Friday, 28 March 2014

The Archivist Volume 2: YES - Going For The One


Picture if you will music lovers, an 11 year old boy attending his first day at Grammar School. It was like Tom Brown's Schooldays, with prefects that looked liked men and people nicking your cap and throwing it in the stream and cutting your tie with a scissors. The first day I sat down at my desk in my form room and saw those magical words hat had been carved on the desks  -CSNY - ELP & YES. What were these? School Houses? Magical Passwords? Thus began my journey into the world of Prog and YES. My brother, 12 years older than myself, had been my route into music. The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Association etc. So I had no older siblings to pass on the magical musical knowledge that had been the way since cavemen first beat a bone on a rock.

 I had to find my own path.

My introduction to YES was the Fragile album. Those complicated songs, those technically brilliant musical passages, that extremely high Accrington accented voice. Then, as I hit Grammar school, in 1972 came Close To The Edge. THE Prog Rock album of all time. My friend's brother had a copy (I couldn't afford albums then) so I taped it (remember that!!) and played it to death!!!
I was smitten, I was hooked, I fell in love. And it's been like a marriage ever since. We've had our ups and downs, we've had our extra marital musical affairs but YES and I have always gone back to each other. 

I've ALWAYS bought every Yes album ever since - on the first day of release - without even hearing them.

Jon Anderson always said that YES music was bigger than the band. He's right. With personnel changes galore over the years, the band has changed both in personal and musical ways but the music will live on.

So, why have I chosen to highlight Going For The One.
Well, a few reasons really.

Following the overblown and fractured beauty that was 1973s Tales Of Topographic Oceans (aka the album that killed Prog) - keyboard maestro Rick Wakeman decided that enough was enough and jumped ship. This brought in Swiss keyboard player Patrick Moraz for the follow up album Relayer in 1974.

Relayer was a magnificent beast. Full of unrelenting rhythms and sometimes jazz oriented sounds and phrases, it as the polar opposite of Topographic Oceans. Perhaps that was what the band needed. But following the Relayer album and tour the YES boys decided it was time to follow their individual paths and each member produced a solo album.

Moraz then left the band.

I used to subscribe to the music magazine Melody Maker and I remember as if it were yesterday walking up to the papershop early on that December morning, sun shining, and looking in amazement at the headline when the newsagent handed over the copy. I almost burst out crying. "Wakeman Rejoins Yes". I rushed home and must have reread the article over and over again as it described how YES were in Mountain Studios in Montreux working on what was going to be their new album Going For The One.

So I waited months until the first notes of the title track were heard - I think on The Old Grey Whistle Test. 
The release must be put into context. The album was released at the height of Punk in the UK in July 1977. 
The band had been renergised by the new music happening in the UK.

When have you ever heard a YES album begin with, One Two Three Four??
The opening title track was a burst of energy with Steve Howe's wailing slide guitars and Jon Andesron's lyrics finally coming down to earth to sing about, of all things, sport.
The album went straight to number 1 in the UK. So much for Punk sweeping away the old guard. 

With a new cover designer, Hipgnosis rather than the usual Roger Dean (and one which Wakeman entitled Going For The Bum) - it was a new chapter for the band.

The band even had a hit single with the delicate Wonderous Stories their first single release since 1971's Roundabout.

The reception by the fans was one of absolute joy. This was the classic YES line up, back on the top of their game and releasing what is often quoted as the album of their career.

Following the 3 song Relayer - Going For The One gives us 5 songs and includes the crown jewel of the entire YES catalogue - the mighty AWAKEN. This was the track that enticed Wakey to rejoin the band. It is a tour de force and includes everything a YES fan could ask for. 

By the way, the church organ from Vevey cathedral which Rick Wakeman plays was recorded over the phone line - thought you'd like to know that.

I remember the review for the album. either in Sounds or Melody Maker and the journo pointed out that his girlfriend, who had never been a YES fan, even cried at the end of Awaken when she first heard it. Yes, it is that moving- especially live.

I've actually worn out two vinyl copies of the album and bought at least 3 copies of the CD.

The album is also part of the current 3 Albums tour which is coming to the UK in May, with new vocalist Jon Davison. And it's gong to be a gem of a tour and I'll be there.

So once again a big Thank You to everyone who has felt like reading a page or two of the blog. I never thought I'd get 100 views, let alone 10,000. I hope it's opened up some old music for you to investigate and shown you some new music to search out and some artists who are worthy of your time to see live. 


Twitter - @yesofficial 

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Archivist Volume 2: ABC - The Lexicon Of Love

Ah, the 80s - that big colourful, brash era of high gloss, high quality pop.

And out of the darkness of the Gary Numan influenced industrial techno pop came an unashamedly romantic, string laden beast of an album. 1982s Lexicon Of Love followed the two brilliant singles Tears Are Not Enough & Poison Arrow and launched a career for Martin Fry that continues to this day.

With a good dose of catchy choruses and witty one liners, The Lexicon Of Love shone out and raised the bar for a lot of 80s artists.

Besides the inimitable talents of Martin Fry, the album also had a couple of aces up its sleeve. The beautiful string arrangements of Anne Dudley and the sympathetic production of the one and only Trevor Horn before he set the tone for over the top 80s production values that spawned a million sound-a-likes that could never match the sonic palette of  Mr Horn.

With a mixture of High Camp and killer songs - the album plays like a musical. With the now classic Gold Lame Suit, Martin Fry turns the camp up to 11 and gives the performance of his career.

It seemed like it was hit after hit as the tracks kept being released as singles. Even the non-singles sounded like singles.

But the problem with such a fantastic debut album is how the hell do you follow it? ABC followed it up with the patchy and ill received Beauty Stab. It did produce a couple of minor hit singles in That Was Then & SOS but could not compete with the magic that was Lexicon Of Love.

The band have tried bravely to recapture that magic ever since and have released numerous hit singles and had various image changes since those heady days. But at least the band did manage to produce ONE classic album. which is one more than most bands. 

So, soothe yourself in the beauty that is The Lexicon Of Love and remember those early 80s days with affection, if you were there that is. And just imagine what it was like if you weren't. It WAS pretty special. 

Twitter - @abcmffansite

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Live in 2014: The Answer at The Globe, Cardiff, March 17th 2014

I don't go to that many ROCK gigs these days. It's not that I don't like a bit of hard rock but I was told by an ear consultant that any more hard rock gigs would make me deaf in my left ear, permanently. So, now I tend to listen to more acoustic music live. But, I HAD to make an exception for The Answer.

I've enjoyed the band ever since I got a copy of their first album Rise back in 2006. With celebrity fans including Zep's Jimmy Page and Def Leppard's Joe Elliott I was in good company. 

First up however was support band Black Wolf.

I must admit I was pretty impressed as they played a six song set featuring tracks from their debut album - The Hunt. They had tons of energy and got the crowd nicely warmed up for The Answer. I think they found some friends in Cardiff tonight and the merch stand looked busy after their set. A good night's work.

The Answer the took to the stage and showed why they are one of Rock's great attractions.

Paul, Mickey, James & Cormac gave a blistering live performance as they featured songs tonight from their latest release, New Horizon, released last year.

Now 4 albums into their career, the band have honed their live skills and have lived up to the promise of their first couple of album releases. 

The Answer have their own guitar hero in Paul Mahon who delighted the crowd with his playing and posing.

Lead vocalist Cormac Neeson had no problem getting the crowd on his side and is an outstanding live performer and front man. 

Seeing as it was St Patrick's Day, Cormac thought it was a good idea to offer some of the crowd a spot of Jameson's whiskey. If I wasn't driving I would have joined him, as I like a spot of whiskey.

And it was St Patrick's Day - so the boys slipped a Rory Gallagher track into the set. Nice touch.

Cormac even came down into the crowd for a bit of close up singing.

So, A Great Night had by all who were there. It was a fabulous way to spend a St Patrick's Day evening - with a bunch of loud Irish lads. And Cormac, you could have kept my hat if you wanted it :)

this pic of the Globe crowd courtesy of The Answer

Twitter - @theanswerrocks

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Live in 2014: Henry Priestman at The Chattery, Swansea - Saturday March 16th 2014

It was another great night at The Chattery in Swansea last night as Henry Priestman came to town.

There are not many performers who have written some of the best songs released in the 1980s and then disappear from view for twenty years only to reappear and produce two classic albums that are totally removed from the 80s pop heydays. Henry Priestman is certainly one of a kind. But more of Henry later.

The support slot was sublimely fiiled by Welsh Songstress Lowri Evans who produced an engaging set highlighting her obvious songwriting skills. Accompanied by her partner Lee Mason, she played songs in both  Welsh & English. She has shades of the wonderful Cerys Matthews in her voice - not unusual considering they come from the same geographical location in West Wales - more or less.

It's not often that I am moved to purchase an album by a support act but I bought Lowri's latest, Corner Of My Eye and will investigate earlier releases too.

Following Lowri's performance, Henry then took to the stage. Most of the set is based around this two solo albums 2008's The Chronicles Of Modern Life and this years 
The Last Mad Surge Of Youth.

Henry has always been one of us. By this I mean a man with a social conscience and a champion of the proletariat. Even as a young man with The Christians, he sang songs of socialism, strife and above all, Hope.

But he is no wide eyed youth anymore and the passage of time has influenced his songwriting. Without the trappings of the band and a stripped down production, Henry's two solo albums are very direct and personal.

Henry has a very witty personality and his onstage recollections are entertaining and informative.

Ably supported by Loved Up Les (TM) on guitar & occasional bass drum, Henry played a set of two halves. He opened the show with the song Old - which speaks for itself.

For somebody who is over 50, Henry's two albums hold special resonance. Indeed, when Chronicles came out in 2008, the first track, Don't You Love Me No More, which he pays tonight, came a week after I had been made redundant from a company who I had been with for 23 years. and it gave me a smile in times of doubt. Listen to the song for its relevance.

During the show, Henry was joined on stage by special guest Radio Wales presenter Alan Thompson on bass duties. Looking rather dashing with his Hofner inspired McCartney Beatle Bass.

Henry did play a moving version of The Christians song of hope Ideal world.

Not all Henry's song are about the hardships of life or getting old. Some are about love and hope. Joined on stage by Lowri, he played a beautiful version of Valentine Song from the new album.

During the encore, Henry and Les were joined on stage by Alan, Lowri and Lee for a rousing version of Irish Jig.

If you are my age - over 50 - Henry's albums of observations are essential listening. Nobody quite does Sliver Angst like Henry. If you're younger, seek the albums out anyway, as they show a man at the peak of his powers. You'll be well rewarded for your investment.

Twitter - @HenryPriestman


Friday, 14 March 2014

Albums of 2014: Paul McClure - Smiling From The Floor Up

Let me start by saying that I have thought long and hard about posting Albums Of 2014 so early in the year - but I know what I like and I like what I know (that sounds vaguely familiar in a Prog sort of way) - so for Albums that I know are going to make the list, well why not get them in early to give everyone an opportunity to seek out and get a few months more enjoyment if they feel so inclined as to invest

As I've stated many times before, Clubhouse Records is my favourite record label. Every artist in their stable is excellent and worthy of your time.

Paul McClure first came to my attention as part of a duo called The Hi & Lo. 
Clubhouse released an album in tribute to the Bruce Springsteen release Nebraska with it's own artists and selected guests recording each of the tracks on a TEAC tape recorder, just as Bruce did.

This is The Hi & Lo's version of My Father's House from that album.

Paul has released two solo albums, No Place Like Home in 2003 & Desire Lines in 2008

However, since the break up of The Hi & Lo, Paul has been working on his next solo album and has finally released Smiling From The Floor Up.

Photo courtesy of Trevor Moss

Last year, Paul played the rather magnificently titled Tingestock Festival where he showcased some of the new material that would become Smiling...

Photo courtesy of Trevor Moss

The album also features a few of his Clubhouse Label mates such as Joe Bennett from the Dreaming Spires and Alex & Hannah Elton-Wall from the Redlands Palomino Company, otherwise, it's just Paul himself.

The album contains some lovely variety and Paul's dry sense of humour shines throughout the album.

It's an album of the pleasures of life such as family and friends.

Opener Long Gone Out Of Here sets the tone for much of the album. Paul & his Guitar - and any song that includes a Buddy Holly reference is a winner in my book.

Here is Paul talking about the album

Particular favourites at the moment include the chugging Lost And Found and the jaunty Any Number You Like (As Long As It's 4)

And Paul's humour comes to the fore with the Ukulele led Lola Rose

Photo courtesy of Trevor Moss

To coincide with the album's release, Paul has embarked on a tour with a difference. The Rutland Troubadour Tour has taken in many house concerts and very small venues to introduce his music to the masses. It's proved very popular among his supporters and look out for a documentary which is currently being put together as the tour continues.

Smiling From The Floor Up has certainly delivered the goods for me. Early indications were good and it's certainly lived up the the early promise. There are so many singer/songwriters out there at the moment so it's great to find one with a personality and sense of humour. I'm looking forward to finally catching Paul live and I know it's greedy but I'm already looking forward to the next release.

So do yourself and your ears a favour and go and buy a copy of Smiling From The Floor Up. 

Photo courtesy of Trevor Moss

Twitter - @PMcCluremusic

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Archivist Volume 2 : Lone Justice - Shelter

Some bands achieve greatness and some bands have greatness thrust upon them and some burn so bright for just one or two albums and just implode under the pressure. I'm sure you can all name some great bands that fall into each category.

One band that I always believed should have made a huge impact was Lone Justice.

Formed in the 1980s by Ryan Hedgecock and Maria McKee, Lone Justice burst onto the music scene with lots of press attention and a hit eponymous album in 1985 that gave birth to two excellent hit singles Sweet Sweet Baby and the Tom Petty/Mike Campbell song Ways To Be Wicked.

Although the debut did have some great critical reviews at the time, it failed to shift the units. The band then broke up and left Maria McKee to find a new band to record a second album. She enlisted guitarist Shane Fontayne (who would later join Springsteen's E Street Band) and also invited an E Street Band founder, Steve Van Zandt to co produce the next album, Shelter. 

Although it sonically falls into the mid 80s production trap, ALL the songs are excellent.

And it also contains one of my favourite songs of all time, I Found Love (which you have to play VERY loud) - and this video has one of the very best female rock performances ever :)

But, poor sales again caused the band to split up for good and Maria Mckee went onto pursue a solo career and instantly had a hit single with the movie driven single Show Me Heaven

Maria has released solo albums but has not been what you might call prolific. Her albums are varied and a long way from the Lone Justice sound and template - but are all well worthy of investigation and investment.

Here's hoping Maria will decide it is time to grace us with some new music soon.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Live in 2014: Fairport Convention at the Pontardawe Arts Centre - 2nd March 2014

It was another excellent night of music in the Pontardawe Arts Centre when Fairport Convention made what seemed like their annual pilgrimage to Wales. They more often than not come to Pontadawe. It was packed to the rafters again last night when Fairport 2014 rolled into town.

The first question was, Where's Peggy? And who was the young buck playing the bass?

It turned out that bass icon Dave Pegg had damaged his hand in a domestic accident three weeks before the tour started which ruled him out of the squad. But, as Simon Nicoll explained, Peggy had a contingency plan for an event such as this. And 42 years ago he had produced his son Matthew to take over. So it came to pass that Matthew, who proved to be an accomplished bass player himself, (and why not, as he was taught by one of the best), took over bass duties for this tour. But you can't keep a National Treasure down and Peggy was on hand(?), with hand in sling, to provide vocals for much of the second half of the set.

The show kicked off with support from the rather good Edwina Haynes who played a good set of her own songs and ended with the band coming on stage to join her for her final number, a version of John Prine's Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness.

The show was a set two gig and it kicked off with the title track from 1995's Jewel In The Crown.

The band chose songs from right throughout their extensive career. A personal favourite for me was their reinterpretation of  Richard Thompson's Farewell, Farewell from the 1969 classic Leige & Leif

The boys have been playing together for a while now and with such a vast amount of material to choose from the show was always going to be a crowd pleaser.

The first half closed with a superb Mercy Bay

Part Two opened up with a rousing Festival Bell with Peggy on vocals

The band even managed to slip in a few new songs that are in the process of being recorded for a new album later in the year, Myths & Heroes. And multi-instrumentalist Chris Leslie also played one of the songs from his latest solo album Origins called Theodore's Song. And it was very good too.

Edwina Hayne's joined the band again for a lovely version of the Sandy Denny/Fairport classic, Who Knows Where The Time Goes

They closed the show with the classic Matty Groves

But as every Fairport Convention fan knows - the show is ALWAYS closed with the now legendary Richard Thompson song Meet On The Ledge

Thanks to all the youtube heroes who have managed to get video of this years tour. My thanks to you all.