets, is anything to go by, it'll be featuring once again in this blog but in the Albums of 2019 section.

We had a glorious new song next in the form of Honeycomb.

It's no surprise any more that a Trio can generate so much energy - it worked for The Police, Cream, ELP and many others in the past and works well too to Luke and his cohorts. And with Elliott being an accomplished guitar player there were enough colours in the sound tonight to provide plenty of contrast to the music.

In the first half, we are treated to more brand new songs such as Aimee, Heavy and Red Oak. And I have to say the quality of the new material is first class and shows even more progression in Luke's songwriting. As to what songs will finally make the cut for the new album, we'll have to wait and see but I'm sure it's destined to be brilliant.

Luke and the band bring the first half to a close with Sister from the Fumes & Faith album.

After a short break, the boys come back to the stage with an acapela version of Poor Johnny. What a great way to kick off the second half. If they hadn't already got the audience in the palm of their hand, this just sealed the deal.

A snippet of Poor Johnny from the night

Looking spookily like a young Brian Wilson in his white T  Luke returns to the Trio album for the slinky Is It Me.

Is It Me

Again, the second half showcased two excellent new songs - Eliza Holt and A Queen In Her Own Way. I won't spoil these by revealing their genesis but it proved how adept Luke is now with his relationship with his audience. He has become quite the raconteur over the years and his explanation of how the songs came about is quite entertaining and engrossing.

On the night, these songs were on either side of Luke giving us a rather special version of Dylan's classic Forever Young. And you could have heard a pin drop in the audience. The great thing about Acapela audiences is that if the music demands it, they will sit and listen attentively.

Forever Young

It was downhill all the way with a trio of fabulous songs with Finding Home, Doctor and the Solomon Burke Classic, Cry To Me. And if you ever wanted proof that this boy has Soul - here it is - absolutely fabulous.

Cry To Me

This brings the show to an end and by now the crowd is ecstatic. There was no way on earth these guys were not coming back. And oh, how they came back. With an absolutely spine tingling version of Every Flame - which you'll see below.

Every Flame

The audience gave a standing ovation for this song alone. 
And they still had one more surprise to go. A really show stopping version of The Road.

The Road

They guys left the stage to another standing ovation,

And as a coda to the show - five minutes plus after the show had finished, the audience were still singing On The Road as they left the building. I have NEVER seen this before at Acapela and even Luke came out with his phone to film the response. Incredible scenes.
And from someone SO young.

I cannot recommend Luke Jackson highly enough. A man of real talent and the knack of picking a really good cover to boot. See him as soon as you can.

Twitter - @lukepauljackson

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Albums of 2019: Yola - Walk Through Fire

For all of my Prog - Americana - Folk & Singer/Songwriter leanings, I do have a secret soft spot for a bit of  Soul. Especially what would now be classed as Vintage Soul.
There are a lot of artists now ploughing this fruitful furrow, especially in The States. So, it's wonderful to hear some home grown talent such as the lady with the fabulous voice, Ms Yola Carter aka Yola.

Yola made her debut with her EP Orphan Offering. A Country tinged offering that showcases her fabulous voice.

Orphan Country

Yola's full debut is the lovely and inspirational Walk Through Fire. It was recorded in Nashville with The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach in the producer's chair. And he's made a splendid job of it. With nods to Soul, Country, Gospel, American and good old balladering, it's a heady concoction.

Yola & The Clubhouse All-Stars

And I doubt you'll hear a better opening song on an album this year. The soaring Faraway Look is brilliant. A huge production number that brings to mind Bacharach at his best.

Faraway Look

Over 12 tracks, Yola takes you on a sonic journey that chooses the best sounds in the above genres to weave an album that is joyful, tearful and ultimately uplifting and perfect for those wearied by the last couple of years.

Photo Courtesy of John Morgan Photography

Shady Grove is a lovely dense orchestrated shuffle with strings, acoustic guitar and brushed percussion. A lovely little song that has echoes of the 60s.

Ride Out In The Country is a soulful Country Ballad with lovely harmonies and multi tracked vocals. 

Ride Out In The Country

It Ain't Easier, Walk Through Fire and Rock Me Gently are three soulful country ballads which highlight Yola's range and delivery. All would sound fabulous on US Radio.

Love All Night (Work All Day) could have come straight out of a 1970s Linda Ronstadt album. Although she doesn't sound like Linda, the album very much reminds me of her 1970s golden albums like Hasten Down The Wind in sound and feel.

Love All Night (Work All Day)

And as if to prove the point, Deep Blue Dream and Lonely The Night are very much in the same vein. But it's fabulous to hear the nods to these fabulous albums of the 1970s. Dan has certainly been doing his homework.

Lonely The Night

Still Gone is the poppiest song on the album - but I mean poppiest in it's 1960s sense. It's the nearest the album gets to a Motown vibe on the album. And it's none the worse for that.

Keep Me Hear is another big ballad that ebbs and flows in a delightful way - like a heartbeat.

The album closes with Love Is Light, a cleaner more acoustic production that really showcases Yola's fabulous voice before it breaks into a handclapping and horn led finale. A fine way to sign off.

Love Is Light

So all in all a fine record that deserves some attention. It'll probably work best in the USA where  they are suckers for this kind of slick production which is a million miles from the processed Scandi Pop which we are being subjected to at the moment. At least it's real guys, playing real instruments, with some Soul and Flair

Now, if I can just get her to play Acapela Studios!!

Yola  -  The Full Session

Twitter - @iamyola

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Albums of 2019: Pete Gow - Here There's No Sirens

Well, 2019 has certainly been a year of change in my household. And it looks as if it's the same in the musical world too. 
Pete Gow, leader and songwriter of the superb Case Hardin has called time on the band which has coincided with the release of his debut solo album, Here There's No Sirens. The band go their separate ways with no animosity and leave behind 4 fabulous albums of intelligent Americana. Oh, and they were fantastic live too.

Cheap Streaks From A Bottle

So, main man Pete now finds himself as a solo artist. Saying that, he often played solo shows while still with the band and is an accomplished singer songwriter in his own right, as this album proves.

photos courtesy of Martin Tyler

Pete has taken the opportunity and grabbed it with both hands as he has used his debut solo album to change direction. Both in songwriting style and sound scaping.

Pete has enlisted the help of labelmate and multi-instrumentalist and producer, Joe Bennett of Dreaming Spires fame to help bring his solo vision to life. And he is integral to the sound of the album. Choosing to take Pete's new songs and present them in a stripped back, sepia toned presentation which is both sympathetic to the music and colours it when it needs it.

And at 39 minutes it doesn't outstay its welcome and leaves the listener craving for more. Just like albums used to be.

The album opens with the elegiac One Last One-Night Stand which sets the tone for the rest of the album. Confessional lyrics, piano, a small string section and Pete's acoustic guitar. It's a stately opener.

Second track, Mikaela, brings another colour to the palette with a gorgeous organ and brass opening up the sound even more while remaining beautifully intimate.

Pete's former years in journalism have created an inquisitive mind and a penchant for current 'affairs' which are touchstones for the next song on the album, the wearily bleak, Strip For Me. The song lifted by a lovely string phrase accompanying the piano.

strip for me

The album feels somewhat cathartic and I feel Pete is taking the opportunity to obliquely confess. It carries an emotional punch which I didn't expect following the last Case Hardin album. 
The title track, Here There's No Sirens, my favourite on the album, is a gently epic slice of melancholia. 
When I look back on the album after hearing it several times I get to thinking that in his future career this could be Pete's 'Nebraska'. Springsteen fans will get the comparison. 

TV Re-Runs is probably the most 'Americana' track on the album. The genre by which Pete is best known. Again, sounding to me more akin to confessional Springsteen than the other 'Country' based artists that currently carry the Americana flag. 

I bet the Nashville Massive are looking at this album with enviable eyes and I wouldn't be at all surprised if Pete gets the call in the not too distant future to fly over there to work with some of the Music City's movers and shakers.

One Live One Night Stand - the live show from the launch of the album

I Will & I Do is fleeting, harmonic and conjures those Laurel Canyon harmonies amid the sweepingly aching strings and brass. It's short and it's sweet. And it's just perfect.

The storyteller within Pete gets its chance to shine with the next track, Some Old Jacobite King. 

I must mention here the immense contribution from Joe Bennett to this album. He is very much the power behind the throne on this record. Taking the same role as Marcus Cliffe does when recording his fellow Miracle Mile bandmate, Trevor Jones. The musical 'artist' whose production, string arrangements and multiple instrumental contributions make the record what it is. Indeed, the Jones records and this new album are very similar in approach and execution. Both very intelligently literate and emotional songwriters. 
And the drummer to the the best of UK Americana artist, Fin Kenny on Drums & Percussion.

The Listener - by Veronica Casey

The album closes with the gorgeous Pretty Blue Flowers.  A song as delicate as it's title. heartbreaking lyrics, Pete at his most confessional and music that pulls at your heartstrings.

You won't be pogoing or disco dancing to this record. Although you may be holding your loved one close and swaying to the rhythms. 
It's one of the most beautiful records you'll hear in 2019. It's also proved itself to be the first salvo in what will hopefully be a fine second act to Pete Gow's musical life.

Twitter - @petegow