Sunday, 31 May 2015

Live In 2015: Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express and The Dreaming Spires at The Tunnels, Bristol on Wednesday 27th May 2015

OK, I'll come right out and admit it straight away that I had not heard much of Chuck Prophet (to my shame) other than the last two albums, that I bought when I booked tickets for this gig.
I really wanted to see The Dreaming Spires - the band who have produced, for me, one of the best albums of 2015 so far.

But, there's nothing like the unexpected. It was my first visit to The Tunnels and hopefully won't be the last. It reminds me a bit of what The Cavern in Liverpool must have been like in the 60's - but perhaps a bit plusher and with less young ladies.

As we were queuing outside, one of the crew popped out and explained that half of Chuck's band were stuck in Brussels, trying to get to Bristol from Madrid. But at least we knew Chuck was there, so let's see what transpires.

From what I'd read and talking to Chuck's fans in the venue - I was expecting a high octane performance from the band.

However, first up was the band that I came to see, The Dreaming Spires. 

Down to the duo today of brothers Joe and Robin Bennett (drummer Jamie now living in America) - the boys had told me to expect an Everley's version of their set - acoustic and subtle. But when I saw Robin's Rickenbacker on the stage my heart skipped a beat. The Spires are known among their fans for their Rickenbacker based sound.

The brothers are now on album two with Searching For The Supertruth, which is a beauty.
They opened up with House On Elsinore from the EP Darkest Before The Dawn, that preceded ...Supertruth earlier this year. 
Their harmonies were spot on and it didn't take long for the boys to get into their stride. With the late start for Chuck, while he waited for the band members, The Spires got an extra 20 minutes which was great news for me.

They had the opportunity to perform some of my favourite songs including the title track of ....Supertruth, the great opening track I Still Believe In You and a first live outing for Strange Glue.

The lovely We Used To Have Parties, which on the album has the delectable Sarah Cracknell from St Etienne on vocals, was another highlight with the brothers harmonies sounding like only sibling harmonies can.

Their first album, Brothers In Brooklyn was also represented with the title track and an excellent version of Everything All The Time.

The Spires are part of Clubhouse Records, one of the best independent labels in the UK and who, a few years back, produced an album that covered all of the Bruce Springsteen album Nebraska. The boys played a stunning version, with Joe taking lead vocal duties, of their cover from that album - Atlantic City.

The set closed with one of the highlights from their new album - the mighty Dusty In Memphis, which even kept it's power despite the lack of drums. And gave me a chance for a bit of singing - nothing like a Welshman belting out 'You Know We've Got Soul'. If you get a chance to see The Dreaming Spires, get there. You won't be disappointed. 

So, a great set and a nice build up for Chuck Prophet.

As I stated earlier, I have never seen Chuck Prophet live but have enjoyed the last two albums, Night Surfer and Temple Beautiful since I bought them about two months ago.  I was expecting an upbeat, uptempo show today. But it's funny what life throws at you as an experienced gig goer.

Firstly, the missing half of Chuck's band had not arrived by his 9.30pm start time, so Chuck decided to split his show into two halves. The first half was to be a solo acoustic 'Storytellers' type experience.

Although this wasn't what I, or his Bristol fans, expected, I thought it worked really well. Especially being new to Chuck's music, I got the opportunity to hear what half of the songs were about and to witness the man's personality for myself.

My first thought was how the hell I'd missed him for so long. Chuck was informative and insightful. And by God he was funny!

For the first hour of the show, Chuck went back into his intensive catalogue to showcase some of his best known songs (according to the fans next to me) - always handy to have some super fans close at hand.

With tracks such as Hot Talk and Would You Love Me, Chuck strummed his acoustic with passion - a performer totally at ease in a live performance. The songs were varied and interesting.

Halfway through the first set, Chuck brought his wife onto the stage - Stephanie Finch is also his keyboard player and vocalist. This added an extra dimension to the songs and sounded excellent.

Chuck really seemed to be enjoying this part of the show, probably because he's already made the decision to really rock it up for part two.

After about an hour, the missing bandmates turned up. Then following a 15 minute break, and the opening shout of 'Let's Do This Thing', Chuck strapped on his battered Telecaster and launched into an hour and twenty minute of a Rock n Roll masterclass. He was extraordinary. No, I really mean it.

Chuck again dipped into his extensive back catalogue and dug out some absolute gems. Although many of these songs were new to me, they seemed like old favorites.

Chuck really is a master of that Telecaster and had it singing and growling in equal measure as he blasted out some serious Rock n Roll riffs and some sublime solos. An early highlight in this second set was the opening track from Night Surfer the rocking Countrified Inner City Technological Man.

There were shades of The Stones, a touch of Bowie, a sprinkle of Tom Petty, a smattering of Little Feat and plenty of Chuck to get the crowd going. 
Throughout the night Chuck was talking to members of the audience, he said there were plenty of faces he recognised and some new ones too. 

He played many crowd favourites, as the guys around me were singing to every word. Songs such as Ford Econoline and Sonny Liston Blues really got the crowd bouncing along.

For the last song, Chuck played the obviously well known You Did, where he decided a little one on one time with the audience was called for, much to the delight of the crowd.

So an unexpected and spectacular night - nothing like I expected but one of surprises and revelations. I now know what to expect at the next gig - and there will be a next gig, I hope. Now time to dig back into that career and see what I've been missing!!!




Sunday, 24 May 2015

Live in 2015: Blair Dunlop live at The Convent on Sunday 24th May 2015 - via NetGig

Tonight was an opportunity to catch one of the UK's best young talents. I could not get there in person but The Convent have a series of live broadcast gigs and this was one I wasn't going to miss.

Having produced two sublime albums in 2012's Blight & Blossom and 2014's House Of Jacks, Blair is playing tracks from both albums on this current tour.

Support for the evening was Australian Jack Carty, whom Blair met while touring over there last year. With a strong voice and a good ear for a tune, you can see why Blair wanted him to come over to support him on several gigs on this tour.

I've loved Blair's music since I first heard the Blight & Blossom album, which still gets regular plays in Fleet Towers 3 years on. 

Joining him on this gig were his regular keyboard /backing vox Jacob Stoney and percussionist Fred Claridge.

The show open with gorgeous The Station from House Of Jacks. Right from the off, Blair shows just what an accomplished guitarist he has become and showcases his skills several times throughout tonight's show.

Blight & Blossom has some really beautiful love songs but the opening track Secret Theatre, is about the Shakespearean author Christopher Marlowe and proves that Blair is growing as an accomplished lyricist as well as a guitarist.

We could see this growing lyrical talent tonight were two of the highlights of House Of Jacks are two songs about a night club called 45s - one song based in the 1960s & one based in 2014.

Both were played in this show, and they have lost none of their lyricism and beauty in their live presentation.

The band then left the stage for Blair to perform a small acoustic set which included the stunning title track of Blight & Blossom and 50 Shades Of Blue, one of the gentler moments from House Of Jacks.

However, tonight wasn't all about the first two albums as Blair has decided to include some of his new songs which may well find their way onto album number 3. These included a recently revealed song, She Won't Cry For Me.

The first time I saw Blair live he was quite quiet and somewhat introverted but he has come out of his shell somewhat for this tour and his interaction with the audience tonight was a joy. Let's see more of this please Blair.

Two more new tracks followed (sorry, but I don't know the track names) but both were excellent which bodes well for the new album, before we came to the second 45 song, 45s 69 - the more uplifting of the two tracks.

Blair is never shy of producing a cover and in the past has covered the likes of Nic Jones and Jackson Browne but for tonight's encore he covered a track by a band called Lake Street Dive called Bad Self Portraits and urged the audience to check them out - so here they are. 

The band then left the stage for Blair to return with yet one more new song called No Go Zones - very hard hitting and topical.

And the very last song was the lovely Fallout from Blight & Blossom

 Blair Dunlop once again proved what an excellent musician and songwriter he is - growing in stature from year to year and album to album. with a growing catalogue of songs to choose from, the future is bright for Mr Dunlop. And more power to him.





Thursday, 7 May 2015

Live In 2015: Bella Hardy at Ystradgynlais Welfare Hall on Thursday 7th May 2015

Up in the Swansea Valley there is a small mining village called Ystradgynlais. 

Award winning Folk songstress Bella Hardy decided to come and visit and bring her With The Dawn Spring Tour to the Village Welfare Hall - on Election Nights of all nights. The hall was also being used as a polling station. Very odd indeed. But as Bella said, she did wear her party dress - but which party?

With a lovely, brand new look (Shorter hair and blonde) and joined by a four piece band, Bella unveiled the live versions of the songs on the stunning new album, With The Dawn.

I was dying to know whether Bella and the band could reproduce the sonic subtleties and intricacies of the With The Dawn live. And I am thrilled to be able to report that they achieved this, and more.

I don't want to go into too much detail of the songs on with The Dawn - that'll be for another blog page later in the year. But suffice to say, she did the album justice tonight.

I know that With The Dawn will be in my Albums Of 2015 list and Bella and her band gave the songs passion and delicacy that permeates the whole album.

With a sound as clear as crystal glass and the voice of an Angel, Bella sounded as good lvie as on her recorded output.

Although the evening was mainly a vehicle to give the new album it's live airing, Bella also introduced some of the old favourites into the set, such as The Herring Girl.

Using the whole band and varying the tempos and the instrumentation, sometimes with just her and guitar accompaniment, another song just her and piano, Bella seemed as confident and natural as she is on her albums. She has an engaging stage manner and used it well to tell stories surrounding the songs.

The new album is the best music she has produced so far and the songs transfer well into their live versions.

Bella has been collaborating a lot with other musicians over the last couple of years and she has included some of these songs into the set too. Hatfield being one, where she describes it being about childhood.

Bella's band included With The Dawn's producer Ben Seal and I wonder if he had something to do with the live sound production in this evening's performance as it really was something a bit special - a big thumbs up for the Sound Man too.

It was an an evening of beautiful music and moving, emotional songs. It was my first time to see Bella live - and I know it won't be the last. She is one of UK music's brightest talents and I can see no reason why she won't go from strength to strength.

If you get the opportunity to see her live - please go, I promise you won't be disappointed.

Twitter - @bellahardy

Monday, 4 May 2015

Live In 2015: Mike Peters - The Alarm Strength 30th Anniversary Show at The Globe, Cardiff on Saturday 2nd May 2015

To celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Declaration last year, Mike Peters put on a special tour where he played the album in it's entirety, along with other firm favourites.

So, after last year's extremely successful Declaration 30th Anniversary Tour - I was hoping Mike Peters would work through the rest of the Alarm albums as they reached 30 - and it seems he's going to.

With 2015 being the 30th Anniversary of Strength, it only seems right to give Strength it's due.

In a change to last year's tour, the format for Strength is that in Part 1, Mike plays songs that led to the recording of the album - together with the stories that accompany the songs. Mike tells a good tale and uses his knowledge of those early times to great effect during the show.

Armed with three microphones, to the left, right and centre of the stage, (which he runs to throughout the show), one drum, acoustic guitars and an effects board, Mike begins with Break The Promise and it's evident from the off that this gig is going to be something a bit special.

Included in this first half singles released prior to the album's release and included are gems such as Majority, The Chant Has Begun, a stomping version of The Stand and a song that Mike considers to be the best Alarm song, written by Dave Sharp, it's One Step Closer To Home.

As Mike was the main songwriter for The Alarm and wrote ALL of the hits and about 90%+ of the rest of the song, he has a legacy of songs from which to choose from.

What you probably haven't seen before is Mike's sense of humour as he regales the audience with tales of when The Alarm was in it's infancy and how they supported The Clash in Liverpool and his run in with Bob Geldof. It was LOL territory on lots of occasions throughout the show.

The first half of the show ended on a high with the excellent Absolute Reality (which was going to be the title of the album before Strength was chosen) really had the crowd jumping and hyped up ready for Part Two.

Part two kicked off with the lead track from Strength, the epic Knife Edge - here's the album version.

The two hours plus is flying by as the Mike continues to unfurl the Strength album to a by now adoring crowd. The quality of singing is the best I've seen in a gig for ages, probably due to the anthemic nature of the songs and the amount of real fans in the venue. The array of Alarm T Shirts are dazzling - I just wish I could get into mine!

Before Father To Son, Mike talked about his relationship with his parents at the time and their desire for him to 'Get A Proper Job' - at this point he shows us the notebook he wrote the lyrics in - his parents bought him a new one every year.

Another highlight was The Day The Ravens Left The Tower with Mike producing a bodhran to set up the rhythmic loop that underpins the song.

Mike has re-recorded the Strength album and it's an interesting companion to the original album.

With the last song of Strength, the blistering anthem of Deeside whipping up the crowd to an encore of some early Alarm classics, Mike picked two lucky people out of the audience during Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke to play his drum and guitar while Mike threw the cards out into the crowd during the  'All Cards Are Marked' line - always guaranteed to get an extra cheer from the crowd. Giving them a gig they'll never forget.

The Globe was now rocking with a vengeance - well, from what i could see from the front looking back, and as he was back home in Wales, Mike brought out the two favourites that were bound to get the crowd filled with Hiraeth  and shouting out for more, that's A New South Wales from the Change album & Pete Seeger's The Bells Of Rhymney, a live favourite, especially in Wales, for years. Everybody gets to shout out as their City or Town is sang by Mike.  Although slow in pace, you could feel the intensity of both songs in the air.

The anthemic 68 Guns was followed by One Guitar before the song that every Alarm fan knows finishes the set - Blaze Of Glory.

So, Mike returned once again to Cardiff and conquered the Capital.

The next Alarm album to hopefully get the 30th Anniversary treatment is Eye Of The Hurricane - which is due in 2017. Hopefully, Mike will continue this way of performing the albums as the songs take on a more sophisticated tone with Hurricane and will sound pretty darn good in this format.

Her are a couple of the gems we can expect if Mike performs Eye Of The Hurricane.

Twitter - @thealarm