Sunday, 19 September 2021

Live in 2021 - Steve Hackett at St David's Hall, Cardiff on Friday 17th September 2021


It's been two long years since I saw Steve Hackett. Fresh out of the lockdown Hell, it was my first Major Gig since lockdown and I was interested to see how it would play out at St David's Hall.
On entry we were told that masks were optional so I just carried on as normal - maskless.

The 2021 line up of Steve's band are Nad Sylvan back on Lead Vocals, stalwarts Rob Townsend on Woodwind, Sax, Keyboards and backing vocals and Roger King on Keyboards with Jonas Reingold returning on Bass, Guitars and Backing Vocals and this season we have Craig Blundell on Drums

Having just released his latest solo album - Surrender Of Silence - Steve takes to the road once more with sold out venues proving that this veteran Progger can still pull a crowd and make challenging and delicate music this far into his career while his former band Genesis are just about to embark on a Farewell Tour.

As usual these days Steve splits his show into two halves, Solo Steve and then the Genesis material. And on this tour we are treated to the last Genesis album that Steve ever appeared on - the 1977 live album Seconds Out.

To roaring applause and a cloud of dry ice the band took to the stage and immediately you knew something special was about to happen. You could feel the energy in the air as the hundreds of audience members were obviously, excited, relieved and enthralled at the prospect of one of Prog's big boys returning to live music and I think that this transferred to the band. And more to the point, to Steve himself as tonight he was the most animated and thrilled as he joked with the band all night and displayed and obvious relief at having the chance to play live again.

The band, minus Nad, launched into the instrumental Tour De Force that is Clocks (Angel Of Mons).
With a few gigs now under their belt on this tour,  the band showed no sound of being ring rusty and the musicianship of a band at the peak of their powers was as clear as day.

Clocks (Angel Of Mons)

The crowd erupted at the end of Clocks and you could feel the relief and joy as hundreds of people were brought together once more to experience the joy and majesty of live music.
I only hope that the Elbow crowd who were at the Cardiff Motorpoint Arena were having the same experience as the St David's crowd. I'm sure they did.

Nad Sylvan walked on to the stage to a fabulous ovation and I felt so pleased for the man who had had to carry the weight of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins on his slender shoulders so so many years now. A solo tour of this own splendid body of work can't be far away now, surely?

Steve uses the truncated first half - due to the length of the Seconds Out set, as an opportunity to unveil two new songs and first up is Held In The Shadows. Like all brand new tracks the new music needs time to grow and a lot of the audience had probably not heard it due to the recent date of release but this and the other new song, The Devil's Cathedral, with it's eerie church organ were received with appreciative applause from the crowd.

The fisrt half also included the evergreen Everyday which always gets a virtual hug from the crowd like the appearance of a very old friend. It's an excellent rendition and gets an excellent ovation.
Part One ends with Steve going back to his first solo album from 1975, Voyage Of The Acolyte for the epic Shadow Of The Hierophant. This got he audience on their feet and was the perfect warm up to Part Two of the show, which gives us the Seconds Out album - in it's entirety. 

Shadow Of The Hierophant

After half time it was right into the jewel that remains one of my All Time favourite live albums and for a lot of people their first introductions to those older genesis classics, 1977's Seconds Out.
Now the absolutely fabulous twist in this show is that the truncated versions that appear on the original Seconds Out are reinstated to their full glory.

Now I'm not going to insult your intelligence by running down each track from that album - see the back cover!!


It's the part of the show that the Cardiff crowd have been waiting for and from the very first notes of Squonk the band had the crowd in the palm of their hands. 
Tonight was all about the music.
Nad was at his most demure with no props, costume changes and playing it straight down the line. It was the first time I had seen him in this mode and I was mightily impressed. He always has been a major part of the Genesis Revisited experience and his certainly showed his worth tonight in an understated and controlled performance, only breaking that rule for the theatrical performance that Phil Collins invented for Robbery, Assault and Battery, which took a life of it's own on this tour. Fabulous stuff indeed.

The always reliable Roger King and Rob Townsend sparkled in their performances as they wove their pieces around Steve's guitar work. Rob especially taking the opportunity to improvise around the themes for many of tonight's songs which just added to the interest for me.

So many highlights of tonight's show it would be unjust to pick out any song in particular although the crowd response to The Musical Box and Supper's Ready said it all with minutes worth of standing ovations.

The Musical Box

Craig Blundell, fresh from his live work with Steven Wilson and Jonas Reingold returning were the glue that held together the sound in tonight's epic performance. Both outstanding musicians in their own right it was if they had been playing together for years.

And as for Mr Hackett himself, how he keeps looking so young is a matter of much speculation, paintings in attics being top amongst the theories that abound but he really was the most focused, inventive, enthused and yes, happy, that I've seen him for many a year. The audience just adores him.

Los Endos

There has always been a vicious rumour circulating that as Steve walked away from Genesis during the mixing for Seconds Out the band took the opportunity to mix him down to a minimum in the album. I don't know if this is true but I know that he IS so far down in the mix that you can hardly hear his fabulous guitar work on that tour in 1976. 
But, with this performance he really managed to show how inventive and delicate his guitar work really is. This night gave the audience a chance to hear Seconds Out as the album it SHOULD have been. I could not be more grateful that I got a chance to hear it live from the front row.
I have never made it a secret that I believe that when Steve walked away from the band he took the Soul out of Genesis. For me, he took the delicacy, invention and English quirkiness that was the Soul of early Genesis. Just listen to the diverse nature of his first solo album, Please Don't Touch, to see what the band lost. They may have gained in popularity and fame but what they lost in inventiveness is incalculable.
Genesis may well be playing their final gigs in the coming weeks but for me Steve is the torch carrier.

Now if we can just convince him to play the Tony Banks heavy, Trick Of The Tail album in it's entirety. 

Twitter - @HackettOfficial

All photos copyright Nick Baker

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Live In 2021 - Fleetingwood Mac at Acapela Studios, Pentyrch, Cardiff on Saturday 11th September 2021


This was my third visit to Acapela Studios since the reopening of the venue and was by far the rowdiest - which was no bad thing.
I've been a Fleetwood Mac lover since the earliest days and I even love the middle years from 1971-74 where the band had constant changes but managed to produce some fabulous music which many Fans have not even heard. I urge them to go and seek out the run of albums between Then Play On to Heroes Are Hard To Find - then go and have a look at Bob Welch's Solo Work. Another tragic chapter in the incredible Fleetwood Mac story.
But back to the show.
With a set list and catalogue of songs to kill for the Sold Out Show was bound to be a success and it was. It was also great to see a nicely female heavy mixed age audience singing away to all of the songs.

Leonie Gale - Vocals

The band opened the show with a storming version a Stevie Nicks 1983 solo track, Stand Back from her Wild Hearts album. A great way to kick off Part One of tonight's show and the crowd was singing along right from the off.

Stand Back

For track 2 it was back to 1987 and Tango In The Night for Christine McVie's Isn't It Midnight which gave  Paul, the guitar player, a chance to show us his skill. And to be fair he was on great form all evening with both guitar and vocals.
This is not a band who mimic The Mac. They play their songs in their own unique style and when given the chance, such as in Midnight, they use the opportunity to bring something different to the party in terms of improvisation. And with such well known songs I found this rather refreshing throughout the evening.

Paul Caruana - Guitar & Vocals

The only contentious decision the band really have to make is what songs to choose from that huge catalogue of songs. And how many of the Rumours tracks to play.
Well, next up was the huge hit You Make Loving Fun,

You Make Loving Fun

Buckingham Nicks - The White Album - Rumours - Tusk hold some very special memories for me and I suppose lots of others of my age in the crowd and just hearing these songs live again sent tingles down my spine and tears into my eyes. Lucky it was dark upstairs or they would have seen my mascara running!!!! I was back in 1977 age 16!

During their Mid to late 70s heyday The Mac weren't afraid to pay some respect to earlier incarnations of the band and the next track, Peter Green's fabulous hit Oh Well was played live with Lindsay taking the lead vocal and giving the chance to show off his considerable guitar skills. Tonight was no different.

Oh Well

It was back to Rumours for the next track and a massive female singalong to Dreams which could have lifted the roof off the newly air conditioned Acapela.

Four of my favourite Mac songs in a row followed with the first being Sara from Tusk. Here is Fleetingwood Mac with their own video, giving us their version of the song.


Then we had a beautiful version of Gypsy from 1982's Mirage album.


And the third in this fabulous Quartet of songs comes from 1975's White Album - the superb Say You Love Me.

The final song in this killer quartet of songs also came from the White Album - given added resonance being played in Wales - Leonie began the song with a soft slow rendition of the first verse before breaking into one of The Mac's best loved songs, Rhiannon.

And the final song of Part One of tonight's set was the title track from 1979's follow up to Rumours, the flawed beauty that is Tusk.


Matthew Knight - Bass

Part 2 opened with another Stevie Nicks Solo stomper - from 1981's debut solo album Bella Donna we were given an excellent interpretation of Edge Of Seventeen and Leonie's vocals were just sensational.

It was back to early Mac for the slinky Black Magic Woman before being transported back to the 80s and Tango In The Night for the delicate Everywhere and the soaring Seven Wonders.

Seven Wonders

Back to Tango In The Night for the epic Big Love and the antidote Little lies - both tracks showing the capabilities of the band in both their instrumental and vocal abilities. Dan Davies on Keyboards     normally shares vocals but had lost his voice from the previous night so vocal duties fell to Leonie & Paul who performed admirably under what must have ben difficult circumstances for the band.

Dan Davies - Keys & Vocals

By now the crowd were up and dancing and it just grew once the banc returned to 60s Mac for an energetic rendition of Shake Your Money Maker with Paul really making the song his own on guitar. Yes, by the end of the song the audience was literally dancing in the aisles.

Sean Kenneally - Drums

By the time of the final song of the set the crowd were cheering, dancing and singing along with abandon as the band launched into Don't Stop. It was great to see people enjoying themselves after almost 2 years of enduring lockdown. And this was the perfect song for all that pent up energy and emotion to be released. By now I was just sitting there smiling like the Cheshire Cat, just drinking it all in. Absolutely Glorious,

Don't Stop

The crowd were so up for it now, the band was not getting away without an encore so they came back with The Chain and ended the show with a blistering version of Go Your Own Way which took me right back to the summer of 1977. Glorious memories indeed.

Go Your Own Way

I was quite unprepared for just how emotional this gig would be to me. Those songs have a resonance which has lasted over 46 years and I didn't expect the ripples to be still moving but they still are. Little 4 minute time capsules. Music remains a mysterious alchemy of magic and emotion and as long as bands choose to play this music it will always surround us. 

Thank you Fleetingwood Mac for such a fabulous evening. I'd happily pay the money to see these guys again. But one thing, just for me, learn my favourite Mac song and revisit that 71 to 74 era to give us a song from there. And my favourite Mac song.......Well it's this beauty.

Come A Little Bit Closer

Twitter - @fleetingwoodmac

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Albums Of 2021: The Downes Braide Association - Halcyon Hymns


It's taken a special record to jolt me out of retirement and put finger to keyboard to start my Albums of 2021 series.
Halcyon Hymns is album number 4 (not including last year's live album) for the partnership of Yes/Asia man Geoff Downes and singer songwriter Chris Braide.
With the world in Lockdown, the two musicians found themselves on opposite sides of the world and with Chris looking for a new project as his sessions dissipated in LA, he turned to a set of Musical ideas provided to him by Geoff and so Halcyon Hymns was born. The result of the modern way of recording and producing albums. But with it's heart planted firmly back in those bygone times.

'Beneath the dark cathedral of summertime'

Opening with the dulcet tones of  Poet, Barney Ashton-Bullock providing narration with Love Among The Ruins, I am immediately reminded of the Moody Blues glorious Days Of Future Passed - reinforced by the lovely 12 string of guitarist Dave Bainbridge and a Bach like keyboard wash we are immediately taken back in time. The lyrics equally nostalgic for beautiful days gone by. Chris Braide remains in fine voice throughout the album and multilayers harmonies galore in a fabulous chorus. Indeed Dave Bainbridge's guitar work must get a special mention here and well done to the two leaders, keyboard players both, in giving Dave the opportunity and space to shine, which he does with spectacular results, just like the closing solo the this opening track.
I may say right now that following their two live shows at Trading Boundaries, this is the most 'Band' sounding of all of the four albums. Such a shame lockdown robbed us of some more live shows. But with both leaders now living back in the UK, it could well be a very tasty proposition once all this lockdown is over. Don't forget Wales fellas. 

Love Among The Ruins

The 'Band' is made up of Geoff, Chris, Dave with Andy Hodge on Bass and Ash Soan on drumming duties, all playing with a verve and subtly that enhances the music beautifully. 

Next track up is King Of The Sunset which slows down the pace. Very Floydian in places it wafts in with the dual voices of Chris and the returning David Longdon of Big Big Train who once again lends his fabulous vocals to another DBA album. 
The imagery in the lyrics continue to highlight the Sun. Overall, although not a concept album, the Sun raises its light continuously throughout the album. 

'The land is forever, of orchards and groves'

Barney Ashton-Bullock

Your Heart Will Find The Way is one of the more Rock tracks on the album - and if it had the late John Wetton on vocals, it could sit pretty well on the majority Asia albums with a few tweaks. Again it includes some tasty 12 string guitar work and even a few stereo sweeps to keep you on your toes. Very much a single if such things still exist!!

'Over the mountains and under the waves, under the fountains and under the graves'

Holding The Heavens opens like a long lost Trick Of The Tail track before it opens into a lovely summery song. And those guitar phrases could have come right from any of the later Genesis albums. They boys certainly have the ability to pull out a hook when required. Nature once again featuring in the lyrics to add to the overall 'pastoral' feel of the album.

'You're an oak tree growing tall and wild'

Ash Soan

Barney once again introduces the next track, Beachcombers, with prose before before another song of love with imagery of Nature providing a suitable backdrop. This is very much the nearest to modern YES that the album gets, especially in the multi layered vocals.

'Heavens low crouching from up high'

Andy Hodge

The opening of the next track Warm Summer Sun - here's the Sun again - could have come straight from a Nick Drake album  as the church bells ring and those sweeping keyboard strings begin the album's highlight ballad. A yearning track seeped in regret and nostalgia. It even includes a guest vocal from 80s Synth Band Soft Cell's Marc Almond on one verse and throughout the track providing harmony vocals to Chris. It ends with more church bells and multi-layered harmonies. It's like an interlude in the running order and works so well.

'My heart is full of raindrops, where once shimmering nights of starlight'

Your Heart Will Find The Way

Today is a straight forward piano based song with echoes of The Beatles - those small vocal harmonies, that 'George' slide guitar and Strawberry Fields organ settings work their magic. Including the magnificent guitar solo and Ah Ahs at the end. We must all at some point, doff our caps to The Masters. 

'I'll make the tea and bring your canvas and paints'

Dave Bainbridge

Hymn To The Darkness is a short song with a Cathedral feel both with the layered vocals and keyboard work. 
She'll Be Riding Horses immediately lifts the mood. The most immediate 'pop' song on the album, it highlight's both Chris' & Geoff's pop background and the ability to still be able to pen a catchy, commercial song when the mood takes them. It has a lovely musical backdrop including keyboard sweeps and Dave's mandolin - you're almost sitting there clapping your hands along at the end. Fabulous stuff indeed.

Late Summer unapologetically takes us straight back to those warm summer days and Chris accompanies those soft, keyboard sweeps and softer sustained guitar notes with some more gorgeously nostalgic summery 'times gone by' lyrical imagery.

The Tour De Force of the album is now with us - the majestic 11 minute Remembrance - once again introduced by Barney's poetry - it starts off with a quiet section as Chris looks back on past times once again. It's very William Blake, it's very pastoral, it's very English dare I say.  It's in this track that Barney really comes into his own. It's elegiac, stately and by God, it's just brilliant and beautiful.

The album closes with a 35 second epilogue - which I'm not going to spoil for you. Suffice to say - it ends exactly as it should. And if you're not crying by now - you have no Soul. 

'The smell of summer merging with your sweet perfume'

The album is a gorgeous slice of sunshine and beauty in these dark, demonic times but with some rays of sunlight starting to break through that oppressive bleakness, Halcyon Hymns has come around just at the right time when we can look back on a glorious past and look forward to a brighter future ahead. And whatever your musical leaning, you need a copy of this in your home. Hopefully in the form of the forthcoming vinyl - where you can dive into that Roger Dean world that this whole gorgeous package will come wrapped in for your delight.

TWITTER - @TheRealDBAMusic

click for The Official Downes Braide Association Website


Friday, 28 February 2020

Live in 2020: Merry Hell at Acapela Studios on Saturday 25th January 2020

It's the first visit to Wales for the Merry Hell band and an evening at the Chapel is a perfect place to introduce this excellent band to the Welsh public.
I also appreciate the fact that hey have chosen to give local-ish artist Bryony Sier the opportunity to play a support slot. I wish more artists would do this if they have the opportunity so Well Done to Merry Hell for giving up and coming local artists the chance to shine.

With just a guitar and a distinctive voice for company, Bryony enchanted the Acapela audience with a selection of self-penned songs. From reflective to upbeat, Bryony gives us her views on the life of a modern young woman in today's world. With both Fragility & Feistiness, she proves both engaging and insightful and by the activity on the Merch Stand, she won a good few friends with her performance.

Personal Monster


It was my first time to see Merry Hell live. I had done my research and had been listening to their available albums on Spotify - (I always try and leave my cd & vinyl buying for 'on the night' if possible) but this didn't really prepare me for the rumbustious night ahead. They are one of those bands that are great on record but really come into their own LIVE. And tonight, they pulled out all of the stops.

The band are based around the Kettle Brothers - Andrew on Vocals, John on Guitar and Bob on Guitar, Mandolin with Bob's wife Virginia on Vocals, Nick Davies on Bass and Neil McCartney on Violin.  Having a night off tonight are Andy Jones on Drums and Lee Goulding on Keyboards.

The Award winning band are on top form tonight as they treat the audience to a night of Anthems & Insights and they give us their take on the world and judging by the response they got on the night, I think most of the audience has a similar vision and certainly shared experiences.

The band kick off tonight's set with Loving The Skin You're In. Straight from the off the crowd are clapping and singing along as the six-piece bring the energy.

Loving The Skin You're In

Now five albums and a dvd documentary into their career, the band have acquired a decent canon of songs to choose from and over a strong 2 hour set we are treated to many of the band's finest songs, both uptempo and more reflective.

As with most of our finest Folk bands and artists at the moment, they band produce songs based on the experiences of living in the world today. Especially here in the UK where we continue to live in tumultuous and ever changing times. And with songs such as We Need Each Other Now, the band's northern sensibility strike a chord with the Welsh audience. With similar experiences and outlooks the band strike a chord tonight.

We Need Each Other Now

Choosing songs from all of their available albums tonight, the band show a wit and a humour which goes down a storm tonight as the audience continue to join in choruses with abandon.

Bury Me Naked

There's A Ghost In Our House
As the band continue to reveal their superb show, they bring to mind one of my favourite bands - The Oysterband - with their passion, social commentary and humour, they are definitely hewn from the same granite rock of contemporary Folk sensibilities.

Come On, England

It's always a treat when you see a band drop their instruments and especially tonight when the Acapela lives up to it's name and the band give us a moving performance of their song Coming Home Song.

Coming Home Song

Virginia is also an accomplished singer/songwriter in her own right and the band leave the stage to leave her alone to sing a solo song, Violet, which brought the Chapel down.

The band then take to the stage for the downhill ride to the end of the show starting with Drunken Serenade and Finest Hour.

Drunken Serenade

My Finest Hour

We're then treated to more excellent songs such as The Crooked Man, the plaintive Emerald Green and an especially uplifting version of Summer Is A Comin'.

Summer Is A Comin'

With the audience now up on their seats and singing along in a big way we get a new song, Don't Want To Be Cool before Fear Of Falling and the fabulous The Baker's Daughter. This brings the show to a frenetic end and to rapturous applause from the Acapela audience.

But there's always room for an encore and the band finish with the singalong One More Day.

One More Day

Talking to the audience during the interval and after the show it was apparent that like me, this was the first time that many of them had seen the band live. And I for one KNOW that it won't be the last. If they come back to Wales, I'll be there like a shot,

Bryony Sier on Twitter - @BryonySierMusic

Merry Hell on Twitter - @MerryHell_band