Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The Archivist: Benjamin Francis Letfwich - Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm

Let me start by saying that this post is a labour of love for me. Ever since I picked up a copy of a Communion Records compilation cd on the front of one of the music magazines I have been enchanted by the voice and music of Benjamin Francis Leftwich.

The debut album, Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm was released in July 2011 and since I bought it in early 2012, it has never been far from the cd player and is a constant companion both on my ipod and iphone.

Ben has stated that his favourite albums are Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen and Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams. You can certainly hear the influences in his debut album.

Ben toured the whole of the UK to support the release of Last Smoke. He even played Swansea but I was ill on the day of the gig and I was gutted that I couldn't attend - so he's still on my 'Must See' list. This tour culminated in a brilliant set at the Cambridge Folk Festival.

The whole album is just totally gorgeous and full of gentle, melodic songs.

But this is my favourite track from the album, Butterfly Culture

In October 2012, Ben released an EP called In The Open which contained four new songs, which apparently won't be on the next album. They show a slightly never direction that I hope Ben will follow for album 2.

Ben has also been known to record various cover versions from artists such as Arcade Fire, Tom Petty and others.

Sadly, last year, Ben's father passed away, which put a hold on his plans for the rest of the year. He has been pretty quiet over the last year or so and I await the release of any new material with bated breath.

Ben also co-wrote this song by Cascada

Ben working on album 2 -May 2013

(Pics Courtesy of Ben's Facebook page)

So here's hoping Ben has a great 2014 and I for one will welcome him back with open arms.

Twitter - @BenLeftwich

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Songs in the Key of MY Life: Bon Jovi - Who Says You Can't Go Home

I always knew there was a Country Boy lurking in the heart of Jon Bon Jovi.
From the Poodle Rock beginnings, Jon Bon Jovi was always the man in charge of his music. Looking at the various interviews with the man, he seems to be driven by perfection. If his name is associated with anything, then he wants the final say. Not a bad thing. 

Since Keep The Faith and even before that, on Wanted Dead Or Alive or even the Blaze Of Glory album, Bon Jovi had a bit of  country/americana in their sound.

So, on the album Have A Nice Day, Bon Jovi recorded a song that was to give them their first US Country Number 1. It was recorded in two versions. The first with just the band. This was released as the second single from the album.

A second version of the song was recorded and  features the inimitable vocal talent of Jennifer Nettles from the Country duo Sugarland. This version was issued to the Country radio stations and gave Bon Jovi their first Number 1 in the Country charts in May 2006.

It is MY favourite version.

Jennifer with Sugarland

The success of this song in the Country charts must have had an influence on Jon to record the next album in Nashville. It is the country flavoured Lost Highway and is MY favourite Bon Jovi album.

Twitter - @BonJovi

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Archivist: Ryan Adams - Gold

Musically, for me, the 90s were not the most inspiring period of the last 60 years. It did have a few high points however. One of them for me was the introduction of a brilliant songwriter from North Carolina called Ryan Adams.

Ryan came to prominence with the band he formed in Raleigh in North Carolina called Whiskeytown. They were what is often called an Alt Country band. Formed in 1994, they lasted until the year 2000 and released three albums, Faithless Street, Stranger's Almanac and  Pneumonia.

Ryan was the main songwriter for the band and had a hand in writing the majority of the band's output. It is here that Ryan started out on road to being one of the most prolific songwriters in Rock. In fact, Ryan's songwriting output is the stuff of Legend.

Over the three albums, Ryan and the band were almost the vanguards of the new Country Rock movement in the 90s.

The fact that Ryan was able to release his first solo album, Heartbreaker, almost immediately on leaving Whiskeytown is a testament to his songwriting talent and work ethic.

The album gained a lot of critical acclaim at it's time of release and for many it is Ryan's best solo release.

Ryan's song, Come Pick Me Up, was used in Cameron Crowe's movie Eizabethtown, along with 2 other songs, which gave the album a lot of new exposure when it was released in 2005.

It was also the second time that Ryan worked with the now super composer Ethan John, who had previously produced Whiskeytown's final album, Pneumonia. Ethan, who is great musician himself, brought the best out of Ryan.

A year later, in 2001, Ryan got together again with Ethan Johns to release what was to become his most successful album to date. This is no mean feat with 16 official releases and a vast array of unreleased albums too.

The first single from Gold was called New York, New York and would take it's place in history as probably the last music video to be recorded featuring the Twin Towers before it was destroyed in the terrorist attack on September 11 2001. It is an uplifting song and stands as a testament to the resilience of the people of New York.

Over 16 tracks, Ryan produced an album of astonishing depth and included many influences from all different types of music. Lyrically, it explored may influences including literary sources such as Sylvia Plath.

With Ethan's sympathetic production, the album ebbs and flows like a river. although it is 16 tracks in length it never gets boring.

From gorgeous country balladeering, to the Stones influenced blues stomp, Gold is one hell of a ride.

Ryan has continued to release excellent quality music. In 2004, he joined with the band The Cardinals and released some great albums. They really are his 'Crazy Horse'. He stayed with the Cardinals until 2009.

Ryan is so prolific - he even finds time to release solo music of different genres under various pseudonyms including Werewolph, Sleazy Handshake, The Shit  (and in 2013, Pornography) which he releases online.

Although he has not totally forgotten his Country/Rock routes over the years.

In October 2011, Ryan released his last 'official' album, Ashes & Fire which was produced by the legendary producer Glyn Johns, who just happens to be Ethan Johns father.

So we wait in anticipation of a Ryan Adams release in 2014. You never know.

Twitter - @TheRyanAdams

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Live in 2014: Songwriter's Circle - featuring Danny George Wilson, Peter Bruntnell & Neil Halsted - live at The Chattery, Swansea, Saturday 18th January

I find myself in an odd position where I find myself not really wanting to shout about a fantastic gig because I want The Chattery in Swansea to remain a hidden gem of  quality music. I want it to remain intimate & cosy and continue to be a fine purveyor of live (mainly - but not exclusively) acoustic based music.

It's tucked away in the Uplands area of Swansea. Run by lovely, friendly people who know your name as you return and also know their music. It is a welcoming venue and you can have a nice meal or drink before the show. They are selective in their artists and concentrate on quality not quantity. It reminds me a bit of what the Greenwich Village scene must have been like in the early 1960s. And any venue that has paintings of a early 60s Bob Dylan on the wall has credibility in my book.

The Chattery pulled off quite a coup with a songwriters circle of Danny George Wilson (leader of the band Danny & the Champions of the World), singer/songwriter Peter Bruntnell and Neil Halstead (solo artist and band member of Mojave 3)

The show was split into 2 halves, with each singer playing 4 songs in rotation in each half. With such a large canon of work to choose from, the night just seemed to fly by.

The guys played songs from throughout their careers. Danny played songs from both Grand Drive and Danny & the Champions of the World, Neil Halstead played songs by Mojave 3 and his solo albums and Peter Bruntnell mined the rich seam of his 11 albums for his 8 songs.

The format worked really well and the boys have obviously enjoyed their short week tour together in this new format. With banter aplenty and with each musician contributing to various songs.

Danny dubbed it the '50 Shades of Plaid Tour' - due to the shirts!

It was Neil's first visit to The Chattery, Danny's second and Peter's umpteenth!

The songs were varied and the 3 voices contrasted and complimented one another beautifully. The format gave the songs a chance to breathe and be seen in their stripped down versions, as they must have been written.

The boys finished with an encore of the John Prine classic - The Speed of the Sound of Loneliness - although I only managed to get 2 minutes on video before my recorder ran out.

So I've included my favourite version by Nanci Griffith to highlight the song in full.

It was a fantastic evening of great music at what is becoming my favourite venue. So check out the Chattery website below for more musical treats in 2014. I'm sure to see you down there.


Saturday, 18 January 2014

Live in 2014: Limehouse Lizzy - live at the Pontardawe Arts Centre - January 17th 2014

I've seen may a tribute band over the years. Some have been more successful than others. However, I saw the best tribute band I've ever seen last night when I went to the Pontardawe Arts Centre to see the Thin Lizzy tribute band, Limehouse Lizzy.

Limehouse Lizzy comprise of Wayne Ellis (lead vocals & bass), Greg Alcock & Tim Read (guitars) and Lee Morris (drums)

Unlike most tribute bands, who either sound nothing like the band or become a parody, Limehouse Lizzy reach a happy medium. They are respectful of the legacy and the songs.

Starting off with Jailbreak and ending with Whisky In The Jar, the band played all the major hits and some album gems from the brilliant Thin Lizzy back catagloue. All the hits were there including Dancing in the Moonlight, Do Anything You Wanna Do and The Boys Are Back In Town.

But they also gave an airing to some great album tracks such as Wild One & Black Rose.

The crowd especially enjoyed their renditions of Rosalie & Emerald.

Wayne Ellis is a superb front man. Built like a brick outhouse, he was charismatic and naughty at the same time. OK, he will never be Phil Lynott but he's as close to him as you could get. The nice thing is they didn't try to replicate the songs note by note and this gave it a fresher and more dynamic feel to the show.

Tim Read also played a great rendition of Parisienne Walkways and took to lead vocals for the Gary Moore song Out In The Streets.
It was a fabulous evening of listening to songs that I never got to hear being performed live - only on the Live Lizzy albums. So if they come to a town near you and you enjoy classic rock played with passion and respect, go along. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Twitter - @limehouselizzy

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Archivist: Mike Peters - Breathe

Being Welsh, back in the 80s, we didn't have much Welsh music talent to be proud of. OK, Tom Jones is a given but Mary Hopkin and Shakin Stevens?

Then in 1983, an obviously punk influenced band hit the charts and Top of the Pops with a song called 68 Guns.
They were The Alarm and hailed from Rhyl in North Wales.

And they were led by the exotically coiffured vocalist and band songwriter, Mike Peters

They released their debut album, Declaration in 1984 (where has 30 years gone) and produced several hit singles

With a mixture of stirring anthems and some quieter moments it reached number 6 in the album charts and set the band on a course of hit albums and singles for the rest of the 1980s.

With 20 UK chart singles and 11 USA chart singles the band had great success on both sides of the Atlantic and ended up touring all over the world in their own right and also supporting major acts such as U2 and Bob Dylan

They had their second biggest UK hit with Rain In The Summertime in 1987

And 2 years later in 1989 they released a record that still resonates in South Wales even to this day. And it's a song that Mike still has to play whenever he plays a gig in Wales.

Included on their last album, Raw, the band even recorded a great version of a Neil Young classic.

Mike famously announced he was leaving the band at their last UK concert in The Brixton Academy in 1991 with the song Moments in Time.

Mike began his comeback in 1992 when he formed the Poets of Justice, which included his wife Jules Jones and a young up and coming guitar player called Ethan Johns :)

I managed to catch and film a couple of the first gigs he played after he left The Alarm.

They were gigs of intensity and passion and the crowd got their first chance to hear the songs that would go on to be included on his debut solo album, Breathe.

Then after this series of gigs, Mike reappeared again in 1994 with his comeback single Back Into The System.

Followed by the next single

He also released a Welsh language version of the album, called Aer.

The breadth of the new songs was just stunning. There was a new depth and confidence to Mike's music and the scope of his debut album left the songs of The Alarm firmly in the past.

Indeed some of the best songs didn't even make the album

Ethan Johns gave an added dimension to the songs when they were performed live

Ethan only stayed with The Poets for a year ( he is now a world famous award winning producer) and by the time the album was released Mike had recruited some new Welsh musicians into the band

Some of the songs were intensely personal. This one being about his father.

And this one speaks for itself.

Mike continued to make excellent solo albums right throughout the 90s. But in 1996, Mike recovered from lymph cancer. A condition which was to rear it's ugly head later.

In 1999, Mike joined forces with The Cult's Billy Duff to form Coloursound and release an album.

In the year 2000, Mike resurrected the name, The Alarm but without any of the original members.

In 2004, they released a single under the pseudonym, The Poppy Fields, to highlight the problems faced by older bands trying to get songs into the charts.

This story became the basis for the movie Vinyl, released in 2012

In 2005, Mike discovered he was suffering from Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, 

His brave fight against the disease has resulted in his involvement in the formation of  a Charity Foundation called
Love Hope Strength
to help promote awareness of cancer and leukemia

In 2011, Mike joined Big Country and recorded a new album with the band called The Journey and set out on several tours.

Since 1993, Mike has held a special fan event every Year, normally in January, in North Wales, called The Gathering.
This song is about his friend Stuart Adamson and was performed at the 2013 Gathering.

To this day, Mike still performs solo and with The Alarm and continues to perform the classic Alarm songs as well as his solo material

He often holds special charity concerts and events for The Love Hope Strength Foundation

Mike is playing the Light Of Day concerts in New Jersey

He is also celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of the Alarm debut album Declaration with a tour where he is playing the whole album live. And he played my tiny home town in Wales.

And - All Cards are Marked

and I will be going out in a Blaze Of Glory

And Mike is back in 2015 celebrating 30 years of Strength with a worldwide tour - but in Wales, it is special.

Twitter - @thealarm

Kind thanks to The Alarm & MPO for use of the photographs